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

  1. NIST Releases Definition of Cloud Computing

  2. New Technique Offers Enhanced Security for Sensitive Data in Cloud Computing

  3. New Ultra-High Speed Network Launched For Researchers and Educators

  4. Saving Heart Attack Patients With Computer Science

  5. Progress in Quantum Computing, Qubit by Qubit

  6. 'Microring' Device Could Aid in Future Optical Technologies

  7. Researchers Demonstrate Reconfigurable Nanoscale Electronic Materials

  8. NIST Updates Smart Grid Framework

  9. NIST Seeks Public Comment on Security Guidelines for Bluetooth and Wireless Local Area Networks

  10. User-Friendly “Smart-Beams” Emerging as Challenger to LED Lighting

  11. DARPA Seeks Innovators for Satellite Salvage/Reuse Program

  12. Restraint Improves Dielectric Performance and Lifespan

  13. Funding News (Solar Power, EV Batteries, Superconducting Wire for Wind Turbines, Nanoscale Digital Switching, Engineering Education, Wearable Sensors)

1) NIST Releases Definition of Cloud Computing

The National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) has published The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing (NIST Special Publication 800-145).  The NIST definition lists five essential characteristics of cloud computing: on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity or expansion, and measured service. It also lists three "service models" (software, platform and infrastructure), and four "deployment models" (private, community, public and hybrid) that together categorize ways to deliver cloud services. The definition is intended to serve as a means for broad comparisons of cloud services and deployment strategies, and to provide a baseline for discussion from what is cloud computing to how to best use cloud computing.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/tech-beat/tb20111025.cfm#cloud

2) New Technique Offers Enhanced Security for Sensitive Data in Cloud Computing

Researchers from North Carolina State University and IBM have developed a new, experimental technique to better protect sensitive information in cloud computing — without significantly affecting the system's overall performance.  Under the cloud-computing paradigm, the computational power and storage of multiple computers is pooled, and can be shared by multiple users.  Hypervisors are programs that create the virtual workspace that allows different operating systems to run in isolation from one another — even though each of these systems is using computing power and storage capability on the same computer. A longstanding concern in cloud computing is that attackers could take advantage of vulnerabilities in a hypervisor to steal or corrupt confidential data from other users in the cloud.  The NC State research team has developed a new approach, called “Strongly Isolated Computing Environment (SICE)” to cloud security, which builds upon existing hardware and firmware functionality to isolate sensitive information and workload from the rest of the functions performed by a hypervisor. 

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/ncsu-nto100511.php

3) New Ultra-High Speed Network Launched For Researchers and Educators

On 15 Oct, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the activation of an ultra-high speed network connection for scientists, researchers and educators at universities and National Laboratories that is at least ten times faster than commercial Internet providers. The project — funded with $62 million from the 2009 economic stimulus law — is intended for research use but could pave the way for widespread commercial use of similar technology.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/ddoe-nus101311.php

Also see:  http://energy.gov/articles/new-ultra-high-speed-network-connection-researchers-and-educators-10-times-faster

4) Saving Heart Attack Patients with Computer Science

Newly discovered subtle markers of heart damage hidden in plain sight among hours of EKG recordings could help doctors identify which heart attack patients are at high risk of dying soon according to researchers from the University of Michigan, MIT, Harvard Medical School, and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.  "Today's methods for determining which heart attack victims need the most aggressive treatments can identify some groups of patients at a high risk of complications. But they miss most of the deaths — up to 70 percent of them," said Zeeshan Syed, an assistant professor in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and first author of the study. 

Using data mining and machine learning techniques, the researchers sifted through 24-hour continuous electrocardiograms (EKGs or ECGs) from 4,557 heart attack patients enrolled in a large clinical trial led by the Brigham and Women's Hospital/Harvard Medical School TIMI Study Group.  The researchers found that the EKG signals from many of the patients who later suffered cardiovascular death contained similar errant patterns that until now were dismissed as noise or simply undetectable.  "There's information buried in the noise, and it's almost invisible because of the sheer volume of the data. But by using sophisticated computational techniques, we can separate what is truly noise from what is actually abnormal behavior that tells us how unstable the heart is," Syed said.  The researchers found that those with at least one of the abnormalities were between two and three times more likely to die within 12 months. And by adding all three of the techniques to doctors' current assessment tools, they could predict 50 percent more deaths with fewer false positives.  The new techniques use data that is already routinely collected during hospital visits, so putting them into practice would not raise costs or further burden caregivers or patients.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-09/uom-asf092011.php

5) Progress in Quantum Computing, Qubit by Qubit

Engineers and physicists at Harvard have managed to capture light in tiny diamond pillars embedded in silver, releasing a stream of single photons at a controllable rate. The advance represents a milestone on the road to quantum networks in which information can be encoded in spins of electrons and carried through a network via light, one photon at a time.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/hu-piq100711.php

6) 'Microring' Device Could Aid in Future Optical Technologies

Researchers at Purdue University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have created a device small enough to fit on a computer chip that converts continuous laser light into numerous ultrashort pulses, a technology that might have applications in more advanced sensors, communications systems and laboratory instruments.

