Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Physics updates

Has your GPS ever failed you? Perhaps it told you to turn in 100 feet or so, but once you were past a corner, on your way to the nearby next cross street, it decided you'd gone too far. Perhaps, at some critical juncture, it just failed to say anything, because reflections from nearby buildings confused it with too many signals. Or perhaps you were indoors, hoping for intra-building guidance, and -- of course -- there was no signal.

And it works!
Then be of good cheer (especially if you're in Japan)! Read up (from IEEE Spectrum) on "Japan’s Plan for Centimeter-Resolution GPS: A $1.2 billion system of satellites and ground stations would give unprecedented accuracy," then begin to anticipate the same functionality appearing in your neck of the woods. Doing pretty much anything for the first time is the hard part.

(Don't get me wrong ... I'm not down on present-day GPS. It's a wonderful service, and the technology beneath the hood is fascinating. I'm merely in favor of it becoming even better.)

GPS, of course, relies upon (among other things) atomic clocks. So turning to atoms, the periodic table continues to grow. Consider, for example (from Tech Times), that "Super-heavy element 117 confirmed. Here's how scientists made it." (There is also an element #118 though I infer the proof of its existence is less solid.) Back in the day when I took chemistry classes, IIRC there were about 105 known elements.

With chips, smaller is better
Electronics hasn't quite shrunk to atomic dimensions (typical inter-atomic spacing in crystals is ~0.1 nanometer), but chip designs are getting closer and closer. Who could be a more credible prognosticator of such things than Intel Corporation? PC World reports that "Intel: Moore's Law will continue through 7nm chips." (That's 7-nanometer features, not 7-nanometer chips! Headlines can be a bit misleading at times.)

Little bits; BIG machine
Remember CERN's Large Hadron Collider? Of course you do! As the place where the existence of the Higgs boson was confirmed, how can you not? But as amazing as that discovery was, well, there may be more, and yet cooler, subatomic discoveries impending. The LHC is completing (with the obligatory hiccups) a new round of upgrades. Operating at higher energies and with more sensitive senors, the enhanced LHC should be able to detect -- if they exist -- the super-symmetric partner particles that (might) correspond to the more familiar, Standard Model, particles. (If you were keeping score at home, the Higgs was the last entry of the Standard Model to have its existence confirmed.) Because if super-symmetric particles exist, the new physics that would imply will open amazing new vistas ...

To see how that LHC upgrade was done, check out (again from IEEE Spectrum), "Taking the Large Hadron Collider to the Max: These four fixes will double the power of the world's greatest physics machine."

(See the dark matter in there?)
If we're really lucky, the new-and-improved LHC will teach us something about the nature of dark matter. We really need that, because we may know even less about dark matter than we had believed. See, "Dark matter is apparently ‘darker’ than we thought." The punch line: dark-matter particles, it may be, don't interact (apart from gravitationally) even with their own kind.

Do any of these proposals, studies, speculations strike you as less than useful? I would hope not. If, however, you have doubts, check out this timely reminder, from Forbes, that "Tomorrow's Technology Depends on Today's Physics."

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