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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.

The Mind versus the Heart in Nanotechnology

I saw what I thought to be an odd quote from an article by Chris Tourney in Nature Nanotechnology.

Hereâ''s the quote that has me bewildered:

â''For those who expect that people will embrace nanotechnology when they learn more about the science, the second message from these four recent reports is that the scientific knowledge in our minds is a weak companion to the strong values and concerns in our hearts."

I wanted to read more from this article after reading such a perplexing thought, but I have to confess I could not because I am not a subscriber to the publication. Nonetheless, What â''strong values and concerns in our heartsâ'' could the author be referring to? And why on earth do we have to accept that the scientific knowledge in our minds is secondary to these so-called â''strong values in our heartsâ''?

Maybe â''strong valuesâ'' is just another way of saying misguided biases. As noted by Stephen Chu on the Charlie Rose television show all significant science flies in the face of dogma.

If the human species is reduced to taking into consideration every little â''valueâ'' that people hold dear, then you might as well start de-evolving back to the caves right now.

Destroy Civilization with Nanotechnology

Last week I naively suggested that popular culture had moved on from the doomsday scenarios of â''grey gooâ'' brought on by nanobots, and had instead graduated to talking about how nanomaterials would get on our person and attract lightening strikes.

Clearly I have spoken too soon. The appeal of nanobots devouring the earth is just too strong as the both intentionally and unintentionally funny video below demonstrates.

Battle Lines Are Drawn in Nanotech Regulations

Not too surprisingly the views on regulations for nanotechnology are drawn pretty clearly along political lines of NGOs versus industry.

The opposing forces are clearly delineated here. You have the NGOs essentially in favor of a moratorium on nanotechnology and industry seeking more clarity on the entire issue of regulations on nanotech.

There really hasnâ''t been much movement along these lines over the last several years. Maybe research that answers some of the outstanding questions should be emphasized here to break the stalemate.

Mission to Search for Earth-like Planets Leaves Earth

The Kepler science spacecraft has successfully lifted off from Florida and begun its multi-year mission to look for planets similar to our own in the galaxy.

Kepler blasted into space atop a Delta II rocket at 10:49 pm EST from Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.

The US $600 million observatory will use a large electronic camera to survey a swath of the Milky Way for so-called exoplanets transiting through the light coming from stars much like our sun but far, far away.

NASA said today that the survey field contains about 100 000 stars of the appropriate magnitude. Kepler will travel through space in a solar orbit trailing Earth, which will enable it to maintain its focus on targets selected by astronomers, something the Hubble telescope is unable to do.

The objects Kepler "sees" will be detected by a 95-megapixel array of charge-coupled devices to record changes in brightness of 20 parts per million in stars that are thousands of light years away in a portion of the sky visible terrestrially in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. Then scientists will subject the recorded data to extensive testing to determine the characteristics of the discovered planets.

"We certainly won't find E.T., but we might find E.T.'s home by looking at all of these stars," Bill Boruki, Kepler's principal scientist, said yesterday.

"This is a historical mission, it's not just a science mission," NASA Associate Administrator Ed Weiler said during the prelaunch news conference. "It really attacks some very basic human questions that have been part of our genetic code since that first man or woman looked up in the sky and asked the question: Are we alone?"

For more on Kepler's mission, see NASA Planet Hunter to Search Out Other Earths in the current issue of Spectrum Online.

As Semicon Sales Sag, AMD Spins off Its Fab Operations

The global economic slump has forced chipmakers into uncharted waters, causing major manufacturers to set new courses.

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) announced Monday that its members' revenues sank again in January, dropping 11.9 percent in just a month. The trade group for the big microprocessor makers said sales for member firms such as AMD, Intel, and Texas Instruments fell from US $21.5 billion a year ago to $15.3 billion in January, a decline of 28.6 percent.

A spokesman noted that January is traditionally a slow month for chipmakers but worried over the lingering economic malaise the world over. "Sales declined across the entire range of semiconductor products, as sales of important demand drivers such as personal computers, cell phones, automobiles, and consumer items remained under pressure," commented SIA President George Scalise.

"This is the worst recession the semiconductor industry has seen since its inception," Sean M. Maloney, the chief sales and marketing officer at Intel, said at a news conference Monday.

