06.09    

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06.09

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 May 2009. Items are excerpted from news releases generated by research universities and government agencies. Highlighted topics include:

  1. NIST’s LIDAR May Offer Peerless Precision in Remote Measurements

  2. Fundamental Flaw Discovered in Transistor Noise Theory

  3. NIST Develops Definition of “Cloud Computing”

  4. Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" Helps Build Better Music Search Engine

  5. First Labs Approved for Testing Communications Interoperability

  6. Energy and Commerce Secretaries Announce Significant Steps in Smart Grid Development

  7. Workshop Report Examines Limits of National Power Grid Simulations

  8. “Smart Turbine Blades” Increase Wind Power Efficiency

  9. $2.4 Billion in Funding Announced for Carbon Capture and Storage Projects

  10. Low-Cost Sensor Networks Proposed for Underwater Environmental Monitoring

  11. Graphene Opens Door to Faster, Smaller, More Versatile Computer Chips

  12. Ferroelectric Crystal Could Lead to Novel Electronics

  13. New Nanocrystals Show Potential For Cheap Lasers

  14. Berkeley Researchers Create An 'Invisibility Cloak'

  15. New 'Broadband' Cloaking Technology Simple to Manufacture

  16. DARPA Kicks off Vulcan Engine Program

  17. Multiferroics — Making a Switch the Electric Way

1. NIST’s LIDAR May Offer Peerless Precision in Remote Measurements

By combining the best of two different distance measurement approaches with a super-accurate technology called an optical frequency comb, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have built a laser ranging system that can pinpoint multiple objects with nanometer precision over distances up to 100 kilometers. The novel LIDAR (“light detection and ranging”) system could have applications from precision manufacturing lines on Earth to maintaining networks of satellites in perfect formation, creating a giant space-based platform to search for new planets.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/techbeat/tbx20090526_lidar.htm

2. Fundamental Flaw Discovered in Transistor Noise Theory

There’s a newfound flaw in our understanding of transistor noise, a phenomenon affecting the electronic on/off switch that makes computer circuits possible. According to the engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) who discovered the problem, it will soon stand in the way of creating more efficient, lower-powered devices like cell phones and pacemakers unless we solve it.

While exploring transistor behavior, the team found evidence that a widely accepted model explaining errors caused by electronic “noise” in the switches does not fit the facts. A transistor must be made from highly purified materials to function; defects in these materials, like rocks in a stream, can divert the flow of electricity and cause the device to malfunction. This, in turn, makes it appear to fluctuate erratically between “on” and “off” states. For decades, the engineering community has largely accepted a theoretical model that identifies these defects and helps guide designers’ efforts to mitigate them.

Those days are ending, says NIST’s Jason Campbell, who has studied the fluctuations between on/off states in progressively smaller transistors. The theory, known as the elastic tunneling model, predicts that as transistors shrink, the fluctuations should correspondingly increase in frequency.

However, Campbell’s group at NIST has shown that even in nanometer-sized transistors, the fluctuation frequency remains the same. “This implies that the theory explaining the effect must be wrong,” Campbell said. “The model was a good working theory when transistors were large, but our observations clearly indicate that it’s incorrect at the smaller nanoscale regimes where industry is headed.”

The findings have particular implications for the low-power transistors currently in demand in the latest high-tech consumer technology, such as laptop computers.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/techbeat/tb2009_0520.htm#transistor

3. NIST Develops Definition of “Cloud Computing”

A working definition for cloud computing a new computer technique with potential for achieving significant cost savings and information technology agility has been released by a team of computer security experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The working definition of cloud computing described by NIST is “a pay-per-use model for enabling available, convenient and on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.” The draft working definition also describes five key characteristics, three delivery models and four deployment models.

The full working draft definition is available at http://csrc.nist.gov/groups/SNS/cloud-computing/index.html.

4. Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" Helps Build Better Music Search Engine

At a recent IEEE technology conference, UC San Diego electrical engineers presented a solution to their problem with the Queen song "Bohemian Rhapsody.” With its mellow piano, falsetto vocals, rock opera sections and crazy guitar solos, Bohemian Rhapsody is so internally varied that machine learning algorithms at the heart of their experimental music search engine have trouble labeling the song. The solution presented at the 2009 International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing (ICASSP) in Taiwan could lead to improvements in the electrical engineers' song labeling and search engine system. The system "listens" to songs it has never heard before, labels them based on the actual sounds in the song, and then retrieves songs, as appropriate, when people type descriptive words like "mellow jazz" into the team's experimental search engine.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/uoc--faq051409.php

5. First Labs Approved for Testing Communications Interoperability

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) recently announced that it has recognized the first eight laboratories approved to test the interoperability of emergency communications equipment under the Project 25 Conformity Assessment Program (P25 CAP).

P25 CAP, a joint effort of DHS and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), helps ensure that first responders, public safety officers and military personnel can always talk with each other no matter what communications equipment they are using. P25 CAP protocols were designed by NIST’s Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES).

For more information and list of the eight P25 CAP-approved laboratories, go to http://www.safecomprogram.gov/SAFECOM/currentprojects/project25cap/.

6. Energy and Commerce Secretaries Announce Significant Steps in Smart Grid Development

On 18 May, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced significant progress that will help expedite development of a nationwide "smart" electric power grid. After chairing a meeting of industry leaders at the White House, Locke and Chu announced the first set of standards that are needed for the interoperability and security of the Smart Grid and $10 million in Recovery Act funds provided by the Energy Department to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to support the development of interoperability standards. Included in the set were three IEEE standards related to interconnection of distributed generation sources, security for intelligent electronic devices, and phasor measurement unit communications.

