Monday, August 29, 2005

"BioMEMS: Labs climb onto nanochips"

Bioengineering-device design is drawing the electronics, scientific and medical fields into collaborative research and development projects reminiscent of the Star Trek "tricorder." Spock's tricorder could be pointed at anything to analyze its composition, and Dr. McCoy's version — a handheld medical scanner — could instantly monitor vital signs and diagnose disease. These are precisely the applications bioengineers are aiming at today: smart sensors for security, point-of-care medical diagnosis and environmental monitoring. The discipline of bioengineering integrates the biological, physical and engineering sciences to create technology that advances the understanding of living nucleic acids, proteins, cells and tissues. Its emergence has resulted in a dizzying array of innovative new biologics, therapeutics, materials and processes. The frontier technology of BioMEMS — microfluidic chips made from biological microelectromechanical systems — will enable a new era of "labs on a chip."

"SECURITY: Research enlists radiation to reveal hidden bombs"

M2 Technologies Inc. (Manhattan, Kan.) is teaming with Kansas State University professor William Dunn to develop a technology for detecting explosives from several meters away. The developers are tapping established gamma and neutron radiation sources and phenomena to build a system that they believe will detect explosives from a greater distance than the "sniffer" technologies proposed by others. "We are trying to address the problem of looking inside packages-vehicles or backpacks or whatever-to see when the contents have the characteristics of an explosive," said Dunn. "We are not using sniffing technology but instead are looking at the target with radiation that penetrates its surface and interrogates the contents, after which we look at the characteristics of the radiation that returns." Gamma rays "backscatter" from molecules to create a distinctive radiation pattern whose signature can be detected and analyzed to determine a container's contents. By using short pulses of gamma rays, any suspicious substances can be detected.

Monday, August 15, 2005

"SOFTWARE: IBM broadens the language of search"

Software that enables semantic metadata and natural language queries has been released by IBM Corp. as an open-source product. The Unstructured Information Management Architecture automatically annotates any type of metadata to text, images, audio and video, and associates semantic information about that data's meaning, allowing hidden relationships to be uncovered among facts. It also enables users to query with natural language rather than with a strict syntax. "Our open-source initiative enables software development that leverages unstructured information," said Arthur Ciccolo, department group manager for information and knowledge management at IBM Research. "The Unstructured Information Management Architecture provides interoperability among analytic software for searching, knowledge discovery, business intelligence and text." The UIMA is part of a trend in semantic software research that automatically annotates databases with metainformation about the meaning of the data. While ordinary data searches must specify syntax exactly, such as precisely spelling the text string "George W. Bush," the UIMA allows users to conduct semantic searches such as "current president." After IBM announced UIMA's release as open source, 16 software vendors promised compatibility.

"QUANTUM: Ultrasensitive quantum lasers sniff toxins"

Less than two years after Lucent Technologies Bell Labs pioneered the quantum cascade laser and predicted more-sensitive spectroscopy, Georgia Tech researchers say they've validated the concept of single-chip spectra analysis. By integrating all the components in one device, such a spectrometer could enable lab-on-a-chip applications reminiscent of the handheld "tricorder" popularized by Star Trek. No one has yet integrated all the components onto a single chip, but Boris Mizaikoff, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said he has proven the concept using available laboratory quantum cascade lasers, waveguides and detectors. Now he is testing the device as an ultrasensitive spectrometer. By using the midinfrared signatures for molecules that have the characteristics of known explosives, toxins and other agents of interest, Mizaikoff has shown that a single chip can identify through spectroscopy almost any substance of interest after "sniffing" scant parts per billion of that substance. Ultimately, the single-chip lab would be housed in a handheld device. In his initial tests, Mizaikoff coupled a hollow waveguide to a frequency-matched quantum cascade laser to irradiate a 1-milliliter gas sample. Conventional spectroscopy, by contrast, samples hundreds of milliliters. Yet sensing inside the photonic-bandgap material enabled the detection of levels down to 30 parts per billion.

