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Watering the Air
Got Milk? How?
Tree Frogs
No Fair: Monkey Sees, Doesn't
Revenge of the Cowbirds
Life on the Down Low
Pollution at the ends of the Earth
Longer lives for wild elephants
Training Your Brain to Feel Less Pain
Birds We Eat
Chemistry and Materials
Lighting goes digital
Sticking Around with Gecko Tape
Watching out for vultures
The Shape of the Internet
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Fingerprint Evidence
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A Really Big (but Extinct) Rodent
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Giving Sharks Safe Homes
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Alien Invasions
When Fungi and Algae Marry
Finding the Past
Your inner Neandertal
Early Maya Writing
Little People Cause Big Surprise
Electric Catfish
Food and Nutrition
The Essence of Celery
Sponges' secret weapon
A Pepper Part that Burns Fat
GSAT English Rules
Whoever vs. Whomever
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Math Naturals
Human Body
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Smiles Turn Away Colds
Spitting Up Blobs to Get Around
Great Danes
What Not to Say to Emerging Readers
Children and Media
How children learn
The Pressure of Scuba Diving
The Particle Zoo
Project Music
Getting the dirt on carbon
Hungry bug seeks hot meal
Underwater Jungles
Boa Constrictors
Space and Astronomy
Catching a Comet's Tail
A Great Ball of Fire
Galaxies Divide Sharply Along Color Lines
Technology and Engineering
Bionic Bacteria
Sugar Power for Cell Phones
Morphing a Wing to Save Fuel
The Parts of Speech
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Where rivers run uphill
Antarctica warms, which threatens penguins
A Dire Shortage of Water
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Beyond Bar Codes

In the future, your refrigerator might alert you when the milk has gone sour. At the grocery store, cashiers won't need to scan bar codes because products will provide the data on their own. And packages and letters will carry electronic tags that send messages about where they are. To make such a world possible, scientists are working on a technology called radiofrequency identification (RFID). An RFID tag is an electronic device that can be glued to cereal boxes, milk cartons, envelopes, and other objects. The tags store information and use radio signals to communicate with computers or sensors. RFID tags already exist in the form of "smart cards" that store dollar amounts for riders of some public transportation systems. RFID chips have also been implanted in animals to identify them and allow owners to find them if the animals get lost. In these cases, the tags are made of silicon, the material from which most computer chips are made. However, silicon electronic tags are too expensive to be used as widely as printed bar codes are. Now, scientists from two companies in Europe have independently taken steps toward speeding up the spread of RFID technology. They have created tags completely out of plastic materials with the right kinds of electronic properties to transmit radio signals efficiently. The methods for making plastic tags are much cheaper than those for making silicon tags. The tags produced by scientists from Philips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven in the Netherlands are made from a type of plastic called pentacene and transmit radio waves at a frequency of 13.56 megahertz. The tags produced by PolyIC in Erlangen, Germany, use a different type of plastic. Neither type of tag is perfect yet. The plastic tags are still expensive and tricky to manufacture, and their radio signals don't travel very far. It may be a few years yet before plastic RFIDs make their way into nearly all of our everyday objects. But when they do, there will be an amazing amount of information zooming invisibly around us.E. Sohn

Beyond Bar Codes
Beyond Bar Codes

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