May 27, 2009

Technology Roundup

1. Unity Semiconductor, a Silicon Valley start‐up that will serve the semiconductor data storage memory market as a designer, developer and manufacturer of non‐volatile memory (NVM) ICs, has announced a breakthrough technology called CMOx, which is based on the use of conductive metal oxides in the semiconductor process that allows for ionic motion.

Unity said the next-generation NVM technology yields products with 4x the density and 5-10x the write speed of today's NAND flash.

Unity Semiconductor has several unique business concepts. Key among these is the separation of the processing of the front‐end‐of‐line (FEOL) CMOS base wafer from the back‐end‐of‐line (BEOL) memory layer processing. No new process technology is needed in the CMOS base wafer, which can be fabricated at a CMOS logic foundry with existing production capability and capacity. But unlike all other dense memory technologies, CMOx allows use of an FEOL process that trails the BEOL process by several generations. For example, Unity can fabricate a competitive 64Gb memory using a trailing edge CMOS (90 nm) process.

The initial CMOxTM 64 Gb‐device is expected to clock up to 100 MHz and to have a maximum data rate of 200 MB/sec. Sustained write speeds of 60 MB/s are expected, with sustained read speeds of 100 MB/s.

Unity Semiconductor is a well‐funded start‐up with nearly $65M invested, to date, by top‐tier venture capital firms and a major hard‐disk drive (HDD) manufacturer.

2. Gene therapy and stem cells work together. NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell researchers discuss a combined approach to maximize benefits and minimize risks of stem cell therapy.

The best chance of circumventing these issues (tumors, side effects, stem cells going where you do not want them) is genetic modification of the stem cells prior to actually transplanting them, Dr. Crystal says. Theoretically, this is similar to how gene therapy is used to treat cancer, but with important improvements.

"Instead of gene therapy being done in the patient, as is the case in cancer, it's being done in the cells in a laboratory before doctors use them for therapy so that they still have control of these cells," Dr. Crystal explains.

Therapists would rig certain genes to respond to a "remote control" signal. For instance, giving a certain drug could prompt a "suicide" gene to kill a budding tumor.

But gene therapy also needs to be carefully done and, ideally, two independent gene-manipulation systems would be used to ensure that stem cells remain firmly in the control of clinicians.

3. From Sweden, stem cells unlock other therapies.

New treatments for the devastating Parkinson's disease and ALS are in clinical studies in Sweden, thanks to breaking new stem cell research. A first-in-human study was just initiated for Parkinson's disease patients with the drug product, sNN0031, from the Swedish company NeuroNova. The drug, which is administered into the fluid-filled cavities of the brain, has shown long lasting recovery and formation of new cells in animal models of Parkinson's disease. Last year, a treatment for ALS entered the clinical trial phase.

4. Wings which redirect air to waggle sideways could cut airline fuel bills by 20% according to research funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Airbus in the UK.

The new approach, which promises to dramatically reduce mid-flight drag, uses tiny air powered jets which redirect the air, making it flow sideways back and forth over the wing.

The jets work by the Helmholtz resonance principle - when air is forced into a cavity the pressure increases, which forces air out and sucks it back in again, causing an oscillation – the same phenomenon that happen when blowing over a bottle.

“The truth is we’re not exactly sure why this technology reduces drag but with the pressure of climate change we can’t afford to wait around to find out. So we are pushing ahead with prototypes and have a separate three year project to look more carefully at the physics behind it.”

If successful this technology could also have a major impact on the aerodynamic design and fuel consumptions of cars, boats and trains.

Engineers have known for some time that tiny ridges known as ‘riblets’ - like those found on sharks bodies - can reduce skin-friction drag, (a major portion of mid-flight drag), by around 5%. But the new micro-jet system being developed by Dr Lockerby and his colleagues could reduce skin friction drag by up to 40%.

5. HRL Laboratories, LLC, reached another milestone in the Carbon Electronics for RF Applications, or CERA program, which seeks to exploit the unique physical characteristics of graphene carbon to create electronic components that will enable unprecedented capabilities in high-bandwidth communications, imaging and radar systems.

The team has continued to optimize material synthesis and device processing and recently demonstrated epitaxial graphene FETs on a two-inch wafer scale. "They have world-record field effect mobility of ~6000 cm^2/Vs, which is six to eight times higher than current state-of-the-art silicon n-MOSFETs (metal-oxide semiconductor field effect transistors)." The epitaxial graphene transistors also show excellent I-V saturation behaviors with the highest reported Ion/Ioff ratio of 19.

Moon is confident the process and technology will continue to progress to meet the program's final Phase 1 metric: >10,000 cm^2/Vs Hall mobility. "The results and rate of progress validate our technical approach," he said. "We are confident that we will soon meet the extremely challenging graphene transistor Phase I metrics."

6. 'Blue brain' project to build a functional model of the mammalian brain Spain is to use a nanotechnology microscope for brain studies as part of the Blue Brain project. The initiative is CSIC researcher Javier de Felipe's brainchild, and researchers at the Universidad Polit├ęcnica de Madrid's School of Computing are developing a series of tools to analyse and interpret microscope data.

The use of this microscope signifies a major technological advance. On one hand, electron microscopes provide a limited detail level for brain cells studies. On the other, the nanotech microscope outputs samples of brain tissue in just two hours, something that, using other technologies, it would take two technicians a year to do.

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