Technology category

The First 3D Quantum Liquid Crystals

Strong electron interactions can drive metallic systems toward a variety of well-known symmetry-broken phases, but the instabilities of correlated metals with strong spin-orbit coupling have only recently begun to be explored.

A team of physicists at the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at Caltech, had discovered an new state of matter that may have applications in ultra-fast quantum computers of the future. It is the first three-dimensional quantum liquid crystal.

“We have detected the existence of a fundamentally new state of matter that can be regarded as a quantum analog of a liquid crystal, There are numerous classes of such quantum liquid crystals that can, in principle, exist; therefore, our finding is likely the tip of an iceberg.” says Caltech assistant professor of physics David Hsieh, principal investigator on a new study describing the findings in the April 21 issue of Science.

Liquid crystals are materials that are between liquid and solid, they are consisted of molecules that flow around freely as if they were a liquid but are all oriented in the same direction, as in solid. An important feature of the liquid crystals that in addition to availability in the nature, they can be made artificially like those used in items that have display screens.

In 1999, the first quantum liquid crystal was discovered by Caltech’s Jim Eisenstein, the Frank J. Roshek Professor of Physics and Applied Physics. It was a two-dimensional which means that it was limited with a single plane inside the host material. In a quantum liquid crystal, electrons behave like the molecules in classical liquid crystals. They move around freely in a preferred direction of flow.

These images show light patterns generated by a rhenium-based crystal using a laser method called optical second-harmonic rotational anisotropy. At left, the pattern comes from the atomic lattice of the crystal. At right, the crystal has become a 3-D quantum liquid crystal, showing a drastic departure from the pattern due to the atomic lattice alone.

The behavior of the electrons in the newly discovered 3D-variant are possibly even stranger. The electrons do not only distinguish between x-, y- and z-axis, but they also have different magnetic characteristics depending along which axis they move back and forth.

According to the researchers, the 3D quantum liquid crystals could play a role in a field called spintronics, where the spin direction of electrons can be utilized to create more efficient computer chips. It may also help with some of the challenges of building a quantum computer, which seeks to take advantage of the quantum nature of particles to make even faster calculations.

“Rather than rely on serendipity to find topological superconductors, we may now have a route to rationally creating them using 3-D quantum liquid crystals” says Harter. “That is next on our agenda.”

You can read more about this research through the published paper and by reading Caltech’s post.

Store Data in Nanomagnets

Imagine if a bit of data can be stored in a single atom or a small molecule, then massive volumes of data can be stored in a tiny amount of space. This theory was the topic of a research tries to develop a new method to store data magnetically in atoms.

As the magnetization of an atom can only be in one of two directions, theoretically we can magnetize the atom to be logical ‘1’ or ‘0’. But in the Practical application, this may be difficult because of some obstacles. At first we have to find a molecule that stores the magnetic information permanently, not only for a short period of time. Also it is difficult to attach such molecules to a fixed surface in order to construct a storage medium.

Dysprosium atoms (green) on the surface of nanoparticles can be magnetised in only one of two possible directions: “spin up” or “spin down”. (Visualisations: ETH Zurich / Université de Rennes)

Christophe Copéret, a professor at the Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry at ETH Zurich, and his international team of researchers had developed a method that could be a solution for these problems.

They developed a molecule that contains a dysprosium atom at its center, surrounded by a molecule frame that serves as a transport vehicle. This molecule is deposited on a surface of silica nanoparticles and fused by annealing at 400 degrees Celsius. The scientists showed that these atoms can be magnetized and can maintain their magnetic information.

The magnetization process currently only works at around minus 270 degree Celsius, and can be maintained for up to one and a half minute. The scientists are therefore looking for methods that allows it to be stabilized at higher temperatures and for longer periods of time.

Molecules with a dysprosium atom (blue) at their centre are first deposited onto the surface of a silica nanoparticle (red and orange) and then fused with it. (Visualisations: Allouche F et al. ACS Central Science 2017)

For this research project, ETH scientists worked with colleagues from the Universities of Lyon and Rennes, Collège de France in Paris, Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, and Berkeley National Laboratory in the USA.

