David Kirkpatrick

July 27, 2010

Artificial photosynthesis

I’ll keep my contribution here short and sweet — very interesting.

From the link:

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $122 million to establish a research center in California to develop ways of generating fuel made from sunlight. The project will be led by researchers at Caltech and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and will include researchers at various other California institutions, including Stanford University, the University of California, Irvine, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Sun-soaked silicon: Researchers at the new Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis will work to optimize light-trapping silicon microwires, like these, to produce fuel from solar energy.

Credit: Nate Lewis, Caltech

April 22, 2010

Quantum computing improvement

This is the first quantum computing post in a couple of months. This is a promising finding.

The release:

Bizarre matter could find use in quantum computers

Rice physicists: Odd electron mix has fault-tolerant quantum registry

IMAGE: From left, Rice physicist Rui-Rui Du, graduate students Chi Zhang and Yanhua Dai, and former postdoctoral researcher Tauno Knuuttila (not pictured) have found that odd groupings of ultracold electrons could…

Click here for more information.

HOUSTON — (April 21, 2010) — There are enticing new findings this week in the worldwide search for materials that support fault-tolerant quantum computing. New results from Rice University and Princeton University indicate that a bizarre state of matter that acts like a particle with one-quarter electron charge also has a “quantum registry” that is immune to information loss from external perturbations.

The research appeared online April 21 in Physical Review Letters. The team of physicists found that ultracold mixes of electrons caught in magnetic traps could have the necessary properties for constructing fault-tolerant quantum computers — future computers that could be far more powerful than today’s computers. The mixes of electrons are dubbed “5/2 quantum Hall liquids” in reference to the unusual quantum properties that describe their makeup.

“The big goal, the whole driving force, besides deep academic curiosity, is to build a quantum computer out of this,” said the study’s lead author Rui-Rui Du, professor of physics at Rice. “The key for that is whether these 5/2 liquids have ‘topological’ properties that would render them immune to the sorts of quantum perturbations that could cause information degradation in a quantum computer.”

Du said the team’s results indicate the 5/2 liquids have the desired properties. In the parlance of condensed-matter physics, they are said to represent a “non-Abelian” state of matter.

Non-Abelian is a mathematical term for a system with “noncommutative” properties. In math, commutative operations, like addition, are those that have the same outcome regardless of the order in which they are carried out. So, one plus two equals three, just as two plus one equals three. In daily life, commutative and noncommutative tasks are commonplace. For example, when doing the laundry, it doesn’t matter if the detergent is added before the water or the water before the detergent, but it does matter if the clothes are washed before they’re placed in the dryer.

“It will take a while to fully understand the complete implications of our results, but it is clear that we have nailed down the evidence for ‘spin polarization,’ which is one of the two necessary conditions that must be proved to show that the 5/2 liquids are non-Abelian,” Du said. “Other research teams have been tackling the second condition, the one-quarter charge, in previous experiments.”

The importance of the noncommutative quantum properties is best understood within the context of fault-tolerant quantum computers, a fundamentally new type of computer that hasn’t been built yet.

Computers today are binary. Their electrical circuits, which can be open or closed, represent the ones and zeros in binary bits of information. In quantum computers, scientists hope to use “quantum bits,” or qubits. Unlike binary ones and zeros, the qubits can be thought of as little arrows that represent the position of a bit of quantum matter. The arrow might represent a one if it points straight up or a zero if it points straight down, but it could also represent any number in between. In physics parlance, these arrows are called quantum “states.” And for certain complex calculations, being able to represent information in many different states would present a great advantage over binary computing.

The upshot of the 5/2 liquids being non-Abelian is that they have a sort of “quantum registry,” where information doesn’t change due to external quantum perturbations.

“In a way, they have internal memory of their previous state,” Du said.

The conditions needed to create the 5/2 liquids are extreme. At Rice, Tauno Knuuttila, a former postdoctoral research scientist in Du’s group, spent several years building the “demagnetization refrigerator” needed to cool 5-millimeter squares of ultrapure semiconductors to within one-10,000th of a degree of absolute zero. It took a week for Knuuttila to simply cool the nearly one-ton instrument to the necessary temperature for the Rice experiments.

The gallium arsenide semiconductors used in the tests are the most pure on the planet. They were created by Loren Pfieiffer, Du’s longtime collaborator at Princeton and Bell Labs. Rice graduate student Chi Zhang conducted additional tests at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Fla., to verify that the 5/2 liquid was spin- polarized.


Study co-authors include Zhang, Knuuttila, Pfeiffer, Princeton’s Ken West and Rice’s Yanhua Dai. The research is supported by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Keck Foundation.

March 18, 2010

Graphene may be key to storing hydrogen

Needless to say this will have a major impact on using hydrogen as a power source in fuel cells or other applications.

