Friday, February 25, 2022

Three papers to distract from the awfulness

Here are three papers that may briefly divert you from doomscrolling about the horrific situation in Ukraine.

  • This paper from the Feb 11 issue of Science shows some amazing images of the calcite structures that make up starfish skeletons, with order on multiple length scales that leads to remarkable mechanical properties.   Biomineralization is amazing, especially when you think about how it works.  Cells generate protein structures that can have charge patterns that allow templating of inorganic crystal growth in specific phases and orientations.  See here for examples of experiments that get at how this works.  The cover image from the Science paper is really eye-popping.
  • Then there's this paper from the Young group at UCSB, which shows that ordinary Bernal-stacked bilayer graphene can also superconduct, albeit at 30 mK.  The really interesting bit here is that to get superconductivity requires both a large c-directed electric field (obtained by having a voltage difference between top and bottom graphite gate electrodes above and below the bilayer) and an in-plane magnetic field.  That latter requirement suggests that this might be an exotic superconductivity where the electron pairs are spin triplets rather than the conventional singlets of ordinary superconductors.
  • Finally, enjoy this paper, which was published as a commentary in ACS Photonics, and is absolutely worth reading for the tone alone.  

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Brief items - fun and games, news, and lots of transistors

My busiest time of the year continues.  A few interesting links:

  • I'm sure you've heard of wordle.  There are some other free games that are similar in design (and not co-opted by the New York Times) that are also good to keep your brain tuned up.  Mathler is cute (and knows order of operation), and worldle, while difficult to pronounce, is fun if you want to keep up with your geography.
  • The US presidential science advisor resigned this week, apparently because he is just an awful person to work with.  That prompted this article from Stat, which advances a thesis that I don't buy, that this resignation shows that we are leaving the era of "big ego science".  I hope that we are finally entering an era where bullying and pushiness are not automatically tolerated in high profile positions, but drawing some sweeping conclusion from Lander's departure is not reasonable to me.  I do know from interactions with folks like my colleague Neal Lane that it is possible for top-flight scientific leaders to be both highly accomplished and genuinely nice people.  I hope someone in that mold ends up taking the reins.
  • The US House passed the 2022 version of the America COMPETES act.  The US Senate had passed the related US Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) last summer.  Now it's up to the conference committee to try to work out a compromise bill that can pass both houses.  If this passed and the House actually appropriated the funds, it would be big news for NSF and the DOE Office of Science.  I'm a bit cynical about the prospect of this happening, and both bills have issues, but it's better to have this at least in front of Congress than languishing off-stage.
  • There are rumors that Nvidia's next big chip will be built on the TSMC "5 nm node" process (where the numbering really doesn't mean that a critical lengthscale is 5 nm) and hold 140 billion transistors (!!).  If anyone asks you whether nanotechnology is meaningful, point to things like that as examples of nanoelectronics.