Category Archives: Zurich

How a New Middleman Might Help Balance Electricity Grids

A few years ago almost two thousand bold households on the Danish island of Bornholm joined a surge pricing experiment run by their electricity utility. It was supposed to empower the utility and consumers with a simple, direct market (“The Smartest, Greenest Grid,” IEEE Spectrum, April 2013).

The EU-funded project, called EcoGrid, won widespread buy-in from residents, who could also earn small payoffs when they reduced demand.  Yet researchers reported last year that they could reduce demand by only 1.2 percent of peak load, despite early predictions of up to 20-percent reductions for so-called virtual power plants. The market model was missing something. Continue reading

Human Brain Project Needs Artificial Brains to Understand Real Ones

mail_image_preview-1-1383232402792If neuroscientist Henry Markram had a dollar for every neuron he wants to map, he still wouldn’t have enough money.

As it happens, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) researcher has a billion euros, or $1.38 billion, from the European Union to spend over the next ten years, but the normal means of determining a neuron’s activity can cost $1 million and take a year. By the time he got through the 3000-odd pathways shown in the photograph of a pinhead-sized slice of brain behind him in a conference room last month, he’d be flat broke, decades older, and he’d still have to map countless more pinheads’ worth of neurons to understand the brain. Continue reading

Hospital To Use Microfluid Prototype For Diagnosing Tumors

10.22.13.research.Lucas.16-10-2013-14-28-Chemist Emmanuel Delamarche held a thin slice of human thyroid tissue on a glass slide between his fingers. The tissue poses a mystery: does it contain a tumor or not? Delamarche, who works at IBM Research in Zurich, Switzerland, turned the slide around in his hand as he explained that the normal method of diagnosing a tumor involves splashing a chemical reagent, some of which are expensive, onto the uneven surface of the tissue and watching for it to react with disease markers. A pathologist “looks at them under a microscope, and he’s using his expertise, his judgment, and looks at what chemical he used, what type of color he can see and what part and he has to come up with a diagnosis,” Delamarche says, “he has a very, very hard job, OK?”

IBM is already good at precise application of materials to flat surfaces such as computer chips. Human tissue, sliced thin enough, turns out to receptive to the company’s bag of tricks too. Delamarche, turning to one of three machines on lab benches, explained that a few years ago his team began trying to deliver reagents with more precision. University Hospital Zurich will be testing the results over the next few months.

Read the rest of this post at IEEE Spectrum’s Tech Talk blog: [html] [pdf]

How Wetware Can Help Hardware Makers Beat Moore’s Law, Save Energy

Humans may not use all of the brain’s computing capacity, but they do use most of the cranium for computing, according to biophysicist Bruno Michel at IBM’s Zurich research laboratory. Co-located cortices and capillaries keep our neurons powered and cooled with minimal fuss. Yet today’s computers dedicate around 60 percent of their volume to getting electricity in and heat out compared to perhaps 1 percent in a human brain, Michel estimates. Last week in Zurich, he told journalists about IBM’s long-term plan to help computers achieve human-like space- and energy efficiency. The tool: a kind of electronic blood.

Read the rest of this post at IEEE Spectrum’s Tech Talk blog: [html] [pdf]