Nano-chimney to Cool Circuits

Overheating has emerged as a primary concern in the development of new electronic devices. A new study from Rice University looks to provide a solution to that, offering a strategy to vent heat away from nano-electronics through cone-like chimneys.

By putting these “chimneys” between the graphene and nanotube, the researchers effectively eliminate a barrier that typically blocks heat from escaping.

This from Rice University:

Researchers at Rice University discovered through computer simulations that removing atoms here and there from the two-dimensional graphene base would force a cone to form between the graphene and the nanotube. The geometric properties of the graphene-to-cone and cone-to-nanotube transitions require the same total number of heptagons, but they are more sparsely spaced and leave a clear path of hexagons available for heat to race up the chimney.


There’s a major player in the autonomous, electric car industry that may just outpace transportation mogul Tesla. Faraday Future, an American start-up focused on developing intelligent electric vehicles, just unveiled its first self-driving supercar called the FF91.

Faraday Future states that the vehicle’s 130 kWh battery delivers a range of 378 miles on a single charge. Additionally, 10 cameras, 13 radar sensors, and 12 ultrasonic sensors help power the vehicle’s autonomous abilities.

But Nick Samson, Faraday Future’s senior vice president of engineering, says that the FF91 is “more than just a car,” rather an “intelligent entity.”

In addition to the batter and self-driving tech, the FF91 boasts an infotainment system that allows passengers to watch TV based on your preferences, which are known by the car due to an online profile.

By: David Danks, Carnegie Mellon University

Autonomous driverless carIn 2016, self-driving cars went mainstream. Uber’s autonomous vehicles became ubiquitous in neighborhoods where I live in Pittsburgh, and briefly in San Francisco. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued new regulatory guidance for them. Countless papers and columns discussed how self-driving cars should solve ethical quandaries when things go wrong. And, unfortunately, 2016 also saw the first fatality involving an autonomous vehicle.

Autonomous technologies are rapidly spreading beyond the transportation sector, into health care, advanced cyberdefense and even autonomous weapons. In 2017, we’ll have to decide whether we can trust these technologies. That’s going to be much harder than we might expect.

Trust is complex and varied, but also a key part of our lives. We often trust technology based on predictability: I trust something if I know what it will do in a particular situation, even if I don’t know why. For example, I trust my computer because I know how it will function, including when it will break down. I stop trusting if it starts to behave differently or surprisingly.

In contrast, my trust in my wife is based on understanding her beliefs, values and personality. More generally, interpersonal trust does not involve knowing exactly what the other person will do – my wife certainly surprises me sometimes! – but rather why they act as they do. And of course, we can trust someone (or something) in both ways, if we know both what they will do and why.

I have been exploring possible bases for our trust in self-driving cars and other autonomous technology from both ethical and psychological perspectives. These are devices, so predictability might seem like the key. Because of their autonomy, however, we need to consider the importance and value – and the challenge – of learning to trust them in the way we trust other human beings.

Autonomy and predictability

We want our technologies, including self-driving cars, to behave in ways we can predict and expect. Of course, these systems can be quite sensitive to the context, including other vehicles, pedestrians, weather conditions and so forth. In general, though, we might expect that a self-driving car that is repeatedly placed in the same environment should presumably behave similarly each time. But in what sense would these highly predictable cars be autonomous, rather than merely automatic?


Detecting Disease Through Your Breath

One of the major challenges in modern medicine is how to accurately detect disease when people are still feeling healthy. Researchers and doctors alike have long since wondered how to diagnose diseases such as cancer before it progresses too far.

Now, the medical community may find that answer in a new development out of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology called the Na-Nose.

The Na-Nose is a newly developed device that can analyze the chemical signature of exhaled gases to diagnose diseases with 86 percent accuracy. The science behind the device uses carbon nanotubes and gold particles to isolate volatile biomarkers in a patient’s breath.

Researchers then used a computer algorithm to recognize the biomarkers, creating a tool that can quickly and accurately detect diseases such as ovarian cancer or multiple sclerosis in early stages without any invasive procedures.

“It works in the same way we’d use dogs in order to detect specific compounds,” Hossam Haick, co-author of the study, told Smithsonian. “We bring something to the nose of a dog, and the dog will transfer that chemical mixture to an electrical signature and provide it to the brain, and then memorize it in specific regions of the brain … This is exactly what we do. We let it smell a given disease but instead of a nose we use chemical sensors, and instead of the brain we use the algorithms. Then in the future, it can recognize the disease as a dog might recognize a scent.”

By: Jungwoo Ryoo, Pennsylvania State University

Cyber securityCybersecurity concerns crop up everywhere you turn lately – around the election, email services, retailers. And academic institutions haven’t been immune to security breaches either. According to a recent report by VMware, almost all universities (87 percent) in the United Kingdom have been the victims of cyber crime. In general, from 2006 to 2013, 550 universities suffered data breaches. When higher ed breaches occur, attackers typically steal student information, intellectual property or research data. Among the criminals behind these attacks are nation-states and organized crime groups motivated by the economic gain.

A common knee-jerk reaction to a cyberattack – wherever it happens – is to clamp down on access and add more security control. For example, in 2005 after a major attack against a credit card processor affected 40 million customers, there were urgent calls for new mandatory encryption standards in the U.S. Senate. As paranoia sets in, a sense of urgency to do something about a possible next attack takes over, just like what happened in the University of California system. After a 2015 hack, the university administration started monitoring user traffic without consulting faculty and students (not to mention receiving their consent), resulting in a huge backlash.

