Alkaline Batteries… Now Rechargeable

Various brands, and styles of AA (double-A) batteries including Panasonic, Kodak, Sony, Toshiba, Polaroid, Energizer, and Duracell. By Vireak sc (Own work) on Wikimedia Commons.

A, AA (double-A), AAA (triple-A), C (R14), and D (D-cell or R20) – all common types of alkaline batteries – batteries that commonly have a zinc electrode and potassium hydroxide (caustic base) electrolyte. The vast majority are not rechargeable. When you do see a rechargeable battery of the types listed they are not likely to be alkaline but instead are likely either the older nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) or the newer lithium-icon (Li-ion). Alkalines are typically not rechargeable… until now.
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BSOD from SPACE

Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)

Pretty much everyone knows what the blue screen of death is. That dreaded complete system failure that happens every so often. Sometimes for no reason at all. It can happen on any device – PC, Mac, Android, iOS/iPhone… most of the time the device just reboots.

Any number of issues can cause them – software bug, hardware driver issue, poorly manufactured hardware, an operating system (OS) error, malware (like viruses, adware, etc.). However, those times when it just seems to happen out of the blue (pun intended) might be because of space. Yes, that big blue-in-the day, black-in-the-night thing above you.

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Everything is Duplexing

Fiber optic wires spread apart and sending out light.

When you talk to someone on the phone typically someone makes a statement or asks a question then the other party responds. We take turns. You talk then I talk, then you talk then I talk – back and forth. That is also how many internet services and wireless communications work as well — they either take turns sending then receiving data (time division duplex or TDD) or will use separate frequencies for transmitting and receiving (frequency division duplex or FDD).

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Inkless Paper Developed

Purple glow within a shade containing an ultraviolet (UV) light bulb.

Phys.org reports on a breakthrough in printing: paper that uses ultraviolet light to print on coated paper. The paper can be heated to 250°F to erase what was printed and re-written to it up to 80 times (re-writable paper).  The researchers believe that this paper, which uses ultraviolet light to speed up chemical reactions between titanium dioxide and Prussian Blue [Bob Ross, anyone?] pigment, can be produced cheaply on a commercial scale. Given that all the required materials – paper, titanium dioxide (already heavily used in beauty products/makeup, sunscreen, and as pigments for medicines, toothpaste, lipstick, creams, etc.), Prussian Blue pigment/dye, and ultraviolet bulbs – are all inexpensive means the materials are likely to be affordable. However, there are a few drawbacks:

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Fiber Picks Up Speed

Fiber optic wires spread apart and sending out light.

Our demand for data continues to grow and so to does the amount of data fiber optic networks can transmit. Phys.org reports on research completed by NTT Access Network Service Systems Laboratories in Japan where they were able to fit 12 individual cores inside a standard diameter for fiber optics. Since the amount of data we can pack into current single-core networks is approaching maximum – meaning more fiber optic lines need to be laid to transmit the same amount of information – research into optical wires that contain multiple single cores is picking up. While this is not yet ready to be deployed out in the field it does bring such upgrades a step closer by producing a wire which experiences less distortion than similar multi-core wires. They are now looking to continue scaling up as well as find solutions to make multi-core fibers require less complex signal processing.

https://phys.org/news/2017-01-highest-core-density-core-single-mode.html

Intel Pushes Moore’s Law Along: 10 nm

intel logo: a light blue print of intel with a oval starting from the bottom of the "l" of the name on the right and wrapping back around to the bottom of the "l"

Moore’s Law (which states the number of transistors per square inch doubles roughly every twelve {12} to eighteen {18} months) has had repeated claims that it would end as the limits of silicon are hit and the size approaches that where quantum effects take over, yet it keeps proving the naysayers wrong. IEEE Spectrum reports that central processing unit (CPU) manufacturer Intel is pushing Moore’s law further as it plans to push out computer and mobile processors with transistors that are just ten {10} nanometers (nm) wide. However, these transistors are going to be a bit different than your average transistor…

Intel plans on, for the first time in quite a long time, decrease the size of the gate (the piece of a transistor that switches it “on” or “off”) and the gate pitch – the size of the material that exists between one gate and another. They are also planning on making two {2} improvements on their transistor design within it’s lifetime. Intel claims this change will create a processor that, while still more expensive than the last generation, will still be cheaper per-transistor than it’s previous product offerings. Though, as with the modern generations of processors, don’t expect much difference in clock speed. What about the other producers?

