Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Radically different color vision

When we snorkel in a tropical coral reef we are amazed at the colorful displays of the marine fauna and flora. Then we wonder why some of the fish are so flashy, making them conspicuous to predators.

As we wrote in our post on Why are animals colourful? Sex and violence, seeing and signals, Justin Marshall first showed a video snorkeling in a coral reef with a camcorder with spectral sensitivities close to ours, then he showed the same scene using a camcorder with spectral sensitivities close those of coral fish and all the sudden the fish could no longer be distinguished from the background.

In his presentation, Justin Marshall also described how stomatopods like the mantis shrimp are masters of color vision because on top of multiple spectral channels they have sensors for both linear and circular polarization. Shortly thereafter we reported in Nature's almost perfect quarter-wave retarder on Justin Marshall's new paper revealing how the mantis shrimp detects polarization.

How color vision works in the mantis shrimp had remained a mystery, at least until now. Justin Marshall and his collaborators have just published the paper A Different Form of Color Vision in Mantis Shrimp in Science 24 January 2014: Vol. 343 pp. 411-413 (membership required, or check in your local library). It turns out that unlike other animals, mantis shrimp do not have a color-opponent coding system based on a processing system of multiple dichromatic comparisons.

Instead, it appears that their color vision system is based on temporal signaling combined with scanning eye movements, enabling a type of color recognition rather than color discrimination. This would enable the mantis shrimp to make quick and reliable determinations of color, without the processing delay required for a multidimensional color space. This fits their rapid-fire lifestyle of combat and territoriality.

The next step could be to unveil the details of the neural processing from the receptors.

The 2014 (30th) Japan Prize

On 23 April 2014, Yasuharu Suematsu, Honorary Professor of Tokyo Institute of Technology, will be bestowed the 2014 (30th) Japan Prize in Electronics, Information and Communication for his pioneering research on semiconductor lasers for high-capacity long-distance optical fiber communication

Dr. Yasuharu Suematsu pioneered the way for high-capacity long-distance optical fiber communication, which is the core technology in our information networks, especially the Internet. It was realized through the development of semiconductor lasers capable of operating with optical fibers at a wavelength band having low transmission loss, as well as operating with stable wavelength under high-speed modulation.

The prosperity of the Internet would not have been possible without the high-capacity long-distance optical fiber transmission system using combination of light sources, which can generate high-speed modulation optical signal, and low-loss optical fiber, which can transmit optical signal across long distances. Despite the demonstration of semiconductor lasers in 1962 and the prediction of the nature of low-loss property of optical silica fiber in 1966, scientific and technological breakthroughs were still needed to establish the core technologies for such transmission systems. In particular, semiconductor lasers at the time were not applicable for such systems due to the instability of the lasing wavelength under rapid output power modulation to generate information signal.

From early on, Dr. Suematsu was proposing a high-performance transmission system using optical fiber. He identified the requirements of lasers and led the development of semiconductor lasers for high-capacity long-distance optical fiber transmission from an engineering approach, covering a wide range of disciplines from theory to materials. In 1974, Dr. Suematsu proposed the integration of reflectors with phase-shifted periodic structures into semiconductor lasers, which led to the concept of dynamic single-mode lasers having stable lasing wavelength even under high-speed modulation. He also realized in 1979, the room-temperature continuous-wave operation of InGaAsP lasers in the 1.5-μm band, the wavelength range with lowest loss in the optical fiber.

In 1981, he combined these technologies and achieved the room-temperature continuous-wave operation of an InGaAsP laser integrated with phase-shifted reflectors in the 1.5-μm band, thereby becoming the world’s first to demonstrate dynamic single mode operation. Before his achievement, realization of integrated lasers was considered technologically too difficult, however, his efforts finally opened up the way for high-capacity long-distance optical fiber communication. Dynamic single mode lasers have become the standard for light sources in present-day high-capacity optical fiber transmission systems in overland cables and intercontinental submarine cables.

Today, there is an ever-growing demand for high-capacity long-distance optical fiber communication, which has now become a part of our social infrastructure. It is expected that the future growth in the capacity of optical transmission systems will not only benefit ordinary communications and video transmissions, but will also lead to the dissemination of new systems in our society, such as telemedical services with real-time transmission of ultra high-resolution video.

Anticipating the future requirements, Dr. Suematsu combined theory and experiments to open up a new paradigm in semiconductor lasers. Furthermore, his approach in achieving dynamic single-mode operation at the optical transmission wavelength was an excellent example of how an engineering research should be. As a result, he has made indispensable contributions to forming the foundation of today’s information society. Dr. Suematsu’s pioneering research achievements are thereby deemed most eminently deserving of the 2014 Japan Prize given to honor contributions in the field of “Electronics, Information and Communication.”






Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Data-Driven Discovery Initiative

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has announced an open call for applications for its brand-new Data-Driven Discovery Investigator competition. The foundation’s science program expects to offer about 15 awards this year to selected investigators at ~$1.5 million each ($200-300K/year for five years).

This represents a major investment—likely the largest private investment—in individuals who are pushing the frontiers of a new kind of data-driven science—inherently multidisciplinary, combining natural sciences with methods from statistics and computer science. The competition seeks innovators with bold ideas and a willingness to strike out in new directions and take risks with the potential for huge payoffs in data-intensive science.

Apply Here

Friday, January 3, 2014

Storage Investments in 2013

The investments statistics in the storage market for 2013 are out. There has been the same number of merger and acquisition deals as in 2012, namely 25, for a total of $9.5 billion. The median deal size for 2013 was $110 million, with a price to revenue median of 5×. Seventeen of the transactions were technology focused (median size $98, median P/R 6×) and eight were business focused ($214 million, resp. 1×).

As for venture funding in storage, there has been a slight decline from $978 million in 2012 to $955 million last year. These investments consisted of 43 rounds of $22.2 million average size. The second half of the calendar year was particularly strong with $249 million in the 3rd quarter and $249 million in the 4th quarter.

Both Seagate and Western Digital introduced very competitively priced high quality data center grade 4 TB hard disk drives. Solid state drives (flash memory) has become much faster by moving from the SATA to the PCI interface, while prices kept coming down. When you are bound by I/O rate and durability, flash memory has become less expensive than hard disks.

While storage drives have become very inexpensive on a per TB price, business people have learned the virtues of data mining, now called big data analytics. This combination of low storage price and new analytic skills is prompting organizations to retain more of their data and harvest it. Data has become the new gold.

Just having petabytes of data is not very useful: you have to be able to access and deliver it. This is not straightforward and this is why so much investment is occurring in the storage industry. Those who can solve the data access and delivery problem will be the ones building long lasting successful businesses and are receiving the investors' attention.