David Kirkpatrick

August 26, 2010

Cool nanotech image — microneedles

Cool to look, even more cool when put into practice. Microneedles can deliver quantum dots into skin and should lead to new diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions such as skin cancer.

And now, the image:

Hollow microneedles open the door to new techniques for diagnosing and treating a variety of medical conditions, including skin cancer. Image reproduced by permission of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

For more on microneedles, here’s the full release.

June 3, 2010

Next generation Mars rover — a tumbleweed?

Maybe so, and here’s one wind-powered vehicle concept.

The release:

On A Roll: Designing The Next Rover To Explore Mars

The concept of a wind-powered vehicle that can be used to explore the surface of Mars – a so-called “tumbleweed rover” that would roll over the surface of Mars like a tumbleweed – has been around for more than 10 years, but so far there has been no consensus on exactly what that vehicle should look like. Now researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a computer model that allows engineers to test the attributes of different vehicle designs. This will allow researchers to select the best design characteristics before spending the time and money necessary to create prototypes for testing in real-world conditions.

“We wanted a way to determine how different tumbleweed rover designs would behave under the various conditions that may be faced on the Martian surface,” says Dr. Andre Mazzoleni, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. “The model that we’ve developed is important, because it will help NASA [the National Aeronautics and Space Administration] make informed decisions about the final design characteristics of any tumbleweed rovers it ultimately sends to Mars.”

The computer model developed at NC State determines how tumbleweed rover designs will function, based on their various design characteristics. For example, the model can show how a rover’s diameter, elasticity and overall mass will affect its ability to navigate the Martian surface successfully.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Langley Research Center are both pursuing the idea of sending tumbleweed rovers to Mars – but researchers are still exploring various options for exactly how the rovers should be designed. “We’re optimistic that our model can serve as a mission design tool that NASA can use to choose appropriate design parameters,” Mazzoleni says.

“You can’t just build hundreds of different rover designs to see what works – it’s too expensive,” says Alexandre Hartl, a Ph.D. student at NC State who co-authored the paper. “This model allows us to determine which designs may be most viable. Then we can move forward to build and test the most promising candidates.”

And the model doesn’t just test different rover designs in a stable environment. The model is flexible enough to allow researchers to look at how various designs would perform under different wind conditions and in different terrains – from Martian rock fields to craters and canyons. This is important, because the surface of Mars is marked by significant changes in landscape.

The research, “Dynamic Modeling of a Wind-Driven Tumbleweed Rover Including Atmospheric Effects,” was funded by NASA and the North Carolina Space Grant Consortium. The paper was published online June 1 by the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets.

NC State’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering is part of the university’s College of Engineering.

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“We wanted a way to determine how different tumbleweed rover designs would behave under the various conditions that may be faced on the Martian surface,” says Dr. Andre Mazzoleni.

“We wanted a way to determine how different tumbleweed rover designs would behave under the various conditions that may be faced on the Martian surface,” says Dr. Andre Mazzoleni.

May 5, 2010

Providing disadvantages along with advantages helps nanotech acceptance

One of my more popular all time posts is “Nanotechnology does have drawbacks” from September 2008 so that tells me people regularly search for the negative side of nanotech. The topic is something that heads toward higher level science and the term gets tossed around a lot — and a lot of the time incorrectly as far as that goes — so people are naturally curious about exactly what is nanotechnology and how is it good and bad.

This survey, not surprisingly, found that providing information about the risks of nanotech increases public support among those who have heard of the field. Of course it also found support decreased among those who’d never heard the term once they were frightened by the potential drawbacks. I’m guessing scientific fact that sounds like scientific fiction can be pretty scary to someone who’s not familiar with what it can, and might, do both positive and negative.

From the second link, the release:

Survey: Hiding Risks Can Hurt Public Support For Nanotechnology

Release Date: 05.04.2010

A new national survey on public attitudes toward medical applications and physical enhancements that rely on nanotechnology shows that support for the technology increases when the public is informed of the technology’s risks as well as its benefits – at least among those people who have heard of nanotechnology. The survey, which was conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University and Arizona State University (ASU), also found that discussing risks decreased support among those people who had never previously heard of nanotechnology – but not by much.

