IEEE Spectrum has the latest information on speeding up communication between computer chips.
Engineers trying to speed up communication between computer chips have been working on using beams of light to replace the copper traces that shuttle data between microprocessors. Now a pair of researchers at Northeastern University in Boston think they can turn up the speed even more by doing some of the computing with light as well.
Physicist Swastik Kar and mechanical engineer Yung Joon Jung lay belts of carbon nanotubes on top of a silicon wafer. The junction created by the intersection of the two materials proved to be highly sensitive to light; shining a laser spot on it caused a sharp rise in the light-induced current. That allowed the pair to build logic circuits that could be manipulated both electrically and optically.
“What we’ve done is built a tiny device where one input can be a voltage and the other input can be light,” Kar says.
The researchers built an optoelectronic AND gate and a two-bit optoelectronic ADDER/OR gate. They also built a four-bit digital-to-analog converter. Shining spots of light onto an array of these junctions converts the digital signal of the laser into an analog current, with the strength of the current depending on the on/off pattern of the laser.
Jung creates the nanotubes in solution, and they can then be placed on a patterned silicon/silicon oxide substrate, so the technology should be compatible with existing CMOS processes, he says. The process should also be reproducible and scalable to large numbers of junctions.
Most people see slime mold and think “gross”. But researchers have discovered a new use for the substance- urban planning. Via The Guardian.
When asked, slime mould would reroute the M6. For years now, researchers in the field of urban transport have looked at biomimicry as a tool for establishing the most efficient routes around congested cities, typically by road or rail.
The use of naturally occurring living organisms to solve spatial design problems has, in this area, variously been explored by mimicking the foraging process of ants or the growth of crystal structures. But it is a particular form of slime mould, Physarum polycephalum (the “many-headed slime”), that has shown particular promise, having been applied to cities around the world and now offering the potential for mimicking regularly occurring events, such as rush hours.
P polycephalum is a plasmodial, single-celled organism which grows outward from a single point, searching for food sources. Once these have been located, the many branches it has sent out die back, leaving only the most efficient route between food source nodes.
By arranging pieces of oatmeal on a Petri dish to represent railway stations, researchers at the University of Hokkaido in Japan successfully grew a slime mould model of the Tokyo rail system in 2010. Since then, slime has mapped the optimum transport networks of numerous cities, as well as the Silk Road and a full global trade route.
In a comparison of 14 countries’ motorway networks, a global team of researchers led by Professor Andrew Adamatzky – director of the unconventional computing centre at the University of the West of England – used oat flakes and slime to establish that cities in Belgium, Canada and China had existing transport networks most similar to the slime model, and thus were most efficient, while networks in the US and Africa were indicated to be the least efficient.
20/20 vision isn’t good enough apparently! Popular Mechanics has the story on an app that could take your vision to a whole new level.
When a major league baseball pitcher throws a 95-mph fastball, only about 400 milliseconds—the duration of a blink—pass before the ball rockets over the plate. And a batter gets less than half that time to decide whether to swing, and where. Baseball players, then, could reap huge benefits from being able to probe a baseball farther from their eyes. And that inspired Aaron Seitz, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Riverside, who has created a new, publicly available app that conditions users to see farther on or off the baseball diamond.
In a study published this week in the journal Current Biology, Seitz worked with 19 players on the University of California, Riverside, baseball team, and showed that his app UltimEyes lengthened the distance at which the players could see clearly by an average of 31 percent. After using the app for 30 25-minute intervals, players saw an improvement that pushed many of them beyond normal 20/20 vision, including seven who attained freakishly good 20/7.5 vision—meaning that at a distance of 20 feet, they were clearly seeing what someone with normal vision could see at no farther than 7.5 feet away…
Despite its name, UltimEyes has little to do with improving the physical eye or eye muscles. Rather, the app works by exploiting recent insights into when and how the adult brain can be fundamentally rewired—a concept known as neuroplasticity.
UltimEyes exercises the visual cortex, the part of our brain that controls vision. Brain researchers have discovered that the visual cortex breaks down the incoming information from our eyes into fuzzy patterns called Gabor stimuli. The theory behind UltimEyes is that by directly confronting the eyes with Gabor stimuli, you can train your brain to process them more efficiently—which, over time, improves your brain’s ability to create clear vision at farther distances.
