Monday, November 29, 2010

Ultrathin Alternative to Silicon for Future Electronics

There’s good news in the search for the next generation of semiconductors. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, have successfully integrated ultra-thin layers of the semiconductor indium arsenide onto a silicon substrate to create a nanoscale transistor with excellent electronic properties. A member of the III–V family of semiconductors, indium arsenide offers several advantages as an alternative to silicon including superior electron mobility and velocity, which makes it an oustanding candidate for future high-speed, low-power electronic devices. More>

Why China is an energy consumption hog

Over the next 15 years China is expected to build the equivalent of New York City -- 10 times over.That's a lot of concrete and steel, and it goes a long way to explaining why the country is using so much energy. Roads, bridges, rail lines, skyscrapers and factories take tons of concrete, steel, chemicals and glass. "They are building massive amounts of infrastructure," said Lynn Price, a scientist in the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy research lab. "It takes incredible amounts of these energy-intensive commodities." More>

The New Germ Theory

JILLIAN BANFIELD trades in hell holes. In September, she could be found wading through the dark, hot, sulphurous innards of Richmond Mine at Iron Mountain, California, where blue stalactites ooze the most acidic water ever discovered, with a pH of −3.6. A year before that, she was pumping up a toxic soup of uranium, arsenic, molybdenum and other metals from underneath a decommissioned nuclear-processing site in Rifle, Colorado. From both sites she took samples back to her lab at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, where she sequenced and analysed the DNA they contain in an attempt to work out which bacteria, archaea, viruses and fungi have decided to make that particular hell their home — and what it takes to survive there. More>

The Key Ingredient to Effective Cancer Treatments

About 50 percent of cancer patients have tumors that are resistant to radiation because of low levels of oxygen—a state known as hypoxia. A startup in San Francisco is developing proteins that could carry oxygen to tumors more effectively, increasing the odds that radiation therapy will help these patients. Last month, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) gave that startup, Omniox, $3 million in funding. Omniox is collaborating with researchers at the NCI to test whether its oxygen-carrying compounds improve radiation therapy in animals with cancer. The company's technology comes from Michael Marletta of Lawrence Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley. More>

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Antimatter Atoms Successfully Stored for the First Time

Atoms of antimatter have been trapped and stored for the first time by the ALPHA collaboration, an international team of scientists working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva, Switzerland. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley have made key contributions to the ongoing international effort. More>

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Busy Microbial World Discovered in Deepest Ocean Crust Ever Explored

The first study to ever explore biological activity in the deepest layer of ocean crust has found bacteria with a remarkable range of capabilities, including eating hydrocarbons and natural gas, and “fixing” or storing carbon. The research, just published in the journal PLoS One, showed that a significant number and amount of bacterial forms were present, even in temperatures near the boiling point of water. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. Collaborators were from OSU, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Tohoku University in Japan, Universitat Bremen in Germany, University of Oklahoma, and National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan. More>

Monday, November 22, 2010

Supercomputing's new world order

At a supercomputing convention that just wrapped up in New Orleans, Louisiana, the potent effects of Hurricanes in big plastic cups paled in comparison with the raw power of a tiny silicon chip. "We're geeking out about exascale computing right now," John Shalf, the Advanced Technologies group leader at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said of the computer architects, software developers and engineers in the high-performance computing community. More>

Industry's reach into academia renews fears of undue influence

Stanford University researcher Thomas Jaramillo is overseeing a million-dollar research project that explores ways to create liquid fuel from sunlight and carbon dioxide. A Stanford colleague, Yi Cui, has nearly $2 million to research solar energy and high-energy batteries. Berkeley Lab researcher Jamie Cate is part of a multimillion-dollar effort to determine how to make an alternative fuel out of crops such as switchgrass. For all three projects, the money is coming from Big Oil, and the research is at the core of a growing debate about whether the work carries the taint of corporate influence. "We're all proposing to do the science exactly how we would want to, without any constraints," Jaramillo said. "I have lost zero freedom," he said, echoing the views of Cui and Cate. Not everyone agrees. More>

