Monthly Archives: March 2006

Nanotubes As Transistors In Integrated Circuits

IBM researchers have made a breakthrough by using nanotubes as transistors in integrated circuits.

IBM has created an integrated circuit with a carbon nanotube, a first that shows the feasibility of one day using the touted tubes for commercial devices, the firm said.

IBM made nanotube transistors before, but an integrated circuit is more complicated. Transistors are essentially on-off switches, while an integrated circuit is a collection of transistors that work together to perform a function. The IBM scientists will now use the ring oscillator to test improved carbon nanotube transistors and circuits, and to gauge their performance in complete chip designs.

Carbon nanotube transistors have the potential to outperform state-of-the-art silicon devices,” TC Chen, vice-president of science & technology at IBM Research, said in a statement. “However, scientists have focused so far on fabricating and optimising individual carbon nanotube transistors. Now, we can evaluate the potential of carbon nanotube electronics in complete circuits — a critical step toward the integration of the technology with existing chipmaking techniques.

Also see this article.

Transparant Integrated Circuit Invented

World’s First Completely Transparent IC

Oregon State University (OSU) researchers claim to have fabricated the world’s first “completely transparent” ICs from inorganic compounds. The technology can enable extremely inexpensive electronics for use in “throw away” devices, and is expected to be used in automobile windshields, cell phones, TVs, games, and toys, among other applications, OSU said.

OSU also believes that the technology might result in more efficient solar cells and improvements to LCD displays (liquid crystal displays), it said.

n a statement, OSU called its accomplishment “another major step forward for the rapidly evolving field of transparent electronics,” and said it “marks a significant milestone on the path toward functioning transparent electronics applications, which many believe could be a large future industry.”

Transparant Chips (click for bigger picture)

A few years from now, there will be computer chips in just about everything. All products will become ‘smart’ thanks to chips embedded in them, or so I read (regularly) in the many articles I plow through in order to get content for my blog.

I can think of chairs and beds that automatically sense your personal pressure points, and then adjust their form to give you the most personal sitting/sleeping experience ever.

Can any of you think of more applications for chips in consumer products?

At the end of the article, there is an illustration of the very real exponential acceleration of technology, which is becoming more and more obvious every year.

I simply can’t leave this out, so here we go:

“This is a quantum leap in moving transparent electronics from the laboratory toward working commercial applications” said John Wager, a professor of electrical engineering at OSU. “It’s proof that transparent transistors can be used to create an integrated circuit, tells us quite a bit about the speeds we may be able to achieve, and shows we can make transparent circuits with conventional photolithography techniques, the basic patterning methods used to create electronics all over the world.”

“What’s exciting is that all of the remaining work seems very feasible,” Wager added. “It will take some time, but we just don’t see any major obstacles that are going to preclude the commercial use of transparent electronics with these compounds. In a way, it’s shocking how fast this field has progressed. We might be able to bring transparent integrated circuits to widespread use in five years or so, a process that took a couple of decades in the early evolution of conventional electronics.

The Future Of Videogames

For those interested in videogames, it’s a good idea to have a look at these demo movie clips of the AGEIA PhysX Processor.

This nifty piece of hardware promises to deliver physics effects in videogames that rival real life physics (from what I can see in the movie clips, that is).

If you only have the time to download just one, go with Cell Factor. It is by far the most impressive of the three.

If videogames start looking like this in about a year or so, can you imagine what virtual environments will ook like once we get to The Future Of Virtual Environments?

Cheap Hydrogen Fuel On The Way

Cheap Hydrogen Fuel

GE says its new machine could make the hydrogen economy affordable, by slashing the cost of water-splitting technology.

Now researchers at GE say they’ve come up with a prototype version of an easy-to-manufacture apparatus that they believe could lead to a commercial machine able to produce hydrogen via electrolysis for about $3 per kilogram — a quantity roughly comparable to a gallon of gasoline — down from today’s $8 per kilogram. That could make it economically practical for future fuel-cell vehicles that run on hydrogen.

Today’s electrolyzers are made of metal plates bolted together manually, with gaskets between them, and the whole unit is typically housed in a chamber made of the same metals used in the electrodes, says Bourgeois. The materials are expensive and assembly requires costly labor.

Bourgeois’ research team came up with a way to make future electrolyzers largely out of plastic. They used a GE plastic called Noryl that is extremely resistant to the highly alkaline potassium hydroxide. And because the plastic is easy to form and join, manufacturing an electrolyzer is relatively cheap.

