Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Yet more brief items

Between writing deadlines, battling with reviewer 3 (I kid, I kid), and trying to get set for the tentative beginnings of restarting on-campus research, it's been a busy time.  I really do hope to do more blogging soon (suggested topics are always appreciated), but for now, here are a few more brief items:
  • This expression of editorial concern about this paper was an unwelcome surprise.  Hopefully all will become clear.  Here is a statement by the quantum information science-related center at Delft.
  • I happened across this press release, pointing out that nVidia's new chip will contain 54 billion transistors (!) fabbed with a 7 nm process.  For reference, the "7 nm" there is a label describing particular fabrication processes using finFETs, and doesn't really correspond to a physical feature size of 7 nm.  I discussed this here before.  Still impressive.
  • There is a lot of talk about moving cutting-edge semiconductor fabrication plants back to the US.  Intel and parts of GlobalFoundries aside, a large fraction of high end chip volume is produced outside the US.  There have long been national security and intellectual property concerns about the overseas manufacturing of key technologies, and the US DOD has decided that bringing some of this capability back on-shore is safer and more secure.  I'm surprised it's taken this long, though the enormous capital cost in setting up a foundry explains why these things are often done by large consortia.  The pandemic has also shown that depending on overseas suppliers for just-in-time delivery of things may not be the smartest move.
  • Speaking of that, I can't help but wonder about the cycle of unintended consequences that we have in our economic choices.  I've ranted (way) before about how the way the stock market and corporate governance function these days has basically squeezed away most industrial basic research.  Those same attitudes gave us "just-in-time" manufacturing and somehow convinced generations of corporate management that simple things like warehouses and stockrooms were inherently bad.  "Why keep a stockroom around, when you can always order a M5 allen head bolt via the internet and get it shipped overnight from hundreds or thousands of miles away?" runs the argument, the same kind of bogus accounting that implies that the continued existence of a space in the Bell Labs parking lot used to cost Lucent $30K/yr.   So, companies got rid of inventory, got rid of local suppliers, and then were smacked hard by the double-whammy of a US-China trade war and a global pandemic.  Now we are being bombarded with breathless stories about how the pandemic and people working from home might mean the complete delocalization of work - a vision of people working from anywhere, especially places more financially sustainable than the Bay Area.  I'm all for telecommuting when it makes sense, and minimizing environmental impact, and affordable places to live.  That being said, it's hard not to feel like a truly extreme adoption of this idea is risky.  What if, heaven forbid, there's a big disruption to the communications grid, such as a Carrington Event?  Wouldn't that basically obliterate the ability of completely delocalized companies to function?  
  • To end on a much lighter note, these videos (1, 2, 3, 4) have been a positive product of the present circumstances, bringing enjoyment to millions.


Pizza Perusing Physicist said...

I thought of an idea for a series of new topics that you could post on: Advice and perspectives on non-academic career paths for Physics Ph.D.'s. Given your engineering background and your industrial postdoc at Bell Labs, I feel you would be positioned better than most to highlight opportunities for physics with graduate level training outside the academy. Granted, the times have seriously changed, and it has been many years since Bell Labs was doing any kind of basic R&D, and short-termism more generally has killed industrial research for the most part. Nevertheless, I think it would be worth hearing from you about some examples of things that non-academic Ph.D's in Physics can do for a living.

I know that from my own experience, Ph.D.'s and postdocs who are thinking about leaving the academy usually get basically zero guidance in how to get our foot in the door and land interviews and job offers, merely some vague platitudes saying that 'Ph.D. skills will make you valuable and attractive to industry'. Additionally, there is zero guidance as to which non-academic career paths physicists are most suited and qualified for. After investing around a decade of training in physics, ideally we would like to be in a position where we feel that our skills and talents are as frequently utilized as reasonably possible, instead of being stuck in something that we are either not trained for, or which we are overqualified for. I know you can't speak from direct personal experience, but any thoughts you have are always welcome.

jonah said...

Going off of your tagline about high energy physics blogs, how about critical takes on existing experiments or open problems in condensed matter? It seems like high energy folks are more open to critical examinations of experiments or theories (might be wrong here, just a general impression). In condensed matter it often seems like open criticism is taboo. I sometimes worry that's to the ultimate detriment of the field. If it's to sensitive to comment on existing work, maybe more broad thoughts about open problems and existing approaches would be doable.

Jarquise Trayble said...

I second Jonah's suggestion. Condensed matter is teeming with flimsy results. Seems like everyone is in too deep to say anything openly.

Douglas Natelson said...

PPP, I agree that would be a good topic - I wish I felt like I had particularly insightful things to say. Let me think about it a bit, and then I'll write up something. The classic guide of course is this: A PhD is Not Enough.

Jonah, Jarquise - I may write a separate post about this. I think sociological factors are important here. Criticizing a paper from a huge collaborative effort is comparatively impersonal. Criticizing a paper with an author list of four feels a lot more personal. Let me think about this one, too.

NBC said...
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Kevin Villegas said...

Hi Prof. Natelson, I wanted to hear your thoughts about what is the ones
most important thing to focus on during the Experimental Physics PhD track and
how to get the most out of those years? hopefully aiming for a competitive
postdoctoral position.