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Alt-week 09.15.13: Record-breaking glass, nature's gears, and Hubble's huge find

Joe Pollicino

Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.

This week's alternative roundup focuses on exploration, experimentation and discovery -- both on land and in space. Here on Earth, Cornell's stumbled upon a new glass that breaks records and researchers in Europe have discovered an insect with cob wheel-styled gear joints for movement. Meanwhile, above our atmosphere, NASA's Hubble telescope made a large discovery of its own. This is alt-week.

You'll find this one in the recently published Guinness Book of World Records 2014: glass that's just two atoms thick. In late 2011, Professor David A. Muller's lab had a flub while cooking up graphene, which resulted in the shockingly thin panel of glass. As the Cornell Chronicle describes it, "an air leak had caused the copper to react with the quartz, also made of silicon and oxygen. This produced the glass layer on the would-be pure graphene." Better yet, the team was able to capture imagery of the individual atoms that make up glass, which apparently matches up with W.H. Zachariasen's theory of its composition from 1932 -- see in the blended picture of both together above.

Altweek 09071513 Recordbreaking glass,

Gears aren't only a man-made occurrence -- researchers have found organic cog gears in the leg joints of a European insect. During the younger stage of its plant-hopping life, the Issus Nymph's hind legs operate using 400-micrometer long "gear strips" with up to 12 teeth each. While the cogs eventually disappear after it molts into adulthood, PhysOrg notes that they likely help the creature jump more powerfully and precisely than their size should allow for. Without them, it would yaw out of control. How precise, you ask? Both legs can stay in sync to as close as 30 microseconds. Looks like evolution took a course in mechanical engineering somewhere along the way.

Altweek 09071513 Recordbreaking glass, Nature's gears, and Hubble's huge find

We can't get enough of outer space here at Alt, so we'll wrap this one up with a massive discovery aided by the Hubble telescope. A team led by John Blakeslee used the rig's Advanced Camera to peer into the Abel 1689 galaxy cluster and found a collection of globular star clusters (the oldest of stars) twice as large as previous finds. Since viewing roughly 10,000 clusters at its center, the team figures that 160,000 of them exist within a diameter of 2.4-million light years. According to NASA, these serve as tracers for dark matter, which can expand our understanding of how our universe came to be. By comparison, the Milky Way only has 150 recorded clusters -- but at least it has a candy bar named after it.

Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.

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