Stories tagged Scientific Enterprise


GrapheneCourtesy Carbophiliac

Graphene is great

Graphene is a single atom thick layer of carbon atoms in a honeycomb like arrangement (read more about graphene here in

Graphene transistors are the fastest

Transistors are like valves that can turn the flow of electricity off and on. Computers can use transistors and logic circuits to solve all kinds of problems. These problems can be solved faster if the transistors can turn on and off faster. Transistors made out of graphene now can switch on and off 100 billion times per second (100 GigaHertz). State-of-the-art silicon transistors of the same gate length have a switching frequency of about 40 GigaHertz.

IBM develops next-generation transistors

IBM just announced their breakthrough in the magazine Science.

Uniform and high-quality graphene wafers were synthesized by thermal decomposition of a silicon carbide (SiC) substrate. The graphene transistor itself utilized a metal top-gate architecture and a novel gate insulator stack involving a polymer and a high dielectric constant oxide. The gate length was modest, 240 nanometers, leaving plenty of space for further optimization of its performance by scaling down the gate length. ScienceDaily


Someone is going to get a serious haunting: until I get my whiskey back!
Someone is going to get a serious haunting: until I get my whiskey back!Courtesy Brianboulton
It’s widely accepted that, if it weren’t for whiskey, some of humankind’s greatest discoveries never would have been made.

The North Pole? Forget it. Nuclear power? No chance. Einstein’s house keys? No way. (Although, to be fair, he never would have lost the keys in the first place if it hadn’t also been for whiskey.)

Whiskey is for explorers and their ilk what spinach is to Popeye.

Don’t believe me? Check this out: A quasi-archaeological expedition to Antarctica to recover the explorer Ernest Shackleton’s 100-year-old whiskey.

Apparently there were several crates buried beneath a shed Shackleton had used. So, you know, why not grab a couple? Ice had cracked some of the bottles, but the freezing point of pure ethanol is about -114º C, and the whiskey was likely at least 80 proof (40% alcohol), so, buried beneath the hut, most of the bottles were safe from freezing.

The distillery that had originally supplied the Shackleton expedition with whiskey is hoping that one of the recovered bottles might be used to reverse-engineer the whiskey blend, since that recipe was lost a long time ago.

It’s sort of like the efforts to map frozen mammoth DNA to bring the species back through cloning. Except with whiskey.


Very much like this
Very much like thisCourtesy Jeff Henshaw
Chill out, everybody. I can tell you’re all stressed out about the future, and why it’s not here, and where the flying cars are, and the laser-powered washing machines, and the genetically engineered dog-faced cats, and all that other stuff we were basically promised.

You feel like you’ve been cheated. I can see it on your faces.

Well don’t worry. The future is here, and it’s called Japan. Check it out: a machine that recycles regular old office paper into brand new toilet paper! Finally! A solution to our office paper surplus/toilet paper shortage, and a great new reason to be absolutely horrified of staples!

The new machine, called “White Goat” (because, duh, like a goat, it will eat almost anything, and it excretes something you want to rub on your orifices), will turn 40 sheets of office paper into one roll of toilet paper in about 30 minutes, at a cost of about 11 cents a roll. I’m not sure if this cost includes only the paper, or also the electricity and water the machine needs. That’s sort of important.

White goat costs somewhat more than a real goat (about $100,000), and will likely be much more difficult to eat when it has outlived its usefulness. Still, it seems like a clever in-house recycling thing, and it makes me wonder what sort of similar, and perhaps more practical, devices could be made for organizations with lots of a particular kind of waste.

Here’s the White Goat in action:


Earthquake and hurricane proof

Haiti housing resource
Haiti housing resourceCourtesy jasonpearce
Housing for Haitians may already be on hand. Sturdy, earthquake and hurricane proof, shipping containers often sit empty in port yards because exporting empty containers is not cost effective.

Pernille Christensen, at Clemson’s School of Architecture, along with Martha Skinner and Doug Hecker, have been working to develop a method to convert the shipping containers into homes.

“Because of the shipping container’s ‘unibody’ construction they are also very good in seismic zones and exceed structural code in the United States and any country in the world,” associate professor Hecker said.