“The survey suggests that researchers, industries and policymakers should not be afraid to display the risks as well as the benefits of nanotechnology,” says Dr. Michael Cobb, an associate professor of political science at NC State who conducted the survey. “We found that when people know something about nanotechnologies for human enhancement, they are more supportive of it when they are presented with balanced information about its risks and benefits.”

The survey was conducted by Cobb in collaboration with Drs. Clark Miller and Sean Hays of ASU, and was funded by the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU.

However, talking about risks did not boost support among all segments of the population. Those who had never heard of nanotechnology prior to the survey were slightly less supportive when told of its potential risks.

In addition to asking participants how much they supported the use of nanotechnology for human enhancements, they were also asked how beneficial and risky they thought these technologies would be, whether they were worried about not getting access to them, and who should pay for them – health insurance companies or individuals paying out-of-pocket. The potential enhancements addressed in the survey run the gamut from advanced cancer treatments to bionic limbs designed to impart greater physical strength.

One segment of participants was shown an image of an unrealistic illustration meant to represent a nanoscale medical device. A second segment was shown the image and given a “therapeutic” framing statement that described the technology as being able to restore an ill person to full health. A third segment was given the image, along with an “enhancement” framing statement that described the technology as being able to make humans faster, stronger and smarter. Two additional segments were given the image, the framing statements and information about potential health risks. And a final segment of participants was not given the image, a framing statement or risk information.

The survey found that describing the technology as therapeutic resulted in much greater public support for the technology, as well as a greater perception of its potential benefits. The therapeutic frame also resulted in increased support for health insurance coverage of nanotech treatments once they become available, and increased concerns that people wouldn’t be able to afford such treatments without insurance coverage.

“These findings suggest that researchers, policymakers and industries would be well advised to focus their research efforts on developing therapeutic technologies, rather than enhancements, because that is the area with the greatest public support,” Cobb says.

The use of the nanotech image did not have a significant overall impact on participants’ support, but did alarm people who were not previously familiar with nanotechnology – making them less likely to support it.

The survey was conducted by Knowledge Networks between April 2-13. The survey included 849 participants, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.

NC State’s Department of Political Science is part of the university’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

This illustration was used to represent a nanoscale medical device in the national survey on public attitudes towards the use of nanotechnology for human enhancement.This illustration was used to represent a nanoscale medical device in the national survey on public attitudes towards the use of nanotechnology for human enhancement.

May 2, 2010

A library on a chip …

through nanotech.

The release:

Nanodots Breakthrough May Lead To ‘A Library On One Chip’

A researcher at North Carolina State University has developed a computer chip that can store an unprecedented amount of data – enough to hold an entire library’s worth of information on a single chip. The new chip stems from a breakthrough in the use of nanodots, or nanoscale magnets, and represents a significant advance in computer-memory technology.

“We have created magnetic nanodots that store one bit of information on each nanodot, allowing us to store over one billion pages of information in a chip that is one square inch,” says Dr. Jay Narayan, the John C. Fan Distinguished Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at NC State and author of the research.

The breakthrough is that these nanodots are made of single, defect-free crystals, creating magnetic sensors that are integrated directly into a silicon electronic chip. These nanodots, which can be made uniformly as small as six nanometers in diameter, are all precisely oriented in the same way – allowing programmers to reliably read and write data to the chips.

The chips themselves can be manufactured cost-effectively, but the next step is to develop magnetic packaging that will enable users to take advantage of the chips – using something, such as laser technology, that can effectively interact with the nanodots.

The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, was presented as an invited talk April 7 at the 2011 Materials Research Society Spring Meeting in San Francisco.

NC State’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering is part of the university’s College of Engineering.

December 1, 2009

Antenna evolution

These aren’t your grandad’s — or dad’s for that matter — antennae.