The release:

Layered graphene sheets could solve hydrogen storage issues

IMAGE: A graphene-oxide framework (GOF) is formed of layers of graphene connected by boron-carboxylic “pillars.” GOFs such as this one are just beginning to be explored as a potential storage medium…

Click here for more information.

Graphene—carbon formed into sheets a single atom thick—now appears to be a promising base material for capturing hydrogen, according to recent research* at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Pennsylvania. The findings suggest stacks of graphene layers could potentially store hydrogen safely for use in fuel cells and other applications.

Graphene has become something of a celebrity material in recent years due to its conductive, thermal and optical properties, which could make it useful in a range of sensors and semiconductor devices. The material does not store hydrogen well in its original form, according to a team of scientists studying it at the NIST Center for Neutron Research. But if oxidized graphene sheets are stacked atop one another like the decks of a multilevel parking lot, connected by molecules that both link the layers to one another and maintain space between them, the resulting graphene-oxide framework (GOF) can accumulate hydrogen in greater quantities.

Inspired to create GOFs by the metal-organic frameworks that are also under scrutiny for hydrogen storage, the team is just beginning to uncover the new structures’ properties. “No one else has ever made GOFs, to the best of our knowledge,” says NIST theorist Taner Yildirim. “What we have found so far, though, indicates GOFs can hold at least a hundred times more hydrogen molecules than ordinary graphene oxide does. The easy synthesis, low cost and non-toxicity of graphene make this material a promising candidate for gas storage applications.”

The GOFs can retain 1 percent of their weight in hydrogen at a temperature of 77 degrees Kelvin and ordinary atmospheric pressure—roughly comparable to the 1.2 percent that some well-studied metal-organic frameworks can hold, Yildirim says.

Another of the team’s potentially useful discoveries is the unusual relationship that GOFs exhibit between temperature and hydrogen absorption. In most storage materials, the lower the temperature, the more hydrogen uptake normally occurs. However, the team discovered that GOFs behave quite differently. Although a GOF can absorb hydrogen, it does not take in significant amounts at below 50 Kelvin (-223 degrees Celsius). Moreover, it does not release any hydrogen below this “blocking temperature”—suggesting that, with further research, GOFs might be used both to store hydrogen and to release it when it is needed, a fundamental requirement in fuel cell applications.

Some of the GOFs’ capabilities are due to the linking molecules themselves. The molecules the team used are all benzene-boronic acids that interact strongly with hydrogen in their own right. But by keeping several angstroms of space between the graphene layers—akin to the way pillars hold up a ceiling—they also increase the available surface area of each layer, giving it more spots for the hydrogen to latch on.

According to the team, GOFs will likely perform even better once the team explores their parameters in more detail. “We are going to try to optimize the performance of the GOFs and explore other linking molecules as well,” says Jacob Burress, also of NIST. “We want to explore the unusual temperature dependence of absorption kinetics, as well as whether they might be useful for capturing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and toxins like ammonia.”


The research is funded in part by the Department of Energy.

* J. Burress, J. Simmons, J. Ford and T.Yildirim. “Gas adsorption properties of graphene-oxide-frameworks and nanoporous benzene-boronic acid polymers.” To be presented at the March meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) in Portland, Ore., March 18, 2010. An abstract is available at http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/MAR10/Event/122133

February 24, 2010

DoE makes major solar investment

Technically it’s a loan guarantee rather than a true investment, but this Department of Energy move shows just how serious the Obama administration is concerning alternate energy sources. There are a lot of exciting developments in solar power right now and government money in this amount only helps grease the wheels of innovation and private-sector investment.

From the first link:

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced a $1.37 billion conditional loan guarantee for the Ivanhoe Solar Complex in the Mojave Desert. The project, managed by Brightsource Energy, will use mirrors to concentrate sunlight, creating high temperatures that can be used to generate electricity. The complex will include three power plants that together will produce about 400 megawatts of electricity.

Basically, the guarantees would cover the loans in the case of default. The money for the loans is expected to come from the Federal Financing Bank.

One of the biggest challenges that large solar developments face is getting financing, particularly because few such solar power plants have been built. The DOE guarantees help on this front.

November 18, 2009

The stimulus package and science

Scientific research wasn’t left out of this year’s stimulus plan to the tune of $21 billion, and a federal website tracks all that stimulus.

From the link:

The stimulus plan passed by the US Congress earlier this year provided $21 billion for scientific R&D to be allocated through the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, and other agencies. (The full text of the bill is available in this large pdf file.) The debate still rages amongst politicians and economists about just how many jobs the $787 billion bill has created. In the meantime, the government has launched an interesting website detailing where that scientific R&D money went.

Call it propaganda–the site is called ScienceWorksForUS–but it’s interesting to browse through the detailed list and see which research projects were funded and for how much.

November 16, 2009

Meet the latest supercomputing champ — Jaguar Cray

Via KurzweilAI.net — Over one petaflop per second!

