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     Volume 4 Issue 67 | October 14, 2005 |

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How small is too small?
There's a limit to how tiny gadgets, devices and machines can get, scientists claim. The claim comes from an experiment performed by a University of Arizona team, doctoral candidate John D. Perreault and assistant professor Alexander D. Cronin. Perreault and Cronin directly measured how close speeding atoms can come to a surface before the atoms' wavelengths change. Theirs is a first, fundamental measurement that confirms the idea that the wave of a fast-moving atom shortens and lengthens depending on its distance from a surface, an idea first proposed by pioneering quantum physicists in the late 1920s. The measurement tells nanotechnologists how small they can make extremely tiny devices before a microscopic force between atoms and surfaces, called van der Waals interaction, becomes a concern. The result is important both for nanotechnology, where the goal is to make devices as small as a few tens of billionths of a metre, and for atom optics, where the goal is to use the wave nature of atoms to make more precise sensors and study quantum mechanics. The experiment answers the question of how far you can miniaturise an atom optics device - for example, a device that guides atoms on a chip to form a very tiny interferometer - before this nano-interaction disrupts operations."

Breakthrough in organic solar
Organic solar cells are more flexible than solar panels made of silicon -- which is expensive, brittle and shatters like glass. Researchers at New Mexico State University and Wake Forest University say organic solar cells are made of plastic that is relatively inexpensive, flexible, can be wrapped around structures or even applied like paint. Physicist Seamus Curran, head of the nanotechnology laboratory at New Mexico State University, says relatively low energy efficiency levels produced by organic solar cells have been a drawback. To be effective producers of energy, organic cells must be able to convert 10 percent of the energy in sunlight to electricity -- but the best they have been able to do is up to 4 percent, while typical silicon panels are about 12 percent energy conversion efficient. But the research team has achieved a solar energy efficiency level of 5.2 percent. This means we are closer to making organic solar cells that are available on the market. A cheap, flexible plastic made of a polymer blend would revolutionise the solar market.

Beware while downloading games!
Are you tempted to download games? Beware! It may make your machine inoperable. The hugely popular PlayStation Portable (PSP) is designed to run only approved games and software, but unauthorised codes, or "patches", can be downloaded and installed in order to bypass these controls. The PSP gaming device has met with dizzying success since launching in at the end of 2004. Early sales in many countries have exceeded expectations and broken records. Roughly the size of a paperback book, the device provides graphics and game-play to rival a home games console. It can also be used to play music and watch films. An in-built wireless antenna means users can access the Internet on the move or link several consoles together for multiplayer gaming. This device has become the latest target for computer miscreants, with the discovery of a "Trojan horse" programme that renders the machines inoperable, it said. "The device basically becomes a brick," says Richard Archdeacon, director of technical services at anti-virus firm Symantec. "You might as well use it to build a house."

Fear of falling can affect walking
A U.S. woman, diagnosed and treated for Parkinson's disease who could not walk, was found to have a fear of walking. Parkinson's expert Dr. Roger Kurlan, of the University of Rochester Medical Centre, says sometimes a person is so afraid of falling, the mind actually affects the ability to walk. In a paper published in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Kurlan said an elderly woman had trouble walking and was in a wheelchair after she tripped and fell, breaking a wrist and bruising her leg. Her inability to walk led her doctor to diagnose Parkinson's disease, and she was prescribed Parkinson's medication to treat her symptoms. Kurlan examined the woman and found she did not have Parkinson's disease. He tried to urge her to stand, but she refused. After much encouragement and several people available to help her up, the woman finally did rise. After taking short, tentative steps, the woman's bearing improved markedly and after more encouragement and offers of help, the woman began walking around the room and even jogged down the hallway.

Japan's electronics parts maker Murata Manufacturing unveils the cycling robot "Murataseisaku-kun" driving on a balancing beam during the Ceatec, Asia's largest electronics trade show in Makuhari, suburban Tokyo in October, 2005. The robot, 50cm in height and weighing 5kg, drives fast or slowly and stands still on a bicycle.

Boeing makes flying Enjoyable
Gone are the days of watching recorded comedies and movies aboard an aeroplane. Connexion One - Boeing company's in-flight entertainment test aircraft - made available live TV and the Internet for its passengers while flying at 24,000 feet over the Irish Sea. Wi-Fi transmitters peppered the ceiling and live TV and Internet signals were delivered through a one-metre-wide satellite dish on the top of the plane. Boeing director Mike Woodward said the effort was fuelled by passengers' desire for live news, as opposed to recorded comedies and movies during flights. Delivering live TV to planes is not easy. Once over the oceans and out of the reach of the land-focused satellite TV ranges - such as BSkyB's Astra satellite covering Britain - aircraft cannot receive live TV signals. So Boeing leased capacity on satellites with maritime coverage. Then on Friday the company began broadcasting four live news channels - BBC World, CNBC, Euronews and Eurosport News - which can be received by planes anywhere in the northern hemisphere. While Internet access on aircraft is already becoming commonplace since 11 airlines - including Lufthansa, SAS and Singapore Airlines - are already using Boeing's high-speed satellite Internet connection technology, the next step is to link that technology to cell phones.

Source: AFP, BBC Online, New Scientist and Webindia123

Compiled by IMRAN H. KHAN


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