The release:

The antenna consists of liquid metal injected into elastomeric microchannels. The antennas can be deformed (twisted and bent) since the mechanical properties are dictated by the elastomer and not the metal.The antenna consists of liquid metal injected into elastomeric microchannels. The antennas can be deformed (twisted and bent) since the mechanical properties are dictated by the elastomer and not the metal.

Antennas aren’t just for listening to the radio anymore. They’re used in everything from cell phones to GPS devices. Research from North Carolina State University is revolutionizing the field of antenna design – creating shape-shifting antennas that open the door to a host of new uses in fields ranging from public safety to military deployment.

Modern antennas are made from copper or other metals, but there are limitations to how far they can be bent – and how often – before they break completely. NC State scientists have created antennas using an alloy that “can be bent, stretched, cut and twisted – and will return to its original shape,” says Dr. Michael Dickey, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and co-author of the research.

The researchers make the new antennas by injecting an alloy made up of the metals gallium and indium, which remains in liquid form at room temperature, into very small channels the width of a human hair. The channels are hollow, like a straw, with openings at either end – but can be any shape. Once the alloy has filled the channel, the surface of the alloy oxidizes, creating a “skin” that holds the alloy in place while allowing it to retain its liquid properties.

“Because the alloy remains a liquid,” Dickey says, “it takes on the mechanical properties of the material encasing it.” For example, the researchers injected the alloy into elastic silicone channels, creating wirelike antennas that are incredibly resilient and that can be manipulated into a variety of shapes. “This flexibility is particularly attractive for antennas because the frequency of an antenna is determined by its shape,” says Dickey. “So you can tune these antennas by stretching them.”

While the alloy makes an effective antenna that could be used in a variety of existing electronic devices, its durability and flexibility also open the door to a host of new applications. For example, an antenna in a flexible silicone shell could be used to monitor civil construction, such as bridges. As the bridge expands and contracts, it would stretch the antenna – changing the frequency of the antenna, and providing civil engineers information wirelessly about the condition of the bridge.

Flexibility and durability are also ideal characteristics for military equipment, since the antenna could be folded or rolled up into a small package for deployment and then unfolded again without any impact on its function. Dickey thinks these new applications are the most likely uses for the new antennas, since the alloy is more expensive than the copper typically used in most consumer electronics that contain antennas.

Dickey’s lab is performing further research under a National Science Foundation grant to better understand the alloy’s properties and means of utilizing it to create useful devices.

The research is co-authored by Dickey, NC State doctoral students Ju-Hee So, Amit Qusba and Gerard Hayes, NC State undergraduate student Jacob Thelen, and University of Utah professor Dr. Gianluca Lazzi, who participated in the research while a professor at NC State. The research, “Reversibly Deformable and Mechanically Tunable Fluidic Antennas,” is published in Advanced Functional Materials.

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“Reversibly Deformable and Mechanically Tunable Fluidic Antennas”

Authors: Ju-Hee So, Jacob Thelen, Amit Qusba, Gerard J. Hayes and Michael D. Dickey, North Carolina State University; Gianluca Lazzi, University of Utah

Published: November 2009, Advanced Functional Materials

Abstract: This paper describes the fabrication and characterization of fluidic dipole antennas that are reconfigurable, reversibly deformable, and mechanically tunable. The antennas consist of a fluid metal alloy injected into microfluidic channels comprising a silicone elastomer. By employing soft lithographic, rapid prototyping methods, the fluidic antennas are easier to fabricate than conventional copper antennas. The fluidic dipole radiates with ~90% efficiency over a broad frequency range (1910–1990 MHz), which is equivalent to the expected efficiency for a similar dipole with solid metallic elements such as copper. The metal, eutectic gallium indium (EGaIn), is a low-viscosity liquid at room temperature and possesses a thin oxide skin that provides mechanical stability to the fluid within the elastomeric channels. Because the conductive element of the antenna is a fluid, the mechanical properties and shape of the antenna are defined by the elastomeric channels, which are composed of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). The antennas can withstand mechanical deformation (stretching, bending, rolling, and twisting) and return to their original state after removal of an applied stress. The ability of the fluid metal to flow during deformation of the PDMS ensures electrical continuity. The shape and thus, the function of the antenna, is reconfigurable. The resonant frequency can be tuned mechanically by elongating the antenna via stretching without any hysteresis during strain relaxation, and the measured resonant frequency as a function of strain shows excellent agreement (+/- 0.1–0.3% error) with that predicted by theoretical finite element modeling. The antennas are therefore sensors of strain. The fluid metal also facilitates self-healing in response to sharp cuts through the antenna.

