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University of Wisconsin researcher Franz Himpsel is working on nanoscale memory storage. He noted that the famous physicist Richard Feynman once calculated that if he could use 125 atoms to code each bit of information, then he could store everything ever printed in a cube 1/200th of inch on each side. Himpsel showed a slide of a surface which could theoretically store a million times more information per square inch than current DVDs do. However, getting a readout of information at a reasonable rate up from a nanoscale to the macroscale where we live is a big problem.
The nanotech session ended with Harold Craighead, who described his work on microfluidics. He is creating devices that can quickly measure DNA. Using a system of tiny nanochannels, Craighead was able to obtain data about DNA strands in only 10 minutes which would have taken 11 hours using conventional techniques. He is also adapting his techniques for analyzing proteins which would be very useful in this post-genomic era.
The evening was closed out with a speech by the new president of the AAAS, Mary Good, a professor at the University of Arkansas who served for four years as Undersecretary for Technology and in the U.S. Department of Commerce. I wish I could say her speech was inspiring, but it is clear that Prof. Good sees her role as chief lobbyist for science. As such, her speech was a predictable plea for more government largess--and a call for the creation of a Cabinet-level Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Ah well. Scientists are only human, after all.