Lockheed Martin will build the world’s largest wave energy farm off the coast of Victoria, Australia, via engineering.com:
The PowerBuoy is a piston style wave energy harvester. Most of it is below sea level, anchored to the ocean floor. A piston is connected to a floating island – the Take Off Unit – that bobs up and down with the waves. Those movements are converted to rotational motion that spins a generator. The 600 Volt outputs of several PowerBuoys are connected to an Underwater Substation Pod whose output goes to shore through a subsea cable.
The project will roll out in three phases, with the first phase producing 2.5 MW peak. It’s likely that they’ll use Mark 3 PowerBuoys, which have been thoroughly tested off the coasts of Hawaii and Scotland. Each Mark 3 weighs 180 tons and can be towed to its location by a standard tugboat. It has a peak output of 866 kW and a projected life of 25 years.
Under development is the Mark 4 PowerBuoy, with a peak output of 2.4 MW. As part of the agreement, Lockheed Martin will assist OPT with the design and manufacturing of its product line, so we’re likely to see the Mark 4 in later phases of this project.
Compared to offshore wind power, wave energy offers several advantages. First, the converters only stand 38 feet (11.5 m) above the ocean surface, so they’re barely visible from the shoreline. According to the US Department of Energy, “The size of the PowerBuoys when viewed from shore would be [equivalent to] approximately 1.6 millimeters when viewed from arm’s length.” They also produce less noise and have practically no impact on ocean life, including birds. Wave energy can be predicted up to 72 hours in advance, giving grid operators plenty of notice regarding changes in electricity production.
Chinese engineers Lei Sheng, Jie Zhang and Jing Liu at Tsinghua University in Beijing manipulate liquid metals with electric fields. via medium:
In the science-fiction classic, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the T-1000 is a robotic assassin with a liquid metal endoskeleton that can assume the form of any object or person. Its liquid nature makes it immune to attack by bullets and impervious to mechanical damage in general.
The T-1000 is an entirely fictional device that might as well be magic as far as conventional manufacturing techniques are concerned. And yet this might be about to change thanks to the pioneering work of Lei Sheng, Jie Zhang and Jing Liu at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
These guys have taken the first tentative steps to making liquid machines that work like the T-1000. Their first attempts can assume various shapes, move around and then transform into other shapes more or less without limit. And they say the work has profound implications for the design of robots, future machines and the nature of manufacturing.
While the most familiar liquid metal is the toxic mercury, there are other metals and alloys that are liquid at room temperature and much more benign. In particular, a gallium-indium-selenium alloy, with a melting point of around 10°C, has received much recent attention because it can be used for cooling microprocessors and even for liquid metal printing techniques.
Now Lei Sheng and co have made this liquid metal assume simple shapes by placing a thin film of it in water and applying an electric field.
With careful arrangement of the voltages and electrode geometries, these guys can make the metal form into a sphere. They say this is the result of the balance between the surface tension in the liquid metal and the electronic forces applied to its surface.
We currently enjoy many wonderful bits of technology such as the internet, mobile phones, radar, and more, but how much of it was ‘predicted’ ahead of its time by science fiction authors? You just might be surprised! PBS Digital Studios looks at the predictions that came to pass, and which author was the most accurate of all.
Be sure to check our cartoon and animated posts both nostalgic and new that inspire makers of all ages! You’ll find how-tos for young makers, approaches to learning about science and engineering, and all sorts of comic strip and animated Saturday Morning fun! Be sure to check out our Adafruit products featuring comic book art as well as our very own animated episodes of Circuit Playground while you’re at it!
The time that ends up on your smartphone—and that synchronizes GPS, military operations, financial transactions, and internet communications—originates in a set of atomic clocks on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Dr. Demetrios Matsakis, Chief Scientist for USNO’s Time Services, gives a tour.
It is one of the largest fossil site discovered in recent years – a mysterious whale graveyard was found in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile.