November 12, 2009

Silicon nanowires

Carbon gets most of the nanotech ink, but here’s some news on silicon nanowires.

The release:

Understanding mechanical properties of silicon nanowires paves way for nanodevices

IMAGE: These are silicon nanowires used in the in-situ scanning electron microscopy mechanical testing by Dr. Yong Zhu and his team.

Click here for more information.

 

Silicon nanowires are attracting significant attention from the electronics industry due to the drive for ever-smaller electronic devices, from cell phones to computers. The operation of these future devices, and a wide array of additional applications, will depend on the mechanical properties of these nanowires. New research from North Carolina State University shows that silicon nanowires are far more resilient than their larger counterparts, a finding that could pave the way for smaller, sturdier nanoelectronics, nanosensors, light-emitting diodes and other applications.

It is no surprise that the mechanical properties of silicon nanowires are different from “bulk” – or regular size – silicon materials, because as the diameter of the wires decrease, there is an increasing surface-to-volume ratio. Unfortunately, experimental results reported in the literature on the properties of silicon nanowires have reported conflicting results. So the NC State researchers set out to quantify the elastic and fracture properties of the material.

“The mainstream semiconductor industry is built on silicon,” says Dr. Yong Zhu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at NC State and lead researcher on this project. “These wires are the building blocks for future nanoelectronics.” For this study, researchers set out to determine how much abuse these silicon nanowires can take. How do they deform – meaning how much can you stretch or warp the material before it breaks? And how much force can they withstand before they fracture or crack? The researchers focused on nanowires made using the vapor-liquid-solid synthesis process, which is a common way of producing silicon nanowires.

IMAGE: Dr. Yong Zhu and his research team stand front of a scanning electron microscope. From left to right, they are Feng Xu, Qingquan Qin and Yong Zhu.

Click here for more information.

 

Zhu and his team measured the nanowire properties using in-situ tensile testing inside scanning electron microscopy. A nanomanipulator was used as the actuator and a micro cantilever used as the load sensor. “Our experimental method is direct but simple,” says Qingquan Qin, a Ph.D. student at NC State and co-author of the paper. “This method offers real-time observation of nanowire deformation and fracture, while simultaneously providing quantitative stress and strain data. The method is very efficient, so a large number of specimens can be tested within a reasonable period of time.”

As it turns out, silicon nanowires deform in a very different way from bulk silicon. “Bulk silicon is very brittle and has limited deformability, meaning that it cannot be stretched or warped very much without breaking.” says Feng Xu, a Ph.D. student at NC state and co-author of the paper, “But the silicon nanowires are more resilient, and can sustain much larger deformation. Other properties of silicon nanowires include increasing fracture strength and decreasing elastic modulus as the nanowire gets smaller and smaller.”

The fact that silicon nanowires have more deformability and strength is a big deal. “These properties are essential to the design and reliability of novel silicon nanodevices,” Zhu says. “The insights gained from this study not only advance fundamental understanding about size effects on mechanical properties of nanostructures, but also give designers more options in designing nanodevices ranging from nanosensors to nanoelectronics to nanostructured solar cells.”

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The study, “Mechanical Properties of Vapor-Liquid-Solid Synthesized Silicon Nanowires,” was co-authored by Zhu, Xu, Qin, University of Michigan (UM) researcher Wei Lu and UM Ph.D. student Wayne Fung. The study is published in the Nov. 11 issue o fNano Letters, and was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and NC State.

June 2, 2009

Capital not key to ventures

Interesting business research on start-up capital and business success.