Intel is also planning on allowing other processor manufacturers to use their manufacturing facilities to produce their own chips. This is less likely to be an invitation to competitors and more an invitation for manufacturers of specialized processor and chipset manufacturers. Global Foundries, the manufacturer that spun off from AMD years ago, is planning on skipping ten {10} nm altogether and jumping right to seven {7} nm in 2018.

Moore’s Law is expected to end once transistors reach 5nm. Below that size the effects of quantum physics start taking over and electrons begin “tunneling” – a quantum effect where an electron suddenly tunnels through insulating material and pops out on the other side. Essentially an electron in one transistor could suddenly end up in the one next to it – a one {1} becomes a zero {0} and a zero {0} becomes a one {1} – yikes! It is yet to be seen if something – a solution or perhaps a new material – appears to continue Moore’s Law in the future.

Mass Manufacturing Graphene: New Method

Hexagonal grid representation of crystalline graphene (single-molecule layer graphite).

Graphene has been expected to be the next big idea in electronics, medical, and many other fields for quite some time. The properties of graphene outpace that of traditional materials used today. However, mass-manufacturing the single-molecule-layers of graphite (yes, “pencil lead”) has proven difficult, complex, and costly. But new methods are being worked on…

Reported by Next Big Future, a new method of manufacturing graphene has been created by researchers at the University of Exeter. Roll-to-roll manufacturing, a manufacturing process that is still being developed for using with semiconductors, a variety of electronic devices can be printed on top of various ribbons or films of material then transferred onto reactive materials or bases. The researchers were used the experimental manufacturing technique to create a transparent graphene-oxide humidity sensor an expect that everything from biomedical sensors to touch-screens could be printed using the technique.

The University of Exeter is one of the world’s leading authorities on graphene, and this new research is just the latest step in our vision to help create a graphene-driven industrial revolution. High-quality, low cost graphene devices are an integral part of making this a reality, and our latest work is a truly significant advance that could unlock graphene’s true potential.Professor Monica Craciun, Associate Professor in Nanoscience

Canon Global Advancement: Read the Side of an Airplane!

Canon's corporate logo consisting of red lettering with sharp serifs.

Canon, a leader in technology for digital cameras has made an amazing breakthrough in complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology. Phys.org reports that Canon has developed a CMOS with the highest pixel density ever for a 35 mm full-frame sensor and simultaneously overcome the major hurdles to getting there. At 250 megapixels, or roughly 250 million pixels, it is one beast of a sensor!

A CMOS sensor that appears with a gradient of blue to green to orange from top left to bottom right surrounded by the circuit it is situated on and the thin metal pins the protrude from all four sides.
The Canon-developed approximately
250-megapixel CMOS sensor via Canon Global

The features of this new visual sensor are nothing short of revolutionary. Canon shows it’s new sensor as being able to perform massive digital zoom without pixelation. At 1,920 x 1,080 pixels the sensor is capable of nearly 125x digital zoom and at 3,840 x 2,160 (4K) it is still capable of roughly 30x digital zoom without loosing resolution! They claim that at such high resolution, the digital zoom is able to capture a readable photo of the lettering on the side of an airplane that is over 11 miles (18 kilometers) up! A typical commercial airliner travels at between 30,000 and 40,000 feet or between 5.5 and 7.5 miles high.

Canon also had to overcome some age-old issues with increasing pixel count. As CMOS sensor pixel count increases, so too must the amount of data sent from the sensor into the camera’s memory. Unfortunately this increase in needed bandwidth isn’t always available and you end up with delays before all the information can be stored. If the signal can’t be read all at once you can also get discrepancies where parts of the images are read at slightly different times. This means if a boat is passing through the frame at high speed it could be cut in half or show up in two places within the same image. However these were not issues with the new sensor as circuit miniaturization and an increased speed of signal processing is able to handle the larger bandwidth throughput. In fact, the new technology, even at the highest resolution the sensor is capable of (19,580 x 12,600 pixels), was still able to capture video at 5 frames per second (fps)!

