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First Heralded Single Photon Source Made from Silicon

The line between "interesting" and practical in advanced electronics and optics often comes down to making the new device compatible with existing technology. According to NIST scientist Kartik Srinivasan, the new 0.5 mm x 0.05 mm-sized heralded photon generator meshes with existing technology in three important ways: it operates at room temperature; it produces photons compatible with existing telecommunications systems (wavelengths of about 1550 nanometers); and it's in silicon, and so can be built using standard, scalable fabrication techniques.

This is an illustration of the process of photon pair generation, in which input pump photons spontaneously generate special pairs of new photons that emerge at precisely the same time, with one at a slightly lower frequency and the other a slightly higher frequency, after which heralding occurs.

A "heralded" photon is one of a pair whose existence is announced by the detection of its partner -- the "herald" photon. To get heralded single photons, the group built upon a technique previously demonstrated in silicon called photon pair generation.

In photon pair generation, a laser pumps photons into a material whose properties cause two incoming pump photons to spontaneously generate a new pair of frequency-shifted photons. However, while these new photons emerge at precisely the same time, it is impossible to know when that will occur.

"Detecting one of these photons, therefore, lets us know to look for its partner," says Srinivasan. "While there are a number of applications for photon pairs, heralded pairs will sometimes be needed, for example, to trigger the storage of information in future quantum-based computer memories."
According to Srinivasan, the group's silicon-based device efficiently produced pairs of single photons, and their experiment clearly demonstrated they could herald the presence of one photon by the detection of the other.

While the new device is a step forward, it is not yet practical, according to co-author Professor Shayan Mookherjea at UC San Diego, because a single source is not bright enough and a number of other required functions need to be integrated onto the chip. However, putting multiple sources along with their complementary components onto a single chip -- something made possible by using silicon-based technology -- could supply the performance needed for practical applications.

The work was among the three finalists and received an honorable mention in the Maiman Student Paper Competition.

New fuel cell keeps going after the hydrogen runs out

 Shriram Ramanathan's laboratory setup for testing solid-oxide fuel cells. The fuel cell is hidden under the circular component at the top, which pins it down to create a tight seal with the hydrogen fuel entering from below. Two needles connect with the electrodes to measure the electricity produced.

Materials scientists at Harvard have demonstrated an equivalent feat in clean energy generation with a solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC) that converts hydrogen into electricity but can also store electrochemical energy like a battery. This fuel cell can continue to produce power for a short time after its fuel has run out.

"This thin-film SOFC takes advantage of recent advances in low-temperature operation to incorporate a new and more versatile material," explains principal investigator Shriram Ramanathan, Associate Professor of Materials Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). "Vanadium oxide (VOx) at the anode behaves as a multifunctional material, allowing the fuel cell to both generate and store energy."

The finding, which appears online in the journal Nano Letters, will be most important for small-scale, portable energy applications, where a very compact and lightweight power supply is essential and the fuel supply may be interrupted.

 Left: Each dark speck within the nine white circles at left is a tiny fuel cell. An AA battery is shown for size comparison. Right: One of the nine circles is magnified in this image, showing the wrinkled surface of the electrochemical membrane.

"Unmanned aerial vehicles, for instance, would really benefit from this," says lead author Quentin Van Overmeere, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS. "When it's impossible to refuel in the field, an extra boost of stored energy could extend the device's lifespan significantly."

Ramanathan, Van Overmeere, and their coauthor Kian Kerman (a graduate student at SEAS) typically work on thin-film SOFCs that use platinum for the electrodes (the two "poles" known as the anode and the cathode). But when a platinum-anode SOFC runs out of fuel, it can continue to generate power for only about 15 seconds before the electrochemical reaction peters out.

 Three possible mechanisms (left to right) can explain the operation of the vanadium oxide / platinum fuel cell after its fuel has been spent. The illustration represents a simplified cross-section of the SOFC: the top layer is the cathode (made of porous platinum), the middle layer is the electrolyte (yttria-stabilized zirconia, YSZ), and the bottom layer is the VOx anode. During normal operation, the hydrogen fuel would be at the bottom of this diagram.

The new SOFC uses a bilayer of platinum and VOx for the anode, which allows the cell to continue operating without fuel for up to 14 times as long (3 minutes, 30 seconds, at a current density of 0.2 mA/cm2). This early result is only a "proof of concept," according to Ramanathan, and his team predicts that future improvements to the composition of the VOx-platinum anode will further extend the cell's lifespan.  

During normal operation, the amount of power produced by the new device is comparable to that produced by a platinum-anode SOFC. Meanwhile, the special nanostructured VOx layer sets up various chemical reactions that continue after the hydrogen fuel has run out.

"There are three reactions that potentially take place within the cell due to this vanadium oxide anode," says Ramanathan. "The first is the oxidation of vanadium ions, which we verified through XPS (X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy). The second is the storage of hydrogen within the VOx crystal lattice, which is gradually released and oxidized at the anode. And the third phenomenon we might see is that the concentration of oxygen ions differs from the anode to the cathode, so we may also have oxygen anions being oxidized, as in a concentration cell."

