10.09    

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10.09

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

  1. Unemployed Technology Workers To Be Retrained as High School Computing Teachers

  2. Plan Outlined for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards

  3. New Nano-Ruler Sets Some Very Small Marks

  4. Electrical Circuit Runs Entirely off Power in Trees

  5. How Would Einstein Use E-mail?

  6. Rome Built in a Day With Digital Photo

  7. English/Spanish Translation System Developed to Assist Medical Treatment

  8. MIT Retinal Implant Could Help Restore Some Vision

  9. Laser Processes Promise Better Artificial Joints and Arterial Stent

  10. Room's Ambience Fingerprinted By Phone

  11. October IT Security Automation Conference to Highlight Healthcare IT, Cloud Computing

  12. NIST Workshop Aims to Establish Standards for Voting Machine Data

  13. Idaho National Lab Projects Focus on Nuclear Power

  14. New Findings Could Help Hybrid, Electric Cars Keep Their Cool

  15. A Splash of Graphene Improves Battery Materials

  16. Engineers Produce 'How-To' Guide for Controlling the Structure of Nanoparticles

  17. Carbon Nanotubes Could Make Efficient Solar Cells

  18. Using Star Power to Better Understand Fusion

  19. DOE Stimulus Grants Focus on Electric Grid Reliability

  20. Making Geothermal More Productive

  21. Robot Monitors Climate Change Impacts on Deep-Sea Ecosystems

1. Unemployed Technology Workers To Be Retrained as High School Computing Teachers

Leveraging a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the Georgia Tech College of Computing’s Operation Reboot will attempt to mitigate the stress of joblessness for unemployed information technology professionals by transforming an initial set of 30 IT workers in Georgia into high school computing teachers.

Operation Reboot will combine Georgia Tech's innovative high school computing teacher training program and the successful Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program (GaTAPP) to pair an IT worker with an existing computing teacher. They will co-teach at least two computing classes for one year, allowing the IT professional to learn the ins and outs of a classroom and the teacher to get an education in IT. Simultaneously, the IT worker will receive an initial teaching certificate and a computer science endorsement, a special area of expertise for teachers to add on to their certification.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/giot-gtt091609.php

2. Plan Outlined for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards

On 24 Sept., Commerce Secretary Gary Locke unveiled an accelerated plan for developing standards to transform the U.S. power distribution system into a secure, more efficient and environmentally friendly Smart Grid and create clean-energy jobs.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/smartgrid_interoperability.pdf

3. New Nano-Ruler Sets Some Very Small Marks

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued a new ruler, and even for an organization that routinely deals in superlatives, it sets some records. Designed to be the most accurate commercially available “meter stick” for the nano world, the new measuring tool — a calibration standard for X-ray diffraction— boasts uncertainties below a femtometer. That’s 0.000 000 000 000 001 meter, or roughly the size of a neutron. The new ruler is in the form of a thin, multilayer silicon chip 25 millimeters square (just under an inch). Each one is individually measured and certified by NIST for the spacing and angles of the crystal planes of silicon atoms in the base crystal.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/techbeat/tb2009_0922.htm#ruler

4. Electrical Circuit Runs Entirely off Power in Trees

There's enough power in trees for University of Washington researchers to run an electronic circuit, according to results to be published in an upcoming issue of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Transactions on Nanotechnology.

"As far as we know this is the first peer-reviewed paper of someone powering something entirely by sticking electrodes into a tree," said co-author Babak Parviz, a UW associate professor of electrical engineering.

A study last year from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that plants generate a voltage of up to 200 millivolts when one electrode is placed in a plant and the other in the surrounding soil. Those researchers have since started a company developing forest sensors that exploit this new power source.

