New method converts carbon into graphene or diamond in a flash

Researchers have developed a way to use “flashes” of electricity to convert carbon into different forms such as graphene or nanodiamonds

By Michael Irving

Researchers at Rice University have developed a way to turn carbon from a variety of sources straight into useful forms such as graphene or diamond. The technique uses a “flash” of electricity to heat the carbon, converting it into a final form that’s determined by the length of the flash.

The technique is known as flash joule heating (FJH), and the team first described it in January 2020. An electrical current is passed through carbon-containing materials, heating them to about 2,727 °C (4,940 °F), which converts the carbon into pristine, turbostratic graphene flakes.

Now the researchers have refined the process to create other materials. The original flashes lasted 10 milliseconds, but the team found that by changing the duration between 10 and 500 milliseconds they could also guide the carbon to convert into other forms, too. That includes nanodiamond, and “concentric carbon” where carbon atoms form a shell around a nanodiamond core.

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Researchers create self-sustaining, intelligent, electronic microsystems from green material

This illustration captures the essence of the newly developed electronic microsystem. Credit: UMass Amherst

by Mary Dettloff , University of Massachusetts Amherst

A research team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has created an electronic microsystem that can intelligently respond to information inputs without any external energy input, much like a self-autonomous living organism. The microsystem is constructed from a novel type of electronics that can process ultralow electronic signals and incorporates a device that can generate electricity “out of thin air” from the ambient environment.

The groundbreaking research was published June 7 in the journal Nature Communications.

Jun Yao, an assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering (ECE) and an adjunct professor in biomedical engineering, led the research with his longtime collaborator, Derek R. Lovley, a Distinguished Professor in microbiology.

Both of the key components of the microsystem are made from protein nanowires, a “green” electronic material that is renewably produced from microbes without producing “e-waste.” The research heralds the potential of future green electronics made from sustainable biomaterials that are more amenable to interacting with the human body and diverse environments.

This breakthrough project is producing a “self-sustained intelligent microsystem,” according to the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory, which is funding the research.

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Ultra-high-density hard drives made with graphene store ten times more data

Graphene can be used for ultra-high density hard disk drives (HDD), with up to a tenfold jump compared to current technologies, researchers at the Cambridge Graphene Center have shown.

by University of Cambridge

The study, published in Nature Communications, was carried out in collaboration with teams at the University of Exeter, India, Switzerland, Singapore, and the US.

HDDs first appeared in the 1950s, but their use as storage devices in personal computers only took off from the mid-1980s. They have become ever smaller in size, and denser in terms of the number of stored bytes. While solid state drives are popular for mobile devices, HDDs continue to be used to store files in desktop computers, largely due to their favorable cost to produce and purchase.

HDDs contain two major components: platters and a head. Data are written on the platters using a magnetic head, which moves rapidly above them as they spin. The space between head and platter is continually decreasing to enable higher densities.

Currently, carbon-based overcoats (COCs) – layers used to protect platters from mechanical damages and corrosion—occupy a significant part of this spacing. The data density of HDDs has quadrupled since 1990, and the COC thickness has reduced from 12.5nm to around 3nm, which corresponds to one terabyte per square inch. Now, graphene has enabled researchers to multiply this by ten.

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MIT Engineers Create a Programmable Digital Fiber – With Memory, Sensors, and AI

By Becky Ham, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

MIT researchers have created the first fabric-fiber to have digital capabilities, ready to collect, store and analyze data using a neural network.

In a first, the digital fiber contains memory, temperature sensors, and a trained neural network program for inferring physical activity.

MIT researchers have created the first fiber with digital capabilities, able to sense, store, analyze, and infer activity after being sewn into a shirt.

Yoel Fink, who is a professor of material sciences and electrical engineering, a Research Laboratory of Electronics principal investigator, and the senior author on the study, says digital fibers expand the possibilities for fabrics to uncover the context of hidden patterns in the human body that could be used for physical performance monitoring, medical inference, and early disease detection.

Or, you might someday store your wedding music in the gown you wore on the big day — more on that later.

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Acer’s SpatialLabs is glasses-free 3D in a prototype laptop

By Chris Davies 

Acer wants to bring stereoscopic 3D to laptops, with a new SpatialLabs display that promises to float graphics right out of a laptop’s screen without demanding you wear special glasses to see them. The system instead combines a switchable lenticular lens screen with an eye-tracking camera, all fitted into a prototype ConceptD notebook.

3D certainly isn’t new, and neither are attempts to bring it to graphics pros in a usable way. The reality, though, is that clunky glasses and mediocre visual quality has generally undermined such efforts. 

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Industry clouds could be the next big thing

By Shaikh, Virtana

Despite predictions of a cloud shift accelerated by the pandemic and Gartner projecting a $651 billion public cloud market in 2024, organizations have barely scratched the surface of public cloud adoption. So it might seem odd at this stage to ask, “What’s the next big thing in public clouds?”

