Brainy Quote of the Day

Friday, July 1, 2016

Juno Genesis...

Topics: Jupiter, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration

This Independence Day, millions of Americans will look to the sky to watch dazzling fireworks. But across the country, scientists will be looking up for an entirely different reason: On July 4, NASA's Juno spacecraft will enter an orbit of Jupiter, giving us an unprecedented window into the history of our solar system's oldest planet.

Jupiter is a strange world, but Juno will make it a little more familiar. In doing so, it could give scientists valuable insight into our own origin story — and clues in the ongoing hunt for alien life.

Jupiter is a planet unlike any other. If every other planet in our solar system teamed up to form one massive monolith of a world, Jupiter would still be two and half times heavier. That incredible mass only becomes more impressive when you consider the fact that Jupiter is a gas giant: With the exception of a rocky core that may or may not exist at its very center, the planet is made entirely of gaseous and liquid elements. When a quarter of your mass comes from helium molecules, it takes a lot of space to carry any real weight. More than 1,300 Earths could fit inside it.

At that size, Jupiter comes close to being more of a sickly star than a powerful planet. In fact, scientists have found many alien stars that bear a striking resemblance to the fifth planet from the sun. Some even have raging storms like Jupiter's Great Red Spot, which has been churning in the planet's atmosphere for hundreds of years.

"Jupiter is a planet on steroids," principal investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute said during a June 16 press briefing. "Everything about it is extreme."

Washington Post: How NASA’s Juno mission could help tell us where we came from
Rachel Feltman

Thursday, June 30, 2016

From MOSFETs to GAAFETs...

Topics: Consumer Electronics, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science, Nanotechnology

The MOSFET – Metal Oxide FET

Image Source: Electronics Tutorials
As well as the Junction Field Effect Transistor (JFET), there is another type of Field Effect Transistor available whose Gate input is electrically insulated from the main current carrying channel and is therefore called an Insulated Gate Field Effect Transistor or IGFET. The most common type of insulated gate FET which is used in many different types of electronic circuits is called the Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor or MOSFET for short.

The IGFET or MOSFET is a voltage controlled field effect transistor that differs from a JFET in that it has a “Metal Oxide” Gate electrode which is electrically insulated from the main semiconductor n-channel or p-channel by a very thin layer of insulating material usually silicon dioxide, commonly known as glass. Source: Electronics Tutorials
By Appaloosa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A multigate device or multiple gate field-effect transistor (MuGFET) refers to a MOSFET (metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor) which incorporates more than one gate into a single device. The multiple gates may be controlled by a single gate electrode, wherein the multiple gate surfaces act electrically as a single gate, or by independent gate electrodes. A multigate device employing independent gate electrodes is sometimes called a Multiple Independent Gate Field Effect Transistor (MIGFET). Multigate transistors are one of the several strategies being developed by CMOS semiconductor manufacturers to create ever-smaller microprocessors and memory cells, colloquially referred to as extending Moore's Law. Source: Wikipedia
Image Source: IEEE

We demonstrate undoped-body, gate-all-around (GAA) Si nanowire (NW) MOSFETs with excellent electrostatic scaling. These NW devices, with a TaN/Hf-based gate stack, have high drive-current performance with NFET/PFET IDSAT = 825/950 μA/μm (circumference-normalized) or 2592/2985 μA/μm (diameter-normalized) at supply voltage VDD = 1 V and off-current IOFF = 15 nA/μm. Superior NW uniformity is obtained through the use of a combined hydrogen annealing and oxidation process. Clear scaling of short-channel effects versus NW size is observed. Additionally, we observe a divergence of the nanowire capacitance from the planar limit, as expected, as well as enhanced device self-heating for smaller diameter nanowires. We have also applied this method to making functional 25-stage ring oscillator circuits. Source: IEEE

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Life on Enceladus...

Saturn's icy moon Enceladus is thought to host a liquid ocean beneath its frozen surface that could be hospitable to life. Credit: NASA
Topics: Astrobiology, Astrophysics, Moon, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration

Saturn’s frozen moon Enceladus is a tantalizing world—many scientists are increasingly convinced it may be the best place in our solar system to search for life. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, currently orbiting Saturn, has made intriguing observations of icy jets spewing from a suspected underground liquid ocean on the mysterious world that might be hospitable to alien life.

Cassini’s tour is due to wind down in 2017, and scientists badly want to send a dedicated mission to Enceladus to look for signs of life. In fact, some have already started seriously thinking about exactly how they might do this—including planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, who is the imaging team leader for Cassini.

Although Enceladus is small in size and shrouded in a thick shell of ice, it appears to be a habitable world: It has a source of energy from friction created by its orbit around Saturn, organic compounds that are building blocks for life and a liquid water ocean underneath all that ice. But just because Enceladus may be hospitable to life does not mean life exists there; it will take much more work to definitively prove it. At the Berkeley meeting, scientists laid out the data Cassini has collected for Enceladus—they discussed analyses of its geysers, measurements of its ice shell, ideas on what its ocean chemistry might be like, and more. Yet even with all the newest data and models scientists have, they are not even close to detecting organisms on Enceladus—hence the need for a space mission.

Scientific American: Excitement Builds for the Possibility of Life on Enceladus
Annie Sneed

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

News in Neutrons...

When a free neutron (green) undergoes a process known as beta decay, it produces a proton (red), an antineutrino (gold) and an electron (blue)–as well as a photon (white). An experiment at NIST measured the range of energies that a given photon produced by beta decay can possess, a range known as its energy spectrum.
Credit: Hanacek/NIST
Topics: Atomic Physics, Big Bang, Particle Physics, Quantum Electrodynamics, Standard Model, Theoretical Physics

A physics experiment performed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has enhanced scientists’ understanding of how free neutrons decay into other particles. The work provides the first measurement of the energy spectrum of photons, or particles of light, that are released in the otherwise extensively measured process known as neutron beta decay. The details of this decay process are important because, for example, they help to explain the observed amounts of hydrogen and other light atoms created just after the Big Bang.

