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Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear reactor

“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”*…

 

quantum computing

Quantum computing is all the rage. It seems like hardly a day goes by without some news outlet describing the extraordinary things this technology promises. Most commentators forget, or just gloss over, the fact that people have been working on quantum computing for decades—and without any practical results to show for it.

We’ve been told that quantum computers could “provide breakthroughs in many disciplines, including materials and drug discovery, the optimization of complex manmade systems, and artificial intelligence.” We’ve been assured that quantum computers will “forever alter our economic, industrial, academic, and societal landscape.” We’ve even been told that “the encryption that protects the world’s most sensitive data may soon be broken” by quantum computers. It has gotten to the point where many researchers in various fields of physics feel obliged to justify whatever work they are doing by claiming that it has some relevance to quantum computing.

Meanwhile, government research agencies, academic departments (many of them funded by government agencies), and corporate laboratories are spending billions of dollars a year developing quantum computers. On Wall Street, Morgan Stanley and other financial giants expect quantum computing to mature soon and are keen to figure out how this technology can help them.

It’s become something of a self-perpetuating arms race, with many organizations seemingly staying in the race if only to avoid being left behind. Some of the world’s top technical talent, at places like Google, IBM, and Microsoft, are working hard, and with lavish resources in state-of-the-art laboratories, to realize their vision of a quantum-computing future.

In light of all this, it’s natural to wonder: When will useful quantum computers be constructed? The most optimistic experts estimate it will take 5 to 10 years. More cautious ones predict 20 to 30 years. (Similar predictions have been voiced, by the way, for the last 20 years.) I belong to a tiny minority that answers, “Not in the foreseeable future.” Having spent decades conducting research in quantum and condensed-matter physics, I’ve developed my very pessimistic view. It’s based on an understanding of the gargantuan technical challenges that would have to be overcome to ever make quantum computing work…

Michel Dyakonov makes “The Case Against Quantum Computing.”

* Albert Einstein

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As we feel the need for speed, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that a team of scientists led by Enrico Fermi, working inside an enormous tent on a squash court under the stands of the University of Chicago’s Stagg Field, achieved the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction… laying the foundation for the atomic bomb and later, nuclear power generation.

“…the Italian Navigator has just landed in the New World…”
– Coded telephone message confirming first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, December 2, 1942.

Illustration depicting the scene on Dec. 2, 1942 (Photo copyright of Chicago Historical Society)

source

Indeed, exactly 15 years later, on this date in 1957, the world’s first full-scale atomic electric power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime uses, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, reached criticality; the first power was produced 16 days later, after engineers integrated the generator into the distribution grid of Duquesne Light Company.

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Written by LW

December 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it”*…

 

The limbic system is the center for pleasure and addiction in the rodent nervous system. In a controlled study on adolescent rats, scientists sought to determine whether or not the levels of dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter, could be maintained in this region over prolonged social media use. With a series of topical content posts, evergreen posts, and meme dissemination, scientists were able to gauge whether or not the “thrill” derived from getting likes, favorites, or retweets was sustainable over a finite period of time…

Rats that only ever received 20-30 likes after sharing a “well-rounded” think piece would enjoy an extremely high level of dopamine if they broke 50 likes on an unexpected political rant declaring that “Trump had finally gone too far.” But, when the same rat racked up similar numbers by acknowledging that his news feed was a “political echo chamber,” activity in this region of the brain slowed down once again…

In short, social media does not prove to be a sustainable source of cognitive reward…

Read the all-too-painfully-relevant “results” in full at Adam Rotstein‘s “Regulation of Dopamine During Social Media Use in Adolescent Rats.”

* Clay Shirky

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As we burst bubbles, we might recall that it was on this date in 2000 that the nuclear generating facility at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, was (finally) shut down.  14 years earlier, it had been the site of the worst nuclear power plant accident in history (in terms of cost and casualties), one of only two classified as a level 7 event (the maximum classification) on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011.  On April 26, 1986, Reactor #4 exploded, creating massive damage in site and releasing 9 days of radioactive plumes that spread over Europe and the USSR.  Two were killed in the explosion; 29 died in the immediate aftermath (of acute radiation poisoning).  The remains of Reactor #4 were enclosed in a massive “sarcophagus,” and the other three reactors were returned to service.  One by one, they failed.  The decommissioning held on this date in 2000 was ceremonial.  Reactor #3, the last one standing, had in fact been shut down the previous week because of technical problems. It was restarted– unattached to the national grid and at minimum power output– so that the world would be able to see it symbolically switched off.

The hole where Reactor #4 stood before the accident

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Written by LW

December 15, 2016 at 1:01 am

The eyes have it…

Two extraordinary repositories; two extraordinary new web visualization tools…

From The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, the 3D Collection:

Amud
Date of Discovery: 1961
Discovered by: Hisashi Suzuki
Age: About 41,000 years old
Fossil Name: Amud
Location of Discovery: Wadi Amud, Israel

The purpose of this collection [of 3D fossils and artifacts] is to allow you to view your favorite objects from our David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins and to help you share your museum experience with your friends and family. Before our exhibit opened, the objects on display were either CT or laser scanned. The scanning process enabled Human Origins Progam staff to generate 3D models of each object that you can view, rotate, and interact with online. It may take a minute or two to load depending on your computer, but after it is loaded you will be able to move the 3D object around by holding down the left-click button and moving your mouse.

And from the Vatican, the Virtual Reality Tour of the Sistine Chapel:

A virtual tour of Michelangelo’s masterwork — move around the space and inspect from any angle, using your mouse– designed by the Augustinian computer scientists at Villanova University.

As we marvel at time, at space, and at the technology that aims to tame them, we might recall that it was on this date in 1979 that operators failed to notice that a relief valve was stuck open in the primary coolant system of Three Mile Island’s Unit 2 nuclear reactor following an unexpected shutdown. Consequently, enough coolant drained out of the system to allow the core to overheat and partially melt down– the worst commercial nuclear accident in American history.

Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant, near Harrisburg, PA

182 years earlier, on this date in 1797, Nathaniel Briggs (of New Hampshire) patented the first “washing machine,” known as the Box Mangler– a heavy frame containing a large box filled with rocks, resting on a series of long wooden rollers. Washing was laid flat on a sheet and wound round one of the rollers, then two people pulled on levers to move the heavy box back and forth over the rollers.  While it was expensive, heavy, difficult to operate, and even then, jammed often, its failures never led to the evacuation of major population centers.

Box Mangler

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