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Oct 04

Reported by Milos Popovic, in University of Colorado News, 30 September 2013.

Researchers have developed a new technique that allows microprocessors to use light, instead of electrical wires, to communicate with transistors on a single chip, a system that could lead to extremely energy-efficient computing and a continued skyrocketing of computing speed into the future. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Colorado at Boulder)

A pair of breakthroughs in the field of silicon photonics by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Micron Technology Inc. could allow for the trajectory of exponential improvement in microprocessors that began nearly half a century ago—known as Moore’s Law—to continue well into the future, allowing for increasingly faster electronics, from supercomputers to laptops to smartphones.

The research team, led by CU-Boulder researcher Milos Popovic, an assistant professor of electrical, computer and energy engineering, developed a new technique that allows microprocessors to use light, instead of electrical wires, to communicate with transistors on a single chip, a system that could lead to extremely energy-efficient computing and a continued skyrocketing of computing speed into the future. Continue reading »

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May 27

By Jerome Bonnet, Pakpoom Subsoontorn, and Drew Endy in PNAS, May 21, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1202344109.

The use of synthetic biological systems in research, healthcare, and manufacturing often requires autonomous history-dependent behavior and therefore some form of engineered biological memory. For example, the study or reprogramming of aging, cancer, or development would benefit from genetically encoded counters capable of recording up to several hundred cell division or differentiation events. Although genetic material itself provides a natural data storage medium, tools that allow researchers to reliably and reversibly write information to DNA in vivo are lacking. Here, we demonstrate a rewriteable recombinase addressable data (RAD) module that reliably stores digital information within a chromosome.

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Apr 30

By J. Schlappa, K. Wohlfeld, K. J. Zhou, M. Mourigal, M. W. Haverkort, V. N. Strocov, L. Hozoi, C. Monney, S. Nishimoto, S. Singh, A. Revcolevschi, J.-S. Caux, L. Patthey, H. M. Rønnow, J. van den Brink & T. Schmitt in Nature, 18 April 2012, doi:10.1038/nature10974

When viewed as an elementary particle, the electron has spin and charge. When binding to the atomic nucleus, it also acquires an angular momentum quantum number corresponding to the quantized atomic orbital it occupies. Even if electrons in solids form bands and delocalize from the nuclei, in Mott insulators they retain their three fundamental quantum numbers: spin, charge and orbital1. The hallmark of one-dimensional physics is a breaking up of the elementary electron into its separate degrees of freedom2. The separation of the electron into independent quasi-particles that carry either spin (spinons) or charge (holons) was first observed fifteen years ago3. Here we report observation of the separation of the orbital degree of freedom (orbiton) using resonant inelastic X-ray scattering on the one-dimensional Mott insulator Sr2CuO3. We resolve an orbiton separating itself from spinons and propagating through the lattice as a distinct quasi-particle with a substantial dispersion in energy over momentum, of about 0.2 electronvolts, over nearly one Brillouin zone.

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Mar 22

Reported by Caroline McCall, MIT News Office, March 2012.

A new imaging system could use opaque walls, doors or floors as ‘mirrors’ to gather information about scenes outside its line of sight.


In December, MIT Media Lab researchers caused a stir by releasing a slow-motion video of a burst of light traveling the length of a plastic bottle. But the experimental setup that enabled that video was designed for a much different application: a camera that can see around corners.

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Feb 28

Reported by Evan Lerner, in University of Pennsylvania News, 22 Feb. 2012.

The technological world of the 21st century owes a tremendous amount to advances in electrical engineering, specifically, the ability to finely control the flow of electrical charges using increasingly small and complicated circuits. And while those electrical advances continue to race ahead, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are pushing circuitry forward in a different way, by replacing electricity with light.

“Looking at the success of electronics over the last century, I have always wondered why we should be limited to electric current in making circuits,” said Nader Engheta, professor in the electrical and systems engineering department of Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. “If we moved to shorter wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum — like light — we could make things smaller, faster and more efficient.”

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Feb 23

By Martin Fuechsle, Jill A. Miwa, Suddhasatta Mahapatra, Hoon Ryu, Sunhee Lee, Oliver Warschkow, Lloyd C. L. Hollenberg, Gerhard Klimeck & Michelle Y. Simmons in Nature Nanotechnology (2012), Published online, 19 February 2012.