There are dozens of way to produce hydrogen cheaply. I’ve read from complex molecules that crank out hydrogen from water when they absorb sunlight to mutant algae that also produce hydrogen from water cheaply.

The mutant algae I’m referring to are especially interesting. They were engineered to manufacture (if I recall correctly) 100.000 times more hydrogen then they naturally did before being engineered. In order to become cost-efficient, this number would have to be increased another hundred-fold.

Once science manages to use easy-to-grow algae to produce hydrogen, hydrogen production can be expanded exponentially at virtually no cost.

This is why I believe that hydrogen will eventually be free once the hydrogen economy is in place.

Will Japanese Robots Rule The World By 2020?

Will Japanese Robots Rule The World By 2020?

Robotic technology has the potential to enhance human life in numerous ways. However, as Professor Prabhu Guptara argues, this technology also has the potential to become the greatest threat to humanity if it falls into the wrong hands. In the second installment of this two-part series, he offers his recommendations for how to deal with the potential threats robots may pose to humanity.

Some people accuse me of being over-optimistic about Japan’s ability to launch sophisticated entertainment and personal-service robots by 2015.

Well, I would simply invite them to consider how many cases they can recollect, in the last 50 years, where Japan has missed a nationally-set industrial target.

So I have no doubt that the Japanese will unleash the next generation of sophisticated robots starting in about 2012. That will mean that the question occupying most people’s minds then (sadly, too late!) will no longer be ecological sustainability.

In my view, the real question for the future of the globe is not sustainability.

Regretfully, as far as I can see, the world will not take either my recommendations or my warnings seriously. So what will be the result? Japanese robots, launched from 2010 at the latest, will rapidly displace most human jobs in both the developed and developing worlds.

They will also replace the kinds of robotic machinery that is being installed in the “latest” factories, for example in China.

Even without the cultural reformation that is otherwise necessary, Japan will therefore finally break through its stagnation, and move from being the world’s second-largest economy — a position it has held for over 30 years — to becoming the world’s leading economic power by 2020 at the latest.

That’s the benefit of being the master inventor of all these robots.

What can I say?

Just another guy’s opinion on the implications of the coming rise of the robots.

Also see Robotic Nation.

Robot Helper Obeys Commands

I just stumbled upon a really nice movie clip of a robot that:

  • understands spoken orders
  • locates and finds an object
  • picks up the object as ordered
  • takes the object to the instructor
  • witfully remarks that it has succeeded in holding the object

It’s just a movieclip without an article. I’m not sure how old or new this is.

Also see this robotic packmule to see where robotics and artificial intelligence is going.

Life Extension In The Mainstream Again

The mainstream media is starting to catch on: our lives will be extended in the coming decades.

The more people accept the idea of holding the grim reaper at bay, the better. If the life extension meme becomes mainstream, more money is likely to flow into life extension-related research.

It used to be thought there was some built-in limit on life span, but a group of scientists meeting at Oxford University for a conference on life extension and enhancement consigned that idea to the trash can.

Paul Hodge, director of the Harvard Generations Policy Program, said governments around the world — struggling with pension crises, graying work forces and rising health-care costs — had to face up to the challenge now.

“Life expectancy is going to grow significantly, and current policies are going to be proven totally inadequate,” he predicted.

Just how far and fast life expectancy will increase is open to debate, but the direction and the accelerating trend is clear.

Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist from Cambridge University, goes much further. He believes the first person to live to 1,000 has already been born and told the meeting that periodic repairs to the body using stem cells, gene therapy and other techniques could eventually stop the aging process entirely.

De Grey argues that if each repair lasts 30 or 40 years, science will advance enough by the next “service” date that death can be put off indefinitely — a process he calls strategies for engineered negligible senescence.

Researcher Finds Easy Way Of Producing Nano Structures And Devices

A nanotechnologist has created the world’s smallest and most plentiful smiley, a tiny face measuring a few billionths of a metre across assembled from strands of DNA.

Dr Paul Rothemund at the California Institute of Technology can make 50 billion smileys, each a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, with his technique.

DNA has long been known for its versatility as a microscopic building block.

The molecule can be ‘cut’ using enzymes and reassembled using matching rungs in its double-helix structure.

This theoretically opens the way to making DNA quantum computers and nano-level devices including injectable robots that can monitor the body’s tissues for good health.

