11.08    

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11.08

Washington Technology Digest

Compiled By IEEE-USA Staff

The following is a roundup of news and notable developments in electrical engineering and computer or information technology during October 2008. Items are excerpted from news releases generated by research universities and government agencies. Highlighted topics include:

  1. Access to High-Tech User Facilities at DOE National Laboratories Streamlined

  2. Gov’t R&D Agenda Set for “Net-Zero” Green Energy Buildings

  3. MIT's CarTel Aims to Reduce Commute Times, Detect Engine Woes

  4. New Solar Energy Material Captures Full Spectrum of Light

  5. New Method Patented to Improve Content-Based Searches for Photos on the Internet

  6. World's Biggest Computing Grid Launched

  7. Identification Occurs Nose First

  8. Denser, More Powerful Computer Chips Possible with Plasmonic Lenses

  9. Tunable, “Noiseless” Amplifier Has Communications and Quantum Computing Applications

  10. Using Laptops to Detect Earthquakes

  11. Single Atomic Nucleus Used as Solid-State Memory

  12. 3-D Nanoimaging Process Improves LCDs

  13. New Center to Focus on Nanotech Applications and Career Knowledge

  14. Researchers 'Stamp' Nanodevices with Rubber Molds

  15. Researchers Create Nanoarrays Using a Nanofountain Pen and Electric Fields

  16. Sensitive Laser Could Aid Search for Life on Mars

  17. New Tools Allow 3-D Modeling of Amorphous Materials with Potential Applications in Solar Panels, LCDs and Optical Storage

  18. Superconducting Thin Films Engineered

  19. Ames Lab Researchers Probe Iron-Arsenic Superconductors

  20. New Take on Hydrogen Fuel

1. Access to High-Tech User Facilities at DOE National Laboratories Streamlined

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Technology Transfer Coordinator, Under Secretary for Science Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, announced today two new model agreements that will expand access to DOE’s world-class research facilities by academia and industry. The streamlined agreements will also simplify the process for gaining access to DOE facilities and promote the transfer of cutting-edge technologies from DOE national laboratories.

“This new approach will allow both university and industrial researchers greater access to our specialized, world-class facilities across the laboratory system and to work more closely with our scientists on real world problems and potential solutions,” said Dr. Orbach.

Pre-approved, standardized model agreements — one for proprietary research; the other for non-proprietary research — are now authorized for use at all designated DOE user facilities at all DOE laboratories. Prospective users may use the same applicable general agreement at every facility. The agreements are intended to require minimal, if any, further negotiation and to be quickly executable.

For more information, see: www.doe.gov/news/6697.htm

2. Gov’t R&D Agenda Set for “Net-Zero” Green Energy Buildings

On 22 Oct., the National Science and Technology Council released a report describing R&D activities that could decrease use of natural resources and improve indoor environments while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful pollutants from the building sector. The report, Federal R&D Agenda for Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Green Buildings, was produced by the NSTC’s Buildings Technology Research and Development Subcommittee under the auspices of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President.

Commercial and residential buildings consume about one-third of the world’s energy. In particular, U.S. buildings account for more than 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, including 72 percent of electricity generation. If current trends continue, by 2025, buildings worldwide will be the largest consumer of global energy, consuming as much energy as the transportation and industry sectors combined.

The major goals outlined in the NSTC report include developing technologies, tools and practices that could significantly reduce the use of energy, water and other natural resources, promoting environmentally friendly products and practices, and reducing building material waste while meeting building performance design standards. The agenda calls for supporting these goals through the full spectrum of R&D activities, including use-inspired basic research, applied research, measurement science, development, demonstration and implementation. The report also addresses barriers to widespread acceptance and surveys policy options to change current buildings sector practices.

See report on-line at: http://ostp.gov/galleries/NSTC%20Reports/
FederalRDAgendaforNetZeroEnergyHighPerformanceGreenBuildings.pdf

3. MIT's CarTel Aims to Reduce Commute Times, Detect Engine Woes

Dozens of cars in the Boston area are testing the latest generation of an MIT mobile-sensor network for traffic analysis that could help drivers cut their commuting time, alert them to potential engine problems and more.

