Developments to Watch
ANTIGRAVITY: A BRIEF MYSTERY OF TIME
MARCH BLEW IN WITH amazing news about our universe, thanks to two international scientific teams. One group used the huge Cray T3E supercomputer at Germany's Max Planck Institute to run perhaps the largest calculation ever--simulating the evolution of the entire observable universe. The other peered at exploding stars, or supernovas, and found space permeated by a "new" force: antigravity.
Einstein's relativity equations allow for antigravity, but physicists regard it as just a mathematical curiosity, not reality. However, the High-z Supernova Search Team says antigravity seems the only explanation for an apparent speedup in the expansion of the universe since the Big Bang 15 billion years ago. Analyzing its supernova data, the team found the rate at which galaxies are receding from each other is accelerating. So they must be getting pushed apart by antigravity.
In the Feb. 27 issue of Science, High-z's lead astronomer, Brian Schmidt of the Mount Stromlo & Siding Spring Observatories in Australia, says his reaction was "somewhere between amazement and horror." So the team triple-checked its data. Result: The group is more than 98% sure that antigravity is the culprit.
Now, Max Planck is gearing up to rerun its simulation "to look specifically at this matter," says Simon White, an astrophysicist at the institute. He expects the results this month. Meanwhile, astronomers around the world are merrily studying the new model, looking for answers to such puzzles as why galaxies formed in clumps and strings.EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top
FAST, CHEAP, AND CUTTING-EDGE
FINDING A WAY TO PRINT CHIPS FOR THE year 2010 was supposed to cost at least $1 billion. But C. Grant Willson, a chemist at the University of Texas at Austin, and a handful of graduate students may have pulled it off for roughly $2 million. They have produced a laboratory circuit with lines so small they border on the ethereal--just 0.08 microns wide. Today's most advanced chips have 0.25-micron lines.
Five years ago, with a small grant from an arm of the Semiconductor Industry Assn. that supports academic research, Willson went looking for a new "film" for making chips. This so-called resist coating is applied to silicon wafers before circuit images are printed with laser light. Back then, he recalls, engineers believed nothing could both resolve such wispy lines and tolerate the etching that carves circuit lines into silicon. So when optical lithography reached its supposed 0.1-micron limit around 2006, a totally new technology, like X-ray lithography, would be needed.
Now, Willson's crew has handed today's technology a new lease on life. The breakthrough came two years ago, with a chemical concoction that showed promise as a resist. Sematech Inc. coughed up $2 million to develop it, and engineers from makers of chipmaking equipment, including DuPont Photomasks, ISI, Shipley, and Tropel, flocked to Willson's laboratory to help. One photoresist supplier, Japan Synthetic Rubber Co., has already announced a commercial version of Willson's material.EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top
TAKE TWO TAXOL AND CALL ME IN THE MORNING
TAXOL IS SOMETHING OF A miracle drug. Derived from Pacific yew tree bark--and since synthesized--it is widely used to treat breast and ovarian cancer. Next, it may solve a problem accompanying angioplasty--restenosis, or the reclogging of blood vessels by scar tissue.
Angioplasty involves inserting a balloon to unclog blood vessels. Some 750,000 procedures are done annually in the U.S., but in 30% to 50% of patients, new clots form. Researchers at the University of British Columbia Hospital and the National Institutes of Health now report that metal supports called stents coated with a slow-release form of taxol prevented restenosis when implanted in the blood vessels of animals.
Dr. Lindsay Machan of British Columbia Hospital notes that taxol-coated stents are also helping check tumor growth in patients with esophageal cancer. "Taxol is like aspirin," he says. "We're finding more uses for it than what it was originally intended for."EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top