July 28/August 4, 2004   

   Photonic chips go 3D
Computer chips made from photonic crystal -- the optical equivalent of electronic chips -- promise better communications equipment and, ultimately, ultrafast all-optical computers. A pair of techniques for making three-dimensional photonic crystal chips that emit light from specific points have advanced the field. One even contains a built-in light source.
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Online popularity tracked
It's no surprise that a favorable review can boost sales of a product. Researchers analyzing how this effect plays out on the Internet have developed a metric for an item's popularity -- its batting average. The average is the ratio of the number of people who looked at the item's description versus the number who purchased or downloaded it. The technique pinpoints the moment a crowd of people swoop in to check out an item and shows how many turn up their noses.

Summarizer gets the idea
Software capable of figuring out the various topics touched on in a document and using the information to generate summaries would be plenty useful. The challenge is picking up on the topic structure of whole documents. The key is getting the system to catch the drift by training it on similar documents and their summaries.

Electric fields assemble devices
Self-assembly, which is largely how the natural world works, usually operates at the level of molecules. Several research teams are working to bring the concept to larger scales. One scheme calls for shaping electric fields to manipulate electronic components.

Process prints silicon on plastic... Tool automates photomontage edits... Device promises microwave surgery... Hologram makes fast laser tweezer... Chemistry yields DNA fossils... Particle chains make quantum wires.

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