Tag Archives: Electronics

Turning Back Time: Watching Rust Transform into Iron

By W. Zhu, J.P. Winterstein, W.D. Yang, L. Yuan, R. Sharma and G. Zhou – Using a state-of-the-art microscopy technique, experimenters at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and their colleagues have witnessed a slow-motion, atomic-scale transformation of rust—iron oxide—back to pure iron metal, in all of its chemical steps.

In a new effort to study the microscopic details of metal oxide reduction, researchers used a specially adapted transmission electron microscope (TEM) at NIST’s NanoLab facility to document the step-by-step transformation of nanocrystals of the iron oxide hematite (Fe2O3) to the iron oxide magnetite (Fe3O4), and finally to iron metal.

By lowering the temperature of the reaction and decreasing the pressure of the hydrogen gas that acted as the reducing agent, the scientists slowed down the reduction process so that it could be captured with an environmental TEM—a specially configured TEM that can study both solids and gas. The instrument enables researchers to perform atomic-resolution imaging of a sample under real-life conditions—in this case the gaseous environment necessary for iron oxides to undergo reduction–rather than under the vacuum needed in ordinary TEMs. more> https://goo.gl/8lJIAH

Updates from Aalto University

Launch times draw near for Aalto satellites
By Jaan Praks – The Aalto-2 satellite, designed and built by students, is ready and waiting to be launched inside the Cygnus space shuttle at the Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex in the US.

On 22 March, the shuttle will be launched with an Atlas V booster rocket up to the orbiting international space station, where the astronauts will release it later to orbit independently.

Aalto-2 will take part in the international QB50 Mission, the aim of which is to produce the first ever comprehensive model of the features of the thermosphere, the layer between the Earth’s atmosphere and space. Dozens of satellites constructed in different countries will also be part of the mission.

Construction of the Aalto-2 satellite began in 2012 as a doctoral project when the first students graduated as Masters of Science in Technology after working on the Aalto-1 project.

Since the start of the Aalto-1 project in 2010 and the Aalto-2 project two years later, around a hundred new professionals have been trained in the space sector. The impact is already visible in the growth of space sector start-up companies. more> https://goo.gl/yKLrez

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How Does Solar Photovoltaic Energy Work?

Evergreen Solar – The solar photovoltaic cells in your solar panels are the mechanisms which convert sunlight into energy. When you install solar panels on your house, the PV cells convert sunlight into direct current (DC) and an inverter connected to the system is what converts direct current into alternating current (AC) – which is the type of current needed to power your household appliances. This power runs through your electrical panel box, just like electricity you get from the grid, and you can potentially run your entire house on solar power than power taken from the grid.

Most residential solar energy systems are still connected to the grid. This is to allow for uninterrupted electricity in occasions when you don’t have enough solar energy to continue to power your house (e.g., on cloudy days or during the night).

If you generate enough energy from your solar panels such that you have “extra” energy left over, it will get fed back to the grid and you will get credit for this contribution of energy. Termed “net metering,” this transfer of electricity allows some customers to still maintain a $0 electric bill even when using the utility company’s energy from the grid. more> evergreensolar.com

Updates from Georgia Tech

Pioneer of Modern Electronics
By Michael Baxter – The smartphone you peer into, the LED bulb in your desk lamp, the Blu-Ray player that serves up your favorite film – all are here largely because of Russell Dupuis, a professor in electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech.

That’s because an essential component of their manufacturing traces back to a process that Dupuis developed in the late 1970s, a process that ushered in a new breed of mass-produced compound semiconductors. These electronic components – particularly those forged of elements from columns III and V in the periodic table — can operate at extremely high frequencies or emit light with extraordinary efficiency. Today, they’re the working essence of everything from handheld laser pointers to stadium Jumbotrons.

The process is known as metalorganic chemical vapor deposition, or MOCVD, and until Dupuis, no one had figured out how to use it to grow high-quality semiconductors using those III-V elements. Essentially, MOCVD works by combining the atomic elements with molecules of organic gas and flowing the mixture over a hot semiconductor wafer. When repeated, the process grows layer after layer of crystals that can have any number of electrical properties, depending on the elements used. more> https://goo.gl/eG2G8e

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Make Chips Do More and Last Longer with Embedded FPGA


By Geoff Tate – The cost and the time to design ASSP/ASIC/SoCs keeps rising.

