May 2010

Nano promise to be fulfilled?

May 29, 2010

The Economist reports that “…a bright future beckons, and some of the nanohype that has been swirling around might actually get translated into a useful product.” The reason is that “…adding a sprinkle of nanoparticles to water can improve its thermal conductivity, and thus its ability to remove heat from something that it is in […]

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When a bureaucrat is a physicist…

May 27, 2010

How do you see whether critical valves in a blowout protector are open or closed, a mile deep in the sea and through inches of steel? Gamma-ray imaging, as suggested by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu: Atlantic: How is it that you know enough about gamma rays and oil spill technology to be helpful? I […]

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Irrational drug design, malaria,
and Alzheimer’s disease

May 24, 2010

Irrational drug design (aka high-throughput screening) parallels other areas of data-driven science: it abandons the methodology of traditional hypothesis-driven science — which demands a focus on specific predictions — and pursues instead the weak and humble hypothesis that looking in a general area will find something. As I discussed here, genomics and synoptic sky surveys […]

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A programmable nanoscale assembly line

May 20, 2010

When I picked up my copy of this week’s Chemical & Engineering News this evening, I found that the lead article begins with this: Futuristic visions of nanobots that travel the body to treat disease and construct compounds one atom at a time got a little closer to reality this week, thanks to two advances […]

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Flattening the Matterhorn

May 19, 2010

AFM image, magnified(Inset shows vertical magnification) Matterhorn, demagnified(Original image in upper panel) Text and graphics excerpted from Figure 4 of a recent paper on a new form of nanoscale lithography: AFM scan of the replica of the Matterhorn written into the molecular glass (3D data source: geodata © swisstopo). The maximum steepness of slopes is […]

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Causal sets as discrete models of spacetime

May 19, 2010

I finally understand how a discrete model of spacetime can be Lorentz invariant. To see the problem, note that a spacetime divided into little Planck-length parts would look different in a boosted reference frame — the lengths would differ. (A proposed workaround, “doubly-special relativity,” has been severely challenged at a very basic level.) A recent […]

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Reshaping airframes & expectations

May 17, 2010

Opportunity Like most people with a conservative engineering mindset, I usually assume that major commercial technologies are designed to work reasonably close to the limits of current fabrication technologies (currently practical materials, subsystem performance, etc.). Then something like this comes along: …an MIT-led team has designed a green airplane that is estimated to use 70 […]

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A brief post about brief posts

May 16, 2010

This post is displayed on Metamodern in a new format designed for brief posts, to be categorized as “Brevia”. This (and a bunch of other changes) reflects an upgrade in my WordPress theme, Thesis. The typical WordPress theme centers a style provided by an HTML template, but Thesis is more like a PHP app. It […]

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Globe Forum afterword & environmental posts

May 4, 2010

I’m back from Globe Forum 2010, a meeting that brings together leaders of innovative businesses focused on sustainability. A major theme at the meeting was, of course, greenhouse gases and climate change. My talk emphasized that high CO2 levels will persist for decades (even with heroically deep cuts in CO2 emissions) unless we implement large-scale […]

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