Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat
NASA's Genesis project may have ended with a thud on the Utah desert floor, but scientists' hopes still soar. As we told you earlier this month (see WaferNews, V11n37, September 13, 2004), the $264 million Genesis mission spent the last three years collecting solar wind particles streaming from the sun, using various systems including five specialty wafer substrates made from silicon, diamond, gold, sapphire, and other materials. The extraterrestrial samples were jettisoned back to Earth, where NASA attempted to snatch them out of midair using helicopters and what amounted to a giant fishing pole, in an effort to eliminate any risk of damage upon impact. Unfortunately, the pod's parachutes failed to deploy, and it crashed into the ground at nearly 200mph. Today the Genesis team continues its analysis in a cleanroom at a US Army base in Dugway, UT, where it has managed to extract pieces of the equipment and substrates, including one-half of a sapphire wafer, the biggest collector array retrieved so far. While many wafers were shattered or reduced to dust upon impact and ejection into the soil, other sizeable pieces are expected to be usable, many of which were still mounted in their holders. Exposure to the soil and ambient air likely has contaminated the wafer surfaces, so the Genesis project is seeking help from "people in the semiconductor industry who have [such decontamination] talents and procedures." WaferNews readers, consider yourselves called up for duty. (And stay tuned: a similar mission, dubbed "Stardust," is scheduled to return in January 2006 after seven years collecting samples from a comet.)
The new Number 3 combo meal: Pork and chips
Residents in the western US nearly ran into a slim possibility that their pulled pork sandwich might have contained an extra ingredient: a microchip. A group of hogs that were "processed" on Sept. 10 by the Sioux-Preme Packing Co. in Sioux Center, IA, may have been part of a research herd, sent to slaughter without notification or declaration that they contained microchips to measure scientific data, according to a CNN story. Sioux-Preme officials said they have recalled 110 pork shoulder butts (about 1100 pounds of meat) that had been distributed to processors in Colorado and Iowa as well as Mexico, but said that none of the meat appeared to have reached consumers. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which was notified about the mixup on Sept. 17, also said that it had received no reports of illness associated with the meat. Sioux-Preme VP Jim Malek said it was unclear who implanted the chips in the hogs, which otherwise were healthy and had been cleared by USDA inspectors for processing. Anyone who discovers a microchip should return the meat, which will be reinspected and cleared for use or destroyed.
A new start for northern nano undergrads
Waterloo U. in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, is starting the first undergraduate engineering program in nanotechnology, announced John Tennant, CEO of Canada's Technology Triangle program, during the Albany Symposium on Global Nanotechnology at Lake George, NY. The university's Nanotechnology Initiative includes two major laboratory facilities, the Giga-to-Nano Electronics Lab and WATLABs, as well as the new undergraduate and graduate programs. Multidisciplinary work will be devoted to four main categories of nanotech: micro- and nanoinstruments, nanoelectronics, bio-nanosystems, and nanoengineered materials. One feature of the program is that the rights to developments that come out of the research belong to the developers, rather than the university, Tennant explained. This policy encourages commercialization of R&D work, as happened in the development of the Blackberry paging device by a group including a former Waterloo student—who subsequently donated significant funds to support research at the university.