Supercomputing sheds light on the future of multiple industries

Earlier this month, the world's leading minds in the field of supercomputing gathered to share ideas at SC '12, the annual supercomputing conference. Collaboration in this industry has the potential to revolutionize countless others in the next few decades, from regenerative medicine to clean energy.

According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), supercomputing will spur creativity and breakthroughs around the world, leading to a myriad of technological and quality of life improvements.

"As supercomputing reaches new levels of advancement, it will play an increasingly critical role in driving innovation and impacting the well-being of society over the next 20 years," the IEEE said in a statement "For example, supercomputing is at the heart of intensive research that will allow for near perfect weather forecasts. With such a development, weather damage, such as destruction inflicted by devastating hurricanes and other natural disasters, could be significantly minimized."

The IEEE suggests that supercomputing will also lead to breakthroughs in alternative energy technologies that produce no harmful waste, as well as smartphones 20 times faster than today's leading mobile devices.

However, in order for all these possibilities to become realities, we must continue to develop new techniques for the thermal management of electronics. And as consumer products evolve, cutting-edge methods of joining dissimilar metals will be pivotal in manufacturing processes.

The internet practically revolutionized every industry on the planet and created a large number of new ones. Innovation in a single field can bring about a ripple effect where countless others are impacted. When such creativity is combined with the latest in industrial science knowledge, the entire world changes.

World’s oldest working digital computer on display at English museum

In this day and age, six months could be the difference between what is considered state-of-the-art and that which has faded into obsolescence. Thus is the nature of the modern electronic lifecycle.

There is little nostalgia for a five-year-old laptop that has been surpassed by countless newer models. However, a 61-year-old computer the size of one's living room has proven to be awe-inspiring, even though it's processing power pales in comparison to anything consumers can buy online today.

The Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell, or WITCH, has undergone a three-year restoration process at The National Museum of Computing in Buckinghamshire, England. It is now the world's oldest operational digital computer, according to the museum.

WITCH was designed to automate calculations that, up until that point, had been done by individuals using mechanical calculators. It wasn't even meant to handle more complex computations faster than humans could. It was simply built to do them at the same pace but for days on end without error.

"In 1951 the Harwell Dekatron was one of perhaps a dozen computers in the world, and since then it has led a charmed life surviving intact while its contemporaries were recycled or destroyed," Kevin Murrell, trustee of the museum said in a statement. "As the world's oldest original working digital computer, it provides a wonderful contrast to our Rebuild of the wartime Colossus, the world's first semi-programmable electronic computer."

More than six decades of advancements in manufacturing sensors and developing innovative methods of joining dissimilar metals have led to smartphones that fit in the palm of the hand and boast more power than the WITCH ever could. Thermal management technologies allow us to have computers and tablets today handling tasks that the WITCH would have caught on fire for even attempting.

But, it is nonetheless a piece of modern computing history and is certainly awe-inspiring to behold.

Scientists may be able to “cloak” ocean waves

In the beloved "Star Trek" universe created by the late Gene Roddenberry, several alien races had spaceships with cloaking devices. These would allow them to remain invisible to the enemy until such time as they saw fit to engage in battle.

When cloaked, the ship is still there, you just can't see it anymore. This is the idea behind a new paper presented at the 65th Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics. However, it is being applied to ocean waves in an effort to protect coastal regions from the damaging effects of hurricanes – an issue of particular importance to those on the East Coast still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

While the science behind this theory is pretty complex, here is the general idea. Ocean waters are separated into layers with cold, heavy waters at the bottom near the sea floor and lighter, warmer ones toward the surface. Waves occur in both layers. By "corrugating," or creating the right structures on the ocean floor, scientists believe they can transform surface waves into internal waves and vice versa.

If they can accomplish this, destructive surface waves that assault coastal areas during powerful storms could be "cloaked," or transformed into internal waves. They would still be there, but now they would be below the water's surface and not doing catastrophic damage to marinas, docks, residential homes and other structures.