Cray’s Jaquar now world’s fastest supercomputer
KurzweilAI.net, Nov. 15, 2009

The Jaguar Cray supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has become the world’s most powerful supercomputer, at 1.75 petaflops per second, edging out the IBM Roadrunner system at the U.S. Department of Energy‘s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which has slowed slightly to 1.04 petaflops per second.

The newest version of the TOP500 list, which is issued twice yearly, will be formally presented on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at the SC09 Conference, to be held at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Source: Top 500 news release

CO2 capture and geothermal energy

More green tech backed with Department of Energy money. Sounds interesting if nothing else.

From the link:

Backers of this as-yet-unproven concept secured a big endorsement and much-needed cash with the U.S. Department of Energy’s recent award of $338 million in federal stimulus funds for geothermal energy research. Some $16 million of the funds will be shared by nine carbon dioxide-related projects led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other national labs, Sunnyvale, CA-based combinatorial chemistry firm Symyx Technologies, and several U.S. universities.

The idea: Carbon dioxide that’s cycled through hot regions kilometers underground can efficiently bring heat to the surface, where it can be used to generate electricity. The likelihood is that the process would leave lots of carbon dioxide underground, and thus out of the atmosphere, according to Symyx project leader and materials scientist Miroslav Petro. “You’re sequestering CO₂ and at the same time generating power from it.”

DoE putting money into lithium-sulfur batteries

Lithium-sulfur batteries are an alternative to lithium-ion batteries with three times the storage. Early prototypes were pretty dodgy, but more research is now going on supported by Department of Energy grant money.

From the link:

Earlier this year we reported on several advances geared toward addressing these problems, and noted that these advances had caught the eye of the chemical giant BASF, which is now working to bring lithium-sulfur batteries to market. But challenges remain, including bringing down costs. Now the Department of Energy has also taken an interest in the technology. This week Sion Power Cooperation (which is working with BASF) announced that it has received a three-year, $800,000 DOE grant to further develop the lithium-sulfur batteries for electric vehicles.

August 14, 2009

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory building 100Gbps Ethernet

Man, that’s fast!

From the link:

Looking to build a blazing Ethernet network that will exclusively support science research, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is receiving $62 million to develop what it calls the world’s fastest computer network.

Specifically, the lab will utilize the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) to build a prototype 100Gbps Ethernet network to connect Department of Energy supercomputer centers at speeds 10 times faster than current ESnet. ESnet serves an estimated 50,000 to100,000 DOE users, as well as more than 18,000 non-DOE researchers from universities, government agencies, and private industry.

June 12, 2009

Assembly with graphene

Interesting research on the properties of one of the more exciting nanotech materials out there.

The release:

Penn materials scientist finds plumber’s wonderland on graphene

IMAGE: This is an electron micrograph showing the formation of interconnected carbon nanostructures on a graphene substrate, which may be harnessed to make future electronic devices.

Click here for more information. 

PHILADELPHIA –- Engineers from the University of Pennsylvania, Sandia National Laboratories and Rice University have demonstrated the formation of interconnected carbon nanostructures on graphene substrate in a simple assembly process that involves heating few-layer graphene sheets to sublimation using electric current that may eventually lead to a new paradigm for building integrated carbon-based devices.

Curvy nanostructures such as carbon nanotubes and fullerenes have extraordinary properties but are extremely challenging to pick up, handle and assemble into devices after synthesis. Penn materials scientist Ju Li and Sandia scientist Jianyu Huang have come up with a novel idea to construct curvy nanostructures directly integrated on graphene, taking advantage of the fact that graphene, an atomically thin two-dimensional sheet, bends easily after open edges have been cut on it, which can then fuse with other open edges permanently, like a plumber connecting metal fittings.

The “knife” and “welding torch” used in the experiments, which were performed inside an electron microscope, was electrical current from a Nanofactory scanning probe, generating up to 2000°C of heat. Upon applying the electrical current to few-layer graphene, they observed the in situ creation of many interconnected, curved carbon nanostructures, such as “fractional nanotube”-like graphene bi-layer edges, or BLEs; BLE rings on graphene equivalent to “anti quantum-dots”; and nanotube-BLE assembly connecting multiple layers of graphene.

Remarkably, researchers observed that more than 99 percent of the graphene edges formed during sublimation were curved BLEs rather than flat monolayer edges, indicating that BLEs are the stable edges in graphene, in agreement with predictions based on symmetry considerations and energetic calculations. Theory also predicts these BLEs, or “fractional nanotubes,” possess novel properties of their own and may find applications in devices.

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Short movies of the fabrication of these nanostructures can be viewed at www.youtube.com/user/MaterialsTheory.

Li and Huang observed the creation of these interconnected carbon nanostructures using the heat of electric current and a high-resolution transmission electron microscope. The current, once passed through the graphene layers, improved the crystalline quality and surface cleanness of the graphene as well, both important for device fabrication.

The sublimation of few-layer graphene, such as a 10-layer stack, is advantageous over the sublimation of monolayers. In few-layer graphene, layers spontaneously fuse together forming nanostructures on top of one or two electrically conductive, extended, graphene sheets.