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Physicists trap antimatter atoms

Berkeley physicists seeking to pierce a mystery as old as the universe joined an international team of scientists Wednesday to report they have trapped and stored a few dozen atoms of antimatter - the stuff that annihilates ordinary matter in a single explosive flash of energy. It's a real-life version of the immortal "Star Trek" fantasy, where antimatter is crucial to speed the Starship Enterprise through the galaxy at warp drive, faster than the speed of light. And although there's no warp drive in high-energy physics, the announcement marks a major achievement: For the first time, the scientists have stored 38 atoms of the antimatter called antihydrogen for a tiny fraction of a second. But even greater success is near, said Joel Fajans, a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, because the international group will soon be gathering much larger numbers of the antimatter atoms and storing them much longer - long enough for experiments that will seek to explain many of the most fundamental properties of the Big Bang that began the universe. More>

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Scientists Create and Capture Antimatter

Scientists working on the big bang machine in Geneva have done the seemingly impossible: create, capture and release antimatter. The development could help researchers devise laboratory experiments to learn more about this strange substance, which mostly disappeared from the universe shortly after the Big Bang around 14 billion years ago.Trapping any form of antimatter is difficult, because as soon as it meets normal matter -- the stuff Earth and everything on it is made out of -- the two annihilate each other in powerful explosions. In a new study, physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva were able to create 38 antihydrogen atoms and preserve each for more than one-tenth of a second. The project was part of the ALPHA (Antihydrogen Laser PHysics Apparatus) experiment, an international collaboration that includes physicists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). More>

Monday, November 15, 2010

ARPA-E shoots for the moon

Within the massive federal stimulus bill is funding for a small but influential government agency: ARPA-E, or Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Modeled after DARPA, the Defense Department program credited with creating the Internet, stealth fighter and M16 assault rifle, ARPA-E was formed to fund transformational clean-energy research and technology. ARPA-E operates with a staff of just 20 people and aims to be nimble and quick. The agency funds "pie in the sky" and "moonshot" clean-energy technologies that venture capitalists typically steer clear of. "We're funding projects that are too risky for the private sector," said Arun Majumdar, who left his job at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to direct ARPA-E. "When it's hard to shop it around Sand Hill Road," he added, ARPA-E will often step in and bet on unproven technologies that venture capitalists won't touch. More>

For energy chief, race is on to find fuel alternatives

It's a stunning fall morning in Washington, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, clad in bike shorts and a snug Stanford University biking shirt, climbs onto his Colnago bicycle and rolls down his leafy street and onto the Capital Crescent Trail. Then it's a 20-minute sprint to downtown Washington. Chu's nearly two years as energy secretary have been a sprint of sorts. Until last year, the department spent most of its time and its $26 billion budget as caretaker of the nation's nuclear waste and weapons stockpile. But with rising concerns about climate change and the nation's economy hanging on a precipice, Chu was effectively made the green-energy czar. The stimulus bill gave the agency an extra $36 billion for grants and low-interest loans to jump-start new technologies and greater energy efficiency. More>

Supercomputers Fuel Competition

China's installation of the world's fastest supercomputer is galvanizing efforts by U.S. government agencies and companies to restore American leadership in the technology, a key tool in such fields as climate research, product design and weapons development. It's not going to be easy," concedes Horst Simon, deputy laboratory director at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, a major supercomputer user. But he says a case can be made that important scientific problems won't be solved without a new generation of systems. "It is really an economic-competitiveness issue and a national-security issue," he says. More>

Friday, November 12, 2010

'Smart' plugs ready to quash office stand-by power

It may not look like much, but a little white electric outlet with a networking chip in it can save a bunch of money, according to ThinkEco. The New York-based start-up today said its "modlet," or modern outlet, is now available. It also released results from a pilot project which showed that a company reduced its power bill by $65,000 per year using the networked outlets in its office.An office, for example, can place these smart outlets on copier machines and PC workstations and then schedule when to cut stand-by power. Over time, the trickle of electricity from keeping equipment on stand-by (or not turned off) adds up. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the U.S. estimates that standby power alone is upward of 10 percent of electricity bills. More>