The war between traditional on-premises data center infrastructure providers such as Dell, HPE, and Cisco and the public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud is far from over. However, one opportunity worth examining is industry clouds.

Industry clouds are collections of cloud services, tools, and applications optimized for the most important use cases in a specific industry. APIs, common data models and workflows, and other components are available to customize capabilities. Industry cloud solutions from major public cloud providers also typically offer a variety of software and services, including industry-specific applications, from partners. For example, Microsoft and SAP partner to deliver SAP supply chain solutions through Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing.

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Robotic Arms Build Roads by Binding Asphalt with Strings

EMPA’s robotic arm laying a string layer

By  Chris Young

The new method sees stacked layers of string and asphalt create more sustainable roads.

A team of researchers in Switzerland has demonstrated how a robotic arm can lay patterns of string to bind asphalt together for a more sustainable roadbuilding process, a New Atlas report explains.

The method would remove the need for environmentally damaging bitumen, and would also make it easier to recycle road materials.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) got the idea from an art and science project that created pillars using a mix of gravel and string, an EMPA press release explains.

The pillars were made by interlocking gravel with a thread that held the structures together. They reached heights of 80 cm (2.6 ft), and in pressure testing, they were shown to withstand loads equal to 20 tonnes (22 tons).

The scientists used this project as a starting point. For their research, however, they used string to reinforce layers of road asphalt. If they find a way to scale the method, it could provide a great environmental advantage over the use use of bitumen, which is extracted from crude oil.

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The World’s First Nuclear Fusion Power Plant Is Coming


By Caroline Delbert fusion power plant

  • Like future Olympic Games, the first nuclear fusion power plant site is being chosen a decade in advance.
  • Coverage of fusion experiments ignores that these plants will also have staff, security, and more.
  • Fission likely causes far worse “meltdowns,” but there are still big safety questions to answer.

In the U.K., energy developers are making plans to choose a site for the world’s first fusion power plant. As with most fusion projects, this milestone is likely at least a decade away, and the site in question will be less than one half square mile—not exactly a high bar to clear, though complicated by its need to be adjacent to the existing grid. 

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Web Summit 2019: This is what the house of 2025 could look like

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The way we sleep, eat and retreat from the world around us is poised for significant transformation, David Eun, Samsung’s Chief Innovation Officer, told this week at Web Summit.

Eun presented a sketch of Samsung’s vision for the house of the future. The aim is to foster experiences on a foundation of technology and innovation, he said, “the likes of which we have never seen before.”

With the advent of 5G, the percentage of connected devices in the home will continue to grow, “and in the near future, the question won’t be how many devices are connected. The question will actually be, how many devices are not connected.”

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Smart concrete could pave the way for high-tech , cost-effective roads

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 Every day, Americans travel on roads, bridges, and highways without considering the safety or reliability of these structures. Yet much of the transportation infrastructure in the US is outdated, deteriorating, and badly in need of repair.

Of the 614,387 bridges in the US, for example, 39 percent are older than their designed lifetimes, while nearly 10 percent are structurally deficient, meaning they could begin to break down faster or, worse, be vulnerable to catastrophic failure.

The cost to repair and improve nationwide transportation infrastructure ranges from nearly US$190 billion to almost $1 trillion. Repairing US infrastructure costs individual households, on average, about $3,400 every year. Traffic congestion alone is estimated to cost the average driver $1,400 in fuel and time spent commuting, a nationwide tally of more than $160 billion per year.

I am a professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering and the director of the Center for Intelligent Infrastructures at Purdue University. My co-author, Vishal Saravade, is part of my team at the Sustainable Materials and Renewable Technology (SMART) Lab. The SMART Lab researches and develops new technologies to make American infrastructure “intelligent,” safer, and more cost-effective. These new systems self-monitor the condition of roads and bridges quickly and accurately and can, sometimes, even repair themselves.

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New approach to circuit compression could deliver real-world quantum computers years ahead of schedule

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Compression of a circuit that has an initial volume of 882 using the proposed method. The reduced circuit has a volume of 420, less than half its original volume.

A major technical challenge for any practical, real-world quantum computer comes from the need for a large number of physical qubits to deal with errors that accumulate during computation. Such quantum error correction is resource-intensive and computationally time-consuming. But researchers have found an effective software method that enables significant compression of quantum circuits, relaxing the demands placed on hardware development.

Quantum computers may still be far from a commercial reality, but what is termed ‘quantum advantage’—the ability of a quantum computer to compute hundreds or thousands of times faster than a classical computer-has indeed been achieved on what are called Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum (NISQ) devices in early proof-of-principle experiments.

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