Tag: ‘Miniaturization’

Instant bonsai

19 Jan 2007

Mini-petunias (top left) and ordinary petunias -- On January 18, researchers from Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and the University of Michigan announced the development of a technique for engineering "mini-plants" that are 1/10th their ordinary size.

The researchers claim it is possible to tailor the size of plants by manipulating the genes that regulate the activity of growth hormones. The technique is expected to lead to the creation of miniaturized versions of decorative houseplants, as well as dwarf crops that are easier to harvest and more resistant to wind damage.

In studying dwarf varieties of rice and wheat created through ordinary hybridization, the researchers found damage to the genes that synthesize gibberellin, a growth hormone. When researchers looked for a mechanism to control the growth hormone, they discovered that the GAMT1 and GAMT2 genes commonly found in plants were responsible for producing an enzyme that neutralizes gibberellin.

When the researchers engineered strains of petunias and thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) in which the two genes were constantly expressed, the plants grew to 1/10th their ordinary size. When plants were administered gibberellin, they grew to their normal size, demonstrating that the size of plants can be freely adjusted.

[Source: Yomiuri]

Sayaka: Next-generation capsule endoscope

05 Jan 2007

Sayaka: Next-generation endoscopic capsule --

Endoscopic capsules, ingestible pill-shaped devices designed to capture images from inside the digestive tract, have been around for quite a while. But Sayaka, an endoscopic capsule developed by RF System Lab in December 2005, has dramatically increased the overall image quality by changing the camera position and enabling the camera to rotate.

While conventional capsules -- including RF System Lab's own Norika -- typically have cameras at one end of the capsule, Sayaka's camera has been moved to the side, where it has a better view of the intestinal walls. In addition, a tiny stepper motor rotates the camera as the capsule passes through the digestive tract, allowing Sayaka to capture images from every angle.

Like Norika, Sayaka's power is supplied wirelessly from an external source, primarily so that no harmful battery substances get into the body.

On a typical 8-hour, 8-meter (26 feet) journey through the gastrointestinal tract, Sayaka snaps approximately 870,000 photos, which are sent to a receiver located near the body. Image mosaicking technology is then used to stitch the images together into a flat, high-resolution rectangular map of the intestines, which can be magnified up to 75 times. In addition to scouring the maps for problem areas, gastroenterologists can compare maps from previous sessions to track changes in a patient's condition.

And as if all that were not enough, RF System Lab has released a trippy Sayaka promo video featuring a smooth disco/house soundtrack and starring a naked humanoid that floats over the Nazca Lines, shooting beams from its eyes as it scans the landscape below. Cool.

[Link: Sayaka homepage]

Micromotor harnesses the power of bacteria

30 Aug 2006

Bacteria-powered motorResearchers from Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) have developed a micromotor powered by the movement of bacteria.

The 20-micron (1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter) diameter revolving motor has 6 blades, each with a foot that sits in a 0.5-micron deep, 13-micron diameter groove etched into a silicon substrate. The surfaces of the feet and the groove are treated with proteins that cause the bacteria (introduced via a connecting groove) to move in one direction, pushing the feet (and spinning the motor) as they pass through the groove.

The researchers believe microbial motion can be harnessed as a power source for microdevices in the future, with potential applications that include motors for micromachines and miniature pumps for tiny medical devices.

The research results were published in the August 28 edition of PNAS (online edition).

[Source: Sanyo Shimbun, Jiji]

Tiny dice

16 Aug 2006

World's smallest dice?

God does not play dice with the universe. Or maybe he does. Maybe he uses really small dice that we have difficulty noticing. If so, they might look something like these tiny dice manufactured by Iriso Seimetsu Co., Ltd.

Billed as the smallest dice in the world, each one measures 0.3 x 0.3 x 0.3 mm (for perspective, see the photo above showing one of the die next to a 0.5-mm diameter mechanical pencil lead). The tiny dice are painstakingly crafted one by one from BsBm (brass) in a 9 hour long fabrication process that relies on the latest in micromachining technology. Each one weighs 0.00016 grams and the pips measure 0.05 mm in diameter.

While the 100,275 yen (US$870) price tag includes a special case and the cost of shipping, it does not include the price of the microscope you will need to make sure nobody cheats at the craps table in your flea circus casino.

[Link: World's smallest dice]

Fingerprint sensor in your wallet

28 Jul 2006

Fingerprint sensor by Seiko EpsonSeiko Epson has developed a paper-thin fingerprint sensor measuring 0.2 millimeter in thickness, which may help bring an extra level of security to a range of items in the future. When touched, the sensor reads fingerprint patterns based on the faint electric current emanating from the user's fingertip.

The fingerprint sensor's ultrathin profile means it can easily be incorporated into a variety of commonly used items. Among the applications that Seiko Epson is targeting are self-authenticating credit cards, in which a tiny on-card processor is used to compare the captured fingerprint data with the user's fingerprint data stored in an embedded memory. A non-matching fingerprint would render the card unusable, preventing abuse in the case of loss or theft.

The company aims to commercialize the sensor by 2010.

[Source: Nikkei Net]

Super-sharp lasers to boost disc capacity tenfold

28 Jun 2006

Laser donutResearchers at Kyoto University have developed new semiconductor laser technology that allows the shape of beams to be tailored freely and that can output beams up to 10 times more compact than existing beams – a development that could lead to a tenfold increase in the storage capacity of optical discs. Research results were published in the June 22 edition of British science journal Nature.

