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Electric-Blue Crystals, Accidental Quasiparticles, and Precocious Kestrels: NOVA Next Week in Review

ByAllison EckNOVA NextNOVA Next

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This Week’s NOVA Next Feature Story

Champions of a new photovoltaic known as perovskite say it could reach the market in three years and upend the solar power industry shortly thereafter. But the long, troubled history of copper indium gallium selenide, another solar material, suggests otherwise.

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NOVA Next editor Tim De Chant follows CIGS from its first synthesis in the laboratory to its eventual commercial availability some 30 years later, discovering along the way that new advances in materials science seldom happen overnight.

Solar Decathlon
CIGS solar panels covered the exterior walls of Germany's winning entry in the 2009 Solar Decathlon.

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This week, NOVA returned to Ground Zero to witness the final chapter in the construction of One World Trade Center, which rises up 104 stories and 1,776 feet from the site where the Twin Towers once stood. You can watch the full program streaming online .

Watch "Ground Zero Supertower"

In another astonishing feat, NASA has announced the discovery 715 new exoplanets . Kepler , the spacecraft which collected the data, occasionally reveals them in surprising ways . To learn what astrobiologists think life might look like on a distant planet, watch “Alien Planets Revealed.”

What life may live on exoplanet? "Alien Planets Revealed" probes the question.

And while you’re in the mood for space stuff, check out this newly uncovered Einstein manuscript , as well as the footage from this week’s lunar impact blast .

At a smaller scale, physicists recently zapped a semiconductor with a laser, an in the process accidentally produced a new quasiparticle they’re calling a dropleton.

Back on Earth, scientists have uncovered the oldest known fragment of our crust . It’s 4.4 billion years old, and it’s blue. An expansion of the Panama Canal is also revealing the history of life on Earth—but another planned canal that would bisect nearby Nicaragua could jeopardize thriving ecosystems.

That’s not the only impact humans are having on the environment. Human-dominated areas have a way of quickening the pace of life, especially for the Mauritius kestrel. The bird’s native habitat of tropical forests is much reduced, and now many live on sugar plantations. As a result, they’re breeding earlier and dying younger .

On the flip side, some uninhabitable, untouched places are some of the most beautiful on our planet. This Athens-based photographer takes stunning aerial photos of Iceland.

Scientists at the Harvard’s Connectome Project are capturing anatomical beauty by using mice to decipher how and what neurons communicate . In another study, a team of neuroscientists injected colored fluorescent dues into different parts of the mouse’s cerebral cortex, which produced a stunning atlas of which parts of the cortex are connected to each other . Go inside the human brain with our interactive .

In October, NOVA Next writer Phil McKenna reported on the surge in cases of a mysterious brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. While CTE has been linked primarily to football players, it’s now been discovered posthumously in the brain of a soccer player .

A lot can happen to the brain even if it’s not pummeled by an object or thrashed around in the skull. Solitary confinement, for one, has an injurious effect on mental health—and now several states, including New York , are rethinking its overuse in the prison system. Here’s what solitary confinement does to the brain.

On the plus side, psychologists know how to deal with less extreme pressures on day-to-day sanity. Social psychologist Kate Sweeny is the most recent to star on Secret Life of Scientists ; she studies what we can do to manage uncertainty during stressful waiting periods…

…Like the nine long months before a baby arrives. The Ninth Month is a series from the PRI’s The World focusing on global childbirth and pregnancy. Request to join the discussion on this Facebook group , and watch NOVA’s “A Walk to Beautiful” streaming online to learn about a life-shattering childbirth injury. Don’t forget about our Q&A with Catherine Hamlin , the fistula healer—and Nobel Peace Prize nominee—herself.

Photo credit: NREL