In the CarTel project, Professor Hari Balakrishnan and Associate Professor Samuel Madden of MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science use automobiles to monitor their environment by sending data from an onboard computer — which is about the size of a cell phone — to a Web server where the data can be visualized and browsed. They do so via pre-existing WiFi networks passed during a trip.

The resulting data, accessible from the Web or a cell phone, not only helps a driver track conditions specific to their own car, but when combined with everyone else's can indicate historical and real-time traffic conditions at different times of the day. "Everybody's data is contributing to collective views of what congestion looks like," Madden said.

For more information, see: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/miot-mca100908.php

4. New Solar Energy Material Captures Full Spectrum of Light

Researchers have created a new material that overcomes two of the major obstacles to solar power: it absorbs all the energy contained in sunlight, and generates electrons in a way that makes them easier to capture.

Ohio State University chemists and their colleagues combined electrically conductive plastic with metals including molybdenum and titanium to create the hybrid material.

"There are other such hybrids out there, but the advantage of our material is that we can cover the entire range of the solar spectrum," explained Malcolm Chisholm, Distinguished University Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry at Ohio State.

For more information, see: http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/fullspect.htm

5. New Method Patented to Improve Content-Based Searches for Photos on the Internet

A pair of Penn State researchers has developed a statistical approach, called Automatic Linguistic Indexing of Pictures in Real-Time (ALIPR), that one day could make it easier to search the Internet for photographs. The public can participate in improving ALIPR's accuracy by visiting a designated Web site www.alipr.com, uploading photographs, and evaluating whether the keywords that ALIPR uses to describe the photographs are appropriate.

ALIPR works by teaching computers to recognize the contents of photographs, such as buildings, people, or landscapes, rather than by searching for keywords in the surrounding text, as is done with most current image-retrieval systems. The team recently received a patent for an earlier version of the approach, called ALIP, and is in the process of obtaining another patent for the more sophisticated ALIPR. They hope that eventually ALIPR can be used in industry for automatic tagging or as part of Internet search engines.

For more information, see: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/ps-rtc100808.php

6. World's Biggest Computing Grid Launched

The world's largest computing grid is ready to tackle mankind's biggest data challenge from the earth's most powerful accelerator. Three weeks after the first particle beams were injected into the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid combines the power of more than 140 computer centers from 33 countries to analyze and manage more than 15 million gigabytes of LHC data every year.

For more information, see: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/dnl-wbc100308.php

7. Identification Occurs Nose First

While general wisdom says that you look at the eyes first in order to recognize a face, UC San Diego computer scientists now report that you look at the nose first. The nose may be the where the information about the face is balanced in all directions, or the optimal viewing position for face recognition, the researchers from UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering propose in a paper recently published in the journal Psychological Science.

The researchers showed that people first look just to the left of the center of the nose and then to the center of the nose when trying to determine if a face is one they have seen recently. These two visual “fixations” near the center of the nose are all you need in order to determine if a face is one that you have seen just a few minutes before. Looking at a third spot on the face does not improve face recognition, the cognitive scientists found.

Understanding how the human brain recognizes faces may help cognitive scientists create more realistic models of the brain — models that could be used as tools to train or otherwise assist people with brain lesions or cognitive challenges, explained Janet Hsiao, the first author on the Psychological Science paper and a postdoctoral researcher in the computer science department at UC San Diego.

For more information, see: www.jacobsschool.ucsd.edu/news/news_releases/release.sfe?id=789

8. Denser, More Powerful Computer Chips Possible with Plasmonic Lenses

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, are reporting a new way of creating computer chips that could revitalize optical lithography, a patterning technique that dominates modern integrated circuits manufacturing.

