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Engineers are delivering innovations in printable electronic components that will someday allow the elements of an iPod, for instance, to be silk-screened onto a sweater. What will power these gadgets? One possible solution is a printable battery that’s less than a millimeter thick, weighs less than a gram, and has roughly the same footprint as an audiocassette tape. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Electronic Nano Systems and the Chemnitz University of Technology, both in Chemnitz, Germany, have created a production process similar to silk-screening. The paper-thin battery’s zinc anode and manganese cathode are deposited in succession onto a flexible substrate that adheres to paper or fabric using a rubber squeegee to press the materials through a mesh screen.

The main drawback of the design is that the materials, which chemically react to generate current, dissipate fairly quickly, making the battery suited only to applications in which it’s paired with supercheap, disposable electronics meant to last no more than a month or so, like musical greeting cards. Another proposed use is in smart credit cards with displays that show account information and provide added security. Other tiny battery ideas we’ve looked at in the past include one using carbon pillars and one exploiting the energy generated by bits of radioactive material. But how many applications will there be for a three-month or even a six-month battery?

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
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Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush
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Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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