During heating, both the flat graphene sheets and the self-wrapping nanostructures that form, like bilayer edges and nanotubes, have unique electronic properties important for device applications. The biggest obstacle for engineers has been wrestling control of the structure and assembly of these nanostructures to best exploit the properties of carbon. The discoveries of self-assembled novel carbon nanostructures may circumvent the hurdle and lead to new approach of graphene-based electronic devices.

Researchers induced the sublimation of multilayer graphene by Joule-heating, making it thermodynamically favorable for the carbon atoms at the edge of the material to escape into the gas phase, leaving freshly exposed edges on the solid graphene. The remaining graphene edges curl and often welded together to form BLEs. Researchers attribute this behavior to nature’s driving force to reduce capillary energy, dangling bonds on the open edges of monolayer graphene, at the cost of increased bending energy.

“This study demonstrates it is possible to make and integrate curved nanostructures directly on flat graphene, which is extended and electrically conducting,” said Li, associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. “Furthermore, it demonstrates that multiple graphene sheets can be intentionally interconnected. And the quality of the plumbing is exceptionally high, better than anything people have used for electrical contacts with carbon nanotubes so far. We are currently investigating the fundamental properties of graphene bi-layer edges, BLE rings and nanotube-BLE junctions.”




The study was performed by Li and Liang Qi of Penn, Jian Yu Huang and Ping Lu of the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia and Feng Ding and Boris I. Yakobson of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Rice.

It was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Honda Research Institute, the Department of Energy and the Office of Naval Research.

April 13, 2009

Improving oil shale extraction

This new technology is big because the U.S. has three times Saudi petroleum reserves in oil shale. If we can economically tap this resource we become energy independent for the foreseeable future.

My original post from EnerMax:

Oil companies have a new tool for extracting oil-shale reserves that significantly lowers production costs. An advanced heater cable limits the need for expensive mining techniques, which excavate and heat formations to extract the oil.

The new technology is based around a ceramic-composite material that withstands both high temperatures and constant exposure to moisture. The material is used in extracting crude oil from shale by drilling deep boreholes, feeding cables of the material into the holes and heating the oil shale deep below the surface. This forces the oil into an extraction well where it is easily pumped to the surface.

A Colorado company, Composite Technology Development Inc. (CTD), has proven the material works for oil shale extraction. The Department of Energy supports the new technology and verified the positive test results of CTD’s cable.

Victor K. Der, the acting assistant U.S. energy secretary for fossil energy, says, “With DOE’s support over two phases of this project, CTD has demonstrated a way to tap into the western oil shale resources. With two-thirds of the world’s supply of oil shale in the United States, technologies such as this can go a long way toward bolstering the development of our domestic energy resources, creating jobs and supporting energy security.”

This technology is important to domestic energy production because oil shale deposits exceed Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves three times over and are comparable to Alberta’s oil sands. According to a 2008 report by the Utah Mining Association, the ability to efficiently extract crude from oil shale gives the U.S. the “potential to be completely energy self-sufficient, with no demands on external energy sources.”

Sources used in this post include Oil & Gas Journal, Technology Review and News Blaze.

April 6, 2009

April 2009 media tips from Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The latest story ideas coming out of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The release:

April 2009 Story Tips

Story ideas from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Sensors—Math to the rescue . . .

Making sense of the enormous amounts of information delivered by all types of sensors is an incredible challenge, but it’s being met head on with knowledge discovery techniques developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Some of the strategies and approaches are outlined in a recently published book, “Knowledge Discovery from Sensor Data,” (http://books.google.com/books?id=dq7uAA3ssPcC) edited by a team led by Auroop Ganguly of ORNL’s Computational Sciences and Engineering Division. The book is specifically aimed at analyzing dynamic data streams from sensors that are geographically distributed. “We are especially interested in looking for changes – even ones that are very gradual — and anomalies,” Ganguly said. This work helps to validate and assign uncertainties to models developed to understand issues related to climate, transportation and biomass. Co-authors include Olufemi Omitaomu and Ranga Raju Vatsavai of ORNL. This research was originally funded by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program. 

Cyber Security—Meeting of minds . . .

Dozens of the nation’s authorities on cyber security will be participating in the Fifth Cyber Security and Information Intelligence Research Workshop April 13-15 (http://www.ioc.ornl.gov/csiirw). The focus of this event, which is open to the public, is to discuss novel theoretical and empirical research to advance the field. “We aim to challenge, establish and debate a far-reaching agenda that broadly and comprehensively outlines a strategy for cyber security and information intelligence that is founded on sound principles and technologies,” said Frederick Sheldon, general chair and a member of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Computational Sciences and Engineering Division, a sponsor of the workshop. Other sponsors are the University of Tennessee and the Federal Business Council. The workshop, hosted by ORNL, is being held in cooperation with the Association for Computing Machinery. 

