Scientists from the University of Cambridge have created, for the first time, a new type of microchip which allows information to travel in three dimensions. Currently, microchips can only pass digital information in a very limited way - from either left to right or front to back. The research was published today, 31 January, in Nature.
Dr Reinoud Lavrijsen, an author on the paper from the University of Cambridge, said: “Today’s chips are like bungalows - everything happens on the same floor. We’ve created the stairways allowing information to pass between floors.”
Researchers believe that in the future a 3D microchip would enable additional storage capacity on chips by allowing information to be spread across several layers instead of being compacted into one layer, as is currently the case.
Jeff Rothschild’s machines at Facebook had a problem he knew he had to solve immediately. They were about to melt.
The company had been packing a 40-by-60-foot rental space here with racks of computer servers that were needed to store and process information from members’ accounts. The electricity pouring into the computers was overheating Ethernet sockets and other crucial components.
Thinking fast, Mr. Rothschild, the company’s engineering chief, took some employees on an expedition to buy every fan they could find — “We cleaned out all of the Walgreens in the area,” he said — to blast cool air at the equipment and prevent the Web site from going down.
That was in early 2006, when Facebook had a quaint 10 million or so users and the one main server site. Today, the information generated by nearly one billion people requires outsize versions of these facilities, called data centers, with rows and rows of servers spread over hundreds of thousands of square feet, and all with industrial cooling systems.
They are a mere fraction of the tens of thousands of data centers that now exist to support the overall explosion of digital information. Stupendous amounts of data are set in motion each day as, with an innocuous click or tap, people download movies on iTunes, check credit card balances through Visa’s Web site, send Yahoo e-mail with files attached, buy products on Amazon, post on Twitter or read newspapers online.
A yearlong examination by The New York Times has revealed that this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.
When it emerged a few years ago that humans and chimpanzees shared, by some measures, 98 or 99 percent of their DNA, a good deal of verbal hand-wringing and chest-beating ensued. How could we hold our heads up with high-browed, post-simian dignity when, as the New Scientist reported in 2003, “chimps are human”? If the DNA of the two species is nearly the same, and if, as most everyone seemed to believe, DNA is destiny, what remained to make us special?
Such was the fretting on the human side, anyway. To be truthful, the chimps didn’t seem much interested. And their disinterest, it turns out, was far more fitting than our angst.
In 1992, Nobel prize-winning geneticist Walter Gilbert wrote that you and I will one day hold up a CD containing our DNA sequence and say, “Here is a human being; it’s me!” His essay was entitled “A Vision of the Grail.” Today one can only wonder how we became so invested in the almost sacred importance of an abstract and one-dimensional genetic code — a code so thinly connected to the full-fleshed reality of our selves that its entire import could be captured in a skeletal string of four repeating letters, like so:
It’s true that the code, as it was understood at the height of the genomic era, had some grounding in material reality. Each of the four different letters stands for one of the four nucleotide bases constituting the DNA sequence. And each group of three successive letters (referred to as a “codon”) potentially represents an amino acid, a constituent of protein. The idea was that the bases in a protein-coding DNA sequence, or gene, led to the synthesis of the corresponding sequence of amino acids in a protein. And proteins, folded into innumerable shapes, play a decisive role in virtually all living processes. By specifying the production of proteins, genes were presumed to be bearers of the blueprint, or master program, or molecular instruction book of our lives. As Richard Dawkins summed up in his 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker:
There is a sense, therefore, in which the three-dimensional coiled shape of a protein is determined by the one-dimensional sequence of code symbols in the DNA…. The whole translation, from strictly sequential DNA ROM [read-only memory] to precisely invariant three-dimensional protein shape, is a remarkable feat of digital information technology.