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April 24, 2006, 6:47 AM CT

Next Generation Fuel Cells

Next Generation Fuel Cells
The pressure to develop cleaner, more efficient single sources of heat and electrical energy is the driving force behind the development of solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) at NRC and elsewhere. However, if SOFCs are to become commercially viable, production costs must be lower and the reliability, as well as durability of these systems needs improvement.

NRC Institute for Chemical Process and Environmental Technology (NRC-ICPET) researchers, Drs. Pamela Whitfield, Gisele Amow and Isobel Davidson, teamed up with Dr. Stephen Skinner (Department of Materials, Imperial College, U.K.) to collaborate on a project that tackled these challenges.

The research was funded by the NRC-British Council Joint S&T Fund and involved comparing methods to synthesize novel cathode materials using a conventional Pechini process and a non-conventional production method - microwave-assisted synthesis. The novel cathode materials produced by both methods were then evaluated for their potential use in intermediate temperature SOFCs.

The two teams worked together on developing new cathode compositions in a family of oxides known to be hyperstoichiometric in oxygen. In this class of materials the ionic transport of oxygen is augmented by interstitial oxide ions within the structure's crystal lattice. Led by Dr. Skinner, the British team provided expertise on measuring oxide ion mobility using a technique of isotopic exchange and secondary ion mass spectroscopy. The research led to new cathode compositions with greater ionic conductivity, thereby decreasing the amount of energy necessary for oxygen ion mobility and enabling the fuel cell to operate at lower temperatures. Lower operating temperatures can increase the durability of SOFCs and makes smaller-scale applications, such as portable power units, more feasible.........

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April 22, 2006, 6:01 PM CT

Magnetic Nanotechnology Cancer And Computing

Magnetic Nanotechnology  Cancer And Computing
Detecting cancer and reinventing computing are two challenges that seemingly have little, if anything, to do with each other. That is, unless you are a nanotechnologist like Shan Wang, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and of electrical engineering at Stanford. To him, the problems are two sides of the same coin, or more aptly, opposite poles of the same magnet.

"We have known for a long time that magnetism is a fundamental property of all materials and it has found wide applications in electronics and biology, like hard disk drives and magnetic resonance imaging, but there is also great potential to now apply magnetism at the nanoscale," Wang said in an interview in his office at the Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials.

There Wang is tuning the characteristics of tiny magnets-on the scale of a billionth of a meter-to help address both cancer and computing. One part of his research group is developing an ultrasensitive detector of DNA and proteins, including proteins associated with cancer. With some of his students, Wang also is making key advances in "spintronics," a new computing technology that could augment or replace silicon microelectronics when progress there is no longer possible because of physical limitations.

Wang's expertise and promising results have made him an important member of two research centers announced this year. On Feb. 27, the National Cancer Institute awarded Stanford $20 million over five years to establish a Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence Wang co-directs with radiology Professor Sanjiv Gambhir. Then on March 9, the university joined with three University of California campuses to announce the Western Institute of Nanoelectronics, a center headquartered at UCLA and dedicated to spintronics research.........

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April 22, 2006, 5:53 PM CT

NSF Web Site Nominated For Webby Award

NSF Web Site Nominated For Webby Award
The Webby Awards, the leading international honor for web sites, this week nominated the National Science Foundation's Web site as a finalist in the government category for 2006. As an independent federal agency, NSF receives public support through Congressional appropriations. NSF's redesigned site was launched in 2005 to better serve both the general public and the science and education community, with a greater emphasis on visual richness and user-friendliness.

Hailed as the "online Oscars" by Time Magazine, The Webby Awards were founded in 1996 and are determined by the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. The award honors outstanding web sites that are setting the standards for the internet, as per awards founder Tiffany Shlain.

NSF's redesign culminated more than a year of study and analysis regarding the most current and effective ways to communicate in today's fast-paced electronic information environment. A new content management system ensures timeliness and reliability of information site-wide. Revamped navigation makes it easier for visitors to find what they need. New content aims to more effectively explain NSF's use of public funds, and the results derived from it. Some of the new features include a help center, a plain-language explanation of NSF and how it works, illustrated overviews on the types of science that NSF supports, results of NSF research, and a classroom resources section aimed at teachers and parents.........

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April 20, 2006, 0:29 AM CT

Low Cost Internet Access At Sea

Low Cost Internet Access At Sea
Vessel used in trials Credits: Wired Ocean Ltd
Through a project supported by the European Space Agency, the UK-based company Wired Ocean Ltd can now provide enhanced Internet access for ships at sea at a much lower cost than was previously possible.

