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Science & Technology News (705)

Building a Ferroelectric Tunnel Junction with Graphene

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 26, 2014 02:15PM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Data storage is a big deal as all computers require it and in the case of RAM, it can also be one of the significant power sinks. This is because RAM has to continually refresh the information stored within it. High speed, nonvolatile memory would address this issue as it would not need the constant rewriting, and researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have recently found a way to improve a potential replacement for RAM.

Ferroelectric tunnel junctions contain a very thin ferroelectric layer between two electrodes. The layer is thin enough that electrons can tunnel through it, but only if its polarization allows. This polarization can be changed by applying a voltage. What the Nebraska-Lincoln researchers have done is created such a junction using graphene electrodes and ammonia. Graphene is an atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms that is highly conductive. The ammonia is placed between the graphene and the ferroelectric layer, and the key here was how the graphene interacted with the ammonia. The combination resulted in a greater difference between the on and off states of the junction, making it clearer which state it was in.

A larger gap between states will make it easier to quickly read the stored data. The researchers also found indications that the graphene-ammonia combination may increase the stability of the ferroelectric layer, which will tend to relax over time, losing its polarization.

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

New Means to Manipulate a Material's Properties

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 26, 2014 06:58AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Electricity and magnetism are two fairly different phenomena and at times, technologies based on them compete with each other, as they both have advantages and disadvantages. Many are working to develop technologies that employ both though, to tap the advantages of both, without the disadvantages. Researchers at MIT have recently made a discovery that could enable just that in computer memory and likely more.

The researchers were working with a device that looks similar to a capacitor, in that it has two conductive layers separated by an insulating layer. In this device though, both conducting layers are magnetic, but one has a fixed magnetic orientation while the other can be switched between orientations. When the two layers have the same orientation, more electricity can get through the insulating layer than if the orientations were different. The switching is achieved by applying a voltage. What the researchers discovered is that if the insulating material is an oxide, the voltage is 100 times more powerful at altering the magnetic properties. This is because the oxygen ions in the insulating layer would move in response to the voltage.

This discovery could one day be used to create a nonvolatile magnetic memory system and already the researchers have achieved a switching rate of a megahertz. Of course it will have to be faster than that to compete with modern, electrical memory, but this discovery could also open doors to controlling other properties, such as reflectivity and thermal conductance.

Source: MIT

Improving Biological Circuit Predictability

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 25, 2014 02:01PM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Some visions of the future have included complex devices that are implanted into human bodies, to treat illnesses and repair damaged cells. Scientists actually are working toward such devices, and while they will be complex, they may not be implants, in the traditional sense. Many have been developing biological circuits that use cells to perform operations, and now researchers at MIT have developed a device that could greatly advance the field.

For any circuit to be useful, it must be reliable so that the proper inputs result in the correct output. For electronics connected by solid wires, that is not too hard to achieve, but organelles within cells transmit information by chemical reactions, as they float around. This makes it much more likely that some part of a biological circuit will make a mistake, by interacting with a chemical it should not have, for the operation to succeed. To address this problem, the MIT researchers have developed a load driver, which behaves similar to those in electronic circuits, by acting as a buffer between the signals and the output, preventing delays in outputs.

With such a tool, many complex biological circuits may become possible, thanks to the increased reliability. Potential applications include circuits that will detect and destroy cancerous cells, but not healthy ones, and circuits that monitor glucose in a diabetic, and trigger insulin releases as needed.

Source: MIT

Study Examines Weakest Link in Computer Security

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 25, 2014 06:48AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Chances are that if you regularly visit this site, you are technology literate and understand how to protect your computer(s). This is not the case for many people though, which can cause problems. Researchers at Brigham Young University decided to investigate this phenomenon and found an interesting correlation between behaviors and brains.

As many people know, the weakest link in computer security is the user. After all, modern operating systems employ techniques to secure themselves, but users clicking buttons they should not, can get around security protocols. To examine this, the researchers started by questioning a group of students about online security. Naturally every participant said they were concerned about it. After this they were asked to help test a computer algorithm, by identifying if pictures of Batman on a website were animated or photographed, using their own computers. As they worked on the pictures, pop ups would randomly appear, warning the user about malware on the site. The students ignored these warnings and after ignoring enough of them, were presented with a message containing laughing skulls, a countdown timer, and the words "Say goodbye to your computer." What were the students' responses? They included shutting down the computers, yanking out the cables, and screaming.

