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Future of Nanoelectronics: 20-Hour Battery Life for your Laptop

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When people think of nanotechnology in electronics they like to imagine molecular electronics, but it may be the mundane that pushes nanotechnology further into the electronics industry.

Imagine a laptop battery that could last 20 hours rather than 2. That is what you call a unique selling point, and surely something that has long been sought by computer manufacturers.

Some of you might remember NEC letting it be known (back in 2001, then in 2003, and again in 2004--the picture above gives you an indication of how long ago this was) that they had a fuel-cell battery enabled by nanotechnology that would last for 40 hours, and it would hit the market by 2004. It was never released to the market, and is hardly mentioned now except for those who question, â''Whatever happened toâ'¿?â''

The latest entry into the fray of improving upon Li-Ion battery technology comes from Yi Cui, Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford.

The beauty of this solution isâ'¿well, itâ''s not a fuel cell with all its incumbent limitations. Instead it simply replaces the lithium in the anode with silicon nanowiresâ'¿thatâ''s very simply.

Supposedly, current manufacturing techniques can easily accommodate this solution. That said, it is still just research, although Cui has announced the launching of a start-up to commercialize the technology.

Expect a lot more in the field of battery technology. Pretty safe bet that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Remembering PC Power Activist Glenn DeWeese

from the desk of Senior Editor Jean Kumagai:

Glenn DeWeese is dead. And the world is the worse for it.

I never met the man, never even knew he existed until I stumbled

across a story just now in The Oklahoman. But

to judge by his accomplishments, he was a man of both action and

compassion.

For the last four years, up until his sudden and untimely death this

weekend, DeWeese had led a nonprofit group in Tulsa called PC

Power, which refurbishes recent-model personal computers and

distributes them, free, to kids at risk.

According to the story, DeWeese, a retired police officer, had been

inspired to found PC Power while helping his grandson with a homework

assignment that involved an Internet search:

"Long after the simple search was finished, and the homework was

done, the assignment continued to bother DeWeese. He had a computer

and knew enough about computers to help his grandson. But what about

those families who couldn't afford a family computer? How did those

children do their homework assignment?"

Rather than just feel bad and then move on with his life, DeWeese

decided to start rebuilding computers, which were then distributed at

Christmas time with the help of the Tulsa Police Department.

According to the story, PC Power has announced that despite DeWeese's

absence, this year's distribution of 85 computers--the fifth such

drive--will go forward and the group's efforts will continue.

So did DeWeese really help those families in need? In the online

comments, a reader notes, rather dismissively, that "A PC without an

Internet connection is like trying to enter a library that has locked

its doors for the night." But another commenter responds: "maybe you

could turn on internet for a dozen of his kids...it is a step in the

right direction..."

That's the spirit. DeWeese did the hard thing: he backed up his good

intentions with good deeds. And in doing so, he showed us a way of

living.

Little-Known Fact #2876: Electrons look like Seth Rogen

Apparently mobilized by the success of Knocked Up, Phiar Corporation has released a promotional video that anthropomorphizes electrons as sweet-natured slackers on a "CMOS budget."

Replete with '70s font treatments and purposefully low production values, "A Day in the Life of an Electron" explains why metal-insulator-insulator-metal diodes are better for electron mobility than semiconductors.

An alternate explanation of Phiar's use of quantum tunneling can be found in October's issue of Spectrum Online.

Recent Developments Give New Life to Molecular Nanotechnology

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Four recent announcements have reignited some proponents of molecular nanotechnology, most notably the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN), to examine scenarios of what will happen to the world when desktop nanofactories are available in 15 years, which is â''arguably optimisticâ'', according to CRN.

The four recent developments are:

â'¢ The release by US National Research Council last year calling for more funding or experimental research in molecular manufacturing

â'¢ A request for proposals last July by DARPA for developing tip-based nanofabrication

â'¢ The UK Government in October providing grants into developing nanomachines that can build materials molecule by molecule

â'¢ The release last week of the Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems , which was previewed last week on this blog

Proposed funding for further research into the potential of molecular nanotechnology is overdue and hopefully will lead to some productive research in this field.

