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March 7, 2006, 8:24 PM CT

Liquid Crystal And Manipulation Of Light Beams

Liquid Crystal And Manipulation Of Light Beams
The Information Age rides on beams of carefully controlled light. Because lasers form the arteries of modern communications networks, dexterous manipulation of light underpins the two definitive technologies of our times: telecommunications and the Internet.

Now researchers at Harvard University have developed a new way of steering and manipulating light beams.

Using droplets of liquid crystals--the same substance in laptop displays--the scientists can make a pane of glass that quickly switches from transparent to diffracting and back again. When the pane is transparent a laser beam passes straight through, but when the pane is diffracting, it splits the beam, bending it in several new directions.

The change is triggered by applying an electric field, so the pane could easily be controlled by the electric signals of a computer, offering a powerful new way to steer beams of light.

"Telecommunications could be one application, but at this point we're still looking at the basic properties of these droplets. Their potential is great, and it's hard to imagine all the ways engineers might use them," says David Weitz, Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard University and lead scientist for the NASA-supported research.

Beyond telecommunications, one could imagine this light-steering ability being useful in astronomy. For example, these liquid-crystal panes could be used in reverse to combine (rather than split) beams of light from multiple telescopes. Combining light from many telescopes, a technique called interferometery, is a good way to search for distant planets around other stars.........

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March 6, 2006, 11:47 PM CT

More Practicality Of Superconductivity

More Practicality Of Superconductivity WUSTL Physicist James Schilling points out a tiny ceramic ring about the size of a small washer, key to a technique developed along with researchers at Argonne (Ill.)
Nobody completely understands superconductors. So fathom how James S. Schilling, Ph.D., led a team that makes the phenomenon work better.

Schilling, a professor of physics in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, collaborated with recent doctoral graduate Takahiro Tomita and researchers at Argonne (Ill.) National Laboratory to determine whether one region in superconductors, called grain boundaries (GB), are oxygen deficient. Such oxygen deficiency impairs superconductor performance.

Their paper, titled "Enhancement of the Critical Current Density of YBa2Cu3Ox Superconductors under Hydrostatic Pressure," is reported in the Feb. 24 issue of the highly regarded journal Physical Review Letters.

A superconductor is a solid material that conducts electricity without resistance when it is cooled to certain subzero temperatures. Because there is no resistance, current uniquely travels through superconductors without losing energy.

Their study involves the newer, so-called "high-temperature" ceramic superconductors. They superconduct at less frigid temperatures than other superconductors, eventhough still in the subzero realm.

The superconducting material used in this study was a ceramic compound consisting of millions of microscopic crystals (grains). The WUSTL/Argonne team specifically developed a technique to determine whether a desired maximum number of possible sites are filled with oxygen in the GB, which surrounds every crystalline grain. The GB is a region of misfit between the grains and commonly is only a few atoms wide.........

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March 3, 2006, 6:57 AM CT

Ventilated Auto Seats Improve Fuel Economy

Ventilated Auto Seats Improve Fuel Economy
The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has demonstrated that ventilated automotive seats not only can improve passenger comfort but also a vehicle's fuel economy. That's because ventilated seats keep drivers and passengers cooler, so they need less air conditioning to be comfortable.

NREL's Vehicle Ancillary Loads Reduction team has been working with industry to try to reduce fuel consumption from air conditioning in cars and trucks. The use of ventilated seating is one way to cut air conditioning, and recent research shows that it works.

"If all passenger vehicles had ventilated seats, we estimate that there could be a 7.5 percent reduction in national air-conditioning fuel use. That translates to a savings of 522 million gallons of fuel a year," said John Rugh, project leader for NREL's Vehicle Ancillary Loads Reduction Project.

W.E.T. Automotive Systems Ltd. provided NREL with ComfortCools- seats for testing. Each seat contains two fans that pull air from the seat surface and out from underneath the seat. General Motors currently offers this ventilated seat as an option for the Cadillac STS.

Using its suite of thermal comfort tools and subjective test data, NREL measured improvement in human thermal sensation for the ventilated seats and the potential for a 7 percent reduction in air-conditioning compressor power.........

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March 1, 2006, 11:55 PM CT

Better Weather Forecasts

Better Weather Forecasts
Purdue University researcher and his team have used improved satellite imaging and powerful computer modeling to more accurately forecast the likelihood and intensity of storms and tornados.

