Friday, May 29, 2009

"MATERIALS: "Nanocrystals bid to extend photolithography"

Nanoparticles added atop conventional photo-resists can extend the lifetime of existing semiconductor fabrication equipment according to Pixelligent. Look for widespread adoption of such techniques in the next five years. R.C.J.

Optical lithography can be extended below 32 nanometers, according to Pixelligent Technologies LLC, which has developed a nanocrystalline material that it says enhances the resolution of existing photolithography equipment. The company recently closed a $2 million round of equity financing to commercialize its nanocrystals, which it says have applications in optical lithography and as nanocomposite coatings for microelectronics. Pixelligent's secret sauce involves the fabrication of nonsilicon nanocrystals with properties custom-designed for specific applications. The company declined to identify the exact composition of its proprietary nanoparticles, except to say that they are nonsilicon. By combining the semiconducting nanocrystals with lithographic polymers, Pixelligent claims traditional resists can be improved so that they can image much finer lines. The company also claims its nanocrystal coatings result in higher yields, lower materials costs and improved throughput, all while using existing chip fabrication equipment.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"OPTICS: Seiko Epson preps inkjet-printed OLEDs for big picture"

Printable electronics uses room-temperature processing to fabricate transistorized circuitry atop cheap plastic substrates, sidestepping the usual need for expensive high-temperature semiconductor processing. Printing displays using ink-jet technology works by loading the liquid "color" cartridges with liquid-semiconductors, -insulators and -conductors--all transparent. Then using micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) jets, pico-liter droplets of the electronic circuit materials can be deposited in patterns without the waste of conventional semiconductor processing. Look for printed versions of displays using organic light-emitting diodes within two years.

Printing high-definition organic LED (OLED) displays with ultrahigh-resolution inkjet printers will lower the cost and increase the color accuracy of flat-panel televisions, according to Seiko Epson Corp. Tokyo-based Seiko Epson will reveal details of its fabrication process at the Society for Information Display (SID) International Symposium, Seminar and Exhibition, running May 31-June 5 in San Antonio, Texas. Epson's OLED Development Center will show an ink-jet printed 14-inch OLED display that the company claims has the same resolution as, and better color accuracy than, today's 37-inch 1080p high-definition TVs.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"WIRELESS: Capacitive touchscreen scales up for use on netbooks"

Touchscreens have been here for 20 years, but it took the Apple iPhone to popularize them for consumer electronics. Now everyone and their brother is courting touchscreen makers to create an equally "wow" experience for their users. To rival Apple, however, you can't go with the plastic resistive touch screens, but have to go with the $22 all-glass capacitive version from makers like Ocular, which will demo the first netbook-sized projected capacitive touchscreen at the upcoming SID show next week.

Ocular Inc. will demonstrate the first capacitive touchscreen to be used on a netbook at the Society for Information Display (SID) International Symposium, Seminar and Exhibition May 31"June 5 in San Antonio, Texas. The reference design will demonstrate how gesture recognition, made famous by Apple's iPhone, can be enabled on netbook screens of up to 10.4 inches in size. The company has been manufacturing custom touchscreens at its own fab in China for more than 20 years—mostly smaller screens used by industrial customers for the control panels on embedded equipment. But the popularity of Apple's iPhone screen has left competing handset makers such as Nokia, Palm, Research in Motion (RIM) and Samsung scrambling to emulate Apple's success. Market watcher iSuppli Corp. (El Segundo, Calif.) now predicts the worldwide market for touchscreens will nearly double between 2008 and 2013, going from $3.4 billion to $6.4 billion.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"NANOTECH: Nanosensors could detect cracks in bridges, aircraft"

Since no major bridges have collapsed lately, the push to install 24/7 monitoring equipment has faded of late, but not so for these Austrailian researchers working with colleagues in China. Using nanotube-laced composites, the sensors could be attached to bridge structures, then be monitored by the conductivity which changes if cracks develop Look for systems like this to be called for the next time a bridge collapses :) R.C.J.

Nanocomposites are being developed to monitor the safety of bridges and aircraft by embedding nanotubes into sensors that change their conductivity when cracks or other structural defects occur. The Queensland University of Technology (Brisbane, Austrailia) said it will conduct the research in cooperation with the four other Australian universities. The polymer nanocomposite contains carbon nanotubes which change the conductivity of the material when cracks appear in structures where it is used. By monitoring the electrical conductivity of the material, early detection of structural faults may be possible.

"MATERIALS: "Invisibility cloaks spread out"

Invisibility cloaks, made famous by Harry Potter but now possible in the lab, promise to hide our submarines from sonar, our missiles from radar and maybe someday even our soldiers wearing Potter-like capes. Despite the obvious hype, the scientific feasibility of invisibility cloaks as spawned a new field of science called transformation optics, which seeks to harness exotic metamaterials, nanophotonics and plasmonics to build super lenses for powerful microscopes.

