Category Archives: Computer science

Post-Silicon Computing

Could Pittsburgh be the nation’s next “Strontium Valley”? The University of Pittsburgh is the lead institution on a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative (NRI) of the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) to bring a new kind of computer out of the lab and into the real world. The goal of the group, led by Jeremy Levy, a professor of physics and astronomy in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, is no less than transforming the way computing is done.

Jeremy Levy

The four-year grant, titled “Scalable Sensing, Storage, and Computation With a Rewritable Oxide Nanoelectronics Platform,” also involves researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Northwestern University. The program aims to create new high-tech industries and jobs in the United States.

“The search for a new semiconductor device that will provide the United States with a leadership position in the global era of nanoelectronics relies on making discoveries at these kinds of advanced universities,” said Jeff Welser, director of the NRI for SRC.

From Etch-A-Sketch® to Tiny Transistors

Levy and his team have invented a tiny Etch-A-Sketch® that draws infinitesimally small “wires” on a surface, then erases them. The device works by switching an oxide crystal between insulating and conducting states. The interface between these two materials can be switched between an insulating and metallic state using a sharp conducting probe. Electronic circuits can be “written” and “erased” at scales approaching the distance between atoms (two nanometers). The device, less than four nanometers wide, enables photonic interaction with objects as small as single molecules or quantum dots.

This research grant explicitly addresses key scientific and technological challenges that, if overcome, could lead turn the “Etch-A-Sketch®” into something real and useful—from being just a toy in a science lab to a possible replacement for conventional electronics made from silicon devices.

Beyond being just plain cool, this device could be the basis of an entirely new kind of transistor.

More at Pitt Chronicle >

How the Milky Way Got Its Spiral

The signature spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy were likely formed by an epic collision between the Milky Way and the Sagittarius Dwarf galaxy, according to a University of Pittsburgh researcher and his collaborators whose findings were published last week in the prestigious British journal Nature.

The results of supercomputer simulations by Christopher W. Purcell, postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, and colleagues were reported in a paper titled “The Sagittarius Impact as an Architect of Spirality and Outer Rings in the Milky Way.”

This paper is the first to identify Sagittarius as the architect of spiral structure in our Milky Way: “It presents a new and somewhat unexpected way of thinking about why the galaxy we live in looks the way it does,” says Purcell. “Cosmologically speaking, it demonstrates the idea that relatively small impacts like this can have a dramatic impact on the structure of galaxies throughout the universe,” he adds.

This idea had been assumed theoretically, but never demonstrated.

More at Pitt Chronicle >

Diving Into the Data: Computer Scientists Empower Citizen Scientists

On its clear blue surface, Lake Sunapee appears calm, but there’s a lot of science going on in its depths. Everything about the New Hampshire lake, from its blue-green algae to water quality to general limnology (lake science), is fodder for researchers from universities and government agencies. But though much is learned about the lake every day, it wasn’t always filtering through to the general public — the people who live and play by the lake. More >

Update: This story was picked up by the newsletter of the ACM, the primary computer science professional organization. Thanks guys!

How is the internet like building a boat?

 Photo: Alan Vernon
Olivia Scheck at 3quarksdaily looks at the answers to the 2010 Edge question: “How is the internet changing the way you think?”
She thinks science historian George Dyson may have put it best in his reply. He compares modern web surfers to indigenous North Pacific boat builders.
“In the North Pacific ocean,” Dyson explains, “there were two approaches to boatbuilding” – the approach used by the Aleuts, who pieced their boats together using fragments of beach-combed wood, and the approach used by the Tlingit, who carved each vessel out of a single, dugout tree.
The two methods yielded similar results, Dyson tells us, each group employing the minimum allotment of available resources. However, they did so by opposite means.
“The flood of information unleashed by the Internet has produced a similar cultural split,” Dyson argues. “We used to be kayak builders, collecting all available fragments of information to assemble the framework that kept us afloat. Now, we have to learn to become dugout-canoe builders, discarding unnecessary information to reveal the shape of knowledge hidden within.”

Found in Translation: InterACT helps change science fiction to science fact

The Thai toddler cries and cries. Her father doesn’t speak any English, and the visiting American doctor barely knows a word of Thai. Still, the doctor asks, “What’s wrong?” A rugged laptop computer translates and speaks the Thai words. The girl’s father answers, “Her stomach hurts,” and the computer repeats it in English. In this way, the doctor is able to diagnose and treat the girl’s pain.

In a boardroom of a major company in Europe, four people enter. Each speaks a different language and they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to understand each other. Cameras on the wall recognize each person and track where they sit. Then, individualized audio translations of what others are saying are beamed to them without wires or headsets so that only they can hear.

In situations like these and many others, technology developed at the International Center for Advanced Communication Technologies is changing lives. More >

A Degree for Both Sides of the Brain

When Alyssa Reuter had to choose a college, she wanted one that offered programs in computer science and the arts. “The one school that was strong in both was Carnegie Mellon,” she says.

But how could she combine her two passions? Getting undergraduate degrees from both SCS and the College of Fine Arts—a double major—would have meant an extremely heavy workload, because the majors don’t have many overlapping courses.

As it turns out, Reuter wasn’t the only student asking to combine the disciplines into one undergraduate degree, says Franco Sciannameo, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Bachelor of Humanities and Arts (BHA) and Bachelor of Science and Arts (BSA) programs—joint efforts between CFA, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Mellon College of Science.

Students were literally “knocking on my door,” Sciannameo says. From game design and computer animation to computer music and robotic art, technology and the arts are no longer separable, he says. More >

Potholes, Pedestrians and Parking Lots

Cars that drive themselves are certainly cool, but cars that could avoid potholes would be a godsend in a city like Pittsburgh.

With the latest Collaborative Research Lab (CRL) between General Motors and Carnegie Mellon, researchers aim to refine the autonomous driving technologies that were so spectacularly put to use in Boss, winner of the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. That competition between driverless vehicles took place over 55 miles of urban and suburban roads.

“The Urban Challenge was fantastic, but you couldn’t use Boss to get to work in the morning,” says Chris Urmson, a research scientist in the Robotics Institute. “This lab will deal more generally with pedestrians, traffic—the wide variety of situations you encounter in a normal day. It will produce a much more broadly capable vehicle.” More >