Tag: scientists

IBM creates film using precisely placed atoms

Scientists from IBM have created the world’s smallest film, made with thousands of atoms.

Approved by the Guinness World of Records, the film, aptly named “A Boy and His Atom,” uses thousands of precisely placed atoms to create nearly 250 frames of stop-motion action.

It’s a story about a character named Atom who befriends a single atom and goes on a playful journey that includes dancing, playing catch and bouncing on a trampoline. Set to a musical track, the film is said to represent a unique way to convey science outside the research community.  

In order to make the film the atoms were moved with an IBM-made scanning tunnelling microscope, which lets scientists visualise the world all the way down to single atoms.

IBM said it weighs two tons, operates at a temperature of negative 268 degrees Celsius and magnifies the atomic surface over 100 million times.

Remotely operated on a standard computer, IBM researchers used the microscope to control a super-sharp needle along a copper surface to “feel” atoms. Only one nanometer away from the surface, which is a billionth of a meter in distance, the needle can physically attract atoms and molecules on the surface and thus pull them to a precisely specified location on the surface. The moving atom makes a unique sound that is critical feedback in determining how many positions it has actually moved.  

As the movie was being created, the scientists rendered still images of the individually arranged atoms, resulting in 242 single frames.

IBM said that, for decades, scientists have have studied materials at the nanoscale to explore the limits of data storage, among other things.

Using the smallest object available for engineering data storage devices – single atoms – the same team of IBM researchers who made the film also recently created the world’s smallest magnetic bit. They were the first to answer the question of how many atoms it takes to reliably store one bit of magnetic information: 12.

Scientists turn a virus into electricity

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have come up with a way to generate power using harmless everyday viruses.

The researchers have been working with a virus called M13 bacteriophage to convert mechanical energy into electricity, which they say one day could power gadgets such as smartphones from everyday movements such as walking.

They have been testing their work through a specially developed generator that produces enough current to operate a small liquid-crystal display.

It works by tapping a finger on a postage stamp-sized electrode coated with specially engineered viruses. The viruses convert the force of the tap into an electric charge.

Seung-Wuk Lee, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and a UC Berkeley associate professor of bioengineering, said in statement: “More research is needed, but our work is a promising first step toward the development of personal power generators, actuators for use in nano-devices, and other devices based on viral electronics”. 

The M13 bacteriophage has a length of 880 nanometers and a diameter of 6.6 nanometers. According to the scientists it is coated with approximately 2,700 charged proteins that enable them to use the virus as a piezoelectric nanofiber.

The piezoelectric effect, found in 1880, has since been identified in crystals, ceramics, bone, proteins, and DNA. It’s also already been put to use in electric cigarette lighters and scanning probe microscopes.

However, it’s not been a huge success with the materials used to make piezoelectric devices claimed as being toxic and very difficult to work with.

Lee and his team found that the M13 bacteriophage only attacks bacteria and is benign to people.

Being a virus, it replicates itself by the millions within hours, meaning that there would always be a steady supply. To ascertain whether the M13 virus was piezoelectric, Lee and his team applied an electrical field to a film of M13 viruses and watched what happened using a special microscope. Once they found a positive result they increased the virus’s piezoelectric strength through genetic engineering to add four negatively charged amino acid residues to one end of the helical proteins that coat the virus.

They then stacked 20 films composing of single layers of the virus on top of each other to achieve the maximum effect.

Finally, to test the multi-layered film, they sandwiched it between two gold-plated electrodes, which were connected by wires to a liquid-crystal display, and then tapped on it.

When this pressure was applied to the generator, it produced up to six nanoamperes of current and 400 millivolts of potential, which the scientists said was enough current to flash the number “1” on the display, and about a quarter the voltage of a triple A battery.

Scientists are now working on ways to improve this research and hope it could eventually be used.

Watch the video below to see how the idea works.

Riverside Bourns in zinc nanowire laser breakthrough

Scientists believe they have made a breakthrough in zinc nanowire technology.

The researchers at the University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering claim they have cracked a long lasting problem. People in the zinc oxide research community, which we hear is bustling, have, according to the team, been struggling with over the last decade.

In theory, zinc oxide nanowires could be used in lasers. However, the scientists, led by Professor Jianlin Liu, say until they came up with their research the technology was defunct. They said it couldn’t be used in light emissions because of a lack of p-type material, which is needed to power semiconductors.

