April 14/21, 2008


Clumps make better solar cells

Today there are cheap solar cells and there are efficient solar cells. Making dye-sensitized solar cell electrodes from nanocrystals clumped into 150- to 400-nanometers spheres could be a route to making solar cells that are both cheap and efficient. The technique offers the best of both worlds: it maintains the high surface area of nanocrystals needed to hold large amounts of the light-absorbing dye and at the same time increases light scattering with the larger spheres, which ups the amount of light that gets absorbed. (Hierarchically-Structured ZnO Nanoparticle Film for Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells, American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting, New Orleans, LA, April 6-10, 2008)

Digital pet as watchdog

Philip Pullman's science fiction novels are the inspiration for a potential solution to the problem of creating secure, practical ways of proving that people are who they electronically represent themselves to be. Biometric daemons combine digital authentication tokens that continuously monitor their owners' biometric data with electronic pets that owners interact with and care for. (Biometric Daemons: Authentication Via Electronic Pets, ACM Computer-Human Interaction conference (CHI 2008), Florence, Italy, April 5-10, 2008)

Parallel processing of DNA

Reading 280,000 short DNA strands at once and stitching the results together is a promising technique for quickly and inexpensively sequencing whole genomes. The method brings personalized medicine -- using drugs that are tailored to the individual -- a step closer. (Single-Molecule DNA Sequencing of a Viral Genome, Science, April 4, 2008)

Nanoelectromechanical logic

Computer logic circuits that store 1s and 0s in the two stable phases of an electromechanical oscillator -- developed in Japan in the 1950s -- look to be coming back into fashion, thanks to nanotechnology. Prototype circuitry made from nanomechanical resonators stores bits and flips them between 1 and 0. Computers based on the technology promise to be faster and use less power than today's computer chips. (Bit Storage and Bit Flip Operations in an Electromechanical Oscillator, Nature Nanotechnology, published online April 13, 2008)

Magnetic memory wires

It's possible to tap the moving boundaries between magnetic regions in nanowires to store information. The technology could lead to lower-cost flash memory. A prototype shift register, which stores and shuttles bits, uses rapid electric current pulses to write and move bits in about 30 nanoseconds, which is about the same speed as today's flash memory chips. (Current-Controlled Magnetic Domain-Wall Nanowire Shift Register, Science, April 11, 2008)

Tunable terahertz

Metamaterials filter, focus and steer electromagnetic waves, but they usually work with a narrow range of frequencies that are determined by the dimensions of the tiny repeated structures -- typically C-shaped wires -- that make up the materials. Putting silicon in key places on these tiny wires makes it possible to use light to tune the metamaterial's frequency. A prototype that works in the terahertz range can be changed by about 20 percent. This could make using terahertz waves for medical imaging and security scanning more practical. (Experimental Demonstration of Frequency-Agile Terahertz Metamaterials, Nature Photonics, published online April 13, 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.

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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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