For more information, see: http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2011/111019WeinerMicrorings.html

7) Researchers Demonstrate Reconfigurable Nanoscale Electronic Materials

Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a new nanomaterial that can "steer" electrical currents.  The development could lead to a computer that can simply reconfigure its internal wiring and become an entirely different device, based on changing needs. The material combines different aspects of silicon- and polymer-based electronics to create a new classification of electronic materials: nanoparticle-based electronics.  As electronic devices are built smaller and smaller, the materials from which the circuits are constructed begin to lose their properties and are controlled by quantum mechanical phenomena.  To address this physical barrier, many scientists have begun building circuits into multiple dimensions, such as stacking components on top of one another.  The Northwestern team took a fundamentally different approach by designing reconfigurable electronic materials:  materials that can rearrange themselves to meet different computational needs at different times.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/nu-cac101311.php

8) NIST Updates Smart Grid Framework

An expanded list of standards, new cybersecurity guidance and product testing proposals are among the new elements in an updated roadmap for Smart Grid interoperability released on 25 October for public comment by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 2.0, builds upon and updates a January 2010 report.  The roadmap outlines a plan for transforming the nation's aging electric power system into an interoperable Smart Grid— a network that will integrate information and communication technologies with a power-delivery infrastructure, enabling two-way flows of energy and communications.

For more information, see:  http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/tech-beat/tb20111025.cfm#grid

9) NIST Seeks Public Comment on Security Guidelines for Bluetooth and Wireless Local Area Networks

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued for public review and comment two draft guides to securing wireless communication networks. NIST is requesting comments on the two publications—one on Bluetooth networks and one on wireless local area networks—by 10 November 2011.

For more in formation, see:  http://www.nist.gov/itl/csd/guides-102511.cfm

10) User-Friendly “Smart-Beams” Emerging as Challenger to LED Lighting

The human eye is as comfortable with white light generated by diode lasers as with that produced by increasingly popular light-emitting diodes (LEDs), according to tests conceived at Sandia National Laboratories.  The tests show that the new kid on block — referred to as “Smart-Beams” and based on diode lasers — eventually could challenge LEDs for home and industrial lighting supremacy.  Both technologies pass electrical current through material to generate light, but the simpler LED emits lights only through spontaneous emission. Diode lasers bounce light back and forth internally before releasing it. The finding is important because LEDs — widely accepted as more efficient and hardier replacements for century-old tungsten incandescent bulb technology — lose efficiency at electrical currents above 0.5 amps. However, the efficiency of a sister technology — the diode laser — improves at higher currents, providing even more light than LEDs at higher amperages.

For more information, see: https://share.sandia.gov/news/resources/news_releases/laser-light/

11) DARPA Seeks Innovators for Satellite Salvage Program

DARPA is seeking innovators to participate in its new Phoenix program, which seeks to develop technologies to cooperatively harvest and re-use valuable components from retired, nonworking satellites in geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) and demonstrate the ability to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost.  

Over $300 billion worth of satellites are estimated to be in geosynchronous orbit, hundreds of which are “retired” or placed in a “graveyard” orbits due to obsolescence or failure.  DARPA’s Phoenix program seeks to harvest valuable components such as antennas, and repurpose them, to reduce the need for launch of new, costly replacement satellites.  According to DARPA Director Regina E. Dugan,  “if this program is successful, space debris becomes space resource.”

 For more information, see:  http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2011/10/20.aspx

12) Restraint Improves Dielectric Performance and Lifespan

Duke University engineers have demonstrated that rigidly constraining dielectric materials can greatly improve their performance and potentially lengthen their life spans. This insight follows their discovery earlier this year of the exact mechanism that causes soft dielectric materials to break down in the presence of electricity.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/du-rid102511.php

13) Funding News

  • Concentrating Solar Power Technology:  On 25 Oct., DOE announced that it will award $60 million investment over 3 years for applied scientific research to advance cutting-edge Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technologies. CSP technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight to produce heat, which can then be used to produce electricity.  See: http://energy.gov/articles/department-energy-invest-60-million-develop-innovative-concentrating-solar-power

  • Electric Vehicle Batteries:  The Department of Energy has awarded a $5M, three-year grant to Penn States for research on High energy density lithium-sulfur cell batteries that significantly reduce size and improve performance and cell life through DOE's Advanced Vehicle Research and Development program, which aims to improve fuel efficiency of next generation vehicles.  See:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/ps-lbr100611.php

  • Superconducting Wire for Wind Turbines:  The University of Houston will lead a public-private research team that has been awarded $3.1 million by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a low-cost superconducting wire that could be used to power future wind turbines.  See: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/uoh-utr101111.php

  • Nanoscale Digital Switching:  The Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) joined with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund $20 million for 12 four-year grants totaling $20 million to support nanoelectronics research by 12 interdisciplinary research teams at 24 participating U.S. universities with the goal of discovering a new switching mechanism using nanoelectronic innovations as a replacement for today’s transistor.  See:  http://www.src.org/newsroom/press-release/2011/242/

  • Engineering EducationHarvard University and The University of Texas at Austin have received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop open access research-based tools for advancing learning in science and engineering.  The grant will be used to "virtualize" evidence-based teaching methods, to aid dissemination of innovative instructional approaches and share good practices accessible to educators everywhere.  See:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/hu-ngw100411.php

  • Wearable Sensors:  Wearable sensors that allow the blind to "see" with their hands, bodies or faces could be on the horizon, thanks to a $2 million award from the National Science Foundation to researchers at The City College of New York and Georgia Institute of Technology.  See:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-09/ccon-092811.php




Comments may be submitted to todaysengineer@ieee.org.

Copyright © 2011 IEEE

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