Material—Graphene cleanup . . .

Graphene, a single-layer sheet of graphite, has potential as a remarkable material, particularly for electronics and composite applications. However, working with the material leaves molecular-scale rough edges, which can spoil its properties. Researchers at MIT and the Laboratory for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Research (LINAN) and Advanced Materials Department in San Luis Potosi, Mexico have been working with graphitic nanoribbons. Separate research performed at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory developed theory-based computer simulations with quantum mechanical calculations that explain how a process called Joule heating cleans up graphene as the rough carbon edges vaporize and then reconstruct at higher, voltage-induced temperatures. The collaborative project was recently described in Science magazine. 

Energy—Tighten up . . .

An effort to gather environmental data related to the energy efficiency of buildings through weatherization technologies will be conducted in a joint project that includes Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Building Technologies, Research and Integration Center. ORNL engineer Andre Desjarlais says his group’s research will focus on the study of a building’s air tightness by monitoring unintended air movement – air leakage – between outdoors and indoors. In heating climates, up to 30 percent of the energy used in a building can be attributed to air leakage. The tests will be conducted at Syracuse University, which is also a partner. Other partners are the Air Barrier Association of America and it members, along with the New York State Energy Office. The DOE funding source is the Office of Building Technologies.

March 27, 2009


Very cool nanotech. Not sure how close this is to market, but man it’s very cool.

The release:

New nanogenerator may charge iPods and cell phones with a wave of the hand

IMAGE: Pictured is a schematic illustration shows the microfiber-nanowire hybrid nanogenerator, which is the basis of using fabrics for generating electricity.

Click here for more information. 

SALT LAKE CITY, March 26, 2009 — Imagine if all you had to do to charge your iPod or your BlackBerry was to wave your hand, or stretch your arm, or take a walk? You could say goodbye to batteries and never have to plug those devices into a power source again.

In research presented here today at the American Chemical Society’s 237th National Meeting, scientists from Georgia describe technology that converts mechanical energy from body movements or even the flow of blood in the body into electric energy that can be used to power a broad range of electronic devices without using batteries.

“This research will have a major impact on defense technology, environmental monitoring, biomedical sciences and even personal electronics,” says lead researcher Zhong Lin Wang, Regents’ Professor, School of Material Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The new “nanogenerator” could have countless applications, among them a way to run electronic devices used by the military when troops are far in the field.

The researchers describe harvesting energy from the environment by converting low-frequency vibrations, like simple body movements, the beating of the heart or movement of the wind, into electricity, using zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowires that conduct the electricity. The ZnO nanowires are piezoelectric — they generate an electric current when subjected to mechanical stress. The diameter and length of the wire are 1/5,000th and 1/25th the diameter of a human hair.

In generating energy from movement, Wang says his team concluded that it was most effective to develop a method that worked at low frequencies and was based on flexible materials. The ZnO nanowires met these requirements. At the same time, he says a real advantage of this technology is that the nanowires can be grown easily on a wide variety of surfaces, and the nanogenerators will operate in the air or in liquids once properly packaged. Among the surfaces on which the nanowires can be grown are metals, ceramics, polymers, clothing and even tents.

“Quite simply, this technology can be used to generate energy under any circumstances as long as there is movement,” according to Wang.

To date, he says that there have been limited methods created to produce nanopower despite the growing need by the military and defense agencies for nanoscale sensing devices used to detect bioterror agents. The nanogenerator would be particularly critical to troops in the field, where they are far from energy sources and need to use sensors or communication devices. In addition, having a sensor which doesn’t need batteries could be extremely useful to the military and police sampling air for potential bioterrorism attacks in the United States, Wang says.

While biosensors have been miniaturized and can be implanted under the skin, he points out that these devices still require batteries, and the new nanogenerator would offer much more flexibility.

A major advantage of this new technology is that many nanogenerators can produce electricity continuously and simultaneously. On the other hand, the greatest challenge in developing these nanogenerators is to improve the output voltage and power, he says.

Last year Wang’s group presented a study on nanogenerators driven by ultrasound. Today’s research represents a much broader application of nanogenerators as driven by low-frequency body movement.




The study was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 154,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.


January 30, 2009

Stanford researchers write in nanoscale

And reclaim their lost title for writing in the “world’s smallest letters.”

The release:

Stanford writes in world’s smallest letters

Storing information in electron waves

IMAGE: This is an electron wave quantum hologram displaying the initials “SU ” of Stanford University. The yellow area is a copper surface. The holes in the copper are molecules of carbon monoxide….

Click here for more information. 

Stanford researchers have reclaimed bragging rights for creating the world’s smallest writing, a distinction the university first gained in 1985 and lost in 1990.

How small is the writing? The letters in the words are assembled from subatomic sized bits as small as 0.3 nanometers, or roughly one third of a billionth of a meter.

