Deep in the Heart of Texas

The 2015 American Physical Society March Meeting in San Antonio had a few major themes. One was the continuing maturation of computing technologies that may – in the next decade or so – replace or supplement the current method that involves keeping track of voltages in silicon.

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Although Moore’s Law is not really a law, the observation that computing power doubles every 18 months or so has been remarkably close over quite a long time. However, we are running up against some pretty fundamental limits – including the speed of light and Heisenberg’s uncertainty – that prevent us from just making smaller and smaller components using current technologies. To get around these problems, new materials, like graphene, and methods, like spintronics, or qubits, have been proposed. Now that the basic ideas have been (mostly) figured out, much of the work is to figure out which physical systems are the best to implement the fundamental principles. For example, single spins have been manipulated in silicon carbide, which is much cheaper than diamond, another commonly used material for this purpose. While you probably won’t see quantum computers or race-track spin memory on Best Buy’s shelves this holiday season,  it is likely that these will be consumer products at some point in the future.

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Another area that I an very interested in are the evolutionary adaptations that require advanced physics to explain. Some Geobacter bacteria can respirate using iron as the electron acceptor. As part of these process, they “plug in” to the metal using “nanowire” pili made of conducting aromatic amino acids. Thus, evolution figured out conducting polymers roughly a billion years before us.

Overall, it was a great meeting. Texas exhibits an interesting duality: it is a deep Red state, with an emphasis on religion and family, as well as high tech space and energy companies, along with whatever South by Southwest is…

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