Hoping that focusing on its key competencies will turn around its business, AMD this week spun off its own fabrication facilities into a new venture called GlobalFoundries, to be jointly owned by AMD and the Advanced Technology Investment Co. (ATIC) of Abu Dhabi.

In a press release yesterday, the new management of GlobalFoundries said it plans "to drive profound change and expand opportunities" in the chip sector. It noted that the new manufacturing firm becomes the only U.S.-based global foundry services provider currently in operation.

"With two committed joint venture partners providing strong technology and capital resources, our company brings a unique set of global capabilities to the market that will enable our customers to fully unlock their potential to innovate," Doug Grose, the new CEO of GlobalFoundries, stated.

The new fab firm said going forward it will service the manufacturing needs of AMD but will also offer its technologies to third-party customers through its high-volume foundry operations.

It added that GlobalFoundries is proceeding with plans to expand its Dresden, Germany, manufacturing lines by bringing a second 300-mm manufacturing facility with bulk silicon capabilities online later this year. The company also plans to start construction on a new $4.2 billion plant in Saratoga County, N.Y., in 2009.

"Despite the current economic climate, this is an industry with tremendous opportunities for long-term growth and innovation," said Waleed Al Mokarrab, the chairman of ATIC. "Through its global footprint, world-class technology know-how, and access to state-of-the-art research and development, we believe GlobalFoundries is well positioned to challenge for market leadership in this competitive industry."

Pop Culture and Nanotech: A Telling Barometer

Perhaps the largest landmark for nanotech in the landscape of popular culture has been Michael Crichtonâ''s 2002 work, â''Preyâ''. What may be painfully familiar to anyone who has followed anything to do with nanotechnology over the past seven years, or has read the book, the plot details how a medical imaging technology enabled by nanobots leads to great swarms of nanobots devouring everything around them and creating a â''grey gooâ''.

One argument goes that this book put such a pall over nanotechnology--at least the kind of nanotechnology that involves nanobots--that when it came time to fund and launch a national nanotechnology initiative, the ideas of molecular nanotechnology with assemblers and table-top factories were abandoned in favor of nanoscale material science.

Well, nanoscale material science is getting its comeuppance at the hands of popular culture. Thanks to the â''unofficial blogâ'' for the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California Santa Barbara, I was informed of a new television program in the US called â''Eleventh Hourâ''. In last weekâ''s episode â''a slew of Massachusetts residentsâ'¿were getting hit by lightening well above what we'd expect by chance alone. The source of the problem was traced to a fictional company working on "nanofilaments" that were found to be growing throughout people's skin and therefore making them more conductive.â''

There you have it. No more are nanobots going to devour the planet leaving a grey goo in their wake but we are all going to mysteriously get nanofilaments in our skin and lightening will strike less randomly and more regularly.

You know the fictional future I would prefer to actually see would be the grey goo.

A credit check for online honesty

Iâ''ve sold a few things on craigslist, but not a lot. Instead, I use a much smaller, private, local mail list, even though I canâ''t always find a buyer there, because it makes me a little nervous to deal with people that I donâ''t know, and that none of my friends know.

So Purewire Trust, a web security product from Purewire Inc., Atlanta, Ga., introduced at Demo 09 this week in Palm Springs, definitely got my attention. I wasnâ''t the only one, Demo 09 featured an audience comments stream, and the flow of comments sped up dramatically during the Purewire demo: â''best idea yetâ'' â''credit report for people.â''

Indeed, thatâ''s exactly what Purewire is offering: to check people, as well as places and things on the web, and see if they are legitimate. It will eventually include reviews, much in way Amazon marketplace and eBay use reviews to rate sellers, but it doesnâ''t rely on reviews, instead, it analyzes all sorts of web data associated with a personâ''s name or email address to determine if they are a real person who doesnâ''t do bad things online. The service is currently free, at Itâ''s brand new today, so I wasnâ''t completely surprised that it didnâ''t find me yet, I havenâ''t done a lot of online transactions. It did find Spectrumâ''s web site, and, Iâ''m happy to say, trusts us.

If this application turns out to be reliable and effective, it wonâ''t only make people using craigs list more comfortable; company cofounder Paul Judge envisions the service being used by potential internet dates and future employersâ''a possibility that might make people think twice about not completing an eBay transaction as promised.


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