November 18, 2012

Fastest fingers crowned in speed texting contest

By: Bethany Bump

Source: The Daily Gazette

Event shows how nanotechnology influences lives

The battle for the region’s first-ever speed texting champion came down to two teenage sisters.

“Crap,” whispered Alyssa Rotella nervously, as she turned around to face her dad. “I didn’t include a comma!” Rotella, 17, was the frontrunner of the competition. She had come in first place during the previous round, which narrowed the field of competitors from 10 to five. And she had an actual keyboard on her phone, as opposed to the rest of the smartphone users in the Top Five using touch screen keypads.

In order to win the final round, the contestants had to text the following without error or abbrevia- tions: What was the first text message, sent in 1992? “Merry Christmas ”

It turned out that Alyssa’s 15-year-old sister, Brianna Rotella, didn’t forget the comma. She was declared winner of the 2012 NanoText Competition on Saturday, hosted by the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering as part of NANOvember, a month-long educational outreach to showcase the emerging science of nanotechnology.

Somehow, the two Ballston Spa sisters kept their tensions from showing.

They smiled, and even shouted excitedly to their dad about winning a total of $175 worth of gift cards to the Apple store. But one has to wonder who will rule the roost around home for the next few weeks, maybe months.

In case anyone was curious just how much the world of nanotechnology has influenced our lives, they should look no further than the crowd that gathered Saturday inside of CNSE’s NanoFab South auditorium.

It used to be that smartphones — which typically contain anywhere from five to 10 nanochips per device — were perceived as the technology of Generation Y, of smart businessmen and women in smart suits, of stock traders and on-the-go politicians.

On Saturday, the auditorium was full of plenty of Generation Yers — young kids wearing Uggs and conversation about the upcoming history exam. But there were also middle-aged moms and dads, a handful of elementary-age children, and a surprisingly large number of elderly people.

“To me, it demonstrates that nanotechnology is impacting society across the board,” said CNSE spokesman Steve Janack, of the diverse crowd. “It’s not just things that young people use, like videogames and cellphones and things like that. It’s not just things that would interest older folks like energy and health care. It’s across the board. It’s all of those things. That’s what’s exciting.”

HOW WE GOT HERE

Before the room of people could vie for the crown of region’s fastest texter, they had to get a little history first.

Life as we know it now may contain iPhones and Droids, said Dr. Vincent LaBella, an associate professor of nanoscience at CNSE. But a long time ago, in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented a microphone that transmitted speech from one room to another over a wire.

LaBella took the crowd through an entire century’s worth of advances in telephone technology — switchboards, mechanical relays, the vacuum tube, transistors and computer chips — before arriving at the topic of smartphones and nanochips.

From the 1970s to today, he said, workers in the field have shrunk transistors from 10,000 nanometers to almost 20 nanometers.

The transistor used in a modern smartphone is 22 nanometers, he said. CNSE researchers are working to develop transistors even smaller than that.

SMALLER AND SMALLER

“Today, these modern telephones are really computers,” said LaBella. “And they’re made powerful by the tiny pieces of silicon chips in there with a billion transistors on there — all at 22 nanometers each. The smaller we can make transistors, the faster they operate, the more features we can put on a chip. So, just imagine what the next iteration of smartphones will be.”

The crowd was eager to hear what LaBella thought was the best smartphone technology out there.

He admitted to being a “Windows guy,” but declined to endorse any one system as better than another.

The room of smartphone users then partook in a spirited debate over iPhones versus Androids versus Windows. BlackBerry, which has suffered significant market share loss over the last few years, was noticeably not a part of the debate.

The next NANOvember event will be a community lecture series held at CNSE’s Albany NanoTech Complex on Monday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
CNSE Vice President for Manufacturing Paul Farrar Jr. will discuss the latest progress and impact of the Global 450 Consortium and its benefits to New York.