The key to the new weather prediction model is its more precise simulation of the amount of moisture surface vegetation is releasing into the upper atmosphere to affect the weather conditions, said Dev Niyogi (pronounced Dave Knee-yoo-gee), an assistant professor of agronomy and earth and atmospheric sciences. Niyogi said that current weather prediction models represent vegetation at a very simplistic level.

"How well we are able to represent one leaf in a weather forecast model can be a key to predicting thunderstorms," he said. "In fact, the amount of moisture plants are emitting during photosynthesis may be considered the local trigger that trips fronts into violent weather".

Niyogi and his team based the research on two days in the 2002 International H20 Project, a large-scale, six-week field experiment that was a consolidated, coordinated effort funded by the National Science Foundation consisting of multiple researchers gathering huge datasets of weather information. Niyogi, who also is the Indiana state climatologist, was a participating researcher in the International H20 Project.........

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February 28, 2006, 11:36 PM CT

Efficient Solar Cells FromTitania Nanotubes

Efficient Solar Cells FromTitania Nanotubes Photo Credit: Penn State, Craig Grimes
A solar cell, made of titania nanotubes and natural dye, may be the answer to making solar electricity production cost-effective, as per a Penn State researcher.

"Solar cell technology has not changed very much over time and is still predominantly silicon solar cells," says Dr. Craig Grimes, professor of electrical engineering and materials science and engineering. "It takes a great deal of energy, 5 gigajoules per square meter, to make silicon solar cells. It can be argued that silicon solar cells never fully recover the energy it takes to make them in the first place".

The new focus in solar cells is toward dye sensitive solar cells, which have been made using nanoparticles and a variety of dyes.

"Nanoparticle solar cells are the gold standard of this new approach," says Grimes. "However, because of limitations, it appears they have gotten as good as they are going to get".

The scientists are instead looking at titania nanotubes to replace the particulate coatings in dye sensitive solar cells and, their initial attempt produced about 3 percent conversion of solar energy to electricity, they report in today's issue of Nano Letters. The researcher's inability to grow longer titania nanotubes, constrained the solar conversion rate.

"I think we can reach a 15 percent conversion rate with these cells, and other scientists do as well," says Grimes. "That is 15 percent with a relatively easy fabrication system that is commercially viable".........

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February 22, 2006, 10:53 PM CT

Universities And Internet

Universities And Internet
Universities played a unique role in the diffusion of Internet technology in the mid-1990s, according to a paper published in the recent issue of the International Journal of Industrial Organization.

"The Internet, which many people view as the most important technology of the last 15 years, moved from universities to the public in an unusual way," says Avi Goldfarb, a professor at the University of Toronto's Joseph L. Rotman School of Management. He points out that there has been little empirical research on the role of universities in diffusing technology. "Most technologies that are invented in universities move through research journals or through business partnerships. The Internet followed a different pattern, in that students brought it to the public".

Goldfarb analysed data from nearly 105,000 surveys and found that even when controlling for factors like age, industry and tech-savviness, the impact of a mid-1990s university education on Internet use was much higher than for other time periods. The effect is not limited to students from that period, but has been transferred to members of their households, regardless of age. "In other words, universities taught a generation of students to use the Internet and they in turn taught their families".

Source: University of Toronto........

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February 20, 2006, 10:33 PM CT

Hand-held Device Brings Speech To Impaired

Hand-held Device Brings Speech To Impaired
A middle-aged woman makes plans over the telephone to get together with a friend, even though she cannot talk after suffering a stroke. She is able to communicate using a hand-held device that speaks for her. University of Virginia neurolinguist Filip Loncke has the only research site in the United States using the apparatus - a barcode reader called the B.A. Bar that was developed in Switzerland by the Federation Suisse des Teletheses and made available in that country in 2001.

Loncke, an assistant professor in the Communications Disorders program of the Curry School of Education, will discuss his work on Feb. 20 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis.

From children with autism or Down's syndrome to adults who have speech loss due to a stroke, more than two million Americans are not able to communicate easily or at all with words.

One of the advantages of the B.A. Bar (pronounced BA-bar) is its versatility - it has been used with people from the ages of 2 to 89 and has helped them learn or relearn how to speak and become more independent. Loncke and his research team are using it for several research and clinical applications.