Eventhough satellite links at sea are quite common, the speed of data transmission for most users is very low, from 600 bps to 64 kbps, with around 10 kbps being a typical speed. This, combined with usage costs of around € 20 per megabyte, has created an environment in which a number of ship owners cannot reliably access the Internet, or use it regularly.

The Wired Ocean approach uses a hybrid solution, combining Ku-band satellites for the downlink and narrow L-band satellites for the return channel. While at sea, the downlink (forward) channel offers a speed of 512 kbps and the uplink (return) channel speed is 9.6 kbps for Globalstar and up to 64 kbps for Inmarsat. This configuration promises to be more economical than purely narrowband satellite systems, with cost savings of as much as 70% over current systems.

Telephone, television and now internet

The ship's internet communications are managed through a specialised client server developed by Wired Ocean. This server interfaces with a tracking TV Receive Only (TVRO) antenna for the downlink and various types of narrowband communications equipment for the uplink. The ship's TVRO is used to receive internet data while simultaneously providing signals to the ship's televisions.........

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April 19, 2006, 11:53 PM CT

Better Performance, Longer Battery Life For Cell Phones And Gadgets

Better Performance, Longer Battery Life For Cell Phones And Gadgets

Anyone who uses a cell phone or a WiFi laptop knows the irritation of a dead-battery surprise. But now researchers at the University of Rochester have broken a barrier in wireless chip design that uses a tenth as much battery power as current designs and, better yet, will use much less in emerging wireless devices of the future.

Hui Wu, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Rochester, a pioneer in a circuit design called an "injection locked frequency divider," or ILFD, has solved the last hurdle to making the new method work. Wireless chip manufacturers have been aware of ILFD and its ability to ensure accurate data transfer using much less energy than traditional digital methods, but the technique had two fatal flaws: it could not handle a wide range of frequencies, and could not ensure a fine enough resolution within that range. Wu, together with Ali Hajimiri, associate professor of electrical engineering at California Institute of Technology, surmounted the first problem in 2001, and has now found a solution for the latter.

When a cell phone or a laptop using WiFi or Bluetooth communicates wirelessly, the data is transmitted at very specific frequencies. One person can talk on a cell phone at a frequency of 2.0001 gigahertz, and someone else nearby can talk at 2.0002 gigahertz, and neither one will pick up the other's conversation. In order to make sure it is both listening for and sending information on exactly the right frequency at all times, the phone must maintain a very accurate and stable clock, which is generated by a special circuit called "phase-locked loop." This circuit consumes a dramatic portion of the battery usage on wireless devices.........

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April 19, 2006, 11:47 PM CT

New Cheaper, More Sophisticated Video-conferencing

New Cheaper, More Sophisticated Video-conferencing
If only Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were around today to take a spin with new technology being developed and tested by a team of computer scientists in Illinois and California.

If they were, they'd be dancing circles around each other - only from a considerable distance. That's the beauty of Tele-immersive Environments for EVErybody, or TEEVE, a system that's being test-driven simultaneously across thousands of miles this spring in the labs of Klara Nahrstedt, a computer science professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Ruzena Bajcsy, a professor of computer science at the University of California at Berkeley.

In technical terms, TEEVE is a distributed multi-tier application that captures images using 3-D camera clusters and distributes them over Internet2 (the network reserved for research and corporate clients), compressing and decompressing the 3-D video streams, rendering them into immersive video and displaying them on one or multiple large screens.

In layman's terms, think of TEEVE as a turbocharged version of videoconferencing, but with some very fancy new bells and whistles. Most notably, Nahrstedt said, TEEVE makes it possible for people to view their counterparts at remote sites from all angles.

And an important feature that sets it apart from other tele-immersive video-conferencing systems currently being developed or used elsewhere is its potential for delivering high-quality images and communications using relatively inexpensive technology and COTS - or commercial-off-the-shelf products and equipment.........

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April 19, 2006, 6:50 PM CT

Graphical World For Visually-impaired People

Graphical World For Visually-impaired People
A new tactile device will allow the widespread use of graphical interfaces visually-impaired people. The tactile graphical display will open up new avenues of employment, communication and personal expression. Conceivably it could do for graphics what Louis Braille did for text in 1824.

Current Braille displays generally show one line at a time using electro-magnetic or piezo-electrical forces to raise and lower the dots that make up Braille letters. Larger multiline displays were developed but never sold commercially because they cost over €200,000 to produce.

The new display uses electro-rheological fluids and will cost about €15,000 when it enters production, a comparable price to current top-of-the-range single line readers.

