Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Continuting March of Technology

Sometimes it's the little advances that matter. Scientists at the University of Geneva have cooked up the first superconducting transistor. Transistors, tiny electronic components that work as switches, are the cornerstone of modern solid state computers. And superconducting transistors would allow computers to operate much faster than current computers can, though the article lacks why exactly that is. Certainly they would generate far less heat, which is a good thing since the prototype version needs to be supercooled before it will operate.

As future technology goes, fuel cells are one that always seem like they are on the way, but never get here. That may be about to change since the government has relaxed the regulations that limited the transport of flammable and corrosive agents which small fuel cells can use as their power source. While you might not be using a butane powered iPod in the immediate future, such a thing isn't completely out of the realm of possibility.

And finally, some news about my favorite freaky trick of nature: piezoelectric materials. These oddball solids can expand and contract in response to electrical fields, and just as importantly, they can do the opposite: change mechanical stress into electrical fields. Normally, the efficiency of the material is quite small, making them less than useful for harvesting mechanical energy. However, scientists in Texas have discovered that at a certain, very small scale, the efficiency of the material increases dramatically. The increases could allow cell phones to be powered by the vibration of a users voice.

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