The barcode reader provides auditory feedback when passed over the same kind of black-and-white strip used on grocery store products. In this case, the device is first used to program the barcodes with words or phrases; the barcodes can then be fixed to objects, pictures or places. The user scans the barcode with the device, and it says the word or phrase. Loncke's research shows that it is more helpful than simple pictures.........

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February 15, 2006, 9:52 PM CT

New Device Will Revolutionizes Nano Imaging

New Device Will Revolutionizes Nano Imaging
While a microphone is useful for many things, you probably wouldn't guess that it could help make movies of molecules or measure physical and chemical properties of a material at the nanoscale with just one poke.

Georgia Tech researchers have created a highly sensitive atomic force microscopy (AFM) technology capable of high-speed imaging 100 times faster than current AFM. This technology could prove invaluable for many types of nano-research, in particular for measuring microelectronic devices and observing fast biological interactions on the molecular scale, even translating into movies of molecular interactions in real time. The research, funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, appears in the recent issue of Review of Scientific Instruments.

Not only is FIRAT- (Force sensing Integrated Readout and Active Tip) much faster than AFM (the current workhorse of nanotech), it can capture other measurements never before possible with AFM, including material property imaging and parallel molecular assays for drug screening and discovery. FIRAT could also speed up semiconductor metrology and even enable fabrication of smaller devices. It can be added with little effort to existing AFM systems for certain applications.

"I think this technology will eventually replace the current AFM," said Dr. Levent Degertekin, head of the project and an asscoiate professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. "We've multiplied each of the old capabilities by at least 10, and it has lots of new applications".........

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Microsoft Office Live goes into Beta
Microsoft Office Live went into beta today. The service was first revealed at a Microsoft event last fall - you can see my post about it here. This is not an online version of Microsoft Office. It is a set of online tools for businesses to help them have a web and email presence at a.....

Microsoft Office Live went into beta today. The service was first revealed at a Microsoft event last fall - you can see my post about it here.

This is not an online version of Microsoft Office. It is a set of online tools for businesses to help them have a web and email presence at a very low cost (starting at free with ad support). The core tools are a free non-microsoft domain name, website and up to 50 email accounts with 2 GB of storage each.

For a small company needing a informational website, it will be great. Given that the domain name, website building, hosting and email will all be free, this will be very attractive to a small business.

For customers needing more, Microsoft will offer a suite of additional productivity applications - 22 in all were announced last fall. They will also support third party applications - ADP's payroll software was shown integrated into Office Live. A set of APIs will be available for third parties to add their application functionality into Office Live.

Among the additional applications is an office document collaboration tool. You can share an office document real time with others, allowing them to view and edit it. Impressive.

Office Live should become a starting point for small businesses wanting a web presence and a general platform to run their business operations.

If you are interested in participating in the beta, sign up at the main Office Live site. It is currently only open to U.S. businesses - the full service will launch later this year.

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Everyone Send Me $5
TextPayMe is coming out of beta on a SMS payment service (U.S. only) that allows anyone to send money to anyone else via cell phone. You simply sms the payment to another phone number. For example, to send $15.27 to a friend with mobile number (206) 555-1234, you would text “PAY 15.27 2065551234″ to The.....

TextPayMe is coming out of beta on a SMS payment service (U.S. only) that allows anyone to send money to anyone else via cell phone. You simply sms the payment to another phone number.

For example, to send $15.27 to a friend with mobile number (206) 555-1234, you would text “PAY 15.27 2065551234″ to

The service is currently free, and they are giving every new user $5 to sign up (this really reminds me of the early days with paypal, where they also gave $5 for every new signup and you could beam payments between Palm Pilots).

Your TextPayMe account can be tied to your bank account for moving money into and out of the virtual account. You can also give TextPayMe your credit card for “overdraft” payments.

It looks like they will eventually charge for transactions, but the service is free for now.

Before everyone gets too excited about TextPayMe, note that PayPal is launching something similar, called “PayPal Mobile”.

What would be ideal is if this was picked up by the cell phone service providers, and payments were simply credited or debited from your phone bill. I’d also like to see something like this partnered with BillMonk.

To test the service, sign up for an account and sms $5 to my cell phone. :-)

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