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By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Dr Leonid Ponomarenko, associate researcher

Dr Leonid Ponomarenko shows off a device with the transistor embedded

Researchers have built the world’s smallest transistor – one atom thick and 10 atoms wide – out of a material that could one day replace silicon.

The transistor, essentially an on/off switch, has been made using graphene, a two-dimensional material first discovered only four years ago.

Graphene is a single layer of graphite, which is found in the humble pencil.

The transistor is the key building block of microchips and the basis for almost all electronics.

Dr Kostya Novoselov and Professor Andre Geim from The School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Manchester have been leading research into the potential application of graphene in electronics and were the first to separate a sheet of the material from graphite

Super material

Graphene has been hailed as a super material because it has many potential applications. It is a flat molecule, with only the thickness of an atom, and both very stable and robust.

The researchers are also looking at its use in display technology – because it is transparent.

The Manchester-based scientists have shown that graphene can be carved into tiny electronic circuits with individual transistors not much larger than a molecule.

Dr Novoselov told BBC News that graphene had many advantages over silicon because it could conduct electricity faster and further.

Silicon will be replaced by graphene
Dr Kostya Novoselov

“These transistors will work and work at ambient, room temperature conditions – just what is required for modern electronics,” he said.

Dr Novoselov said graphene was a “wonderful conductor”, making it a perfect material for chip applications.

“It is already superior to silicon by an order of magnitude and comparable to the best samples of other materials.

“We believe we can increase this mobility of electron flow 10-fold.”

Graphene is a hot topic among semiconductor researchers at the moment because it is an excellent conductor of electricity. Unlike silicon graphene transistors perform better the smaller they become.

Leak electricity

The global semiconductor business is currently built on sand; stamping out microchips from large silicon wafers.

Companies like Intel have a roadmap to reduce the size of circuits on the silicon wafer, down to about 10 nanometres – 10,000 times smaller than the width of a single human hair.

Many researchers believe that producing circuits smaller than 10 nanometres in silicon will be too difficult because they start to leak electricity at that size.

That current silicon roadmap is expected to end in 2020, making the race to find alternative materials potentially very lucrative.

Producing graphene sheets big enough to be used as wafers for chip production remained the biggest hurdle, said Dr Novoselov.

“We can control the cut down to 20 nanometres. And then when we have to scale down to one nanometre we use a bit of luck.

“The yield of the working devices is about 50%.”

Many researchers around the world are working on creating large wafers of graphene.

In order to produce microchips wafers would need to be several inches across. The biggest wafer produced so far is 100 microns across, just a tenth of a millimetre.

Electron microscope view of the graphene transistor

Short and narrow constrictions in graphene can act as high-quality transistors

“I do believe we will find the technology to do this. And when we do silicon will be replaced by graphene,” said Dr Novoselov.

Professor Bob Westervelt, in an assessment of the material and its future application in the journal Science, wrote: “Graphene is an exciting new material with unusual properties that are promising for nanoelectronics.

“The future should be very interesting.”

Dr Novoselov added: “Given the material was first obtained by us four years ago, we are making good progress.”

He said the process of using graphene to build circuits was very compatible with silicon technology.

“At the moment we use all the same steps to make a transistor as is done by the silicon industry. So once we have large wafers of graphene it should be straightforward to use the same process.”

But it might be another 10 years before the first integrated circuits on graphene chips appear, he said.

Shorter term

In the shorter term graphene could be used in LCD displays to replace materials used to create transparent conductive coatings.

“The computer screen relies on good transparent conductors. But current materials are expensive and hard to produce.

“Graphene is only one atom thin so is absolutely transparent – it’s a really wonderful conductor.

“We propose to use it as a transparent conductor, using small interconnecting graphene sheets all together.”

The material is also being touted for use in solar panels, transparent window coatings and also for sensing technologies.

Dr Kostya Novoselov and Professor Andre Geim from The School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Manchester presented their findings in the 17 April issue of Science.

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Internet law professor Michael Geist looks at the way that cable firms are starting to shackle the net access they offer.

Ethernet cable, Eyewire

Some cable firms are treating net access like they do TV scheduling

When cable companies began promoting high-speed internet services nearly a decade ago, many branded them “the internet on cable”.