The UW team sought to further academic research in the field of tree power by building circuits to run off that energy. They successfully ran a circuit solely off tree power for the first time.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/uow-ecr090809.php

5. How Would Einstein Use E-mail?

You're not as different from Abert Einstein and Charles Darwin after all, at least when it comes to patterns of correspondence. A new Northwestern University study of human behavior has determined that those who wrote letters using pen and paper — long before electronic mail existed — did so in a pattern similar to the way people use e-mail today. The researchers examined extensive letter correspondence records of 16 famous writers, performers, politicians and scientists, including Einstein, Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Ernest Hemingway, and found that the 16 individuals sent letters randomly but in cycles, matching a mathematical model the Northwestern team developed in a previous study to explain e-mail behavior. No matter what their profession, all the letter writers behaved the same way. They adhered to a circadian cycle; they tended to write a number of letters at one sitting, which is more efficient; and when they wrote had more to do with chance and circumstances than a rational approach of writing the most important letter first.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/nu-hwe092509.php

6. Rome Built in a Day With Digital Photos

The ancient city of Rome was not built in a day. It took nearly a decade to build the Colosseum, and almost a century to construct St. Peter's Basilica. But now the city, including these landmarks, was digitized in just a matter of hours using a new computer algorithm developed at the University of Washington, which used hundreds of thousands of tourist photos to automatically reconstruct an entire city.

The tool is the most recent in a series developed at the UW to harness the increasingly large digital photo collections available on photo-sharing Web sites. The digital Rome was built from 150,000 tourist photos tagged with the word "Rome" or "Roma" that were downloaded from the popular photo-sharing Web site, Flickr.

Computers analyzed each image and in 21 hours combined them to create a 3-D digital model. With this model a viewer can fly around Rome's landmarks, from the Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon to the inside of the Sistine Chapel.

"How to match these massive collections of images to each other was a challenge," said Sameer Agarwal, a UW acting assistant professor of computer science and engineering and lead author of a paper being presented in October at the International Conference on Computer Vision in Kyoto, Japan. Until now, he said, "even if we had all the hardware we could get our hands on and then some, a reconstruction using this many photos would take forever."

For more information, see: http://uwnews.org/article.asp?articleID=51970

7. English/Spanish Translation System Developed to Assist Medical Treatment

At medical facilities around the country, care is delayed, complicated and even jeopardized because doctors and patients don't speak the same language. USC computer scientists, communication specialists and health professionals are working on a cheap, robust and effective speech-to-speech (S2S) translation system for clinics, emergency rooms and even ambulances. The initial SpeechLinks system will translate between English and Spanish. Professor Shrikanth Narayanan, who directs the Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, hopes to test and deliver a working prototype within the 4-year window of a recently awarded $2.2 million NSF grant for "An Integrated Approach to Creating Context Enriched Speech Translation Systems."

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/uosc-dy092109.php

8. MIT Retinal Implant Could Help Restore Some Vision

MIT engineers have designed a retinal implant for people who have lost their vision from retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration, two of the leading causes of blindness. The retinal prosthesis would help restore some vision by electrically stimulating the nerve cells that normally carry visual input from the retina to the brain.

Patients who received the implant would wear a pair of glasses with a camera that sends images to a microchip attached to the eyeball. The glasses also contain a coil that wirelessly transmits power to receiving coils surrounding the eyeball. When the microchip receives visual information, it activates electrodes that stimulate nerve cells in the areas of the retina corresponding to the features of the visual scene. The electrodes directly activate optical nerves that carry signals to the brain, bypassing the damaged layers of retina.

The research team, led by John Wyatt, MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science, recently reported a new prototype in the October issue of IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, which they hope to start testing in blind patients within the next three years, after some safety refinements are made. Once human trials begin and blind patients can offer feedback on what they're seeing, the researchers will learn much more about how to configure the algorithm implemented by the chip to produce useful vision.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/miot-mri092309.php

9. Laser Processes Promise Better Artificial Joints and Arterial Stents

Researchers at Purdue University’s Center for Laser Manufacturing are developing technologies that use lasers to create arterial stents and longer-lasting medical implants that could be manufactured 10 times faster and also less expensively than is now possible.

For more information, see: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2009b/090915ShinImplants.html

10. Room's Ambience Fingerprinted By Phone

Your smart phone may soon be able to know not only that you're at the mall, but whether you're in the jewelry store or the shoe store. Duke University computer engineers have made use of standard cell phone features – accelerometers, cameras and microphones – to turn the unique properties of a particular space into a distinct fingerprint. While standard global positioning systems (GPS) are only accurate to 10 meters (32 feet) and do not work indoors, the new application is designed to work indoors and can be as precise as telling if a user is on one side of an interior wall or another.

