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Tech News Digest

Compiled By IEEE-USA Staff

The following is a roundup of technology-related news and notable developments with a focus on electrical engineering, computing and information technology and allied fields reported during December 2012.  Items are excerpted from news releases generated by universities, government agencies and other research institutions. Highlighted topics include:

  1. White House Announces New Office of Manufacturing Policy

  2. Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunities at NIST

  3. NIST Seeking Research Grant Proposals in Science and Engineering

  4. DARPA Seeks Junior Faculty Innovators

  5. Small Reactors Could Figure into US Energy Future

  6. DOE Awards $7 Million for Research to Reduce Costs of Electric Vehicle Chargers

  7. Researchers Create Tool for 'Circuit-Aware' Reliability Testing

  8. DARPA Seeks Smartphone App Developers for ADAPT Program

  9. Self-healing Electronics Could Work Longer and Reduce Waste

  10. New NIST Guidelines Seek to Protect Computer BIOS at Start-Up

  11. High-Energy Physicists Set Record for Network Data Transfer

  12. New Tool Helps Uncover Patterns in Vast Data Sets

  13. UPitt Team Find Finds Ways to Reduce Computing Energy Consumption While Saving Money

  14. Notre Dame Researchers Develop Paint On Solar Cells

  15. Advance in Photolithography Leads to Thinner Lines on Microchips

  16. New '3-D' Transistors Promise Future Chips, Lighter Laptops

  17. Electronic Optical Fibers Developed Using Hydrogenated Amorphous Silicon

  18. Voltage Increases Observed in Closely Packed Nanowires

1.) White House Announces New Office of Manufacturing Policy

On 12 Dec, the White House announced formation of a new national Office of Manufacturing Policy, to be co-chaired by Commerce Secretary John Bryson and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling.  The office will be responsible for coordinating the execution of manufacturing programs and the development of policies to promote U.S. manufacturing across federal government agencies.

For more information, see:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/12/12/president-obama-names-commerce-secretary-john-bryson-nec-chair-gene-sper

2.) Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunities at NIST

NIST is now accepting applications for the 2012 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) at its Gaithersburg, Md., and Boulder, Colo., campuses. The program provides research opportunities for undergraduate students to work with internationally known NIST scientists and gain exposure to cutting-edge research.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/director/surf-122011.cfm

3.) NIST Seeking Research Grant Proposals in Science and Engineering

NIST has announced that it is accepting proposals for funding for a broad range of potential research projects and related activities that support the institute's measurement science and engineering programs. The combined announcement for the NIST Measurement Science and Engineering (MSE) Research Grant Programs describes nine separate R&D funding programs in support of the NIST research mission, including intelligent systems and information systems in manufacturing, alternative energy systems, nanotechnology, advanced network technologies, cloud computing, complex systems, computer forensics; cybersecurity, health information technology, mathematical and computational sciences, smart grid, software testing, and virtual measurements.

For more information, see: http://www.nist.gov/director/mse-121311.cfm

4.) DARPA Seeks Junior Faculty Innovators

Securing research funding can be a challenge for tenure-track faculty with cutting-edge ideas but few connections. Those ideas may be the breakthroughs needed to advance critical science and technologies in support of the Defense mission. For the sixth year, DARPA will invest in the next generation of rising academic stars through its Young Faculty Award (YFA) Research Announcement.

For more information, see:  http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2011/12/06.aspx

5.) Small Reactors Could Figure into US Energy Future

A newly released study from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) concludes that small modular reactors may hold the key to the future of U.S. nuclear power generation. The report assessed the economic feasibility of classical, gigawatt-scale reactors and the possible new generation of modular reactors. The latter would have a generating capacity of 600 megawatts or less, would be factory-built as modular components, and then shipped to their desired location for assembly.

For more information, see: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-12/uoc-src121311.php

6.) DOE Awards $7 Million for Research to Reduce Costs of Electric Vehicle Chargers

On 21 Dec., the Department of Energy announced $7 million in research and development funding that will help to reduce the current costs of electric vehicle chargers by 50 percent over the next three years.  With support from the Energy Department, manufacturers in California, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania will work to improve the development and design of charging equipment.  This research will promote “smart” charging capabilities that can help ensure electric vehicles enhance, rather than strain, existing electrical grid capacity.