Also, customers are demanding more flexibility in chips so their systems can be upgraded for critical changes (such as protocols/standards), which increases the useful life of their systems and increases their ROI.

For example, in data centers, customers are now seeking reconfigurability. Rather than a fork-lift upgrade when standards evolve, data centers want programmable chips so they can upgrade the data center’s ability during the life of the center without touching the hardware. This also gives the data center the option to customize for added competitive advantage. As Doug Burger of Microsoft said at a recent talk at FPL 2016, (Re)Configurable Clouds will change the world with the ability to reprogram a datacenter’s hardware protocols: networking, storage, security. Adding FPGA technology into the mix is a key in doing this. Embedded FPGA technology is now available to increase performance while lowering cost and power.

Another example is microcontrollers. In older process nodes such as 90nm where mask costs are cheap, a line card can have dozens or hundreds of versions. This offers each customer the small differences in, for example, the number and types of serial interfaces (SPI, I2C, UART, etc). However, now that leading edge microcontrollers are moving to 40nm where masks cost $1M each, microcontroller manufacturers need a programmable way to customize their chips and offer multiple SKUs. Adding this capability also opens the path for their customers to customize the MCUs themselves, similar to how they now write C code for the on-board processors. There are a few microcontrollers today, such as Cypress’ PSoC, which offer some limited customizability. However, only embedded FPGA can provide more and scalable customizability. more> https://goo.gl/9xx7sC

Developing the APTitude to Design New Materials, Atom-by-Atom

By Paul Blanchard – Up to now, our technological progress has largely been a matter of trial and error. We make something new, evaluate its performance, then alter some part of the fabrication process and see whether it performs better or worse, all without direct knowledge of what is changing at the atomic level.

But if we could see what’s going on at that scale—if we could map out each individual atom and understand the role that it plays—we could create new and better materials not through blind experimentation, but through design.

For all that we’ve been able to accomplish while ignoring them, the fact is that individual atoms matter. The speed of a transistor, the efficiency of a solar cell, and the strength of an I-beam are ultimately determined by the configuration of the atoms inside. Today, new and improved microscopy techniques are getting us closer and closer to the goal of being able to see each and every atom within the materials we make—a very exciting prospect.

Over the past three years, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a team working with one such new and improved microscopy technique, a method called 3-D atom probe tomography, or APT for short. APT is very different from conventional microscopy—at least, the sort of microscopy that I’m accustomed to. In conventional microscopy, we shine a beam of light particles or electrons on our specimen, whatever it is we want to look at, and create a magnified image using lenses or by mapping how our beam bounces off it.

In atom probe tomography, on the other hand, we don’t just look at our specimen—we literally take it apart, atom-by-atom. more> https://goo.gl/c0VdE3

Updates from Georgia Tech

The Health Informatics Revolution
By John Toon – Using massive data sets, machine learning, and high-performance computing, health analytics and informatics is drawing us closer to the holy grail of health care: precision medicine, which promises diagnosis and treatment tailored to individual patients. The information, including findings from the latest peer-reviewed studies, will arrive on the desktops and mobile devices of clinicians in health care facilities large and small through a new generation of decision-support systems.

“There are massive implications over the coming decade for how informatics will change the way care is delivered, and probably more so for how care is experienced by patients,” said Jon Duke, M.D., director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Health Analytics and Informatics.

“By providing data both behind the scenes and as part of efforts to change behavior, informatics is facilitating our ability to understand patients at smaller population levels. This will allow us to focus our diagnostic paths and treatments much better than we could before.”

Georgia Tech’s health informatics effort combines academic researchers in computing and the biosciences, practitioners familiar with the challenges of the medical community, extension personnel who understand the issues private companies face, and engineers and data scientists with expertise in building and operating secure networks tapping massive databases.

“It takes all of these components to really make a difference in an area as complex as health informatics,” said Margaret Wagner Dahl, Georgia Tech’s associate vice president for information technology and analytics.

“This integrated approach allows us to add value to collaborators as diverse as pharmaceutical companies, health care providers, large private employers, and federal agencies.” more> https://goo.gl/63pIZd

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Updates from GE

By Mike Keller – After you land, you hire an autonomous taxi to take you home. Along the way, the vehicle slips through intersections without stoplights, a technology made obsolete when robotic systems started communicating with each other in real time to avoid collisions. Meanwhile, your smartphone alerts your smart home that you’re coming, engaging its high-efficiency battery banks to power your environmental, lighting and sound preferences.

