Brainy Quote of the Day

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Quantum Myths vs Facts...

Source: Claes Johnson on Mathematics and Science
Topics: Humor, Modern Physics, Physics and Pop Culture, Quantum Mechanics

Okay, the creative license of writers to invent their own "rules" in fiction gave us warp drive, automatic doors and cell phones. Two out of three's not bad.

There are times I cringe (as do a lot of physics, engineering and science types) when the writer has gone completely "off-the-range" on certain things that makes their plot work, just not the physics. The other thing that's like scratching a chalk board (an old-school metaphor in this age of dry erase boards and Power Point), is when pop psychology appropriates the language of quantum physics and totally misuses it to give credence to phenomena even THEY can't explain. Entanglement like "tesseract" gets used as a space filler - a gee whiz who-zits - when they don't have anything to say or a background to describe it. It's more likely statistical probability, blind luck or gas; Rolaids being a far better prescription.

Epoch Times is something I generally don't follow, but in this article, they do get some things right. I also list a Physics arXiv article below that goes even deeper into the subject.

Quantum physics is so fascinating that it appeals to a broader lay audience than a lot of other topics in science. It’s also so difficult to grasp and attempts to simplify it for a lay audience may open it to misunderstanding.

It is invoked to explain all sorts of strange, even paranormal, phenomena. Yet these explanations are often based on misconceptions about quantum physics. Quantum physics may indeed have the potential to explain such phenomena, since much remains to be discovered about it. But it is important to remain clear on what it does and does not actually claim at this point in its development.

1. No Indication That Entanglement Transfers Information (think "telepathy").
2. Consciousness Is Not Necessarily the Key to Collapsing the Wave-Function (Schrödinger’s cat, The Uncertainty Principle, the observer).
3. It Doesn't Only Describe the Subatomic Level (color, elasticity, black holes).
4. Speaking of a ‘Wave-Particle Duality’ Is Not Exactly Correct (see paper below).

Epoch Times: 4 Common Misconceptions About Quantum Physics, Tara MacIsaac
Physics arXiv: Quantum mechanics: Myths and facts, Hrvoje Nikolic
Theoretical Physics Division, Rudjer Boˇskovic Institute, Zagreb, Croatia

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Doubled Battery Life...

SiC-free graphene growth on Si NPs. (a) A low-magnification TEM image of Gr–Si NP. (b) A higher-magnification TEM image for the same Gr–Si NP from the white box in a. (Insets) The line profiles from the two red boxes indicate that the interlayer spacing between graphene layers is ~3.4 Å, in good agreement with that of typical graphene layers based on van der Waals interaction. (c) A high-magnification TEM image visualizing the origins (red arrows) from which individual graphene layers grow. (d) A schematic illustration showing the sliding process of the graphene coating layers that can buffer the volume expansion of Si. Credit: Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7393 doi:10.1038/ncomms8393

Topics: Batteries, Green Tech, Semiconductors, Materials Science, STEM

Currently, my laptop battery lasts about two hours straight out of the box. Over time and wear, that diminishes to having to use the power cord until a new one comes in; my Kindle and mobile phone has about six and eight hours charge respectively. I listed green tech. Longer battery life should translate to less finding their way to landfills.

(—A team of researches affiliated with Samsung's Advanced Institute of Technology, along with colleagues from other institutions in Korea has found a way to greatly extend lithium-ion battery life. In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the team describes their new technique and the results they achieved using it.

Consumers want their phone batteries to last longer—that is no secret, and battery life has been extended, but mostly due to improved efficiency of the electronics that depend on it. Researchers at phone companies and elsewhere have been working hard to find a way to get more power out of the same size battery but have to date, not made much progress. In this new effort, the researchers looked to silicon and graphene for a better battery. Samsung develops lithium-ion battery with nearly double the life, Bob Yirka

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Killing Schrödinger's Cat...

Topics: Einstein, Gravity, General Relativity, Modern Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Schrödinger's Cat

If the cat in Erwin Schrödinger's famous thought-experiment behaved according to quantum theory, it would be able to exist in multiple states at once: both dead and alive. Physicists' common explanation for why we don’t see such quantum superpositions—in cats or any other aspect of the everyday world—is interference from the environment. As soon as a quantum object interacts with a stray particle or a passing field, it picks just one state, collapsing into our classical, everyday view.