Reza Alam, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley and author of the paper, spoke to Phys.org prior to his presentation.

"Cloaking in seas by modifying the floor may play a role in protecting near-shore or offshore structures and in creating shelter for fishermen during storms," Alam said. "In reverse, it can cause the disappearance and reappearance of surface waves in areas where sandbars or any other appreciable bottom variations exist."

Perhaps one day soon innovative methods of hermetic sealing and joining dissimilar metals will be responsible for the equipment used to achieve this goal.

Mars rover Curiosity sends back valuable atmospheric data

A little more than three months ago, the Mars rover Curiosity landed on the surface of the Red Planet. Since then, the data collected and transmitted back to Earth has the world's leading scientists very intrigued.

The goal of the mission is to collect and analyze samples from the planet that will offer insight into its history, how conditions have changed over time, whether or not it could have supported life at any point and what astronauts might encounter on a future manned-mission to Mars.

Two technology systems on Curiosity are currently helping us get a better understanding of each of these areas. The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) instrument uses a series of sensors to collect data about changes in air pressure, wind direction and speed, temperatures and ultraviolet light reaching the surface, according to a NASA press release.

At the same time, Curiosity's Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) is monitoring high-energy radiation that could pose health risks to astronauts. This data could reveal whether or not microbes could survive on Mars, NASA says.

Innovative joining methods for metals have enabled the rover to be outfitted with these and other systems currently strolling the planet's surface. They are also equipped with cutting-edge sensors that are collecting this valuable information for the best and brightest minds of our world to analyze.

Thanks to the work being done today, dreams of space exploration and the adventures science can offer are alive and well in today's youth. As our technologies continue to evolve, the distance between us and Mars will shrink – not in terms of actual miles, but in our minds and what we are capable of achieving.

DARPA incorporates smartphone technology in warfighter heads-up-display

What are the most desirable features of smartphones and other consumer mobile electronics? Let's run through the checklist. Lightweight. Long battery life. Low cost. High functionality. Ease of use.

These are the criteria used by millions of people to determine consumer purchases. They also happen to be the top priorities of a new government program meant to improve the tools and intelligence information available to U.S. warfighters.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research and development arm of the Pentagon, is developing technology that would incorporate Android smartphones strapped to an individual's forearm, head-mounted cameras, state-of-the-art sensors and a heads-up-display (HUD) to to improve battlefield readiness.

According to an agency release, the Pixel Network for Dynamic Visualization program, or PIXNET, will allow small combat units to detect and identify threats, and communicate that information with other team members and commanding officers at forward operating bases. Current technologies deployed in the field are of little benefit to anyone other than the individual user because they are not networked with similar equipment used by others in the field.

"Existing sensor technologies are a good jumping-off point, but PIXNET will require innovations to combine reflective and thermal bands for maximum visibility during the day or night, and then package this technology for maximum portability," said Nibir Dhar, program manager for PIXNET, in a statement. "What we really need are breakthroughs in aperture design, focal plane arrays, electronics, packaging and materials science. Success will be measured as the minimization of size, weight, power and cost of the system and the maximization of functionality."

In first-person shooter video games, players have the benefit of HUDs that help them identify enemy threats, nearby teammates and other resources. In real life, men and women serving in the American military don't have the same advantage … yet.

But, with the innovative thermal management technologies and methods of joining dissimilar metals that allow smartphones to be made smaller, lighter and more powerful every day, that could soon change.

Building satellites with cell phone technologies

Satellites and space telescopes made from spare cell phone parts? The wonders of technology.

According to a recent Popular Mechanics article, Louisville, Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Corporation is building a "new breed of spacecraft." So, what makes them so special? Rather than constructing them with custom-made, extremely expensive components, they are being assembled with more affordable and easier-to-procure parts commonly used in consumer electronic products.

