March 17/24, 2008


Fake four-year-old knows something

A synthetic four-year-old child in the virtual world Second Life has beliefs that it can reason about, which makes it appear more lifelike. The character is part of ongoing research aimed at creating internal mental states in artificial beings that will allow them to reason about the beliefs of others in addition to having beliefs of their own. (Toward Logic-Based Cognitively Robust Synthetic Characters in Digital Environments, The First Conference on Artificial General Intelligence (AGI-08), March 1-3, 2008, Memphis, Tennessee)

Entanglement on demand

A method of generating, storing and retrieving entanglement -- when one or more properties of two or more particles become indistinguishable -- is an important step toward building practical quantum computers and networks. Quantum computers have the potential to be much faster than ordinary computers for certain tasks like cracking secret codes. (Mapping Photonic Entanglement into and Out Of a Quantum Memory, Nature, March 6, 2008)

Healing with nanoparticles and nanofibers

The timed release of a growth factor from nanoparticles suspended in nanofibrous tissue scaffolds promoted tissue growth and blood vessel formation in laboratory rats. The technique makes it possible to deliver growth factor over time, and could lead to treatments that boost the body's ability to grow new tissue -- including bone -- to heal wounds. (Nanofibrous Scaffolds Incorporating PDGF-BB Microspheres Induce Chemokine Expression and Tissue Neogenesis In Vivo, PLoS ONE, March 5, 2008)

Like a rolling cell...

A method of sorting cells takes advantage of the way cells roll along surfaces. By making tracks of certain types of molecules that interact lock-and-key fashion with receptors on specific types of cells, researchers were able to deflect those cells by 5 to 10 degrees as they flowed through a microfluidic device. The technique could lead to simple, inexpensive clinical and field tests for cancer and other diseases. (Nanomechanical Control of Cell Rolling in Two Dimensions through Surface Patterning of Receptors, Nano Letters, published online March 6, 2008)

Building with DNA

Three-pointed stars formed by joining seven DNA strands make building blocks for three-dimensional nanostructures. Sixty of these building blocks, or tiles, can be made to form buckyballs about 100 nanometers in diameter. Three-dimensional nanostructures like these could be used to deliver drugs, make new kinds of materials and serve as templates for nanoelectronic devices. (Hierarchical Self-assembly of DNA into Symmetric Supramolecular Polyhedra, Nature, March 13, 2008)

Tiny device crunches big numbers

A prototype molecular computer that consists of 17 identical molecules, 16 in a ring around a central molecule, can carry out more than 4 billion instructions in one step. Such massively parallel processing in a tiny package shows the potential of molecular computing. Making practical molecular computers, however, is a huge challenge. (A 16-bit Parallel Processing in a Molecular Assembly, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 11, 2008)


View from the High Ground: ICL's John Pendry
Physics as machine tool, negative refractive index, metamaterials, shattered wine glasses, higher capacity DVDs, scientific backwaters, risk perception and practice, practice, practice.

How It Works: Quantum computing: qubits
Photons, electrons and atoms, oh my! These particles are the raw materials for qubits, the basic building blocks of quantum computers.

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"Physics is to the rest of science what machine tools are to engineering. A corollary is that science places power in our hands which can be used for good or ill. Technology has been abused in this way throughout the ages from gunpowder to atomic bombs."
- John Pendry, Imperial College London

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