What’s the News: Keeping track of what’s happening inside the body often requires a great deal of equipment outside it: Just think of the tangle of sensors in any hospital room. Now, though, engineers have developed an ultra-thin electrical circuit that can be pasted onto the skin just like a temporary tattoo. Once it’s served its purpose, you can simply peel it off. These patches could be provide a simpler, less restrictive way to monitor a patient’s vital signs, or even let wearers command a computer with speech or other slight movements.
Georgia Tech researcher Manos Tentzeris holding
up one of his inkjet-printed antennas.
What’s the News: With all of the electronics cluttering our daily lives, the air is abuzz with ambient electromagnetic energy from sources like cell phone networks, radio and television transmitters, and satellite communications systems. Now, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have devised a simple, cheap way to harness that wasted energy: capturing it with inkjet-printed antennas and storing it in batteries.
What’s the News: The foundation of modern electronics, silicon transistors are miniature on/off switches that regulate electric current. This week, Intel demonstrated a new transistor design that’s being hailed by Intel as one of the most radical developments in transistors since the advent of integrated circuits of the 1950s. By adding tiny, vertical fins to normally flat transistors, Intel’s new Tri-Gate transistor allows for faster, smaller, and lower-voltage computer chips. “We’ve been talking about these 3-D circuits for more than 10 years, but no one has had the confidence to move them into manufacturing,” chip-manufacturing specialist Dan Hutcheson told The Wall Street Journal. Read More
Researchers have used nets of carbon nanotubes to print electronic circuits on to thin, flexible sheets of plastic, in yet another example of nanotechnology‘s expanding possibilities. The work is a major step towards the development of ‘plastic electronics’, where circuits on light, flexible surfaces could provide a range of products from paper-thin displays to intelligent food packaging and smart clothing [Chemistry World].
Everyone from entrepreneurs to the military is dreaming up applications for flexible electronics: They could be used to make a single-page electronic newspaper, for example, or could be formed into an electronic “skin” that covers an entire airplane, and checks the plane’s surface for cracks. Since the typical silicon-based circuits are too rigid to use in such devices, researchers have been trying out new materials. The other major contender is semiconductors that use organic molecules, but those have been shown to have poor performance and reliability.
Each year, as electronic devices get smaller and capable of performing more outlandish functions, engineers in the back rooms of computer chip manufacturers sweat a little more. The exponentially-increasing number of transmitters that can be placed on a circuit board (a phenomenon known as Moore’s law) brings with it one major technological obstacle: a rise in heat produced by the electrons that zip through the tiny wires on each chip.
Computer engineers have experimented with many different solutions to the heat problem, including fans and heat sinks. Yesterday, IBM announced a radically new approach, and unveiled stacks of chips cooled by thousands of hair-thin pipes filled with flowing water.