Years later, those services are gradually morphing into “the internet as cable” as broadcasters and service providers steadily move toward the delivery of content online that bears a striking resemblance to the conventional cable model.

Cable television has its virtues – some consumer choice, the ability to time shift programs by recording them with a VCR or PVR, and video on-demand – but it is largely built around limiting consumer control.

Cable distributors determine channel choices, geographic distribution, and commercial substitution (typically with input from a broadcast regulator), offer only limited interactivity, and quietly even possess the ability to stop consumers from recording some programs.

Until recently, the internet was precisely the opposite, offering unlimited user choice, continuous interactivity, and technological capabilities to copy and remix content.

That is gradually changing as broadcasters seek to re-assert greater geographic control over their content and service providers experiment with cable-like models for prioritised content delivery.

Prof Michael Geist (Michael Geist)
…if broadcasters and service providers are left to their own devices, it appears that they are increasingly ready to redefine the internet on cable to the internet as cable.
Michael Geist

The re-emergence of geographic borders on the internet coincides with broadcasters finally jumping on the internet bandwagon, as they race to make their content freely available online.

Some US broadcasters are selling downloads through services such as Apple iTunes or Amazon.com, yet the unmistakable trend is toward free, ad-supported streaming of content mere hours after it first appears on commercial television.

Each major US broadcaster already offers a handful of shows in this manner with ambitious plans to expand their services in the months ahead.

NBC and Fox recently unveiled Hulu.com to some critical acclaim, while Comedy Central created a new site for the popular Daily Show that features a complete archive of eight years of programming.

Non-Americans, alas, are generally locked out of these sites due to licensing restrictions.

Foreign broadcasters have been scrambling to buy the internet rights to US programming, both to protect their local broadcasts and to beef up their online presence.

US broadcasters may eventually decide it is more profitable to stream their content on a worldwide basis and to remove longstanding geographic restrictions, however, for the moment they are parceling up the internet as they would a broadcast destined for multiple cable markets.

Jon Stewart, AP

The Daily Show has proved popular on net video sites

This geographic bordering extends beyond just blocking streamed content. For example, the new Daily Show site is off-limits for Canadians since the US-based Comedy Central recently took the unprecedented step of redirecting Canadian visitors to the Canadian-owned Comedy Network site.

Broadcasters are not alone in working to bring the cable model of control to the internet.

Large net service firms are engaged in similar activities, with a history of blocking access to contentious content, limiting bandwidth for alternative content delivery channels, and raising the prospect of levying fees for priority content delivery.

While these issues had been perceived to be predominantly North American concerns, they are beginning to surface elsewhere.

For example, when earlier this year the BBC launched its internet-based iPlayer, several broadband providers floated the prospect of charging the BBC for delivering its content on their networks.

These issues may ultimately sort themselves out.

Users have many easily-obtainable tools to defeat geographic blocking and net firms may find themselves subject to net neutrality legislation if they continue to abuse the public’s trust by failing to maintain their networks in a transparent, neutral fashion.

Yet if broadcasters and service providers are left to their own devices, it appears that they are increasingly ready to redefine the internet on cable to the internet as cable.


Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can be reached at mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at http://www.michaelgeist.ca.

Lawrence Lessig, Lawrence Lessig

Lessig: One of the net’s founding principles is under threat

Tough action is required by US regulators to protect the principles that have made the net so successful, a leading digital rights lawyer has said.

Professor Lawrence Lessig was speaking at a public meeting to debate the tactics some net firms use to manage data traffic at busy times.

He said the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) should act to keep all net traffic flowing equally.

The FCC said net firms had a duty to tell customers about data management.

No more rules

The seven-hour public meeting was held at Stanford University and featured presentations from Prof Lessing, songwriters, network administrators and net engineers.

Prof Lessig said one of the principles that guided the foundation of the net was that all traffic should flow equally across it.

This principle of net neutrality, he said, was being eroded as net firms manage traffic and place restrictions on what their domestic broadband customers can do.

Consumers must be fully informed of the exact nature of the service they are purchasing
Kevin Martin, FCC

The meeting was called by the FCC in reaction to the news that US net firm Comcast had been exposed as managing traffic by stopping some of its 13m customers uploading files to BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer networks.

