Friday, November 30, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: Researcher claims to have found missing dark matter"

As much as 96 percent of the known Universe seems to be missing. Called dark matter or dark energy, the missing elements do not appear to emit or reflect enough electromagnetic radiation to be directly observed. Researchers at McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) now claim to have located the missing dark matter in a halo around galaxies. Using a supercomputer to create the most accurate model yet of galaxy formation, the researchers claim the missing matter was there all along, just not where researchers expected it to be.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"MATERIALS: NIST on road to perpetual motion with 'superfluidity' demo"

Perpetual motion is forbidden by the laws of classical physics, but in the quantum realm frictionless motion is possible. For instance, a closed loop of superconducting wire can exhibit perpetual motion, albeit only for electrons traveling around the frictionless loop of wire. If only such frictionless motion could be demonstrated for a fluid, then "superfluidity" could realize the frictionless motion of atoms around a torus, thereby enabling ultra-sensitive rotational sensors to be built.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: Freescale offers touch-panel software 'absolutely free'"

Frank Zappa made fun of the "absolutely free" concept by selling a full-priced album by that name in 1967. Now, 40 years later, Freescale Semiconductor Inc. (Austin, Texas) is making good on the "absolutely free" offer, with software to create capacitive touch panels and virtual rotary dials. This library of "absolutely-free" touch-panel software was unveiled on the eve of Freescale's Technology Forum (Nov. 28-29, 2007) in Shenzhen, China.

"MATERIALS: Carbon transistors touted as outperforming amorphous silicon"

Processing semiconductors at room temperature could enable large-scale applications like electronic billboards and ultra-low-cost applications like disposable RFID tags. But most room-temperature transistors have dismal electron mobility measured in the hundredths of centimeters2 per volt second (cm2/Vs). Now, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers are claiming to have perfected a method of making room- temperature transistors that are 100-times faster--as fast a amorphous silicon--by fabricating their channels from thin films of carbon-60 (C60), also knows as buckyballs or fullerenes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"CHIPS: Solid-state terahertz emitter devised"

A unique, inexpensive solid-state source of terahertz radiation has been demonstrated by Argonne National Laboratories, working with researchers in Japan and Turkey. Terahertz (THz) frequencies can penetrate clothing, leather, fabric, cardboard, paper and some building materials, but not metal or water. Since they are non-ionizing (unlike x-rays, which can knock your electrons out of orbit, terahertz emitters enable "x-ray vision" applications without the health hazards, for everything from security scans to medical and dental imaging.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"MATERIALS: Superinsulators rival superconductors"

Superconducting metals work by binding electrons into pairs called Cooper pairs whose motion can be coupled into long chains of electrons. Those electrons are synchronized with the conductor's lattice vibrations (when cooled near absolute zero), thereby avoiding the collisions with metal atoms that define resistance. Now a Brown University researcher claims to have discovered Cooper pairs in superinsulators that, when cooled near absolute zero, offer infinite resistance--acting as perfect blocks to conduction. Superinsulators may someday be wired together with superconductors to create supercircuits that generate zero heat.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"MEMS: Mass market makes a MEMS move'

Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) penetrated the mass market two decades ago, when they enabled air bags to trigger fast enough to catch passengers before they hit the steering wheel or windshield. MEMS chips gained a major business-market design-win a decade ago, when they began to be used to fabricate the high-precision ink-jet print-heads that displaced impact printers. Now, MEMS chips are entering the consumer-electronics mainstream with the same invigorating effect. Most recently, we're seeing MEMS technology being used in Nintendo's Wii and Apple's iPhone, and this may just be the beginning. The real volume customers will be the mainstream consumer-electronics makers adding MEMS chips to their ubiquitous devices.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: Electronics play noteworthy role in self-tuning guitar"

The world's first self-tuning guitar will be demonstrated by Gibson Guitar Corp. at music stores nationwide on Dec. 7, 2007--just in time for Christmas. But you better start saving up now, for the initial price tag for the limited-edition (4,000 )blue-silverburst Les Paul Robot Guitar will be $2,500--about $800 more than Gibson's least expensive U.S.-built Les Paul, which range in price from $1700 to $5000. However, don't fret if you don't have the scratch, because a standard edition self-tuning "robot" guitar will go on sale in January 2008

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"ENERGY: LEDs shine as replacement for lightbulb"

What are claimed to be the first white light-emitting diodes (WLEDs) to achieve a high color-rendering index were recently demonstrated by an international collaborative team of researchers. This could answer the last remaining stumbling block to universal adoption of white LEDs to replace incandescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes.

