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See Inside December 2006

Of Brain Maps and Saving the Internet

An array of technologies are complemented by a push toward sensible public policy

The Ultimate Computer

Once a theoretical curiosity, the idea of a computer that stores information in quantum superpositions of 0 and 1, known as quantum bits or qubits, is edging slowly toward reality. This year researchers finally engineered microchips capable of rudimentary storage and manipulation of the quantum states of individual atoms, paving the way for convenient control over hundreds or thousands of atoms at once. Christopher Monroe of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (below) and David J. Wineland of the National Institute of Standards and Technology both fabricated chips capable of storing just a few charged atoms. --JR Minkel

Net Neutrality

Phone and cable companies have recently begun floating the idea of charging major Internet content providers such as Google and Vonage for premium access to bandwidth. Outraged at the proposed tampering with so-called network neutrality--the concept that all Internet traffic should be carried and charged for in the same way--consumer groups lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to enshrine neutrality as a regulatory principle. Columbia University law professor Timothy Wu has been a leader in formulating and articulating the value of neutrality. --JR Minkel

DNA Building Blocks

One subdiscipline of nanotechnology devotes itself to building structures with molecules of DNA. Last year a team at the University of Oxford, working jointly with Vrije University in Amsterdam, described using DNA to construct a tetrahedron, a pyramid that has three faces and a base. The rigid structure measures 10 nanometers wide and could conceivably form a building block for electronic circuits that send currents along paths in three dimensions. The technique devised by Oxford's Andrew J. Turberfield allows the fabrication of trillions of these structures in just a few minutes. --Gary Stix

Brain Atlas

Three years ago Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen put up 100 million to establish the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Its first project would be the Allen Brain Atlas, aimed at accelerating efforts to map where and when every gene in the mouse brain is active. This September the institute unveiled the complete atlas, a three-dimensional map of 21,000 genes resolved down to individual cells. Because mice and humans share up to 90 percent of the same genes, researchers hope that such a map will provide insights into the genetics of human brain development, functioning and disease, including Alzheimer's, addiction and autism. --JR Minkel

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