The system, dubbed SurroundSense, uses the phone's built-in camera and microphone to record sound, light and colors, while the accelerometer records movement patterns of the phone's user. This information is sent to a server, which knits the disparate information together into a single fingerprint.

"You can't tell much from any of the measurements individually, but when combined, the optical, acoustic and motion information creates a unique fingerprint of the space," said Ionut Constandache, graduate student in computer science. He presented the details of SurroundSense at the 15th International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking in Bejing on 25 Sept.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/du-raf092209.php

11. October IT Security Automation Conference to Highlight Healthcare IT, Cloud Computing

The Fifth Annual IT Security Automation Conference, co-hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), will focus on emerging technologies designed to support the security automation needs of multiple sectors. The conference will be held Oct. 26-29 at the Baltimore Convention Center and will focus on security automation in support of healthcare IT/Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); how security automation tools and technologies can ease the technical burdens of policy compliance; and how the rapidly evolving cloud computing sector can integrate security automation to achieve significant benefits. The first and last days are devoted to tutorials and workshops for novices and experts.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/techbeat/tb2009_0922.htm#scap

12. NIST Workshop Aims to Establish Standards for Voting Machine Data

To facilitate audits of election results and making the election process more transparent, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will host a workshop on Oct. 29-30 to discuss creating a common digital “language” for the data produced by electronic voting systems. The Common Data Format Workshop, to be held at NIST’s campus in Gaithersburg, Md., will bring together election officials, auditors, manufacturers, testing labs, and others involved in election analysis. Because the subject matter is so new, the workshop’s discussions will aim to establish agreement on what the goals of a common format should be. In addition to auditability and transparency, possible goals include integration between polling and registration devices, easing the transition to electronic record-keeping, or the ability to make data public.

For more information, see: www.nist.gov/public_affairs/confpage/091029.htm

13. Idaho National Lab Projects Focus on Nuclear Power

The Idaho National Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory are partnering, with funding support from a competitive grant by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, on improving the way scientists model the inner workings of nuclear reactors. The researchers will use the money to develop more accurate, and more universally applicable, reactor simulations. As a result, engineers should be able to design better, more efficient reactors down the road. A similar grant will support a partnership between INL and the Argonne National Laboratory to explore innovative approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle, which could help nuclear fuel be recycled or used for longer periods of time to produce more energy.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/dnl-nip_1092109.php

14. New Findings Could Help Hybrid, Electric Cars Keep Their Cool

Understanding precisely how fluid boils in tiny "microchannels" has led to formulas and models that will help engineers design systems to cool high-power electronics in electric and hybrid cars, aircraft, computers and other devices.

Indiana's 21st Century Research and Technology Fund has provided $1.9 million to Purdue and Delphi Corp. in Kokomo, Ind., to help commercialize the advanced microchannel cooling system for electronic components in hybrid and electric cars. Researchers are also working to overcome heat-transfer obstacles in developing new compact cooling technologies.

The new type of cooling system will be used to prevent overheating of devices called insulated gate bipolar transistors, high-power switching transistors used in hybrid and electric vehicles, which produce about four times as much heat as a conventional computer chip. The chips are required to drive electric motors, switching large amounts of power from the battery pack to electrical coils needed to accelerate a vehicle from zero to 60 mph in 10 seconds or less. The devices also are needed for "regenerative braking," in which the electric motors serve as generators to brake the vehicle, generating power to recharge the battery pack; to convert electrical current to run accessories in the vehicle; and to convert alternating current to direct current to charge the battery from a plug-in line.

For more information, see: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2009b/090922GarimellaBoiling.html

15. A Splash of Graphene Improves Battery Materials

Researchers at DOE’s Pacific Northwest Laboratory have found that graphene, sheets of carbon one atom thick, improves the performance of titanium dioxide as a lithium battery electrode. When comparing how well the new combination of electrode materials charged and discharged electric current, researchers found the electrodes containing graphene outperformed the standard titanium dioxide by up to three times. Graphene also performed better as an additive than carbon nanotubes.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/dnnl-aso091609.php

16. Engineers Produce 'How-To' Guide for Controlling the Structure of Nanoparticles

Researchers from North Carolina State University have learned how to consistently create hollow, solid and amorphous nanoparticles of nickel phosphide, which has potential uses in the development of solar cells and as catalysts for removing sulfur from fuel. Their work can now serve as a "how-to" guide for other researchers to controllably create hollow, solid and amorphous nanoparticles — in order to determine what special properties they may have.