They began to scratch their heads. Finally, Professor Liu had a lightbulb moment and decided to coat the nanowires with antimony. Apparently, because the coating was a metalloid element, the mix created the much needed p-type material.

Using this new mix, the team connected the zinc oxide nanowires with n-type – also known as negative type – zinc oxide material. Together the pairing created what the scientists call “p-n junction diode,” which when powered by a standard battery can create a directional laser light.

They say the discovery is “likely to stimulate the whole field to push the technology further,” and create smaller sized, lower cost lasers which have a higher power and shorter wave lengths.
And the scientists have got all excited, claiming that the lasers can “potentially do everything”. And they mean everything, from killing viruses to increasing storage capacity of DVDs.

For information storage, the zinc oxide nanowire lasers would be used in the read and write stage to create DVDs that could store six hours of data over the standard two. This is because the ultraviolet laser has a shorter wavelength.

In biology, the scientists have said that the ultra-small laser light beam from a nanowire laser can zap a living cell and change it from a bad cell to good.

As always, the research is still in its study stages – meaning we’ll have to wait and see that little bit longer.

Operators drag heels on Femtocells

Although our networks are straining under the increasing demand for mobile broadband, operators are digging their heels in when it comes to helping solve the problem.

According to Cambridge Wireless, households should each have their own means of accessing mobile broadband, which will not only stop the strain we are putting on networks but also increase competition.

It wants homes to be equipped with Femtocells. However, it pointed out operators are not so keen on this idea.

Femtocells are tiny chips that connect to a broadband connection. They work in the same way a wireless network does, through access points, and they are low powered and unlicensed. Cambridge Wireless’ big idea is not popular with operators. Operators are not keen as ultimately it means they are losing money, as we won’t be depending on them for use of their masts. 

The claims come from David Cleevely, chairman of Cambridge Wireless as the company identified the need to take new approaches to cope with the increasingly straining demand for mobile broadband.

The growing trend for cloud services, such as Apple’s iCloud, along with other recent launches of cloud services from Amazon and Google, means the problem will get worse.

This, coupled with all the data rich devices the consumer is buying into, means that the networks are in danger of crumbling.

The crisis means consumers and providers should work together to come up with an answer.

However, companies won’t be thinking about Femtocells until at least later this year or when there is an evident and dangerous strain on these networks, Mr Cleevely told TechEye.  

“There are a range of different things we can do to stop the networks from crumbling,” he said.

“Firstly, providers can optimise the network for a lot more caching so it becomes smarter where it’s storing data. However, this won’t completely solve the problem.

“The next thing is to build more base stations but this is not economic and if mobile operators do this, and buy off more spectrum, this will at best only give them a year’s runway.”

He added that, in his point of view, we should be building a network from the inside out instead of the current outside in.  

“What I mean is that we will buy mini base stations and put them in our houses, and the upcoming UK spectrum means that it’s a great time to do this,” he said.

“Lots of operators, for example Sky, Virgin and BT internet as well as other internet service providers, can then connect people via fixed points and networks and suddenly this drives a hole new load of competition. It’s win, win.”

Scientists use jellyfish cell for laser light

A glowing jellyfish cell has been coaxed into making laser light.

In a document published in Nature Photonics,,Malte Gather and Seok Hyun Yun at the Wellman Centre for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in the US explained how they used a jellyfish cell to engineer a light-emitting protein, which when mixed with blue light turned into a green laser.

The researchers say the new find could have a positive effect on microscope imaging and light-based therapies. According to the scientists, laser light, which reads DVDs and supermarket scanners, is different from normal light as it produces a narrow band of colours and the light waves all oscillate together in a sequential pattern.

The fishy laser was apparently born out of scientific curiosity after the pair realised that biological substances had never played a major role in lasers.

They wondered if there was a fundamental reason why laser light did not occur in nature and if they could find a way to achieve it in biological substances or living organisms.

As a result they decided to look at green fluorescent protein  (GFP) to see if they could create something. They chose this because the protein can be induced to emit light without any additional enzymes.

The protein has also been studied for many years, meaning the scientists had an idea of its properties and what made it tick.  To see if they could get it to light up, the researchers first assembled a device consisting of an inch-long cylinder, with mirrors at each end, filled with a solution of GFP in water.

Through this they were able to see that the GFP could amplify the energy into brief pulses of laser light.

When struck by blue light, electrons jumped up and down and turned fluorescent green. However, it didn’t end there, with the scientists explaining that in order to make the laser effect the GFP triggered its own molecules to spit and set off the chain reaction required.

