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Comment Re:Not a surprise... (Score 3, Insightful) 269

That is an insightful article. Hopefully we can keep this conversation at a high level. The usual thing when energy supply in transition runs into a rough patch is for many to argue that we should just keep depending on coal and natural gas. But any time you do something new, there is trial and error. Hopefully more of the forseen problems could be avoided, but humans seem to have to make mistakes before they can learn from them. As integrated wind, solar, transmission, and storage systems become more mature, we can run a stable energy system with mostly renewables and much less damage to the ecosystems we depend on. But there will be a learning curve.

Comment Re:old wisdom (Score 1) 387

They are simply important problems. It doesn't really matter what category of fundamental theory you place them under. Planet formation will be solved with continuum mechanics and standard chemistry/quantum mechanics to describe dust formation and aggregation. The solution will ignore general and special relativity. Emergent problems can't be solved with more computational power. Try to calculate the properties of a tree by solving the many body quantum problem. We can't even fully compute 5 particle scattering problems using quantum mechanics.

Comment Re:old wisdom (Score 0) 387

"General physics is more or less solved" That belief is precisely the problem. Could you predict the mechanical properties of DNA from quantum mechanics for us? Could you calculate the viscosity of water from first principles? Could you determine how the albedo of clouds on earth will respond to changing CO2 concentrations? Could you determine the distribution of sizes, chemical makeup, and orbital radii of planets we have discovered? If not, in what sense is "general physics" solved? What people do is redefine these problems as not physics because they are useful enough that they attract a community of non-physicists to work on them also. You seem to believe in the reductionist idea that once you know the underlying equations you have solved a problem.

Comment Re:old wisdom (Score 1, Offtopic) 387

We are already doing it. But not in fundamental particle physics. It is in applied physics where the massive progress is being made. There are a huge range of problems in biology, geology, chemistry, mechanical engineering, nanoscience, neuroscience, and even sociology and economics to which the rigorous, empirical traditions of physics are making major contributions. Last decade we finally solved the problem of transition to turbulence in pipe flow. A more than 100 year old problem with deep mathematical challenges and practical implications on top. But it likely will not receive a nobel prize because of the deep inertia in the dead end idea that physics is reductionist physics. It turns out that it is going to be very slow going to make further improvements in reductionist particle physics. So many people have been told that the "real physics" problems are reductionist problems, so they go to making up philosophical questions they can talk about when they run out of empirical problems they can solve. Physics will experience a renaissance when it finally embraces the empirical study of emergent phenomena for which there are a large number of problems that society really needs physicists to contribute to solving.

Comment Re:Eric? Can you come out of the ivory tower a sec (Score 1) 141

Taking us back to the original post. Jobs for people with training in computer science and biology usually pay pretty well. The problem is that they require extensive training and society has a hard time prioritizing education to provide the training people need.

I wouldn't go to computer science or biology today. Both are oversaturated with people thinking they are the ticket to a great career. I would look at applied physics and some of the science based engineering disciplines. A new science and computation based approach to mechanical, aerospace, civil, and chemical engineering is changing the world. Bioengineering and environmental engineering are growing rapidly. If you can build the math and computer skills to make it, those are the big growth areas of the 21st century. Molecular biology is really really complicated. Messing with it usually does more harm than good. So I suspect the pharmaceutical industry is not a growth area for the next century. And the phalanxes of post-docs sorting out the pathways regulating each gene are going to soon find that the details they unearth are usually not relevant. Sure that gene is involved in cancer risk...but what are you going to do about it if the network is so complicated that external modification messes up too many other parts of cell function. (Just like everything is made of quarks and electrons, but we don't use quantum chromodynamics for engineering, everything in biology depends on molecular biology but molecular biology isn't that useful.) While everyone focuses on biology with dreams of improving health, science based tools for materials science and fabrication are changing the world. Now if only we could solve some political problems so we could train a few billion people to join the effort...

Comment Re: Industrial revolution (Score 1) 177

OK, it is standard to argue on slashdot, but it is more interesting to learn and build better ideas. You have interesting points, but are missing the big picture. If you want to be technical I did say 'economic growth rate' which is the exponential rate constant, so steady exponential growth would have zero first derivative of the economic growth rate.

Modern electronics is dominated by classical E&M. Quantum mechanics is important. But the idea of electronic computers was clear and they were being used well before anyone used quantum mechanics to build solid state transistors to make them much more efficient and powerful. On the other hand, in 1800, no one knew what electricity was and no one had any idea that electric currents could emit radio waves to communicate around the planet. By 1900 the electron had been discovered, Niagara falls power plant was powering electric lights in a city and radio communication had begun. The scientific innovations of the 19th century were profoundly transformational. The 20th century added some important pieces...and you are right that biology is where the 20th century really holds its own. But even the green revolution has its roots well into the 19th century. Most of the technology for the green revolution dates back to the 1800s. It was the social embrace of better seed varieties, fertilizer, irrigation, machinery and scientific management much more than genetic engineering that transformed our food supply. Of course the original post has the provocative title 'Greatest era of innovation' and that is subjective. But I think you haven't put a dent in my argument that the 19th century has a pretty strong case for it.

