When we talk about computing these days, we tend to talk about software and the engineers who write it. But we wouldn’t be anywhere without the hardware and the physical sciences that have enabled it to be created—disciplines like optics, materials science, and mechanical engineering. It’s thanks to advances in these areas that we can fabricate the chips on which all the 1s and 0s of the digital world reside. Without them, modern computing would have been impossible.
Semiconductor lithography, the manufacturing process responsible for producing computer chips, has 70-year-old roots. Its origin story is as simple as today’s process is complex: the technology got its start in the mid-1950s, when a physicist named Jay Lathrop turned the lens in his microscope upside down.
Lathrop, who died last year at age 95, is scarcely remembered today. But the lithography process he and his lab partner patented in 1957 transformed the world. Steady improvement in lithographic methods has produced ever-smaller circuitry and previously unimaginable quantities of computing power, transforming entire industries and our daily lives.
Jay Lathrop spent summers throughout the 1970s and 1980s working with his friend Jack Kilby on solar technologies.SMU LIBRARIES
Today lithography is a big business with tiny margins for error. The world leader, the Dutch firm ASML, is also Europe’s largest tech company by market capitalization. Its lithography tools—which rely on the world’s flattest mirrors, one of the most powerful commercial lasers, and an explosion far hotter than the surface of the sun—can pattern tiny shapes on silicon, measuring just a handful of nanometers. This nanometer-scale precision, in turn, makes it possible to manufacture chips with tens of billions of transistors. You probably rely on chips made with these ultra-advanced lithography tools; they can be found in your phone, your PC, and the data centers that process and remember your data.
Of all the mind-bogglingly precise machines that manufacture chips, lithography tools are the most critical—and the most complex. They require hundreds of thousands of components and billions of dollars of investment. But they are not only the subject of commercial rivalry and scientific wonder; they stand at the center of a geopolitical competition to control the future of computing power. Where computing goes next will be shaped by the evolution of the lithography industry—and the struggle to produce even more precise lithography tools. The history of the technology’s development suggests that any future advances will rely on even more complex and precise machinery, and even more far-flung supply chains, to produce the specialized components required. The speed at which new lithography systems and components are developed—and the question of which companies and countries manage to manufacture them—will shape not only the speed of computing progress but also the balance of power and profits within the tech industry.
The idea that today’s nanometer-scale manufacturing has its origins in Lathrop’s upside-down microscope lens might seem implausible. But the lithography industry has advanced rapidly. It has enabled chips to follow—and set the pace of—Moore’s Law, the idea that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles roughly every two years.
Lathrop invented the process in the 1950s, at a time when computers used vacuum tubes or transistors so large they were visible to the naked eye—and thus easy enough to manufacture without having to create an entirely new class of tools.
He wasn’t trying to revolutionize computing; he later recalled that he had “no idea about computers.” As an engineer at the US Army’s Diamond Ordnance Fuze Lab during the mid-1950s, he’d been tasked with devising a new proximity fuze to go inside a mortar shell only a couple of inches in diameter. One of the components his fuze required was a transistor—but the shell was so small that existing transistors were difficult to fit inside.
At the time, transistor manufacturing was in its early stages. Transistors were used as amplifiers in radios, while discrete transistors were beginning to be used in computers the size of rooms. The fuze lab already had some equipment for making transistors, such as crystal growers and diffusion furnaces. But even at an advanced weapons lab, many of the materials and tools needed to fabricate them had to be developed from scratch.
These early transistors were made of a block of the chemical element germanium with different materials layered on top, so they resembled the shape of a desert mesa. These flat-topped
By: Chris Miller
Title: The chip patterning machines that will shape computing’s next act
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/06/23/1074321/chip-patterning-machines-shape-future/
Published Date: Fri, 23 Jun 2023 09:15:00 +0000
These scientists live like astronauts without leaving Earth
This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.
In January 2023, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.
“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”
That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.
For 16 days, Sweeney and her colleagues lived in tents on the ice, spending half their time trapped inside as storms blew snow against their tents. When the weather permitted, Sweeney snowmobiled to and from seismometer sites, once getting caught in a whiteout that, she said, felt like zooming inside a ping-pong ball.