The release:

Study: Lack of capital not a ‘death sentence’ for start-ups

A new study from North Carolina State University is turning the conventional wisdom about technology start-up companies on its head, showing that ventures with moderate levels of undercapitalization can still be successful and that a great management team is not more important than a top-notch technology product when it comes to securing sufficient amounts of capital.

“Our research shows that undercapitalization is not a death sentence for start-up ventures,” says Dr. David Townsend, an assistant professor of management, innovation and entrepreneurship at NC State who co-authored the study. “There are things a venture can do to survive and succeed.” Basically, Townsend says, start-ups that fall short of their fund-raising goals can take steps to minimize their cash outflows in order to stay viable.

Undercapitalized ventures “need to engage in management strategies focused on reducing their costs. For example, outsourcing certain development tasks and accounting responsibilities or exchanging services with other companies – saying we’ll build your Web site in exchange for a year’s worth of accounting services, etc.,” Townsend says.

The study also found that there is little evidence to support the long-standing tenet that a great management team is the most important part of a venture company when it comes to securing investment in a start-up. The study shows that a venture with an “A,” or top notch, management team and an A technology is likely to meet its capitalization goal. But the researchers were surprised to find that the combination of a “B,” or less than ideal, management team with a B technology was also quite successful in meeting capitalization goals. Ventures that had an A management team but a B technology, or vice versa, were usually underfunded.

Townsend explains that B management teams with B technologies are probably more successful at meeting their capitalization goals because they are aware of their shortcomings, and modify their capitalization targets accordingly. For example, these B teams may minimize management salaries or restrict their marketing budgets.

Similarly, Townsend says the evidence implies that A management teams with B technologies, or vice versa, often fall short of their capitalization targets because they have not modified their fund-raising goals – and as a result investors don’t buy in at a sufficient level to fully fund the venture’s intended strategies.

 

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The study, “Resource Complementarities, Trade-Offs, and Undercapitalization in Technology-Based Ventures: An Empirical Analysis,” was co-authored by Townsend and Dr. Lowell W. Busenitz of the University of Oklahoma. The study will be presented June 5 at the Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference in Boston and at the Brown International Advanced Research Institutes in Providence, R.I., on June 18.

The research was supported by North Carolina State University, The University of Oklahoma, and i2E – a non-profit corporation focused on wealth creation by growing the technology-based entrepreneurial economy in Oklahoma.

March 18, 2009

Printing “stitches”

Very interesting medical breakthrough to improve sealing wounds.

The release:

Shellfish and inkjet printers may hold key to faster healing from surgeries

Using the natural glue that marine mussels use to stick to rocks, and a variation on the inkjet printer, a team of researchers led by North Carolina State University has devised a new way of making medical adhesives that could replace traditional sutures and result in less scarring, faster recovery times and increased precision for exacting operations such as eye surgery.

Traditionally, there have been two ways to join tissue together in the wake of a surgery: sutures and synthetic adhesives. Sutures work well, but require enormous skill and longer operating times. Additionally, the use of sutures is associated with a number of surgical complications, including discomfort, infection and inflammation. Synthetic adhesives are also widely used, but they are the source of increasing concerns over their toxicological and environmental effects. One such concern with some synthetic medical adhesives is that – because they are not biodegradable – they do not break down in the body and therefore may cause inflammation, tissue damage, or other problems.

But new research shows that adhesive proteins found in the “glue” produced by marine mussels may be used in place of the synthetic adhesives without these concerns, because they are non-toxic and biodegradable, according to study co-author Dr. Roger Narayan. In addition, the mussel proteins can be placed in solution and applied using inkjet technology to create customized medical adhesives, which may have a host of applications. For example, Narayan says this technique may “significantly improve wound repair in eye surgery, wound closure and fracture fixation.” Narayan is an associate professor in the joint biomedical engineering department of NC State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“This is an improved way of joining tissues,” Narayan says, “because the use of the inkjet technology gives you greater control over the placement of the adhesive. This helps ensure that the tissues are joined together in just the right spot, forming a better bond that leads to improved healing and less scarring.” This increased control would be a boon for surgery that relies on extreme precision, such as eye repair, Narayan explains.

 

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The study was performed in collaboration with Professor Jon Wilker in the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University. The Journal of Biomedical Materials Research B will publish the study, “Inkjet printing of adhesives,” in April. The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Office of Naval Research funded the research.

July 17, 2008

More education=more nanotech concerns

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:50 am

Pansies.

Here’s the linked press release:

News Release

Study Shows Increased Education on Nanotech, Human Enhancement Increases Public Concerns

Media Contact(s)

Dr. Michael Cobb, (919) 513-3709

Matt Shipman, News Services, (919) 515-3470

July 16, 2008

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Educating the public about nanotechnology and other complex but emerging technologies causes people to become more “worried and cautious” about the new technologies’ prospective benefits, according to a recent study by researchers at North Carolina State University.

A new study by researchers at North Carolina State University on public attitudes towards nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies shows that educating people about the new technologies results in those people becoming more concerned about the potential impact of the technologies.

The researchers, Dr. Michael D. Cobb, assistant professor of political science, and Dr. Patrick Hamlett, associate professor of science, technology and society and political science, gave questionnaires to study participants around the country to determine their position on emerging technologies with “human enhancement” applications – such as using nanotechnology to improve therapies for injuries and degenerative diseases. Nanotechnology is generally defined as technology that uses substances having a size of 100 nanometers or less (thousands of times thinner than a human hair), and is expected to have widespread uses in medicine, consumer products and industrial processes.

Cobb and Hamlett then put the participants through a deliberative forum in March 2008 that provided structured discussions and educational background on the technologies. The participants were then asked to fill out the same questionnaire they had been given before the deliberative forum and asked to provide policy recommendations on how to handle the emerging science.

In a recent presentation to the 10th Conference on Public Communication of Science, in Malmo, Sweden, Cobb noted that, compared to their pre-deliberation opinions, panelists “became more worried and cautious about the prospective benefits” of the human enhancement technologies. Prior to the deliberation, 82 percent of the participants were at least somewhat certain that the benefits of the technologies outweighed the risks – but that number dropped to 66 percent after the deliberation.

Cobb and Hamlett conducted the study, called the 2008 National Citizens’ Forum on Human Enhancement, under a subcontract from the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University. The study was conducted at sites in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

Cobb says the study is also important because it shows that deliberative forums are a viable tool for encouraging informed public engagement in the development of governmental policies. This is significant because there have been questions in the past about whether “ordinary citizens” are able to engage in useful deliberation – or whether collective opinions developed during group deliberation are worse than if the deliberation had never taken place.

The driver for the study was to develop a format for informed interaction about the trajectories of science and technology policies as those policies are being developed, Cobb says, so that the public’s concerns are incorporated into the policy development process.

– shipman –

Note to editors: The presentation abstract follows.

“The First National Citizens’ Technology Forum on Converging Technologies and Human Enhancement: Adapting the Danish Consensus Conference in the USA”

Authors: Dr. Michael D. Cobb and Dr. Patrick Hamlett, North Carolina State University

Presented: June 27, 2008, at the 10th Conference on Public Communication of Science and Technology, Malmo, Sweden

Abstract: Many people believe that informed citizen input should influence public policies about modern science and technology, but several prominent academics warn against relying on citizen deliberations to promote public engagement in policy-making. These scholars contend that citizens do not enjoy the process of deliberating and individual and collective opinions developed during group deliberation are often worse than if deliberation had never taken place. Following the Danish practice known as “Consensus Conferences,” we tested this skeptical perspective about citizen capacities by holding Citizen Technology Forums (CTF) in six cities in the United States throughout March 2008. Volunteer participants became informed about human enhancement technologies and they generated written reports about their concerns and recommendations regarding the development trajectory of these technologies. We find that participants dramatically increased their factual understanding about human enhancement technologies and they reported feeling more internally efficacious and trusting of others after deliberating; however, they also became more wary of the potential risks and benefits of these technologies and more concerned about potential inequities in the distribution of these benefits.


NC State University News Services (919) 515-3470 or newstips@ncsu.edu