Canon is currently looking at developing this sensor for surveillance equipment, possible medical applications, and manufacturing. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this and how the advances affect camera technology all the way down to cell phones over time.

Towards Affordable Transparent Aluminum

Screen capture of the molecular diagram of transparent aluminum on an old Apple computer screen from the movie Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home
[dc]C[/dc]ontrary to popular belief, transparent aluminum is real… It’s just prohibitively expensive (or at least it was). It is known in the scientific world as magnesium aluminate or spinel. It is a mineral ceramic that is capable of allowing the visible and infrared spectrum to pass through (which is why it is often used in military applications). It is significantly stronger and harder than glass.

The U.S. Navel Research Laboratory (NRL) has discovered a cheaper method of producing the material that also requires less energy. The new method discovered uses a low-temperature hot-press that limits the size of the spinel only to the size of the press used to form it. The laboratory team, lead by Dr. Jas Sanghera, has agreed to hand over the method to the commercial industry to allow businesses to fully utilize the promising material. Because of it’s previously high cost it was primarily used in military and police armor.

Application

What can this material be used for now? A wide range of things. Lets start with cell phones. A phone screen made of transparent aluminum would be very difficult to scratch and would not shatter if you dropped the phone onto concrete. Since this material is easily bullet-resistant it could also be used to lower the cost and weight of armor for vehicles. Bullet-resistant glass for vehicles used to protect high-profile individuals such as celebrities, business persons, and politicians could be reduced in thickness while still providing the same ballistics protection. Current bullet-resistant material of choice is thick Plexiglas but to prevent most bullets from penetrating the material has to be very thick and therefore very heavy. Transparent aluminum could be used instead which would reduce weight, be easier to install, and reduce the amount of fuel the vehicle used. Because of the optical properties it is also likely to be used by the solar power industry in the future as well. It could provide better protection for solar cells with the possibility of even enhancing efficiency if the optical properties could be tuned.

The video below is from the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home where Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (played by the late James Doohan) along with Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy (played by the late Jackson DeForest Kelley) have traveled back in time and are in need of a container to hold two humpback whales and the water needed for them to survive. Scotty pulls up the chemical structure of transparent aluminum on the computer for the manager of Plexicorp, a ceramics manufacturer, and offers the deal of a lifetime.

Carbon Nanotube Filtering Breakthrough

Yellow stick of butter with two lines - one drawn across the top to represent a semiconducting wire that has not melted through the butter and another that has sunk to the bottom of the butter representing a conducting wire. The example shows a way to purify - or sort - carbon nanotubes with different properties.

Carbon nanotubes, microscopically-thin wires of carbon atoms, can be produced in sufficient quantity but not sufficient quality for electronics. They often include a bundle of wires where some are conductive, like the power wires going from your computer to the wall outlet, and some are semiconducting — the kind needed for processing information. Science Daily reports on a carbon nanotube purification breakthrough by a research team at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, lead by professor John Rogers. Efforts to purify or sort conducting from semiconducting nanotubes have been expensive and require many steps. The new method discovered can be explained easily.

Imaging you have a stick of butter and you lay two thin metal wires — one a standard metal wire and the other a semiconducting wire — over top of the butter then attach the positive and negative electrodes of a battery to each end of wire. After a few seconds what happens? The conductive metal wire heats up and sinks into the butter stick. The semiconducting wire does not heat up nearly as much due to restricting the electron flow — so it does not sink into the butter as deeply. Instead the semiconducting wire stays nearly on the surface of the butter. Once the process is complete you can easily separate the conductive and semiconducting wire since the conductive one is at the bottom of the butter stick. Image edited to show example:

Yellow stick of butter with two lines - one drawn across the top to represent a semiconducting wire that has not melted through the butter and another that has sunk to the bottom of the butter representing a conducting wire. The example shows a way to purify - or sort - carbon nanotubes with different properties.

WARNING: DO NOT try the experiment described above! It is dangerous and could lead to burns or even an explosion — the battery and wires will heat up and can remain hot and the battery may even explode!

This new method of using current-induced heat to separate nanotubes of different properties is easy to do and is compatible with current manufacturing methods.