The site was first discovered during an expansion project of the Pan-American Highway in 2010. The following year, Smithsonian and Chilean scientists examined the fossils, and wanted to figure out what happened 6–9 million years ago.
…Because the site was soon to be covered by the Pan-American Highway, Smithsonian paleontologists along with its 3D Digitization Program Office spent a week 3D scanning the entire dig site, capturing essential data about the arrangement and condition of the skeletons.
Although all the fossils found from 2010 to 2013 have been moved to museums in the Chilean cities of Caldera and Santiago, the Smithsonian has put much of its digital data, including 3D scans and maps, online allowing anyone to download or interact with 3D models of the fossil whale skeletons. The 3D model is also being 3D printed so researchers could continue their investigation of the site….
Every Thursday is #3dthursday here at Adafruit! The DIY 3D printing community has passion and dedication for making solid objects from digital models. Recently, we have noticed electronics projects integrated with 3D printed enclosures, brackets, and sculptures, so each Thursday we celebrate and highlight these bold pioneers!
Have you considered building a 3D project around an Arduino or other microcontroller? How about printing a bracket to mount your Raspberry Pi to the back of your HD monitor? And don’t forget the countless LED projects that are possible when you are modeling your projects in 3D!
The Adafruit Learning System has dozens of great tools to get you well on your way to creating incredible works of engineering, interactive art, and design with your 3D printer! We also offer the MakerBot Digitizer in our store. If you’ve made a cool project that combines 3D printing and electronics, be sure to let us know, and we’ll feature it here!
Themla Estrin was a great role model for all women in STEM fields. Her obituary in the LA Times reflects all the wonderful contributions that she made to biomedical engineering, computer science, and more.
February 21, 1924 – February 15, 2014 Dr. Thelma Estrin, a trailblazer in bio-medical engineering and a role model for all women in science, UCLA Professor Emerita, and a loving wife, mother, and grandmother, died on Saturday February 15th in her home in Santa Monica, California at the age of 89. Thelma Austern was born in New York City, where she met and married her beloved Gerald (Jerry) Estrin, Ph.D. in 1941. They had been married for 70 years when Jerry passed away in March, 2012. After training as an engineering assistant at the Stevens Institute of Technology and working at Radio Receptor Company during WWII, Thelma studied electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin where she earned her B.S, M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in 1948, 1949 and 1951. She held a research position in the Electroencephalography Department of the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, thus beginning her career in bio-medical engineering. In 1954, Thelma and Jerry traveled to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, where they worked on the development of WEIZAC, the first large-scale electronic computer outside of the United States or Western Europe. In 1955, they returned to Los Angeles and in 1961 Thelma inaugurated the UCLA Brain Research Institute’s Data Processing Laboratory – one of the first interdisciplinary laboratories dedicated to creating and applying computing to neurological research. She served as director of the laboratory from 1970 until 1980 when she became a full professor at UCLA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. In the late 1970′s, Thelma was the first woman to join the board of trustees of the Aerospace Corporation. She took a two-year leave from UCLA in 1982 to serve as the director of the National Science Foundation’s division of Electrical, Computing and System Engineering. She also served as director of UCLA’s Engineering Science Extension. In 1991, Thelma retired and became a Professor Emerita. Thelma was a Fellow of the IEEE, the Society of Women Engineers, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a founding Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and a recipient of numerous awards including the Pioneer in Computing Award from the Grace Hopper Conference for Women in Computing and induction into the WITI hall of fame. She loved to travel and was happiest when engaged in interesting conversation with Jerry, other family members and friends. Throughout her career and into retirement, she was actively involved in promoting women’s careers in engineering and science and served as a role model for girls and women throughout the world. She will always be remembered for her passion, directness, and drive to challenge the status quo. Thelma is survived and will be greatly missed by her three daughters, Margo (Marnin), Judy, and Deborah (Ache), four grandchildren, Rachel, Joshua, Leah, and David, as well as an extended family of colleagues and friends.
Each Tuesday is EducationTuesday here at Adafruit! Be sure to check out our posts about educators and all things STEM. Adafruit supports our educators and loves to spread the good word about educational STEM innovations!