All three of those reactions are capable of feeding electrons into a circuit, but it is currently unclear exactly what allows the new fuel cell to keep running. Ramanathan's team has so far determined experimentally and quantitatively that at least two of three possible mechanisms are simultaneously at work.

Ramanathan and his colleagues estimate that a more advanced fuel cell of this type, capable of producing power without fuel for a longer period of time, will be available for applications testing (e.g., in micro-air vehicles) within 2 years.


Google's futuristic glasses move closer to reality

The breakthrough is a wearable computer — a pair of Internet-connected glasses that Google Inc. began secretly building more than two years ago. The technology progressed far enough for Google to announce "Project Glass" in April. Now the futuristic experiment is moving closer to becoming a mass-market product.

Google announced Wednesday that it's selling a prototype of the glasses to U.S. computer programmers attending a three-day conference that ends Friday. Developers willing to pay $1,500 for a pair of the glasses will receive them early next year.

The company is counting on the programmers to suggest improvements and build applications that will make the glasses even more useful.

"This is new technology and we really want you to shape it," Google co-founder Sergey Brin told about 6,000 attendees. "We want to get it out into the hands of passionate people as soon as possible."
If all goes well, a less expensive version of the glasses is expected to go on sale for consumers in early 2014. Without estimating a price for the consumer version, Brin made it clear the glasses will cost more than smartphones.

"We do view this is as a premium sort of thing," Brin said during a question-and-answer session with reporters. 

 Google co-founder Sergey Brin talks on the phone as he wears Google's new Internet-connected glasses at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco, Wednesday, June 27, 2012. Google is making prototypes of the device, known as Project Glass, available to test. They can only be purchased — for $1,500 — at the conference this week, for delivery early next year.

 Brin acknowledged Google still needs to fix a variety of bugs in the glasses and figure out how to make the battery last longer so people can wear them all day.

Those challenges didn't deter Brin from providing conference attendees Wednesday with a tantalizing peek at how the glasses might change the way people interact with technology.

Google hired skydivers to jump out of a blimp hovering 7,000 feet (2,130 meters) above downtown San Francisco. They wore the Internet-connected glasses, which are equipped with a camera, to show how the product could unleash entirely new ways for people to share their most thrilling — or boring — moments. As the skydivers parachuted onto the roof of the building where the conference was held, the crowd inside was able to watch the descent through the skydivers' eyes as it happened.

"I think we are definitely pushing the limits," Brin told reporters after the demonstration. "That is our job: to push the edges of technology into the future." 

The glasses have become the focal point of Brin's work since he stepped away from Google's day-to-day operations early last year to join the engineers working on ambitious projects that might once have seemed like the stuff of science fiction. Besides the Internet-connected glasses, the so-called Google X lab has also developed a fleet of driverless cars that cruise roads. The engineers there also dream of building elevators that could transport people into space.

While wearing Google's glasses, directions to a destination or a text message from a friend can appear literally before your eyes. You can converse with friends in a video chat, take a photo without taking out a camera or phone or even buy a few things online as you walk around.

The glasses will likely be seen by many critics as the latest innovation that shortens attention spans and makes it more difficult for people to fully appreciate what's happening around them.

But Brin and the other engineers are hoping the glasses will make it easier for people to strike the proper balance between the virtual and physical worlds. If they realize their goal, it will seem odd in three or four years for people to be looking up and down on their phones when they could have all the digital tools they need in a pair of glasses

Isabelle Olsson, one of the engineers working on the project, said the glasses are meant to interact with people's senses, without blocking them. The display on the glasses' computer appears as a small rectangular on a rim above the right eye. During short test of the prototype glasses, a reporter for The Associated Press was able to watch a video of exploding fireworks on the tiny display screen while remaining engaged with the people around him.

The glasses seem likely to appeal to runners, bicyclists and other athletes who want to take pictures of their activities as they happen. Photos and video can be programmed to be taken at automatic intervals during any activity.

Brin said he became excited about the project when he tossed his son in the air and a picture taken by the glasses captured the joyful moment, just the way he saw it.

"That was amazing," Brin said. "There was no way I could have that memory without this device."


Colorful creates passively cooled Nvidia graphics card

The GTX680 is Nvidia's powerful single-core graphics card. GeForce refers to a brand of graphics processing units (GPUs) designed by Nvidia. In March it was announced that the first chip based on the Kepler architecture was hitting the market, aboard a new graphics card called the GeForce GTX 680. 

The passively cooled GeForce GTX 680 model uses 20 heatpipes and two aluminum heatsinks. Colorful claims this is the first zero-noise GTX 680 solution.

