Newsletter Digest: Future electronics, meat consumption and the NZBio and Kea Awards

Life after silicon – future electronics

The journal Science gives over much of this week’s issue to the role silicon-based transistors have played in revolutionising computing and the possible way forward as scientists strive for faster, more powerful computers and electronics.

Some scientists writing in Science are focusing on the re-engineering of silicon-based transistors while others are looking at new materials that could replace silicon, such as transition metal oxides.

The SMC rounded up comment from New Zealand experts at the MacDiarmid Institute, Victoria University and the University of Canterbury.

“The ability to keep fulfilling Moore’s Law – the doubling of integrated-circuit transistor density every two years – is clearly causing the semiconductor industry a few sleepless nights,” said the University of Canterbury’s Dr Martin Allen.

“Despite the interest in exotic new materials it is clear that ‘silicon with a twist’ will continue to provide the backbone of continued performance increases at least in the short to medium term.”

MacDiarmid Institute deputy director Professor Richard Blaikie also summaries the work going on in this area in New Zealand in the same SMC article.

‘Eat less meat’ message challenged

It has made for good newspaper column fodder – but does the premise that eating less meat is good for the planet really stack up?

In a paper presented at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society UC Davis Associate Professor Frank Mitloehner takes issue with the methodology underlying United Nations estimates that agriculture contributes 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and suggests the clearing of land in developing countries is the main contributor to emissions – regardless of what is grown on the land.

Dr Mitloehner also argues that in most western economies, agricultural emissions account for a small proportion of greenhouse emissions (5% in the US) compared to transport, industry and the energy sector. But New Zealand is one country that turns that reasoning on its head, with around 50 per cent of emissions coming from agriculture and nearly 20 per cent from livestock alone.

Next month (April 8) will see experts from 20 countries gathering in Welllington – the first meeting of the Global Research Alliance, which is being led by New Zealand and is tasked with finding ways of reducing emissions from agriculture. A media briefing will be held on March 31 – details in the SMC Events Calendar.

Prime Minister John Key has said that technological advances made by the alliance will be passed on to developing countries, which will account for much of the projected increase in meat consumption of nearly 50 per cent by 2050.

The SMC rounded up comment on the paper from local experts here.

More accolades for top scientists

The NZBio awards held in Auckland this week as part of the biotech sector industry group’s annual conference saw Agresearch’s Dr John McEwan pick up the Ross Clark Distinguished Biotechnologist of the Year award and Dr Wayne Patrick of Massey University claim the Young Biotechnologist of the Year award.

The following night, University of Auckland neuroscientist Dr Richard Faull won the KEA World Class New Zealander supreme award. Expat Kiwi Dr Jilly Evans, a veteran of the pharmaceutical industry, won in the biotechnology category.

NZBio was littered with interesting stories of biotech innovation…

Microbe underpins $10 million govt clean tech investment – Peter Griffin spent time at the NZBio conference this week, and updates us on the progress of some of New Zealand’s most innovative alternative energy start-ups.  Griffin’s Gadgets.