All posts by Stephen Years

Boron nanotubes better than carbon

Boron NanotubeAccording to researchers at Tsinghua University, nanotubes made from Boron could have many of the same properties as nanotubes made from carbon – and for some electronic applications, they should even be better than carbon:

Accoring to Xiaobao Yang, Yi Ding and Jun Ni from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, the best configuration for boron is to take the unstable hexagon lattice and add an extra atom to the centre of some of the hexagons. They calculate that this is the most stable known theoretical structure for a boron nanotube.

Their simulation also shows that, with this pattern, boron nanotubes should have variable electrical properties: wider ones would be metallic conductors, but narrower ones should be semiconductors. If so, then boron tubes might be used in nanodevices similar to the diodes and transistors that have already been made from carbon nanotubes.

Watching the watchers

Mike Elgan has an opinion piece in ComputerWorld about the “endemic surveillance” that now permeates society in the US and the UK.  Elgan takes a position that seems to be growing in popularity: forget privacy as we knew it in the 20th century – it is dead, cold and buried in the ground.  Instead, “privacy” advocates should take up a new fight – a fight for our right to watch the watchers:

Surveillance technology is on the rise. Powerful organizations — law enforcement, corporations, governments and others — have demanded and won their right to videotape the public, often secretly. They do this in order to hold individuals accountable for their actions.

Yet the rights of individuals to use similar technology to do the same are often restricted. Why should shoppers, pedestrians, bank customers and citizens be held accountable, but politicians, police, judges and others are not? What kind of democracy is that?

Shouldn’t recording your own police interrogation be a constitutionally protected right, like the right to an attorney? If not, why not?

Glenn Reynolds,of Instapundit fame has also recently written about this concept in Popular Mechanics and on his blog.  And of course, anyone interested in the topic should read David Brin’s masterful treatise, The Transparent Society (Brin also wrote a fantastic novel titled Kiln People based on many of the concepts presented in The Transparent Society).

Regenerating Nerves

Via Technology Review:

In the latest issue of Advanced Materials, researchers Christiane Gumera and Yadong Wang from the Georgia Institute of Technology announced that they have triggered the regrowth of nerve cells using a polymer coated with chemical structures that resemble acetylcholine, a common neurotransmitter. The research, which is the first to combine a neurotransmitter and a polymer, could one day lead to treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and spinal-cord injuries.

“Lots of people have done biopolymer work,” says Christine Schmidt, a biomedical engineer at the University of Texas at Austin. “But this demonstrates that a polymer with a neurotransmitter can be used to guide growth in the nervous system.”


No more excuses: solar now cheaper than coal

An article about the Silicon Valley solar panel manufacturer Nansolar appears in the New York Times which highlights how their technology will change the economics of solar power:

While many photovoltaic start-up companies are concentrating on increasing the efficiency with which their systems convert sunlight, Nanosolar has focused on lowering the manufacturing cost. Its process is akin to a large printing press, rather than the usual semiconductor manufacturing techniques that deposit thin films on silicon wafers.

Nanosolar’s founder and chief executive, Martin Roscheisen, claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to profitably sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt. That is the price at which solar energy becomes less expensive than coal.


The voice of God as a non-lethal weapon

god_sm.jpgThe US military continues to develop and deploy non-lethal weapon systems like the directed energy weapon from Raytheon. The latest system to come to light is the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) that focuses sound waves into a beam that induces unbearable pain in anyone it strikes:

Anyone whose head was touched by this beam, heard a painfully loud sound. Anyone standing next to them heard nothing. But those hit by the beam promptly fled, or fell to the ground in pain.

It turns out that the device also functions as a pretty effective psychological operations (PSYOPS) tool:

LRAD can also broadcast speech for up to 300 meters. The navy planned to use LRAD to warn ships to get out of the way. This was needed in places like the crowded coastal waters of the northern Persian Gulf, where the navy patrols. Many small fishing and cargo boats ply these waters, and it’s often hard to get the attention of the crews. With LRAD, you just aim it at a member of the crew, and have an interpreter “speak” to the sailor. It was noted that the guy on the receiving end was sometimes terrified, even after he realized it was that large American destroyer that was talking to him. This apparently gave the army guys some ideas, for there are now rumors in Iraq of a devilish American weapon that makes people believe they are hearing voices in their heads…

It appears that some of the troops in Iraq are using “spoken” (as opposed to “screeching”) LRAD to mess with enemy fighters. Islamic terrorists tend to be superstitious and, of course, very religious. LRAD can put the “word of God” into their heads. If God, in the form of a voice that only you can hear, tells you to surrender, or run away, what are you gonna do?