I’m a bit of a physics geek. Not that I can do the math. But I’ve always wanted to know how the world works, and physics is the very coolest science for that. The foundation. So I decided to find three bits of news in physics to put forward as a little gift for my fellow science geeks – a bit of how the world might work for the holiday season. Continue reading All I want for Christmas is some cool new physics
DARPA are still at it busily inventing the all the science-fictional goodness we expect and deserve. Now they’re going in for programmable matter, of a similar flavour to that found in Fire upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, Accelerando by Charles Stross, and Dune: The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. The goal of the project is to create matter that can “self-assemble or alter their shape, perform a function and then disassemble themselves.”:
One day, that could lead to “morphing aircraft and ground vehicles, uniforms that can alter themselves to be comfortable in any climate, and ’soft’ robots that flow like mercury through small openings to enter caves and bunker complexes.” A soldier could even reach into a can of unformed goop, and order up a custom-made tool or a “universal spare part.”
One team from Harvard is working on a kind of “generalized Rubik’s Cube” that can fold into all kinds of shapes. Another is trying to order large strands of synthetic DNA to bind together in a “molecular Velcro.” An MIT group is building “’self-folding origami’ machines that use specialized sheets of material with built-in actuators and data. These machines use cutting-edge mathematical theorems to fold themselves into virtually any three-dimensional object.
Very powerful and potentially gamechanging. Presumably if and when these become available to the general public they will have various restrictions built into them that will promptly be overcome and hacked origami-tools will become the ultimate criminal penknife.
On a more cheerful not this have wonderful applications in art and performance.
Another classic case of the headline saying it all: physicists have confirmed that matter is no more than fluctuations in the quantum vacuum. Everything is arguably illusory, including ourselves. All of a sudden I have a vision of Terence McKenna muttering Beatles lyrics to the hyperspace elves in between fits of gently manic laughter…
And while we’re in brain-bending existential scientific headf*ck territory, why don’t we all get behind conceptual artist Jonathon Keats and his plan to turn the contents of a nuclear waste dump into a massive machine for generating new universes?