On the glacier, Sweeney was always cold, sometimes bored, often frustrated. But she was also alive, elated. And she felt a form of focus that eluded her on her home continent. “I had three objectives: to be a good crewmate, to do good science, and to stay alive,” she said. “That’s all I had to do.”
None of that was easy, of course. But it may have been easier than landing back on the earth of El Paso. “My mission ended, and it’s over,” she said. “And how do I process through all these things that I’m feeling?”
Then, in May, she attended the 2023 Analog Astronaut Conference, a gathering of people who simulate long-term space travel from the relative safety and comfort of Earth. Sweeney had learned about the event when she visited an analog facility in the country of Jordan. There, she’d met one of the conference’s founders, Jas Purewal, who invited her to the gathering.
The meeting was held, appropriately, at Biosphere 2, a glass-paneled, self-contained habitat in the Arizona desert that resembles a 1980s sci-fi vision of a space settlement — one of the first facilities built, in part, to understand whether humans could create a habitable environment on a hostile planet.
The 40-acre Biosphere 2 campus in Oracle, Arizona. It was one of the first facilities built for analog astronaut missions. UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
A speaker at the conference had spent eight months locked inside a simulated space habitat in Moscow, Russia, and she talked about how the post-mission period had been hard for her. The psychological toll of reintegration became a chattering theme throughout the whole meeting. Sweeney, it turned out, wasn’t alone.
Across the world, around 20 analog space facilities host people who volunteer to be study subjects, isolating themselves for weeks or months in polar stations, desert outposts, or even sealed habitats inside NASA centers. These places are intended to mimic how people might fare on Mars or the moon, or on long-term orbital stations. Such research, scientists say, can help test out medical and software tools, enhance indoor agriculture, and address the difficulties analog astronauts face, including, like Sweeney’s, those that come when their “missions” are over.
Lately, a community of researchers has started to make the field more formalized: laying out standards so that results are comparable; gathering research papers into a single database so investigators can
By: Sarah Scoles
Title: These scientists live like astronauts without leaving Earth
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/09/22/1080035/scientists-live-like-astronauts-without-leaving-earth/
Published Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2023 15:38:48 +0000
Did you miss our previous article…
Making sense of sensor data
Consider a supply chain where delivery vehicles, shipping containers, and individual products are sensor-equipped. Real-time insights enable workers to optimize routes, reduce delays, and efficiently manage inventory. This smart orchestration boosts efficiency, minimizes waste, and lowers costs.
Many industries are rapidly integrating sensors, creating vast data streams that can be leveraged to open profound business possibilities. In energy management, growing use of sensors and drone footage promises to enable efficient energy distribution, lower costs, and reduced environmental impact. In smart cities, sensor networks can enhance urban life by monitoring traffic flow, energy consumption, safety concerns, and waste management.
These aren’t glimpses of a distant future, but realities made possible today by the increasingly digitally instrumented world. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors have been rapidly integrated across industries, and now constantly track and measure properties like temperature, pressure, humidity, motion, light levels, signal strength, speed, weather events, inventory, heart rate and traffic.
The information these devices collect—sensor and machine data—provides insight into the real-time status and trends of these physical parameters. This data can then be used to make informed decisions and take action—capabilities that unlock transformative business opportunities, from streamlined supply chains to futuristic smart cities.
John Rydning, research vice president at IDC, projects that sensor and machine data volumes will soar over the next five years, achieving a greater than 40% compound annual growth rate through 2027. He attributes that not primarily to an increasing number of devices, as IoT devices are already quite prevalent, but rather due to more data being generated by each one as businesses learn to make use of their ability to produce real-time streaming data.
Meanwhile, sensors are growing more interconnected and sophisticated, while the data they generate increasingly includes a location in addition to a timestamp. These spatial and temporal features not only capture data changes over time, but also create intricate maps of how these shifts unfold across locations—facilitating more comprehensive insights and predictions.
But as sensor data grows more complex and voluminous, legacy data infrastructure struggles to keep pace. Continuous readings over time and space captured by sensor devices now require a new set of design patterns to unlock maximum value. While businesses have capitalized on spatial and time-series data independently for over a decade, its true potential is only realized when considered in tandem, in context, and with the capacity for real-time insights.