You can find the full research here.

Water Out Of Thin Air

Due to the advances of technology, we are able now to produce water out of thin air without using the resources usually applied like mains utilities. Such approach would be perfect in places that lack natural resources like deserts. Working from the effects of direct solar radiation, a group of researchers at UC Berkeley had designed such a device with minimum mechanical parts and simple embedded systems.


Using a structure known as a Metal Organic Framework (MOF), these researchers have been harvesting water directly from the air (at humidity levels as low as 20%). This humidity level is commonly found in dry regions of the world. The prototype was able to extract 2.8 liters of water per day at an air humidity of 20 to 30%.

MOFs are network-like structures composed of organic compounds and metallic units and have been around since their invention about 20 years ago. Depending on the MOF composition and base materials, certain molecules can be deposited particularly stably into voids in the structure. Gases from hydrogen to methane are possible. Their storage density per volume is actually higher than if the gases were compressed into large hollow tanks. 

MOF structure: The yellow balls represent voids in the structure that collect water. Source: UC Berkeley / Berkeley Lab

The water harvester is shown clearly in the first picture, where there is within about 1 kg of MOF crystals pressed between an upper light absorbing layer and a lower condenser plate.

“As ambient air is drawn through the porous MOF, water molecules attach themselves to the interior surfaces. Sunlight entering through a translucent window in the top of the unit heats up the MOF and drives the bound water toward the condenser, which is at ambient temperature via a heat pipe and radiator arrangement below the unit. The vapor condenses and the water drips into a collector.” – Elektor

Knowing how best is this technology can be used and scaling it up with the right parameters, it is predicted to make a breakthrough in the world of regenerating natural resources using solar energy without solar PV cells. More details about this new technology is available at UC Berkeley News.

Source: Elektor

Spectrum Next, A New of ZX Spectrum

In 1982, the UK’s best selling computer, ZX Spectrum, was released by Sinclair as 8-bit personal home computer highlighting the machine’s color display. And today, a group of makers are introducing the Spectrum Next, an updated and enhanced version of ZX Spectrum.

The Spectrum Next is fully compatible with the original one. It enhanced to provide a wealth of advanced features such as better graphics, SD card storage, and manufacturing quality control. It also comes with a new software to make use of the new hardware, including new graphics modes and faster processor speeds.

As it is implemented with FPGA technology, it can be upgraded and enhanced using special memory chips and a clever design, while remaining compatible with the original hardware. It has a Z80 within, clocked to a blazing-fast 7Mhz, and an optional 1Ghz co-processor.

Technical Specifications:

  • Processor: Z80 3.5Mhz and 7Mhz modes
  • Memory: 512Kb RAM (expandable to 1.5Mb internally and 2.5Mb externally)
  • Video: Hardware sprites, 256 colours mode, Timex 8×1 mode etc.
  • Video Output: RGB, VGA, HDMI
  • Storage: SD Card slot, with DivMMC-compatible protocol
  • Audio: 3x AY-3-8912 audio chips with stereo output + FM sound
  • Joystick: DB9 compatible with Cursor, Kempston and Interface 2 protocols (selectable)
  • PS/2 port: Mouse with Kempston mode emulation and an external keyboard
  • Special: Multiface functionality for memory access, savegames, cheats etc.
  • Tape support: Mic and Ear ports for tape loading and saving
  • Expansion: Original external bus expansion port and accelerator expansion port
  • Accelerator board (optional): GPU / 1Ghz CPU / 512Mb RAM
  • Network (optional): Wi Fi module
  • Extras: Real Time Clock (optional), internal speaker (optional)

Spectrum Next has three graphical modes; “Radastan”, “Layer 2” and Sprites. Radastan is a 128 x 96 with 16 colours per pixel from an enhanced palette. “Layer2” is a Next exclusive mode that supports a “layer screen”, a 256 x 192 with 256 colours per pixel. Sprites are exclusive to the Next too and can be used over the other modes. A “sprite” is a 16×16 image with 256 colours per pixel that can be drawn anywhere on screen, including the border area. Sprites can also be moved incredibly fast over the screen, because the job is done by hardware, not software.