The scientists hope that the discovery may help them find ways to bring optical communications and computing, currently done with inanimate electronic devices, into the world of biotechnology.

They’re now working on replicating the effect in a range of different colours.

IBM builds graphene transistor IC

IBM researchers have built the first integrated circuit (IC) based on a graphene transistor.

Graphene promises faster components to challenge the traditional silicon, but there are hurdles which need jumping. In October last year, scientists told us that Graphene had the potential to replace silicon in transistors as its transition speeds switch to hundreds of gigahertz and could even reach terahertz.

At the time, researchers said a replacement is a long way off.

IBM’s researchers, however, claim that with this breakthrough they are another step closer to fully working with the Nobel-prized material.

The circuits were made using existing manufacturing methods, which means there isn’t a need for a whole new construction process. Down the line, among other uses, graphene chips could enable faster, more power-efficient radio communications circuitry for mobile phones, and other wireless devices.

They made a frequency mixer circuit and married a graphene transistor with two metal devices, called inductors.

According to IBM researcher Yu-Ming Lin, the frequency mixer, currently used in mobiles to convert radio signals used to transmit information into a signal in a frequency the human ear can hear, was the main piece to the puzzle. By mixing the radio signal with a reference signal, the transistor was able to handle frequencies of up to 10 GHz.

It wasn’t plain sailing. IBM admitted that it struggled to integrate the graphene with other components. They said it was a “difficult engineering challenge” which took a year to overcome.

According to the IEEE, one of the problems was that graphene didn’t play very nicely with other metals, including aluminium, gold, and palladium which were used to make the rest of the circuit.

Another problem was that graphene is easily damaged by standard semiconductor etching processes.

However, the scientests were not deterred.

Instead they decided to “grow” the graphene on a silicon-carbide wafer.

To give it that extra strength they coated it with a  polymer known as PMMA and a resist that could withstand the jets of electrons used in electron beam lithography. By doing this they were able to create a shield of strength around the graphene, which also meant it could withstand temperatures of around 127 °C.

As a result, a graphene circuit wouldn’t have to be over-designed to compensate for temperature changes.

They wouldn’t have to spend hours creating a complicated circuit, thus saving time and money.

Smartphones show disasters as they happen

Computer Science geeks at the University of Portsmouth have found a way of making smartphones show a disaster unfolding in real-time on phone screens.

They’ve developed an application and prototype, which currently allows a range of different uses such as allowing docs to monitor heart patients’ ECG right through to helping coppers in the central control unit to see where each PC plod is in an emergency.

Dr Mohamed Gaber, of the University of Portsmouth’s School of Computing, and geeks from Monash University have also said that the app can also be used in a natural disaster. One example given was  to help those co-ordinating rescue efforts to use an electronic map on their phone screens with clusters showing which areas are worst affected.

They said that because such information would constantly update as the disaster unfolds, the clusters would adjust automatically in size and scale as new clusters formed to stop the phone screen becoming over-crowded with information.

And the researchers are blowing their own trumpets claiming that this is the first time anyone has managed to develop a “clutter-aware visualisation for mobile data mining that automatically considers the amount of information presented on screen and dynamically adjusts the way this information is presented to avoid confusion and enhance ease of understanding.”

They added that a lot of work had gone into making the application usable and interactive.
 “The need for an application that knows when information overload is a threat is very important,” they added.

According to the boffins, clutter on a phone screen is measured in two ways – the percentage of the screen occupied by clusters; and the percentage of clusters that overlap.

Someone using the app can choose to decide the amount of clusters they can visually manage on their phone screen and when a situation becomes more complex, the phone image is automatically scaled down.

If this is too much information for the user, then the clusters change colour so black dots represents a lot of activity or data, grey represents a fair amount, and white represents very little.

Those who don’t want to look at the screen can also opt to have a sound only option so an alert sounds every time a new cluster forms or an existing one grows.

The researchers started developing the application in response to the growth of mobile devices coupled with their increased computational capacity.

Boffins finally create a bendy battery

Boffins in Korea have found a way to make bendy batteries.

Unlike other bendy things in the world – Bojo’s bendy buses for example – it is thought that these will actually be helpful in the world and can be used for roll up displays and light emitting diodes.

We haven’t seen these in the past because scientists have struggled to find the right materials to get it right. In order to make these they needed to find a material that was flexible but with a strong electronic conductivity. In the past they tried to form this using polymers but they failed as these degraded at low temperatures.