But even if physicists could completely isolate a large object in a quantum superposition, according to researchers at the University of Vienna, it would still collapse into one state—on Earth's surface, at least. “Somewhere in interstellar space it could be that the cat has a chance to preserve quantum coherence, but on Earth, or near any planet, there's little hope of that,” says Igor Pikovski. The reason, he asserts, is gravity.

Cinema-goers who saw the film Interstellar are already familiar with the basic principle behind the Vienna team’s work. Einstein’s theory of general relativity states that an extremely massive object causes clocks near it to run more slowly because its strong gravitational field stretches the fabric of space-time (which is why a character in the film aged only an hour near a black hole, while seven years passed on Earth). On a subtler scale, a molecule placed nearer the Earth’s surface experiences a slightly slower clock than one placed slightly further away.

Because of gravity’s effect on space-time, Pikovski’s team realised that variance in a molecule’s position will also influence its internal energy—the vibrations of particles within the molecule, which evolve over time. If a molecule were put in a quantum superposition of two places, the correlation between position and internal energy would soon cause the duality to 'decohere' to the molecule taking just one path, they suggest. “In most situations decoherence is due to something external; here it’s as though the internal jiggling is interacting with the motion of the molecule itself,” adds Pikovski.

Scientific American: Gravity Kills Schrödinger's Cat, Elizabeth Gibney and Nature magazine

Monday, June 29, 2015

Hype Material...

Fig 1. Graphene and its descendants: top left: graphene; top right: graphite = stacked graphene; bottom left: nanotube=rolled graphene; bottom right: fullerene=wrapped graphene (adapted from ref.[1]).2
National University of Singapore
Topics: Graphene, Materials Science, Nanotechnology, Semiconductor Technology, STEM

Though the article tends to reset expectations, I think there is still a lot of good research to do with graphene in the foreseeable future. The statement of being "decades" out shouldn't discourage anyone. There's room for a few more scientists; a few more Nobel's that are either currently in grad school, in kindergarten or might not have even been born yet. We just have to have the foresight to build the education infrastructure to develop the young people that will do it in this country or elsewhere (likely Singapore). Somewhat irritatingly, the microwave and the Internet have given us a sense of instantaneous expectations in research and especially politics. May we never get to the point where we can walk up to a 3-D printer (the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle pretty much kills all hope of a replicator) and say: Tea, Earl Grey: Hot. Instead of the Star Trek post-apocalyptic utopia, we may be insufferable to the point of obsessive compulsive, if - like our conundrums with our mobile devices and microwaves - such a device quits working...

The wonder material. It’s just one atom thick but 200 times stronger than steel; extremely conductive but see-through and flexible. Graphene has shot to fame since its discovery in 2004 by UK-based researchers Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, for which the University of Manchester pair were awarded the 2010 Nobel prize in physics.

We’ve heard the facts. We’ve read about how graphene could push the boundaries of today’s technology in almost unlimited ways. We’ve even pictured an elephant balanced on a pencil. But looking past the headlines, it’s clear that a lot of the most exciting areas of graphene science are still in the early stages. It will be years, decades perhaps, before we see the first graphene-enhanced smartphones, aeroplanes or bulletproof vests. But beyond these pie-in-the-sky promises, the underlying research is gathering pace.

Scientific American: Graphene: Looking beyond the Hype, Emma Stoye and ChemistryWorld

Sunday, June 28, 2015

To Explain the World...

Topics: Nobel Laureate, Nobel Prize, NSBP, Steven Weinberg, Theoretical Physics, World Science Festival

The above is not the cover of "To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science." I downloaded that to my Kindle. This is just an autographed copy of one of his earlier famous books I'm proud to own. I'm equally proud to have met him.

As I've said, I met Dr. Weinberg at an NSBP conference in Austin, Texas in 2011. I meant to attend the World Science Festival in New York and hear this lecture personally. I alas, had a mandatory training related to work (it was good, though I went kicking and because it was good, not quite screaming towards the end of it). So accept my own consolation prize with the embed below. Consolation prize #2: I joined the World Science Festival as my "Father's Day" present to myself. I'll hopefully attend - barring anything else put on my schedule - next year.
To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science, Dr. Steven Weinberg

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Gooeyness and Robots...

To restore their ability to survive in the ocean, the amputated jellyfish larvae simply rearranged their remaining arms instead of growing new ones.