Abstract: The ability to control matter at the atomic scale and build devices with atomic precision is central to nanotechnology. The scanning tunnelling microscope1 can manipulate individual atoms2 and molecules on surfaces, but the manipulation of silicon to make atomic-scale logic circuits has been hampered by the covalent nature of its bonds. Resist-based strategies have allowed the formation of atomic-scale structures on silicon surfaces3, but the fabrication of working devices—such as transistors with extremely short gate lengths4, spin-based quantum computers5, 6, 7, 8 and solitary dopant optoelectronic devices9—requires the ability to position individual atoms in a silicon crystal with atomic precision. Here, we use a combination of scanning tunnelling microscopy and hydrogen-resist lithography to demonstrate a single-atom transistor in which an individual phosphorus dopant atom has been deterministically placed within an epitaxial silicon device architecture with a spatial accuracy of one lattice site. The transistor operates at liquid helium temperatures, and millikelvin electron transport measurements confirm the presence of discrete quantum levels in the energy spectrum of the phosphorus atom. We find a charging energy that is close to the bulk value, previously only observed by optical spectroscopy.

Read more in doi:10.1038/nnano.2012.21.

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Jan 09

Reported by Edwin Cartlidge, in Nature News, 5 Jan. 2012.

Atomic electrical components conduct just like conventional wires, giving a new lease of life to Moore’s law.

Microchips could keep on getting smaller and more powerful for years to come. Research shows that wires just a few nanometres wide conduct electricity in the same way as the much larger components of existing devices, rather than being adversely affected by quantum mechanics.

As manufacturing technology improves and costs fall, the number of transistors that can be squeezed onto an integrated circuit roughly doubles every two years. This trend, known as Moore’s law, was first observed in the 1960s by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of chip manufacturer Intel, based in Santa Clara, California. But transistors have now become so small that scientists have predicted that it may not be long before their performance is compromised by unpredictable quantum effects. Continue reading »

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Jan 07

Reported by Science Daily, 20 Dec. 2011.

When one tiny circuit within an integrated chip cracks or fails, the whole chip — or even the whole device — is a loss. But what if it could fix itself, and fix itself so fast that the user never knew there was a problem?

A team of University of Illinois engineers has developed a self-healing system that restores electrical conductivity to a cracked circuit in less time than it takes to blink. Led by aerospace engineering professor Scott White and materials science and engineering professor Nancy Sottos, the researchers published their results in the journal Advanced Materials.

Self-healing electronics. Microcapsules full of liquid metal sit atop a gold circuit. When the circuit is broken, the microcapsules rupture, filling in the crack and restoring the circuit. (Credit: Scott White)

“It simplifies the system,” said chemistry professor Jeffrey Moore, a co-author of the paper. “Rather than having to build in redundancies or to build in a sensory diagnostics system, this material is designed to take care of the problem itself.”

As electronic devices are evolving to perform more sophisticated tasks, manufacturers are packing as much density onto a chip as possible. However, such density compounds reliability problems, such as failure stemming from fluctuating temperature cycles as the device operates or fatigue. A failure at any point in the circuit can shut down the whole device.

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Nov 17

Reported by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office, 15 Nov. 2011.

New computer chip models how neurons communicate with each other at synapses.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — For decades, scientists have dreamed of building computer systems that could replicate the human brain’s talent for learning new tasks.

MIT researchers have now taken a major step toward that goal by designing a computer chip that mimics how the brain’s neurons adapt in response to new information. This phenomenon, known as plasticity, is believed to underlie many brain functions, including learning and memory.

With about 400 transistors, the silicon chip can simulate the activity of a single brain synapse — a connection between two neurons that allows information to flow from one to the other. The researchers anticipate this chip will help neuroscientists learn much more about how the brain works, and could also be used in neural prosthetic devices such as artificial retinas, says Chi-Sang Poon, a principal research scientist in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.
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Sep 08

Reported by DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 5 Sep. 2011. Also in ScienceDaily.