But, until now, nano-assembly has been a complex atom-by-atom procedure that is also costly, because it is carried out in a vacuum or at extremely coldly temperatures.

Rothemund, writing in today’s issue of the journal Nature, describes a far simpler and much cheaper process in which long, single strands of DNA can be folded back and forth to form a basic scaffold.

Rothemund has been working on flat, two-dimensional shapes but says that 3D structures in DNA should be quite feasible with this technique.

One application would be a nano-scale ‘cage’ in which pharmaceutical researchers, working on novel drugs, could sequester enzymes until they were ready for use in turning other proteins on and off.

Nano smiley

Nano hexagon

Every year, it gets a lot easier to build structures and devices at the nanoscale.

CRNano and other experts are predicting full blown nanofactories at around 2015.

Before you know it, you’re living in a world where nanobots routinely repair damage in our bodies and keep us healthy indefinately, as envisioned by Eric Drexler in his book Engines Of Creation.

Supercomputer Simulates Virus

Supercomputer Builds Virus

One of the world’s most powerful supercomputers has conjured a fleeting moment in the life of a virus. The researchers say the simulation is the first to capture a whole biological organism in such intricate molecular detail.

The simulation pushes today’s computing power to the limit. But it is only a first step. In future researchers hope that bigger, longer simulations will reveal details about how viruses invade cells and cause disease.

Running on a machine at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Urbana, the program calculated how each of the million or so atoms in the virus and a surrounding drop of salt water was interacting with almost every other atom every femtosecond, or millionth of a billionth of a second.

The team managed to model the entire virus in action for 50 billionths of a second. Such a task would take a desktop computer around 35 years, says Schulten. “This is just a first glimpse,” he says. “But it looks gorgeous.”

Ultimately, computational biologists would like to simulate larger viruses such as influenza or the complex biological systems in a cell – and for longer periods, such as the thousandths of a second that it might take to observe proteins in a cell switch a gene off. These computer models should allow researchers to discover details about such processes that they may miss by observing a real virus.

But such simulations will not become possible until the next generation of supercomputers are built in the next five years, Schulten says.

This is a good example of the growing importance of simulations in medicine. Simulations are basically the future of medicine, simply because it is more practical to study a simulation on a computer than it is to study a physical virus that exists in real life.

In real physical life, you have no control over time and viewing angles like you do in simulations. In simulations, you get to decide when the programs runs, when it halts, or when it should rewind a bit. You are also free to define an arbitrary number of camera’s inside a simulation, which can point in any direction and at any zoom-level.

In the near future, medical simulations will help a great deal in speeding up medical discoveries, which directly translates into a healthier body and longer life for all of us.

Regrowing Nerves With Stem Cells

Researchers of AntiCancer, Inc. have accidentily made an important discovery.

Even for scientists, it’s not every day you see a hairless mouse glowing bright green under a fluorescent light. And for scientists searching for stem cells that could grow into nerve or brain cells, seeing such a mouse meant finding a possible whole new source of such cells.

The scientists had given the mouse a gene so that areas would glow green where such stem cells might be found. They expected part of the mouse around the head to glow green. Instead, the entire mouse was aglow. “I’ll never forget the minute that we made that observation,” says Robert Hoffman, president of AntiCancer, Inc., where the finding took place.

Because of that moment, which Hoffman says was, in fact, a “lucky discovery,” company scientists have been working on what could be a new source of adult stem cells.

Their most recent research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), shows that they’ve been able to use stem cells taken from a mouse hair follicle to help regenerate damaged nerves in mice. In previous research, also published in PNAS, they showed the stem cells could become special brain cells called neurons.

In their first experiments, they tried to, according to Hoffman, “convert the hair follicle stem cells into brain cells in the laboratory.” When that worked, he says, “Then we knew there was a real relationship between the hair follicle stem cells and the brain stem cells.” They then put them in mice, and found they still formed neurons.

From there they worked with mice with injured nerves. “We injected these hair follicle stem cells into the area where the nerve or the spinal cord is severed… [and] found that the nerve or spinal cord could be regenerated because we injected these hair follicle stem cells,” says Hoffman.

Potent stem cells in hair follicles glow green

Summarized: hair follicles of mice are an easily accessible source of stem cells with a very high potential (meaning they can turn into all sorts of tissues). If this is also true in humans, it would mean there is no more need for embryonic stem cells, thereby completely passing by the whole controversy that accompanies these embryonic stem cells.

There is an interesting, 1.5 minute movie clip available at the source.