Published in Physical Review Letters, the findings confirm physicists’ big-picture understanding of the way particles and forces work together in the universe—an understanding known as the Standard Model. The work has stimulated new theoretical activity in quantum electrodynamics (QED), the modern theory of how matter interacts with light. The team’s approach could also help search for new physics that lies beyond the Standard Model.

NIST: Physicists measured something new in the radioactive decay of neutrons
Chad Boutin

Monday, June 27, 2016

Dubai Solar Power...

Topics: Alternative Energy, Green Energy, Green Tech, Solar Power

It's almost a contradiction in terms: Dubai [investing in] solar power? You'd think in the US, the only saving grace is from coal and "drill-baby-drill." We're as isolated from the rest of the planet as the hapless voters in Brexit, told as a sad story from oligarchs only interested in making money the same way they always have to low-information voters they happily manipulate to their own ends. There are twice as many solar jobs than coal, but the crowd that holds on to Halcyon memories of mining's dominance don't want to hear they may have to retrain to retain their middle class status. When the people, countries and culture primarily responsible for fossil fuels are looking in another direction, it's time the rest of us all started paying attention. Apparently, we (in the US) cannot "walk and chew gum."

They like to do things big in Dubai, including a newly-approved concentrated solar power project that will generate 1,000 megawatts of power by 2020—and a whopping 5,000 megawatts by 2030.

The Dubai Water and Electricity Authority (DEWA) has announced the launch of the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) project. Located on a single site within the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the plant will consist of five facilities. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed either in late 2020 or 2021, at which time it’s expected to generate 1,000 MW of power. By 2030, this plant could be churning out five times that amount—enough to raise the emirate’s total power output by 25 percent. [1]

The share of global electricity generated by solar photovoltaics (PV) could increase from 2 per cent today to as much as 13 per cent by 2030, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Released yesterday at InterSolar Europe, Letting in the Light: How Solar Photovoltaics Will Revolutionise the Electricity System finds the solar industry is poised for massive expansion, driven primarily by cost reductions. It estimates that solar PV capacity could reach between 1,760 and 2,500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, up from 227 GW today. [2]

1. Dubai Is Building the World’s Largest Concentrated Solar Power Plant
George Dvorsky, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Friday, June 24, 2016


Image Source: site
Topics: Electromagnetism, Isotopes, James Clerk Maxwell, Mark G. Raizen, Thermodynamics

I've given you the link to The Pointsman Foundation; from its own description:

"The Pointsman Foundation is a not-for-profit 501c(3) organization headquartered in Austin, Texas. Its mission includes the advancement of production and use of stable isotopes and radioisotopes for medical treatments, diagnostics, and research using the patented Magnetically Activated and Guided Isotope Separation (“MAGIS”) process developed by Mark Raizen, Ph.D. (University of Texas at Austin).

"The Pointsman Foundation’s ultimate goal is to make lifesaving therapies available to the global medical community by reducing the currently prohibitive costs of the underlying isotopes. While the MAGIS process has been successfully demonstrated in a lab using Lithium isotopes, additional research and development is now required to produce useful quantities of the most needed isotopes."

I'm glad to call Alicia and Mark Raizen friends. I called him recently to get his advice on certain career decisions I'm beginning to make, and wanted his opinion on not if I will continue graduate study, but how and under what circumstances.

Essentially, Mark is a researcher (as I've observed) for two reasons: 1) because he loves science - it's what animates him; 2) for the Common Good, as he has an eye for his research beyond just the physics lab towards humanity as a whole.

We share that passion, though most of my contributions have been as an engineer in the semiconductor industry that is sadly shrinking in the US, and not-at-all lightly impacted by the limits encountered with Moore's Law. That reality has affected a few former colleagues that are no longer in the industry, and a few current ones dealing with present realities. Mark also discussed options that I hadn't considered before.

Mark gives great advice, and is an obviously competent research manager (even before Pointsman, his soft skills were honed primarily with graduate students). One of the points he made in our conversation was about focusing on what you actually want without distractions; to pursue further graduate studies not just for initials following one's sir name: it's because you love it, and see it as contributing to a greater purpose.

That clarity was important to me. A plan is emerging; timelines are solidifying with respect to personal and familial commitments. After my implant process class this week, I'll dust off my GRE notes for both the General and Subject (Physics) tests and read many peer-reviewed papers in areas I'm interested in. I'll remember that young man I was at ten, who almost blew up my parents' house with a chemistry experiment gone awry; the same parents that still encouraged me to continue despite the peer pressure to go in other, less-positive life directions. I'll remember why I do what I do: because I love it.  And I guess (pun intended), that was Mark's "point."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chiral Origins...

An image of the center of our galaxy, where Sagittarius B2 is located. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CXC/STScI)
Topics: Astrobiology, Astrophysics, Biology, SETI

A peculiar new molecule hovering within a star-forming dust cloud in deep in space could help explain why life on Earth is the way it is.

The cloud, called Sagittarius B2, resides near the center of the Milky Way, and it’s there that researchers from the California Institute of Technology discovered an organic element that displays a key property shared by all life. Propylene oxide is the first element discovered outside of our solar system to exhibit chirality, or the presence of two distinct, mirror-image forms. Many complex molecules have this property, including myriad organic molecules necessary for life. The chemical formula of these two versions is exactly the same, but the structure is flipped.

A Molecule Deep in Space Could Help Explain the Origins of Life, Nathaniel Scharping
#P4TC: Chiral Molecules...