As is so often the case, too much of anything is not good. Cybersecurity is a delicate balancing act between usability and countermeasures designed to reduce or prevent threats. A one-size-fits-all, or Procrustean, approach usually leads to lower productivity and a large group of unhappy users. And it’s particularly tricky to get the balance right in an academic setting.


The Future of Electronics is Light

By: Arnab Hazari, University of Michigan

ElectronicsFor the past four decades, the electronics industry has been driven by what is called “Moore’s Law,” which is not a law but more an axiom or observation. Effectively, it suggests that the electronic devices double in speed and capability about every two years. And indeed, every year tech companies come up with new, faster, smarter and better gadgets.

Specifically, Moore’s Law, as articulated by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore, is that “The number of transistors incorporated in a chip will approximately double every 24 months.” Transistors, tiny electrical switches, are the fundamental unit that drives all the electronic gadgets we can think of. As they get smaller, they also get faster and consume less electricity to operate.

In the technology world, one of the biggest questions of the 21st century is: How small can we make transistors? If there is a limit to how tiny they can get, we might reach a point at which we can no longer continue to make smaller, more powerful, more efficient devices. It’s an industry with more than US$200 billion in annual revenue in the U.S. alone. Might it stop growing?

Getting close to the limit

At the present, companies like Intel are mass-producing transistors 14 nanometers across – just 14 times wider than DNA molecules. They’re made of silicon, the second-most abundant material on our planet. Silicon’s atomic size is about 0.2 nanometers.

Today’s transistors are about 70 silicon atoms wide, so the possibility of making them even smaller is itself shrinking. We’re getting very close to the limit of how small we can make a transistor.


InSeNewly developed semiconductor materials are showing promising potential for the future of super-fast electronics.

A new study out of the University of Manchester details a new material called Indium Selenide (InSe). Like graphene, InSe if just a few atoms thick, but it differs from the “wonder material” in a few critical ways. While graphene has been hailed for its electronic properties, researchers state that it does not have an energy gap – making graphene behave more like a metal than a semiconductor.

Similarly, InSe can be nearly as thin as graphene while exhibiting electronic properties higher than that of silicon. Most importantly, InSe has a large energy gap, which could open the door to super-fast, next-gen electronic devices.


A scanning tunneling microscope image shows two three-wheeled nanoroadsters.Image: Alex Saywell/Leonhard Grill

A scanning tunneling microscope image shows two three-wheeled nanoroadsters.
Image: Alex Saywell/Leonhard Grill

Past ECS lecturer James Tour and his team at Rice University have developed a tiny three-wheeled, single-molecule call they’ve dubbed the “nanoroadster.”

This new research builds on Tour’s light-driven nanocars, which he developed six years ago. Since then, additional research efforts have allowed researchers to drive fleets of the nanoroadsters at once.

“It is exciting to see that motorized nanoroadsters can be propelled by their light-activated motors,” Tour says. “These three-wheelers are the first example of light-powered nanovehicles being observed to propel across a surface by any method, let alone by scanning tunneling microscopy.”

This from Rice University:

Rather than drive them chemically or with the tip of a tunneling microscope, as they will do with other vehicles in the upcoming international NanoCar Race in Toulouse, France, the researchers used light at specific wavelengths to move their nanoroadsters along a copper surface. The vehicles have rear-wheel molecular motors that rotate in one direction when light hits them. The rotation propels the vehicle much like a paddle wheel on water.

Read the full article.

“If we have to ‘wire’ the car to a power source, like an electron beam, we would lose a lot of the cars’ functionality,” Tour says. “Powering them with light frees them to be driven wherever one can shine a light—and eventually we hope they will carry cargo.”

The ability to activate multiple fleets of nanocars at once opens possibilities of using nanomachines like ants, in which they could work collectively to perform some construction.

By: Sameer Sonkusale, Tufts University


Image: Alonso Nichols, Tufts University, CC BY-ND

Doctors have various ways to assess your health. For example, they measure your heart rate and blood pressure to indirectly assess your heart function, or straightforwardly test a blood sample for iron content to diagnose anemia. But there are plenty of situations in which that sort of monitoring just isn’t possible.

To test the health of muscle and bone in contact with a hip replacement, for example, requires a complicated – and expensive – procedure. And if problems are found, it’s often too late to truly fix them. The same is true when dealing with deep wounds or internal incisions from surgery.

In my engineering lab at Tufts University, we asked ourselves whether we could make sensors that could be seamlessly embedded in body tissue or organs – and yet could communicate to monitors outside the body in real time. The first concern, of course, would be to make sure that the materials wouldn’t cause infection or an immune response from the body. The sensors would also need to match the mechanical properties of the body part they would be embedded in: soft for organs and stretchable for muscle. And, ideally, they would be relatively inexpensive to make in large quantities.


CorrosionCorrosion costs the U.S. economy over $450 billion per year. In an effort to better predict the effects of corrosion, ECS Fellow Robert Kelly has built something akin to a time machine at the University of Virginia.

Kelly, who has recently been awarded ECS’s Corrosion Division H. H. Uhlig Award, is launching pieces of metal into the future to accelerate corrosion rates and observe how they will degrade over time. Being able to see the degradation of materials prior to application could be key to drastically cutting funds used to repair infrastructure when corrosion takes its toll.

Recently, Kelly applied his testing technique to Rolls-Royce’s small jet engine compressor blades to see how they would inevitably hold up in an airplane turbine. By aggressively spraying salt on the parts, Kelly could effectively predict how it will react when jet engines take in salt water in the form of sea salt aerosols. Rolls-Royce currently coats the blades with ceramic material – which if used in too small a quantity could lead to corrosion, but if used in too excessive a quantity could lead to slow, heavy blades. The tests conducted by Kelly and his team could help the company create a blade with the perfect balance of ceramic coating.


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