Journalism by Peter Fairley
My tech reporting on everything from sewer robots to biotechnology appears in a broad array of magazines and newspapers, including Canadian Business, , MSNBC.com, IEEE Spectrum, and Discover and . For stories on energy technologies visit the Energy page., ,
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“Kun Zhou: Creating movie-quality graphics in real time” Technology Review, Aug 2011. Zhejiang University computer science professor Kun Zhou has released software capable of rendering movie-quality scenes using graphics chips of the sort that most PCs use to create comparatively crude images.
“Turning Information Into Energy” Spectrum, Nov 2010.
Japanese physicists turn Brownian motion -- plus plenty of external energy -- into work. In other words, to the disappointment of engineering students the world over, tales of thermodynamics’ demise are overstated.
“Programming Advanced Materials” TechReview.com, Jan 2008. Researchers from Northwestern and Brookhaven National Laboratory deliver on one of the earliest promises of nanotechnology: using DNA linkers, they transform nanoparticles into perfect crystals.
“Microfluidics Begets Bedside Diagnostics” TechReview.com, March 2007. Capsule-shaped plastic particles packing a graphical barcode and biological probes provide a cheap yet sensitive system for detecting DNA sequences or proteins.
“Swayed in China” TechReview.com, Feb 2006. Google's approach to doing business in China is more ethical than Yahoo's or Microsoft's, says Julian Pain, an official with Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.
“Life in the Fast Lane” TechReview.com, Jan 2006. The trottoir rollant grande vitesse or TRGV—as the world’s first high-speed moving walkway is affectionately known to Parisians—had a rocky and sometimes dangerous launch in 2002. Authorities have yet to make the long strides required to operate it sustainably.
“Neptune Rising” Spectrum, Nov 2005. Imagine trying to understand the weather by looking out your window once a week and you’ll have an idea of how much we understand the ocean environment. Oceanographic ships tend to chug out of port for just a few days or weeks in a particular spot, generally in the summer when weather is most cooperative. Permanent undersea observatories could, in contrast, provide oceanography with the continuous data it needs. The biggest such undersea lab is taking shape off North America's Pacific coast.
“Germs That Build Circuits” Spectrum, Nov 2003. Genetically engineered viruses can build transistors. It’s a dramatic success for nanotechnology, but hardly a dramatic feat for living creatures, which produce the most complex structures known to science.
“Saving Lives with Living Machines” Technology Review, July/Aug 2003. Around a hospital’s intensive-care unit it is often called the spiral of death: Chemotherapy or infection knocks out a patient’s kidneys and within a day or two, inflammation consumes their blood vessels. Blood pressure crashes, starving the body of oxygen, and the lungs, liver, and other organs begin to fail. Conventional dialysis is of little help; more than half of those caught in the grip of acute kidney failure die. But in clinical trials a novel treatment is saving patients. The treatment? Feeding the patients’ blood past a plastic cartridge containing one billion human kidney cells.
“TR Top 10: Nanoimprint Lithography” Technology Review, February 2003. Nanotechnology labs worldwide are demonstrating a new world of Lilliputian sensors, transistors, and lasers, but making them relevant beyond the lab is difficult for lack of suitable manufacturing techniques. Enter Imprint lithography, a mechanism only slightly more sophisticated than a printing press.
“Nanotech by the Numbers” Technology Review, Sep 2002. In his cramped cubicle at Nanomix, theoretical physicist Seung-Hoon Jhi peers at a computer model of a hydrogen fuel tank. As he raises the temperature of a simulated sheet of boron and nitrogen atoms from a frigid 50 Kelvin to a slightly less chilly 80 Kelvin, the sheet undulates but hydrogen molecules dotting its surface hold fast…
"Continental Drive" Technology Review, June 2001. Distributed computing chokes on complex calculations that require teamwork; each PC in the cluster must crunch data and swap the results with the other PCs hundreds or thousands of times. All that PC chatter slows the calculations to a crawl. Wavelength disk drives could accelerate the conversation by storing exchanged data in wavelengths of light.
"Sewer Bots" Technology Review, April 2001. A small army of robots is infiltrating our sewers. Their mission? To update telecom networks without digging up the streets. In other words they brave the city’s bowels to bring you bandwidth.
"Nanodot Lasers" Technology Review, April 2001. Make particles of semiconductors small enough—just a few nanometers across—and they glow in a dazzling range of colors. Such quantum dots could revolutionize optical networks.
"Keeping Rays at Bay" The Sunday Times of London, March 2001. Mobile phones blast microwaves in all directions and about half of that radiation is absorbed by your head. It may or may not pose a health, but phone-makers have another motivation to deal with the issue straight away: more directional transmission saves power.
"The Microphotonics Revolution." Technology Review, Cover story, July-August 2000. Telecommunications may have been hyped in the 90s, but the technological path forward remains unchanged today: optical switching in the telecommunications network backbone, then an all-optical Internet, and finally optical integrated circuits.
"Blood from a Chip" Technology Review, May-June 2000. Tissue engineering provides lab-grown replacements for burned skin or worn out cartilage. But engineering larger body parts, such as desperately needed livers, remains out of reach—in part because there’s no way to keep these tissues fed with blood. Could a primitive circulatory system grown on a silicon wafer be the answer?
"Evolution's Greatest Blossoming" Earth: The Science of Our Planet, April 1996. Charles Darwin never felt comfortable with the greatest evolutionary burst of all--the blossoming of new life during the Cambrian Period more than 500 million years ago.
"Heads or Tails?" Earth: The Science of Our Planet, Aug 1995. Grazing dinosaurs probably made easy prey for large carnivores in the Late Cretaceous Period. Except for the ankylosaurids, that is, who carried a heavy tail club disguised as their heads.
"The Fumes of Death." Scholastic Choices, May 1995. Sixteen-year-old Freddy Bustaque is dead, felled by a can of air freshener. His parents and girlfriend hope that that his fate sends a message that other teenagers won't ignore: abusing inhalants can kill you.
"STDs: Get The Facts." ScienceWorld, March 24, 1995. Three million teens acquire a sexually transmitted disease every year. You have the power to protect yourself against these infections, but do you have the facts? Winner, 1996 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Association of Educational Publishers.
Archived stories from Chemical Week
"Directed Evolution: Enzymes Enter the New Economy" April 2000. Red-hot IPOs transform the once-sleepy world of industrial enzymes.
"Plant Genomics: Harvesting Intellectual Property" Dec 1998. Genomics--the automation of gene sequencing and analysis--is raising the stakes in plant biotechnology. A race is on to patent genes that will improve crops and allow production of enzymes, drugs, and chemicals in plants.
"Will Light-Emitting Polymers Outshine LCDs?" June 1998. Light-emitting polymers appear destined to replace liquid crystals in flat panel displays.