Whether it is necessary to start working out the possible economic and societal scenarios of a technological outcome for which little hard research has been conducted, is a question best left to those who decide to devote their time to such an enterprise.

But the Technology Roadmap is now available and it is a serious document, albeit mostly couched in the subjunctive mood (â''couldâ'' and â''wouldâ'' are used often in this document).

When reading a roadmap, you want to know where you are, where you want to be, and how youâ''re going to get there. The latter in cases such as these takes the form of a research agenda. This Roadmap delivers such a plan, but doesnâ''t provide much in terms of what the likely obstacles will be along the way (in fact, the word â''obstacleâ'' is used only once throughout the entire document). Surely, there is at least one mountain or body of water that must be overcome and traversed.

Nonetheless the Roadmap rightly calls for a coordination of all efforts (knowledge, instrumentation, modeling, techniques, and components) in order to lead to functional engineering systems, and a clear research agenda. However, it does offer some areas that will need to be addressed:

â'¢ Components and Devices

â'¢ Systems and Frameworks

â'¢ Fabrication and Synthesis Methods

â'¢ Modeling, Design, and Characterization

Hopefully, the combination of announced funding and a research agenda will remove much of the speculation and acrimony that seems to have surrounded molecular nanotechnology and just bring it to where it should have been all along: a field of scientific endeavor.

Environmentalists turn spotlight on nanotechnology

nano01.jpgIn September, IEEE Spectrum published an article by Barbara Karn and H. Scott Matthews calling for more research into the environmental and health effects of nanotechnologies. They urged the technology industry, for once, to thoroughly investigate the potential downside of a technology before it becomes pervasive.

Since then, other organizations have added their voices to this call for caution.

This month, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition announced that it will soon release a report, â''Potential Community Impacts of Nanotechnology, that draws parallels between the first Silicon Valley electronics boom, that left a legacy of medical problems, Superfund sites, and contaminated groundwater, and the current nanotechnology boom, with materials being put into use without an understanding of their potential risks. The organization promised to focus its efforts in 2008 on the potential risks of nanotechnology; that likely means putting pressure on companies to improve testing before products are brought to market.

Also this month, in Europe, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 30 countries that cooperate on economic, social, and environmental issues, announced that its member countries will pool funding to test nanomaterials already in use or about to come onto the market and will consider whether the organizations traditional test guidelines, used for other materials, are suitable for assessing nanomaterials or if new testing need to be developed.

Meanwhile, according to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, the list of products on the market that include nanomaterials, a group that included just over 500 products back in September, has grown to 580, from A (like Acnel Lotion, which contains a nanoform of CoEnzyme Q10) to Z (the Z-ion Zirconia hair dryer, which contains nanoparticles of zirconium).

Electronics for octogenarians (or, "Buying a Christmas present for my mother")

51MaoUS4IsL._SS260_.jpgThere are early adopters. And there are late adopters. And there are those who really really donâ''t want to adopt but whose adult children want them to.

My 80-something mother falls into that last category. Iâ''ve tried to get her to use the Internet; she canâ''t get past the mouse/cursor disjunct, that is, the fact that the mouse, or trackball, or touchpad or whatever is on the table, the cursor is on the screen. Her brain just wonâ''t rewire to accept that. Sheâ''s a 100-plus words a minute typist on an old electric typewriter, and thatâ''s technology enough for her.

But thatâ''s not technology enough for me. So I was excited a year or so ago when a company called Presto introduced its email service and the HP Printing Mailbox, which would let an Internet user (me) send email to someone who does not have Internet

service (my mother), and it would just print out automatically. It would even send me an email to let me know when the printer was low on ink. The Printing Mailbox itself looked like a large electric typewriter; this, I thought, was a good thing.

I signed up and was accepted for the companyâ''s Beta trial; free mailbox, service, and supplies for six months or a year or something like that. I told my mother about the system, and said that all she needed to do was to plug it into the wall and into her phone line, and put in paper; the ink cartridge was already installed. I was a little nervous, it would have been better if I could have been at her house to set it up, but sheâ''s across the country for me, which is why I need email.

