How close can one come to perfection? In the case of Melissa Hines, an assistant professor of chemistry at Cornell University, it could be only an atom away. Her goal: a mirror surface above which not even a single atom protrudes. About five years ago, Bell Labs researchers found that by changing the acidity and composition of a chemical solution, they could produce small areas on a silicon chip that were totally flat, even at the atomic level. Surface roughness was equal to only one protruding atom out of every 30,000 surface atoms. Even on the atomic scale, however, such roughness can greatly decrease the performance of a transistor. The problem: such surface perfection is only reproducible on one type of silicon surface, silicon (111). This is a different plane from silicon (100), used for integrated circuits. Hines wants to find chemical solutions that produce perfection on different surfaces. To do this, she needs to know how a basic hydrofluoric acid solution used in her research etches away protruding atoms. To date, the most perfect surface appears through the electron tunneling microscope as a series of steps, with every step only a single atom high. The steps are the result of almost imperceptible errors in cutting a silicon wafer. If perfected, Hines sees the etching technique useful for integrated circuit technology, micromachining of very small parts, and for producing thin films. That feat, says Hines, is about five years away. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you see a hitchhiker along the road in Canada this summer, it may not be human. That’s because a robot is thumbing its way across our neighbor to the north as part of a collaborative research project by several Canadian universities.
Stanford University researchers have found a way to realize what’s been called the “Holy Grail” of battery-design research -- designing a pure lithium anode for lithium-based batteries. The design has great potential to provide unprecedented efficiency and performance in lithium-based batteries that could substantially drive down the cost of electric vehicles and solve the charging problems associated with smartphones.
Robots in films during the 2000s hit the big time; no longer are they the sidekicks of nerdy character actors. Robots we see on the big screen in recent years include Nicole Kidman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Eddie Murphy. Top star of the era, Will Smith, takes a spin as a robot investigator in I, Robot. Robots (or androids or cyborgs) are fully mainstream in the 2000s.
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