Brainy Quote of the Day

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Topics: Economy, Education, Exceptionalism, OECD, Politics, United States, Singapore

Exceptionalism: It's not even really a word, it's a mythology we tell ourselves, over and over like a meditative mantra. As with most naval gazing, we tend to believe our own inner press instead of examined facts and data. Self-myth is Linus's security blanket.

It traces back to Tocqueville, even though it's obvious we've retained the old world's sins: classism, racism, the ability and willingness to wage war.

"In recent years scholars from numerous disciplines, as well as politicians and commentators in the popular media, have debated the meaning and usefulness of the concept. Roberts and DeCuirci ask:

"Why has the myth of American exceptionalism, characterized by a belief in America’s highly distinctive features or unusual trajectory based in the abundance of its natural resources, its revolutionary origins and its protestant religious culture that anticipated God’s blessing of the nation—held such tremendous staying power, from its influence in popular culture to its critical role in foreign policy?" Wikipedia

However: of The 10 smartest countries based on math and science, America is exceptionally left out of the top ten...we tie with Italy at twenty-eighth.

What we're exceptional at is pseudoscience like creation science/museums and anti-vaxxers, the inane devotion to the testing industrial complex (making a killing on standardized tests in all 50 states) that Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Finland, Estonia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Canada (the only one from the North American CONTINENT) have no relevant equivalent in this continued lunacy. As Ken Ham builds an ark and sues to only hire young Earth creationists - legalizing a patently discriminatory hiring practice; Bill Nye the Science Guy is crowd funding a solar sail. Go figure...

Mark Twain once famously remarked: "there are lies, damned lies and statistics," but this is not a lie, damnable or otherwise. Callously, politicians are telling people what they want to hear versus what they need to; making them comfortable to merely hold onto their positions for 20...30+ years and accomplish nothing.

There is still good work being done in high tech in this country. That good work is being done by engineers and scientists that are daily...getting older. They will eventually be pushed out (sadly), or retire. National prosperity is not the result of magical thinking. To continue our leadership and advances in STEM fields, the current workforce will have to have replacements once they can no longer produce at the same level as they did when they were younger; when there was industry, commerce and manufacturing that demanded their brilliance. Our university professors are in the same boat. They can only train students based on demand, and that demand cannot increase when our employment is freely traded across oceans to meet the bottom-line of "bean counters" oblivious to the real world between lattes.

We are exceptionally prone to conspiracy theories: false links to vaccines and autism; every shooting a "false flag" operation; the common nomenclature for military exercises - the exercise code name + YY (e.g. "15") - made into "the boogie man" in Texas by Alex Jones ditto head nincompoops that confuse the strict rules regarding research with disparate links of search engine results after an obvious drunken stupor.

As we advance in technology, there is a fear of it. Everyone has become Al Qaeda, The Tea Party, the Unabomber or ISIS: who all want us all in huts, cabins or caves; women covered head-to-toe, not driving or working, barefoot and pregnant (always) and living in some Shangri-La parallel to the voices loudly booming in their heads.

Hopefully, Robert De Niro's sage yet colorful advice to his co laborers in the arts is not appropos to the rest of the nation. We're sliding down an incline, slowly...inexorably...sliding. Rock bottom will hurt unless we start back up the incline.

I'll be out in a class. My 1,962 post and coincidentally the year of my birth. See you 1 June.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Nanorods and Photovoltaics...

FIG. 1.
(a) Morphology of the NRs with 5–10 nm Ag nanoparticles. (b) Magnified image of 1(a). One NR with 5–10 nm Ag nanoparticles. (c) SEM image of the reference sample without Ag nanoparticles.
Citation: J. Appl. Phys. 117, 193101 (2015);
Topics: (100), Nanoparticle, Nanorod, P-Type Silicon Substrate, Photoluminescence, Photovoltaic, Raman Spectroscopy, Wurzite