For more information, see:  http://energy.gov/articles/energy-department-awards-nearly-7-million-research-reduce-costs-electric-vehicle-chargers

7.) Researchers Create Tool for 'Circuit-Aware' Reliability Testing

A NIST Precision Measurements Laboratory research team has devised a reliability data transformation methodology that could ease one of the semiconductor industry’s most vexing problems: reliability qualification.

Today’s electronic devices are smaller, yet vastly more complex than those of yesterday. This creates multiple reliability challenges for manufacturers.  Currently, the semiconductor electronics industry has a set of rigid transistor-level reliability criteria that do not take into account the end use of the product. In other words, all product applications for a given technology generation are bound by the same reliability specifications.  In the NIST PML’s Semiconductor and Dimensional Metrology Division, scientists are working on a way to enable manufacturers to qualify their technology by helping industry update its reliability specifications to reflect the diverse product landscape of the electronics industry.

For more information, see:  http://www.nist.gov/pml/div683/circuit_aware.cfm

8.) DARPA Seeks Smartphone App Developers for ADAPT Program

Current sensor systems, like those being developed for DARPA’s Adaptable Sensor System (ADAPT) program, are increasingly complex; they offer advances in capabilities far beyond their current use. One significant limiting factor in our ability to leverage all of these advances is the lack of sophisticated, adaptive applications. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), for example, have become indispensible intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms on today’s battlefield. How much more effective could they be if an app were created that allowed a swarm of small deployed UAVs to be controlled as a single unit (a hive so to speak) without having to individually control each vehicle?

 “DARPA is looking to tap the smartphone application development community with experience in application creation,” said Mark Rich, DARPA program manager. From novel approaches to networked connectivity, accelerometer use, user interfaces and others, DARPA hopes to revolutionize sensors built on smartphone-like technology. Rich believes this can be accomplished by adding commercial smartphone application developers to the innovation process to deliver deployed distributed sensor systems for warfighters.

For more information, see:  http://www.darpa.mil/NewsEvents/Releases/2011/12/05.aspx

9.) Self-healing Electronics Could Work Longer and Reduce Waste

University of Illinois engineers have developed a self-healing system that restores electrical conductivity to a cracked circuit in less time than it takes to blink. As a crack propagates, microcapsules filled with liquid metal break open and the liquid fills the gap, restoring electrical flow. The technology is especially attractive for applications where repair is impossible, such as a battery, or finding the source of a failure is difficult, such as an air- or spacecraft.

For more information, see:  http://news.illinois.edu/news/11/1220self-healing_ScottWhite_NancySottos_JeffreyMoore.html

10.) New NIST Guidelines Seek to Protect Computer BIOS at Start-Up

A new draft computer security publication from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides guidance for vendors and security professionals as they work to protect personal computers from unauthorized changes to the “Basic Input/Output System” (BIOS) as they start up.  In September, 2011, a security company discovered the first malware designed to infect the BIOS, called Mebromi. "We believe this is an emerging threat area," said NIST’s Andrew Regenscheid. These developments underscore the importance of detecting changes to the BIOS code and configurations, and why monitoring BIOS integrity is an important element of security.”  SP 800-155 explains the fundamentals of BIOS integrity measurement—a way to determine if the BIOS has been modified—and how to report any changes. The publication provides detailed guidelines to hardware and software vendors that develop products that can support secure BIOS integrity measurement mechanisms. It may also be of interest to organizations that are developing deployment strategies for these technologies.

For more information, see:  http://www.nist.gov/itl/boot-122011.cfm

11.) High-Energy Physicists Set Record for Network Data Transfer

A team of researchers from Caltech and other Institutions have set a new world record for data transfer, helping to usher in the next generation of high-speed network technology. They transferred data in opposite directions at a combined rate of 186 gigabits per second (Gbps) in a wide-area network circuit. The rate is equivalent to moving two million gigabytes per day, fast enough to transfer nearly 100,000 full Blu-ray disks — each with a complete movie and all the extras — in a day.