While the participants may not have lived up to their responses about online security, EEGs of their brains' risk responses did predict how they would react. This is an important discovery as it could help in the development of strategies to improve a user's behavior, thus strengthening the weak link in security.

Source: Brigham Young University

Room-Temperature Terahertz Device Created

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 24, 2014 01:58PM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

In many places, security is of great importance, but it can also be a great hindrance by slowing people down as they go through checks. Naturally many want a security solution that will ease the slowdown, but without compromising any of the checks. One area of technology that may achieve that is terahertz devices, and now researchers at Northwestern University have created a tunable terahertz source that operates at room temperature.

Terahertz frequencies rest between the infrared and microwave sections of the spectrum and are of interest to many because they interact strongly with organic molecules, without damaging them. As many dangerous chemicals, like explosives, are considered organic, a terahertz device would be able to detect them at distance. One difficulty with these frequencies of light though is that they are hard to produce and can even require vacuum chambers and cryogenics, making sources expensive and unwieldy. By mixing nonlinear quantum cascade lasers though, the Northwestern researchers were able to create them in the range of 1 to 4.6 THz, at up to 1.9 mW of power. Using special waveguides they designed, they were able to tune the device between 2.6 THz and 4.2 THz at room temperature.

Of course this new source could have applications in security systems, by scanning for dangerous materials noninvasively, but it would likely also see use in medicine, as a means to probe beneath the skin for issues. The technology could even have applications for deep space imaging.

Source: Northwestern University

New Polarizer Developed for Improved Displays and Cameras

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 24, 2014 07:05AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Polarization is important for many technologies, including displays and cameras. For cameras polarized filters are used to eliminate glare and in displays they are used to control the light that ultimately reaches our eyes. In both cases though, the polarizers can take out 60% to 70% of the light, dimming the result, which is why researchers at the University of Utah have designed a new filter.

Sunlight and ambient light is unpolarized, which means the light oscillates in all directions. When a single polarizer is used, such as to only let horizontally polarized light through, half of the light will be either absorbed by the filter or reflected. For cameras this is a problem for low-light pictures and for displays it means more energy is needed to create a bright image. What the Utah researchers have designed addresses the problem by actually altering the polarization of the light coming in, so more of it will pass through.

So far the researchers have achieved 74% transmission, but their goal is to let all the light through. They expect it may be five to ten years before we see this technology enter the market.

Source: University of Utah

Customer Recommendation Have Significant Influence on Purchases

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 21, 2014 02:12PM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

With Black Friday approaching, there is a good chance many of us will be searching through sales for "amazing deals." What influences us to actually purchase one item or another is of interest to many, and researchers at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and Technische Universität have found that customer recommendations can play a significant role in the decision.

To do this study, the researchers looked at purchases for a toy and game mail order company for a nearly four week period. The test group was shown social network endorsements, such as 'Like' and '+1', while the control group was not. The result was a 13% increase in sales by the test group, which is a significant difference. The researchers also found that this impact is felt mostly with more hedonistic buying behavior, such as impulse buying, as opposed to targeted purchases. More investigation showed an increase in purchases of 18% when people shopped online during their free time, with an almost 26% increase in spending.

The researchers suggest that the customer recommendations may be triggering a kind of herd behavior amongst consumers. They also found that, like with targeted purchases, purchases made when consumers have little time to browse were not affected by recommendations that much.

Source: Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainx

New Evidence for Topological Insulator Property

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 21, 2014 07:09AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

They say one should not judge a book by its cover, but sometimes the cover is the most interesting part. Topological insulators (TIs) are a curious class of materials that conduct electricity on their surfaces, but not through their bulk. Researchers at Purdue University have recently found that they also possess another property that should prove useful in future applications of TIs.

