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Can light move things?

Current solar cells are too weak to have the sun power our cars, unless you plan on putting panels on a whole semi truck that is.

What about without the specialized cells — can things be moved then?

Yale thinks that you can.

Researchers who hale from the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science have shown that the force of light indeed can be harnessed to drive machines. For now there is just one catch: it only works when the process is scaled to nano-proportions.

The devices all run on semiconductors that harness the weak force of light and translate it into energy for motion.

The Semiconductor

So, how far are we from having the dream of many a science fiction writer come true? Well, it could be a while.

“While the force of light is far too weak for us to feel in everyday life, we have found that it can be harnessed and used at the nanoscale,” said team leader Hong Tang, assistant professor at Yale. “Our work demonstrates the advantage of using nano-objects as “targets” for the force of light — using devices that are a billion-billion times smaller than a space sail, and that match the size of today’s typical transistors.”

So, what could this technology be used to do once it grows up a bit?

Well the current target categories include devices that are designed for information processing and sensing devices, as well as telecommunications that run at ultra-high speed and consume little power.

I bet you are wondering how this is different than current solar technologies. Well, lets go back to the expert for that answer.

“When researchers talk about optical forces, they are generally referring to the radiation pressure light applies in the direction of the flow of light,” said Tang. “The new force we have investigated actually kicks out to the side of that light flow.” The researchers showed that when the concentrated light was guided through a nanoscale mechanical device, significant light force could be generated — enough, in fact, to operate nanoscale machinery on a silicon chip.

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The Short Film, As Made By Facebookers

The Short Film, As Made By Facebookers

facebook logoHave you ever wanted to be part of a team that makes an animated film like Shrek, Cars or Surfs Up? Think you can do as good a job as the pro’s?

Well, now is your shot to put your money where your mouth is and help in the creation of a brand new animated short film from the comfort of your Facebook profile thanks to Intel.

The project is called Mass Animation and it is the first collaborative, worldwide effort to produce a computer-generated animated short film for theatrical release. Starting today, artists around the world are invited to animate the shots of a 5-minute, CGI short film titled “Live Music,” which is produced and directed by Yair Landau, former president of Sony Pictures Digital. The collaboration, through a unique application built on the Facebook Platform, will run through Jan. 30. Animators, regardless of experience, may begin work immediately.

“Live Music” is inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and early CGI films. Set in a musical instrument store, the story follows Riff, a rock ‘n’ roll guitar, who, as Landau describes it, “falls in love to the wrong song but ends up with Vanessa, the classical violin of his dreams.” The story is conveyed through the universal language of music, allowing the expressions and actions of the characters to be instantly relatable globally. The instruments are brought to life through original compositions and familiar rock tunes played principally by legendary guitarist Steve Vai as Riff and acclaimed violinist Ann Marie Calhoun as Vanessa.

The tools and 3-D models that animators will need to collaborate on this project including a limited duration version of Autodesk Maya 3D Animation software are provided, and can be accessed through the Mass Animation application on Facebook built by Aniboom.

Dell will be awarding a Dell Studio XPS desktop PC powered by an Intel Core i7 processor to animators whose creation is rated the best by the community on a weekly basis. An international jury of animation experts will select the shots to be considered for the film. As director, Landau will have the final say as to which submissions make the final cut. Animators whose work makes it into the finished product will receive on-screen credit and US$500 in compensation.

In addition to Intel and thousands of participants in the project, Mass Animation’s partners in making “Live Music” include Dell, Autodesk, Reel FX Entertainment and Aniboom.

Community voting on the animation clips will open Nov. 24 at

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Mess With Your Home Movies

Mess With Your Home Movies

cameraLets say you have a home movie that is dear to you, one in your favorite house, the one that always felt like home, no matter what. In that video, (maybe it’s your kids’ first steps, your college graduation, whatever) there is an offending spot. It could be a picture of an ex you had a nasty breakup with or your in-laws or just a really bad choice of decor. Hey, we all make the mistake of thinking that a print of “The Scream” will look good in our living rooms, and the sad clown painted on velvet that you replaced it with is much better anyway, right? What if there was a way that you could get rid of that unsighly photo or decorating faux pas? A way to change the past and make everything pretty again.

No, I’m not talking about hypnosis of time travel. Just a little bit of technology.

Thanks to a group of collaborating researchers at Stanford University you may be able to do just that in the near future. The group, originally working on artificial intelligence, came up with a piece of software that allows the user to do exactly that. The software can put an image on almost any planar surface in a video, whether wall, floor or ceiling. That being said, you are not just limited to still photos, you can also use a video.

So other than goofing off what are the potential applications for this technology.  The researchers have suggested that anyone with a video camera might earn some spending money by agreeing to have unobtrusive corporate logos placed inside their videos before they are posted online. The person who shot the video, and the company handling the business arrangements, would be paid per view, in a fashion analogous to Google AdSense, which pays websites to run small ads.

The question then becomes do you want ads in your home movies? I can’t say that everyone will, but I am sure that there are a few people who will take the offer when it comes around.