By combining metal lenses that focus light through the excitation of electrons — or plasmons — on the lens' surface with a "flying head" that resembles the stylus on the arm of an old-fashioned LP turntable and is similar to those used in hard disk drives, the researchers were able to create line patterns only 80 nanometers wide at speeds up to 12 meters per second, with the potential for higher resolution detail in the near future.

"Utilizing this plasmonic nanolithography, we will be able to make current microprocessors more than 10 times smaller, but far more powerful," said Xiang Zhang, UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering and head of the research team behind this development. "This technology could also lead to ultra-high density disks that can hold 10 to 100 times more data than disks today."

9. Tunable, “Noiseless” Amplifier Has Communications and Quantum Computing Applications

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and JILA, a joint institute of NIST and the University of Colorado (CU) at Boulder, have made the first tunable “noiseless” amplifier. By significantly reducing the uncertainty in delicate measurements of microwave signals, the new amplifier could boost the speed and precision of quantum computing and communications systems.

Conventional amplifiers add unwanted “noise,” or random fluctuations, when they measure and boost electromagnetic signals. Amplifiers that theoretically add no noise have been demonstrated before, but the JILA/NIST technology, described in an 5 Oct. 2008, advance online publication of Nature Physics, offers better performance and is the first to be tunable, operating between 4 and 8 gigahertz, according to JILA group leader Konrad Lehnert. It is also the first amplifier of any type ever to boost signals sufficiently to overcome noise generated by the next amplifier in a series along a signal path, Lehnert says, a valuable feature for building practical systems.

For more information, see: www.nist.gov/public_affairs/techbeat/tb2008_1014.htm#amp

10. Using Laptops to Detect Earthquakes

Inside your laptop is a small accelerometer chip, which is designed to help protect the delicate moving parts of your hard disk from sudden jolts. It turns out that the same chip is a pretty good earthquake sensor, too — especially if the signals from lots of them are compared, in order to filter out more mundane sources of laptop vibrations, such as typing. It’s an approach that is starting to gain acceptance. The project Quake Catcher Network (QCN), already has about 1,500 laptops connected in a network that has detected several tremors, including a magnitude 5.4 quake in Los Angeles in July. Led by Elizabeth Cochran at the University of California, Riverside, and Jesse Lawrence at Stanford University, QCN uses the same BOINC platform for volunteer computing that projects like SETI@home rely on.

One of the benefits of this new technology is price: Research-grade earthquake sensors typically cost between $10,000 and $100,000. Another advantage is that QCN sensors can record the maximum ground shaking. There is a catch with the QCN sensors, though: getting accurate coordinates for their position. At present, since most laptops do not have GPS, the project relies on coordinates that the users type in. Fortunately, rough coordinates can also be automatically retrieved from network routers that the laptop is connected to, as a backup.

For more information, see: www.isgtw.org/?pid=1001417

11. Single Atomic Nucleus Used as Solid-State Memory

Another step towards quantum computing — the Holy Grail of data processing and storage — was achieved when an international team of scientists that included researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) were able to successfully store and retrieve information using the nucleus of an atom.

In a paper entitled: “Solid-state quantum memory using the 31P nuclear spin,” published in the October 23 issue of the journal Nature, the team described an experiment in which exceptionally pure and isotopically controlled crystals of silicon were precisely doped with phosphorus atoms. Quantum information was processed in phosphorus electrons, transferred to phosphorus nuclei, then subsequently transferred back to the electrons. This is the first demonstration that a single atomic nucleus can serve as quantum computational memory.

John Morton of Oxford University was the lead author. Co-authoring the paper from Berkeley Lab were Thomas Schenkel, Eugene Haller and Joel Ager. Other co-authors were Richard Brown, Brendon Lovett and Arzhang Ardavan of Oxford University, and Alexei Tyryshkin, Shyam Shankar and Stephen Lyon, of Princeton, University.

For more information, see: http://newscenter.lbl.gov/press-releases/2008/10/23/news-bits-about-qubits-scientists-store-and-retrieve-data-inside-an-atom/

12. 3-D Nanoimaging Process Improves LCDs

Charles Rosenblatt, professor of physics and macromolecular science at Case Western Reserve University, and his research group have developed a method of 3-D optical imaging of anisotropic fluids, such as liquid crystals, with volumetric resolution one thousand times smaller than existing techniques. A research paper detailing the team's findings appeared in Nature Physics (Sept. 2008).

