While universities don't tend to shout as loudly about their latest tech innovations as do Google, Cisco and other big vendors, their results are no less impressive in what they could mean for faster, more secure and more useful networking. Here's a roundup, in no particular order, of some of the most amazing and colorful projects in the works.
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1. Exploiting T-rays
Who needs electricity to run superfast computers when there's terahertz radiation, or T-rays? University of Utah engineers have reached deep into the electromagnetic spectrum to find this new way to build circuits for computers that would run a thousand times faster than today's gigahertz-speed computers. The development involves creation of waveguides to send and manipulate T-rays, also known as far-infrared light.
"We have taken a first step to making circuits that can harness or guide terahertz radiation," says Ajay Nahata, study leader and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, in a statement. "Eventually - in a minimum of 10 years - this will allow the development of superfast circuits, computers and communications."
2. Hybrids: Computers, not cars
A multi-university research team funded by the Department of Defense is working to combine computer memory functions typically performed by magnetic components and computer logic operations typically handled by semiconductor components into a hybrid material. The benefit would be faster and more compact machines that chow down less power and are less expensive to build.
"In this approach, the coupling between magnetic and non-magnetic components would occur via a magnetic field or flow of electron spin, which is the fundamental property of an electron and is responsible for most magnetic phenomena," says Giovanni Vignale , a University of Missouri physics professor in the College of Arts and Science, in a statement. "The hybrid devices that we target would allow seamless integration of memory and logical function, high-speed optical communication and switching, and new sensor capabilities."
The Department of Defense awarded a $6.5 million grant to the University of Iowa for the project. In addition to the Iowa and Missouri schools, also working on the project are researchers from New York University, University of California at Berkeley and the University of Pittsburgh.
3. Getting to bottom of Web searches
Web search might seem like a complex issue, but it really boils down to three basic kinds of searches: informational, navigational and transactional (related to buying something).
That's the word from researchers at Penn State University's College of Information Sciences and Technology and Australia's Queensland University of Technology who looked at more than 1.5 million queries from hundreds of thousands of search engines users.
The bulk of searches (80%) proved to be informational, with the other 20% split between navigational and transactional. The researchers used an algorithm that they say classified searches with a 74% accuracy rate.
"Other results have classified comparatively much smaller sets of queries, usually manually," said Jim Jansen, assistant professor in Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology, in a statement . "This research aimed to classify queries automatically.
The researchers' work is outlined in a paper titled "Determining the informational, navigational and transactional intent of Web queries" that will appear in the May issue of Information Processing & Management.
4. Mapping the whole Internet
Israeli researchers have created a topographical map of the Internet by enlisting more than 5,600 volunteers across 97 countries who agreed to download a program that tracks how Internet nodes interact with each other.
The result is "the most complete picture of the Internet available today," Bar Ilan University researcher Shai Carmi told the MIT Technology Review.
"A better understanding of the Internet's structure is vital for integration of voice, data and video streams, point-to-point and point-to-many distribution of information, and assembling and searching all of the world's information," Carmi and fellow researchers state in a new report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "It may reveal evolutionary processes that control the growth of the Internet."
Carmi's research uses a program called the DIMES agent, which is downloaded onto volunteers' computers and performs Internet measurements such as traceroute and ping. The project's Web site promises that, along with providing a "good feeling," using the DIMES agent will provide maps to users showing how the Internet looks from their homes. Users of the program chat about their findings at this forum.
Another project that tracks Internet traffic growth is called the Minnesota Internet Traffic Studies (MINTS) site.
5. The Fluid Project
A handful of universities, including the University of Toronto and the University of California, Berkeley, is working to build a software architecture and reusable components that can make Web applications easier to develop and use. The Fluid Project's work focuses on user-centered design practices. Vendors such as Mozilla Foundation, IBM and Sun are also taking part.
The latest news out of the project is that a grant has been awarded to the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre at the University of Toronto from the Mozilla Foundation to promote DHTML accessibility and the adoption of ARIA (the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative's Accessible Rich Internet Applications specification).