Brainy Quote of the Day

Monday, January 16, 2017

Squeezing Below The Quantum Limit...

NIST researchers applied a special form of microwave light to cool a microscopic aluminum drum to an energy level below the generally accepted limit, to just one fifth of a single quantum of energy. Having a diameter of 20 micrometers and a thickness of 100 nanometers, the drum beat 10 million times per second while its range of motion fell to nearly zero.
Credit: Teufel/NIST

Topics: Metamaterials, Nanotechnology, Quantum Computer, Quantum Mechanics

Physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have cooled a mechanical object to a temperature lower than previously thought possible, below the so-called “quantum limit.”

The new NIST theory and experiments, described in the Jan. 12, 2017, issue of Nature, showed that a microscopic mechanical drum—a vibrating aluminum membrane—could be cooled to less than one-fifth of a single quantum, or packet of energy, lower than ordinarily predicted by quantum physics. The new technique theoretically could be used to cool objects to absolute zero, the temperature at which matter is devoid of nearly all energy and motion, NIST scientists said.

“The colder you can get the drum, the better it is for any application,” said NIST physicist John Teufel, who led the experiment. “Sensors would become more sensitive. You can store information longer. If you were using it in a quantum computer, then you would compute without distortion, and you would actually get the answer you want.”

NIST Physicists ‘Squeeze’ Light to Cool Microscopic Drum Below Quantum Limit
Laura Ost

Friday, January 13, 2017

I, Nerd...

Image Source: see "most intimidating Captain" below, or
Topics: Commentary, Diversity in Science, Science Fiction, Star Trek, STEM

I am a nerd. Those of us of African descent have taken the name "blerds."

During the 70's, being a nerd of color wasn't a family outing in the park. I recall getting bullied...a lot. The fact that I: never ate nor liked the smell of chitterlings; watched Star Trek, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau didn't help much either. A distinct memory of my nose bloodied from getting shoved in my locker after 9th grade English class for reading a poem - a haiku (that WAS the assignment) and getting the F-bomb epithet while my assailants sprinted down the hall. I noted when as an undergraduate almost the entire school karate team - led by my Calculus instructor - consisted entirely of STEM majors, with the exception of one in Communications. Nerds tend to know from experience defensive skills are a PLUS.

I noticed Physics Today and its related media Inside Science commented on the sitcom The Big Bang Theory. I've watched a few episodes, though with the exception of passing interest I have understandably never been a big fan. I can recall seeing a scene (a "scene" mind you) with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson on YouTube. I recall seeing an episode (maybe two?) with actress Regina King as an HR rep that had to haul Sheldon and company into her office to "set them straight." She's listed as officially appearing in four.

The big nerd show of my day was Star Trek, and The Bang gives a lot of hat tips to it quite often in their dialogue. It was the blend of science and swashbuckling; you could study the cosmos faster-than-light (defying all laws of physics), do a flying sidekick (Kirk) or a Vulcan neck pinch (Spock). Note to Sheldon: kick, yes; pinch, no.

I specifically in many ways was enamored with Nichelle Nichols/Lieutenant Uhura. It was moving that Dr. Martin Luther King talked her into staying after her first season as a role model. I'm grateful that she stayed, because without the image others might not have tried majoring in STEM like Dr. Mae Jemison, Dr. Tyson, Dr. Ronald E. McNair (deceased from the Challenger Disaster).

Even in my fandom, I have listed a few of my observations and critiques (this starts with TOS and its recent variants):

  • Uhura was technically third in command of the Enterprise, though I don't recall an episode where she took "the comm" (command chair). She technically outranked Scottie who took command in the Captain's absence on several occasions.
  • With the exception of a vampire salt monster (The Man Trap) masquerading as a black male and speaking Swahili; her forced kiss with Captain Kirk (Plato's Stepchildren - not played then in racist southern markets) she never had a story arc with a love interest.
  • Dr. Richard Daystrom (William Marshall), a genius that apparently won the Nobel Prize in I'd assume Computer Science (as yet not seen up to now - we get Peace Prizes mostly) and something called the Zee-Magnees Prize in 2243 invented the talking personal computers with Majel Barrett's voice and attitude. He of course also conveniently went mad. He would become the archetype for Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the twist is he didn't go mad, his creation did when it reached the Singularity, and realized humans are generally pricks.
  • With Captain's Kirk (TOS), Picard (TNG), Janeway (VOY), and Archer (ENT) their respective series STARTED with them at the rank of Captain. Their previous experiences were referred to in passing commentary, and their records deemed impeccable and impressive.
  • Benjamin Sisko started Deep Space 9 at the rank of Commander, though he eventually promoted into Captain. He also started with "an attitude," seeing Picard was the reason his wife died in the Borg battle at Wolf 359. He also punched Q (not mad at him for that), but it did play into the stereotype of being hotheaded. He was also a reluctant single dad (see "attitude"). He made "most intimidating Captain" in a Trek poll.
  • In Star Trek: Discovery Michelle Yeoh, fresh off "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" will play a starfleet Captain. Following the Sisko formula, the leader of the Starship Discovery Sonequa Martin-Green will start her screen life as a Lieutenant Commander (and from Sisko level, demoted), so it seems a sister STILL has to work twice as hard to get ahead in the Utopian 23rd Century.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying Star Trek hasn't done a lot of things RIGHT. The old Motorola StarTek was a knockoff of the Trek communicator; comm badges in TNG became the model for Bluetooth devices everyone had in their ears (talking to themselves) until we piped it through our radios. Heck, we even have the makings with phone apps of a Universal Translator; automatic doors at the mall started out on Trek with two guys on either side of William Shatner opening and closing the door on queue before optical electronics (and there were in all variants bloopers). It's just that scripts are usually written in a vacuum, usually with a team of people you know, and dependent on that team's exposure to diversity and other cultures well, see the above bullets.

