Tuesday, March 5, 2019

So much physics news. So little time.

If you're new to SF and Nonsense, know that before I became a full-time author my background was in physics and engineering. Physics and physics-enabled tech remain compelling interests, and I continue to follow news of the field(s) -- where news can mean "reported in the past few weeks or months," versus "breaking story this past 24-hour media cycle." News such as: 

Recent years have bombarded us with gloomy predictions of the imminent demise of Moore's Law.(*) True, the shrinkage of transistors has slowed down, because chip makers' focus lately has tended more toward any means of reducing chips' power consumption -- i.e., coping with the aggregated waste heat from literally billions of transistors shoehorned onto a chip -- but transistor densities do continue to rise.

(*) That "law," if it's unfamiliar, basically forecasts a steady rate of shrinkage of transistor dimensions -- thereby increasing the number of transistors on a single chip -- with attendant increases in transistor speed and improved power thriftiness. When Gordon Moore first made his prediction, chips held, at most, a few dozen transistors each with multi-micrometer features. Many chips today hold billions of transistors, with features measuring but 14 nanometers.

Increasingly, a third dimension plays an interesting role in chip design. Several manufacturers have taken to stacking transistor layers to increase overall density. Now, in a new twist, and for reasons unrelated to transistor density, others may go toward all but eliminating circuit depth. As in, getting to a news item: "2D diamonds set to drive radical changes in electronics."

The Standard Model
You know what's as common as concerns about the demise of Moore's law? Predictions that we'll find something, anything, to give a deeper and more complete explanation of the underlying nature of reality than the reigning Standard Model of particle physics. (Assuredly, the Standard Model is incomplete -- it has lots of critical parameters [like the charge on an electron] that take their values from measurement, that do not arise from any theoretical understanding. Nor does the Standard Model account for gravity, one of the four basic forces in the universe.) But among particle physicists, hope springs eternal.  See "Hints of a ‘sterile’ neutrino. Curious result could point to flaws in the Standard Model of particle physics."

Perhaps what we need to move beyond the Standard Model is better tools. We may, in a few years, get those: "CERN Unveils Design for 62-Mile-Round Atom Smasher More Powerful Than the Large Hadron Collider." Or we may, after great expense, and not till 2040 or so, confirm that monster accelerators have reached a point of diminishing returns. As in: "The Uncertain Future of Particle PhysicsTen years in, the Large Hadron Collider has failed to deliver the exciting discoveries that scientists promised."

Check it out on Amazon
If you've ever read Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, you'll surely remember Ice Nine. (And if you haven't read it? You should. Convenient link at left, beneath the cover thumbnail.) Ice Nine was a form of water solid at common temperatures and pressures. Toss a seed chunk of Ice Nine into the ocean, and voilà: near-instant Snowball Earth. Happily there is no Ice Nine -- but (and here's the news) it seems there is Ice Seven: "Weird water phase “ice-VII” can grow as fast as 1,000 miles per hour." As in "Exotic form of ice could freeze an alien ocean in a few hours." Note that "alien" qualifier. Luckily, the VII form can only exist under crazy-high pressures.

Next we have an, ahem, weighty topic: "A massive change: Nations redefine the kilogram." (Yes, I understand the difference between weight and mass. It's a matter of some gravity ;-)  )

And rather than continue with physics puns, I'll head back to the hard-SF/mystery novelette in progress. It's not going to write itself ....

No comments: