Friday, August 31, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: New video service will offer science papers, demos"

A new video service called SciVee offers authors of peer-reviewed papers the opportunity to hawk their discoveries with video demonstrations. Unlike YouTube, SciVee will also present article text alongside a video clip window, giving viewers the option to review papers. Below the text and video are drop-down windows for figures, references and keywords as well as a cumulative rating, voted on by viewers, and a blog-style comment area.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"MATERIALS: IBM demos single-atom memory, molecular switch"

Even the highest density hard-disk drives use approximately 1 million magnetic atoms to store a single bit of information. IBM's Almaden Research Center (San Jose, Calif.) has demonstrated the ability to store a bit on a single atom, portending hard drives with ultra-high storage capacity. Simultaneously, IBM's Zurich Research Lab has demonstrated a molecular switch that could replace current silicon-based chip technology with processors so small that a supercomputer could fit on a chip the size of a speck of dust. IBM's claims its atomic-scale demonstration promises to pack up to 1,000 times as much information on a hard disk than current technologies. Such hard disks could store 30,000 full-length movies on a device the size of an iPod.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: Software confirms human-to-human spread of avian flu"

The avian flu has not yet become pandemic, but the first requirement for its spreading--human-to-human infections--has been confirmed by software designed by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Seattle). The avian flu, known officially as H5N1, must mutate before it can be passed among humans and thus be capable of spreading worldwide via airplane travelers. New software, called TranStat--the first program capable of real-time analysis of such infectious-disease outbreaks--has concluded that the dreaded human-to-human mutation occurred in 2006 in Indonesia.

"ENERGY: Ball lightning's frightening . . . but finally explained"

Ball lightning has puzzled scientists for centuries. These orbs of electrical charge bounce like balls, squeeze under doors then reform into orbs, and sometimes even float in mid-air. Now, a Ukrainian scientist claims to have solved the mystery of ball lightning—it is, he said, an aerosol of nanoscale batteries short-circuited by surface discharge to spontaneously generate mega-amperes of current.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"ENERGY: Rochester, N.Y., bids to be first green U.S. city"

The United States' first Hydrogen Village—designed to demonstrate the feasibility of switching from fossil fuels to cleaner-burning hydrogen—has broken ground in the Rochester, N.Y. metropolitan area under the auspices of the U.S. Green Building Council. The council recently certified Rochester's road map to become the leader in community-supported green technologies, green buildings and all the infrastructure necessary to become the first green U.S. city. The charter includes plans to establish an exemplary Hydrogen Village consisting of hydrogen production, distribution and refueling centers in downtown Rochester.

"ALGORITHMS: NASA confirms Einstein"

NASA astronomers have found a new way to perform fundamental physics research on ultra-dense objects like black holes, yielding the latest confirmation of Einstein's theory of relativity. NASA experimentally confirmed Einstein's predictions about space-time distortions by observing the spectral line from hot iron atoms whirling in a disk around a neutron star at 40 percent the speed of light. The spectra shifted to longer wavelengths and broadened asymmetrically by virtue of the Doppler effect in combination with the "beaming" effect predicted by Einstein's special theory of relativity.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"MATERIALS: Metal oxide nanotubes: lower-cost alternative to carbon?"

Nanotubes historically have been synonymous with organic carbon nanotubes, but no more. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta) have defined a new class of inorganic nanotube materials that are analogous to volcanically formed minerals found in Japan and New Zealand. By combining aluminum oxide with silicon and germanium the researchers are creating single-walled nanotubes that are less expensive to fabricate than carbon nanotubes, and which offer properties that are easier to control.

Friday, August 24, 2007

"CHIPS: IBM's Cell BE-based cluster to aid U. of Maryland research"

IBM Corp. said it will endow the University of Maryland's Baltimore County campus with the components for one of the most powerful cluster supercomputers in the world. Next month, IBM will deliver 24 Cell Broadband Engines (BE) for the UMBC Multicore Computing Center. Based on the same Cell processor that powers Sony's Playstation 3, the system will include a dozen IBM BladeCenter QS20s, each with dual 3.2-GHz Cell Broadband Engines. The 24 processors will be connected by Gigabit Ethernet and 20-Gbit/second Infiniband links. IBM said it will also provide software, support engineers, and endowments to selected graduate students working on parallel processing algorithms.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"MATERIALS: Rocket propels prosthetic arm"

