Monday, August 30, 2004

"CHIPS: Toyota reports silicon carbide wafer advance"
Toyota Central Research and Development Laboratories Inc. (Aichi, Japan) will announce the development of ultrahigh-quality single-crystal silicon carbide 3-inch wafers at the Fifth European Conference on Silicon Carbide and Related Materials, which begins August 31, 2004 in Bologna, Italy. The results, which were developed in cooperation with Denso Corp., could herald a new era of high-power, high-temperature electronic devices that are impervious to radiation.

Friday, August 27, 2004

"QUANTUM: don't exceed speed of light"
In Einstein's prophetic world, fact is stranger than fiction. In the TV show Star Trek, beam-me-up-Scotty teleportation was only possible within the range of the "transporter," but in Einstein's world, teleportation is not limited by range. It does, however, require "entangled pairs" that have to be preinstalled like Sci-Fi channel Stargates. Teleportation is only possible if Alice keeps one half of an entangled pair at point A, while the other half is physically moved to Bob's location at point B. After that, it's as if anything goes � as long as it doesn't lead to exceeding the speed of light.
"QUANTUM: tangled states hold promise"
The intense search for semiconductors that can house quantum states can be traced to the promise they hold for the future of computing. Today, even experimental single-electron transistors can only represent a digital "1" or "0" depending upon whether the charge is present or absent. However, quantum states encode bits into the wave function of the electron � called its "spin" state � thereby enabling a superposition of any number of bits onto a single electron. For instance, as long as the spin of an electron is undisturbed, it can represent a 1, a 0 and any other in-between values simultaneously. When the spin of one electron interacts with that of another, the result can perform parallel computations on all the values represented in their complex waveforms.
"QUANTUM: teleportation exits realm of sci-fi"
The problem with teleportation � the real beam-me-up-Scotty kind--is not its principles, which appear to be sound, but in the devil's details. Fact: There is no way to "encode" all the detailed information in a single quantum state, much less the entire human body (which is composed of about 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 "quantum bits," or qubits). It would take a 1,000-km cube to house that much information on CD-ROMs. Even if you could automatically assemble them into Captain Kirk, just to transmit their data with theoretically perfect fat-pipe optical fibers would take more than 100 million centuries. Nevertheless, researchers in the lab have begun to demonstrate true teleportation--not the sort that disassembles Kirk and puts him back together on the planet surface, but the kind that delivers the devil's details from point A (for Alice) to B (for Bob) despite there being no way to encode all that data. How? By not encoding it. Instead, Alice mixes the unencodable data with the quantum state of an entangled pair for which Bob has the twin--and presto! The phenomenon that Albert Einstein called "spooky action at a distance" teleports the unencodable quantum states, qubit per qubit.

Monday, August 23, 2004

"NANOSCALE: parts get binding aid to self-assembly"
Nanoscale particles that are easy to manufacture piecemeal � but hard to assemble � may benefit from a new "sticky patch" technology that researchers at the University of Michigan say enables nanoscale self-assembly. "By mimicking biological assembly, we are exploring ways to nanoengineer materials that are self-assembling, self-sensing, self-healing and self-regulating," said Sharon Glotzer, an associate professor of chemical engineering on the Ann Arbor campus. The researchers' method � using sticky patches that enable parts to put themselves together in programmable ways � could help fabricate new nanoscale materials and devices. In computer simulation, Glotzer and research fellow Zhenli Zhang showed how to self-assemble nanoparticles into wires, sheets, shells and other even more-complex structures.

Friday, August 13, 2004

"CHIPS: bonding breakthrough may ease MRAM design"
For all their promise, magnetic random-access memories have barely made it out of the lab due to problems plaguing their scaling to smaller sizes--namely, the need for lower drive current and thinner metallization. Now researchers at Sandia National Laboratories claim to have patented a method for solving MRAM and other such metal-on-insulator problems. "Ordinarily, putting metal on an insulator is like putting water on a waxed car," said Dwight Jennison, a theoretical physicist at Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, N.M.). "What we are offering here, to anyone who is trying to mix insulators and metals, is the ability to make a strong interface between them, resulting in more reliable devices that are less likely to develop cracks--in everything from thin films to macroscale metal-clad ceramics." The method--discovered by Jennison with chemist Scott Chambers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Jeffrey Kelber, a professor of chemistry at the University of North Texas--could have implications well beyond MRAMs. It could also revolutionize every macroscale industrial process that involves putting metal on insulators, such as metal-clad ceramics that today require extensive brazing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

"QUANTUM: dots poised for production line"
University researchers are using self-assembly techniques and chip-related chemistry to develop a process for mass producing tiny crystals called quantum dots. Semiconductor nanocrystals promise a quantum leap over traditional optoelectronics due to their unique and size-tunable properties. Quantum dots measure a few nanometers in size and are already revolutionizing biological and environmental sensing due to their size-dependent luminescence. Other applications include telecommunications, photovoltaics, lasers and quantum computing. A research team at the University at Buffalo claims to have discovered a simple way to mass-produce quantum dots with extreme precision, in nearly any desirable size, using a technique based on self assembly and room-temperature chemistry.

Friday, August 06, 2004

"WIRELESS: Futuristic factories make mesh"
It is the holy grail of the factory floor: hundreds of sensors wirelessly connected, monitoring motors for problems and drastically reducing energy consumption � all with the precision and rhythm of a philharmonic orchestra. The need is there, the software is there, the topology is fairly well understood and the silicon costs are falling. One market forecaster sees 169 million nodes and a $5.9 billion end-user market by 2010. Still, it's not as easy as it looks. Wireless mesh is a new paradigm with lingering unknowns, and some wireless silicon is still more expensive than wired solutions. The goal, in the eyes of many, remains a ways off. GE Global Research, Sensicast Systems Inc. and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have teamed up to push the agenda forward. They are engaged in a three-year, $6 million proof of concept funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that is scheduled to yield a working prototype within a year and a complete wireless-factory installation by 2006.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

"WIRELESS: transceiver-on-chip now possible"
A research team from Michigan-based universities says it has succeeded in integrating the last two components needed to create a one-chip wireless transceiver. "Our research group picked up the challenge to integrate the last two off-chip components onto a wireless transceiver," said Michael Flynn, head of the wireless-interface group at the Wireless Integrated Microsystems Engineering Research Center (WIMS ERC) at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). "Thanks to Kamal Sarabandi, we have demonstrated a Zigbee [2.4-GHz] wireless link using our 1-centimeter-square slot antenna and thanks to probably the world's foremost expert on RF MEMS [microelectromechanical systems for radio frequencies], Clark Nguyen, we have also developed a wineglass-like resonator to replace the off-chip quartz crystal. "Now all the wireless components can be on one chip � enabling everything from hearing aide-sized cell phones to smart dust," said Flynn. Kamal Sarabandi, a member of the WIMS ERC, is director of the Radiation Laboratory at the Electrical Engineering Computer Science (EECS) College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. Clark Nguyen, who developed the wineglass resonator, is an EECS associate professor. "Sarabandi's group has been talking to Intel about commercializing the antenna design in wireless laptop computers, and others have been showing interest in the wineglass resonator," said Flynn.