For more information, see:  http://media.caltech.edu/press_releases/13477

12.) New Tool Helps Uncover Patterns in Vast Data Sets

NSF-funded researchers from the Broad Institute and Harvard University recently developed a tool that can uncover patterns in large data sets in a way that no other software program can.  Called Maximal Information Coefficient or MIC, the tool can can tease out multiple, recurring events or sets of data hidden in health information from around the globe, or in the changing bacterial landscape of the gut or even in statistics amassed from a season of competitive sports—and much more.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-12/nsf-tes121611.php

13.) UPitt Team Find Finds Ways to Reduce Computing Energy Consumption While Saving Money

Lowering energy consumption associated with computer data storage (specifically, cloud computing) and saving millions of dollars are possible now, thanks to new memory technology developed by NSF-funded researchers at the University of Pittsburgh.  With the growing demand for faster, more reliable memory technology, Pitt researchers have combined a smaller DRAM (for fast retrieval) with a larger, slower phase-change memory called PCM, a new technology similar to but faster than the flash drives used in a computer's USB port. The result is a memory system that is fast enough for most software programs and more storage space; it also drastically reduces power consumption.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-11/uop-prt110211.php

14.) Notre Dame Researchers Develop Paint On Solar Cells

A team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame have created an inexpensive "solar paint" that uses semiconducting nanoparticles to produce energy.  According to Prof. Prashant Kamat at Notre Dame's Center for Nano Science and Technology (NDnano), "By incorporating power-producing nanoparticles, called quantum dots, into a spreadable compound, we've made a one-coat solar paint that can be applied to any conductive surface without special equipment."  The team's search for the new material centered on nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide, which were coated with either cadmium sulfide or cadmium selenide. The particles were then suspended in a water-alcohol mixture to create a paste.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-12/uond-ndr122111.php

15.) Advance in Photolithography Leads to Thinner Lines on Microchips

The microchip revolution has seen a steady shrinking of features on silicon chips, packing in more transistors and wires to boost chips’ speed and data capacity. But in recent years, the technologies behind these chips have begun to bump up against fundamental limits, such as the wavelengths of light used for critical steps in chip manufacturing.  Now, a new technique developed by researchers at MIT and the University of Utah offers a way to break through one of these limits, possibly enabling further leaps in the computational power packed into a tiny sliver of silicon. A paper describing the process was published in the journal Physical Review Letters in November.  Postdoc Trisha Andrew PhD ’10 of MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics, says this new technique allows the production of complex shapes rather than just lines, and can be carried out using less expensive light sources and conventional chip-manufacturing equipment. “The whole optical setup is on a par with what’s out there” in chip-making plants, she says. “We’ve demonstrated a way to make everything cheaper.”

For more information, see:  http://web.mit.edu/press/2011/update-optical-nanopatterns.html

16.) New '3-D' Transistors Promise Future Chips, Lighter Laptops

Researchers from Purdue and Harvard universities have created a new type of transistor made from a material that could replace silicon and have a 3-D structure instead of conventional flat computer chips. The approach could enable engineers to build faster, more compact and efficient integrated circuits and lighter laptops that generate less heat than today's. The transistors contain tiny nanowires made not of silicon, like conventional transistors, but from a material called indium-gallium-arsenide.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-12/pu-nt120611.php

17.) Electronic Optical Fibers Developed Using Hydrogenated Amorphous Silicon

A new chemical technique for depositing a non-crystalline form of silicon into the long, ultra-thin pores of optical fibers is the first of its kind to use high-pressure chemistry for making well-developed films and wires of this particular kind of silicon semiconductor. The research will result in more-efficient and more-flexible optical fibers.

For more information, see:  http://www.science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2011-news/Badding12-2011

18.) Voltage Increases Observed in Closely Packed Nanowires

Unexpected voltage increases of up to 25 percent in two barely separated nanowires have been observed at Sandia National Laboratories.   Designers of next-generation devices using nanowires to deliver electric currents — including telephones, handheld computers, batteries and certain solar arrays — may need to make allowances for such surprise boosts.

For more information, see:  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-12/dnl-viu120611.php



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