Cut your finger, and your body starts mending the wound even before you have had time to go and find a Band-Aid. Synthetic materials are not so forgiving, but Nancy R. Sottos, Scott R. White and their colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are looking to change all that. They developed a self-healing plastic that contains a three-dimensional network of microscopic capillaries filled with a liquid healing agent. When the material is cracked, the released fluid is hardened by particles of a catalyst that are also sprinkled through­out. The new material can repair minor cracks up to seven times at each location, improving on the group’s previous system (in which the fluid was located in individual pockets) that could repair only one injury at each place.

Another feature of natural organisms that scientists have been seeking to emulate is self-assembly. Benoît Roman and José Bico of the City of Paris Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Education Institution used the surface tension of evaporating water droplets to fold flea-size origami cubes, pyramids and other structures. Their work used shapes measuring about a millimeter across cut out of a rubbery polymer a mere 40 to 80 microns thick. Thanks to the way that surface tension scales with size, the technique may be effective for self-assembling micron- or nanometer-scale objects made of thinner sheets of polymer.

Electronic components based on plastic or organic materials have become increasingly common in recent years, but the same cannot be said for magnets. Now Robin G. Hicks of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Rajsapan Jain of the University of Windsor in Ontario and their co-workers have produced a new class of magnets that combine nickel with a variety of organic compounds. The dark, powdery substances remain magnetized up to 200 degrees Celsius. The researchers’ ultimate goal is to produce magnetic organic compounds that can be easily molded into thin films or other useful shapes for electronics.

It was thought that the only way to see the exotic state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate—in which a collection of particles essentially behaves as one superparticle—involved forbidding, near-absolute-zero cold. Sergej Demokritov of the University of Muenster in Germany and his colleagues were the first to create such condensates at room temperature. Demokritov used small, ephemeral packets of magnetic energy known as mag­nons, which he generated in yttrium-iron-garnet films by exposing them to microwaves. Mag­nons are far less massive than atoms and thus can form condensates at much higher temperatures.

—Graham P. Collins and Charles Q. Choi