As the article points out, drastically reducing the manufacturing cost will hold significant appeal for communications companies that are used to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on satellites, only to lose them in risky launches that cannot guarantee success. It also means that manufacturers can build more satellites at a faster pace than ever before.

Planetary Resources is a company building the first commercial space telescopes. Chris Lewicki, its chief engineer, told the news source about the benefits of using components that are already part of the latest and greatest mobile devices.

"It just so happens that everything that the computer-makers are innovating for a smaller cell phone that does more in a smaller spot, and the batteries last longer – those are exactly the same problems that you always have in space . . . It’s wonderful to be on the back side of all that innovation in the consumer world and be able to pick the best pieces and send them off to space."

By using commercially available sensors and thermal management technologies, the impact of satellites on a myriad of industries could be staggering. Billions of dollars can be saved while at the same time opening up a whole new source of revenue for companies developing the latest manufacturing techniques and methods of joining dissimilar metals.

It sounds far-fetched to think that the technology that makes your iOS, Android and Windows devices so popular could soon find a new home on satellites in space. But science fact always starts out as science fiction. It just takes someone with the drive and innovative spirit to make the necessary leap.

Alternative energy technologies ‘indispensable’ in the global landscape, report says

Investing in alternative energy technologies is perhaps more important now than ever before. Global climate change is impacting ecosystems around the world. Sea levels are rising, leading to floods when powerful storms make landfall, like what happened in New York City when Hurricane Sandy struck recently.

The International Energy Association (IEA) has released its "World Energy Outlook 2012" report, in which it predicts green energy will account for roughly one-third of the total global electricity output by 2035.

"Renewables become the world's second-largest source of power generation by 2015 (roughly half that of coal) and, by 2035, they approach coal as the primary source of global electricity," the report says.

According to the IEA, renewable energy is fast-approaching its day in the sun, thanks to falling technology costs and rising fossil fuel prices. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Barack Obama devoted roughly $90 billion to the alternative energy technologies industry.

The United States also happens to be one of the 28 member countries in the IEA, signaling a strong vested interest in the success of those developing the latest green renewable energy systems.

If renewables in fact end up accounting for a third of the global electricity output by 2035, as the IEA projects, we are at a critical juncture where manufacturing ingenuity must continue to drive the cost of these technologies downward. This includes cutting-edge solar cell soldering methods and hermetic sealing for underwater systems that generate power via ocean waves.

What we do today will ultimately determine the future of energy production and the state of our environment on a global scale.

NASA plans rover mission to moon, lunar space station may be next

Resolve. It's what helps us achieve greatness in the face of adversity. We resolved to put a man on the moon in the 1960s. By the end of that decade, man planted the American flag firmly in the lunar body's surface.

RESOLVE is also the name of a payload that, when placed on a rover similar to the one exploring Mars at this very moment, may one day discover resources on the moon that will allow us to send manned exploration missions deeper into space than previously possible.

According to an article on the official NASA website, RESOLVE stands for Regolith and Environmental Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatiles Extraction. It is designed to map the distribution of water and other resources detected during previous unmanned missions to the celestial body.

As the article explains, this would be a nine-day excursion during which RESOLVE can drill into the surface and heat collected materials in order to measure the amount of water vapor and other useful compounds present. The goal is to find resources that will help astronauts make air, drinking water, rocket fuel and a host of other necessities for deep-space missions.

"Mars is a great example of why we need to use the resources at the destination," said Bill Larson, who oversees the program to use materials found on other planetary bodies for space travel. "Each human mission to Mars will last about 2 and 1/2 years. To reduce the amount of water and breathing air we have to send with astronauts, we will need to use the resources of the red planet to generate these life-essential commodities."

By using resources found on the moon, man's reach into the depths of space would be extended – and it all starts here on Earth.

NASA officials have said they will be taking RESOLVE to Mauna Kea, Hawaii next month for a nine-day simulation because the lava-covered mountain's soil closely resembles the moon's surface.