Due to the different properties between a topological insulator's bulk and surface, electrons can have some odd behaviors. Among these is that electrons on the surface are always spin polarized, unlike in other materials where the spins can be random and cancel each other out. This is one of multiple special properties that could see TIs used for spintronics and quantum computers. What the Purdue researchers have found is that the electrical resistance of the material is not dependent on its thickness. This is not normally the case with other three-dimensional materials, but here it is. They also found that the conduction seemed to be topologically protected, which would help it maintain conductance as thickness decreases.

It is because of this protection and the ability to conduct electrons without disrupting their spin states that could allow TIs to be made into spintronic and quantum computers. Such computers would operate very differently from modern computers and potentially allow for much more complicated operations to be performed very quickly.

Source: Purdue University

Quantum Dot Displays Coming to Market, thanks to MIT Spinout

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 20, 2014 03:32PM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

It is not uncommon for academics at universities to form spinout companies based on their research. One example is QD Vision, which is an MIT spinout that works with quantum dot displays. Thanks to partnerships with other companies, QD Vision's technology may soon be coming to the world.

Quantum dots are semiconductor nanocrystals that can be tuned to react to and emit specific colors of light. This ability to directly emit light is part of why many want to see them used in televisions, and thanks to Sony and TCL, some televisions are already using the spinout's Color IQ technology. Traditional LCD TVs place a white LED backlight behind red, green, and blue filters to produce colors on the screen. The problem is that the LED backlight is not actually white but blue; a phosphor is used to create the white light, which causes some of the light to be lost. Color IQ has a different approach as it uses the blue backlight, without a phosphor, to energize quantum dots to produce red and green. The result is a display that covers 50% of the NTSC color gamut while being 20% more efficient.

Compared to OLED displays, the Color IQ displays are just as colorful, but significantly cheaper to produce. Currently the quantum dot displays using QD Vision's technology are only available in Chine, but they are expected to come to the rest of the world in mere months.

Source: MIT

Getting Warmer Glows from LEDs

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 20, 2014 07:02AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Because of their efficiency, many want to see white LEDs used to light our homes, but while they do use less power, they are also less warm. White LEDs do not actually produce white light but instead emit blue light that energizes a phosphor, which then produces the white light. The resulting light has a cooler, blue tint to it, but researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology, as reported in Optics Express have found a way to create a warmer tone, when LEDs are dimmed.

Others have created LED systems that produce a warm color when dimmed by using multiple LEDs that mix their colors. These systems are rather complicated though, as control circuitry has to be used to make sure the many components work correctly together. The Eindhoven researchers' approach however is simpler as it just changes the phosphor used. This new phosphor is a composite of a liquid crystal and polymeric material, which makes it sensitive to temperature. At higher temperatures it is transparent, allowing the cooler, blue light of the LED to come through, but at lower temperatures, when the LED is dimmed, it scatters light. This causes more of the blue light to stay in the phosphor, creating a warmer glow.

Generally, humans prefer warmer, redder light in low-light situations and that may have to do with the color of the Sunrise and Sunset. By having LEDs produce a warmer light when dimmed, the technology could become more acceptable in homes. The researchers predict that products using their design could reach the market in just two years, if they are proven reliable.

Source: The Optical Society

Social Networking Games Found to Improve Family Connections

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 19, 2014 02:16PM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

They say the family that plays together, stays together as a result of the interactions between family members. Researchers at Concordia University have found that this remains true for social networking games, as it did for traditional board games.

With many families spread across countries and even continents, staying connected can be difficult, which is why many have turned to social networks and some to social networking games (SNGs). To examine the impacts SNGs have had on families, the Concordia researchers gave questionnaires to a group of social network gamers and followed them up with interviews. They found that the games actually improved quality of time family members spent together, even if the games lack direct communication or had asymmetrical multiplayer. The reason for this is that the games gave a common topic to discuss. The researchers also found that this was not limited to younger generations, as grandparents were playing with grandchildren.

Naturally the researchers see this as a means for families to stay connected, but they also recognize that this is something game designers could take advantage of. Families connecting through a game are more likely to keep playing, and extend the life of the games more than playing with strangers or even friends.

Source: Concordia University

Nanoparticles Made for both MRI and Fluorescent Imaging

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 19, 2014 06:03AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

It is always nice when a tool has multiple uses as it can simplify work and even make new things possible. This is no less true in medicine but in that field, it can be more difficult to achieve than adding a saw blade to a knife. Researchers at MIT though have developed a nanoparticle that works for both MRI and fluorescent imaging, and could give new insight into a patient's cancerous and healthy tissue.

