Wednesday, June 30, 2004

"CHIPS: NASA preps labs-on-chip for space exploration"
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is harnessing lab-on-chip technology to detect life on other planets and monitor microbes inside spacecraft. Employing recent advances in microfluidic and sensor technology, NASA scientists are engineering an array of labs-on-chip. Each is specialized to detect certain types of life. "Lab-on-a-chip technology is maturing rapidly here on Earth, but to use it in spacecraft or on other planets we need to develop a set of unique chips with miniaturized controllers and analysis units so that scientists can conduct many different chemical and biological assays with each lab-on-a-chip," said Lisa Monaco, the project scientist for the Lab-on-a-Chip Applications Development program at NASA. "Lab-on-a-chip technology can be used to detect bacteria and life-forms on Earth and other planets as well as for protecting astronauts by monitoring crew health and detecting microbes and contaminants in spacecraft," said Helen Cole, project manager for the Lab-on-a-Chip Applications Development program. On Earth, early implementations of lab-on-chip technologies include home pregnancy tests as well as doctors' in-office tests for strep throat. These one-shot labs-on-a-chip mix, concentrate and control a specialized test that yields quick results in an inexpensive disposable device. But for use in space, almost everything about their design has to changed.
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Friday, June 25, 2004

"QUANTUM: researchers successfully teleport quantum bits"
Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the United States and the University of Innsbruck, Austria have demonstrated the transfer of information between two locations without any intervening physical medium. The separate efforts mark the first teleportation of material states, a concept long postulated and one that could open new avenues for unbreakable encryption technology � information would never be eavesdropped upon because it is not actually being transmitted. "We and another group at the University of Innsbruck are the first to demonstrate teleportation of quantum states from one location to another," said NIST physicist David Wineland. "Both groups have followed Bennett's original algorithm very closely, and we both successfully teleported qubits." Wineland was referring to a 1993 finding by IBM fellow Charles Bennett and five colleagues that because matter was based on quantum-mechanical waves, "beam me up, Scotty" teleportation was possible in principle. The caveat: The original of the item being teleported would be destroyed in the process.
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Monday, June 21, 2004

"ROBOT: student team's robot safely detects land mines"
Johns Hopkins University engineering students recently completed a remote-controlled robot that can find land mines in rugged terrain and mark their location by spraying paint. "I challenged the students to develop a vehicle that could get into rougher terrain, like bushes and high grass," said Carl Nelson, a principal staff physicist at the university's Applied Physics Laboratory. "I wanted it to be able to get off the roads and clear paths � where mine detection can be difficult to do by hand." Four Johns Hopkins engineering students rose to the challenge and spent almost a year designing a prototype robot. The machine is being evaluated by explosive-detection experts as a model for a low-cost robot for soldiers and humanitarian groups. It was designed by engineering students Edoardo Biancheri, Dan Hake, Dat Truong and Landon Unninayar. The project encompassed a two-semester course called the Engineering Design Project.
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Thursday, June 17, 2004

"FERROELECTRIC: X-rays probe failures in ferroelectric memories"
Unlike a conventional random-access memory, a ferroelectric RAM can switch its magnetic domains electrically between zero and one without having to call on standby power. Since ferroelectric memories already store data on smart cards and transform electrical pulses into sound in watch buzzers and ultrasound machines, it might seem that their properties were well-understood. Instead, as an advanced X-ray technique showed recently, the opposite is true. Conventional wisdom maintained that a single mechanism caused ferroelectric switches to get stuck after a few hundred thousand transitions between one and zero-making them unsuitable ro replace other RAM. But researchers at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), seeking ways to extend ferroelectrics' lifetimes, unveiled at least two mechanisms that cause ferroelectrics to fail.

Monday, June 14, 2004

"WIRELESS: smaller antenna design said to boost efficiency"
A four-year skunk works effort at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston has cut the size of an antenna by as much as one-third for any frequency from the KHz to the GHz range. Using conventional components the four-part antenna design cancels out normal inductive loading, thereby linearizing the energy radiation along its mast and enabling the smaller size. "The DLM [distributed load monopole] antenna is based on a lot of things that currently exist," said the researcher who invented the smaller antenna, Robert Vincent of the university's physics department, "but I've been able to put a combination of them together to create a revolutionary way of building antennas. It uses basically a helix plus a load coil." The patent-pending design could transform every antenna-from the GHz models for cell phones to the giant, KHz AM antennas that stud the high ground of metropolitan areas-Vincent said.
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Friday, June 04, 2004

"Heads-up display promises to help near-blind to navigate"
University of Washington students have turned a pair of Elvis Costello-style eyeglasses and a backpack into a system that helps the near-blind navigate around stationary objects. Their Wearable Low Vision Aid projects icons on top of obstacles seen in a heads-up display, using a laser diode and a vibrating crystal fiber made from components that cost less than $1. The system projects a bright warning icon � visible even to the legally blind � into the eye so as to illuminate just the part of the retina where the approaching obstacle is imaged. As a consequence, approaching obstacles are brightly highlighted, making them easy for the blind person to avoid (even if his or her vision is too poor to discern what they are).Audio Interviews / Text: