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SCIENCE FOR DILETTANTES

DON’T BE put off by “dilettantes.” In most areas of modern science, many of us qualify as having what Merriam-Webster calls “a superficial interest in an art or branch of knowledge.” Besides, the word “dilettante” comes from Italian, the present participle of dilettare, “to delight.”

So, I might say that I delight in science, especially as described in Science, the weekly publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Here are tidbits from two recent issues.

Looking Past Moore’s Law. Predicted by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore back in 1965, what has come to be known as Moore’s Law said that the number of transistors on a computer chip would double every two years. In fact, the timeframe was later reduced to 18 months.

Today, however, according to “Chipmakers Look Past Moore’s Law, and Silicon,” by Robert F. Service, Science, July 27, 2018, “Today, chip speeds are stuck in place, and each new generation of chips brings only a 30-percent improvement in energy efficiency.”

One way out of this quandary is transistors based on carbon nanotube technology. These chips are faster and more efficient than the conventional silicon variety. Even better, they can be fabricated at nearly room temperature, whereas their silicon counterparts require temperatures of more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.

This wafer contains hundreds of computer chips made from carbon nanotubes, which switch on and off faster and more efficiently than transistors made from silicon. Image from Science, July 27, 2018.

According to Science, “This week, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA) announced dozens of new grants totaling $75 million in a program for academic and industry scientists. The program, called Electronics Resurgence Initiative, aims to spur new chip designs and materials, such as carbon nanotubes.” Over five years of expanded research, this could total $1.5 billion.

Just Be A Nurse or Teacher, Dearie. “No Gender Differences in Early Math Cognition,” by Tage S. Rai, Science, August 3, 2018, suggests that male overrepresentation in scientific endeavors is unlikely to reflect any innate male superiority in mathematics.

Young girls and boys perform equally well in tests of intrinsic mathematical ability. Image from Science, August 3, 2018.

The research, performed by Alyssa J. Kerset, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester, N.Y., and colleagues, is published in npj Science of Learning, 3. More than 500 girls and boys, age 6 months to 8 years, were assessed using three key milestones of numerical development: numerosity perception, culturally trained counting, and elementary math concepts, both formal and informal.

“Across all stages of numerical development,” the researchers noted, “analyses consistently revealed that boys and girls do not differ in early quantitative and mathematical ability.”

Advanced Math of Numerical Relativity. Einstein’s theory of relativity has been a successful model in describing the fundamentals of gravity. Numerical relativity, using computers to solve Einstein’s equations, is one of its latest byproducts. “Fundamentals of Numerical Relativity for Gravitational Wave Sources,” by Bernd Brügmann, Science, July 27, 2018, offers details that can make dilettantes of almost all of us.

For instance, how do you feel about solving partial differential equations in four-space? Are you au courant with tensor fields in spacetime?

Binary neutron star mergers emit gravitational waves. Numerical relativity is said to help describe this behavior. Image from Science, July 27, 2018.

Research in numerical relativity seeks to understand the physics of binary black holes, neutron stars, and gravitational waves. What’s more, Brügmann brings out the dilettante in me by describing a metric, sort of a theoretical yardstick, in the field: He defines an “infinitesimal line element” as ds2 = ∑gabdxadxb, summed with a and b = 0 to 3, and notes that it “provides a generalization of the Pythagorean Theorem.”

The Pythagorean Theorem. Greek Pythagoras, c. 570 B.C. – c. 495 B.C.

You remember the Pythagorean Theorem: a2 + b2 = c2, where a and b are two sides of a right triangle and c its hypotenuse. It’s also the underlying logic of a dreadful pun concerning three expectant squaws sleeping on three different hides, one of which is hippopotamus. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

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