This is, of course, the future. The key to making this scenario a reality isn’t about developing crazy new technologies — much of what we need already exists. It involves ultrafast telecommunications that can shuttle massive amounts of information between millions of wirelessly connected devices at the same time. It’s also about the ability to control power quickly, seamlessly and with extreme efficiency, as well as better battery management and machines made more intelligent by the liberal deployment of sensors that help them understand the world around them. And it turns out that the critical component to all of this could be something decidedly unsexy: a switch.

We are all familiar with switches. The best-known type of switch, when moved to the on position, completes a circuit between the power source and the bulb, allowing electrons to flow and the light to glow. This same current control — with varying levels of complexity — is used in every device that needs electricity, from computers and medical equipment to big industrial machines. It’s also critical to systems that transmit and receive radio frequencies such as cellphone networks.

Amazingly, though, these electrical relays’ fundamental operation has remained relatively the same over the last 50 years.

But that’s about to change. A new company says it has brought these switches into the 21st century. Using advanced metallurgy and tricks learned from the semiconductor industry, California’s Menlo Micro has shrunk the traditional device down to the width of a human hair. The company is a spinoff of GE with significant investments from semiconductor maker Microsemi, Corning and Paladin Capital Group. It is commercializing 12 years of research inside GE Global Research, whose engineers were originally tasked with re-inventing the electromechanical switches used inside GE’s machines. more> https://goo.gl/jMf1Rr

Updates from Boeing

Boeing – The mission of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) system is to provide broadband communications connectivity for U.S. and allied warfighter s around the world. WGS is the highest – capacity military communications system in the U.S. Department of Defense arsenal, providing a quantum leap in communications capability for the U.S. military.

Boeing’s investments in phased array antennas and digital signal processing, combined with innovations in the commercial satellite market, have resulte d in a flexible WGS system that
delivers the capacity, coverage, connectivity and control required by the most demanding operational scenarios.

WGS is designed for coverage, capacity and connectivity, and can process more than 3.6 gigabits per second of data – more than 10 times that of the previous system. Operating at both X-band and Ka-band, the system will enable networks for tactical Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR).

WGS supports communication links throughout the allocated 500 MHz of X-band and 1 GHz of Ka-band spectrum. Through frequency reuse and digital channelization, each WGS payload can exploit more than 4.8 GHz of usable communications bandwidth. more> boeing.com/innovation

Why the next 20 years will see a lot less technological disruption than the past 20

BOOK REVIEW

The Inevitable, Author: Kevin Kelly.
The Rise and Fall of American Growth, Author: Robert Gordon.

By Timothy B. Lee – “The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning,” writes Wired co-founder and Silicon Valley guru Kevin Kelly.

Kelly’s extreme optimism represents one pole of this debate. At the opposite pole is economist Robert Gordon, who believes the IT revolution is basically over. Kelly and Gordon don’t just have opposite predictions about the future — they represent opposite approaches to thinking about an uncertain future.

The rapid progress of the early 20th century depended on two factors. One was a series of technical breakthroughs in science, engineering, and medicine. But the other was the fact that in 1900, the human race had a bunch of big problems — dimly lit homes, slow transportation options, deadly diseases, a lot of tedious housework — that could be solved with new technologies.

The situation today is different.

Over the past four decades, manufactured products like clothing, toys, cars, and furniture have gotten more affordable. At the same time, services like education and medical care have gotten a lot more expensive.

But disrupting the education industry will be hard for the same kind of reasons it was hard for Redfin to disrupt the real estate business.

Much of the value people get from attending a four-year college comes from interaction with other people. People spend their college years forming a circle of friends and a network of acquaintances that often become invaluable later in their careers.

They gain value from group study and extracurricular activities. There is real benefit from mentorship by professors. The social experience of college also serves as a powerful motivator.

So as long as technologists are merely finding ways to make it modestly cheaper or more convenient to do things people have been doing for decades, their impact on the overall economy will be necessarily modest.

Outside the worlds of entertainment and communication, it’s hard to think of major new products in the recent past or likely in the near future. more> https://goo.gl/nkyhmP

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