The researchers encoded the letters “S” and “U” (as in Stanford University) within the interference patterns formed by quantum electron waves on the surface of a sliver of copper. The wave patterns even project a tiny hologram of the data, which can be viewed with a powerful microscope.

IMAGE: These are physics grad student Chris Moon (left), Physics Professor Hari Manoharan and physics grad student Laila Mattos worked on the subatomic writing project.

Click here for more information. 

“We miniaturized their size so drastically that we ended up with the smallest writing in history,” said Hari Manoharan, the assistant professor of physics who directed the work of physics graduate student Chris Moon and other researchers.

The quest for small writing has played a role in the development of nanotechnology for 50 years, beginning decades before “nano” became a household word. During a now-legendary talk in 1959, the remarkable physicist Richard Feynman argued that there were no physical barriers preventing machines and circuitry from being shrunk drastically. He called his talk “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.”

Feynman offered a $1,000 prize for anyone who could find a way to rewrite a page from an ordinary book in text 25,000 times smaller than the usual size (a scale at which the entire contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica would fit on the head of a pin). He held onto his money until 1985, when he mailed a check to Stanford grad student Tom Newman, who, working with electrical engineering Professor Fabian Pease, used electron beam lithography to engrave the opening page of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities in such small print that it could be read only with an electron microscope.

That record held until 1990, when researchers at a certain computer company famously spelled out the letters IBM by arranging 35 individual xenon atoms.

Now, in a paper published online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the Stanford researchers describe how they have created letters 40 times smaller than the original prize-winning effort and more than four times smaller than the IBM initials. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3QQJEHuefQ)

Working in a vibration-proof basement lab in the Varian Physics Building, Manoharan and Moon began their writing project with a scanning tunneling microscope, a device that not only sees objects at a very small scale but also can be used to move around individual atoms. The Stanford team used it to drag single carbon monoxide molecules into a desired pattern on a copper chip the size of a fingernail.

On the two-dimensional surface of the copper, electrons zip around, behaving as both particles and waves, bouncing off the carbon monoxide molecules the way ripples in a shallow pond might interact with stones placed in the water.

The ever-moving waves interact with the molecules and with each other to form standing “interference patterns” that vary with the placement of the molecules.

By altering the arrangement of the molecules, the researchers can create different waveforms, effectively encoding information for later retrieval. To encode and read out the data at unprecedented density, the scientists have devised a new technology, Electronic Quantum Holography.

In a traditional hologram, laser light is shined on a two-dimensional image and a ghostly 3-D object appears. In the new holography, the two-dimensional “molecular holograms” are illuminated not by laser light but by the electrons that are already in the copper in great abundance. The resulting “electronic object” can be read with the scanning tunneling microscope.

Several images can be stored in the same hologram, each created at a different electron wavelength. The researchers read them separately, like stacked pages of a book. The experience, Moon said, is roughly analogous to an optical hologram that shows one object when illuminated with red light and a different object in green light.

For Manoharan, the true significance of the work lies in storing more information in less space. “How densely can you encode information on a computer chip? The assumption has been that basically the ultimate limit is when one atom represents one bit, and then there’s no more room—in other words, that it’s impossible to scale down below the level of atoms.

“But in this experiment we’ve stored some 35 bits per electron to encode each letter. And we write the letters so small that the bits that comprise them are subatomic in size. So one bit per atom is no longer the limit for information density. There’s a grand new horizon below that, in the subatomic regime. Indeed, there’s even more room at the bottom than we ever imagined.”

In addition to Moon and Manoharan, authors of the Nature Nanotechnologypaper, “Quantum Holographic Encoding in a Two-Dimensional Electron Gas,” are graduate students Laila Mattos, physics; Brian Foster, electrical engineering; and Gabriel Zeltzer, applied physics.

The research was supported by the Department of Energy through SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Science (SIMES), the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation and the Stanford-IBM Center for Probing the Nanoscale.





Video: The World’s Smallest Writing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3QQJEHuefQ

Stanford News Service story: Reading the fine print takes on a new meaning http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2009/january28/small-012809.html

MANOHARAN LAB http://mota.stanford.edu

RICHARD FEYNMAN’S 1959 NANOTECHNOLOGY TALK http://www.its.caltech.edu/~feynman/plenty.html

NATURENEWS STORY http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090124/full/news.2009.54.html

December 9, 2008

December media tips from Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Here’s the monthly group of story pitches from Oak Ridge.

The release:

December 2008 Story Tips

(Story Tips Archive)

Story ideas from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications and External Relations staff member identified at the end of each tip.

Climate—Spotlight on CO2 . . .

Data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory combined with computational power and tools provided by ORNL researchers will result in unprecedented levels of information about atmospheric carbon dioxide. The satellite, scheduled for launch in mid-January, will collect precise global measurements of CO2 and transmit that information to Earth. Using version 5 of the Goddard Earth Observing System model (GEOS-5), developed by a team that includes ORNL’s David Erickson, scientists will with great precision be able to see sources and sinks of atmospheric CO2. The combination of Jaguar’s massive computing power – 1.64 petaflops per second (peak) – and scientific interpretations aided by NASA satellite data should for the first time give scientists a clear picture of where carbon is being produced and where it ultimately ends up. Funding is provided by NASA and the Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research. 