Since the 1960 presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, images have mattered. Like the Internet and social media, television changes our brains and perceptions of what is real and what is frankly true. Though I was not on the planet, many who watched the presidential debates thought the cooler, younger, non-sweaty and more photogenic Kennedy won the debate. For the "old school" radio listeners, Nixon won it. Technology has been skewing our perceptions ever since.

Part of the goal of working in STEM at any level is imagining yourself in the role doing it. Taraji P. Henson - I talked about her last week at the debut of Hidden Figures (GO see it) said reading the script for the movie "hurt her" because she would have liked to know of these women when she was growing up. Images matter to young people that have a visual media thrown at them now 24/7 through flat screens, laptops and mobile devices; they are "programmed" quite subtly in what is proper for them to aspire to. Trivia: Ms. Henson majored in Electrical Engineering at my Alma Mater before transferring to Howard and majoring in Drama. The rest as they say, is history. Maybe she has a valid point. For that, young people all need actors that look like themselves so they can start thinking it is possible. I hope, like her to facilitate that.

In the meantime:

Je suis noir (I am black).
I am nerd.
I will (as long as ambulatory) blog.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Electron Puddle...

In a new study, Argonne scientists have discovered a way to confine the behavior of electrons by using extremely high magnetic fields. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)
Topics: Electromagnetism, Materials Science

Olympic figure skaters and electrons have a lot in common. In figure skating competitions, the "free skate" segment gives the skater the flexibility to travel in whichever pattern he or she chooses around the rink. Similarly, in metals, electrons in outer orbitals can wander fairly freely.

However, when the magnetic field is increased dramatically, researchers have found that the motion of these electrons becomes much more tightly confined. Their behavior looks like figure skaters completing compulsory tight spins and jumps.

In a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Argonne National Laboratory, researchers used extremely high magnetic fields — equivalent to those found in the center of neutron stars — to alter electronic behavior. By observing the change in the behavior of these electrons, scientists may be able to gain an enriched understanding of material behavior.

"The rules of the game are changed when we apply a magnetic field of this intensity," said Argonne materials scientist Anand Bhattacharya, who led the research. "The nature of this new state that we see has been debated theoretically for over half a century, but experiments to measure its properties have been hard to come by."

Argonne National Laboratory:
Electrons "puddle" under high magnetic fields, study reveals, Jared Sagoff

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fusion Breeding...

Image Source: Binus University Research Interest Group
Topics: Alternative Energy, Nuclear Fusion, Nuclear Physics, Nuclear Power


This article is an editorial, which makes the case that fusion breeding (that is using fusion neutrons to breed nuclear fuel for use in conventional nuclear reactors) is the best objective for the fusion program. To make the case, it reviews a great deal of plasma physics and fusion data. Fusion breeding could potentially play a key role in delivering large-scale sustainable carbon-free commercial power by mid-century. There is almost no chance that pure fusion can do that. The leading magnetic fusion concept, the tokamak, is subject to well-known constraints, which we have called conservative design rules, and review in this paper. These constraints will very likely prevent tokamaks from ever delivering economical pure fusion. Inertial fusion, in pure fusion mode, may ultimately be able to deliver commercial power, but the failure to date of the leading inertial fusion experiment, the National Ignition Campaign, shows that there are still large gaps in our understanding of laser fusion. Fusion breeding, based on either magnetic fusion or inertial fusion, greatly relaxes the requirements on the fusion reactor. It is also a much better fit to today’s and tomorrow’s nuclear infrastructure than is its competitor, fission breeding. This article also shows that the proposed fusion and fission infrastructure, ‘The Energy Park’, reviewed here, is sustainable, economically and environmentally sound, and poses little or no proliferation risk.