Courtesy of Michael Abrams/Ty Basinger
Topics: Biology, Humor, Jellyfish, Robotics, Self-Healing

Am I the only one who thinks this reminds me of the shape-shifting T-1000 in the old Terminator II: Judgment Day?

For many sea creatures, regrowing a lost limb is routine. But when a young jellyfish loses a tentacle or two to the jaws of a sea turtle, for example, it rearranges its remaining limbs to ensure it can still eat and swim properly, according to a new study published June 15 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The discovery should excite marine enthusiasts and roboteers alike, the authors say, because the jellyfish’s strategy for self-repair may teach investigators how to build robots that can heal themselves. “It’s another example of nature having solved a problem that we engineers have been trying to figure out for a long time,” says John Dabiri, a biophysicist at Stanford University who had discussed the project with the study investigators but was not involved with the research.

Scientific American:
Jellyfish "Gooeyness" Could Be a Model for Self-Healing Robots, Sabrina Imbler

Friday, June 26, 2015

Entropy and Meaning...

Source: Facebook meme
Topics: Civil Rights, Human Rights, Philosophy, Thermodynamics

"Man - a being in search of meaning." Plato

Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics - The "zeroth law" states that if two systems are at the same time in thermal equilibrium with a third system, they are in thermal equilibrium with each other. [1]

First Law of Thermodynamics - Is the application of the conservation of energy principle to heat and thermodynamic processes: The change in internal energy of a system is equal to the heat added to the system minus the work done by the system. [1]

Second Law of Thermodynamics - In any cyclic process the entropy will either increase or remain the same. Since entropy gives information about the evolution of an isolated system with time, it is said to give us the direction of "time's arrow" . If snapshots of a system at two different times shows one state which is more disordered, then it could be implied that this state came later in time. For an isolated system, the natural course of events takes the system to a more disordered (higher entropy) state. [1]

Third Law of Thermodynamics - Is essentially a statement about the ability to create an absolute temperature scale, for which absolute zero is the point at which the internal energy of a solid is precisely 0.

Various sources show the following three potential formulations of the third law of thermodynamics:

1. It is impossible to reduce any system to absolute zero in a finite series of operations.
2. The entropy of a perfect crystal of an element in its most stable form tends to zero as the temperature approaches absolute zero.
3. As temperature approaches absolute zero, the entropy of a system approaches a constant. [2]


There are admittedly other parts of the 2nd Law I don't focus on purposely: heat transfer and refrigerators. It will become apparent [hopefully] in a moment.

Thermodynamics is the science of "energy and its transformations," usually applied to systems. As I've alluded to in previous posts, the system in question is modern civilization itself. It's just an observation, not a doomsday prophecy. I see common cause-kissing cousins in Al Qaeda, ISIL/ISIS and Dylann Roof, hence the meme from Facebook above.

We tend to fight Entropy in various ways personally: diet, exercise, vitamins. It doesn't keep us from dying, but theoretically it preserves us; prolongs our stay on the planet.

A society can fight Entropy through education, as in the case of what should be called forevermore the Roof massacre, the less-educated tend to be more prejudiced and have less of a nuanced view of the world. It's typically "us versus them," as he stated an hour after his clandestine attendance at a bible study and his rampage began. Would he have been so angry, would he have sought the web sites of racist lunatics had he finished high school? Perhaps learned a trade or finished at least a college degree? His focus on debunked mythologies about African Americans purposely causing - in his twisted logic - genetic annihilation through miscegenation could have been alleviated by education. That would have resulted in stable finances, self-esteem that usually leads to better wardrobe selection, cologne, charm and if fortunate: coitus. He could have relieved his problems; his libido and nine innocent souls would still be with us.

The violence we're seeing in the news is tribal and primitive, born of ignorance and a sense of entitlement that is pathological. Isla Vista in Santa Barbara last year; a torrent of violence on black bodies since Trayvon Martin - shot, choked and beaten; churches set aflame appear to have made a "comeback" - to now a pastor and state senator and his members gunned down in their own house of worship. As these primitive instincts express themselves so violently, we as a nation are approaching Entropy as regressive types struggle in an ever-changing world that frightens them and their perceived loss of meaning, purpose and "specialness" in it. Unfortunately, "times arrow" has no reset button, and nation states not careful nor renewing itself with education of its citizenry, can drift inexorably from chaos. It is at this juncture of our current history, ignorance - in the spirit of Thomas Gray's "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" - is NOT nor ever has been: bliss.