Energy Efficiency—Heat to power . . .

Combined heat and power (CHP) technologies, which capture and reuse waste heat from electric or mechanical power, account for about 9 percent of annual U.S. power generation. Roughly doubling that capacity could cut projected U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent by 2030– the equivalent to taking 45 million cars off the road — an Oak Ridge National Laboratory study shows. Current CHP systems made up of gas turbines, fuel cells or engines combined with heat exchangers and chillers cut 1.8 billion Btu of fuel consumption and 266 million tons of CO2 emissions compared to traditional separate production of electricity and thermal energy. In addition to the 60 percent CO2 reduction, raising CHP generating capacity to 20 percent would create a million new jobs; $234 billion in new U.S. investments; and fuel savings equivalent to nearly half the total energy now consumed by U.S. households. The ORNL report on “Combined Heat and Power: Effective Energy Solutions for a Sustainable Future” is sponsored by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Industrial Technologies Program.


Isotopes—Banner year . . .

Californium-252 and actinium-225 generated half of the $5 million in sales for the Department of Energy’s National Isotope Data Center at ORNL in fiscal year 2008. That amount represents a $1 million increase from 2007. Californium-252 — used as a start-up source in nuclear reactors, in analyzers for the coal and concrete industries and in detectors for homeland security — produced $2 million in sales. Actinium-225, an isotope extracted as a product of the decay of thorium-229 and used in radiotherapy trials for various cancers, including ovarian, lung and myeloid leukemia, accounted for more than $500,000. The Californium-252 is produced at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor in conjunction with the lab’s Radiochemical Engineering Development Center. ORNL offers a wide range of capabilities in isotope production and irradiation tests for materials research. Beyond these contributions, HFIR, supported by the Office of Science, is a world leader in producing neutrons for materials studies.


Sensors—On the prowl . . .

Mathematics and sensors come together in some new ways to form a powerful tool for combating terrorism, piracy and the transport of drugs. In a project that combines resources at ORNL and Clemson University, researchers and students are using something called Level 3 sensor fusion to identify and predict the behavior of ships, tanks, people and more. “This means we not only know where they are, but we can make educated guesses about what they’re going to do and when,” said Chris Griffin of ORNL’s Computational Sciences & Engineering Division. The system, called LEPERD – Learning and Prediction for Enhanced Readiness and Decision Making – involves a lot of new math and uses techniques from pattern recognition, learning theory, statistical analysis and control theory. Funding is provided by the Office of Naval Research.

November 14, 2008

Oak Ridge National Laboratory media tips for November

The release:

Story tips — Oak Ridge National Laboratory November 2008

ENERGY — Powering the Big Apple . . .

High temperature superconductor (HTS) technology developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is being used in a $39 million project to boost and secure Manhattan’s power grid. Project HYDRA, partially funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, seeks to install and field test HTS cable in New York City’s electrical power grid by 2010. ORNL helps design and test the cable which will boost power delivery 30 percent; increase reliability and security; and limit fault currents caused by tree branches, lightning, and other interruptions that hamper the nation’s electric grid. Industrial partners include American Superconductor Corp., which has shipped more than 56,000 feet of wire for the project; Consolidated Edison Co., which operates Manhattan’s power delivery network; and cable manufacturer Ultera, a joint venture between Southwire Co. and nkt cables.

ENERGY — A DST bonus . . .

Extending Daylight Saving Time by four weeks last year reduced U.S. energy consumption by 17 trillion British thermal units, or the equivalent of enough energy to power 100,000 households for a year. That’s according to a report to Congress from the U.S. Department of Energy by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Researchers sought to quantify the savings resulting from the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which extended the duration of Daylight Saving Time. The extension went into effect in March 2007. The study found that electricity consumption in 2007 decreased by an average of 0.5 percent per day during the extra four weeks, which adds up to 1.3 billion kilowatt hours. Savings in northern regions were greater than in the south, which may be attributable to increased air-conditioning usage. The work is funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. See the report at: http://www.eere.energy.gov/ba/pba/pdfs/epact_sec_110_edst_report_to_congress_2008.pdf

CLIMATE — Mapping change . . .

Maps showing possible regional impacts of climate change in the Dominican Republic could play a role in setting policy there and beyond. The maps, generated by a group of researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will be used for climate change policy discussions and published in a future issue of Foreign Policy, a publication widely read by international policy makers. Projected increased temperatures are just one of the extreme regional stresses considered in the comprehensive ORNL study captured in a series of maps that focus on resource scarcity, extreme events and other impacts of climate and population change. The overall study was led by Auroop Ganguly while the maps for the Dominican Republic were primarily generated by Esther Parish with help from Karsten Steinhaeuser, all of the Geographical Information Science and Technology Group. The research was funded by a grant to ORNL from the Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment at the University of Tennessee. Foreign Policy magazine is a non-partisan publication recently acquired by the Washington Post Co. from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

SENSORS — Right on target . . .

