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Hardware Hacking

Journal Journal: A CERN-like Particle Accelerator on a Tabletop

from the playing-with-relativistic-matches-dept.

If you ever wondered what a supercollider might be used for, you might be interested in a recent advance in Chirped Pulse Amplification by Gérard Mourou. (Not that the laughable translation of the original French article will help...) CPA allows laser pulses to be amped up to produce relativistic effects, such as pulling matter out of a vacuum, or creating mini black holes or Big Bangs. Until now, the technique had been limited by heavy reflective losses. Mourou envisions applications in many areas, including: relativistic microelectronics, the selective destruction of tumors with a proton-bombardment medical therapy, harmless confinement of radioactive emissions using light beams, and the usual particle discovery research. The thing is, a collider as powerful as CERN could be replaced by a tabletop CPA unit.

The story submission above was rejected in favor of "Web Chats Help the Chronically Ill" and the "End of the Light Bulb." Maybe /. needs a sub-section to the Science section for harder, fairly cryptic but decadal breakthroughs in physics? I mean, Dr. Mourou here has reduced the reflective losses of a chirped pulse laser system from 50% to 3% -- that's an improvement you won't see every day. The power output of a pulsed laser can now be raised by orders of magnitude from what was possible previously...

In any case, I might as well add a few tidbits here that wouldn't have fit in the story. For instance, I also have a link to Mourou's original 1985 paper on the subject, when he was at the University of Rochester. Basically, the guy has been working on this for decades, and only now that a holographic grating has been manufactured to reduce losses (due to unwanted reflection) can the device function at higher intensity than 10^14 W/cm^2 without nonlinear complications. Mourou foresees the possibilty of 10^24 by 2006, so you instantly get an idea of how much more intensity is possible for a light beam with this advance. To produce a mini Big Bang, Mourou thinks you need 10^30, in effect using E=mc^2 to produce a small amount of matter in a vacuum, where there was only a large amount of energy coursing through it to begin with.

There's also the implications that Mourou himself didn't mention. A disturbing one that immediately comes to mind is: does this universe come to an end if we cause this simulated Big Bang he talks about? If not (cross your fingers) then we may be able to theorize that there may have been a cause to the Big Bang.

But there's some interesting applications for the energy industry as well. If you can confine the radioactivity of any material using light beams, that may imply that nuclear waste disposal issues can be drastically reduced. It may be possible to prevent irradiation of the structures surrounding a nuclear plant, leaving much less waste behind as a result of producing electricity with a nuke plant. It may become much safer to put smaller nuclear plants nearer to the places that are using the energy, without worrying about being irradiated or using heavy shielding.

If you can confine radioactivity, you may also be able to use pulsed light beams to deflect neutron bombardment in space. Who knows? This may enable safer long term manned space flights.

And, if you can fit CERN on a tabletop, so to speak, did we save a lot of money by not building the superconducting supercollider? Was it the right decision after all?

There are many possibilities. Maybe you can think of a few more? I've actually enabled comments this time :)

User Journal

Journal Journal: Mapping Prehistoric Hurricanes using Tree Rings and O18

I submitted this as a story but it was rejected, in favor of the Siberian methane and the Stirling array stories, which were also very interesting and perhaps more emotive. I'm posting it here because it's nevertheless a high-impact story -- climate change data is getting to be very accurate and very sound. The results of this development will someday allow us to see with great detail how hurricane weather is affected by climate change, and the data that can be covered by the method described looks like it can reach back to the "little ice age" from 1400-1800, so we may be able to hypothesize what the edge triggers were in both cases. Using that, we may be able to predict what's in store for us as we continue to use the atmosphere as a convenient dumping ground for increasing concentrations of CO2.

The other thing this can help predict is the actual storm tracks of ancient hurricanes, so that our storm path probability models can be improved for future hurricanes.

from the hurricane-history-grows-on-trees dept.

Physorg has an update on the effort to determine whether or not hurricane activity is worsening in contrast to prior centuries, as scientists from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville have improved on a technique to draw hundreds of years of high resolution climate data out of old pine trees. The naughty cyclones drop rainwater devoid of a telltale isotope, O-18, which can then be measured in tree rings. The method matches the historic weather record with uncanny accuracy.

...and (I would add today), so it is can be relied upon to make solid predictions about hurricane data hundreds of years before any records were kept.

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