Stories of modern science ... from UPI

By ELLEN BECK, United Press International   |   Sept. 26, 2002 at 7:45 AM


The new field of electronics called spintronics someday may allow our computers to boot up instantly, provide data faster and use less power. Ohio State researchers are one step closer to making that happen with their use of magnetic fields to control the spin of electrons in a polymer or plastic, not the usual silicon or gallium arsenide, the traditional materials for electronics. The magnetic field forced nearly all moving electrons inside the plastic to spin in the same direction. Achieving this spin polarization is the first step in converting the plastic into a device that can read and write spintronic data inside a computer. The research team has been working on developing plastic electronics since the mid-1980s. Physics Professor Arthur Epstein says plastic electronics "opens up many opportunities for new technologies such as flexible displays and inexpensive solar cells."


Scientists are looking at how land surface water -- lakes and swamps -- can affect hurricanes as they roar across coastlines like speeding trains. Hurricanes lose strength once they hit land but a new study shows that if the storm come across even 2 feet of water on land that deterioration of power is noticeably reduced. A team from the URI Graduate School of Oceanography in Rhode Island used a range of water depths to correspond to possible surface conditions in their study. It shows that during hurricane landfall local surface cooling occurs near the storm's core. This causes a reduction in evaporation, the primary energy source for hurricanes, and considerably reduces the intensity during landfall. With just a 2-foot layer of surface water, the hurricane can maintain its intensity, but then collapse over dry land.


Studying genomes for humans and other life forms is time consuming and expensive. The technology is new and evolving. California-based Applied Biosystems has two new versions of its BigDye Terminator Cycle Sequencing Kit for increasing productivity and improving data quality in DNA sequencing applications. Applied Biosystems has been working on ways to upgrade sequencing technologies needed for accurate and cost effective DNA analysis for studying genomes. Much of the finishing cost for production-scale sequencing projects comes from sequencing difficult templates. The new chemistries may produce an additional 50 to 100 high quality bases, reducing the sequencing time and lowering overall cost.


It was risky in 1752, when Ben Franklin used a key on a kite string to study lightning. NASA has taken the danger but not the fun out of studying what fuels lightning by using a remotely piloted aircraft that can soar to more than 50,000 feet. The month-long Altus Cumulus Electrification Study, based at the Naval Air Facility Key West in Florida, included 115 aerial passes over the tops of thunderstorms to gather data. The goal was to test the new aircraft technology for future meteorological uses. The challenge for weather researchers has been to get continuous coverage of a single storm. An aircraft flying at 200 miles per hour can get only brief snapshots. The Altus II, chosen for its slow flight speeds of 80 to 115 mph and high altitude capabilities, was able to hang out with one storm for more than 80 minutes, allowing researchers to gather more than 500 optical and electrical events produced by the lightning. During another mission, the plane was in the air for more than six hours, allowing scientists to study four thunderstorms in succession.


(EDITORS: For more information on SPINTRONICS, contact Arthur J. Epstein, 614-292-1133 or e-mail For HURRICANES, Lisa Cugini, 401- 874-6642,, for DNA SEQUENCING, Lori Murray at 650-638-6130 or, and for LIGHTNING, Steve Roy, 256-544-0034 or

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