For more information, see: http://news.ncsu.edu/uncategorized/138wmstracy/

17. Carbon Nanotubes Could Make Efficient Solar Cells

Using a carbon nanotube instead of traditional silicon, Cornell researchers have created the basic elements of a solar cell that hopefully will lead to much more efficient ways of converting light to electricity than now used in calculators and on rooftops.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/cu-cnc091009.php

18. Using Star Power to Better Understand Fusion

UC San Diego researchers are using “star” power to help ignite the field of fusion, which is being looked at as a future reliable green energy source. Under a new $5.8 million five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), UCSD will host and lead the new Center for Momentum Transport and Flow Organization in Plasmas and Magnetofluids, which will bring together astrophysical and magnetic fusion theorists, experimentalists and computationalists from multiple institutions. The Center will also include collaborators from Princeton University, University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Colorado at Boulder, UC Irvine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UC Santa Cruz, University of Leeds and New York University. Center researchers will focus on fundamental studies of turbulent transport and organization in fusion and astrophysical plasmas. In doing this, they will directly examine the link between turbulent momentum transport and large scale flow self-organization using newly developed diagnostic and data analysis techniques to investigate and critically test emerging theoretical and computational models.

For more information, see: http://www.jacobsschool.ucsd.edu/news/news_releases/release.sfe?id=885

19. DOE Stimulus Grants Focus on Electric Grid Reliability

In late August, the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity and Energy Reliability announced that it will provide $4.3 million for four projects that will use innovative synchrophasor research to improve the reliability and efficiency of our Nation’s electricity grid. These awards are part of the Department’s efforts to modernize the electric grid and enhance the security and reliability of the energy infrastructure. Synchrophasors are high-speed, real-time synchronized measurement devices used to diagnose the health of the electricity grid. With synchrophasor data, electric utilities can use existing power more efficiently and push more power through the grid while reducing the likelihood of power disruptions like blackouts. Like an up-to-the-minute weather map for the nation's electricity grid, synchrophasor information enhances the ability to predict possible disruptions in time to remedy them.

For more information, see: http://www.oe.energy.gov/news_room_and_events/1233.htm

Two of the four grants will go to Professors Arun Phadke and James Thorp, recipients of the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical Electrical Engineering and Virginia Tech Professors Emeriti of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE).

Their research will build upon a recently completed three-year project funded by the California Energy Commission through the Public Interest Energy. Its findings indicated the use of wide area synchrophasor measurements in electrical power systems can be of significant value to power companies. These measurements can reduce the likelihood of false trips by protection systems and lessen the likelihood of contributing to a cascading effect.

"Recent blackouts on power systems have shown how critical a reliable power system is to modern societies. Blackouts can cause enormous economic and societal damage," Thorp said. "The cascading phenomena can lead to additional blackouts. With a rough estimate that over five million electrical relaying systems exist on the North American power grid, it is to be expected that some of these unanticipated failures are due to defective relays."

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/vt-vte090809.php

20. Making Geothermal More Productive

University of Utah researchers will inject cool water and pressurized water into a "dry" geothermal well during a five-year, $10.2 million study aimed at boosting the productivity of geothermal power plants and making them feasible nationwide.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/uou-mgm090509.php

21. Robot Monitors Climate Change Impacts on Deep-Sea Ecosystems

Like the robotic rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which wheeled tirelessly across the dusty surface of Mars, a new robot the size of a small compact car spent most of July traveling across the muddy ocean bottom, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) off the California coast. This robot, the Benthic Rover, has been providing scientists with an entirely new view of life on the deep seafloor. It will also give scientists a way to document the effects of climate change on the deep sea.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/mbar-nrt090909.php

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