Data artist Laurie Frick shared with us some of the work she recently exhibited at her solo show “Patterned Language” at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX. From her artist site:
Laurie Frick is a data artist. She uses self-tracking data to construct hand-built works and installations. Using her background in engineering and high-technology she explores the future of self-surveillance where sensors and a mass of measurements present patterns of how we feel, stress level, mood and bio-function digitally recorded and physically produced.
She holds and MFA from the New York Studio School, an MBA from the University of Southern California and studies at New York University’s (arts & technology) ITP program. Frick recently was awarded residencies by the Neuroscience Research Center University of Texas, the Headlands, Yaddo and the Bemis Center. Frick’s talks and publications include The Huffington Post, Nature Publishing Group, Los Angeles Times, New Scientist, NPR and in 2013 a TED talk at TEDxAustin. This past year she had solo exhibitions at Texas State University, Oklahoma Contemporary and Marfa Contemporary.
From “Patterned Language”:
Keeping track of time, minute‐by‐minute, is harder than it sounds. After several amateurish attempts, I searched online for ways to track time on a daily basis. I found Ben Lipkowitz, an engineer and coder. Between 2005 and 2011, Ben logged every hour of every day, sharing it online at www.fennetic.net. His data is turned into ‘Daily Time Slices’. For me, I try to explore a fantasy future where everything is recorded and captured seamlessly and invisibly. Manictime app is just such a ‘thing’…turn it on and you can log every click you make. I continue to imagine laser and 3D printing technology delivering physical, tangible hand‐made patterns directly to your walls, captured, made and recycled….in physical form. Digital becomes physical, and yet will feel hand-made It’s not far off. (Texas State University installation images – Feb 2014, curated by Mary Mikel Stump).
Rice Professor Adrian Lenardic used an accelerometer to take various measurements while skateboarding at the local skate park and, unsurprisingly, the kids around him grew interested, via phys.org:
Lenardic’s return to skateboarding was still three years away when a sequence of events began that would eventually blend the sport with his profession as a scientist. “In 2005, I wrote a CAREER grant to the National Science Foundation,” he said. “The CAREER grant asks you to define research projects that might span a career, but they know that you are an educator, so they also want you to think about ways to integrate your research into the classroom.”
Lenardic’s grant enabled him to create a visualization studio that can be used not only for university research and teaching, but also by K–12 students and educators, artists, and science communicators. Part of the program involves building a computer model that simulates geologic processes such as plate tectonics, surface erosion, continental collisions and planetary cooling. Another element is the creation of a workshop where advanced undergraduate and graduate students develop hands-on demonstrations of key concepts in geoscience.
“That can be drawing a picture or building a scale model you can put on a table,” Lenardic said. He hopes the program will encourage students to see beyond artificial boundaries within subfields and gain a greater understanding of how scientific processes are interconnected.
As Lenardic continued tinkering, building things and taking measurements, he acquired equipment to collect on-the-fly data, such as an accelerometer, a Doppler radar unit and strain gauges. About two years ago, thinking about his newly reinvigorated hobby of skateboarding, Lenardic took his measuring gear to the skatepark. “As a curious and nerdy scientist, I brought the stuff out to measure myself,” he said. “I just wanted to see how efficiently I was skating.”
Some of the equipment, such as an accelerometer, was strapped to his body, while others, such as the Doppler radar unit, were set up on stands and aimed at him as he sped down the ramps or up and around the curves of the swimming pool-like bowls.
Each Tuesday is EducationTuesday here at Adafruit! Be sure to check out our posts about educators and all things STEM. Adafruit supports our educators and loves to spread the good word about educational STEM innovations!
More on the future of flexible electronics from gizmag.
If flexible electronic devices are ever going to become practical for real-world use, the circuitry incorporated into them will have to be tough and resilient. We’re already seeing progress in that direction, including electrical wires that can still carry a current while being stretched. However, what if the application calls for the use of fiber optics? Well, scientists from Belgium may have that covered, too. They’ve created optical circuits utilizing what they believe are the world’s first stretchable optical interconnections.