ZX Spectrum Next in action

Next is a “esxDOS ready” that uses the system designed by Miguel Guerreiro, and it’s one of the most powerful OS available at this time, including support for the .TRD format widely used in Russia and required for some of the most advanced programs currently available for the Spectrum.

Three days remaining of Spectrum Next crowdfunding campaign, where they already reached 215% of their goal. The current cost is about $225 and you can pre-order your board through the kickstarter campaign. More details about Spectrum Next is available on the official website.

3D NAND flash 72 layers

SK Hynix Introduces Industry’s Highest 72-Layer 3D NAND Flash

SK Hynix Incorporated introduced the world’s first 72-Layer 256Gb (Gigabit) 3D (Three-Dimensional) NAND Flash based on its TLC (Triple-Level Cell) arrays and own technologies. This company also launched 6-Layer 128Gb 3D NAND chips in April 2016 and has been mass producing 48-Layer 256Gb 3D NAND chips since November 2016. Within 5 months the researchers in SK Hynix developed the new technology of producing 72-layer 3D NAND flash.

3D NAND flash 72 layers
72 layers 3D NAND flash

The technological achievement of this 72-Layer 3D NAND is compared to the difficulty of building approximately 4 billion 72-storied skyscrapers on a single dime. Well, now the question maybe, “Is the difficulty and complexity of this new technology giving any remarkable outcome?”. The answer is a big YES. The 72-layer NAND is said to stack 1.5 times more cells than the 48-layer, achieving 30% more efficiency in productivity and 20% higher read/write performance than a 48-layer 3D NAND chip, the predecessor of this 72-layer .D 256Gb NAND flash.

With this new chips having 30% more efficiency in productivity and 20% higher performance, SK Hynix has been currently developing NAND Flash solutions such as SSD (Solid State Drive) and storage for mobile devices such as smartphones. Having high reliability and low power consumption this 3D NAND flash should be an ideal solution for storage problems of mobile devices.

SK Hynix plans to expand the usage of the product to SSDs and mobile gadgets to further improve its business structure weighted towards DRAM. The vice president Jong Ho Kim said in the press release,

With the introduction of this industry’s highest productivity 3D NAND, SK Hynix will mass produce the 256Gb 3D NAND in the second half of this year to provide this to worldwide business clients for optimum use in storage solutions

According to a market research, 3D NAND flash demand is rapidly increasing across AI(Artificial Intelligence), big data, and cloud storage. The research by Gartner says that NAND Flash market revenue is expected to total USD 46.5 billion in this year and it will grow up to an amount of USD 56.5 billion in 2021.

Affordable DNA Detection Using A Smartphone

Researchers at UCLA have developed an improved method to detect the presence of DNA biomarkers of disease that is compatible with use outside of a hospital or lab setting. The new technique leverages the sensors and optics of cellphones to read light produced by a new detector dye mixture that reports the presence of DNA molecules with a signal that is more than 10-times brighter.

Nucleic acids, such as DNA or RNA, are used in tests for infectious diseases, genetic disorders, cancer mutations that can be targeted by specific drugs, and fetal abnormality tests. The samples used in standard diagnostic tests typically contain only tiny amounts of a disease’s related nucleic acids. To assist optical detection, clinicians amplify the number of nucleic acids making them easier to find with the fluorescent dyes.

Both the amplification and the optical detection steps have in the past required costly and bulky equipment, largely limiting their use to laboratories.

In a study published online in the journal ACS Nano, researchers from three UCLA entities — the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, the California NanoSystems Institute, and the David Geffen School of Medicine — showed how to take detection out of the lab and for a fraction of the cost.

The collaborative team of researchers included lead author Janay Kong, a UCLA Ph.D. student in bioengineering; Qingshan Wei, a post-doctoral researcher in electrical engineering; Aydogan Ozcan, Chancellor’s Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering; Dino Di Carlo, professor of bioengineering and mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Omai Garner, assistant professor of pathology and medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The UCLA researchers focused on the challenges with low-cost optical detection. Small changes in light emitted from molecules that associate with DNA, called intercalator dyes, are used to identify DNA amplification, but these dyes are unstable and their changes are too dim for standard cellphone camera sensors.