The nanoparticles are made from polymer chains that have either an MRI contrast agent or fluorescent molecule attached. The contrast agent is a nitroxide and 99% of the polymer chains have this attached to it, while the fluorescent molecule is called Cy5.5 and is attached to the remaining one percent. Normally, the nitroxide will hide the Cv5.5 but can be deactivated by grabbing electrons from other molecules. For the researchers' tests in mice, this other molecule was vitamin C and as that is produced in the liver, that organ would fluorescence but had no MRI signal. The brain also had some fluorescence, as that is a destination of the vitamin C, but the blood and kidneys had maximal MRI contrast, due to the low concentrations of vitamin C present there.

The researchers also created nanoparticles that can carry up to three separate drugs, allowing them to monitor if the drugs are reaching their intended target. These nanoparticles have tremendous diagnostic capability by enabling doctors to follow disease progression in a patient, in real-time.

Source: MIT

Martian Water May Have Been Episodic

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 18, 2014 11:06AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Many a long time the idea of life and liquid water on Mars has intrigued humanity. To look at it now, we can see it is dry and arid, but we have also learned that it likely did once have water flowing over its surface. Now researchers at Brown University and the Weizmann Institute of Science are suggesting that these warm periods, when water might have flowed, were episodic and based on the planet's volcanism.

Part of the reason Mars is dry today is because it is too cold to support liquid water. Some believe that it may have supported it billions of years ago, but that long ago, the Sun was dimmer, so where would the heat have come from? What the researchers suggest is that periods of volcanic activity may have triggered temporary warming periods, allowing water to form around the equator. This would be the opposite of what we see on Earth though, as volcanos typically cool our planet, but then our atmosphere is very different from that of Mars. The red planet has a dusty atmosphere, and the sulfuric acid released by volcanism could have caused the dust to clump up, allowing more light to strike the surface, while sulfur dioxide may also have kept some of the heat from escaping.

If this theory is correct, one of the implications is that the planet likely only enjoyed these warm periods for decades or centuries at a time. That may not seem like much time, but it is still possible that life could have formed and bloomed during those periods, in which case we may have a better idea of where to look for any fossil remnants.

Source: Brown University

Spin Waves Successfully Created and Controlled

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 18, 2014 07:08AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Many of our modern devices rely on electronics that perform operations based on the charge of electrons. In the future, electronics may be replaced by spintronics, which use a different property of electrons, but much must be done before that future can be achieved. Researchers at New York University and the University of Barcelona have recently succeeded in creating and controlling spin waves in a way that is bringing that future a little closer.

Instead of relying on the charge of electrons, spintronics use their spin, which is an intrinsic property tied to magnetism. This allows spintronics to potentially be much more efficient, as spin waves do not have to possess a certain amount of energy to be readable. Producing and controlling spin waves is not easy though, at least not when the target is waves that will be useful for advanced devices. Ideally these waves will have short wavelengths, which are what the researchers have managed to create by injecting spin-polarized currents into magnetic materials, using nanoscale contacts. That made the waves short, but by combining magnetic forces they were also able to confine the spin waves into magnetic droplets that remained still, instead of propagating out.

By controlling these droplets, it could one day be possible to emit spin waves on demand, with information encoded in them.

Source: New York University

Unexpected Find with Ceramic Copper Superconductor

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 17, 2014 02:16PM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Superconductors are amazing materials that could one day revolutionize the world by allowing the electrons to flow without resistance. That day has not yet come though, because materials only become superconducting at low temperatures. While investigating one, researchers at Linköping University discovered it undergoes a process that could upset our understanding of superconductivity in this and similar superconductors.

The superconductor in question is YBa2Cu3O7-x, or YBCO, which is a ceramic copper-based material that becomes superconducting at -183 ºC. Since it was first discovered, researchers have known it was odd because it consists of two planes of copper oxide, with separate chains of copper oxide between them. Exactly what role these chains played has been unknown for years, but it had been discovered that varying the oxygen doping of the chains, influences the critical temperature of the material. Using X-ray absorption spectroscopy and resonant inelastic X-ray scattering, the researchers found that the material undergoes self-doping, whereby positively charged holes are supplied to the copper oxide planes from the chains, when cooled.

