Welcome to the April 30, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
One Billion Euros to Unleash the Power of Information
ETH Zurich (04/27/10) Schmid, Franziska
A diverse group of European scientists are planning the FuturIcT knowledge accelerator, an effort to build a more powerful and accurate science of human systems. The project aims to assemble expertise in all areas of science to develop supercomputing facilities on which future policies can be based. The project will be "one of the most profound scientific initiatives of the 21st century," says European Complex Systems Society president Jeffery Johnson. The recent global economic crises has led scientists to call for a large-scale research initiative on socio-economic and environmental issues to study the way the planet works while including the human component. "The need is clearly intense in the social and economic sphere, if we want to successfully avoid or mitigate similar crises in the future," says ETH Zurich's Dick Helbing. He says the project aims to capitalize on new scientific advances that should make it possible to understand human systems more precisely and on a larger scale. One of the goals is to develop a Living Earth simulator, an experimental system that would be able to simulate global-scale systems involving the interactions of up to 10 billion agents.
India's Electronic Voting Machines Are Vulnerable to Attack
University of Michigan News Service (04/28/10) Moore, Nicole Casal
A University of Michigan (UM) collaborative study has found that India's direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines are vulnerable to fraud. UM researchers demonstrated two attacks against an Indian electronic voting machine. One attack involves replacing a part with a similar-looking component that can be instructed to steal a percentage of the votes from a candidate. Another attack uses a small device to change the votes stored in the machine. "Almost every component of this system could be attacked to manipulate election results," says UM professor J. Alex Halderman. However, the Election Commission of India claims that weaknesses found in other electronic voting systems around the world do not apply to India's DRE machines, which it called "fully tamper-proof." DREs store votes in internal memory and provide no paper records for later inspection or recount. "Such machines have already been abandoned in Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Florida, and many other places," says Rop Gonggrijp, a security researcher from the Netherlands who took part in the study. "India should follow suit."
Computer Experts Tackle Privacy, Security Policy Issues at CFP 2010
The 20th Annual ACM Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP) Conference will address several key issues, including privacy in the cloud, healthcare information technology, social network activism, the 2010 census, and human rights. Microsoft chief privacy strategist Peter Cullen will give a keynote address on privacy issues in cloud computing, while human rights in the context of the Web will be the focus of the keynote address of Google chief legal officer David Drummond. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California's Nicole Ozer will lead the opening panel, entitled "Privacy and Free Speech: It's Good For Business." CFP 2010 also will offer a technology fair; sessions on "Investing in Privacy," "The Internet of Things," and "Foundations of Trust Online;" the first "Unconference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy;" graduate student poster sessions; and birds of a feather roundtable sessions. CFP 2010 will be held June 15-18 at San Jose State University.
New Web Research Network Gets Off the Ground
The Web Science Trust (WST) has launched the Web Science Trust Network of Laboratories (WSTNet Labs), an international network to support Web science research and education. WSTNet Labs will host and organize summer schools, workshops, and meetings, including the WebSci conference series, and focus on new events and fundraising. "We are linking together a group of highly respected research laboratories, which are all already making internationally leading contributions through their research," says WST's John Taylor. ACM President and University of Southampton professor Wendy Hall, who is WST's managing director, adds that "WSTNet will extend our global research capabilities in Web science as well as ensure that the subject is built into university syllabuses."
Lawmakers Renew Commitment to Science Spending, Despite Budget-Deficit Fears
Chronicle of Higher Education (04/29/10) Basken, Paul
The U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee has agreed to support a measure that would renew authorization for the America Competes Act, which sets funding levels for research and development at the main federal science agencies. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $7.5 billion in fiscal year 2011, and $10.2 billion in 2015, according to the plan. The Energy Department's Office of Science would receive $5.2 billion in 2011 and $6.9 billion in 2015. "These authorization levels are lower than I would like them to be, but I believe they are practical," says committee chairman Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.). The committee's plan also would push the NSF to find ways to promote more groundbreaking innovations, including the creation of a $12 million program of cash prizes for solving important questions of basic research in science and engineering.
Self-Powered Flexible Electronics
Technology Review (04/30/10) Bourzac, Katherine
Sungkyunkwan University (SU) and Samsung researchers have developed a way to capture the piezoelectric power generated when a touchscreen flexes under a user's touch. The researchers have integrated flexible, transparent electrodes with an energy-scavenging material to make a device that could provide supplementary power for portable electronics. The new device places piezoelectric nanorods between highly conductive graphene electrodes on top of flexible plastic sheets. "The flexibility and rollability of the nano-generators gives us unique application areas such as wireless power sources for future foldable, stretchable, and wearable electronics systems," says SU professor Sang-Woo Kim. Pressing the screen induces a local change in electrical potential that can be used to sense the location of a finger. The material can generate about 20 nanowatts per square centimeter. The researchers also have made more powerful devices that produce about a microwatt per square centimeter. This "indicates we can realize self-powered flexible portable devices without any help of additional power sources such as batteries in the near future," Kim says.
Monash 'TARDIS' Transports Research to the World
Monash University (04/27/10) Blair, Samantha
Monash University software engineer Steve Androulakis and biochemist Ashley Buckle have developed MyTARDIS/TARDIS, a tool designed to securely collect, store, and share research information. "The program records the data generated from an experiment, catalogs it, making it searchable, and transfers it back to the home institution, where the researcher can analyze the data using MyTARDIS, then make it publicly available on the TARDIS system alongside publication of the results in a scientific journal," Buckle says. The system uses the Internet to enable researchers to quickly share their data with other colleagues. Scientists at the Australian Synchrotron currently are using the program, and it is being made available to other institutions worldwide. The project required Androulakis to work alongside scientists in the laboratories, and Monash professor Paul Bonnington believes similar collaboration between science and technology will open up new possibilities for researchers.