“You get people back in their communities and it strengthens those communities,” Christensen said. “They work on their home, not a temporary shelter, and then they work with their neighbors to rebuild the neighborhood. It leads to a healthier and safer community. And these are places often in dire need of better housing.”


Learn more about shipping container housing


I recorded this live with internet broadcast, on 09th January 2010 during the Closing Ceremony of IYA2009 | International Year of Astronomy. You can hear how Vincenzo Giorgio of Thales Alenia Space, the Principal Sponsor of IYA2009, International Year of Astronomy is saying hinhis address @ the closing ceremony of IYA2009 live from Padua, Italy

1. watch-iya2009-closing-ceremony-live.html




New device prints human tissue

The manufacture of replacement body parts just might happen this year. Organovo just took delivery of the world's first production grade 3D bio-printer developed for them by Invetech.
The printer includes two print heads, one for placing human cells, and the other for placing a hydrogel, scaffold, or support matrix. The position of a capillary tip, can position droplets of "ink" containing virtually any cell type, with micron accuracy.

"Invetech plans to ship a number of 3D bio-printers to Organovo during 2010 and 2011 as a part of the instrument development program. Organovo will be placing the printers globally with researchers in centers of excellence for medical research." Organovo press release


GOCE Satellite: The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer
GOCE Satellite: The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation ExplorerCourtesy ESA
Can it be true? Yes, for a mere $5,544 dollars round-trip airfare to Greenland! In March 2009, the European Space Agency launched the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) into orbit around our planet, which is now transmitting detailed data about the Earth’s gravity. The GOCE satellite uses a gradiometer to map tiny variations in the Earth’s gravity caused by the planet’s rotation, mountains, ocean trenches, and interior density. New maps illustrating gravity gradients on the Earth are being produced from the information beamed back from GOCE. Preliminary data suggests that there is a negative shift in gravity in the northeastern region of Greenland where the Earth’s tug is a little less, which means you might weigh a fraction of a pound lighter there (a very small fraction, so it may not be worth the plane fare)!

In America, NASA and Stanford University are also working on the gravity issue. Gravity Probe B (GP-B) is a satellite orbiting 642 km (400 miles) above the Earth and uses four gyroscopes and a telescope to measure two physical effects of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity on the Earth: the Geodetic Effect, which is the amount the earth warps its spacetime, and the Frame-Dragging Effect, the amount of spacetime the earth drags with it as it rotates. (Spacetime is the combination of the three dimensions of space with the one dimension of time into a mathematical model.)

Quick overview time. The Theory of General Relativity is simply defined as: matter telling spacetime how to curve, and curved spacetime telling matter how to move. Imagine that the Earth (matter) is a bowling ball and spacetime is a trampoline. If you place the bowling ball in the center of the trampoline it stretches the trampoline down. Matter (the bowling ball) curves or distorts the spacetime (trampoline). Now toss a smaller ball, like a marble, onto the trampoline. Naturally, it will roll towards the bowling ball, but the bowling ball isn’t ‘attracting’ the marble, the path or movement of the marble towards the center is affected by the deformed shape of the trampoline. The spacetime (trampoline) is telling the matter (marble) how to move. This is different than Newton’s theory of gravity, which implies that the earth is attracting or pulling objects towards it in a straight line. Of course, this is just a simplified explanation; the real physics can be more complicated because of other factors like acceleration.

Albert Einstein
Albert EinsteinCourtesy none
So what is the point of all this high-tech gravity testing? First of all, our current understanding of the structure of the universe and the motion of matter is based on Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity; elaborate concepts and mathematical equations conceived by a genius long before we had the technology to directly test them for accuracy. The Theory of General Relativity is the cornerstone of modern physics, used to describe the universe and everything in it, and yet it is the least tested of Einstein’s amazing theories. Testing the Frame-Dragging Effect is particularly exciting for physicists because they can use the data about the Earth’s influence on spacetime to measure the properties of black holes and quasars.

Second, the data from the GOCE satellite will help accurately measure the real acceleration due to gravity on the earth, which can vary from 9.78 to 9.83 meters per second squared around the planet. This will help scientists analyze ocean circulation and sea level changes, which are influenced by our climate and climate change. The information that the GOCE beams back will also assist researchers studying geological processes such as earthquakes and volcanoes.