This had not been observed before in this material and will almost certainly change our understanding of how superconductivity arises in many copper-based high-temperature superconductors. Normally a constant doping level is assumed, but this no longer appears to be the case.

Source: EurekAlert!

Securing 3D Data in QR Codes

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 17, 2014 09:05AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

At this point, QR codes are practically part of day-to-day life, sending us information and links with our smartphone cameras. While they already have many uses, one would probably not expect the next use they may have. Researchers at the University of Connecticut, as reported in The Optical Society's Optica journal, have developed a way to store 3D information in QR codes, and to do so securely.

Many people probably do not think about it, but QR codes can actually be dangerous as many scanners will just open the links the codes contain, and those sites may contain malicious code. This is because those QR codes only contain the web address and nothing else. The system the researchers developed however, keeps some of the data in the code, so an Internet connection is not needed. The data is actually a portion of a 3D image, made from multiple 2D images, and broken into parts. By scanning multiple codes in sequence, a phone can collect all of the data and reconstitute the original, 3D image.

The process is a bit more complicated than that though, as the data in the codes is also encrypted and compressed, so the scanner will need the proper key to decrypt it. Modern smartphones are capable of this though, so the researchers see a future where these QR codes are used to securely share 3D information using standard smartphone technologies.

Source: The Optical Society

Software, Repair Thyself

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 17, 2014 06:29AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Malware is a problem for everyone with a computer device that connects to any other. With the right attack, popular and important services can be taken down and private information can be stolen, which makes protection systems very important. Researchers at the University of Utah have recently created a new tool that not only protects against malware, but can repair the damage, and learns to block it in the future.

Advanced Adaptive Applications, or A3, was designed to protect virtual machines by continually scanning its operations with stackable debuggers. These are multiple debugging tools that all run on top of each other, to watch what a virtual machine is doing and catch any errant behavior. When it does, it will stop the virus or attack, and then approximates a repair for the software code that was affected. It also learns to prevent the issue from happening again. All of this it does in just minutes and without disrupting servers.

The researchers have already demonstrated A3 with the Shellshock attack, and succeeded in stopping the attack and repairing the damage in just four minutes. It was designed to run on systems using a version of Linux and was funded by DARPA, but being open source, the researchers believe that it could be adapted into commercial products at some point.

Source: University of Utah

New Electronic Tongue Developed

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 14, 2014 06:25PM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Taste is such an important sense as it can let us know to avoid spoiled foods and more. Naturally, some have been working to replicate this sense electronically, for use as a chemical sensor. As reported in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, a group of researchers have succeeded in creating such a sensor that is both highly sensitive and cheap.

Electronic tongues mimic real tongues by having a great many, small sensors on them that detect different substances, and then report back what they have. What sets this e-tongue apart from others is that it has a silicon base, which will make it easier to connect to other, silicon-based electronics. So far they have tested it with water, whiskey, cognac, and Armagnac and it did provide distinct signatures for each.

Already artificial tongues are used to check the quality of different foods, but this device could have more uses beyond that. The researchers specifically designed it to have potential applications in medicine for diagnostics and drug testing, as well as environmental monitoring on top of food testing.

Source: American Chemical Society

Study Suggests Higgs Boson May Not have been Discovered

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 14, 2014 10:05AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

One of the many goals of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was to discover the Higgs boson, a long sought-after particle that would fit a gap in the Standard Model. In 2012, researchers identified a new particle in an energy range that the Higgs particle may exist at. While many took this to mean that it was indeed the Higgs boson that was found, there is not yet enough evidence to prove that, and now researchers at the University of Southern Denmark are expanding on that.

The Standard Model is the theory currently used to explain particle physics and has had known issues for some time. Among these is a lack of an explanation for mass, which is what the Higgs boson is supposed to explain. Study of the Standard Model has allowed the properties of the particle to be approximated, including its energy value, which is why many believe the LHC found it. What the Southern Denmark researchers point out in their study though is that the math is not conclusive evidence that the Higgs boson was actually discovered, but that a different particle may have been. Specifically they suggest it may have been a techni-higgs particle, which would rock a great deal of the scientific world.

