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Public Engagement in Nanotech Gets Ugly

Presumably the purpose of all the public engagement exercises that are funded around the world is to encourage citizens to be part of the process of scientific development.

I have issues with this attempt to make the general public our guides for the development of science and technology. On the one hand, I am cynical enough to think that the policy has been already been laid out and that the powers-that-be are engaging in a kind of charade to appease any public outcry. On the other hand, I fear that the same powers-that-be may actually be sincere and take the recommendations of the public too seriously.

But those are my somewhat jaundiced reasons for not really getting behind public engagement, I am sure those that are idealistic enoughâ''or maybe just realistic enoughâ''would welcome these kinds of public dialogues.

So I imagine when the Australian government decided to hold a public dialogue on nanotechnology in food it never occurred to them that the one constituency they were counting on being there would decide to skip it in a huff.

That's right your friendly neighborhood NGO decided they weren't going to engage in this dialogue.

TNTLog has an uproariously funny look at the utter hypocrisy of the Friends of the Earth (FoE) when they refused to engage in a public dialogue with different groups surrounding the issue.

The officials in the Australian government who set this all up must feel like they went to the trouble of hosting a party they didnâ''t want to give, and the guest of honor refuses to go because they prefer surprise parties.

I would like to humbly recommend that if we canâ''t even get to the point of discussion, canâ''t we just move on?

Russian President Promises Upgrade to Nation's Nuke Force

In a blunt signal to the West that Russia intends to bolster its military might, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today said that his country will embark on a course of strengthening its nuclear arsenal.

At a meeting of Russia's defense leadership in Moscow, Medvedev ordered a "large-scale" upgrade of the nation's nuclear weapons in response to perceived intimidation by the NATO alliance, according to a news report from Agence France Presse (AFP).

"From 2011, a large-scale rearmament of the army and navy will begin," Medvedev said. "Analysis of the military-political situation in the world shows that a serious conflict potential remains in some regions."

He added that the primary goal of the new directive will be to improve the combat readiness of the nation's military, particularly its strategic nuclear forces. "They must be able to fulfil all tasks necessary to ensure Russia's security," Medvedev noted.

The head of Russia's strategic missile forces, Nikolai Solovtsov, told journalists that his command would begin deploying its new RS-24 missiles after the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1) with the United States expires in December, according to the AFP account.

Russia claims that its multiple-warhead RS-24 missiles will be able to thwart any U.S. technology devised to prevent them from striking their long-range targets.

Today's move by the Russian leader should most likely be placed in context as the opening gambit in a long series of moves by the United States and the former Soviet Union to settle a wide agenda of disputes over nuclear weaponry in the months ahead, as the START 1 arrangement limiting atomic stockpiles draws to a close.

U.S. President Barack Obama is openly known to favor new negotiations with the Russian government to reduce the number of weapons of mass destruction held by both sides; and Moscow watchers believe the Kremlin is actually in favor of coming up with a revamped treaty.

One problem the two superpowers have in common is that their existing nuclear weapons are aging rapidly, with many delivery systems and warheads from the Cold War era approaching the end of their expected maintenance timetables. So a new arms reduction pact between the two would allow both to scrap their most suspect components and replace them with fewer, more-sophisticated ones capable of wreaking destruction just as great.

The next few months will tell if today's saber rattling from the Kremlin will achieve its desired effect and compel the new American president to move quickly on one of the most traditionally important issues in global affairs, on top of all the other pressing matters on his already long list of things to do in his first year.

[For more on the deteriorating U.S. nuclear arsenal, see What About The Nukes? by Francis Slakey and Benn Tannenbaum in this month's issue of IEEE Spectrum.]

The World Wide Web Hits 20th Birthday

In March 1989, an obscure 33-year-old science fellow at the Centre Europee de Recherche Nucleaire (CERN) decided to mix ideas from hypertexting with the Internet's transmission control protocol to see what would happen.

Initially, he hoped that he could create an interlinked collection of documents that would enable researchers to quickly view each other's work in progress. He had no inkling that he had come up with the concept that would become the World Wide Web.

While Tim Berners-Lee did not get permission from his superiors at CERN to put his proposal for the "information management" scheme into practice for another year or so, he still counts that initial plan as the birth of the Web.

To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of that proposal, CERN (now known as the European Organization for Nuclear Research) invited Berners-Lee back to its headquarters near Geneva last Friday to speak about how the Web has grown into a global phenomenon and what he thinks it will grow into in the future.

CERN has posted a special section to its own Web site, called World Wide Web @ 20 naturally, to offer the public a glimpse at the proceedings. For example, this link helps explain how the Web got started and depicts the NeXT computer Berners-Lee used to create the first Web server to offer pages of simple HTML text for others to access. And by clicking on this link, you can watch a compilation of videos on the origins of the Web.

Twenty years later, there are millions of Web servers offering tens of millions of sites using the software tools Berners-Lee helped develop.

It's a stunning story that began simply as the imaginings of an obscure science fellow -- 20 years ago.

Business is Business, Even the So-Called Nano Business

About a year-and-a-half ago, I was impressed by a quote Scott Rickert gave for an article in Industry Week.