The test structures for photovoltaic (PV) applications based on zinc oxide nanorods (NRs) that were grown using a low-temperature hydrothermal method on p-type silicon substrates (100) covered with Ag nanoparticles (NPs) were studied. The NPs of three different diameters, i.e., 5–10 nm, 20-30 nm, and 50–60 nm, were deposited using a sputtering method. The morphology and crystallinity of the structures were confirmed by scanning electron microscopy and Raman spectroscopy. It was found that the nanorods have a hexagonal wurtzite structure. An analysis of the Raman and photoluminescence spectra permitted the identification of the surface modes at 476 cm−1 and 561 cm−1. The presence of these modes is evidence of nanorods oriented along the wurtzite c-axis. The NRs with Ag NPs were covered with a ZnO:Al (AZO) layer that was grown using the low-temperature atomic layer deposition technique. The AZO layer served as a transparent ohmic contact to the ZnO nanorods. The applicability of the AZO layer for this purpose and the influence of the Ag nanoparticles on the effectiveness of light acquisition by such prepared PV cells were checked by reflectance and transmittance measurements of the AZO/glass and AZO/NPs/glass reference structures. Based on these studies, the high-energy transmittance edge was assigned to the ZnO energy gap, although it is blueshifted with respect to the bulk ZnO energy gap because of Al doping. It was also shown that the most optimal PV performance is obtained from a structure containing Ag nanoparticles with a diameter of 20–30 nm. This result is confirmed by the current-voltage measurements performed with 1-sun illumination. The structures show a plasmonic effect within the short wavelength range: the PV response for the structure with Ag nanoparticles is twice that of the structure without the nanoparticles. However, the influence of the Ag nanoparticle diameters on the plasmonic effect is ambiguous.

American Institute of Physics:
Si/ZnO nanorods/Ag/AZO structures as promising photovoltaic plasmonic
E. Placzek-Popko1,a), K. Gwozdz1, Z. Gumienny1, E. Zielony1, R. Pietruszka2, B. S. Witkowski2, Ł. Wachnicki2, S. Gieraltowska2, M. Godlewski2,3, W. Jacak1 and Liann-Be Chang4

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dark Matter Shine...

An artist's concept shows a black hole eating material from a nearby star. Researchers say its possible dark matter swirling around a black hole could radiate gamma rays that could be seen by telescopes.
Credit: An artist's concept shows a black hole eating material from a nearby star. Researchers say its possible dark matter swirling around a black hole could radiate gamma rays that could be seen by telescopes.
Topics: Black Holes, Cosmology, Dark Matter, General Relativity

Dark matter circling the drain of a massive black hole could radiate gamma-rays that might be visible from Earth, according to new research.

Dark matter is five times more plentiful in the universe than regular matter, but it does not emit, reflect or absorb light, making it not just dark but entirely transparent. But if dark-matter particles around black holes can produce gamma-rays (high-energy light), such emissions would give scientists a new way to study this mysterious material.

The process responsible for creating the gamma-rays is somewhat counterintuitive, because it seems to defy two common assumptions: that nothing can escape from a black hole and that there's no such thing as a free lunch.
A 3D computer model of what the dark-matter gamma-ray signal might look like around a black hole. Because the particles are orbiting around the black hole (left to right) the signal is only visible on one side.
Credit: Jeremy Schnittman Black Holes Might Make Dark Matter Shine, Calla Cofield

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Quantum Biomimetics...

Image Source: Technology Review and Physics arXiv
Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Biology, Biomimetics, Computer Science, Humor, Quantum Computers, Quantum Mechanics

This reminded me of the Old Star Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark." It was unique in that it posited the Horta wasn't carbon-based (as we are), but silicon-based life, and a mother. Talk about "seek out new life." The write up and the paper are intriguing in that it does speculate something we altogether have never encountered, and if we did - or, in this case, create it, what then? What would we call it; what would it call us (mom/dad, or irrelevant/obsolete?), and how would we deal with our uncomfortable insignificance as a species in current 21st Century geopolitics? It's Wednesday, and I probably shouldn't think too deeply on such things. I just hope I haven't broken the three rules of Gremlins, and inadvertently fed the trolls...

TECHNOLOGY REVIEW: Computer scientists have long known that evolution is an algorithmic process that has little to do with the nature of the beasts it creates. Instead, evolution is set of simple steps that, when repeated many times, can solve problems of immense complexity; the problem of creating the human brain, for example, or of building an eye.

And, of course, the problem of creating life. Put an evolutionary algorithm to work in a virtual environment and it doesn’t take long to create life-like organisms in silico that live and reproduce entirely within a virtual computer-based environment.

This kind of life is not carbon-based or even silicon-based. It is a phenomenon of pure information. But if the nature of information allows the process of evolution to be simulated on an ordinary computer, then why not also on a quantum computer? The resulting life would exist in virtual quantum environment governed by the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics. As such, it would be utterly unlike anything that biologists have ever encountered or imagined.

But what form might quantum life take? Today we get an insight into this question thanks to the work of Unai Alvarez-Rodriguez and a few pals at the University of the Basque Country in Spain. They have simulated the way life evolves in a quantum environment and use this to propose how it could be done in a real quantum environment for the first time. “We have developed a quantum information model for mimicking the behavior of biological systems inspired by the laws of natural selection,” they say.