The Kyoto University group, led by professor Susumu Noda, worked with Kyoto-based Rohm Co., Ltd. and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) to engineer layers of photonic crystals consisting of tens of thousands of small holes, which were incorporated into 0.5 mm x 0.5 mm semiconductor chips. The photonic crystal layer works as an optical resonator, with each individual hole functioning as a tiny mirror that causes the light to resonate in the semiconductor until it is emitted as laser light. The result is a laser beam with a diameter up to 10 times smaller and with properties different from those of conventional semiconductor lasers.

According to the researchers, these new semiconductor lasers were able to produce a range of beam patterns while maintaining stable single-mode oscillation. The ability to control the oscillation direction of light in this way could lead to the development of compact lasers capable of producing diverse beam patterns on demand, such as hollow beams (with cross-sections that look like donuts), concentric hollow beams (donuts within donuts), and other shapes that have heretofore been impossible to form.

Controlling the oscillation direction of light also means that lasers can be focused into ultra-thin beams, enabling a tenfold increase in the density of data storage on discs without changing the wavelength of the laser. Using blue lasers such as those used in Blu-ray disc technology could lead to DVDs with hundreds of gigabytes of capacity.

Potential applications are not limited to ultra-high density storage media. Ultra-thin, hollow beams could be used as "tweezers" for trapping and moving microscopic particles, which could bring a new level of precision to molecular-level processing and fabrication. Hidemi Takasu, Rohm's research director, says, "In addition to seeing our research applied to next-generation DVD technology, we hope it can be applied to imaging technology that uses lasers to project precise images directly onto the human retina."

[Sources: Yomiuri Shimbun, Kyoto Shimbun, JST press release]

Polygonal spiral-shaped carbon nanotubes discovered

10 May 2006

Carbon nanotubeOn May 8, researchers from JFE Holdings, Inc. and Shinshu University announced the discovery of a new type of carbon nanotube (CNT) -- a polygonal tube shaped in a spiral configuration. Cross-sections of what are normally round tubes showed a structure with at least six sides.

This special structure appeared in CNTs that were synthesized using JFE's production method. The researchers speculate that the polygonal tube spirals arise because the production method’s high temperatures (over 3000 degrees Celsius) lead to high crystallinity, and the rapid cooling causes distortion in the crystal structure.

Using an arc discharge method of production, the company has succeeded in synthesizing 100-micrometer (1 micrometer = 1 millionth of a meter) thick CNT tape comprised of tubes with a purity of nearly 100%. This tape, according to the researchers, is the world’s first of its kind.

When the researchers analyzed the new CNT structure, they found that electron emission was at least several times better than conventional cylindrical CNTs, and they discovered that its strength as a material was at least dozens of times greater.

The company has begun test marketing the polygonal nanotubes, which they call nanocores, for applications in electronics and composite materials. Carbon nanotube tape can be used for such products as field emission displays, next-generation flat-panel displays, fuel cells and semiconductor parts.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

Stacks of ultra-thin DVDs approach terabyte level

20 Apr 2006

On April 19, Hitachi Maxell, Ltd. announced the development of new volume optical storage technology that can provide terabyte-level storage capacity in a compact device. Relying on unique nanoimprint technology, the company has succeeded in reducing the thickness of DVDs to 0.092 mm (92 micrometers) -- which is 1/13th the thickness of current DVDs -- while maintaining the standard capacity of 4.7 GB.

Hitachi Maxell's thin DVD

The system features what the company calls Stacked Volumetric Optical Disc (SVOD) technology, which consists of 100 ultra-thin optical discs (12-cm in diameter, the same as current DVDs) loaded into a 6.5-cm (2.5-inch) thick cartridge. The result is a compact optical disc library system (1/10th the conventional size) capable of combining random access memory and long-term storage.

When laminated on both sides, disc capacity will reach 9.4 GB, bringing the 100-disc cartridge up to near-terabyte level with 940 GB of storage. The company claims that next-generation blue laser technology could boost cartridge capacity to 5 terabytes (50 GB for each double-sided disc).

According to Hitachi Maxell, potential applications of this storage media include library systems for business and institutions. While continuing to investigate other applications, the company aims to cultivate the market by presenting this technology at academic conferences and exhibitions.

The discs will be priced at under 40,000 yen (US$325) for a stack of 100.

[Source: IT Media, Hitachi Maxell press release]

Through the (zero-reflection) looking glass

07 Apr 2006

MetamaterialWhen light passes through material such as glass, a portion of its energy is lost as it reflects off the material's surface. Researchers at Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (Riken) have come up with a theoretical design for preventing this phenomenon from occurring.

The researchers have designed a prism of engineered material -- metamaterial comprised of an arrangement of nano-coils of precious metals such as gold or silver -- embedded in a solid glass-like material. The prism structure has a negative refractive index, which makes it truly transparent to light, allowing it to pass freely through with no reflection.

In the future, this type of metamaterial prism could lead to improvements in low-loss fiber optic communications, the development of telescopes and cameras well-suited for dark subjects, and the emergence of optical equipment we have never seen before.

[Sources: Jiji, Riken press release]