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 04.11


04.11

Tech News 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 March 2011. Items are excerpted from news releases generated by universities, government agencies and other research institutions. Highlighted topics include:

  1. Study Finds Work Climate the Main Reason Women Leave Engineering

  2. Energy Usage Data Standard Proposed for U.S. Smart Grid

  3. DARPA Kicks Off Robotic Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) Program

  4. Stretchable Balloon Electronics Get to the Heart of Cardiac Medicine

  5. Fundamental Discovery Could Lead to Better Memory Chips

  6. Silicon Spin Transistors Heat up and Spins Last Longer

  7. Researcher to Explore “Green” Software Development

  8. New Switching Device Could Help Enable Quantum Internet

  9. New Kind of Optical Fiber Developed

  10. Engineers Invent Lens for 3-D Microscope

  11. Microscopic Drum Could Link Electromagnetic, Mechanical Motion at Quantum Level

  12. Simulating Tomorrow's Accelerators At Near the Speed of Light

  13. High-Temperature Superconductor Research Into the “Pseudogap” suggests New Phase of Matter

  14. Comprehensive Report Assesses Technology Options for Electrochemical Energy Storage

  15. Upgrading the Vanadium Redox Battery For Mass Grid Storage

  16. New Nanostructure Enables Batteries to Charge Quickly and Retain Capacity

  17. Researchers Close in On Technology for Making Renewable Petroleum

1. Study Finds Work Climate the Main Reason Women Leave Engineering

Women who leave engineering jobs after obtaining the necessary degree are significantly more likely to leave the field because of an uncomfortable work climate than because of family reasons, according to a study undertaken at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM).  Nearly half of women in the survey who left an engineering career indicated they did so because of negative working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary, the study shows.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/uow--usf030911.php

2. Energy Usage Data Standard Proposed for U.S. Smart Grid

The governing board of the public-private Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) has voted in favor of a new standard important for two-way data communications between utilities and their customers, bringing the next-generation "smart" electrical power grid a step closer to reality.  The board voted on a foundational standard, an "energy usage data model," for the information used to communicate between utilities and the customer, and the way in which that information is organized. This standard is one of a number considered critical in creating an energy-efficient, modern power grid with seamlessly interoperable parts.  The data standard was developed by the North American Energy Standards Board (NAESB) at the request of the SGIP and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). By enabling utilities and customer equipment to exchange detailed information about electricity usage in a consistent format, the standard will make it easier for consumers to track their electricity usage and help them better manage their energy consumption and costs.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/smartgrid/20110301_grid_data_std.cfm

3. DARPA Kicks Off Robotic Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) Program

On 17 March, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced the kick-off of its Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program, which seeks to create and demonstrate significant scientific and engineering advances in robot mobility and manipulation capability.  If successful, M3 will result in better design tools, fabrication methods and control algorithms that will significantly improve robotic assistance to warfighters and other DoD personnel across a greater range of missions.

For more information, see:  http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2011/2011/03/
17_DARPA_Kicks_Off_Maximum_Mobility_and_Manipulation_M3.aspx

4. Stretchable Balloon Electronics Get to the Heart of Cardiac Medicine

Cardiologists may soon be able to place sensitive electronics inside their patients' hearts with minimal invasiveness, enabling more sophisticated and efficient diagnosis and treatment of arrhythmias. An interdisciplinary team, led by University of Illinois researchers, has successfully integrated stretchable electronics technology with standard endocardial balloon catheters. The balloon device can both map and ablate over large areas of the heart simultaneously, using integrated arrays of multifunctional sensors and ablation electrodes.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/uoia-sbe030711.php

5. Fundamental Discovery Could Lead to Better Memory Chips

Engineering researchers at the University of Michigan have found a way to improve the performance of ferroelectric materials, which have the potential to make memory devices with more storage capacity than magnetic hard drives and faster write speed and longer lifetimes than flash memory.   In ferroelectric memory the direction of molecules' electrical polarization serves as a 0 or a 1 bit. An electric field is used to flip the polarization, which is how data is stored.  The Michigan researchers designed a material system that spontaneously forms small nano-size spirals of the electric polarization at controllable intervals, which could provide natural budding sites for the polarization switching and thus reduce the power needed to flip each bit.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/uom-fdc031511.php

6. Silicon Spin Transistors Heat up and Spins Last Longer

University of Utah researchers have built "spintronic" transistors and used them to align the magnetic "spins" of electrons for a record period of time in silicon chips at room temperature. The study is a step toward computers, phones and other spintronic devices that are faster and use less energy than their electronic counterparts.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/uou-sst031111.php

7. Researcher to Explore “Green” Software Development

A Binghamton University computer scientist with an interest in "green" software development has received the National Science Foundation's most prestigious award for young researchers.  Yu David Liu recently received a five-year, $448,641 grant from the NSF's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program to support his work on “green” software development.  Computers and electronic devices, ranging from smart phones to servers, consume a steadily growing amount of energy.  In recent years, computer scientists have developed an interest in paring back this consumption, though generally they've approached the challenge through modifying hardware or perhaps operating systems. Liu plans to tackle the problem by considering how programmers can create more energy-efficient software.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/bu-nat032411.php

