Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"CHIPS: Circuit-sized quantum effect observed"

Magnetic quantum effects have been harnessed for the first time at the lithographic scale of semiconductors by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the ISIS particle accelerator (U.K.). The international team reports chaining together 100 atoms of yttrium barium nickel oxide into a quantum spin-chain that, in effect, turned the 30-nanometer long magnetic molecule into a single element. The observed quantum effect holds the promise of using these unusually large magnetic molecules as switch, memory, or computing elements in future semiconductor circuits.

Monday, July 30, 2007

"NANOTECH: Carbon nanotubes aim for cheap, durable touch screens"

Unidym Inc., a subsidiary of Arrowhead Research Corp. (Pasadena, Calif.), claims its transparent nanotube-based thin films will enable consumer electronic devices like Nintendo's handheld video games to use a more durable touch screen that combines the stronger-than-steel properties of carbon nanotubes with the transparency of exotic indium-based films. With its carbon-nanotube-based thin films, Unidym is trying to claim a segment of the over-$1-billion market for transparent electronics today. Unidym is making tough nanotube thin films which it claims can replace transparent indium-based films with cheaper more durable carbon-based materials.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"CHIPS: Researchers edge closer to spintronics"

Future semiconductors encoding bits on the spin of electrons—called spintronics—promise to meld the advantages of optical-like polarization with silicon's ubiquitous infrastructure. The first step toward that goal—electronic injection and detection of spin-polarized electrons—has been demonstrated for the first time by Ian Appelbaum's research group at the University of Delaware (Newark).

"ALGORITHMS: Humans deal computer a loss in poker challenge"

The humans won and the computer lost in The World's First Man-Machine Poker Championship, which pitted two poker masters against a computer program, called Polaris, at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) conference this week, in Vancouver B.C.
Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, a mechanical engineer and winner on the World Poker Tour, and Ali Eslami, a gaming consultant turned professional poker player, beat Polaris in the last two matches, even though Polaris won one match and played to a draw in the first two matches.

Monday, July 23, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: Computer takes on champs in poker challenge"

The world's First Man-Machine Poker Championship is pitting two poker masters against a computer program, called Polaris, at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) conference (Vancouver B.C.). Polaris was programmed by the University of Alberta and is competing against Phil "The Unabomber" Laak, a mechanical engineer and winner of the World Poker Tour.

"CHIPS: Can metal-insulator electronics do it better, sans semiconductors?"

Ultrahigh-speed electronics is quickly approaching a "terahertz gap" between semiconductors that top out at hundreds of gigahertz and optical frequencies that hit hundreds of terahertz. Promising to span that breach, where wavelengths are measured in millimeters, is a new breed of metal-insulator electronics that inventor Phiar Corp. (Boulder, Colo.) has demonstrated at frequencies up to 3.8 THz. Phiar claims its technology surmounts hurdles in many applications for which it already claims to have industry development partners, including 60-GHz antenna-edge frequency conversion, parallel flash solid-state storage drives, monolithic millimeter-wave radar, integrated terahertz detector arrays for safe "X-ray vision" systems and chip-to-chip RF interconnects.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"CHIPS: IBM gets the lead out of its chip packages"

A lead-free process that lowers the cost of packaging flip-chip devices has entered volume production at IBM Corp.'s East Fishkill, N.Y., fab. As one of the first production facilities to use the technique, Controlled Collapse Chip Connection New Process (C4NP), IBM projects that it can achieve 99.7 percent yields. Flip-chip solder bumps are deposited by electroplating, which involves dipping wafers into a chemical bath, eletro-depositing the bumps, then disposing of the toxic chemicals in the bath. C4NP, which has been under development since 2004, uses a nozzle to inject molten solder into a wafer-scale mold. Bumps can then be applied to the entire wafer.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"OPTICS: Magnetic doping brightens OLEDs"

Efficiency is the name of the game for flat-panel display technologies. This is especially important for extending the battery life of cellphones, digital cameras, personal digital assistants and other portable devices that use organic LED displays. Now, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) claims it can make OLEDs 30 percent more efficient by doping them with magnetic nanoparticles. As a bonus, the introduction of magnetism into the OLED material enables brightness to be controlled without the addition of electrical contacts.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: Recipe for low-cost medical tests: FISH and chips"

Ultra-expensive medical tests such as fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) provide early warnings for a variety of diseases that can be cured if caught in time. Unfortunately, only the wealthy can routinely have them performed, because the reagents used in such tests can cost as much as $1 million per gram. Now an electrical engineer at the University of Alberta (Edmonton, Canada) has designed a programmable microfluidic chip—reminiscent of the Star Trek "tricorder"—that performs FISH and similar tests with a fraction of the reagents normally required. That can speed the time-to-results by at least tenfold and cut the costs from as much as $1,000 to as low as a dollar.

Monday, July 09, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: An electronic cure for cancer?"

Curing cancer is usually the domain of medical doctors, but now biomedical engineers at Virginia Tech and the University of California at Berkeley have invented a promising electronic therapy. Using short electrical pulses that target only cancer cells, together with real-time monitoring via electrical impedance tomography, the procedure has already been shown to cure cancer in lab rats. Currently the group is treating mice, and human trials are slated for 2008.

"MEMS: There's more to MEMS than meets the iPhone"

Score microelectromechanical systems a big assist on the iPhone. That's because Apple couldn't have rotated its Web pages from portrait (vertical) to landscape (horizontal) to match the orientation of an iPhone without using MEMS. The STMicroelectronics accelerometer used in the iPhone supplies analog acceleration values for all three directions, covering a range of ±2 g's. That makes it suitable not only for sensing orientation but also for applications that Apple could add at any time.

Friday, July 06, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: Mechatronics transforms driving experience"

In the feature film Transformers, which opened last week, mechatronic robots from the planet Cybertron invade Earth in search of that which endowed life on them. In the real world, mechatronic robots from the planet Earth invade Mars in search of that which endowed life on us. In both cases, mechatronics--the melding of electronics, mechanics, computers and control engineering--have spawned lifelike robots that can navigate and gather intelligence autonomously. Once dismissed as a fad, mechatronics has fulfilled its promise of smart autonomous electromechanical systems, used both in NASA's Rover, searching for signs of life on Mars, and in the modern car. The latter has been transformed into a vehicle of "robotic manipulators"--from antilock brakes to antiskid control to collision avoidance and, eventually, driverless cars. "You can call us autobots, for short," said Optimus Prime, the "good guy" robot in Transformers. But autobots is also a fitting moniker for the ultimate goal of automotive mechatronics: driverless cars.