Monday, December 26, 2005

"CHIPS: EU group researches one-chip phone"

In search of a single-chip cell phone, researchers worldwide are seeking alternatives to the many discrete front-end surface-acoustic-wave filters (SAWs) and other tunable radio frequency (RF) components required by today's communications devices. Now the European Union is proposing to use nanostructured ferroelectric films to integrate tunable microwave devices onto silicon-based microwave communications devices. The EU's Nanostar project ( is a three-year effort aimed at bringing the electronics industry one step closer to a single-chip cell phone. SAW devices have replaced bulk ceramic and quartz as microwave filters, correlators and modulators. But since they are not fabricated on silicon, Philips and others have turned to bulk acoustic-wave-devices that can be fabricated on silicon. But the Nanostar program aims to demonstrate that ferroelectric films can offer lower cost and power as well as new performance capabilities. Ferroelectric films are already being integrated into silicon-based memory chips as the capacitors for bit cells, but they can also be used in an analog mode as voltage-controlled capacitors (varactors) that are useful in tunable microwave components. However, the Nanostar program aims to exploit the other properties of ferroelectrics to create unique devices that someday could enable a single-chip cell phone.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"NANOTECH: Buckyballs may be hazardous to your DNA"

Nanotechnologists have performed theoretical calculations predicting that buckyballs, a common nanoparticle, could disrupt the functioning of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). These 60-atom hollow spheres of carbon can be functionalized for a variety of applications — from ultrasmall sensors to drug dispensers targeting particular sites inside the body. Buckyballs are developed for a wide variety of applications, including dry lubricants and semiconductors. The bad news is that computer simulations performed by Vanderbilt University and Oak Ridge National Laboratories researchers show that buckyballs have a strong affinity for animal DNA, attaching to it in a manner that prevents it from performing the reproductive actions necessary for cells to mount immune-system responses or even to repair themselves. Today, buckyballs are already treated like a hazardous material simply because their toxicity is unknown, said Cummings. So these calculations come at just the right time, he said, when researchers can study just how toxic buckyballs and other nanoparticles may or may not be — before they are mass-produced. Cummings' team found that buckyballs would shut down the human immune system and prevent cells from self-repairing. However, to penetrate to the DNA, the nanoparticles would first have to have an affinity for living tissue — which usually means they need to be organic like buckyballs, which are simply a form of carbon, a basic building block of life. The team's molecular model showed that buckyballs fit precisely into two spots on the spiraled helix of DNA molecules. Buckyballs could lodge at both the end of DNA strands or in minor grooves along the outside of the DNA. In either case, the binding will cause the DNA molecule to bend over to one side. The damage was most severe when the cell was reproducing by splitting into two separate helices, as it does when it divides or when it manufactures new proteins. The presence of buckyballs prevents both actions from happening.

"SENSORS: Fire or false alarm? Detector knows"

Currently, more than 90 percent of fire alarms are false, which leads to a laxness in response so severe that fire alarms in residential neighborhoods often go unheeded, according to the European Union's Information Society. Now the EU's Information Society is doing something about it. It plans to launch a false-alarm-free fire detection system for 2006. The project, dubbed the Intelligent Modular Multi-Sensor Networked False Alarm Free Fire Detection System (, has just released test results that indicate the commercial version of its fire alarm, based on a prototype called IMOS, will virtually eliminate false alarms. Manufacturers are currently gearing up to demonstrate commercial alarms based on the IMOS technology at the Security 2006 exhibition, to be held in Essen, Germany, next October. The key to the false-alarm fire detection system is its smart look-and-sniff approach. An optical multisensor first determines if smoke is in the air, or just humidity. Then a laser scanner looks to see if there is particulate matter in the air. The detector portion of the electronics gets the go-ahead to sniff only if the laser scans smoke, thereby preventing the alarm from sounding when only condensed humidity is present. In phase two, a second multigas-sensor system measures CO, CO2, NO, unburned hydrocarbons and alkaloids to determine whether the smoke is just from cigarettes or whether it comes from any of a variety of burnable materials that warrant an alarm.

"DISPLAYS: No illusions: toward brighter flat displays"

Candice Brown Elliott is founder and chief technology officer of Clairvoyante Inc. (Cupertino, Calif.), which develops and licenses unique subpixel architectures and associated algorithms to reduce the power, increase the brightness and lower the cost of manufacturing flat-panel displays. Its PenTile Matrix harnesses Elliott's knowledge of the human visual system to trick the eye into perceiving a display as twice as bright for the same power (or just as bright at half the power). By reducing by one-third to one-half the number of pixels needed for a given resolution, the company's PenTile subpixel rendering also lowers costs. PenTile Matrix technology has been licensed by 10 of the world's leading flat-panel makers, including Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and AU Optronics Corp. EE Times' R. Colin Johnson caught up with Elliott at a recent display conference, where she revealed the specific aspects of the human visual system that Clairvoyante harnessed.
Read the interview at:

How Clairvoyante fools eye
Subpixel technologies attempt to organize red, green, blue — and, exclusively with Clairvoyante Inc.'s PenTile — white subpixels into a matrix that can represent any color. Most flat panels use stripes of RGB subpixels; white can be made only by mixing equal amounts of red, green and blue — essentially, by turning on all three stripes. The technique, however, yields dimmer whites. PenTile adds a white subpixel and, instead of just stripes, uses a unique subpixel matrix that has an average of only two subpixels per pixel, instead of the normal three. More important, Clairvoyante has harnessed the physiology of the human eye-brain system. Based on this understanding, a set of algorithms for the company's driver chips makes the overall display appear higher in contrast, sharper and up to twice as bright as a standard display — or, alternatively, just as bright, but with half the power consumption. Intel Corp. has acquired a minority interest in Clairvoyante, and two manufacturers — Silicon Works (Daejon, South Korea) and Sitronix Technology Co. Ltd. (Hsinchu, Taiwan) — have already begun fabricating PenTile Matrix driver chips for flat panels.