Keeping track of weapons at nuclear facilities and other installations could get a lot easier with a technology developed by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Visible Assets of New Hampshire. The technology, which uses low-frequency magnetic waves to transmit signals from tags installed in a pistol’s grips, solves a huge problem caused by human error during the inventory process. Future system enhancements will make it possible to count the number of shots fired, eliminating any guesswork about when a weapon needs to be serviced or replaced. A team led by Chris Pickett of ORNL’s Global Nuclear Security Technology Division developed the system software and completed the system integration. The team also conducted operational tests and is working with DOE armorers to complete rigorous tests to evaluate the sensor’s performance, durability and security. Those tests will soon be complete, which will clear the path for Department of Energy facilities to purchase the equipment from Sig Sauer, which licensed the technology. Funding was provided by DOE’s Office of Health, Safety and Security.

September 13, 2008

Story ideas from the DoE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Look for media on these stories in the coming weeks and months.

The press release:

September 2008 Story Tips

(Story Tips Archive)

Story ideas from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications and External Relations staff member identified at the end of each tip.

For more information on ORNL and its research and development activities, please refer to one of our Media Contacts. If you have a general media-related question or comment, you can send it to news@ornl.gov.


Transportation—New data available . . .

The Department of Energy has just released the 27th edition of the Transportation Energy Data Book. The book, available at http://cta.ornl.gov/data/index.shtml, is produced by Stacy Davis of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Center for Transportation Analysis. New data in this year’s edition include: transportation petroleum use by mode; ethanol consumption; number of vehicles per 1000 people in different regions of the world for 1996-2006 (China grew from 9.3 to 26.6); mpg for trucks as a function of speed; characteristics of daily driving; percent of housing units with a garage or carport; and more. The data book, created under the Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, draws together transportation data from diverse sources under a single, comprehensive document. It is a valuable tool for informing policymakers and analysts about activity in the transportation sector. Also available is http://www.fueleconomy.gov, maintained jointly by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which offers tips to help you reduce the amount of gas you use. [Contact: Mike Bradley; 865.576.9553; bradleymk@ornl.gov]


Energy—Microturbine magic . . .

Specialized skills and instruments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are helping the world’s leading manufacturer of microturbines make products expected to set new standards for performance and reliability. Capstone Turbine Corp. of California credits ORNL and the High Temperature Materials Laboratory for playing a key role in developing the C200 microturbine with a generating capacity of 200 kilowatts. The unit boasts 33 percent efficiency and meets stringent California emissions requirements. While most of the microturbines sold by Capstone are used in land-based distributed generation applications, the company recently received a significant order for microturbines to be used in hybrid buses with double the fuel economy of a traditional diesel bus. This research has been funded by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Microturbines Program. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; wallira@ornl.gov]


Geology—Compelling evidence . . .

Fragments of tektites, natural glass objects, discovered by a team of geologists and geochemists help support a theory that a meteorite may be responsible for the sudden climate change that devastated large mammals in North America 11,000 years ago. While critics of such an extraterrestrial event have in the past noted the lack of evidence, the micro-tektites from the Clovis-age Murray Springs in Arizona could cause them to rethink their position. “These micro-tektites contain iron oxide spherules in a glassy iron-silica or silica matrix, which is one indicator of a possible meteorite impact,” said lead author Mostafa Fayek of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. “The spherules also contain elevated concentrations of vanadium and sulfur, and small amounts of titanium.” Colleague Larry Anovitz of the University of Tennessee noted that the chemistry of the spherules and matrix is consistent with that of tektites associated with other meteorite impact sites such as those found in Romania. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; wallira@ornl.gov]


Physics—Quadrupole DNA sequencing . . .

Research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is exploring how a system of nanotubes, magnets and electrically charged particles could lead to a quicker, cheaper way to conduct DNA sequencing. The project headed by Predrag S. Krstic of ORNL’s Physics Division will use a nanoscale quadrupole Paul trap, a component of a mass spectrometer that captures ions in an electromagnetic field, to develop a high speed DNA sequencing device. Using the Paul trap to manipulate DNA between nanotube electrodes could result in a lower cost alternative to nanopore sequencing, which works by moving strands of DNA through a small hole in a membrane. Most of the work is being conducted in collaboration with the Mark A. Reed Research Group of Yale University. The research is funded by $722,000 from the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. The program seeks to cut the cost of whole-genome sequencing from millions of dollars to $1,000 or less, making individual genome sequencing cost-feasible for routine medical care. [Contact: Mike Bradley; 865.576.9553; bradleymk@ornl.gov]


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