The molecules of these fluids, such as liquid crystals and ordered polymers, gels, and emulsion, can be oriented by magnetic or electric fields and thus can control the polarization properties of light. This is how liquid crystal displays in televisions, laptop computers, and other digital devices operate. Designing these and future devices requires a detailed knowledge of the molecular order. Until now much of the available information was based on inference from macroscopic experiments.

Rosenblatt's new technique, which provides detailed visual renderings of structures at the level of tens of nanometers, about 1/1,000th the diameter of a human hair, provides a much more detailed and nuanced picture of the structure. This will facilitate improvements to existing devices and make entirely new applications possible. Moreover, many fundamental scientific questions that deal with phase transitions or the nature of topological defects can be studied in far more detail than previously possible.

For more information, see: http://blog.case.edu/case-news/2008/10/16/liquidcrystals

13. New Center to Focus on Nanotech Applications and Career Knowledge

Penn State will receive $5 million over four years from the National Science Foundation to establish a National Center for Nanotechnology Applications and Career Knowledge (NACK).

Stephen Fonash, the Kunkle Chair Professor of Engineering Science, will direct the new NACK Center, whose goal is to provide national coordination of micro- and nanofabrication workforce development programs and activities on behalf of NSF. The center will assist educational institutions and industry across the nation to work together to develop and deliver micro- and nanotechnology education programs, including incumbent worker training programs. The center will also help to develop national education program accreditation and worker skill standards in micro-and nanotechnology.

"There is tremendous interest within industry and educational institutions in finding ways to meet the growing need for workers with micro- and nanotechnology skills," says Fonash. "The NACK Center is already working with several hundred community colleges and other educational institutions in more than 20 states and Puerto Rico to help develop programs to meet this need."

For more information, see: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/ps-psg102308.php

14. Researchers 'Stamp' Nanodevices with Rubber Molds

By manipulating the way tiny droplets of fluid dry, Cornell researchers have created an innovative way to make and pattern nanoscale wires and other devices that ordinarily can be made only with expensive lithographic tools. The process is guided by molds that "stamp" the desired structures.

To demonstrate the process, the researchers assembled gold nanoparticles into nanoscale wires, disks, squares, triangles and "corrals" (spaces enclosed by nanowires), and demonstrated that their nanowires could be connected to microfabricated electrodes, and through them to other circuitry. In addition to metal nanoparticles, the process could be applied to quantum dots, magnetic spheres and other nanoparticles, they said. They also assembled arrays of single salt crystals, suggesting that any material capable of crystallization could be manipulated by the process.

For more information, see: www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Oct08/dewetting.ws.html

15. Researchers Create Nanoarrays Using a Nanofountain Pen and Electric Fields

Most tools capable of patterning on the nanoscale were developed for the silicon microelectronics industry and cannot be used for soft and relatively sensitive biomaterials such as DNA and proteins. Now Northwestern University researchers have demonstrated the ability to rapidly write nanoscale protein arrays using a tool they call the nanofountain probe. The probe works much like a fountain pen, only on a much smaller scale, and the "ink" is the protein solution.

For more information, see: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/nu-rwp100808.php

16. Sensitive Laser Could Aid Search for Life on Mars

Minuscule traces of cells can be detected in a mineral likely present on Mars, a new study shows. The results, obtained using a technique developed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory, could help mission scientists choose Martian surface samples with the most promise for yielding signs of life.

INL's instrument blasts off tiny bits of mineral and looks for chemical signatures of molecules commonly found in cells. While other methods require extensive sample handling, this analysis relies on a "point-and-shoot" laser technique that preserves more of the rock and reduces contamination risk. In the current online issue of the peer-reviewed Geomicrobiology Journal, the researchers report they could detect biomolecules at concentrations as low as 3 parts per trillion.