The techni-higgs particle is like the Higgs boson, but has some important differences, including not being an elementary particle. It would actually be made of techni-quarks, which are believed to be elementary. If it turns out that this is what was discovered, which the researchers believe is equally likely, it would lead to a massive change to science as techy-quarks are likely bound together by what is called the Technicolor force, and not one of the four known fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear force, and strong nuclear force).

Source: EurekAlert!

Transferring Atomically Thin Material Without Damage

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 14, 2014 06:14AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

In general, the smaller an object is, the more fragile it is, so when working with atom-thick sheet, you can expect it to be very fragile. Such fragility has proven to be a problem for thin semiconductors when trying to transfer them to flexible materials. Researchers at North Carolina State University however, have devised a method to very simply separate molybdenum sulfide from one substrate to another, without wrinkling or cracking it.

Molybdenum sulfide (MoS2) is an inexpensive semiconductor and has optical and electrical properties similar to other semiconductors. Being a thin film just an atom thick though, does give it the advantage of being flexible, but it cannot be made on a flexible substrate. The manufacturing process is too hot for a flexible substrate to survive, so the MoS2 has to be transferred. Current methods require chemical etching, but the chemistry can damage the film, but the researchers have a much safer and faster method. The substrate the thin film is grown on, and attached to, is made of sapphire, which is hydrophilic, while the MoS2 is hydrophobic. By placing a drop of water on the thin film and poking its edge with tweezers or a scalpel, the water will actually move between the materials, peeling them apart.

Chemical etching normal requires hours to separate the materials, while this method is done in just minute. With this method being so much simpler and faster, it could be used to bring MoS2 to future, flexible devices.



Source: North Carolina State University

Making Precise Atomic Clocks Mobile

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 13, 2014 02:10PM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Though you may not realize it, atomic clocks are important to your daily life in a number of ways. Without them, distributed systems, such as cell networks, cable networks and GPS, could collapse as the many parts fall out of synchronous with each other. Currently the most accurate atomic clocks are about the size of a room, making them hard to move to areas you may need accurate time, but researchers at MIT may be changing that soon.

Atomic clocks work by measuring the oscillations of atoms between two states, and room-sized fountain clocks achieve this by passing clouds of cesium atoms through microwave beams. Creating microwave beams requires somewhat large equipment though, which is why these clocks are so large. Optical lasers are much smaller and could be used, except that the laser's electric field could shift the oscillation frequency over time. To solve this problem, the researchers vary the frequency and intensity of the laser. The result is a miniature fountain clock that could potentially be the size of a Rubik's cube.

These smaller atomic clocks will not be as accurate as their big brothers, but will still be more precise than the chip-sized atomic clocks currently available, by only drifting over a day or a week. That may not seem like long, but in areas GPS signals, transmitting accurate times can be lost, like underwater, indoors, or in militarily hostile environments, that could be just what is needed.

Source: MIT

Atom-Thin Boundaries Observed

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 13, 2014 09:59AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Connections are critical in life and in physics, as the interface or boundary between materials can have some special properties. Recently, with the discovery of 2D materials, many have been wondering about what happens at the one-dimensional boundaries between two of these materials. Now researchers at ORNL have managed to actually see these boundaries and analyze some of their properties.

The two materials used for this are graphene and hexagonal boron nitride, which researchers only learned to grow together in a single layer, earlier this year. To see the 1D boundary between the materials, the researchers had to use scanning tunneling microscopy, spectroscopy, and density-functional calculations. This combination allowed them to observe spatial and energetic distributions along the boundary. What they found was a very confined electric field, which allowed them to observe a polar catastrophe. This phenomenon is known to occur in 3D oxide interfaces and involves atoms and electrons reorganizing themselves in response to an electrostatic field. That field is produce from the materials having different polarities.

Beyond improving our knowledge of 1D interfaces this research could lead to some real-world applications. One dimensional electron chains could be used to carry current in ultra-thin or flexible devices.

Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Twisted Light Sends Data 3 Km

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 13, 2014 07:10AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Optical data transmission can be tricky as you have to make sure the frequency used will not interfere with other transmissions, destroying the data. One way around this is to use different polarizations of light, which traditionally had limitations, but thanks to orbital angular momentum, those limits are disappearing. Now researchers from Austria have successfully transmitted 16 streams of data using the same frequency, 3 Km across Vienna.

Optical polarization is the orientation a wave oscillates in, and examples would be vertical, horizontal, and circular. In 1992, researchers first started investigating orbital angular moment (OAM), which can be used to have light waves spiral like a corkscrew. As light can theoretically be made to have infinitely many twists in it, infinitely many channels could use the same frequency of light. In this case the researchers only used 16 different twist patterns to transmit images. Before the images could be sent the 3 Km across Vienna though, the researchers had to test the light beams and used an artificial neural network to filter out the disturbances from air turbulence.

Obviously this research, especially the method for countering disturbances, is important for future, wireless transmission technologies, by allowing for tremendously greater bandwidth. It could also be used for quantum communication though, as each photon could carry more information than just spin or polarization, but also an OAM number.



Source: Institute of Physics

NVIDIA Releases Apollo 11 GeForce Demo

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 12, 2014 05:21PM
Author: Brentt Moore

NVIDIA has officially released its Apollo 11 GeForce demo to the public, which allows owners of Maxwell-powered GeForce GTX GPUs to discover that the photograph of the Apollo 11 landing is in fact genuine and authentic. This release comes roughly two months after NVIDIA showed off its software at GAME24, which created quite a stir amongst conspiracy theorists. The Apollo 11 GeForce demo utilizes Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, the new Maxwell GPU architecture, and VXGI real-time global illumination to create a virtual environment that debunks the conspiracy theory of the photograph being faked by NASA.

Interested owners of Maxwell-powered GeForce GTX GPUs can download the Apollo 11 GeForce demo immediately from the NVIDIA website, with more information about the demo available on the company’s blog.

Source: Press Release

Controlling Gene Expression with Thoughts

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 12, 2014 11:11AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Science fiction has taught us the thought-controlled technologies can be pretty awesome, as devices react to our wishes instantaneously. I wonder how many sci-fi story tellers ever thought that gene expression would be something controlled by the mind. That is exactly what researchers at ETH Zurich have achieved though.

Gene expression is the process of using the information stored in genes to generate proteins. In this case, the researchers were working with SEAP, which is an easily detected human model protein, and had it produced by cell cultures by implants in mice. Besides the cell cultures, the implant also possessed an LED that would light up the culture, which is what directly controlled the gene expression. Electroencephalograms (EEGs) of test subjects were used to control the LED, with different states of mind causing different amounts of SEAP to be produced. When the subjects were concentrating, the mice contained normal levels of the protein, but when they were meditating, the levels spiked. The subjects were also allowed to observe the LED and were able to consciously control the LED, switching it on and off.

The applications for this research naturally include implants that could be used to treat neurological diseases such as chronic headaches, back pain, and epilepsy. Just by detecting certain brainwaves with an EEG, an implant could quickly respond and provide treatment for the issue, at the onset.

Source: ETH Zurich

Bringing Computer Cooling to Power Plants

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 12, 2014 06:34AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

A product of many power plants is heat, and naturally this heat has to be removed from the plant for it t continue operating. Currently water from a river or lake is used to remove the heat, with US power plants using almost triple the amount of water that goes over Niagara Falls every minute. Researchers at the University of Kansas have an idea for changing this, and were recently awarded an NSF grant to develop it.

The idea is to bring the heatpipes or thermosyphons used in computers to power plants. Instead of having an open system with water running in and back out of the power plant, the researchers want intend to design a closed system that will have a fluid, possibly water, constantly moving through it by convection, transporting heat away from the plant. The researchers are not sure yet how the heat will be transferred to the air though, but are considering fins and metal foams for the role.

Currently the researchers are devising the equations and models to describe the physics. They predict that new cooling systems, including those they are working on, could be commercialized inside of ten years.

Source: University of Kansas

Improving Efficiencies and Cutting Costs of Polymer Solar Cells

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 11, 2014 10:32AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Though most solar cells we are familiar with today rely on silicon, many groups around the world are developing solar cells based on polymers. The change in material can allow for a number of advantages, including drastically reduced costs. Researchers at North Carolina State University and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have recently found a new way to produce polymer solar cells more cheaply while also setting a new efficiency record.