It essentially said that no one buys a product because it contains nanotechnology but because it can do amazing things. I sort of liked this clear-headed approach to nanotechnologyâ''s role in products.

Now it appears as though Industry Week has given the writing duties directly over to Rickert.

Again, for the most part, Rickert offers up some common sense when approaching the subject of nanotechnology and business albeit with a couple of his own peculiar biases (maybe he can tell me how he uses the The NanoBusiness Alliance as a resource for trusted information).

But like any subject, when you go about reading up on the topic of your interest, you soon realize that you will need to read between the lines. In other words, those pinnacles of financial and business information that Rickert and just about every other businessman turn to for information are sometimes reduced to just being cheerleaders and not objective sources that help you discern what is really going on.

One need only turn to Jon Stewart's public dressing down of the CNBC financial news network, and one of its hapless anchors, Jim Cramer, to realize that just because a news source has lots of money and clout doesn't mean it is giving you the real information.

Itâ''s true of business and nano business. Just follow the adage, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Intel says AMD's foundry spin-off can't have its patents

Here's a hitch in AMD's plans.

Back in 2001, AMD and Intel did some cross licensing of various patents. I'm not sure what Intel gave AMD, but AMD says it gave Intel rights to use some of its IP on 64-bit architecture extentions, integrated memory controllers, and multi-core architecture.

Now Intel says that the structure of the deal that produced AMD's Dresden-based foundry jv, Global Foundries, breaches the deal. Intel says the foundry deal "could result in the loss of licenses and rights granted to AMD by Intel."

As you might expect, statements from both companies involved a lot of huffing and puffing.

Intel implied that AMD was trying to hide something from you (the public):

Intel has asked AMD to make the relevant portion of the agreement public, but so far AMD has declined to do so.

I'm quite sure that if I'd asked either company about the details of this agreement 1 month ago neither of them would cough it up. So for Intel to try to claim that they want the information in the open is a little silly. As a journalist, I'm all for more information, but for AMD to release this info might be like posting a sign outside Fab 1 in Dresden saying: "These are the things we cannot do."

Another choice moment from the Intel release was this:

In response to the notification AMD claimed Intel breached the agreement by notifying AMD of its breach.

AMD's Michael Silverman made that sound a little less ridiculous, essentially saying that it wasn't the notification, but the "attempt to terminate AMD's license" that put Intel in breach. He also wrote that "Should this matter proceed to litigation, we will prove that Intel fabricated this claim to interfere with our commercial relationships and thus has violated the cross-license."

Of course, AMD's statement, wasn't free from it's share of saber-rattling and over-the-topped-ness:

Here's the saber-rattling:

The AMD/Intel cross-license agreement is a two-way agreement, the benefits of which go to both companies. Intel leverages innovative AMD IP critical for its product designs under the cross license. This includes AMD patents related to 64-bit architecture extensions, integrated memory controller, multi-core architecture, etc.). ...

In fact, we informed Intel that their attempt to terminate AMDâ''s license itself constitutes a breach of the cross-license agreement, which, if uncured, gives AMD the right to terminate Intelâ''s license.

And here's the over-the-topped-ness:

Again, we believe that Intel manufactured this diversion as an attempt to distract attention from the increasing number of antitrust rulings against it around the world. With a ruling from the European Commission and a U.S. trial date looming, and investigations by the U.S. FTC and NY Attorney General, the clock is ticking on Intelâ''s illegal practices - and yet with its dominant monopoly position it still tries to stifle competitors.

That'd be a pretty lame distraction, I think. Again, speaking as a journalist, if European and American regulators come down on Intel demanding a whole bunch of redress for past wrongs, I don't even think this cross-license problem will merit a half of a paragraph.

I think Intel is doing this for much more straightforward reasons. It's certainly not in that company's interest to see viable a 45-nm and (someday) 32-nm fab just as its own efforts at breaking into the embedded systems space are ramping up. So it will use any (legal, one hopes) means to hold back GLOBALFOUNDRIES.

All that said, this did make me wonder if all of GLOBALFOUNDRIES and AMDs ducks really were in a row. In particular I wondered if Innovative Silicon's license for Z-RAM went to GLOBALFOUNDRIES.

And that made me wonder about the future of silicon-on-insulator technology (one of the big reasons to use Z-RAM). In refreshing my memory about GLOBALFOUNDRIES, I noticed that the 32-nm line they're working on is for bulk silicon, not silicon-on-insulator.

Oft-Delayed Shuttle Mission Finally Blasts Off for Space Station

The latest mission of the shuttle transport system finally got the green light to fly today.

The shuttle Discovery roared off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 7:43 pm EDT. The mission, designated STS-119, was originally scheduled to launch on 12 February, but a string of technical problems led NASA to postpone the countdown on several occasions. This time, everything worked as planned, and Discovery reached orbit about 9 minutes after liftoff.

The job of the STS-119 crew is to deliver a set of solar arrays to the International Space Station (ISS). The S6 array when installed will finish the Integrated Truss Structure, the so-called backbone of the ISS, bringing the orbiting science platform a giant step toward completion by enabling it to produce more solar energy. Discovery's crew will also conduct a number of experiments, including the Shuttle Ionospheric Modification with Pulsed Local EXhaust (SIMPLEX), Shuttle Exhaust Ion Turbulence Experiments (SEITE), and Maui Analysis of Upper Atmospheric Injections (MAUI) tests.

