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Magnetic Bacteria May Help Build Future Bio-Computers

BBC News (05/07/12)

Researchers at the University of Leeds and the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology are studying a bacterium called Magnetospirilllum magneticum and the possibility of using it in future computer systems.  The bacteria eats iron, and in the process creates tiny magnets inside themselves, similar to those in PC hard drives.  The researchers say their work could lead to the creation of much faster hard drives.  When the bacteria ingest iron, proteins inside their bodies interact with it to produce tiny crystals of the mineral magnetite, the most magnetic mineral on Earth.  In addition to using microorganisms to produce magnets, the researchers also created tiny electrical wires from living organisms.  The researchers have created nanoscale-size tubes made from the membrane of cells and a protein present in human lipid molecules.  “These biological wires can have electrical resistance and can transfer information from one set of cells inside a bio-computer to all the other cells,” says Tokyo University researcher Masayoshi Tanaka.

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Thanks for the Memory: Researchers Find Room for More Data Storage in ‘Phase-Change’ Material

Johns Hopkins University (05/03/12) Phil Sneiderman

Johns Hopkins University researchers say they have discovered previously unknown properties of a phase-change memory alloy consisting of germanium, antimony, and tellurium (GST), which could lead to new forms of memory drives, movie discs, and computer systems.  The researchers say that GST could enable memory devices to retain data more quickly, last longer, and allow for more capacity than current systems.  GST currently is used in rewritable optical media, but Johns Hopkins researchers used diamond-tipped tools to find new electrical resistance characteristics that could make GST even more useful to the computer and electronic industries.  “This phase-change memory is more stable than the material used in the current flash drives,” says Johns Hopkins researcher Ming Xu.  Although GST has been in use for at least 20 years, it is still unknown exactly how it switches from one state to another because it happens so quickly.  The researchers used a process called X-ray diffraction to trigger the change more gradually.  They were able to tune the electrical resistivity of the material during the time between its change from amorphous to crystalline form.  “By having a wide range of resistance, you can have a lot more control,” says Johns Hopkins professor En Ma.

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Preparing for Many-Core

Texas Advanced Computing Center (05/03/12) Aaron Dubrow

The Texas Advanced Computing Center recently hosted the Intel Highly Parallel Computing Symposium, which showcased the experiences of researchers who had ported their scientific computing codes to Intel’s Knights Ferry software development platform, the prototype hardware and software development package for Intel’s Many Integrated Core (MIC) architecture.  More than 100 participants from many sectors of the science and technology community attended the symposium.  Intel engineers James Reinders and Tim Mattson focused on the goals and research processes that led to the development of Intel’s MIC architecture, and the ecosystem of libraries, kernels, and programming paradigms that Intel hopes will make its new coprocessors a long-term success in the high-performance computing community.  “The architecture for many-core is still being determined,” Mattson notes, and he says more than a dozen research groups at Intel are working on the many-core problem.  One key topic of the symposium was vectorization, which refers to programs that are modified to perform the same operation many times simultaneously on a large number of operations.  The symposium also highlighted the promise and challenge of implementing existing codes on Intel’s new coprocessor.

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Physicist: Moore’s Law as We Know It Is on Its Last Legs

Network World (05/01/12) Jon Gold

City College of New York theoretical physics professor Michio Kaku believes Moore’s Law is breaking down.  Moore’s Law states that computing power doubles about once every 18 months, but Kaku, who has predicted its collapse since at least 2003, says the critical point will be reached within a decade.  He says the constant shrinking of transistors is unsustainable.  Intel has a new chip called Ivy Bridge that represents a 10-nanometer reduction from the previous generation, but it has been found to run hotter than its predecessors under overclocking, which could suggest that transistor density and size are becoming a concern for microprocessors.  Three-dimensional chips–a feature of Ivy Bridge–and parallel processing could potentially delay the collapse of Moore’s Law, but Kaku says these workarounds will eventually reach their limits.  New forms of computing may provide a solution for processing power.  He says molecular transistors are promising, but current fabrication techniques do not allow for mass production.  Quantum computers also could eventually become more powerful and practical, but they are even less well understood.

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‘Big Data’ Could Remake Science–and Government

NextGov.com (05/02/12) Joseph Marks

Big data is capable of transforming scientific research by switching it from a hypothesis-driven field into one that is data-driven, says Farnam Jahanian, head of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate.  However, Jahanian notes that before this can be achieved, it will be necessary to secure upfront investment from the government and the private sector to build the infrastructure for data analysis and new collaboration tools.  The field of big data analysis seeks to sort through vast data stores to gather intelligence and identify new patterns.  Last year the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology found a gap in the private sector’s investment in basic big data research and development, and in March U.S. officials announced that the government will invest $200 million in research grants and infrastructure building for big data.  “The shift with data-driven science and big data is that first we collect the data and then we see what it tells us,” says Wyle chief technology officer Bill Perlowitz.  “We don’t have a pretense that we understand what those relationships are, or what information we may find.”

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Intel Researchers Plot a Smarter, Personalized Cloud

 IDG News Service (04/26/12) Agam Shah

Intel researchers recently launched a project to populate neighborhoods with sensors that provide a more accurate picture of elements such as pollution and weather.  Intel’s Terrance O’Shea says the plan involves gathering weather and air quality information from the sensors, finding the user’s exact position, and delivering accurate information for that location using a personalized cloud service.  Intel has designed a pollution sensor chip that can be installed in stores and other locations in the neighborhood.  The stores carrying sensors can make money by delivering advertisements through cloud services.  Intel already is planning a future redesign of its chips that will be equipped with near-threshold voltage technology, which enables central processing units to operate at extremely low voltage levels.  That technology could help make it practical to include the sensors in mobile devices.  Intel also aims to make cities smarter, and the company has several research projects that use sensor kits for energy, traffic light, and gas station management.

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A 100-Gigbit Highway for Science

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (04/30/12) Linda Vu

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) is laying the foundation for a high-speed network that can transport an increasing amount of scientific data.  “Over the last decade, the amount of scientific data transferred over our network has increased at a rate of about 72 percent per year, and we see that trend potentially accelerating,” says ESnet director Greg Bell.  ESnet researchers worked with the Internet2 consortium to develop the Advanced Networking Initiative (ANI), which is part of a 100 Gbps national prototype network and a wide-area network testbed.  More than 25 groups have taken advantage of ESnet’s wide-area testbed, which connects the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, and the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility.  “Our 100G testbed has been about 80 percent booked since it became available in January, which just goes to show that there are a lot of researchers hungry for a resource like this,” says ESnet’s Brian Tierney.  For example, Brookhaven National Laboratory researchers have used the ANI testbed to design an ultra-high-speed, end-to-end file transfer protocol tool to move science data at 100 gigabits per second across a national network.

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