A Smart Grid would replace the current, outdated system and employ real-time, two-way communication technologies to allow users to connect directly with power suppliers. The development of the grid will create jobs and spur the development of innovative products that can be exported. Once implemented, the Smart Grid is expected to save consumers money and reduce America's dependence on foreign oil by improving efficiency and spurring the use of renewable energy sources.
For more information, see: http://www.energy.gov/news2009/7408.htm

7. Workshop Report Examines Limits of National Power Grid Simulations

America's electrical infrastructure is changing in ways that its designers never anticipated. Distributed and intermittent electricity generation, such as wind power, is rapidly expanding, new smart meters are giving consumers more control over their energy usage, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles may someday radically increase the overall demand for electricity. The evolution of America's energy needs has forced scientists and engineers to re-examine the operations, efficiency and security of the national power grid. The creation of a more secure and efficient national power grid requires significant innovations in the way we transmit electricity and monitor its use.

To better assess the challenges facing the power grid, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory hosted a workshop that brought together power system and modeling experts from federal agencies, national laboratories and academia.

The workshop, which was sponsored by U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, identified barriers that a national grid simulation capability would need to overcome to be effective. Participants focused on the need for new methods to simulate the national power grid by modeling the creation and flow of electric power as well as the grid's connection to other critical infrastructures, such as transportation, gas, water and communications.

The report, "National Power Grid Simulation Capability: Needs and Issues," is available online at: http://www.anl.gov/ese/pdfs/PowerGridBrochure.pdf

8. “Smart Turbine Blades” Increase Wind Power Efficiency

Researchers at Purdue University and Sandia National Laboratory have developed a technique that uses sensors and computational software to constantly monitor forces exerted on wind turbine blades, a step toward improving efficiency by adjusting for rapidly changing wind conditions. The research is part of an effort to develop a smarter wind turbine structure.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/pu-tb050109.php

9. $2.4 Billion in Funding Announced for Carbon Capture and Storage Projects

On 15 May, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced that $2.4 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used to expand and accelerate the commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The funding is part of the Obama Administration’s ongoing effort to develop technologies to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas and contributor to global climate change, into the atmosphere while creating new jobs.

For more information, see: http://www.energy.gov/news2009/7405.htm

10. Low-Cost Sensor Networks Proposed for Underwater Environmental Monitoring

UC San Diego computer scientists are one step closer to building low-cost networks of underwater sensors for real time underwater environmental monitoring. At the IEEE Reconfigurable Architectures Workshop in Rome, Italy, on 25 May, computer scientists from the Jacobs School of Engineering presented a paper highlighting the energy conservation benefits of using reconfigurable hardware rather than competing hardware platforms for their experimental underwater sensor nets.

For more information, see: http://www.jacobsschool.ucsd.edu/news/news_releases/release.sfe?id=847

11. Graphene Opens Door to Faster, Smaller, More Versatile Computer Chips

A team of scientists and engineers from Stanford, the University of Florida and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is the first to create one of two basic types of semiconductors using an exotic, new, one-atom-thick material called graphene. The findings could help open the door to computer chips that are not only smaller and hold more memory but are also more adept at uploading large files, downloading movies, and other data- and communication-intensive tasks.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/uof-tor050609.php

12. Ferroelectric Crystal Could Lead to Novel Electronics

A new materials science technique that uses a silicon crystal as a sort of nanoscale vise to squeeze another crystal into a more useful shape may launch a new class of electronic devices that remember their last state even after power is turned off. Computers that could switch on instantly without the time-consuming process of “booting” an operating system is just one of the possibilities, according to a new paper by a team of researchers spanning four universities, two federal laboratories and three corporate labs.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/nios-vsp050809.php

13. New Nanocrystals Show Potential For Cheap Lasers

For more than a decade, scientists have been frustrated in their attempts to create continuously emitting light sources from individual molecules because of an optical quirk called "blinking," but now scientists at the University of Rochester have uncovered the basic physics behind the phenomenon, and along with researchers at the Eastman Kodak Company, created a nanocrystal that constantly emits light.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/uor-nns050809.php

14. Berkeley Researchers Create An 'Invisibility Cloak'

Never mind Harry Potter, researchers at Berkeley have made an invisibility cloak of their own. A team led by Xiang Zhang of Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley has taken a major step towards a true invisibility device with the creation of a carpet cloak from nanostructured silicon that conceals the presence of objects placed under it from optical detection.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/dbnl-btl050109.php

15. New 'Broadband' Cloaking Technology Simple to Manufacture

Researchers have created a new type of invisibility cloak that is simpler than previous designs and works for all colors of the visible spectrum, making it possible to cloak larger objects than before and possibly leading to practical applications in "transformation optics."

Whereas previous cloaking designs have used exotic "metamaterials," which require complex nanofabrication, the new design is a far simpler device based on a "tapered optical waveguide," said Vladimir Shalaev, Purdue University's Robert and Anne Burnett Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/pu-nc052009.php

16. DARPA Kicks off Vulcan Engine Program

On 6 May, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that it has kicked off the Vulcan engine program with awards to four contractors. The Vulcan program is a propulsion system demonstration effort to design, build and ground-test an engine capable of accelerating a full-scale hypersonic vehicle from rest to Mach 4+. The Vulcan engine is critical to enabling full-scale hypersonic cruise vehicles for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, strike or other critical national missions. It can serve as the low-speed accelerator for hypersonic vehicles that use turbine-based combined-cycle engines or as a stand-alone engine for Mach 0-4+ strike and reconnaissance aircraft.

For more information, see: http://www.darpa.mil/news/2009/vulcan.pdf

17. Multiferroics Making a Switch the Electric Way

Berkeley Lab researchers have demonstrated that electric fields can be used as on/off switches in multiferroic materials, a development that holds promise for future magnetic data storage and spintronic devices.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/dbnl-mm052209.php

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