New Science for September 2015

sun9501I titled this blog New Science because the breakthroughs I’m covering today are more scientific breakthroughs that will require a lot of effort to turn into usable technology. But the potential for these breakthroughs are immense.

Massless Particles. A team led by Zahid Hasan at Princeton has found a massless particle called the Weyl fermion that could lead to much faster electronics in the future. The particle has been predicted but never before found. Fermions are the elementary particles that make up electrons, and as such are massless.

These Weyl fermions can carry a charge much more efficiently than normal electrons and could be used instead of electrons to power electronics. Electrons act erratically and bounce all over the place, but it’s believed that the Wehl fermions would be far more predictable while carrying a charge, and could travel as much as 1,000 times faster through normal semiconductors. The Weyl fermion’s spin is both in the same direction as its motion (which physicists call ‘right-handed) and opposite its direction (‘left-handed’) at the same time. This means that all the fermions move in exactly the same way and can traverse through and around obstacles that scatter normal electrons.

What’s best about these particles is that the researchers found them in a synthetic crystal, which means that they can be easily produced, while many other exotic particles only exist due to the high energy of a particle accelerator.

Practical Superconductor. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany have created a superconductor that works at a reasonably warm temperature. In the past superconductors have needed extremely cold temperatures of -220 degrees Fahrenheit to work. These temperatures are far too cold for practical applications. The new superconductor works at -90 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that is found in nature in Antarctica, and which is by far the warmest temperature that has produced the superconductor effect.

The new superconductor uses hydrogen sulfide, the rotten egg smelling gas, to create the superconductor. Scientists believe if they can find the right materials that they can eventually create superconductors that can work at room temperatures. If so, then electronics and computers can be made far more efficient.

Transporting Light over Distance. Researchers at the Universities of Bayreuth and Erlangen-Nurenberg in Germany have demonstrated how carbon nanofibers might be used to transport light energy efficiently across great distances. All of today’s technologies scatter the light to some degree, which means that when generating solar power we have to convert light to electricity at the site of the light collection.

The nanofibers were made from building blocks called carbonyl-bridged triarylamine. They were then enhanced by inserting three naphthalimidbithiophene chromophores. The resulting nanotubes automatically aligned themselves into tubes of 4 micrometers long with a diameter of only 0.005 micrometers. The nanotubes then naturally align face-to-face and can efficiently transfer light energy with almost no loss. This results is light being transmitted in a wave-like manner called quantum coherence. The potential of this technology would be to gather light and transmit it to a place where the conversion to electricity can be done more efficiently.

Quantum Dot Solar Windows. A team from the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics (CASP) of Los Alamos and from the Department of Materials Science of the University of Milan-Bicocca (UNIMIB) in Italy have developed a way to generate solar energy from clear window glass. They showed this can be done using colorless heavy-metal free colloidal quantum dots that act as luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs).

The clear quantum dots are embedded within the glass and are aligned in such a way that they reflect some of the light to receivers at the edge of the glass panes. The quantum dots are a huge leap forward in LSC technology. Previous LSC technology has consisted either of organic emitters that were inefficient or heavy-metal emitters that were toxic and dangerous to put into the environment. The new quantum dots are made from copper, indium, selenium, and sulfur, all of which are routinely found in the environment and safe. The dots are several magnitudes more efficient than earlier technologies and could turn any window into a solar collector.

New Technology – May 2015

TransistorThis blog will look at some of the coolest new technology that has come across my screen lately.

Ultrathin Transistor. Researchers at Cornell have developed a transistor that is only three atoms thick. The transistor is made from an experimental material called transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD).

The findings were published in Nature and noted as a potentially major breakthrough. We are reaching the limit on the smallness of circuits that can be made from silicon and this possibly portends a generation of ultrathin circuits and sensors. The Cornell team has made a circuit on a 4-inch wafer and they believe this can easily be made commercially viable. TMDs are being discussed along with graphene as the potential breakthroughs that will let us march past the Moore’s law limits on circuit sizes.

Acoustruments. Disney research labs have developed a technology they call acoustruments as a way to interface with physical devices using soundwaves. For example, this could let you set an alarm clock at a Disney resort from an app on any cellphone that has a speaker. As you tell the app what to do, it would emit sounds from your cellphone speaker that would then ‘push’ the appropriate buttons on the alarm clock to set the alarm. Disney sees applications allowing people from around the world to have easier interfaces with devices on the Disney property.

This has potential uses far outside this simple example because it could allow a no-power standard interface between people and electronics. This could become a handy way to interface with IoT devices, for example.

Better Electric Conductors. Scientists at Rice University along with the Tejiin Aramid, a firm from the Netherlands, have demonstrated the ability to use carbon nanotubes to carry up to four times as much electricity for the same mass of wires. The team has found techniques that allow them to spin strong durable wire from carbon nanotubes that can perform as well as copper.

This can lead to specialized wiring for those applications where weight is an issue. For example, this could be used to produce higher efficiency long-haul wires from rural solar power stations. Or it could be used in applications like spacecraft, airplanes, and cars where weight is always an issue.

Wireless Energy Transmission. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has been able to transmit 1.8 kilowatts of power accurately through the air to a receiver 170 feet away. While this is not very far, nor a lot of power, it is the first practical demonstration of the ability to transmit power in much the same way that we transmit wireless data streams.

Japan’s goal with this project is to eventually be able to beam electricity back to earth from space. They envision large solar plants in space that are more efficient and not dependent upon weather. They envision solar farms set up at 22,300 miles from earth where they would be exposed to the sun continuously.

Breakthroughs in Quantum Computing. Researchers at IBM have made a few breakthroughs that could help to make quantum computers commercially viable. For the first time they have been able to measure the two types of quantum errors (bit-flip and phase-flip) simultaneously, allowing them to now work on an error correction algorithm for quantum computers. Until now, they could only measure one of the two variables at a time. The scientists have also developed a square quantum bit circuit that might make it feasible to mass product quantum chips.

These breakthroughs are important because quantum computing is one of the possible paths that could help us smash past the Moore’s Law limits on current technology. A quantum computer with only 50 quantum bits (qubits) can theoretically outperform a slew of our best supercomputers acting together. Such computers would also allow us to solve problems that are unsolvable today.

Better Atomic Clock. Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Boulder in Colorado have developed an atomic clock that is accurate to within one second in 15 billion years. This is a vast improvement over the current atomic clock technology that uses a vibrating crystal of Cesium 133 and which is accurate to within a second over 100 million years.

The new clock would be sensitive enough to be able to measure the time differences at different altitudes on earth, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein but which has never been demonstrated.