Physics arXiv: Artificial Life in Quantum Technologies
U. Alvarez-Rodriguez, M. Sanz, L. Lamata, E. Solano

Related Link
Science Alert:
An Electronic Memory Cell Has Been Created That Mimics the Human Brain
Fiona MacDonald

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pairing Without Superconductivity...

Schematic diagram of the single-electron transistor. The long green line on the right of the diagram is the gate. The two green lines connected to the yellow structures are the source and drain. The nanodot is the isolated green line between the source and drain. (Courtesy: Guanglei Cheng et al./Nature)
Topics: Electrical Engineering, Nanotechnology, Quantum Mechanics, Superconductivity

Electron pairing without superconductivity has been seen for the first time by a team of physicists in the US. Confirming a prediction made in 1969, the electron pairs were spotted in strontium titanate using a single-electron transistor. The observation could provide useful insights into the nature of superconductivity, and perhaps even help in the design of new high-temperature superconductors.

In a conventional superconductor, electrons with opposite spin come together to form Cooper pairs that pass through the atomic lattice without scattering. This interaction occurs because the presence of one electron pulls in positive ions from the lattice, and this in turn attracts the next electron. These pairs then interact with each other to form a condensate from which individual electrons cannot be easily scattered. For this to work, however, the electrons have to be relatively close together. This is not the case in strontium titanate, which has a very low electron density yet is a superconductor at temperatures below a critical temperature (TC) of about 300 mK (millikelvin).

Physics World: Electron pairing without superconductivity seen at long last, Tim Wogan

Monday, May 18, 2015

Quantum Shortcut...

A shortcut to adiabaticity (STA) offers a fast route to quantum state preparation, similar to how a toll road offers a fast route to a traveler’s destination; both shortcuts involve costs, but the costs are hopefully worth the time saved. (The image depicts a road sign produced by the Swedish Transport Agency.)

Topics: Adiabatic Processes, Computers, Consumer Electronics, Cryptography, Quantum Mechanics

Quantum technologies come in a wide variety of forms, from computers, sensors, and cryptographic systems to simulations and imaging systems. But one thing that all current and future quantum systems have in common is the need to achieve reliable control over physical systems such as atoms or photons. A frequently used method to prepare quantum systems in the desired quantum state is a quantum adiabatic process, but these processes often take so long that environmental noise causes the quantum state to decohere and lose its "quantumness."

To speed up quantum state preparation and minimize decoherence, physicists have devised so-called "shortcuts to adiabaticity" (STA), which refer to any process that prepares quantum states in a shorter time than adiabatic processes without losing the benefits of being adiabatic. Originally developed for simple systems consisting of a single particle, STA has recently been extended to many-body systems, which are more relevant for applications. However, the implementation of STA in many-body systems is still very challenging due to the inherent complexity of these systems. Quantum shortcut could speed up many quantum technologies, Lisa Ziga

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dreaming Electric Sheep...

Image Source: Headbirths - Technology, Neuroscience, Philosophy
Topics: Computer Science, DARPA, Humor, Robotics, Science Fiction, Virtual Reality

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," by Philip K. Dick, a rather colorful and disturbed science fiction writer, whose novel was the inspiration for the Dystopian movie: "Blade Runner." Like all good science fiction, it ask the question quite literally: "what does it mean to be 'human,' especially in light of self-aware androids in our midst. You'll see this is more about simulation than dreaming, but in thinking of a title, I fell for the poetic irony. DARPA coincidentally, played an early important role in the concept and  development of the Internet.

In a month’s time, a motley assortment of robots will attempt to navigate a punishing obstacle course laid out in a fairground park in Pomona, California. At the challenge, organized by the Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA), about two dozen machines will make their way through a series of tasks meant to push the limits of robot navigation, manipulation, and locomotion.

Before many of the robots set foot (or wheel) on the course, however, they will be put through their paces in a highly realistic virtual world. This 3-D environment, called Gazebo, makes it possible to try out robot hardware or software without having to power up the real thing. It’s a cheap and quick way to experiment without risking damage to valuable hardware components. And it allows many researchers to work on a single robot simultaneously.

“We are trying to mimic reality as closely as we can,” says Nate Koenig, CTO of the Open Source Robotics Foundation, which is developing Gazebo, and who has spent the last decade leading its development. “The goal is to easily switch over to a real robot.”

Technology Review: Even Robots Now Have Their Own Virtual World, Will Knight