You can see a demo at

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Global Virtual Library, Science Information Soon to be Shared Worldwide

Global Virtual Library, Science Information Soon to be Shared Worldwide

An ICSU group photo.Scientists from one hundred and thirty countries want to redo existing world data centres and services in order to create a World Data System. The group of scientists is know as the General Assembly of the International Council for Science (ICSU).

The reasons cited for this change include:

  • More scientific data and information is now available than at any other time in history and the volume
    is increasing daily.
  • long-term stewardship availability of this data is largely uncertain and a large amount of valuable scientific data remains in-accessible to many members of the scientific  community.
  • To provide  full and open access to scientific data and products for the global community.

What do people in the position to make decisions about the sharing of scientific data have to say about this?

Ray Harris, chair of the expert Committee that produced the report said, ‘Data is the lifeblood of
science and there are many exciting developments, which mean that access to scientific data both for
science and for policy making should be much easier.  However, in many areas there is little order and
the origin and reliability of what one finds on the web can be almost impossible to determine’.
‘A more strategic and systematic international approach, together with significant financial investment
at the national level, is urgently required if we are to realise the full benefit of science for society,’
Harris continued.

Dave Carlson, the Director of the programme office for the International Polar Year (IPY)—a major,
ICSU-sponsored, interdisciplinary research programme that is using and generating enormous
amounts of data—added: ‘There are more than 200 IPY research projects, funded to the tune of 1.5
billion Euros, and its major legacy should be the data that will inform polar research for years to come.
But we still don’t know how most of this data will be handled’.

ICSU will be implementing the recommendations for a World Data System over the next three years. The report cand more information on the General Assembly are available at:

Who knows what kind of advances this sharing of research might yield.

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The Commute Get Personal in the City of Boston

The Commute Get Personal in the City of Boston

Dozens of cars in the Boston area are testing the latest generation of an MIT mobile-sensor network for traffic analysis that could help drivers cut their commuting time and alert them to potential engine problems.  In addition the project, named the CarTel project, will allow automobiles to monitor their environment by sending data from an onboard computer — which is about the size of a cell phone — to a web server where the data can be visualized and browsed. They will do so via pre-existing WiFi networks which the car passes during a trip.

CarTel is also linked to a vehicle’s onboard diagnostics system (available in all cars sold since 1996), so a driver can check various parameters key to maintenance and be alerted to potential problems.

The CarTel project, is being run by Professor Hari Balakrishnan and Associate Professor Samuel Madden of MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science as well as Jacob Eriksson from the University of Illinois, Chicago.

“Our goal,” Balakrishnan said, “is to make the data behind CarTel available to help you plan and organize your commute and drives. We want to minimize the amount of time spent in your car.”

The system has already been in small scale testing for a while.  The current system, deployed since January on 50 Boston-area cars — including 40 taxis — tracks traffic by monitoring each vehicle’s speed at different points during a trip. Unlike other route-planning systems, “CarTel understands where traffic delays are and recommends routes to avoid them,” Madden said.

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Self Assembling Circuits

Self Assembling Circuits

A new study that comes to us from physicists in the EU has shown that they can create a self assembling computer circuit. This breakthrough, while currently in its lab stages could eventually be brought to the marketplace, and revolutionize how computer parts, and even whole systems are made.

Currently, computer chips are made by etching patterns onto semiconducting wafers using a combination of light and photosensitive chemicals.

In the new study, the scientists took a long organic molecule with mobile electrons, called quinquethiophene that acts like a semiconductor and attached it to a long carbon chain with a silicon group at the end, which acts as an anchor.

quinquethiophene as per The Royal Society of Chemestry

They later soaked the circuit board and its preprinted electrodes into a solution of their new molecules.

The experiment showed that the molecules can be attached to the insulating layer that sits between the electrodes,and can make a bridge from one electrode to the next.

The work, appearing in this week’s Nature1.

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Faster Scans, Coming to a Store Near You

Faster Scans, Coming to a Store Near You

A current bar code scannerAnalog-to-digital data conversion found a new use in the real world when the  UCLA engineers designed a bar code reader that has been clocked at nearly a thousand times faster than any bar code reading device currently on the market.
The technique was developed by the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, at UCLA. It has the potential to allow for real world scanning system to take on lengthier and more complex scans in real time. These scans have a variety of potential commercial applications ranging from:
  • Increased accuracy in retail scanners.
  • Faster scanning when shipping packages.
  • More data easily accessible to hospitals and paramedics who are transfusing blood.
  • Easier storage on records.
  • erpetually rolling inventory for warehouses.

The new scanners are to be known as the CWEETS Scanner (chirped wavelength electronic encoded time domain sampling. CWEETS requires no camera, or mirrors like the traditional scanners you would find in a grocery store, and also has no moving parts. This reduces the chances of a breakdown in the machinery, and in addition to increased accuracy, lower repair and operations costs.

For those of you who are interested in reading the research directly it was published in the Sept. 29 edition of the journal Applied Physics Letters.

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