Developers at Vanderbilt University are perfecting a rocket-powered prosthetic arm that promises to give amputees a fast, powerful, responsive substitute for a missing limb by 2009. The experimental arm and hand, complete with articulated fingers and opposable thumb, uses an adapted liquid rocket fuel and could provide the best option yet for limb replacement, according to its creators. The bionic arm is one of three projects under way to create a good-as-original prosthetic limbs under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Revolutionizing Prosthetics program.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"CHIPS: Intel demos 40-Gbit/s silicon laser"

Intel and academic electrical engineers (EEs) recently demonstrated the world's first mode-locked silicon evanescent laser, a device capable of performing optical functions on CMOS chips. This is instead of translating from optical-to-electrical then back from electrical-to-optical, as is standard procedure for telecommunications applications of lasers today. The silicon laser emitted 40 billion pulses of light per second (40-Gbit/sec), and was built on the hybrid silicon/indium phosphide platform developed last year. The joint-development effort between Intel Corp. (Jerusalem) and the University of California (UCSB; Santa Barbara) produced a new silicon laser that delivered highly stable ultra-short pulses of laser light, which can be used in a variety of ways: for high-speed data transmissions at multiple wavelengths, for remote sensing using Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), for processor-to-processor optical communications on multi-core chips, and for highly accurate optical clocks.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"CHIPS: NIST improves hard-disk heads, MRAMs"

Magnetic materials for hard-disk heads use the same magnetic tunnel junctions (MTJs) as do the magnetic random access memories (MRAMs) IBM announced it was developing with TDK yesterday. Now, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) claims to have invented a process for fine-tuning MTJs for the next generation of HD heads, and perhaps even to enable denser MRAMs.

"NANOTECH: New U.S. institute eyes next generation of nano engineers"

In a partnership among industry, the federal government and U.S. universities, the budding National Institute for Nano-Engineering (Nine) promises to engage undergraduate and graduate students in nanotechnology projects as a way to reinvigorate the United States' global standing in engineering and science. Coinciding with the President's Aug. 9 passage of the America Competes Act, which provides funding for the establishment of Innovation Institutes to address science and engineering discovery and education, Nine promises to popularize nanotechnology and deepen students' commitments to three key themes: nanoelectronics, nanoenergy generation and nanomanufacturing.

Monday, August 20, 2007

"CHIPS: IBM teams with TDK on MRAM"

IBM Corp. is launching a joint research and development project with TDK Corp. to create high-density magnetic random access memories (MRAMs) in four years. The new multiyear program will aim for a 20-fold increase in the memory density of MRAMs by switching to a writing mechanism, called spin-momentum transfer, that draws less power and uses smaller bit cells. The only commercially available MRAMs today, such as those from Freescale, are based on the old magnetic-field data-writing, but the new method being explored by IBM and TDK uses less power and smaller bit cells. Reading is still accomplished by sensing a change in resistance.

Friday, August 17, 2007

"QUANTUM: Q-bits put new spin on quantum computing"

Ionic rain irrigates forests of nanotubes, while ionic winds blow cool breezes over chips. Now, the ionic solid-state harbors the flag-ship of quantum computing--quantum bits. Q-bits can now be encoded on the spin of the electron that makes a quantum dot ionic, promising cheap, ultra-low-power and easy-to-fabricate quantum computers, according to researchers at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), the University of California (San Diego) and the Naval Research Laboratory (Washington, D.C.). Quantum computing could enable uncrackable encryption codes, accounting for the funding of such researcher by the National Security Agency (NSA). Quantum-computing milestones are no new thing these researchers who had already demonstrated the world's first quantum gate in a semiconductor.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"CHIPS: Ionic winds can cool chips"

Just as ionic rain can irrigate a forest of nanotubes, ionic winds can cool the surface of chips. Harnessing ionic winds to accelerate charged air between high-voltage electrodes can enhance a chip's heat-transfer coefficient by 250 percent, according to Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.). Its chip-sized ionic wind engine prototype, funded by Intel Corp., works by overcoming the "no-slip" effect that ordinarily keeps the air molecules nearest the chip surface relatively stationary. The ionic wind engine prototype consists of two high-voltage electrodes positioned on either side of a chip's backside. By putting a thousand voltage potential between the electrodes, air molecules become charged and an ionic wind is generated between them across the surface of the chip. Ordinarily the "no-slip" effect in air flow keeps the air molecules closest to a surface increasingly stationary, thereby inhibiting thermal transfer. However, if ionic wind engines could be integrated in arrays on the backside of chips, then normal cooling fans would become more than double their efficiency because air near the surface of chips would no longer be stationary.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"ENERGY: Paper battery is rechargable"

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers said they have developed a paper-thin battery by immersing a carpet of vertical nanotubes in an ionic liquid electrolyte. The result is a cellulose paper that stores electrical energy. The RPI team produced a supercapacitor by placing a second nanotube electrode on the other side of the paper. They then added a lithium electrode atop the paper, creating what they claim is a paper-thin rechargable battery.