As we rededicate our efforts to space exploration and discovery, these robotic missions are critical to success. State-of-the-art sensors combined with manufacturing ingenuity will allow payloads like RESOLVE to drill into the surfaces of other planets, moons and asteroids and gather data that will chart the course of the future.

Is RESOLVE merely the first step?

While RESOLVE is tentatively scheduled to venture to the moon sometime in 2017, a deep-space outpost could follow within a few years. According to a recent article in The Verge, sources indicate the White House may back a plan to construct a lunar waypoint. If this turns out to be true, manned missions to Mars and other points in space could leave Earth, collect necessary resources at the waypoint and then proceed on to their destinations.

The Verge cites a leaked NASA memo from earlier this year that outlined such an idea and mentioned a possible location: Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2.

This is "a point in space where balanced gravitational forces allow an object to remain in stationary orbit relative to both the Earth and the Moon," writes Sean Hollister, author of the article. "From there, NASA could launch missions deeper into space – say, to Mars, or a near-Earth asteroid – using the base as a stepping stone."

The construction of a "moon base" may sound like something out of a futuristic science fiction novel, but we live in a world where technology is advancing more rapidly than ever before. Through innovative methods of joining dissimilar metals and research into alternative energy technologies, the possibility of such achievements is very real.

Is the cleantech industry about to turn a corner?

Yesterday's presidential election meant a great deal to a great many for a great number of reasons. There are countless issues that divide Americans today, but there is one that should unite the masses: the need for innovative clean energy technologies.

The roughly $90 billion investment in the alternative energy industry from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act came up more than a few times in this campaign cycle. Both candidates advocated the importance of advancing this industry, though Governor Mitt Romney said that $90 billion was too high and that much of that money could be used elsewhere to aid the economic recovery.

President Barack Obama – who won another four years as commander-in-chief late last night – defended his decision to invest so heavily in the clean energy sector, arguing that it helped create thousands of jobs while benefiting the global environment.

Both political parties are dedicated to the betterment of the nation. They just have different ideas about how to reach the same goal. But, what we now know going forward is that federal funding for solar, wind and other alternative energy technologies will not be cut any time soon.

Yesterday, in an article for GigaOM, Katie Fehrenbacher reflected on the past, present and future of this forward-thinking industry.

She said that there exists "a chance of survival for next-gen energy innovators and startups, which have had an extremely difficult past 18 months. Many of them will now at least continue to have an opportunity to compete on their merits … I think cleantech will soon start turning a corner."

From cutting-edge solar panel construction to the bonding of battery terminals for new environmentally friendly vehicles, clean energy technologies are poised to make major breakthroughs in the next few years.

48-core chips could power mobile devices in five to 10 years, says Intel

Currently, smartphone and tablet computers run on processors that have up to four cores, or brains. As powerful as today's top-of-the-line mobile electronic devices are, what do you think you could do with one operating on a 48-core chip?

That is what Intel is working on at the moment – developing a chip more powerful than what we are even using on desktop computers – and hopes to put it in the hands of consumers in the next five to 10 years, according to Computerworld.

As Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, told the news source, having that many cores could spread out the tasks each one handles at any given time, drastically improving overall computing power. Individual applications could run on their own dedicated cores, making multitasking significantly easier.

"I think the desire to move to more natural interfaces to make the interaction much more human-like is really going to drive the computational requirements," Rattner said. "Having large numbers of cores to generate very high performance levels is the most energy efficient way to deliver those performance levels."

As these and other technologies related to mobile electronics continue to forge onward, manufacturing processes must provide the foundation for their success. Innovative methods of joining dissimilar metals and the thermal management of electronics is essential for equipment power to increase while overall size scales downward.

Considering the leaps made in the last decade, it's not unreasonable to think Intel will be able to make a 48-core processor in the next 10 years. If successful, the world of computing could soon resemble that of what we see in science fiction films.