The idea is that devices such as wearable sensors or touch-enabled robot skin could utilize standard glass fiber optic cables for the most part, but could use the interconnections to bridge gaps between those cables, allowing the device to bend or lengthen at those locations.
Made from a clear rubbery substance known as PDMS (poly-dimethylsiloxane), the interconnections feature a transparent core through which the light travels, that’s surrounded by an outer layer of the same material. Because light doesn’t move as easily through that outer layer due to its lower refractive index, the design keeps the light signals contained within the core.
In lab tests, the interconnections were able to guide light signals when stretched by up to 30 percent, or when bent around an object with a diameter as small as that of a human finger. What’s more, they maintained that functionality after being mechanically stretched by 10 percent a total of 80,000 times.
The mass production of artificial snow for events like the Winter Olympics at Sochi might have a plus side other than enabling winter sports enthusiasts, from Jeff Marlow at wired.
Even though 1,300 medals will be awarded by the time all is said and done at the 22nd edition of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, one remarkable performance will go unrewarded: the snowmaking. Insufficient snow is a problem that has plagued recent winter sports competitions, and there’s no end in sight during this contemporary age of climate change. But as the Anthropocene taketh, it may also giveth, as improved production of artificial snow makes up for nature’s stunted snowfall.
In a recent edition of its “Reactions” series video clips, the American Chemical Society explains the science behind snowmaking. By introducing a “nucleating agent” – a small solid-state grain of variable composition – into a stream of water mist, water molecules are templated onto a structural seed that promotes ice crystal growth. Jets of fine water particles go up, and snow comes down.
Of course, large quantities of water are required to start this process, and ski areas have begun stockpiling the raw material in retention ponds in anticipation of slow winters. One of the heart-stopping jumps on the downhill ski course in Sochi is called The Lake Jump, so named because a nearby pond dominates your field of view as you launch into the air. The lake in question is an artificial reservoir installed for the express purpose of snowmaking. At Mammoth Ski Resort in California, snow levels are down severely this year, and the persistent drought is limiting artificial production from nearby lakes as well.
Data stored on today’s CDs and DVDs has a lifetime of several decades before the physical material begins to significantly decay. Researchers are working on prolonging the lifetime of stored data, but so far reaching even 100 years has been challenging. Now in a new study, researchers have demonstrated a data storage technique that has a lifetime of about 3 x 1020 years at room temperature—virtually unlimited—which could lead to a new era of eternal data archiving.
The researchers, Jingyu Zhang, Mindaugas Gecevičius, Martynas Beresna, and Peter G. Kazansky at the University of Southampton in the UK, have published a paper in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters on the new data storage technique.
As the scientists explain, there is a general tradeoff in data storage between lifetime and capacity, so that media that store larger amounts of information tend to have shorter lifetimes. For example, physicists have demonstrated the possibility of storing vast amounts of data with individual atoms, yet the storage time is a mere 10 picoseconds at room temperature.
The new optical data storage technique presented here provides both excellent lifetime and capacity. To record data, a femtosecond (fs) laser delivers ultrashort (280-fs, with 1 fs = 10-15 seconds) light pulses onto a piece of quartz. The light pulses create nanogratings—tiny dots—in the quartz, with each dot carrying three bits of information. This triple storage is possible because the laser performs multilevel encoding, so that the dots encode the intensity and polarization of the light in three layers of the quartz. Applying this technique, a disc the size of a CD or DVD with about 1000 layers has a data capacity of hundreds of terabytes, compared with hundreds of megabytes for today’s commercial discs.
To determine the lifetime of the optical data storage system, the researchers subjected the information to accelerated aging to obtain the decay rate. The underlying mechanism of decay is the collapse of nanovoids that exist between the nanogratings; when the nanovoids collapse, the nanogratings become unstable and lose their stored data.
The researchers calculated that the decay time of the nanogratings, and thus the lifetime of the data storage system, is about 3 x 1020 years at room temperature, indicating unprecedented high stability. The lifetime decreases at elevated temperatures, but even at temperatures of 462 K (189° C, 372° F), the extrapolated decay time is 13.8 billion years, comparable to the age of the Universe.