Sunday, September 09, 2007

Other Packard meeting highlights

I'm back from California, and the remainder of the Packard meeting was just as much intellectual fun as the first day. It's great to see so much good science and engineering outside my own discipline. Some fun things I learned:
  • Plants really can communicate by smell (that is, by giving off and detecting volatile compounds).
  • Many flying insects have evolutionarily found wing flap patterns that optimize for minimum energy consumption when hovering.
  • Most of the huge number of insect species in tropical rainforests (at least in New Guinea) are specialist feeders, preferring to eat only one type of plant.
  • When you split a molecular ion (say I2-) into a neutral atom and an atomic ion, the coherent superposition (in this case, 1/\sqrt(2) [(I + I-) + (I- + I)]) can persist even when the atom and ion are separated by more than 10 atomic diameters.
  • Super fancy mass spec plus amazing statistical capabilities can let you do serious proteomics.
  • There may have been as many as four supercontinent phases and two "snowball earth" phases in the last three billion years.
  • If you come up with a computationally efficient way to model viscoelastic materials (e.g. jello, human skin), you can develop virtual surgery tools for reconstructive surgeons, and win an Oscar for special effects by modeling Davey Jones for POTC II.
  • If you develop a DNA microarray chip that lets you cheaply and reliably identify any known virus or the nearest relative of an unknown virus, and you want to use this clinically, the established medical testing companies will react in a very negative way (because they're afraid that if you're successful, they won't be able to keep chargin insurers $3K per possibly unnecessary blood test). The fact that you can save lives won't be of interest to them.
  • Comparing different measurement techniques can really tell you a lot about how cells sense and respond to touch.
  • You can design a Si photonic crystal to act as a superprism and show negative refraction and negative diffraction, all at the same time, over a useful bandwidth near 1.55 microns wavelength (the standard telecommunications band).
I know I'm leaving some out, too. Very fun stuff.