The FCC has started a formal investigation to see if Comcast merits a fine for its actions.

In response to the publicity surrounding its actions, Comcast has said it would change its policy.

In the UK many net firms manage traffic at peak times in a bid to ensure that everyone gets the highest broadband speed possible.

Prof Lessig said there had to be clear rules, perhaps involving financial incentives, to force net firms to respect net neutrality. Current rules, he warned, meant that many firms were tempted to manage traffic to protect profits.

At the meeting the two Democrats who sit on the five-strong FCC board said it needed new powers to make sure net firms complied with net neutrality principles.

But the two Republican commissioners on the board warned against over-burdening net firms with more rules.

Summing up, FCC chairman Kevin Martin said its net policies were powerful enough but just needed to be properly enforced.

He said there was nothing wrong with net firms managing traffic as long as they kept customers fully informed.

“There must be adequate disclosures of the particular traffic management tools,” said Mr Martin. “Consumers must be fully informed of the exact nature of the service they are purchasing.”

A new book details the extent to which countries across the globe are increasingly censoring online information they find strategically, politically or culturally threatening.Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering challenges the long-standing assumption that the internet is an unfettered space where citizens from around the world can freely communicate and mobilise. In fact, the book makes it clear that the scope, scale and sophistication of net censorship are growing.

“There’s been a conventional wisdom or myth that the internet was immune from state regulation,” says Ronald Deibert, one of the book’s editors.

“What we’re finding is that states that were taking a hands-off approach to the internet for many years are now finding ways to intervene at key internet choke points, and block access to information.”

Mr. Deibert heads The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. The Lab, along with Harvard Law School, the University of Cambridge, and Oxford University, has spent the last five years testing internet access in some 40 countries.

We are starting to see something more like the China Wide Web, the Pakistan Wide Web, and the Iran Wide Web
John Palfrey, director of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society

The book highlights Saudi Arabia, Iran and China as some of the most aggressive nations when it comes to net filtering. They use a variety of technical techniques to limit what their citizens can see online. But they reinforce that filtering with other methods, such as net surveillance.

“Surveillance is a huge deterrent,” says The Citizen Lab’s Nart Villeneuve. “If you talk to dissident groups in these countries, they’ll tell you that they’re under surveillance, that they’re concerned for their safety, and that it definitely influences their online behavior.”

And even as human rights and internet rights groups fight to raise awareness about internet censorship, countries such as China have responded by getting smarter in what they block, and when they block it.

‘Selectively blocking’

“We call it ‘just-in-time’ filtering,” Mr. Deibert says. “Countries are selectively blocking access to information around key events, such as demonstrations or elections. They are clamping down on the internet during times that it suits their strategic interests to do so.”

As an example of this kind of filtering, he points to China’s recent blocking of YouTube after videos of Tibetan protestors appeared on the video-sharing site.

Google protestor

Google has been criticised for working with Chinese authorities

Belarus, Cambodia and Burma have all engaged in this kind of selective censorship as well.

And then there is the case of Pakistan, which recently caused the entire YouTube service to go down worldwide for a couple of hours because of a government order to block material.

According to John Palfrey, director of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Pakistan case points to certain weaknesses inherent in the very architecture of the internet.

“It was designed by a bunch of friends in essence – academics and military people – who were just creating a local network. Now, it has scaled globally.

‘Informal protocols’

“But it’s still based on some fairly informal protocols. It turns out that when one censor in one country messes around with something, he can bring down access to entire parts of the internet.”

Mr Palfrey points out that some countries are considering whether or not to bypass the World Wide Web all together by creating what amounts to their own local area networks. “We are starting to see something more like the China Wide Web, the Pakistan Wide Web, and the Iran Wide Web.”

But The Citzen Lab’s Ronald Deibert does not think the evidence points to a complete “balkanization” of the net by sovereign states.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a person in Iran experiences a much different Internet than a citizen in a country like Canada,” he says.

“But it’s not a simple equation with territorial boundaries. Maybe the best analogy is with the old Middle Ages, where you had multiple and overlapping layers of authority. I think that’s the future of the net.”