But the team discovered an additive that stabilized the intercalator dyes and generated a large increase in fluorescent signal above the background light level, enabling the test to be integrated with inexpensive cellphone based detection methods. The combined novel dye/cellphone reader system achieved comparable results to equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars more.

To adapt a cellphone to detect the light produced from dyes associated with amplified DNA while those samples are in standard laboratory containers, such as well plates, the team developed a cost-effective, field-portable fiber optic bundle. The fibers in the bundle routed the signal from each well in the plate to a unique location of the camera sensor area. This handheld reader is able to provide comparable results to standard benchtop readers, but at a fraction of the cost, which the authors suggest is a promising sign that the reader could be applied to other fluorescence-based diagnostic tests.

“Currently nucleic acid amplification tests have issues generating a stable and high signal, which often necessitates the use of calibration dyes and samples which can be limiting for point-of-care use,” Di Carlo said. “The unique dye combination overcomes these issues and is able to generate a thermally stable signal, with a much higher signal to noise ratio. The DNA amplification curves we see look beautiful — without any of the normalization and calibration, which is usually performed, to get to the point that we start at.”

Additionally, the authors emphasized that the dye combinations discovered should be able to be used universally to detect any nucleic acid amplification, allowing for their use in a multitude of other amplification approaches and tests.

The team demonstrated the approach using a process called loop-mediated isothermal amplification, or LAMP, with DNA from lambda phage as the target molecule, as a proof of concept, and now plan to adapt the assay to complex clinical samples and nucleic acids associated with pathogens such as influenza.

The newest demonstration is part of a suite of technologies aimed at democratizing disease diagnosis developed by the UCLA team. Including low-cost optical readout and diagnostics based on consumer-electronic devicesmicrofluidic-based automation and molecular assays leveraging DNA nanotechnology.

This interdisciplinary work was supported through a team science grant from the National Science Foundation Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program.

 

Source: UCLA

ULINKplus, A Debug Adapter With Power Measurment

While building an ultra-low power application, sensitive hardware and software validation is required to reach system and long battery life. Testing will need an interaction with the tested parts, like simulating input pins of the target application.

These difficulties could be solved with ARM’s new debug adapter “ULINKplus“. It connects the target system with the PC through USB port using a 10-pin Cortex Debug connector. Its power measurement technology allows developers to program, debug, and analyze their applications and their power consumption.

Main features of ULINKplus are:

  • Integrated power measurement synchronized to event tracing which makes it easy to optimize the overall energy envelope of a system.
  • Isolated JTAG/serial-wire connection to the target hardware is essential for testing applications such as motor control, power converters, or systems with sensitive analog processing.
  • Additional test I/O pins are accessible from the debugger and debug scripts to interact with the target and control automated test stands.

ULINKplus, together with MDK, provides extended on-the-fly debug capabilities for Cortex-M devices. You can control the processor, set breakpoints, and read/write memory contents, all while the processor is running at full speed. High-Speed data trace enables you to analyze detailed program behavior.

In addition to downloading programs to your target hardware, you will be able to examine memory and registers, single-step through programs and insert multiple breakpoints, to run programs in real-time, program Flash memory, and to connect to running targets (hot-plugging).

Live data from power measurement

ULINKplus offers a high speed connections that reach 50 Mbit/s for data and event trace for Cortex-M, 20 MHz JTAG clock speed, and 3 MBytes/s high-speed memory read/write.

ULINKplus technical specifications:

  • Compact case 62 x 44 x 11 mm (dust-protected)
  • JTAG/SWD: 20 MHz JTAG clock, 50 MHz serial-wire trace, 10-pin Cortex debug connector, 1 kV isolation
  • Memory access 3 MB/sec, serial-wire trace up to 50 Mbit/sec
  • Power measurement: 2 x 16-bit A/D, 400 KSamples/sec, 3-pin connector, 1 kV isolation
  • Test I/O: 9 digital in/out, 4 analog in, 1 analog out, 3.3 V switchable output voltage (11-pin connector)
  • Debug connection: USB2.0 (to host PC), CMSIS-DAP protocol

According to ARM, ULINKplus will be available from this month.

