September 4/11, 2002   

   Chip juggles droplets
Taking a cue from computers, researchers have built a chip that processes water drops as if they were digital bits. Rapidly changing electrical patterns in the chip join, split and mix drops, and send them whizzing about. The technique could lead to labs-on-a-chip that reconfigure on the fly.
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Software turns reading into writing
If you can't type or speak into a computer, producing text usually means picking out letters from a menu, which can get tedious. Software that lets you zoom in on a landscape of letters could be a boon to the disabled -- and make PDAs easier to use.

Radio ID locks lost laptops
The recent spate of lost government laptops shows how easy it is for private or secret information to fall in the wrong hands. It's tough to prevent portable computers from going AWOL short of handcuffing them to their users. A security system that ties the data on a computer to its user could minimize the damage.

Quantum software gets the picture
Figuring out how to build mind-numbingly fast quantum computers is not the only barrier to computing nirvana. Researchers are also working to produce software that takes advantage of quantum computers' quirky but powerful properties. An algorithm proves that computer vision and image processing are fertile ground.

Laser blasts make memory
Manufacturing computer memory is an expensive proposition -- chipmaking factories cost upwards of $1 billion. A process that turns wafers of layered metals into memory chips simply by zapping them with laser beams could dramatically lower the costs of production. Dirt cheap chips will remain a tantalizing fantasy, however, until the researchers put together an entire memory chip.

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