Comment Re:Industrial revolution (Score 2) 177

Yes, but that is maybe a bit too easy. The scientific thinking and economic arrangements that allowed the industrial revolution are continuing to spread around the world and to transform our lives. The commonly labelled 'industrial revolution' of 1760-1830 produced machine made cloth, readily available power from water and steam, and the beginnings of railroads, but it is prominent for the derivative of the economic growth rate and not the maximum value. Without question, growth measured by economic measures has never been higher than in China from 1980 to 2010. But innovation? That is somewhat nebulous. Does innovative painting count? Maybe I come back to agree with you though. Almost nothing has been as revolutionary or innovative as the transformation in how we conceive of the workings of the universe between 1687 and 1960. Arguably the most rapid period of scientific innovation was between 1800 and 1900 when most of our understanding of thermodynamics, basic chemistry, fluid dynamics, geology, evolution, electricity, magnetism, and optics were placed on solid phenomenological and empirical foundations. Cool stuff happened in the 20th century, but relativity, quantum mechanics, and detailed computational chemistry have been much less transformational than electromagnetism, basic chemistry, and evolution have been.

Comment Re:Personalised (Score 1) 143

Yes, NotDrWho and Logic Bomb give important addendums. Resource constraints are a huge part of the puzzle. In an ideal world, even your group learning uses groups tailored to an individual learner, and that is often not practical. Eventually we may have data capable of guiding which kinds of groups should be working on which kinds of activities, and then analyzing that data and monitoring the groups will be a labor intensive operation, so we are back to resource constraints. In the long run, artificial intelligence may start to help us with these tasks, but by that point, artificial intelligence will start to make education itself a very different process with somewhat different goals.

Comment Re:Personalised (Score 3, Interesting) 143

Yes, all the studies showing problems with personalized learning are simply showing that we had not yet figured out how to do it well. There is simply no way that a one-size-fits all bureaucracy can educate as well as a system with tools that allow teachers to tailor activities to individual children. The problem is that personalized education is a much harder problem than many believe. It is easy to make an app that adapts the math problems assigned to a student's performance. But it is much harder to produce group learning activities that match varied skills. And if you put kids each on a single computer which is 'personalized', you can be sure they will learn less than if they are working together learning the social skills and executive function needed to succeed in the world. Eventually we'll succeed in personalizing teaching of social skills, executive function, reading, and math. But it is a hard problem.

In many ways the problem is like artificial intelligence. It is a much harder problem than people thought. But that doesn't mean that it is impossible and as parts of it are solved it slowly changes everything.

Comment Re:Watts per gram? (Score 1) 135

Yes it might be useful in very low power applications that benefit from light weight But the article says the current version is not very efficient, meaning it only extracts a small fraction of the energy in the light striking it. Standard solar cells might be 10% to 25% efficient. This may be only a few percent. In most applications I can think of, solar power is more limited by collecting area than by photocell weight, so this seems like niche product.

Comment Re:wake me... (Score 4, Informative) 159

Yes, that is right. Reminds me of EEStor which every now and then repeats their promise of transformative super-capacitors based on their granted patents. But it is just vaporware. Hopefully this time is better, but anyone who is not a fool knows to expect most of these press releases to come to nothing.

Comment Re:Why this matters (Score 2) 460

Yes, and gravity wave astronomy could become a hugely important complement to electromagnetic astronomy. Because gravity wave frequencies are set by the motion of mass rather than by atomic (or other) transitions between quantum states of charged particles, gravity waves provide a more direct measurement of the motion of the objects in the systems of interest. So we directly measure the time dependent frequency of one signal and can immediately determine orbital parameters of relatively small objects that are a billion light years away. Imagine a day when we can detect black hole and neutron star binaries much earlier in their inspiral. We could be continuously monitoring millions of gravity wave sources spread across the universe and develop a much more precise picture of how our universe works. General relativity would either be become a theory with the quantitative triumphs of quantum mechanics or it would be replaced by something more accurate. It is an exciting day!

Comment Re:Another feather in Einstein's hat (Score 1) 460

"The now-incipient field of gravitational waves astronomy is sure to make many glorious discoveries in this century." This is the reason this detection is so exciting. Until now, we had only quite indirect ways of detecting what was happening in exotic regions of space where very dense objects were orbiting at high speeds. Now we have direct experiments to tell us about these phenomena.

Comment Re:Why this matters (Score 5, Informative) 460

I think you don't understand. We now have an entirely new way to observe what happens in regions of the universe where the mass density is high and changing. In many ways, this is like the first telescope. It is an entirely new way of observing. The reason this is so important is not the single black hole merger they detected. It is because this is the first of what will become a major source of astronomical data. Soon other frequency ranges of gravitational waves will be measurable (see LISA, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...). Just because the first observation agrees with existing theory is no reason to dismiss an entirely new class of measurements as uninteresting.

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