A new type of flexible micro-supercapacitors

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore build a new type of flexible supercapacitor that aims to be used in wearables and other portable electronics such as T-shirts charging mobile phones. The new type of capacitor is made with out-of-plane wavy structures of graphene micro-ribbons specially placed so that they don’t break when stretched while keeping the electrodes at a relative constant distance.

Graphene normally breaks when stretched but the team of researchers managed to place it in such a way that it can bend without any issue and without affecting it’s electrochemical performance. It’s too early to see this capacitor in commercial devices as it’s capacity is such that can only power an LCD for a minute, but improvement is possible.

source: Elektor

Printed Two-Dimensional Transistors

Researchers from AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) and Trinity College (Dublin), together with the TU Delft have succeeded in producing printed transistors, which are made solely from two-dimensional nano materials. These materials have characteristics with much promise and, importantly, can also be produced very cheaply. Possible applications for this procedure are food packaging with a digital countdown timer for the use-by date, wine labels which will show when the contents is at the optimal drinking temperature, security for bank notes and perhaps even flexible solar cells.

The researchers, under the leadership of professors Jonathan Coleman and Georg Duesberg, have used standard printing techniques to combine nano sheets of graphene, which are used as electrodes, with two other nano materials (tungsten diselenide and boron nitride) that function as channel and separator. The result is functional transistor made from nano sheets using only printing technology.


Two-dimensional transistors, as such, are not new – they have already been manufactured using a chemical deposition from the vapor phase. A significant disadvantage of this and other existing methods is their high cost. In comparison, printed electronics is based around printable molecules formed from carbon compounds, which can easily and cheaply be turned into a usable ink.

The material of the printed electronics comprises a large number of nano sheets of different sizes (which are sometimes also called ‘flakes’). During the printing process these are layered in a random pattern. The consequence of this is that the printed material is somewhat unstable and the performance has some limitations.

The transistors printed this way are a first important step towards printed 2D-structures made from a single nano sheet. This would dramatically improve the performance of printed electronics. This is the subject of current research at the TU Delft.

Jonathan Coleman from Trinity College is a partner of Graphene flagship, an EU initiative that in the next 10 years has to stimulate new technologies and innovation.

Source: Elektor

On-Chip Microwave Laser

Lasers are everywhere these days: at the checkout in the supermarket, in the CD player in the lounge – and quantum researchers need them to test qubits in the (future) quantum computers. For most applications, today’s large, inefficient lasers are a perfectly adequate solution, but quantum systems operate on a very small scale and at extremely low temperatures. Researchers, for the past 40 years, have been trying to develop accurate and efficient microwave lasers that will not disturb the ultra-cold and fragile quantum experiments. A team of researchers from the Dutch Technical University Delft have now developed an on-chip laser, which is based on the Josephson-effect. The resulting microwave laser opens the door to applications where microwave radiation with a low loss is essential. An important example is the control of qubits in a scalable quantum computer.

Lasers emit coherent light: the line width (the color spectrum) can be very narrow. A typical laser comprises a large number of emitters (atoms, molecules or charge carriers in semiconductors) in a oscillator cavity. These conventional lasers are generally inefficient and generate much heat. This makes them a challenge to use in low-temperature applications, such as quantum technologies.

The researchers constructed a single Josephson junction in an extremely small superconducting oscillator cavity. Here, the Josephson junction behaves like a single atom, while the micro cavity behaves like a pair of mirrors for microwave light: the result is a microwave laser on a chip. By cooling the chip down to ultra-low temperatures (less than 1 kelvin) a coherent beam of microwave light is generated at the output of the oscillator cavity. The on-chip laser is extremely efficient: it requires less than one picowatt to produce laser radiation.

The research paper can be read here.

Source: Elektor

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