The fusion program, both short term and long term, is in trouble, certainly in the United States, and likely worldwide. In addition to large cost overruns and failures to meet milestones, surely another reason is that pure fusion has almost no chance of meeting energy requirements on a time scale that anyone alive today can relate to. Hence the assertion of this article is that fusion breeding of conventional nuclear fuel is a likely way out of fusion’s current and future difficulties. Fusion breeding substantially reduces the requirements on the fusion reactor. It significantly reduces the necessary Q (fusion power divided by input power), wall loading, and availability fraction. The capital cost of a reactor, estimated based on ITER’s capital cost, is affordable for fusion breeding, but definitely is not for pure fusion. It is likely that fusion breeding can produce fuel at a reasonable cost by mid century. The entire fusion and fission infrastructure would be sustainable, economical, environmentally sound, and have little or no proliferation risk. This article’s mission then, is to hopefully convince a much larger portion of the fusion establishment to make this case. At the very least it hopes to broaden the discussion in the fusion community from where we are now, where one prestigious review committee after another insists that every existing project is absolutely vital, nothing can be changed; except give us more $$$. The inevitable result of this process is that one fusion project after another gets knocked off.

RD Springer: Fusion Breeding for Mid-Century Sustainable Power, Wallace Manheimer

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Brexit and Exodus...

Image Source: Wiki Gender
Topics: Existentialism, Politics, Science, Research


A survey of more than 1,000 UK-based university staff suggests that the country’s vote to leave the European Union could drive an academic exodus.

Forty-two per cent of lecturers and professors surveyed say they are more likely to consider leaving the UK higher-education sector as a result of the referendum outcome. The proportion was even greater (76%) among the non-UK EU citizens in the survey, commissioned by the University and College Union, which represents tens of thousands of academics and is based in London.

Many individual foreign researchers have said they feel less welcome in Britain after the Brexit vote, or that they now see better opportunities abroad. But the latest poll is one of the clearest indications of the widespread nature of this feeling in UK academia.

Scientific American: Brexit May Spark British Brain Drain, Daniel Cressey

Monday, January 9, 2017

Lucy and Psyche...

(Left) An artist’s conception of the Lucy spacecraft flying by the Trojan Eurybates – one of the six diverse and scientifically important Trojans to be studied. Trojans are fossils of planet formation and so will supply important clues to the earliest history of the solar system. (Right) Psyche, the first mission to the metal world 16 Psyche will map features, structure, composition, and magnetic field, and examine a landscape unlike anything explored before. Psyche will teach us about the hidden cores of the Earth, Mars, Mercury and Venus.
(Photo: SwRI and SSL/Peter Rubin)
Topics: Asteroids, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration

NASA will embark on two missions it says could unlock secrets to how our solar system was formed.

The Lucy and Psyche missions — both robotic, unmanned endeavors controlled from Earth — will take us back to the time 10 million years after the sun was born.

Lucy will visit the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter when it launches in October 2021. Scientists suspect the asteroids, currently caught in the largest planet's 12-year orbit around the sun, may have existed in the beginnings of the solar system and before Jupiter's orbit.

Lucy's principal investigator Harold F. Levison claims the mission will yield other-worldly insight into our universe.

"Because the Trojans are remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets, they hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system," he explained. "Lucy, like the human fossil for which it is named, will revolutionize the understanding of our origins."

But don't wait up, Lucy's first stop won't come until 2025 when it arrives at a main belt asteroid. It will examine the Trojans from 2027 to 2033.

USA Today: NASA asteroid missions to discover secrets of the universe, Sean Rossman

Friday, January 6, 2017

Hidden Figures...

Image Source: Madame Noire
Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Johnson), Janelle Monae (Mary Jackson) and Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughn)
Topics: Diversity, Diversity in Science, NASA, STEM, Women in Science

Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson are members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. The Iota Alpha Omega chapter have rented out the Poughkeepsie Galleria as a fundraiser for the sorority and general positive exposure to the public for the organization in general and African Americans in STEM in particular. I was proud to do an electronics STEM fair at the Children's Home of Poughkeepsie in 2014. I will proudly without as much effort support this tonight. 😊

When you think of NASA and Black women, Mae Jemison no doubt comes to mind. But long before Jemison became the first African American woman to travel in space in 1992, there were three women of color already making history at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and now their story will finally be told in the upcoming theatrical release, Hidden Figures.

The movie, which stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, tells the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson —”brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world,” a press release relayed.

Madame Noire:
First Look At Hidden Figures, The Untold Story Of NASA’s Black Female Leaders
Brande Victorian