Monday, April 28, 2008

DRAM market claims another victim

This just in: making money in the DRAM business is (still) hard. SMIC joins Elpida and Qimonda among companies who have recently abandoned the sector. Naturally this is good news for other DRAM suppliers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fresh food? How quaint!

From Texas, a reminder that modern life has its downside. Apparently the children taken from that FLDS compound are headed for foster care, at least temporarily. And apparently the Texas child protection authorities have a long list of ways in which these children differ from most children in foster care: they're polite and modest. They're used to eating fresh vegetables from gardens they helped tend, and meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals they helped raise. Educationally, they're probably at least equal to and possibly ahead of students their age from public schools.

Regardless of whether the allegations against the FLDS are true, it ought to be possible for us all to agree that maybe their parents were doing something right. We're in a pretty sad state as a society when polite, educated children with healthy diets are seen as unusual.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hype overshadows graphene's real promise

Graphene is in the news again, with the announcement that researchers at the University of Manchester have demonstrated (PDF) a graphene-based single electron transistor. That's an exciting development, but the hype machine immediately went completely out of control. Wired declared that Moore's Law is saved, while less restrained corners of the blogosphere announced that "silicon is out, carbon is in".

Well, not exactly. First of all, most of the devices in question were measured at 0.3 K, not exactly a practical temperature for commercial electronics. Second, the whole point of the referenced paper is that the behavior of Dirac fermions(*) under such extreme confinement is chaotic. Somehow I don't think the CMOS industry is quite ready for design models based on quantum statistics. And finally, all of these experiments used mechanically exfoliated graphene, which is a fancy way to say "we rubbed a pencil lead on a silicon wafer and told a grad student to find the graphene flakes." Again, not a commercially viable strategy.

This is not to denigrate the very interesting work being done at the University of Manchester and elsewhere. Graphene is an excellent system for important studies of very fundamental physics. But researchers have a long long way to go to develop a commercializable process, much less make a noticeable dent in the silicon market. Let's keep our expectations in line with reality, shall we?

(*) What's a Dirac fermion? Did I mention that carriers in graphene don't behave like normal electrons?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My brain is full

After all my good resolutions about posting more, I got kicked in the head by an article I'm writing about graphene. Graphene is a 2-dimensional carbon crystal with all sorts of interesting properties, among them being that the electrons behave like relativistic particles. Who knew! Being a materials scientist by training, I learned what little I know about relativity from Star Trek.

It's been a tough slog, and I'm not quite done, either. The good news is that it's also been fascinating. Always a good thing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Journalism 101

Heheheh. The Economist offers insider tips for getting the most out of conferences. They are talking specifically about the recent NATO summit, but the same general ideas apply just about everywhere.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Virtualizing conferences

While researching graphene electronics, I found an excellent resource courtesy of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara. They held a two week seminar on the subject last year, and put all of the talks online. Not just the slides, but audio and video of all the presentations. Definitely worth a look.

(Highly technical: physicists talking to other physicists. As this is a fast-moving field, these talks may not represent the current state of the art.)

The research was for a feature for Solid State Technology magazine, hopefully the May issue.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

No education system can exceed the quality of its teachers

"The only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction."

That's the key takeaway from a big McKinsey study (PDF file) on global education policy. Regardless of country, teacher quality has more impact on student performance than any other factor, including class size and per capita spending.

That's not exactly news. The interesting part of the study is its examination of best practices for improving instruction, both by recruiting better teachers in the first place and by developing the skills of teachers once they've been hired.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Where does hydrogen come from?

Over at, I've been participating in a blog thread about the economics of hydrogen vehicles and the outlook on energy issues in general. Interesting stuff.