The printing mailbox arrived. She opened the box, and found a daunting instruction manual. She called the customer service number, and the representative started babbling about how she needed to log on to the Internet and set up her mailbox and indicate who she would accept mail from and select security codes and on and on. She slammed the box shut and sent it back to the manufacturer. I gave the manufacturer lots of feedback about how customer service should ask whether the person on the phone was going to be the email sender or the recipient before freaking that person out. But the experiment was over for me.

Iâ''ve hesitated to try to get my mother to adopt any new electronics devices since. The last one I got into her house was a VCR. I hooked it up; she loved it, itâ''s pretty much worn out now. But Iâ''ve been dying to get her a DVD player; Iâ''d like to send her videos of the kids in the DVD format, much easier for me than making a video tape these days, and there are occasional movies I see that I think sheâ''d enjoy and would like to share with her.

So I bought her a portable DVD player for Christmas this year. She wonâ''t be pleased; this falls into the category of a gift I wanted to give, not one she wants to get. (I also bought her some nice Japanese green tea, she will like that. And no, Iâ''m not giving a secret away, I know sheâ''s not reading this blog.) I decided on a portable because she wonâ''t have to hook it up to her TV (if I were going to be there personally this Christmas, I might have gotten a regular player and hooked it up for her). I settled on a model from NextPlay, I think a made-for-Target brand, perhaps somehow connected to RCA, considering little Nipper on the photo above. And it only has a wide-screen mode, not a 3:4 aspect ratio, so all my home movies will be weirdly stretched. According to the reviews, it wonâ''t last; I may have to replace it in six months. But it has a clear user interface, with three large buttons; one for play (green), one for pause (yellow), and one for stop (red); it canâ''t get much simpler. (Well, maybe a little simpler, unlike the buttons, the power switch is a little hard to find.)

Having learned my lesson from the Printing Mailbox experience, I highjacked the instruction manual and replaced it with my own instructions. These start out by saying to ignore just about everything in the box, including the cigarette lighter power cord, the two remotes, the battery pack, the earphones, and the TV cables, and instead just find the power cord, which Iâ''ve labeled, and the main unit. Then the instructions walk through putting a disc in, ignoring the menus that appear, and simply pressing play. Iâ''ve included a copy of â''Sickoâ'', a movie I know sheâ''s dying to see, and hope that with these basic instructions itâ''ll be loaded and running before she gets frustrated.

That brings me to the point of this post. Why canâ''t every gizmo include one sheet of instructions for the person who just wants to turn the thing on and use it for its most basic function? In large print. For the late adopter. Why did I have to write this out myself, and figure out some things that are not intuitive? (That really stopping, for example, requires that you push the red â''stopâ'' button twice, that one push of stop is only an extended "pause.â'')

Iâ''ll let you know if this effort is a success, or if, once again, my favorite late adopter decides not to adopt.

Nanotechnology Could End Drunk Driving

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A blue-ribbon panel in the US has been considering the use of nanosensor-enabled interlock devices installed in the steering wheels of automobiles that would detect the blood/alcohol level of the driver and turn off the ignition if the driver was over the legal alcohol limit.

This scenario seems to be taken seriously in Canada as evidenced by this article.

Interlock devices are not new. But these devices represent the old-generation technology (see photo above) where a driver has to blow in a tubeâ''seemingly a far more voluntary procedure.

Still the ratio of these installed interlock devices to drunk driving convictions in Canada at least is pretty poor, with 11,000 interlocks in cars in Canada today but 90,000 drunk driving convictions a year.

Putting aside all the privacy issues that some will argue against such a technology, it is not clear how close such a nano-enabled interlock device is to being realized.

Of course, if governments start to pass legislation that this technology needs to be installed in cars by a certain date, you can be sure that industry will in a rush to commercialize something.

It should all become interesting if it does come to pass as civil libertarians will be in a pitch battle with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Yale's Engineers Without Borders Help in Cameroon

'Tis the season for charity. With that in mind, we should spend some time this month in our pages recognizing the charitable deeds of our readers.