Transfomation optics were used recently to develop an improved invisibility cloak with a 100-fold increase in area compared to previous visible-wavelength cloaks. The new design from Purdue University uses a relatively inexpensive glass and gold waveguide that achieved a more economical design using transformation optics. An inexpensive waveguide directs light around cloaked objects (center) so that even a laser bends around it to emerge on the other side with no shadow cast. Other invisibility cloaks use optical diffraction gratings that tune into specific wavelengths with a negative index of refraction that allows the cloak to provide invisibility, but only at those wavelengths. The Purdue device was formed from two gold-coated surfaces, one a curved lens, the other a flat sheet. The result was a broadband cloak, working at a wide swath of wavelengths simultaneously, enabling it to shield an area covering the entire spectrum of visible light. The demonstration showed how a laser benda around the cloaked area, leaving no shadow, even though the area was 100 times larger than the wavelength of the laser.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"ALGORITHMS: Software pirates pinpointed on Google maps"

Every time you update your software from the dialog box that automatically pops up while you are using a program, that software vendor collects information about you from your own computer then "phones home" to report your doings. Now a company has turned that capability into a product, selling their stealth code to software developers where it lies dormant until pirated, then reports in about the pirates whereabouts. Look for everybody's software to start reporting in about your activities. Make sure you are not using any "free" copies of software--big brother is watching. R.C.J.

Software vendors fed up with software piracy have responded by beefing up their licensing and activation procedures, only to have pirates crack their code again. A company called V.i. Laboratories Inc. is proposing a new approach called CodeArmor Intelligence, which embeds stealth algorithms inside programs that "phone home" with information about the unauthorized usage of software, including their Internet domain and even a company location on a Google map.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"ALGORITHMS: Acoustic applications are cutting through the noise"

In a world dominated by electronic signals, is good to know that the acoustic world of natural sounds is still being harnessed to serve the cause of good--from saving the manatee by warning them off from propeller sounds to clarifying speech perception with noise-canceling algorithms. Over 1100 papers will be presented at this week's ASA2009. R.C.J.
Acoustic signal processing technologies examined at this week's Acoustical Society of America meeting here focused on cutting through noise to improve signal detection and localization using arrays of MEMS microphones. Researchers from the National Cheng Kung University of Taiwan proposed using MEMS microphones with a time-reversal technique to improve voice reception for mobile speakerphones and laptop computers.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"ALGORITHMS: Coventor/Cadence to dovetail MEMS with EDA"

MEMS designers can have their cake and eat it too, now that Cadence has teamed with Coventor to allow its 3D CAD tool to seamlessly integrate with the EDA environment. Look for Coventor to team with Mentor Graphics, Matlab and others to add MEMS capabilities to most EDA environments by 2010.

Cadence Design Systems Inc. has teamed with Coventor Inc. on what the pair says is the first environment to allow 3-D microelectromechanical system (MEMS) models to be designed and simulated in tandem with CMOS integrated circuitry. Traditionally, MEMS chip design requires a separate design effort for a CMOS application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). Now MEMS structures can be designed using a 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) system, then automatically tranfered to Cadence's Virtuoso Schematic Editor, enabling full co-simulation and co-verification.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"MATERIALS: Researchers confirm theoretical predictions for graphene"

Carbon--the same element on which life is based--will become the successor to silicon for integrated circuits. Graphene is the most semiconductor-friendly version of carbon, because is can be fabricated in two-dimensional sheets like silicon, although nanotubes and 3D diamond structures are also possible with carbon. Its still early to predict just when, but look for carbon to replace silicon in about 10 years. R.C.J.
Pure layers of carbon atoms in a honeycomb lattice, also known as graphene, promises to become the successor to both silicon and gallium arsenide circuitry. Among its advantage are superior electron mobility, the ability to transport both electrons (like silicon) and holes (like gallium arsenide) and the prediction that graphene charge carriers move at a speed independent of their energy. While some theoretical predictions for graphene have been confirmed, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Georgia Tech claim to have experimental proof using a new measurement device.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"NANOTECH: Getting the 'blink' out: Steady nanoparticle emitters emerge"

For most illumination applications you need a steady reliable emitter, since interruptions can distract people and spoil processes. Unfortunately, steady-state emitters at the nanoscale have been hard to come by, but this innovation in materials could be the cure. Nano-sized steady-state emitters could be on their way from Kodak and others in just a few years. R.C.J.
Nanoparticles offer advantages over traditional semiconductor LEDs and lasers in terms of size, ability to change color by merely changing their size and lower fabrication costs. But those advantages were offset by a tendency toward random blinking. Now, researchers claim to have demonstrated always-on nanoparticle emitters in a collaborative effort among the University of Rochester, Cornell University, Eastman Kodak Co. and the Naval Research Laboratory. By fabricating a new type of nanoparticle with a smooth gradient between two different materials, the researchers said the nanoparticles emit steadily like traditional LEDs and lasers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"SPACE: Warp Factor 10! Star Trek warp drive in the works"

Warp-speed travel at faster-than-light speeds is not impossible--as Einstein implied--but only requires sidestepping the prohibition by stretching space itself, at least according to modern string-theory physicists. Now that the possibility is known, how long will it be before somebody figure out how to implement it? I would guess about 20 years. R.C.J.
With the latest installment of the Star Trek franchise packing theaters, researchers are again speculating about the feasibility of building a faster-than-light "warp drive" similar to the one powering Star Trek's "Enterprise" star ship. Researchers at Baylor University (Waco, Texas) claim that dark energy--the force causing the universe to expand--could power a warp drive by expanding the fabric of space behind the ship while simultaneously contracting space ahead of it. The scheme could theoretically enable a ship to traverse light years in distance without violating Einstein's prohibition on faster-than-light travel.