Blingtronics: Diamonds Are a Geek's Best Friend
New Scientist (04/27/10) Cartwright, Jon
Researchers are studying how to use diamonds and precious metals to revolutionize how electronics are produced. The University of Bristol's Neil Fox aims to turn diamond films into a type of solar cell that generates electricity by absorbing heat rather than visible light. Fox says diamond solar cells should be more efficient than conventional devices because they have no moving parts. The technology also could be used to harvest waste heat from power stations, industrial plants, or vehicle exhausts. Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to use nano-diamonds as an alternative to the silicon circuitry used in microchips. DARPA researchers hope to use diamond-based devices to create a military radio that operates at broadband speeds. Other researchers are using precious metals to advance the field of electronics. A team from South Korea's Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute recently transferred data between computer chips using plasmons to channel a broadband light signal along gold wires. And silver nanoparticles have been found to help make light-emitting diodes (LEDs) more efficient. Adding silver nanoparticles to LEDs can boost their output eightfold, which could ultimately lead to new types of low-power display screens.
A Virtual Muscle Machine for Kids With Disabilities
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (04/27/10)
Tel Aviv University's Dido Green has developed a virtual method for analyzing movement patterns in children to more effectively treat those with debilitating motor disorders. Green is using a virtual tabletop, called the Elements System, to help children with disabilities move and to provide home-based treatments using virtual reality tools. Combining three-dimensional exercises with two-dimensional graphical movement games has produced successful treatments and enthusiastic patients, Green says. "The movement-oriented games allowed them to 'make music' and reach targets in ways that are normally neither comfortable nor fun in the therapeutic setting," she says. Children with partial paralysis and motor dysfunction may be helped by giving them a new interface to explore. "It could bring daily treatments into the home and provides therapists with a complete solution to track and analyze improvements or setbacks in the most accurate way to date," Green says. Future versions of the system will provide remote rehabilitation options.
Lessons From the Brain: Toward an Intelligent Molecular Computer
Michigan Tech News (04/26/10) Goodrich, Marcia
A molecular computer that mimics the way neurons collectively operate in the brain has been developed by researchers from Michigan Technological University (MTU) and Japan. The team made the tiny computer with DDQ, a hexagonal molecule made of nitrogen, oxygen, chlorine, and carbon that self assembles in two layers on a gold substrate. The DDQ molecule can switch among four conducting states--0, 1, 2, and 3. "The neat part is, approximately 300 molecules talk with each other at a time during information processing," says MTU's Ranjit Pati. "The evolving neuron-like circuit network allows us to address many problems on the same grid, which gives the device intelligence." Pati says the molecular processor is capable of solving problems for which algorithms on computers are unknown, as well as healing itself if there is a defect. "This is very exciting, a conceptual breakthrough," Pati says. "This could change the way people think about molecular computing."
Defense-Scale Supercomputing Comes to Alternative Energy Research
Sandia National Laboratories (04/26/10) Singer, Neal
Red Mesa, a collaboration between Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is a 180-teraflop supercomputing platform that will offer defense-scale computing power to alternative energy research. Red Mesa, when combined with Sandia's other supercomputer Red Sky, reaches a total speed of 500 teraflops, making it the 10th fastest computer in the world. "We need supercomputing to help us transform forestry and agricultural by-products into fuels and energy more rapidly and economically," says NREL Computational Science Center director Steve Hammond. The Red Mesa team significantly improved its efficiency compared with other supercomputers by developing a new innovation called the Glacier Door, which caps each cabinet and keeps cooling mechanisms within a few inches of the heat source. The system also has a better electrical power distribution that allows for easier installation and removal of electrical wiring. "Our changes, both in software and hardware, will save millions of dollars over the life of this machine," says Sandia's John Zepper.
Wheelchairs That Listen
Boston Globe (04/26/10) Weintraub, Karen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are developing a voice-operated robotic wheelchair for people with neurological disorders. MIT professor Nicholas Roy is leading the project with MIT professor Seth Teller and residents of the Boston Home outpatient facility. "Assistive technology tends to have a relatively high rate of abandonment," Roy says, because they are often designed without input from users. However, Boston Home residents are helping the researchers develop the wheelchair to meet their needs. The wheelchair is designed with a tracker, to help the staff locate the residents, as well as helping the residents find friends. The chair also has a built-in monitor that displays the Boston Home's daily schedule, so residents will know the time of their next social event, outing, or relaxation session. "They can know more about the environment--weather, scheduled events, menus--and exploit that knowledge to make more meaningful choices about how they wish to spend their time," Teller says. The prototype also can create a mental map of an area after one guided tour using distinguishable landmarks.
Attack Makes Chips More Reliable
BBC News (04/26/10) Ward, Mark
University of Michigan (UM) researchers have discovered that by varying the voltage to certain parts of a computer's processor, the ability to keep key data secret is compromised. The researchers also found that a method that helps chips defend against the attack also could make them more reliable. "By putting the voltage just below where it should be means the device makes computational mistakes--it suffers temporary transistor failure," says UM professor Valeria Bertacco. The researchers used that insight to develop an attack method that could extract every part of a 1,024-bit key in about 100 hours. The research will lead to improvements in the way the public key security system works to make it less susceptible to this kind of attack, Bertacco says. The research also could help to produce error correction systems that identify when transistors fail and ensures that the data does not get corrupted.
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