SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Atomising computing with new chips
Roopinder Singh
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N atom is the smallest component of an element having the chemical properties of the element. However, it is also the most powerful, capable of releasing immense energy, both peaceful and, as the world has found to its cost, destructive. Intel had something like that in its mind when it recently showcased its smallest chip, the tiny Atom.

Simple, safe cloning
Steve Connor
A
new form of cloning has been developed that is easier to carry out than the technique used to create Dolly the sheep, raising fears that it may one day be used on human embryos to produce “designer” babies.

Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE
Prof Yash Pal
Whatever I learn, I forget very soon unless I “revise” it over and over. Is there any way I could learn things the first time without the tedium of repeated study?





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Atomising computing with new chips
Roopinder Singh

AN atom is the smallest component of an element having the chemical properties of the element. However, it is also the most powerful, capable of releasing immense energy, both peaceful and, as the world has found to its cost, destructive. Intel had something like that in its mind when it recently showcased its smallest chip, the tiny Atom.

Pat Gelsinger, Intel’s Senior Vice-President, also used the Intel Developer Forum in Shanghai, where 5,000 software and hardware designers had gathered recently, to focus on the Tukwila chip that has two billion transistors in it! The stress was on scalability and how Intel was able to use two totally different processors at the same time.

It is an impressive feat. The Atom family comprises the world’s smallest computer processors. An Atom is the size of a baby’s fingernail.

The size here is inversely proportional to power. The chip has 47 million transistors, which will make it a powerful heart of Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), and it is a miser when it comes to power consumption — 600 milliwatts.

The Intel Atom processor is based on an entirely new micro architecture designed specifically for small devices and low power, while maintaining the Intel Core™ 2 Duo instruction set compatibility consumers are accustomed to when using a standard PC and the Internet.

The Atom’s design also includes support for multiple threads for better performance and increased system responsiveness. All of this on a chip that measures less than 25 mm˛, making it Intel’s smallest and lowest power processor yet.

In contrast with the Atom, the huge Tukwila has four cores and will, according to Intel, do the work of virtually four computers. Tukwila breaks new ground for the highest number of transistors ever put on a chip - two billion. When you have so many transistors, they consume power, in this case 130 to 170 watts.

Billions of transistors allow super computers to perform a million times billion operations a second, or peta flops. Such super computers are used to simulate real-life situations and help scientists find ways to understand and learn from them.

As Gelsinger recalled: “When Intel launched the world’s first microchip in 1971, it had just 2300 transistors. I was part of the team that created the Intel 386 processor in 1985: it had 2, 75,000 transistors... and now in my hand, I can hold this two billion-transistor monster.”

Till now, bigger is better, was a philosophy adhered to by most computer manufacturers and users. Now, there is a paradigm shift in this, as smaller but capable devices are coming to the centre stage.

Already, Sharp has announced the launch of an Atom-based device, which will run on Microsoft’s Vista operating system. The device, according to a press release, uses a 1.33GHz Z520 Intel Atom processor and runs Windows Vista Home Premium. It is a small computer that can also be used as a phone and features a 5-inch sliding LCD (1024x600/262K colours) screen with an LED backlight, a 1.8-inch 40GB hard disk drive. The keyboard is QWERTY one and it has a built-in camera, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a mirco SD card slot, and a USB 2.0 slot.

The future of computers will have a major role for such around US$ 1,000 MID devices, which are a combination of communication and computing that can fit in your pocket. Small is beautiful, isn’t it!
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Simple, safe cloning
Steve Connor

A new form of cloning has been developed that is easier to carry out than the technique used to create Dolly the sheep, raising fears that it may one day be used on human embryos to produce “designer” babies.

Scientists who used the procedure to create baby mice from the skin cells of adult animals have found it to be far more efficient than the Dolly technique, with fewer side effects, which makes it more acceptable for human use.

The mice were made by inserting skin cells of an adult animal into early embryos produced by in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). Some of the resulting offspring were partial clones but some were full clones, just like Dolly.

Unlike the Dolly technique, however, the procedure is so simple and efficient that it has raised fears that it will be seized on by IVF doctors to help infertile couples who are eager to have their own biological children.

One scientist said this weekend that a maverick attempt to perform the technique on humans is now too real to ignore. “It’s unethical and unsafe, but someone may be doing it today,” said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of American biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology.

“Cloning isn’t here now, but with this new technique we have the technology that can actually produce a child. If this was applied to humans it would be enormously important and troublesome,” said Dr Lanza, whose company has pioneered developments in stem cells and cell reprogramming.

“It raises the same issues as reproductive cloning and although the technology for reproductive cloning in humans doesn’t exist, with this breakthrough we now have a working technology whereby anyone, young or old, fertile or infertile, straight or gay can pass on their genes to a child by using just a few skin cells,” he said.

The technique involves the genetic reprogramming of skin cells so they revert to an embryonic-like state. Last year, when the breakthrough was used on human skin cells for the first time, it was lauded by the Catholic Church and President George Bush as a morally acceptable way of producing embryonic stem cells without having to create or destroy human embryos.

However, the same technique has already been used in another way to reproduce offspring of laboratory mice that are either full clones or genetic “chimeras” of the adult mouse whose skin cells were reprogrammed.

The experiments on mice demonstrated that it is now possible in principle to take a human skin cell, reprogramme it back to its embryonic state and then insert it into an early human embryo. The resulting child would share some of the genes of the person who supplied the skin tissue, as well as the genes of the embryo’s two parents.

— The Independent
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THIS UNIVERSE
Prof Yash Pal

Whatever I learn, I forget very soon unless I “revise” it over and over. Is there any way I could learn things the first time without the tedium of repeated study?

Learning is not meant primarily to answer examination questions. It is for understanding. If you learn without understanding, you are likely to forget more easily because you have not been able make links with what you have yourself observed or understood earlier.

If you learn for understanding, the essence of the knowledge you gain will become part of you. This method of learning will be much more useful and fulfilling than simply becoming the human equivalent of a tape recorder, or a Compact Disc.

Speaking more generally, it is profitable and enjoyable to study and learn with concentration, by immersing yourself in whatever you are engaged in.

Who discovered India? Which country (other than America) did Christopher Columbus discover?

It would be erroneous to say that Christopher Columbus discovered America. It already existed. There were people living there, some of whom had developed a great civilization - far more advanced than any in Europe.

The Europeans destroyed this civilization. Perhaps it succumbed because it was already on the decline due to internal conflicts.

One can give one possible answer to the first “finding”, by humans, of most parts of the Earth. There is strong evidence that our species evolved in Africa about half a million years ago.

It might have spread out to the rest of the world in several small waves. I am sure it did not take as long to populate India as it might have America or Australia.

The Bering Strait is considered the most probable route, which migrant populations would have taken to reach America, since it was frozen at that time, allowing people to just walk across.

Many of the questions are still being debated with newer dating technologies (including DNA dating) adding fresh insights.
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