"Piezo-electrical devices manufacture the dots in pairs, whereas in our system we can manufacture the entire display in one sweep, which keeps down the costs," said Dr Sami Ahmed, managing director of Smart Technology Group the scientific coordinator of the interactive Tactile Interface (ITACTI) project, backed by funding from the European Commission's IST programme.

Smart were responsible for developing the electro-rheological (ER) fluids which change their state from liquid to semi-solid when a charge is applied. Developing the ER fluids was the greatest challenge faced by the project. Smart also was responsible for design and manufacture of the new display unit.........

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April 18, 2006, 10:45 PM CT

Unbreakable Quantum Encryption

Unbreakable Quantum Encryption NIST physicist Xiao Tang and colleagues have developed a quantum communications system that uses single photons to produce a "raw" encryption key at the rate of 4 million bits per second. Image credit: © Robert Rathe
Raw code for "unbreakable" encryption, based on the principles of quantum physics, has been generated at record speed over optical fiber at the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The work, reported today at the SPIE Defense & Security Symposium in Orlando, Fla.,* is a step toward using conventional high-speed networks such as broadband Internet and local-area networks to transmit ultra-secure video for applications such as surveillance.

The NIST quantum key distribution (QKD) system uses single photons, the smallest particles of light, in different orientations to produce a continuous binary code, or "key," for encrypting information. The rules of quantum mechanics ensure that anyone intercepting the key is detected, thus providing highly secure key exchange. The laboratory system produced this "raw" key at a rate of more than 4 million bits per second (4 million bps) over 1 kilometer (km) of optical fiber, twice the speed of NIST's previous record, reported just last month.** The system also worked successfully, although more slowly, over 4 km of fiber.

The record speed was achieved with an error rate of only 3.6 percent, considered very low. The next step will be to process the raw key, using NIST-developed methods for correcting errors and increasing privacy, to generate "secret" key at about half the original speed, or about 2 million bps.........

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April 17, 2006, 10:06 PM CT

Paint-on Laser To Rescue Computer Chip

Paint-on Laser To Rescue Computer Chip
Researchers at the University of Toronto have created a laser that could help save the $200-billion dollar computer chip industry from a looming crisis dubbed the "interconnect bottleneck".

But this isn't a laser in the stereotypical sense -- no corded, clunky boxes projecting different coloured lights. In fact, Professor Ted Sargent, of the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, carries a small vial of the paint used to make this laser in his briefcase -- it looks like diluted ink.

Lasers that can produce coherent infrared light in the one to two nanometre wavelength range are essential in telecommunications, biomedical diagnosis and optical sensing. The speed and density of computer chips has risen exponentially over the years, and within 15 to 20 years the industry is expected to reach a point where components can't get any faster. But the interconnect bottleneck -- the point where microchips reach their capacity -- is expected sometime around 2010.

To tackle this problem, Sargent, a Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology, created the new laser using colloidal quantum dots -- nanometre-sized particles of semiconductor that are suspended in a solvent like the particles in paint. "We've made a laser that can be smeared onto another material," says Sargent. "This is the first paint-on semiconductor laser to produce the invisible colours of light needed to carry information through fiber-optics. The infrared light could, in the future, be used to connect microprocessors on a silicon computer chip." A study describing the laser was published in the April 17 issue of the journal Optics Express.........

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April 15, 2006, 3:47 PM CT

Graphite-based Circuitry May Be Foundation For New Devices

Graphite-based Circuitry May Be Foundation For New Devices Caption: Scanning electron microscope image of nano-patterned epitaxial ultra-thin graphite films shows a hall bar structure used to measure transport properties under magnetic fields. Credit: Image courtesy Zhimin Song
A study of how electrons behave in circuitry made from ultrathin layers of graphite - known as graphene - suggests the material could provide the foundation for a new generation of nanometer scale devices that manipulate electrons as waves - much like photonic systems control light waves.

In a paper published April 13 in Science Express, an online advance publication of the journal Science, scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France report measuring electron transport properties in graphene that are comparable those seen in carbon nanotubes. Unlike carbon nanotubes, however, graphene circuitry can be produced using established microelectronics techniques, allowing scientists to envision a "road map" for future high-volume production.

"We have shown that we can make the graphene material, that we can pattern it, and that its transport properties are very good," said Walt de Heer, a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Physics. "The material has high electron mobility, which means electrons can move through it without much scattering or resistance. It is also coherent, which means electrons move through the graphene much like light travels through waveguides."

The results should encourage further development of graphene-based electronics, though de Heer cautions that practical devices may be a decade away.........

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