When you have a chemical reaction, you start out in one energy state and end up in a lower energy state. However, there is an "energy barrier" between the states. This means that you can mix, for example, hydrogen and oxygen gasses without them reacting, until something adds enough energy to go over the barrier. You get that energy back as part of the reaction; it just keeps the reaction from starting. Catalysts work by lowering the energy barrier, usually by providing a bunch of intermediate states that have lower energy barriers than the original reaction. In quantum mechanics, there are two ways of getting past a barrier. You can go over, which requires adding enough energy to climb over the barrier. However, you can also "tunnel" through the barrier *without* adding energy. The probability of tunneling depends on the area (integral) of the barrier, and not on its height. So theoretically, a catalyst could work by reducing the *width* of the barrier instead of its height.
- Carbon fiber fabric. Used for making very stiff, strong, lightweight panels. My understanding is that the aircraft industry has first dibs on all production. Also, the quality requirements for aircraft are far higher than for, say, automotive body panels. This means that carbon fiber panels are a lot more expensive than they should be.
- Aerogels. Would make *terrific* insulated windows. They would have a higher R value than the wall that they're set in. I think that with the latest aerogel technology, you could get a solid object that is lighter than air by filling them with hydrogen or helium. Great demo!
- Blue LEDs. They shouldn't work, but they do. Figure out why. Semiconductors depend on the perfection of their crystal structure to work. Blue/UV LEDs are just jam-packed with imperfections, but they still work. If you could get rid of the imperfections, they'd probably work a lot better.
- High-temperature superconductors. The theory still isn't worked out very well, and "traditional" applications are difficult (you can't draw them into wires, for example). Magnetic levitation is a possibility. Energy storage? Motors? Put a big current through it, drop the temperature to the critical point, and you've got a "permanent magnet" that might be able to compete with rare-earth magnets.