FLASH IN THE PAN The microscopic switch—consisting of two clus-
Researchers at IBM Almaden Research Center have ters of molecules positioned just 32 millionths of
demonstrated the feasibility of a class of data storage a millimeter apart—allows scientists to easily
called racetrack memory that combines the data stor- manipulate an electrical field. By placing these
age of a magnetic hard disk with the speed and switches on a gold or carbon surface, they could
strength of flash memory at relatively low cost. Tech- fit up to one billion transistors on a single chip.
nology Review reports that, unlike flash, racetrack The technology could also be used in other elec-memory would not degrade over time. A recent Science trical devices, such as DVD players, to increase
article depicted racetrack memory as an array of bil- memory and performance. Says Cronin: “The
lions of nanowires on silicon. Each nanowire is able to fact that these switches work on carbon means
hold hundreds of bits of data, encoded by changing they could be embedded in plastic chips so sili-the magnetic properties along the wire, thus creating a con is not needed and the system becomes more
series of magnetic barriers called domain walls. In flexible both physically and technologically.”
order to move the domain wall down the nanowire,
the team uses principles from spintronics, injecting a
small electrical current into the nanowire, causing the
electrons in the current to become polarized so their
spins are uniformly oriented, handing off the changes
to the atoms in the wall. Team leader Stuart Parkin
calls the effort a milestone in developing a prototype.
While still in the early stages of research, racetrack
memory is seen as an attractive replacement for both
hard disks and flash memory, leading to smaller computers and extremely inexpensive memory for iPods and other portable devices
that now rely on flash memory.
A high-tech armband is helping athletes find
their rhythm on the court by playing a special
tune when they move their arms correctly.
Technology Review reports that researchers at the
Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research
Organization in Victoria, Australia, developed
the device as a training tool to improve a player’s
skills. The “interactive throwing sleeve” includes
two sensors at the wrist and elbow
connected by thin conductive fibers.
As the athlete shoots the ball the
sleeve measures the position, veloc-
ity, and acceleration of the arm,
then wirelessly transmits the data to
a laptop for monitoring. Once the
system is programmed correctly the
armband tracks the player’s move-
ments and plays the corresponding
tones. The more the player uses the
device the more he or she will begin
to recognize the pattern of tones
associated with a successful shot.
The Australian Institute of Sport is
working with the researchers to test
the device on elite netball players (a
sport similar to basketball and pop-
ular in the Caribbean, U.K., Australia, and else-
Photo: Jeremy Levy
Researchers at Glasgow University in
Scotland also claim a storage breakthrough that could see memory capacity
of mobile devices like iPods increase
astronomically. BBC News reports Lee
Cronin and Malcolm Kadodwala, from
the university’s chemistry department,
have developed a molecule-size switch
that could boost data storage without
having to increase the size of the devices.
The biggest iPod player today holds
about 40,000 songs. New nanotechnology could theoretically allow users to
store millions of video and music tracks. Indeed, the
work could see 500,000GB squeezed onto a microchip.