To create this variety of polymer solar cells, one starts with a mixture of a polymer donor and a fullerene acceptor, to which a solvent is added until the mix becomes a liquid. At this point the liquid is spread out on a surface, and once the solvent evaporates, the liquid solidifies, leaving clumps behind. The researchers discovered that the size of these clumps impacts the efficiency of the solar cell, and that these sizes are temperature dependent. The researchers also substituted many of the fullerenes to push the efficiency to 10.8%, past the published 9.8% record.

While this control over efficiency is definitely important, the researchers also found that this efficiency could be achieved in thick films. This means that mass production methods, such as slot die casting and roll-to-roll processing, can be used to, as opposed to this with special thickness control.

Source: North Carolina State University

Non-Magnetic Radio Wave Circulator Created

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 11, 2014 06:41AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Talking over someone can be problematic as it makes it difficult for you, or anyone, to hear what is being said. A similar problem exists for wireless technologies, as multiple transmissions cannot be sent and received on the same frequency at the same time. At least, it cannot be done without a radio wave circulator, and now researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a new circulator that could one day fit in our cellphones.

Radio wave circulators work by breaking the symmetry of wave transmission and traditionally have relied on magnetics to do so. These magnets come with the cost of increased size, keeping the devices out of many technologies, and weighing down others. The Texas researchers however have created a smaller radio wave circulator that instead uses a traveling wave, spinning around their device. The prototype they built is just two centimeters wide, but it could potentially be brought down to just microns in size, making integration into smartphones a possibility, especially as it is made of components already found in circuit boards.

By removing the need for larger magnets, this technology could help bring full-duplex functionality to many devices, which means they would be able to transmit and receive on the same frequency, at the same time. This would dramatically improve connection qualities and speeds, without having to use more of the wireless spectrum.

Source: University of Texas at Austin

Glass Material May Bring Optics to Computers

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 10, 2014 02:21PM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Electronics currently dominate information processing, as all computers rely on them, but for high-speed data transmission, optics are often used for their unbeatable speed. These two technologies do not always play well together, because of the necessary conversion devices. Researchers at the Universities of Surrey, Cambridge, and Southampton have recently discovered how to create pn-junctions in a commonly used glass, which could bring these two technologies closer together than they ever have been.

Amorphous chalcogenides are a kind of glass that are used in CDs and DVDs, because some of them will undergo a phase change from heat. What the researchers found is that it is possible to ion dope them. Such doping would allow for the conduction and control of electrons and positive holes in the material, and even the creation of pn-junctions. Along with the optical properties of the glass, the material could be made into a light source, detector, and guide.

By bringing electronics and optics to the same material, it could be used bring optical information directly to computers, and possibly even all-optical systems. The researchers predict the results of this research could be in computers within ten years.

Source: University of Surrey

Integrating Supercapacitors into Car Panels

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: November 10, 2014 08:59AM
Author: Guest_Jim_*

Electric cars rely on batteries to deliver the power needed to drive around, and while batteries work well for distance, they are less-than ideal for acceleration. Supercapacitors however offer the needed burst for acceleration, but lack the storage potential. Researchers at Queensland University of Technology have recently created a supercapacitor film that can be integrated into car panels, allowing a vehicle to have the advantages of both technologies.

Supercapacitors store energy in the electric field between two electrodes, which allows for rapid charging and discharging, unlike the chemical processes of batteries. That means that supercapacitors can push out the power needed to get a car up to speed and can then be charged in minutes, instead of hours. By integrating them into car panels, which cover a lot of area, the supercapacitors could store enough energy to charge the car's batteries in a matter of minutes. As the energy density of supercapacitors increase and potentially surpass that of batteries, we could see electric cars with ranges of 500 Km, which is comparable to modern, gasoline powered cars.

The researchers predict that their supercapacitor panels could be on cars inside of five years, but it may not just be cars that will use them. Supercapacitor films could also be added to smartphones, allowing them to charge much quicker than batteries allow.

Source: Queensland University of Technology

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