Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Future Tech II: Supersolids, Meta Materials, Varying Fine Structure Constant, and Maxwell's Demon!

Interesting things are afoot these days. It's very exciting. Medicine, technology, software & networking, neuroscience, genetics, and many fields are blowing up. Right now however we are experiencing some massive discoveries in the areas of fundamental physics and our understanding of materials. About 6 weeks ago I sent my friend, Aaron Smith of the university of Arizona this blog post on Maxwell's Demon. I had not heard of this "thought experiment" but it was pretty cool.

Basically in the blog post they reference an article in Nature - Physics about some theoretical physicists who have come up with a more concrete example of an age old problem known as "Maxwell's Demon." Basically it's a thought experiment that seeks to throw a wrench in the second law of thermodynamics. Aaron recommends an article from Charles Bennett in Sciam, “Demons, Engines, and the Second Law,” and I can find another interesting pdf from Bennett.  Kind of like a math proof, this article reminds me that much of science is figuring out why something doesn't make sense.

Many people have poked holes in the theory/postulation, and Sziliard, a Hungarian physicist, basically showed mathematically that INFORMATION is ENERGY! That's what I think is super cool. The Japanese scientists basically created an experiment that demonstrates this in the real world. So not like knowing the content of a book, but to some degree ENERGY (or the power required to operate storage) could be converted in to energy. Unfortunately, it would take more information than can fill just about every computer in the world to power a spaceship, but nano-machines would require a reasonable amount and might someday be powered by “information-heat engines.” The experiment appears to have roughly converted with 28% efficiency according to the economist.  (This doesn’t take into account the measuring device and feedback control, which when accounted for pushes the efficiency very far into the negative.  It is still a proof of principle because those energy costs can theoretically be made arbitrarily small.)

This reminds me of how a black hole sucking everything in would violate conservation of energy  (Huh?  Don’t think that is right.  Black holes gain energy when they suck in energ and they lose energy when they radiate.) Hawking Radiation is an example of how particles and anti particles materialize on opposite sides of the event horizon saving energy as it imparts momentum to one of the pair. Or something like that.

Couple more interesting things I read lately.

Not sure about a quantum supersolid, but it sounds sick. We know about superconductors, and other crazy states of matter:  quark gluon plasma, superfluids, and recently demonstrated trapped antihydrogen atoms at the LHC, are all things that probably don't happen in the real world outside of exotic places like the event horizon of a black hole, crazy collapsing stars and nebulae, or early in the life of the universe. Who KNOWS what's coming soon on so many fronts. Gonna be exciting times soon.

Alpha a.k.a Fine Structure constant, could vary with time or space. Could be a major discovery and would require a theory beyond the standard model of particle physics and cosmology, which would point a finger directly at string theory.

I'm sure you heard buzz about metamaterials, and some recent stuff about a suit that could seemingly warp space by changing the speed of light. I'm sure we have some interesting things to learn from proving why this eventually will not be made, or if it can be, even cooler.

Dirty Fuel, Dirty Ships, Dirty Air

Recently have been reading about how dirty our system of seaborne transportation is. There's a lot of numbers out there, but many are confusing. From an article from the Guardian which I consider reputable:

- 1.12bn tonnes of CO₂, or nearly 4.5% of all global emissions of the main greenhouse gas!!!

Dude. We know CO2 is bad. What's bad is that there are some VERY easy things we can do to cut these numbers, as well as pollution. From the New York Times, shipping company Maersk cut their fuel usage by 30% (and most CO2 emissions come from fuel usage) JUST BY CUTTING the speed of their ships in half! This article also observes that we could cut Fuel/CO2 emissions by American cars by 20% going 10mph slower from 55 to 65. I say do it, and stop building roads. It's definitely an indirect way to encourage more efficient public transportation. Imagine if we could confine heavy transport to certain times of day in big cities easy traffic, and big truck's fuel usage.

The International Maritime Organization, is a UN body responsible for creating rules and regulations for international waters including policies for pollution reduction.They have passed rules which will require the sulphur content of fuels used by ships in certain areas to be reduced. Alas this doesn't apply in other areas. I'd love to see cleaner fuel everywhere, as well as a reduction in speed by cargo/tanker vessels. There's a lot we can do here without a ton of technology! Technology is cool too. A company has devised a massive sail for cargo ships, and all ships can use solar power for electric motors with zero emissions!