Download the report.
This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.
By: MIT Technology Review Insights
Title: Making sense of sensor data
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/09/21/1079924/making-sense-of-sensor-data/
Published Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2023 17:00:00 +0000
The Download: inverse vaccines, and Microsoft’s big deal
This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.
How inverse vaccines might tackle diseases like multiple sclerosis
On the whole, typical vaccines prime the immune system to respond. But scientists are also working on “inverse vaccines” that teach the immune system to stand down.
Last week Jeffrey Hubbell and his colleagues at the University of Chicago reported that an inverse vaccine they developed had successfully reversed a disease similar to multiple sclerosis in mice. Hubbell has tested this approach before, but only as a way of preventing the disease—not curing it.
These immune-dampening shots could lead to a whole host of therapies to treat autoimmune diseases. And in fact, Anokion, a company Hubbell cofounded, has already launched clinical trials to test whether this type of inverse vaccine might help people with multiple sclerosis and celiac disease. Read the full story.
This story is from The Checkup, our weekly biotech and health newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.
To learn more about vaccines, why not check out:
+ What to know about this autumn’s covid vaccines. New variants will pose a challenge, but early signs suggest the shots will still boost antibody responses. Read the full story.
+ Who benefits most from the new covid vaccines? Data show that older adults and people with underlying illnesses need the vaccine most. Read the full story.
+ What’s next for mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines helped us through the covid-19 pandemic—but they could also help defend against many other infectious diseases, offer universal protection against flu, and even treat cancer. Read the full story.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 The UK is revisiting Microsoft’s offer to acquire Activision
But it’s not a done deal yet. (WSJ $)
UK regulators have accepted Microsoft’s tweaks to the deal, in principle. (FT $)
2 The US has granted Ukraine a lot more military hardware
But long-range missiles, which Ukraine covets, won’t be included in the package. (ABC News)
The US equipment will plug the gap now Poland has ceased sending weapons. (Economist $)+ Decoy weapons are successfully fooling Russian troops. (FT $)
Inside the messy ethics of making war with machines. (MIT Technology Review)
3 The blockchain’s future looks surprisingly crypto-free
Startups have more modest goals now, ideally without legal complications. (Rest of World)+ Crypto parties are still raging if you know where to look, though. (Bloomberg $)
4 These law geeks are taking us inside Google’s antitrust trial
Google may have stopped the trial from being live streamed, but it can’t prevent members of the public from sitting in. (Wired $)
5 People are still queuing to buy the new iPhone
Lines of eager customers in China, the UK, Dubai and Australia suggest Apple’s appeal is as strong as ever. (Bloomberg $)
6 A man-made organism defies the rules of biology
In theory, using unnatural amino acids could make organisms less prone to viral infections. (Proto.Life)
7 Your intimate health information is just data to Big Tech
Data that can generally be sold onto willing advertisers. (The Atlantic $)
How your brain data could be used against you. (MIT Technology Review)
8 Gen Z isn’t immune to online scams
In fact, in many cases, they fall for them more than boomers. (Vox)
9 Absolutely nobody loves PowerPoint
Nonetheless, it persists. (FT $)
Next slide, please: A brief history of the corporate presentation. (MIT Technology Review)
10 Don’t throw out your used coffee grounds
They can become the foundation for all sorts of 3D-printing projects instead. (Ars Technica)
Watch this team of drones 3D-print a tower. (MIT Technology Review)
Quote of the day
“It feels bad, you feel hurt. Then you give yourself time to grieve, you find someone else and you get excited again.”
—Rowan Rosenthal, a former principal product designer for Grindr, likens the decision to leave the company because of its strict return-to-office mandate to the end of a relationship, they tell the Washington Post.
The big story
California’s coming offshore wind boom faces big engineering hurdles
Last December, dozens of companies fought for the right to lease the first commercial wind power sites off the coast of California in an auction
By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: inverse vaccines, and Microsoft’s big deal
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/09/22/1080043/the-download-inverse-vaccines-and-microsofts-big-deal/
Published Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2023 12:10:00 +0000
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