Infared waves used to treat burns

Scientists in St Petersburg have developed a technology that they say can treat burns on humans by using infrared emissions.

A test version of the device has already been built based on silicon light-emitting diodes.

This emits far infra-red waves - electromagnetic radiation of a wavelength longer than visible light, but shorter than microwave radiation - which have been shown to be very efficient in healing wounds, ulcers, bedsores and, especially, burns.

Not only does it speed up the process of healing but it makes it less painful as well.

A team from the Russian Academy of Sciences and the say that the device will even be efficient when burns cover such a large area that normally the case would be deemed hopeless.

To reach this stage the scientists had to develop a technology that would allow the irradiation of a large surface area.

The radiation spectrum had to be a wider - from 3.5 to 40 microns - than any previously developed. Previously known far infrared light emitting diodes either had too narrow a spectrum, were too expensive or leaked infrared emission on to nearby areas - heating up the patient too much and in some cases burning them.

The team developed technology that allowed them to grow tiny radiating light-emitting diode elements parted by minute barriers, about 2 nanometers thick, on a plate of single-crystalline silicon.

Then they successfully reinforced emission from the tiny diodes by growing a resonator layer on the same plate consisting of microscopic silicon pyramids festooned with further radiating elements.

Now the researchers are carrying out final clinical trials on a panel with dimensions of 1.8m by 0.6m. They expect the first wave of infrared burns treatment devices to hit the market by the end of 2006.

Russian Academy of Sciences:http://www.pran.ru/eng/

St Petersburg State Electrotechnical University: http://www.eltech.ru/english/index.htm

Energy-efficient computing

The grip of Moore's Law on the computing industry is loosening.

The law - which posits the doubling of transistors every couple of years - and the resulting race for faster processing times has dominated computing since its discovery in the 1960s.

But even some of today's biggest players are now beginning to think of alternatives to the speed for speed's sake ethos.

They are admitting that there's not much more to be gained from faster microprocessors except more heat, more noise and bigger fans to cool them down.

These undesired bi-products are exacerbated when we move into the realms of the supercomputer, with today's elite computers draining power as they make hundreds of trillions of calculations a second.

According to the New Scientist, developers at Edinburgh University have taken these problems on board and are building a supercomputer that they say could offer a viable alternative to the energy-guzzling machines of the moment - by using extremely versatile chips known as Field Programmable Gate Array chips instead of conventional microprocessors.

FPGAs can be reconfigured using software to mimic computer processing equipment that is physically designed to take on specialised tasks. Each FPGA chip consists of a block of programmable logic gates that can be electronically organised into different types of circuit.

In simple terms, FPGAs allow a computer to reconfigure itself to do different jobs as efficiently as possible - a sort of Leonardo da Vinci of the processing world mastering each task in turn.

In contrast, conventional microprocessors are designed to act as fixed, general processing devices - jacks of all trade and masters of none. Not only are they inefficient to program for specific tasks but as they become increasingly complex, microprocessors are consuming thousands of watts of power and require specialised cooling.

The designers of the new computer say that if it can be made easy enough to program, it could usher in a new generation of compact and energy-saving supercomputers over the next decade.

Their supercomputer will consist of 64 FPGA processing units and will operate at up to 1 teraflop - one trillion mathematical operations per second.

This is fairly modest by today's standards when the fastest computers work at hundreds of teraflops.

But the Edinburgh system will be up to 100 times more energy efficient than a conventional supercomputer of equivalent computing power and will only take up the space of four normal PCs, when a conventional 1 teraflop supercomputer would fill a room.

But despite the benefits a considerable challenge lies ahead of the team. FPGA hardware is more difficult to program because a programmer needs to know how to adjust the underlying hardware to get the most out of the machine.

To counter this problem, an alliance between the research team and several FPGA companies to develop software tools to help programmers to create code for FPGA chips more easily.

Once the FPGA machine is built, the developers will assess its potential by trying to transfer existing supercomputer programs on to the new hardware using the new tools.

Edinburgh University - Parallel Computing Centre: http://www.epcc.ed.ac.uk/

Imitating natural silicon production

Silicon is at the heart of another interesting research project this week, as US scientists examine how the marine sponge produces the versatile substance at low temperatures and in an environmentally friendly way.

Silicon is one of most important elements in the technology industry, where silicon chips are fundamental components of computers and mobile phones.

But where as man can produce millions of tons of silicon using very high temperatures, caustic chemicals and high vacuums, nature produces thousands of millions of tons at low temperatures and without harming the environment.

The process by which nature achieves this has piqued the interest of a team of scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara who have been focusing their research on the simple sponge to see how it synthesises the silicon and examine ways of mimicking the procedure in a man-made environment.

When you strip away the outer tissue of a sponge you are left with a handful of fibreglass needles - as fine as cotton - which act as a supportive skeleton for the organism.

The scientists have discovered that the glass needles contain a filament of protein that controls the synthesis. By cloning and sequencing the DNA of the gene that codes for this protein, they found that the protein is an enzyme that acts as a catalyst promoting chemical reactions to form the biomineral - the first time a protein has been found to act in such a way.

The researchers learned that this enzyme actively promotes the formation of the glass while simultaneously serving as a template to guide the shape of the growing mineral it produces.

The team say they have now managed to mimic this process in laboratory conditions by developing small, inexpensive synthetic molecules that duplicate those found at the active centre of the bio-catalyst of the marine sponge. They then coupled these molecules with gold nanoparticles.

Then they showed that when two populations of these chemically modified nanoparticles - each bearing half of the catalytic site - were brought together they function just like the natural catalyst used by the sponge, making silica at low temperatures.

The team is now trying to find useful methods of nanoscale production by incorporating nanoscale components on the flat surfaces of silicon wafers and learning how to write nanoscale features of semi-conductors on these chip surfaces.

The scientists believe that this procedure would be impractical on an industrial scale, but hope that by learning the fundamental mechanism used by nature, they can translate that mechanism into a practical and low-cost manufacturing "biomimetic" method.

University of California, Santa Barbara:http://www.ucsb.edu/

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