'Racetrack' computer memory could be 100 times faster, cheaper

Soon your computer and electronic gadgets could be much smaller, faster, cheaper, more reliable and even greener thanks to a new form of computer memory technology called racetrack.

Christopher Marrows, a physicist at England's University of Leeds, says racetrack memory, currently under development at IBM, will be a vast improvement over today's leading computer memory technology - hard disk and flash - which each have serious limitations.

Racetrack is showing to be more reliable than hard disks, making consistent computer crashes, well, a distant memory.

And it's cheaper than flash - perhaps 100 times less expensive.

"This technology will allow you to have the best of both worlds - cheap nano-size with huge memory in 3G phones, MP3 players, camcorders and other devices," says Marrows. "But, more importantly, there will be more sites that will be able to give away storage for free, like YouTube.com and Gmail.com."

Racetrack, as the name implies, is all about speed - and reliability, since all the parts are static.

Data stored on racetrack moves around on a wire pushed by spiralling magnetics, unlike hard disks in which a motor-operated head, much like a record player, has to move to the data to read it. It's those moving parts that make hard disks, invented by IBM in 1956, susceptible to crashing.

"Hard disks are so good because they are so cheap," says Marrows. "But they are bad because of the moving parts, which wear out or crash."

Flash memory, created by Toshiba in 1980, has its own drawbacks. As a solid-state storage device with no moving parts, it's faster and more reliable than disks, but it has a limited number of erase-write cycles before the memory capacity begins to deteriorate.

The impact of racetrack, which has the durability and speed of flash and the affordability of hard disk, will be enormous, says Stuart Parkin, IBM fellow and inventor of the technology.

"Racetrack will have cheap memory with the possibility of being one million times faster than hard disks without the risk of wearing out," he says.

Data stored on racetrack moves around on a wire pushed by spiralling magnetics, unlike hard disks in which a motor-operated head, much like a record player, has to move to the data to read it. It's those moving parts that make hard disks, invented by IBM in 1956, susceptible to crashing.



Earth-Sized Planet Discovered By Scientists

HATFIELD, England — Scientists have discovered a planet outside our solar system that is close to Earth in size _ far different from the behemoths previously detected, researchers said Tuesday.

Scientists attending a conference in England said that the planet was less than twice the size of Earth. Nearly 350 so-called exoplanets have been found outside our solar system but so far nearly every one has been too close or too far from its sun, making all too hot or too cold to support life.

Massive planets are more likely to be uninhabitable gas giants like Jupiter. Planets much smaller than earth are very difficult to detect.

The new planet is the smallest exoplanet yet discovered but it is probably too hot for human life because it sits very close to the sun-like star it orbits, researcher Michel Mayor said.



3D Printing and Self Replicating Machines In Your Living Room - Seriously!

Imagine having a machine for $500 in your living room that can take your computer based specification for a 3D object and print out a plastic replica of the object in a matter of minutes.  Imagine furthermore that all of the specifications for the machine are completely open source, completely shareable and modifiable by anyone in the world, and that there is a worldwide community of volunteers working feverishly to support you and anyone else to troubleshoot and improve the machine.  Imagine no longer…this machine, called a Reprap, is reality!  Best of all, these machines are ultimately designed to self replicate themselves, bringing us within tantalizing reach of a long envisioned era of self replicating machines.
Students Union Reception



Mars has a layer of Ice

Formed sometime between January and September 2008, this fresh crater has dredged up barely buried water ice and splashed it onto the Martian surface. The HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded this colour close-up image on 1 November 2008. The scene is about 30 metres across. (Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Mars has a layer of ice as shallow as a few tens of centimeters below the surface. If the Viking lander had been able to dig deeper it would have found it in the 1970s. Analysis of recent impact craters show the exposed ice, which then is sublimated into the atmosphere.



Implantable Telescope for the Eye

A miniature telescope implanted into the eye could soon help people with vision loss from end-stage macular degeneration. Last week, an advisory panel for the Food and Drug Administration unanimously recommended that the agency approve the implant. Clinical trials of the device, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, suggest it can improve vision by about three and a half lines on an eye chart.

"This is one of the few options for people with end-stage macular degeneration," says Kathryn Colby, an eye surgeon at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, in Boston, who helped develop the surgical procedure used to implant the device.