Monday, December 12, 2005

"QUANTUM: Lab advances boost quantum info systems"

Recent developments bode well for comprehensive quantum information systems. Work at labs in Colorado and Austria has increased the ability to store quantum states on groups of atoms, and researchers in Georgia have found a way to transfer quantum states over networks. Two groups-at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST; Boulder, Colo.) and at the University of Innsbruck's Institute of Theoretical Physics-have separately pushed up the number of ions that can exist in a simultaneous superposition of states. Just as NIST researchers were reporting a successful experiment observing six rubidium ions in a synchronized state of superposition (see Nov. 28, page 12), the Innsbruck group announced the observation of eight calcium ions in a magnetic ion trap. Previously, quantum computing research had established quantum entanglement in five photons. Meanwhile, a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology has found a way to build quantum state "repeaters"-systems that regenerate a quantum state being transmitted over a network-which would enable larger quantum networks to be built. The first application of the development will likely be in emerging quantum encryption systems that operate over optical networks. In theory, quantum repeaters could exchange secure encryption keys. By demonstrating the temporary storage and retrieval of quantum information from a cloud of rubidium atoms, the Georgia Tech researchers have verified the possibility of building such systems.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"NANOTECH: Nanoparticles shown to slow plants' root growth"

New research suggests that plants may suffer adverse reactions to tiny nanoparticles. While the possibility of detrimental health effects from nanotechnology has been investigated in relation to animals and humans, researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology have now demonstrated that plants too can be hurt by nanoparticles. A toxicology expert, professor Daniel Watts, reports that aluminum-oxide nanoparticles in groundwater inhibit the growth of all five species tested-corn, cucumber, cabbage, carrot and soybean. Watts warned that care must be taken to prevent these nanoparticles from dispersing in the air, where they will be carried by rain into groundwater systems and stunt plant growth. These concerns underscore the already accumulating evidence of possible harm to human health (see news/latest/ showArticle.jhtml?articleID=172900608) posed by nanotechnology. Nanoparticles in general may not be a problem. In Watts' tests on plants, most of the nanoparticles studied had no effect on health. In particular, silicon dioxide-a common nanoparticle-had no detrimental effect on plants. But aluminum-oxide nanoparticles slowed the growth of roots in all five vegetables tested.

"NANOTECH: Pilot line planned for lighting nanotubes"

The world's first pilot line for carbon nanotube-based electron-emission lighting devices was announced recently by Applied Nanotech, Inc. in cooperation with Shimane Masuda Electronics Co., Ltd. (Masuda, Japan). Applied Nanotech is a subsidiary of Nano-Proprietary, Inc. (Austin, Texas) and the joint development project aims to build a joint pilot line for the development and production of carbon nanotube electron emission based lighting devices by June 30, 2006. Earlier this year Texas Governor, Rick Perry, made a joint announcement with the Governor of the Shimane Prefecture in Japan, Nobuyoshi Sumita, detailing a deal between the U.S. and Japanese regions to develop a nanoparticle-based aluminum alloy with enhanced thermal conductivity for microelectronics applications. That deal was between Applied Nanotech and the Shimane Masuda Electronics research arm called the Shimane Institute for Industrial Technology. The success of that research effort prompted the manufacturing arm of Shimane, the Shimane Masuda Electronics, to broker the deal with Applied Nanotech. Under the deal, Applied Nanotech will reap a 5 percent royalty from any subsequent sales resulting from products developed on the pilot line. Shimane Masuda Electronics has agreed to provide all the equipment and personnel while Applied Nanotech contributes the technical expertise and access to its patent portfolio. Applied Nanotech and Shimane Masuda Electronics declined to specify exactly what type of nanotube-based lighting devices will be made on the pilot line, however Nano-Proprietary (Applied Nanotech's holding company) has announced in the past that they were developing the technology for carbon nanotube backlighting to replace LCD backlights. At that time, the company claimed its nanotube-based LCD backlights will burn brighter and longer and contain no mercury as do conventional backlights.

Monday, December 05, 2005

"QUANTUM: NIST claims largest quantum computer"

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology predict a sixfold improvement in the speed of synchronizing atomic clocks, and more than a doubling of magnetic-sensor sensitivity, by applying the lessons learned from NIST's demonstration of the world's largest quantum computer. NIST showed that six qubits could be entangled in synchronized "Schrödinger's cat" states of superposition — simultaneously spinning "up" and "down" — thereby enabling both ones and zeros to be superimposed. The previous world's record was an IBM Corp. five-qubit-device quantum computer using flourine atoms ( instead of the beryllium atoms used here by NIST. In applications, Schrödinger cat states could make it possible to set atomic clocks six times faster than today, since it would be six times easier to synchronize their frequencies. Likewise, entangled qubits could enable fault tolerance in quantum computers by providing sixfold easier verification that a quantum calculation had been performed without disturbances. NIST also proposes using the six-synchronized states to build more-sensitive sensors. Higher sensitivity to disturbances could enable quantum encryption algorithms that would foil undetected eavesdropping. The NIST experiment held the six atoms stationary in an electromagnetic trap. It used ultraviolet lasers to cool them almost to absolute zero and then synchronize their states by entangling them. The Schrödinger cat states lasted about 50 microseconds and could be repeated every millisecond.