That future is being complicated by the increased use of mobile phones, PDAs and other devices to access information online. For citizens, these devices mean more ways to access the internet, and therefore more potential ways around government blocking.

But Jonathan Zittrain, chair in Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University, says that governments are already starting to realize the potential threats from mobile devices as tools to access and spread information.

“In fact, when it comes to mobile devices,” Zittrain says, “you may see common cause among China, the United States and Europe, all of whom would like another lever they can pull that will enhance their control over the net, whether they’re looking for terrorists, subversives or political dissidents.”

“I’d hate to think that the technological advances, say, in America, turn out to be exactly the advances, wrapped in a bow, the technologies China might use to squash dissidents.”

By Jim Finkle

BOSTON (Reuters) – A new version of Mozilla’s popular Firefox Web browser is ready for download with improved security and memory use as the tiny company takes a stab at Microsoft Corp’s dominant Internet Explorer.

The program’s creators told Reuters on Thursday that the privately-held company’s trial version of Firefox 3 browser is ready for the masses to use after months of development.

Until now, the company has discouraged average Internet users from moving on from Firefox 2, which was launched in October 2006.

“In many ways it (Firefox 3) is much more stable than anything else out there,” Mozilla Corp Vice President of Engineering Mike Schroepfer said in an interview.

Key rivals to Firefox are market leader Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Apple Inc’s Safari browser.

Engineers at Mozilla are still putting the finishing touches on the software and hope to release the final version of Firefox 3 by the end of June, Schroepfer said.

Mozilla is in a battle with Microsoft, which unveiled an experimental version of its Internet Explorer 8 in Las Vegas earlier this month and is looking to expand its presence on the Web through its bid to acquire Yahoo Inc.

Additions boost security and allow users to run Web sites when they are not connected to the Internet. Mozilla also says Firefox 3 uses less computer memory than Firefox 2.

Until now Mozilla has discouraged the typical computer user from exploring these new features. But its developers said on Thursday that the situation has changed and that they will be revising their Web site.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Web site still stated: “We do not recommend that anyone other than developers and testers download the Firefox 3 beta 4 milestone release. It is intended for testing purposes only.”

But they said that as they concluded their fourth round of tweaking their software, they determined it was ready for prime time.

A fifth round of changes, due to begin within the next few weeks, will involve “tuning the visual look and feel of the program” and further improving its stability,” Schroepfer said.

(Reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Brian Moss)

Employees need to know their organization’s policies on E-mail and the Internet

It’s essential for some jobs, handy for most, but don’t be fooled—the personal computer can be a job ender. Even as you read this story, you should probably be asking yourself: Am I actually allowed to browse online and read news stories at the office?

The parameters for computer use at work (and even at home) are often confusing. We communicate, network, watch our TV shows, do our grocery shopping, and get our news on our computers. But it’s no free-for-all. Employees should know exactly what their employer’s policies are for E-mail and Internet usage, because workers are losing their jobs after computer-based missteps. Here are five ways to log on and lose your job:

Blog it up. Blogger Chez Pazienza worked as a producer at CNN’s American Morning until mid-February, when Pazienza says his boss informed him that the company discovered his name attached to blog posts written without CNN’s approval. Pazienza was fired soon after. Pazienza runs Deus Ex Malcontent, where he writes about Oprah and President Bush with equal abandon. He hadn’t identified himself as a CNN employee on the blog, but CNN spokeswoman Barbara Levin says company policy is that employees must first get permission to write for a non-CNN outlet. Levin didn’t elaborate, noting that the company does not comment on personnel matters.

There’s even a term for being fired because of a blog—it’s called being “dooced.” While some blogging advocates say a well-executed blog can boost your career by presenting your best side to the HR executives Googling you, there are limitations. Dooce.com founder Heather Armstrong writes on her site that she lost her job a year after beginning the blog for writing entries that involved colleagues. She now tells site visitors, “Be ye not so stupid” and offers parameters for safe blogging: “Never write about work on the Internet unless your boss knows and sanctions the fact that you are writing about work on the Internet.”

Play a way. Solitaire, that ever seductive way to while away the hours, is probably not a great choice for the workplace. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg caught sight of a solitaire game on a city employee’s computer screen in 2006 and fired him. “I expect all city workers, including myself, to work hard,” Bloomberg said then.

