A Much Needed Boost to Moore's Law?

A Much Needed Boost to Moore's Law?

(Originally posted August 08, 2016 on Blogger)

About a month ago I wrote a blog entry I titled, "Whoa there Nellie!... What Lurks at 750 GeV?".  It was about the 'bump' at 750 GeV that showed up in both the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the LHC. Well my friends, to put it in the words of the New Scientist, "Physicists mourn as hinted particle vanishes...". Our hopeful particle that COULD have fundamentally changed our understanding of physics and the Universe in which we live, has up and disappeared like a fart in the wind.

For the past month I've been excitedly awaiting the announcement International Conference on High-Energy Physics (ICHEP) as to whether or not the possible new particle at 750 GeV was real or not, but it turned out to be a statistical anomaly. Ho hum... It would have been an incredible discovery... alas, the hunt for new particles goes on in hopes of confirming such things as dark matter, the graviton, and whether or not supersymmetry is a thing.

So work continues at the LHC. Elsewhere physicists are making advances working with another well-known subatomic particle; the electron. Three days ago an article was published in the journal Nature Communications titled, "Single-electron induced surface plasmons on a topological nanoparticle".

Let's take a step back in history... not as far back as Democritus; let's just go back to the point when scientists no longer accepted the hypothesis that the atom was an indivisible, singular sphere. Ernest Rutherford is a good start, because he determined through the use of alpha particles that atoms had a positively-charged nucleus with negatively-charged electrons spinning around the outside. The Atomic Energy Commission used to use this model in their logo:

For decades, the AEC used the wrong model of the atom for their logo! Doh!!

Neils Bohr later gave some more structure to this model, suggesting electrons existed in successive orbital 'shells' outside the nucleus. From there, Erwin Schrödinger suggested further that electrons exist in "clouds" (described by his probability function). Unlike Bohr's model in which electrons orbit around the nucleus like planets around the Sun, the Schrödinger model illustrates that we cannot know exactly where an electron is at any given time. We can only calculate specific areas where an electron is most likely to be. Physicists call this 'electron density'. To determine a specific location of where an electron is can only, at best, be a probability function. In simpler terms, electron density is a measure of probability of an electron being at a specific location.

Electron density leads us to Langmuir waves, also known as plasma oscillations. The quantization (going from a classical understanding to quantum mechanical understanding) of rapid oscillations of electron density in a conductive material like plasma (and metals) results in the quasiparticle called the plasmon. To put it in the words of Wikipedia, "..as light consists of photons, the plasma oscillation consists of plasmons."

I forget which blog entry it was, but I wrote about the electromagnetic spectrum which spans from the longest radio waves to the shortest ionizing gamma rays. There's a tiny portion of that massive spectrum that we humans can see. This is visible light, or the optical frequencies. At optical frequencies, plasmons can couple with photons (light) to create yet another quasiparticle called a polariton.

So why is the polariton so important in the above-mentioned paper?

Let's take another step back, and look at Moore's Law. Moore's Law was an observation made back in the 1960s by Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel (the microchip gals and guys), wherein he states the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented.

Integrated circuit from an EPROM memory microchip showing the memory blocks, the supporting circuitry and the fine silver wires which connect the integrated circuit die to the legs of the packaging. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Incredibly, Moore's Law held true for decades since his observation, but in 2015 Intel stated that the rate had slowed. Doesn't sound too serious, but when you consider the needs of such scientific behemoths like the LHC, and an endless list of other important research endeavors, it quickly becomes apparent that stagnation is not good trend for science to be subjected to.

When we consider the Apollo 11 mission to the moon had an on-board computer with the calculating prowess and memory capacity far less than this old calculator:

 ...and that smartphone (or even your regular flip phone if you still have one of those), has a memory capacity thousands of times greater than the most advanced computer systems of our childhoods... it becomes clear that in order to continue the incredible Moore's-Law-pace we've grown accustomed to, something new needs to be discovered.

Thus enter the single-electron induced surface plasmons on a topological nanoparticle! Normally light travels in straight lines, but coupled to an electron it can turn corners and follow the path of a circuit. The electron and light take on properties of each other. When an electron travels along a circuit, it will stop when it encounters a defect, but when coupled with light, the electron can continue on its way unhindered. These could lead to more potent photonic circuits that are less susceptible to disruptions. Whether or not this can give a boost to progress with regard to Moore's Law is yet to be seen, but it's an incredible discovery.

A 5 megabyte hard drive being loaded into a plane (1956). Source: Stolen from the internet, that stole it from some other source.

A 4 terabyte hard drive (2016). That's 4 TRILLION bytes! Source: Stolen from the internet!

Of course, some scientists are working on a quantum computer... but that's another blog entry altogether..

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