"MATERIALS: 'Haptics' display sought to bring graphics to the blind"

The EE who co-invented the electret microphone was recently recruited to help create the world's first graphical "haptic" display for the blind. James West, an electrical engineer, was awarded America's highest honor--the National Medal of Technology--for his work on the electret's charged polymer film that converts motion into an electrical signal. For the National Science Foundation funded haptic-display project, West wants to turn this concept around, by sending signals to an electro-active polymer that responds with motion on its surface. The researchers hope their efforts will result in a display of graphical patterns for the blind to feel with their hands.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"MEMS: RF-MEMS aims to tune mobile wireless"

As an aspiring fabless semiconductor house, WiSpry Inc. (Irvine, Calif.), recently laid claim to sampling the world's first integrated radio-frequency (RF) micro-electro-mechanical system. The MEMS chip--a digital capacitor array on a CMOS die--can match a cell phone's antenna impedance dynamically, rather having it set at the factory, saving dropped calls and extending battery life. And that's just the start, says WiSpry, for its forthcoming line of RF-MEMS devices, which the company says eventually will yield the holy grail of RF: software radio--an ultra-wideband communications channel that can be tuned to different bands anywhere in the spectrum.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"MATERIALS: Silicon circuits made ink-jet printable"

Silicon ink for printing electronic circuitry atop flexible foil substrates was unveiled today at the Printed Electronics conference (Nov. 12-15, 2007, San Francisco). Kovio, Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) described its "green" silicon ink for thin-film transistors (TFTs) that achieve the performance of polysilicon transistors, but at a third their price and consuming only 5 percent of the chemicals and 25 percent of the energy of single-crystal silicon. Kovio claimed that radio-frequency identification tags using its silicon ink will drop Kovio's price from 15 cents today to 5 cents by 2008, when Kovio begins volume production of its inkjet-printed RFID tags.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"QUANTUM:D-Wave taps Google image search for quantum computer"

The world's first commercial quantum computer will be strutting its stuff at the annual SC07 supercomputing conference this week (Reno, Nevada, November 10-16). By collaborating with Google's expert on its forthcoming search-by-image capability--acquired by Google last year when it bought Neven Vision--D-Wave Systems Inc. (Vancouver, B.C.) will demonstrate how quantum computers can perform Neven-based image-recognition tasks at speeds rivaling those of humans.

"MEMS: breed a new batch of consumer-pleasing devices"

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) have revolutionized every industry that has adopted them, according to presenters at the MEMS Executive Conference earlier this month in San Diego. For instance, the MEMS accelerometer has greatly enhanced the safety of automobiles with airbags. Likewise, the Nintendo Wii's motion-based controller has changed the gaming landscape, while Apple's iPhone has set a new standard for cell phones. Now, MEMS chips, combined with the smart software that utilizes them, are being designed into cell phones at a pace reminiscent of camera phone adoption, enabling a new breed of consumer-pleasing electronic devices.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"ALGORITHMS: Software specialist FogClear focuses post-silicon"

First silicon, the initial prototype of a new chip design, often involves days of tedious, labor-intensive debugging and mask repairs before production-ready chips can be produced. Most problems with initial prototypes can be diagnosed, but repairing problems deep inside a chip becomes increasingly difficult as design rules shrink and mask levels are added. Some have proposed adding extra tunable structures to affect repairs post-silicon. FogClear, a software-only approach to post-silicon debugging, was unveiled this week by University of Michigan researchers at the International Conference on Computer-Aided Design. FogClear aims to make obsolete the "first silicon" moniker by repairing errors in prototypes in hours rather than days. Proponents said this can be accomplished by merely changing one of the top interconnection layers.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

"MEMS: TI embraces digital mics"

Digital microphone pioneer Akustica Inc. said it has gained a design win in Texas Instruments' latest stereo audio codec chips. Dallas-based TI claims to be the first to add a digital microphone input to its codecs used in cellphones and other consumer audio devices. TI's TLV320 includes a I2S (Integrated Interchip Sound) pin enabling Akustica's digital microphone to bypass the usual analog-to-digital converter.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"MEMS: chips sprout wings"

Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) downsize the sensing element in a detector to reduce costs, improve accuracy and offer integration rivaling semiconductors. Unfortunately, the world does not downsize just because the element being used to sense it does. Consequently, the smaller MEMS devices become, the more easily they are clogged by dust and other particulate. Now Omron Electronic Components LLC (Schaumburg, Ill.) claims to have solved this problem for MEMS air-flow sensors with an innovative mechanical architecture it dubs the "penguin."

Monday, November 05, 2007

"MEMS: Optical signals interact with MEMS"

Micro- and nanoscale mechanical structures have long been used to sculpt and channel optical signals, from waveguides to resonators, but lately the direction of influence has reversed.
Now optical signals are being used to manipulate these mechanical structures. Recently, researchers at both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge) and Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.) demonstrated new methods of using optical signals to control mechanical structures, at least one group of material scientists proposing to close the feedback loop.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

"CHIPS: ASICs added to MEMS wafers"

Microelectromechanical system (MEMS) chips are currently joined to separate CMOS ASICs after separate wafers are diced. A new technique called "chip-on-MEMS" bonds ASIC dice atop an entire MEMS wafer before dicing, according to developer VTI Technologies Oy.