For more information, see: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/dnl-sli101508.php

17. New Tools Allow 3-D Modeling of Amorphous Materials with Potential Applications in Solar Panels, LCDs and Optical Storage

Researchers have accurately identified tools that model the atomic and void structures of a network-forming elemental material. These tools may revolutionize the process of creating new solar panels, flat-panel displays, optical storage media and myriad other technological devices.

Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, created 3-D models of pressure-dependent structures of amorphous red phosphorus (an allotrope of the element phosphorous with different structural modifications) that for the first time are accurately portrayed by neutron and X-ray diffraction studies. They also developed a new method to accurately characterize void structures within network-forming materials.

These results on an elemental material benchmark the ability of their analysis tools to accurately portray the entire structure of multi-atomic amorphous material systems. The mechanical, optical, magnetic and electronic plasticity of amorphous materials hold great promise toward enhancing current and emergent technologies. The new tools will build more systematic design paths leading to R&D advances.

For more information, see: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/dlnl-ntt101308.php

18. Superconducting Thin Films Engineered

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory report that they have successfully produced two-layer thin films where neither layer is superconducting on its own, but which exhibit a nanometer-thick region of superconductivity at their interface. Furthermore, they demonstrate the ability to elevate the temperature of superconductivity at this interface to temperatures exceeding 50 kelvin (-370°F), a relatively high temperature deemed more practical for real-world devices.

"This work provides definitive proof of our ability to produce robust superconductivity at the interface of two layers confined within an extremely thin, 1-2-nanometer-thick layer near the physical boundary between the two materials," said physicist Ivan Bozovic, who leads the Brookhaven thin film research team. "It opens vistas for further progress, including using these techniques to significantly enhance superconducting properties in other known or new superconductors."

For more information, see: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/dnl-ses100308.php

19. Ames Lab Researchers Probe Iron-Arsenic Superconductors

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory are part of collaborative team that's used a brand new instrument at the DOE's Spallation Neutron Source to probe iron-arsenic compounds, the "hottest" new find in the race to explain and develop superconducting materials. Rob McQueeney, an Ames Laboratory physicist, was part of that team whose findings, published in the 10 Oct. issue (101) of Physical Review Letters, mark the first research produced with the aid of the new tool.

The Spallation Neutron Source — SNS for short — is the DOE's sprawling new $1.4 billion complex operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the rolling green hills of eastern Tennessee. The SNS uses a pulsed neutron beam to provide information about the structure and dynamics of materials that cannot be obtained from X-rays or electron microscopes. Although neutral in electrical charge, neutrons interact with the nucleus. The neutron's magnetic moment can also interact with magnetic spins in a material. As neutrons from the beam pass through a material, they scatter off the nuclei and spins. By measuring the speed and angle of the scattered neutrons, scientists are able to develop detailed information about the positions and the motion of the nuclei and spins within the material.

For more information, see: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/dl-nip101008.php

20. New Take on Hydrogen Fuel

The next alternative fuel in a vehicle's tank might be nothing more than gas with a little help from corn. However, instead of the usual petroleum-based fuel, this gas will be hydrogen, and the corn will be in the form of corncob-charcoaled briquettes. To further develop this alternative fuel concept, researchers at the University of Missouri and Midwest Research Institute (MRI) were recently awarded a three-year, $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to continue studying a solution to hydrogen storage in vehicles.

"Developmental hydrogen vehicles exist today but current designs require large, bulky tanks of compressed hydrogen gas to hold the fuel," said Peter Pfeifer, professor and chair of the Department of Physics in the MU College of Arts and Science. "The tanks also have a relatively small range, only holding enough fuel to travel up to 200 miles. We will be working on reducing the size and weight of the tank and increasing the storage capacity by developing storage materials that hold hydrogen at a much lower pressure than the current high-pressure tanks. The new tanks will store hydrogen on the surface of appropriately engineered carbons."

For more information, see: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/uom-hc100908.php

 

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