Monday, August 13, 2007

"MEMS: Ten-minute cancer screening possible"

A new in-office test for oral cancer that takes only 10 minutes will soon be available using lab-on-a-chip microfluidic electronics, according to scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health. Billed as the world's first fully automated, all-in-one test, the lab-on-a-chip electronic reader, which is about half the size of a toaster, can scan cells brushed from the inside of the mouth with a swab.

"SENSORS: New York bridge to get wireless monitor"

Monitoring the structural integrity of New York state bridges could become a model for wireless sensor networks nationwide. Researchers at Clarkson University will make New York the first state with a 24/7 wireless bridge monitoring system. The state will spend up to $500,000 to deploy the first wireless sensor network for monitoring bridge stress. The project is being funded by the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority. Clarkson University has also begun working with TransTech Systems Inc. (Schenectady, N.Y.) to craft a commercial version of Janoyan's group's wireless bridge monitoring system.

"SENSORS: Sensor nets bridge safety gap"

Engineers in laboratories nationwide are perfecting embedded sensor networks that could alert crews to defects in critical structures well before the problems cause catastrophic failures such as the recent collapse of Minneapolis' I-35W bridge. Structural health monitoring (SHM) is a sensor-based preemptive approach that could supplement the current system of visual inspections and follow-on tests of bridges, buildings, aircraft and other safety-critical structures. But SHM sensor systems have not been deployed in the United States, even though they theoretically would safeguard structures 24/7, wherever it is deployed.

"ALGORITHMS: Aiming at terabit disk media"

Perpendicular recording techniques promise to more than double density capabilities in the next few years, increasing from the 200 Gbits/square inch that longitudinal recording techniques pack today to as high as 500 Gbits/square inch. Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd. proposes that to double density again, to the terabit per square inch domain, researchers add nanoscale patterns to preformat the location of bit cells in perpendicular media. This is a capability it demonstrated recently in cooperation with nearby Kanagawa Academy of Science and Technology (Japan).

Monday, August 06, 2007

"MEMS: NASA launches software-defined radios in space"

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has begun a program to develop MEMS technologies that reduce the size, weight and power of its radio transceivers. Of particular concern to NASA is miniaturizing the radios for its space-constrained extra-vehicular activities (EVAs) known as "space walks." NASA proposes that industrial partners begin developing reconfigurable multiband MEMS chips that can be inserted into future frequency-agile software-defined radios. The exploration of space imposes daunting specification goals on component suppliers--demanding a combination of small size, light weight, low power, radiation immunity, vibration tolerance and extreme longevity. Luckily, those specifications read almost like a definition of microelectromechanical systems, putting MEMS in space from the earliest Shuttle launches.

"ALGORITHMS: Switching perpendicular recordings can strengthen domain walls"

Perpendicular magnetic recordings can now be switched from hard (permanent) to soft (erasable) by way of a discovery recently made at the University College London. Using a designer material with strong anisotropy, the researchers demonstrated how to switch magnetic domains from permanent to erasable by applying a longitudinal magnetic field to modulate the domain-walls' strength.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"OPTICS: Consortium claims solar-cell efficiency record"

What is claimed to be the world's highest efficiency solar cell--42.8 percent, compared with 15 percent for conventional solar cells--was reported recently by a consortium that includes the University of Delaware, where the technology was pioneered, and E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont), which plans to commercialize the approach. Funded by a three-phase, $100-million program called the Very High Efficiency Solar Cell (VHESC) program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the consortium's three-year goal is to achieve 50 percent efficiencies at a cost of $1,000 per square meter--the cost of conventional solar cells today.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"OPTICS: Organic solar cells gain ground"

A new composite material for plastic solar cells, formulated at Ohio State University, offers what researchers there claim is the best bet yet for beating the relatively high cost of grid-supplied electricity. Building on the best aspects of previous attempts to construct organic dye-sensitized solar cells, these researchers promise to best today's inorganic silicon-based solar cells, and beat the cost of traditional electricity generation sources in just a few years.