Infosys Co-Develops Design Software for Energy-Efficient Buildings With Berkeley Lab

Infosys Technologies and Lawrence Berkeley Lab are collaborating on the development of a graphical user interface (GUI) for the EnergyPlus building simulation engine that will assist Architects, Engineers, Designers and Developers to create the most energy efficient commercial buildings possible. Both EnergyPlus and the GUI will be widely available free to users. More>

Friday, November 5, 2010

Heat scavengers come in from the cold

The vast quantities of heat lost each day – whether from car engines, power-plant chimneys or simply sunlight – is a largely untapped source of energy that could be used to make electricity or simply warm our homes. Decades of research show that it's tricky to capture and use such heat cost-effectively, but a spate of new studies suggest some solutions. Thermoelectric materials, which convert a temperature difference across their surface into a current, offer yet another way to generate energy from waste heat. Most existing thermoelectric devices are based on rare, expensive and unstable materials such as bismuth telluride, making them unsuitable for widespread use in energy generation – but Peidong Yang of Berkeley Lab has found a cheap alternative in silicon. More>

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Zebrafish have some nerve, researchers find

Now two UC researchers in San Francisco and Berkeley — including Ehud Isacoff of the Lab's Physical Biosciences and Materials Sciences Divisions — have discovered how the nerves and brains of the boldly striped, inch-long fish can distinguish between the sight of small, quick-moving prey and larger objects looming before their eyes that might be hungry predators. And one nerve scientist leading the group likened the fish's ability to make that distinction in its nervous system to a baseball batter's instant ability to grab a hit at a pitcher's oncoming fastball. More>

Monday, November 1, 2010

Should You Shut Down Your Computer or Put It to Sleep?

Phew! You've made it through another day at the office. You're just about to don your coat and head out into the evening—but your computer's still on. Should you turn it off, or leave it in "sleep" mode? Some say it's better to shut down, since that way it won't be using any power while you're not around. But others say that the process of shutting down and starting up again uses more power than letting your machine sleep. Who's right? First things first: Turning your computer off, then on again does not use more power than leaving it on in "sleep" mode. "That's a myth," says Bruce Nordman, an energy efficiency researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Another myth: Turning your computer on and off is bad for the machine. "In order to do any real damage, you'd have to turn it on and off far more frequently than anyone would ever want to," says Nordman. That said, trying to remember to shut down your machine every night isn't necessarily the most effective energy-savings strategy. More>

Chinese Supercomputer Likely to Prompt Unease in U.S.

A newly built supercomputer in China appears poised to take the world performance lead, another sign of the country's growing technological prowess that is likely to set off alarms about U.S. competitiveness and national security. Nearly all components of the high-profile Japanese system, called the Earth Simulator, were created in Japan. By contrast, most of the Tianjin system relies on chips from Intel and Nvidia, which are both based in Santa Clara, Calif. So U.S. customers could presumably construct a system with similar performance, noted Horst Simon, deputy lab director at Lawrence Berkeley Lab. More>

Scientists closer to a more stable superheavy element

Berkeley researchers, led by Berkeley Lab scientist Heino Nitsche, have produced a brand-new version of the man-made element 114 that decayed into five more novel atoms, a feat that brings them closer to their ultimate goal of making a superheavy element that can last for more than fractions of a second. Researchers have so far made elements with atomic numbers as high as 118 in their search for the so-called Island of Stability, whose residents might have unusual and useful properties. But so far, all of these elements have been short-lived. It now appears that a stable superheavy element will need to have an atomic number in the 120s — meaning that it must contain at least 120 protons. Creating such a huge atom is beyond the scope of today's technology. More>