Long-wavelength terahertz light is invisible — it’s at the farthest end of the far infrared — but it’s useful for everything from detecting explosives at the airport to designing drugs to diagnosing skin cancer. Now, for the first time, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California at Berkeley have demonstrated a microscale device made of graphene — the remarkable form of carbon that’s only one atom thick — whose strong response to light at terahertz frequencies can be tuned with exquisite precision.

he graphene microribbon array can be tuned in three ways. Varying the width of the ribbons changes plasmon resonant frequency and absorbs corresponding frequencies of terahertz light. Plasmon response is much stronger when there is a dense concentration of charge carriers (electrons or holes), controlled by varying the top gate voltage. Finally, light polarized perpendicularly to the ribbons is strongly absorbed at the plasmon resonant frequency, while parallel polarization shows no such response. (Credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

“The heart of our device is an array made of graphene ribbons only millionths of a meter wide,” says Feng Wang of Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division, who is also an assistant professor of physics at UC Berkeley, and who led the research team. “By varying the width of the ribbons and the concentration of charge carriers in them, we can control the collective oscillations of electrons in the microribbons.”

The name for such collective oscillations of electrons is “plasmons,” a word that sounds abstruse but describes effects as familiar as the glowing colors in stained-glass windows.

“Plasmons in high-frequency visible light happen in three-dimensional metal nanostructures,” Wang says. The colors of medieval stained glass, for example, result from oscillating collections of electrons on the surfaces of nanoparticles of gold, copper, and other metals, and depend on their size and shape. “But graphene is only one atom thick, and its electrons move in only two dimensions. In 2D systems, plasmons occur at much lower frequencies.”

The wavelength of terahertz radiation is measured in hundreds of micrometers (millionths of a meter), yet the width of the graphene ribbons in the experimental device is only one to four micrometers each.

“A material that consists of structures with dimensions much smaller than the relevant wavelength, and which exhibits optical properties distinctly different from the bulk material, is called a metamaterial,” says Wang. “So we have not only made the first studies of light and plasmon coupling in graphene, we’ve also created a prototype for future graphene-based metamaterials in the terahertz range.”

The team reports their research in Nature Nanotechnology, available in advanced online publication.

How to push the plasmons

In two-dimensional graphene, electrons have a tiny rest mass and respond quickly to electric fields. A plasmon describes the collective oscillation of many electrons, and its frequency depends on how rapidly waves in this electron sea slosh back and forth between the edges of a graphene microribbon. When light of the same frequency is applied, the result is “resonant excitation,” a marked increase in the strength of the oscillation — and simultaneous strong absorption of the light at that frequency. Since the frequency of the oscillations is determined by the width of the ribbons, varying their width can tune the system to absorb different frequencies of light.

The strength of the light-plasmon coupling can also be affected by the concentration of charge carriers — electrons and their positively charged counterparts, holes. One remarkable characteristic of graphene is that the concentration of its charge carriers can easily be increased or decreased simply by applying a strong electric field — so-called electrostatic doping.

The Berkeley device incorporates both these methods for tuning the response to terahertz light. Microribbon arrays were made by depositing an atom-thick layer of carbon on a sheet of copper, then transferring the graphene layer to a silicon-oxide substrate and etching ribbon patterns into it. An ion gel with contact points for varying the voltage was placed on top of the graphene.

The gated graphene microarray was illuminated with terahertz radiation at beamline 1.4 of Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source, and transmission measurements were made with the beamline’s infrared spectrometer. In this way the research team demonstrated coupling between light and plasmons that were stronger by an order of magnitude than in other 2D systems.

A final method of controlling plasmon strength and terahertz absorption depends on polarization. Light shining in the same direction as the graphene ribbons shows no variations in absorption according to frequency. But light at right angles to the ribbons — the same orientation as the oscillating electron sea — yields sharp absorption peaks. What’s more, light absorption in conventional 2D semiconductor systems, such as quantum wells, can only be measured at temperatures near absolute zero. The Berkeley team measured prominent absorption peaks at room temperature.

“Terahertz radiation covers a spectral range that’s difficult to work with, because until now there have been no tools,” says Wang. “Now we have the beginnings of a toolset for working in this range, potentially leading to a variety of graphene-based terahertz metamaterials.”

The Berkeley experimental setup is only a precursor of devices to come, which will be able to control the polarization and modify the intensity of terahertz light and enable other optical and electronic components, in applications from medical imaging to astronomy — all in two dimensions.

Reference: Long Ju, Baisong Geng, Jason Horng, Caglar Girit, Michael Martin, Zhao Hao, Hans A. Bechtel, Xiaogan Liang, Alex Zettl, Y. Ron Shen, Feng Wang. Graphene plasmonics for tunable terahertz metamaterials. Nature Nanotechnology, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2011.146

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