Richard Bayer, an economist and chief operating officer of the Five O’Clock Club, an outplacement and career coaching organization, says employees who use a company computer for personal matters on company time—whether playing solitaire or checking on their 401(k)’s—are essentially stealing from their employer. “It’s a new, 21st-century form of theft,” Bayer says, adding that a couple of personal E-mails each day are within reason.

Look at pics. Yes, those kind of pics. Think about this: Nearly one third of bosses have fired workers for misusing the Internet, according to a recent study by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute. Eighty-four percent of those employers said the reason was the viewing, downloading, or uploading of inappropriate or offensive content. The Washington, D.C., city government recommended the termination of nine employees in January for allegedly looking at pornography sites at work. The key here is privacy—as in, tell yourself you have none. The computer system belongs to the company, and courts have consistently sided with employers when it comes to computer-related terminations, says Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute.

Post your pics. Social networking may quickly gain an air of formality. The mayor of tiny Arlington, Ore. (population nearly 500), grabbed headlines recently after she was recalled by voters. Among other issues, the residents were sharply divided over the propriety of photos of the mayor dressed in her underwear that were posted to her MySpace page.

By Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent, BBC News
The creator of the web has said consumers need to be protected against systems which can track their activity on the internet.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee told BBC News he would change his internet provider if it introduced such a system.

Plans by leading internet providers to use Phorm, a company which tracks web activity to create personalised adverts, have sparked controversy.

Sir Tim said he did not want his ISP to track which websites he visited.

“I want to know if I look up a whole lot of books about some form of cancer that that’s not going to get to my insurance company and I’m going to find my insurance premium is going to go up by 5% because they’ve figured I’m looking at those books,” he said.

Sir Tim said his data and web history belonged to him.

I think consumers rights in this are very important – we haven’t seen the results of these systems being used
Sir Tim Berners-Lee

He said: “It’s mine – you can’t have it. If you want to use it for something, then you have to negotiate with me. I have to agree, I have to understand what I’m getting in return.”

Phorm has said its system offers security benefits which will warn users about potential phishing sites – websites which attempt to con users into handing over personal data.

The advertising system created by Phorm highlights a growing trend for online advertising tools – using personal data and web habits to target advertising.

Social network Facebook was widely criticised when it attempted to introduce an ad system, called Beacon, which leveraged people’s habits on and off the site in order to provide personal ads.

‘No strings’

The company was forced to give customers a universal opt out after negative coverage in the media.

Sir Tim added: “I myself feel that it is very important that my ISP supplies internet to my house like the water company supplies water to my house. It supplies connectivity with no strings attached. My ISP doesn’t control which websites I go to, it doesn’t monitor which websites I go to.”

Talk Talk has said its customers would have to opt in to use Phorm, while the two other companies which have signed up – BT and Virgin – are still considering both opt in or opt out options.

Sir Tim said he supported an opt-in system.

“I think consumers rights in this are very important. We haven’t seen the results of these systems being used.”

We should look out for snags in the future – things can change so fast on the internet
Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Privacy campaigners have questioned the legality of ISPs intercepting their customers’ web-surfing habits.

But the Home Office in the UK has drawn up guidance which suggests the ISPs will conform with the law if customers have given consent.

Sir Tim also said the spread of social networks like Facebook and MySpace was a good example of increasing involvement in the web. But he had a warning for young people about putting personal data on these sites.

“Imagine that everything you are typing is being read by the person you are applying to for your first job. Imagine that it’s all going to be seen by your parents and your grandparents and your grandchildren as well.”

But he said he had tried out several of the sites, and thought they might in the end be even more popular with the elderly than with young people.

Sir Tim was on a short visit to Britain from his base at MIT in Boston, during which he met government ministers, academics and major corporations, to promote a new subject, Web Science.

This is a multi-disciplinary effort to study the web and try to guide its future. Sir Tim explained that there were now more web pages than there are neurons in the human brain, yet the shape and growth of the web were still not properly understood.

“We should look out for snags in the future,” he said, pointing to the way email had been swamped by spam as an example of how things could go wrong. “Things can change so fast on the internet.”

But he promised that what web scientists would produce over the coming years “will blow our minds”