Tag: Engineering

This Is The Psychological Reason You Can’t Stop Checking Your Phone

Whether you’re waiting for a train, a friend or the kettle to boil, the likelihood is that you’ll kill those brief moments by mindlessly scrolling or swiping across your phone screen.

And as soon as your phone pings or buzzes, do you immediately check it to see what exciting form of attention you’ve just been paid?

Does it annoy you when you’re in a meeting, feel your phone vibrate in your pocket, but know you can’t check it?

It’s a compulsive urge that many of us find hard to resist.

But according to Sharon Begley, author of Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions, there’s a psychological reason behind this.




Research from the 50s seemed to suggest that because dopamine is pleasurable, it’s pleasure to which people become addicted. But now we know better.

What’s emerged in the last few years is that the dopamine circuitry actually predicts how much you will like something and how much pleasure it will give you. Then it calculates how much reality corresponds to the prediction or falls short.

The emerging idea seems to be that when reality falls short, we feel a dopamine plunge. That feels bad, so we keep trying to do something that will make reality live up to expectations.

“That, to me, fits in with compulsions because these things we’re doing really aren’t that pleasurable. Rather, it’s the dopamine fuel, pleasure, and reward circuit that’s making us feel bad.

So what we get addicted to is not the actual rush of, say the comment you just received on your latest Instagram, but rather the anticipation of it – most of the time, actually reading that comment doesn’t live up to our expectations.

According to Begley, this means “we feel driven and compelled to keep trying, like one of these days it’s going to feel great. If it never does, then you’re in this essentially infinite dopamine loop.

Gaming is one of the prime examples of how such an addiction works, and there’s an ethical debate in the industry about whether it’s right to consciously get people hooked.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Engineers Create New Architecture For Vaporizable Electronics

Engineers from Cornell and Honeywell Aerospace have demonstrated a new method for remotely vaporizing electronics into thin air, giving devices the ability to vanish – along with their valuable data – if they were to get into the wrong hands.

This unique ability to self-destruct is at the heart of an emerging technology known as transient electronics, in which key portions of a circuit, or the whole circuit itself, can discreetly disintegrate or dissolve.

And because no harmful byproducts are released upon vaporization, engineers envision biomedical and environmental applications along with data protection.

There are a number of existing techniques for triggering the vaporization, each with inherent drawbacks.




Some transient electronics use soluble conductors that dissolve when contacted by water, requiring the presence of moisture.

Others disintegrate when they reach a specific temperature, requiring a heating element and power source to be attached.

Cornell engineers have created a transient architecture that evades these drawbacks by using a silicon-dioxide microchip attached to a polycarbonate shell.

Hidden within the shell are microscopic cavities filled with rubidium and sodium biflouride – chemicals that can thermally react and decompose the microchip.

Ved Gund, Ph.D. ’17, led the research as a graduate student in the Cornell SonicMEMS Lab, and said the thermal reaction can be triggered remotely by using radio waves to open graphene-on-nitride valves that keep the chemicals sealed in the cavities.

The encapsulated rubidium then oxidizes vigorously, releasing heat to vaporize the polycarbonate shell and decompose the sodium bifluoride. The latter controllably releases hydrofluoric acid to etch away the electronics,” said Gund.

Amit Lal, professor of electrical and computer engineering, said the unique architecture offers several advantages over previously designed transient electronics, including the ability to scale the technology.

The stackable architecture lets us make small, vaporizable, LEGO-like blocks to make arbitrarily large vanishing electronics,” said Lal.

Gund added that the technology could be integrated into wireless sensor nodes for use in environmental monitoring.

For example, vaporizable sensors can be deployed with the internet of things platform for monitoring crops or collecting data on nutrients and moisture, and then made to vanish once they accomplish these tasks,” said Gund.

Lal, Gund and Honeywell Aerospace were recently issued a patent for the technology, and the SonicMEMS Lab is continuing to research new ways the architecture can be applied toward transient electronics as well as other uses.

Our team has also demonstrated the use of the technology as a scalable micro-power momentum and electricity source, which can deliver high peak powers for robotic actuation,” said Lal.

Fabrication of the polycarbonate shell was completed by Christopher Ober, professor of materials science and engineering, with other components of the architecture provided by Honeywell Aerospace.

Portions of the research were funded under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Vanishing Programmable Resources program.

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Pass it on: Popular Science