Monday, August 08, 2005

"NANOTECH: MEMS spinoff joins medical, consumer drive"

Joining a lengthening line of large companies that have spun out entities with a MEMS focus, sensor vendor Robert Bosch GmbH has formed a subsidiary to centralize its microelectromechanical systems activities. Bosch Sensortec (Kusterdingen, Germany) will not compete with such MEMS giants as Analog Devices Inc. and Motorola Inc., which are mainly addressing the much larger automotive market, using MEMS for use in airbags and anti-lock brakes. Instead, Bosch Sensortec will concentrate on the emerging consumer and medical MEMS-chip markets. In doing so, the startup will compete with young companies like Kionix Inc., Cornell University's commercial MEMS licensee. Earlier this year, Kionix claimed the world's smallest triaxis accelerometer, which measures just 5 x 5 x 1.2 mm. Bosch Sensortec's own first product is also a triaxial accelerometer for consumer and medical applications, measuring 6 x 6 x 1.45 mm. Based on 17 years of MEMS development at Robert Bosch (Stuttgart, Germany), Sensortec's offering uses a high-aspect-ratio, deep-reactive ion-etching process. Bosch Senortech joins other large companies that have spun off MEMS enterprises in recent years, including Freescale Semiconductor, which last year was spun out from Motorola and includes a MEMS division. In 2003, Infineon Technologies acquired SensoNor; in 2002, GE bought NovaSensor. Some large companies are targeting the consumer and medical markets specifically. One of those is Oki Electric Industries Co. Ltd., which has announced a triaxial accelerometer measuring just 5 x 5 x 1.4 mm.

Monday, August 01, 2005

"NANOTECH: Sub-angstrom microscope targets nanotechnology"

A company based here has unveiled what it claims is the highest-resolution scanning-transmission electron microscope.
FEI Co. unveiled the new device at the Microscopy & Microanalysis conference this week in Honolulu. FEI claims its commercial instrument resolves at the sub-angstrom scale for the first time. Designed for nanotechnology development, FEI�s microscope, called the Titan 80-300, enables sub-angstrom (atomic scale) imaging and analysis. Vahe Sarkissian, FEI's chairman and CEO, called the microscope "a significant breakthrough for researchers, developers and manufacturers needing greater access to the nanoscale." Titan will be the platform from which the TEAM effort will develop their new microscope. TEAM (transmission electron aberration-corrected microscopy), is a collaborative project with the U.S. Office of Basic Energy Sciences, which coordinates microscopy efforts between U.S. national laboratories, universities and industry. The Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences Nanoscale Imaging, Characterization, and Manipulation at Oak Ridge National Laboratories is also participating.

"NANOTECH: Oregon flexes nanotech muscles"

Nanotechnology breakthroughs are poised to fuel rapid economic growth in the state of Oregon and beyond, according to speakers at last week's Micro Nano Breakthrough Conference here. "I believe that nanotechnology is the future of Oregon, the future of America and the future of the world economy," said Gov. Ted Kulongoski in his keynote here. Kulongoski said that major advances in nanotechnology are vindicating Oregon's investments, including breakthroughs in "green" manufacturing, nanoscale energy systems, safer nanoscale materials and a local market in test-and-measurement tools for the nanotech industry. To capitalize on growth in nanotechnology markets, Kulongoski is sponsoring a bill that would continue the state's $7 million funding for the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (Onami), which sponsored the conference. The bill also proposes a two-phase program that would expand funding for startups, allocating $75,000 to seed proof-of-concept projects and up to $200,000 in product-development funding for proof-of-concept projects that are successful enough to be offered a phase-two award.

"QUANTUM: One-dimensional wires demo electron split"

Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have experimentally verified a long-postulated possibility for one-dimensional quantum devices. The team fabricated wires so small that they were able to witness electron spin separating from its charge. The observation holds out more hope for the development of spin-based circuits.
"If you were to naively scale down the width of the wires in your device, they would cease to conduct at some point, even if you were able to make them perfect, which you won't," said Ophir Auslaender. The Weizmann Institute postdoctoral researcher was the one who first observed spin separating from charge. "We were able to observe some of these effects because our experiment circumvents some of the experimental barriers," Auslaender said. In the new breed of spintronic devices, digital logic is represented by electron spin rather than charge. In some research centers, experiments have shown that spin can flow and be modified by spintronic logic gates. Without the independent propagation of spin, spintronic devices would be limited-unable to add much functionality to the array of options available to today's circuit designers. Researchers Auslaender and Hadar Steinberg performed the work in the laboratory of professor Amir Yacoby at the Weizmann Institute of Science's Condensed Matter Physics Department.