Friday, May 08, 2009

"CHIPS: Nanocrystals revolutionize flash memory at Freescale "

For over 15 years Freescale has been using polysilicon floating gates for its embedded flash memories, but about five years ago the company realized that polysilicon gates were going to be subject to process uniformity woes beyond the 90 nanometer node. Now after extensive nanocrystalline process development, Freescale will begin switching all its embedded flash memories to the new nanocrystal architecture. Look for microcontrollers using the nanocrystal flash memories by the second half of 2009. R.C.J.

Freescale Semiconductor will use silicon nanocrystal thin-films for floating gates— in place of today's polysilicon floating gates—to move embedded flash to advanced processing nodes. Freescale claims reliability as the motivation when describing its switchover to nanocrystals from both the split-gate and single-transistor (1-T) flash architectures it uses today. Freescale built prototype nanocrystal memory devices in 2005, and over the past four years has also experimented with using nitride charge traps as an alternative means of isolating charge and thus tolerating defects at advanced nodes. Because the nanocrystalline film does not have to be cut into gates, it reduces the number of mask layers needed thus lowering costs. A standard CMOS line can be used too, simplifying the processing, and costs, further.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"OPTICS: Green lasers arrive for pico projectors"

Using lasers in the emerging pico-projector market enables bright, low-power displays to be packed into modules small enough to fit inside a cell phone, and yet they can project displays as large as 100 inches wide. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of consumer electronics devices have been clamoring to get the tiny modules--for instance, Microvision's laser-based projection module measures just 7- by 20- by 40-mm--but have been hampered by unavailability of green semiconductor lasers. Now that Corning is mass producing green lasers, look for first adopters to be projecting images from handheld devices by July 2009. R.C.J.

Green semiconductor lasers, a key component for pico projectors, will enter mass production by midyear, according to Corning Inc., which announced a deal with Microvision Inc. to supply the green lasers for Microvision's PicoP Display Engine. Pico projectors use red, blue and green lasers to project large, bright images from displays on handheld devices, but have been held back by green laser manufacturers who have been unable to deliver production volumes. Microvision (Redmond, Wash.) has been waiting over two years for a supply of green lasers from Corning (Corning, N.Y.), Osram Opto Semiconductors and others. Microvision will begin shipping the world's first laser-based pico-projectors later this year.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"ROBOTICS: robo-hand combines simplicity, dexterity"

A robotic hand called the Robotic Air-Powered Hand with Elastic Ligaments (Raphael) uses compressed air to combine improved dexterity with low cost, according to engineers at Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory. The team recently won the Innovation Award Contest at the Compressed Air and Gas Institute in Cleveland. Virginia Tech's fully articulated robotic hand is said to be able to hold objects as heavy as a can or as delicate as an egg. Raphael has three articulated joints just like human fingers.

Monday, May 04, 2009

"CHIPS: Detector to peer deep into the 'Big Bang'"

In the beginning, their was light from this whopping Big Bang, but what happened next still remains a mystery, but not for long. This new detector should be able to once-and-for-all confirm cosmic inflation theory, as well as put physicists on the right track regarding the long-sought-after unified "field" theory. R.C.J.
Super-sensitive polarization detectors developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and university partners will seek to measure whether the universe is forever expanding. The new sensor was developed in collaboration with scientists at Princeton University, the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Chicago and announced during the annual meeting of the American Physical Society. A theory called cosmic inflation could may be confirmed during an experiment to be held in 2010 in the Chilean desert.

Friday, May 01, 2009

"ALGORITHMS/CHIPS: Lab models swine flu's spread; diagnostic chips being readied"

A global pandemic is all but inevitable, because U.S. health officials are not willing to implement the types of social distancing that would likley block the spread of the flu virus in the U.S. Beside the non-life-threatening symptoms exhibited by most of the afflicted, officials reason that even if, for example, all U.S. schools were closed and its borders sealed, other countries would have to follow suit to prevent a global pandemic. Thus the swine flu will likely go pandemic sometime next week. R.C.J.
Swine flu may have been caught early enough to prevent a serious U.S. epidemic, according to computer models developed by Virginia Tech's Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory (NDSSL). Separately, CombiMatrix Corp. announced the availability of a flu chip manufactured for it by STMicroelectronics that it claimed can confirm swine flu infections in four hours. NDSSL, part of Virginia Tech's Bioinformatics Institute, (Blacksburg, Va.), boasts the world's most power epidemic modeling tool. It is used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has designated swine flu as the "2009 H1N1 flu virus."