Last month we hosted our third Virtual Conference here at Materials Today, focusing on the frontiers of microscopy. We'd like to thank all of the presenters, delegates, and sponsors who helped make the event a success. But if you weren't able to attend on the day, fear not, as all of the content will remain available to view for the next 12 months; just visit www.materialstoday.com/virtualconference.

The virtual conference serves to raise the question of what aspect of scientific life will be the next to embrace the digital format, and make the virtual world its home? In our last issue [Mater Today (2012) 3, 78], Brian Owens commented on how the internet has completely transformed the way papers are published, and made open access feasible. There's no doubt that computers and the web have revolutionized the submission, distribution, and indexing of papers; speeding up the whole process and making locating papers easier. All (or perhaps almost all) journals now have electronic versions, with many only existing in a digital format.

But journals aren't alone in having made the transition to a principally electronic platform. Powerful, affordable computers, and the ability to connect over the web, have turned what would be prohibitively time and labor intensive methods into practical, fast analysis and modeling tools.

So what's next, and will the effect be as profound as the areas discussed above? Given the rise in social media, perhaps lectures and tutorials could become fully virtual affairs. Lectures can be recorded and played back online, and by integrating these presentations with interactive elements and supplementary materials, it's possible to produce the kind of virtual conferences we host here at Materials Today. And for smaller meetings, it's not uncommon to use telepresence systems. However, it's hard to imagine that these solutions could ever completely replace actual meetings, as they lack some of the intimacy of physical encounters; which can be critical in an area where communication is key.

At any rate, given the pace at which online environments evolve, we may not have long to wait until we experience the next leap forward.

Whether you're reading this month's issue of Materials Today, online, via our iPad app, or in good old print, we hope you'll find the content equally engaging. Following on from the conference on microscopy, this issue of the magazine takes a look at a range of characterization techniques. Yugang Sun and Harald Ade discusses how novel x-ray techniques can be used to study nanoparticle dynamics and image synthetic organic materials, respectively. Mike Miller considers the future of atom probe tomography and the prospect of examining every atom in a sample. And branching out, Shelley Minteer discusses new materials for bio-fuel cells.

Finally on a separate note, I'd like to take this opportunity (on behalf of everyone here at Materials Today) to say farewell to our outgoing Editor, Jonathan Agbenyega, and wish him the best of luck in his new position.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(12)70054-8