The crew of STS-119 consists of Commander Lee Archambault, Pilot Dominic A. Antonelli, and Mission Specialists Joseph M. Acaba, Steven R. Swanson, Richard R. Arnold, and John L. Phillips, as well as Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of Japan, who will join the ISS crew for Expedition 18. Current ISS astronaut Sandra Magnus will return with the shuttle to Earth.

The Discovery mission, the 28th shuttle flight to the ISS, is slated to last 13 days.

Be-dazzle my Fighter Jet

Apollo Diamond
Photo: jurvetson

Nevermind the economic meltdown, soon our fighter jets might be decked with no less than precious gemstones.

The U.S. Air Force is considering packing 80 carats worth of diamonds on the windows of a new generation of aircrafts.

No, the military is not trying to show off.

The new jets will carry high-powered microwave (HPM) emitters. These weapons are capable of destroying enemy electrical systems without a single scratch or boom. Those targets hit will simply stop working and drop out of the skies -- scary thought.

Without the protection of the right material though, these emitters would also make a big ol' hole on the side of the planes carrying them.

Talk about a first-class security system!

We all know that diamonds have qualities that are hard to match: no other material is harder, tougher or has higher thermal conductivity.

These properties have landed man-made diamonds in high-quality loudspeakers and cutting tools for granite and marble.

Those in the know have been talking about the advent of the Diamond Age for a few years now.

In fact, the companies that are vying to make the jets' fancy new windows have been studying the use of diamonds for quite a while.

Take Apollo Diamond, for example. The well-guarded Massachusetts-based company holds the record of creating the largest synthetic diamond. Just like its competitors, Apollo is working hard on mass producing the "ultimate semiconductors" out of diamonds. But in order for the use of diamonds to surpass that of silicon in the semiconductor industry, the diamond makers have to come up with cheaper ways of producing them.

In the meantime, Apollo hopes that the technique first developed in its founder's garage more than 10 years ago, a modified version of Chemical Vapor Deposition, will be well worth the Air Force's time and money.

Yes, we will have to wait close to a decade for these diamond windows. Perhaps by then we'll be able to afford them.

Semicon Industry Honors University Engineers

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) today awarded its highest prize for academic research to scientists from MIT and UCLA.

At its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., the industry trade group singled out the work of Anantha Chandrakasan and Kang Wang for its 2009 University Researcher Awards.

Chandrakasan, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT, specializes in micropower design, wireless microsensor arrays, and ultrawideband radios. Chandrakasan recently collaborated with researchers at Texas Instruments on a microcontroller that reduces power consumption by 90 percent compared to a conventional device.

Wang, a former chair of the electrical engineering department at UCLA, works in the areas of silicon-carbide nano devices, self-assembly of quantum structures, and spintronics materials. Wang's efforts are focused on basic research to develop technologies that will enable continued progress in semiconductors when the limits of conventional microelectronics are reached, according to the SIA.

"The crown jewel in the U.S. innovation ecosystem is our network of world-leading research universities," said Hector Ruiz, chairman of the SIA.

"America's research universities attract the best and brightest students and teachers from around the world," Ruiz added. "University researchers do the fundamental research that has enabled U.S. chipmakers to lead the world in developing innovative products and solutions."

International Space Station Evacuated Temporarily

The threat of approaching "space junk" forced the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) into evacuation mode today.

The danger of an object speeding into the path of the ISS was deemed so severe that it caused NASA to declare an emergency shortly after noon Eastern Time. That sent the two astronauts and one cosmonaut aboard to don spacesuits and scramble into the attached Soyuz reentry capsule, pending the approach of the unknown object.

The emergency was declared over at 12:45 pm EDT, according to a NASA press release, and the crew was given the "all clear."

Astronauts Sandra Magnus and Michael Fincke and cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov then were ordered back to their quarters to continue their normal routines on the science platform.

A spokesperson for NASA said the errant object was about one-third of an inch in width, which would have been large enough to tear a hole in the space station's cabin, depressurizing the vehicle. The debris may have been a piece from a rocket engine that carried a previous payload to the space station itself (thereby putting it in the same orbital plane).

NASA estimates that there are some 170 000 broken pieces of spacecraft of the object's size orbiting the planet.

Today's collision drill was the eighth of its type in the nine-year history of manned operations aboard the ISS but the first ever that escalated to the degree where an escape procedure was required. Usually, ground controllers are able to warn the ISS crew sufficiently in advance of a potential threat to have them maneuver the space station away from an approaching object.

"The crew is safe and back in the space station, and they are resuming normal operations," NASA public affairs officer Laura Rochon said after the event.

Nanobot Video: Funny or Not?

There were those who did not find the nanobot video making the rounds on tech blogs the least bit amusing, while others could barely get up off the floor from falling down laughing.

I laughed when I saw it and when I did it never occurred to me that it might be at the expense of someone else, even the MNT community.


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