So, as I gobble down another mouthful of leftover turkey and mashed potatoes, I can feel confident that my holiday weight gain and the structure of the universe are of grave importance to the physicists of the world!


Nanosensors measure cancer biomarkers in blood

For the first time, a team led by Yale University researchers has used nanosensors to measure cancer biomarkers in whole blood. The new device is able to read out biomarker concentrations in a just a few minutes. Extremely small concentrations are being measured, the equivalent of detecting a single grain of salt within a swimming pool size volume of liquid.

"The new device could also be used to test for a wide range of biomarkers at the same time, from ovarian cancer to cardiovascular disease, Reed said. Science Daily.

Learn more by reading paper published in Nature Nanotechnology

Authors of the paper, "Label-free biomarker detection from whole blood", include Eric Stern, Aleksandar Vacic, Nitin Rajan, Jason Criscione, Jason Park, Mark Reed and Tarek Fahmy (all of Yale University); Bojan Ilic (Cornell University); David Mooney (Harvard University).

Distinct components within the sensor perform purification and detection. A microfluidic purification chip simultaneously captures multiple biomarkers from blood samples and releases them, after washing, into purified buffer for sensing by a silicon nanoribbon detector. This two-stage approach isolates the detector from the complex environment of whole blood, and reduces its minimum required sensitivity by effectively pre-concentrating the biomarkers. Nature Nanotechnology, Dec 13, 2009


Flash memory: Today's content king.
Flash memory: Today's content king.Courtesy Nrbelex


MRAM (magnetoresistive random access memory) flips the magnetisation of a region 180 degrees relative to another permanently magnetised region to store a 0 or a 1. MRAM is nanosecond fast but if made too small and close together will "cross talk".


FeRAM (ferroelectric random access memory) use small external electric fields to polarize ferroelectric crystals. FeRAMs low energy requirement and speed advantage is offset by the requirement that every memory bit requires a space hogging capacitor.


PCRAM (phase-change random access memory) use laser light or current to change a materials structure. If the current pulse is long, the material orders itself into its crystalline state (a conductor). If the pulse is short, the material cools abruptly into the amorphous state (an insulator). These memory regions can be made quite small, but the downside is that the melting requires lots of energy.


RRAM (resistive random access memory) use high voltages to drive off or reabsorb oxygen bound within molecules like titanium oxide. When the oxygen leaves, it leaves behind holes in the crystal and excess electrons that are available for conduction. This process requires almost no electrical current, making them very energy efficient. Another exciting property is that RRAMs can represent more than a 0 or 1. They are able to adopt any number of values for their resistance (memristors) which could make them models for the analogue computational elements (synapses) inside the human brain.

Racetrack memory

Racetrack memory moves tiny domains of magnetism along wires. The domains are moved along the wire by a current and written or read when they pass sensor heads. If the wires can be coiled into 3 D, the memory per volume will increase several hundred times.

Source: New Scientist


Finding better ways for computers to see


Building biologically-inspired vision systems

Living organisms are very good at making sense out of what they see. Designing machines that can recognize objects when seen from an angle or at various distances is challenging. Facial or gesture recognition is becoming common in our computing devices.

Reverse engineering the visual cortex

In an attempt to improve upon current state of the art visual systems, scientists are attempting to reverse engineer biological visual systems.

Huge advances have been recently made in visualizing the structure of our visual cortex (hardware) but the inner workings of the neuronal systems (software) remain a mystery. Mimicking natural selection, scientists are testing thousands of software algorithms at a time.

Using processors from game playing computers

Using graphical processors from game playing computers (such as those found in the PlayStation 3 and high-end NVIDIA graphics cards), scientists have discovered better visual modeling systems.

"The best of these models, drawn from thousands of candidates, outperformed a variety of state-of-the-art vision systems across a range of object and face recognition tasks."

"GPUs are a real game-changer for scientific computing. We made a powerful parallel computing system from cheap, readily available off-the-shelf components, delivering over hundred-fold speed-ups relative to conventional methods,"

PLoS Computational Biology published research paper
Visual Neuroscience Group @ The Rowland Institute at Harvard