silicon chip

3

The Megaprocessor

The Megaprocessor is a micro-processor built large. Very large.

How? Like all modern processors the Megaprocessor is built from transistors. It’s just that instead of using teeny-weeny ones integrated on a silicon chip it uses discrete individual ones like those below. Thousands of them. And loads of LEDs.

Why? Computers are quite opaque, looking at them it’s impossible to see how they work. What I would like to do is get inside and see what’s going on.  Trouble is we can’t shrink down small enough to walk inside a silicon chip. But we can go the other way; we can build the thing big enough that we can walk inside it. Not only that we can also put LEDs on everything so we can actually SEE the data moving and the logic happening. It’s going to be great.

2

How DNA could store all the world’s data

It was Wednesday 16 February 2011, and Goldman was at a hotel in Hamburg, Germany, talking with some of his fellow bioinformaticists about how they could afford to store the reams of genome sequences and other data the world was throwing at them. He remembers the scientists getting so frustrated by the expense and limitations of conventional computing technology that they started kidding about sci-fi alternatives. “We thought, ‘What’s to stop us using DNA to store information?'”

Then the laughter stopped. “It was a lightbulb moment,” says Goldman, a group leader at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) in Hinxton, UK. True, DNA storage would be pathetically slow compared with the microsecond timescales for reading or writing bits in a silicon memory chip. It would take hours to encode data by synthesizing DNA strings with a specific pattern of bases, and still more hours to recover that information using a sequencing machine. But with DNA, a whole human genome fits into a cell that is invisible to the naked eye. For sheer density of information storage, DNA could be orders of magnitude beyond silicon — perfect for long-term archiving.

Last week the Smithsonian Libraries received the smallest book in our collection - a Nano Bible. The Nano Bible was produced by researchers at the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. Engraved on a gold-plated silicon chip the size of a sugar grain, the bible’s text consists of more than 1.2 million letters carved with a focused beam of gallium ions. The text engraved on the chip must be magnified 10,000 times to be readable. At less than 100 atoms thick, the Nano Bible demonstrates how people can process, store and share data through tiny dimensions using nanotechnology.

2

Silicon Carbide (SiC) is a key building block for next-generation devices. It takes features from diamonds, one of the toughest materials in the world, and combines them with features of silicon, our ubiquitous semiconductor technology in electronics to make a very new kind of material for power electronics. SiC can more efficiently handle higher voltage and three times the amount of energy compared to silicon chips, allowing us to run everything from locomotives to planes and wind farms faster and more efficiently.

Our civilization is literally built on sand. People have used it for construction since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. In the 15th century, an Italian artisan figured out how to turn sand into transparent glass, which made possible the microscopes, telescopes, and other technologies that helped drive the Renaissance’s scientific revolution (also, affordable windows). Sand of various kinds is an essential ingredient in detergents, cosmetics, toothpaste, solar panels, silicon chips, and especially buildings; every concrete structure is basically tons of sand glued together with cement.

Sand—small, loose grains of rock and other hard stuff—can be made by glaciers grinding up stones, by oceans degrading seashells, even by volcanic lava chilling and shattering upon contact with air. But nearly 70 percent of all sand grains on Earth are quartz, formed by weathering. Time and the elements eat away at rock, above and below the ground, grinding off grains. Rivers carry countless tons of those grains far and wide, accumulating them in their beds, on their banks, and at the places where they meet the sea.

Apart from water and air, humble sand is the natural resource most consumed by human beings. People use more than 40 billion tons of sand and gravel every year. There’s so much demand that riverbeds and beaches around the world are being stripped bare. (Desert sand generally doesn’t work for construction; shaped by wind rather than water, desert grains are too round to bind together well.) And the amount of sand being mined is increasing exponentially.

Though the supply might seem endless, sand is a finite resource like any other. The worldwide construction boom of recent years—all those mushrooming megacities, from Lagos to Beijing—is devouring unprecedented quantities; extracting it is a $70 billion industry.

— 

The Deadly Global War for Sand

By Vince Beiser in WIRED