One that came across our transom last week is a report from the Yale Herald on a project undertaken earlier this year by the local chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at Yale University.

In August, a group of engineering students from the college traveled to the African nation of Cameroon to work on a clean water system for a town of about 1000 residents.

Last year, representatives from the town of Kikoo requested the assistance of Engineers Without Borders USA to build a drinking water aqueduct for their community. The Yale chapter, in New Haven, Conn., accepted the invitation. During their spring semester, the group studied the problem, analyzing the geography and the physical requirements. Meanwhile, they set about trying to raise the funds needed to travel to Kikoo and build the project, budgeted by them to cost US $40 000. According to the college newspaper, this was the biggest obstacle for the Yale team.

University students typically do not have a lot of money to spend on extracurricular activities. So the Yale EWB members, about 15 in all, embarked on a campaign of selling greeting cards and cookies during last year's holiday season. Although this netted them only a couple thousand dollars toward their goal, it attracted the attention of alumni, who began to offer contributions. Fellowship funding from the university soon followed.

With enough money to begin the project, a team of five undergrads and four mentors made the long trip to Kikoo in August and began working. They started by building a water storage tank from scratch. Without the luxury of calling in a cement truck to pour the base for the tank, the students and townspeople spent days digging with shovels and chipping gravel with picks. Then they lined the base by hand with rocks. After two and a half weeks of manual labor, the Yalies and their local counterparts had constructed most of the water tank and laid the foundations for a few standpipes.

In early November, the Yale team received word from Kikoo that the people of the town had finished the first part of the project and that potable water was flowing from several faucets in the community for the first time.

At present, the project is only able to serve about two thirds of the residents of Kikoo. The initial funding raised proved insufficient to purchase all the materials needed to finish the job as originally planned. So, for the EWB group at Yale, it's back to raising more money during the current holiday season -- and that means more cards and cookies. They plan to return to Kikoo in the upcoming year to finish what they started.

If you're in the New Haven area in the next couple of weeks and you see a student selling holiday cookies, you might want to buy a few. They just might help a town 5000 miles away enjoy a better quality of life.

Consider it the charitable thing to do.

Reactor Shutdown Causes Delays In Medical Tests

A troubled Canadian nuclear reactor is causing delays in molecular imaging for thousands of patients who rely on the scans to guide life-saving diagnoses and therapies. Ontario's 50-year-old Chalk River reactor is the source of about half of North America's supply of molybdenum-99, a key component in nuclear medicine for patients with cancer, heart disease, and bone fractures.

The Toronto Star reports that the reactor was shut down for four days in mid-November for a routine monthly inspection, when reactor staff noticed that an emergency power supply was not connectedâ''a task that was supposed to have been completed two years ago.

According to the Canadian Society of Nuclear Medicine, about 400 000 patients in the United States and 30 000 patients in Canada receive such tests each week. â''Nuclear medicine services are now being rationed across Canada,â'' says the society. The Canadian Broadcast Corp. quotes a nuclear medicine specialist in Halifax, Novia Scotia, who says he has been canceling 100 tests a week.

The repairs are expected to extend into January 2008, and the Star reports that the reactorâ''s owner, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, does not have all the parts necessary to perform the emergency upgrades. The fixes involve connecting pumps that circulate heavy water to a back-up power supply. In the event of a major earthquake, this measure would prevent the reactor from overheatingâ''an important step in safeguarding the facility from a core meltdown.

Radioactive isotopes have three main uses in medicine, the most common of which is diagnostic imaging. This branch of medicine uses radioactive tracers that emit gamma rays within the body, which are detected by a system and used to build up an image of, for example, an organ. A common source of such a tracer is molybdenum-99, a product of uranium fission. It has a half-life of 66 hours, which means that it cannot be stockpiled and must be shipped daily to hospitals across the continent. Molybdenum-99 decays into the isotope technetium-99, which is the end product that is used as an imaging agent in 80 percent of all nuclear medicine. It has a half-life of 6 hours.

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