Now however, it looks like there’s a way to do this with scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejon, coming up with a graphene based hybrid electrode. This is said to produce a flexible lithium rechargeable battery.

Combining this with a V2O5 cathode, which is grown on graphene paper and using pulsed laser deposition and graphene paper coated in lithium, they have also been able to form the anode.

Combined, these factors have given birth to a battery, which is lightweight and flexible enough to be twisted or rolled and is said by the boffins to be “promising”.

If the battery components work the flexible battery will also have a better cycle life.

Italian scientists claim to invent cold fusion

A team of Italian scientists claim to have found the holy grail of energy sources – Cold Fusion.

Cold Fusion is one of those things which exists quite happily as a mathematical formula but has failed to see the light of day.

The idea is that you can manage a near-room-temperature reaction in which two smaller nuclei join together to form a single larger nucleus while releasing large amounts of energy.

Every now and then someone hits the headlines saying that they have managed to do it, but everyone else seems to have difficulty reproducing their experiment.

Despite the intense skepticism from other boffins, a team of Italian scientists Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi of the University of Bologna announced that they developed a cold fusion device capable of producing 12,400 W of heat power with an input of just 400 W.

They demonstrated a nickel-hydrogen fusion reactor which they say will be .shipped as a commercial device within the next three months and start mass production by the end of 2011.

Rossi and Focardi say that when the atomic nuclei of nickel and hydrogen are fused in their reactor, the reaction produces copper and a large amount of energy. The reactor uses less than 1 gram of hydrogen and starts with about 1,000 W of electricity, which is reduced to 400 W after a few minutes. Every minute, the reaction can convert 292 grams of 20°C water into dry steam at about 101°C. Since raising the temperature of water by 80°C and converting it to steam requires about 12,400 W of power, the experiment provides a power gain of 12,400/400 = 31.

On a large scale the boffins think that electricity can be generated at a cost of less than 1 cent/kWh, which is significantly less than coal or natural gas plants.

On the plus side it does not produce any CO2 or radioactive waste and will be economical to build.

The boffins are manufacturing a 1MW plant made with 125 modules. Although the reactors can be self-sustaining so that the input can be turned off, the scientists say that the reactors work better with a constant input. The reactors need to be refueled every 6 months, which the scientists say is done by their dealers.

One reactor has been running continuously for two years, providing heat for a factory. They provide little detail about this case.

However, Rossi and Focardi’s paper on the nuclear reactor has been rejected by peer-reviewed journals. They published their paper in the Journal of Nuclear Physics, an online journal founded and run by themselves.

They say their paper was rejected because they lack a theory for how the reaction works.

No word on how much their reactors will cost. They published a paper here  but the site is overloaded. We just hope that does not happen with their reactors.

Scientists develop quick, accurate, real time facial recognition for mobile

Scientists at the Univeristy of Manchester have developed facial recognition software which could eventually tell how you are feeling, opening up new avenues for the technology of the future and scare the pants off Luddites.

Facial recognition software is not exactly new, but the Manchester scientists say that their method is “unrivalled for speed and accuracy” and believe it could be used to replace passwords and PIN numbers for logging into websites and mobile phones. 

“Existing mobile face trackers give only an approximate position and scale of the face,” said Dr. Phil Tresadern, lead researcher on the project. “Our model runs in real-time and accurately tracks a number of landmarks on and around the face such as the eyes, nose, mouth and jaw line.”

This accuracy is vital if the technology is to replace passwords, to ensure that only the individual in question is recognised as the appropriate user. However, the software would also need to allow for different hairstyles, facial hair, accessories or a balaclava.

“A mobile phone with a camera on the front captures a video of your face and tracks twenty-two facial features. This can make face recognition more accurate, and has great potential for novel ways of interacting with your phone,” Tresadern continued. “It is very fast and I can’t find anything that can rival it on a mobile phone.”

Along with being used to replace passwords, the technology will eventually be able to tell where you are looking and even how you are feeling. The possible ramifications of software that is aware of your emotions, based on the different expressions we make, could open doors for new types of games or mobile applications which employ the human face as the main input controller.

The software could even be linked with augmented reality developments to attach virtual objects to the user’s face as they move around, showcasing how these two technologies, which make use of the camera features that are present on every modern mobile phone, can merge together to provide a news and unique interactive experience.

The software is based on 20 years of research at the University and has been demonstrated on a Nokia N900 smartphone. It is EU-funded under the Mobile Biometrics project.