8. New Switching Device Could Help Enable Quantum Internet

Northwestern University researchers have developed a new switching device that takes quantum communication to a new level. They can route quantum bits, or entangled particles of light, at very high speeds along a shared network of fiber-optic cable without losing the entanglement information embedded in the quantum bits. The switch could be used toward achieving two goals of the information technology world: a quantum Internet, where encrypted information would be completely secure, and networking superfast quantum computers.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/nu-asq031011.php

9. New Kind of Optical Fiber Developed

The very first optical fiber with a core of zinc selenide has been made -- a compound that can be used as a semiconductor. The new class of optical fiber allows more manipulation of light and promises to open the door to more versatile laser-radar technology, which could lead to improved surgical and medical lasers, better countermeasure lasers for the military, and superior environment-sensing lasers for measuring pollutants and bioterrorist chemical agents.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/ps-nko022111.php

10. Engineers Invent Lens for 3-D Microscope

Engineers at Ohio State University have invented a “free form” lens that enables microscopic objects to be seen from nine different angles at once to create a 3D image.  Other 3D microscopes use multiple lenses or cameras that move around an object; the new lens is the first single, stationary lens to create microscopic 3D images by itself.    The research was a proof of concept for manufacturers of microelectronics and medical devices, who currently use very complex machinery to view the tiny components that they assemble.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/osu-sis032111.php

11. Microscopic Drum Could Link Electromagnetic, Mechanical Motion at Quantum Level

Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated an electromechanical circuit in which microwaves communicate with a vibrating mechanical component 1,000 times more vigorously than ever achieved before in similar experiments. The microscopic apparatus is a new tool for processing information and potentially could control the motion of a relatively large object at the smallest possible, or quantum, scale.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/pml/quantum/20110315_drum.cfm

12. Simulating Tomorrow's Accelerators At Near the Speed of Light

Borrowing a page from Albert Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have perfected a way to accelerate modeling of laser-plasma wakefield accelerators up to a million times faster. While "tabletop" laser-plasma accelerators promise high energies in short spaces, 3-D simulation of electron acceleration by a laser beam moving through a plasma has presented a computational challenge that until now has been beyond practical solution by supercomputers.

For more information, see: http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2011/03/17/simulating-at-lightspeed/

13. High-Temperature Superconductor Research Into the “Pseudogap” suggests New Phase of Matter

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California at Berkeley joined with researchers at Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to mount a three-pronged attack on one of the most obstinate puzzles in materials sciences: what is the pseudogap?  Their results are the strongest evidence yet that the pseudogap phase, a mysterious electronic state peculiar to high-temperature superconductors, is not a gradual transition to superconductivity in these materials, but is a distinct phase of matter.  Understanding this "pseudogap" has been a 20-year quest for researchers who are trying to control and improve these breakthrough materials, with the ultimate goal of finding superconductors that operate at room temperature.

For more information, see: http://home.slac.stanford.edu/pressreleases/2011/20110324.htm  and http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/dbnl-cio032311.php

14. Comprehensive Report Assesses Technology Options for Electrochemical Energy Storage

According to a new report released by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, successful electrochemical energy storage, or EES, systems will need to evolve – in some cases, considerably – if they are going to compete financially with the cost of natural gas production.  Beside technical improvements, the systems will need to be built to last, using materials that are safe and durable so that batteries could operate more than 15 years and require very little maintenance over their lifetime.   The report provides a comprehensive review of four stationary storage systems considered to be the most promising candidates for EES: vanadium redox flow, sodium-beta alumina membrane, lithium-ion and lead-carbon batteries. In their study, the PNNL researchers note the potential of each technology but, more importantly, explain what advances must occur with each if they're ultimately to be deployed.   The report is described as one of the most comprehensive reviews of electrochemical energy storage to date.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/dnnl-aob030411.php

15. Upgrading the Vanadium Redox Battery For Mass Grid Storage

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers have discovered that the vanadium redox battery's performance can be significantly improved by modifying its electrolyte solution. Though considered a promising large-scale energy storage device, the vanadium redox battery's use has been limited by its inability to work well in a wide range of temperatures and its high cost. But new research indicates that modifying the battery's electrolyte solution significantly improves its performance. So much so that the upgraded battery could improve the electric grid's reliability and help connect more wind turbines and solar panels to the grid.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/dnnl-utv031711.php

16. New Nanostructure Enables Batteries to Charge Quickly and Retain Capacity

University of Illinois materials researchers have developed a three-dimensional nanostructure for battery cathodes that allows for dramatically faster charging and discharging without sacrificing energy storage capacity. Such batteries could be useful for quick-charge consumer electronics, electric vehicles, medical devices, lasers and military applications.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/uoia-bcq031711.php

17. Researchers Close in On Technology for Making Renewable Petroleum

University of Minnesota researchers are a key step closer to making renewable petroleum fuels using bacteria, sunlight and dioxide, a goal funded by a $2.2 million United States Department of Energy grant.  The first critical step was figuring out how to use a protein to transform fatty acids produced by the bacteria into ketones, which can be cracked to make hydrocarbon fuels.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-03/uom-uom032311.php

 

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