Colorful is considered one of Nvidia's most important board partners in Asia. Established in 1995, Colorful conducts research, designs, manufactures, and sells consumer graphics cards. Those familiar with Colorful regard it as a company that frequently comes up with surprises. One such description is that Colorful is “an unorthodox producer of Nvidia cards,” according to PC reviews site, HEXUS. A Singapore-based technology site refers to Colorful as making “some of the most outrageous and over-the-top graphics cards you will find.”

Colorful‘s “cooled” solution has 20 heatpipes combined with 280 aluminum fins. In reviewing the announcement, a note of concern was struck over the fact that Colorful has not yet mentioned clock speeds. wonders if they might have underclocked the GPU to help keep temperatures to a minimum. “If it hasn’t been underclocked, then it may be a card worth keeping an eye out for,” said the report. The techPowerup site said that the design guarantees reliable silent operation at reference clock speeds or mild overclocking.

There has been no price or release date announced; Colorful is said to be still assessing the marketability of the design.

When Colorful first showed off the iGame card at Computex 2012 in Taipei earlier this month, the product was described as “iGame GeForce GTX 680 Silent” and drew prompt attention as a card that relies completely on passive cooling, not a fan,.

This is not the first time, however, that a manufacturer has achieved a passively cooled graphics card, and more competition is likely to emerge sooner than later, under different partnerships. Sapphire announced in early June that it had come up with its new passively cooled Radeon HD 7770 card. Like the Colorful entry, this does not use a fan but instead dissipates heat via a “heatspreader.” Sapphire partners with AMD.


Microspheres Could Save Patients Whose Lungs Have Stopped Working

Researchers have developed a way to deliver oxygen to the body's organs safely—via gas-filled microparticles—even when the patient's lungs have stopped working. Doctors could one day use the method to quickly reverse oxygen deprivation in patients with acute loss of lung function while longer-term fixes such as heart-lung bypass support are put in place. 

 Air bubble: An intravenous infusion of oxygen-filled microparticles (the yellow sphere in this composite image) could carry the life-sustaining gas to red blood cells in patients with sudden loss of lung function.

Even short periods of oxygen deprivation put the vital organs of the body at risk. Typically, doctors feed oxygen-deprived patients the gas through ventilators such as tubes in the mouth or nose, but the treatment depends on functioning lungs. In situations where the airway is blocked or the lungs do not work, few options exist. 

In such cases, injecting pure oxygen into the body is not an option because it can form bubbles in blood vessels and block blood flow. Some hospitals have machines that can oxygenate a patient's blood outside of the body, but the surgical procedure to hook up such a bypass machine is complicated and can take too long in an emergency, says study author John Kheir. 

As a first-year fellow at Boston Children's Hospital a few years ago, Kheir treated a nine-month-old girl whose lungs had been damaged by pneumonia and were filled with blood. In the 20 or so minutes it took for Kheir and his colleagues to put her on the heart-lung bypass machine, she suffered severe brain injury from low oxygen levels and died. The experience led Kheir to work toward developing a fast-acting, intravenous treatment that could help patients like her with acute, severe lung injury. "The only way to save someone like that would be to inject oxygen directly into the vein," he says. 

Blood substitutes that carry oxygen are available for transfusion, but are known to cause dangerous side effects and furthermore typically rely on functioning lungs. "There really is a need for something that you can pull off the shelf, and give to people to pull them through these critical periods," says Ann Weinacker, a lung and critical care doctor at the Stanford Chest Clinic. 

Kheir's oxygen-filled microspheres, reported today in Science Translational Medicine, are around three micrometers in diameter and are diluted in a solution commonly used in transfusions so that the particles can flow through even small capillaries in the body. In test tubes, the researchers found the oxygen transferred from the microspheres to hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen, within four seconds. They then tested the microspheres in anesthetized rabbits with blocked windpipes. Although the rabbits were asphyxiated, their bodies were oxygenated and did not show signs of major injury to organs. 

More research is necessary to determine how long the therapy can work and for how many patients it could be useful. "Situations where you have a short-term need [for oxygen] and everything else is working are not that common," says Gail Weinmann, a lung disease expert with the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. But when those situations arise, a quick infusion of oxygen could be life-saving, she says. "As a bridge, even 15 minutes could make a difference in some situations." 

Kheir says the intravenous oxygen delivery could help not only in the critical moments when heart-lung bypass machines are being set up, but also when patients are being put in intensive care on ventilators. Unstable patients with low lung function are also at risk of severely low oxygen levels, he says. "[The goal] is not to make ventilators obsolete, but to make patients healthier," says Kheir.
Kheir says that more lab animal work is needed to explore the clinical utility of the microsphere technology, which he and some of the study coauthors are patenting. "We are testing the ability of these particles to deliver oxygen in other clinical circumstances, such as cardiac arrest and severe bleeding," he says. 

The team is also working on making the microspheres more stable, with the ultimate goal of creating an off-the-shelf solution that could be ready for quick use in emergency situations.

By Susan Young  
From  Technology Review