Cold Fusion Exists!

The Feb 10th issue of Physical Review Letters included a paper by some researchers at Rensselaer which confirmed earlier experiments done at UCLA to achieve nuclear fusion at room temperature using pyroelectric crystals. I've only done a cursory reading of the paper, but it looks like what they do is take two crystals which develop a strong charge on their surface when heated or cooled. They put these crystals in vacuum and heat them a bit which causes a very strong electric field to develop between the crystals. The field drives electrons between the crystals with enough energy to create a fusion reaction. The authors state that this system is probably not useful as an energy source, but they do expect to be able to use the technology to create a hand-held neutron generator.

Essay: A physicist talks to theologians

There's a neat essay on a blog I just found of a theoretical physicist. The purpose of the post, I think, is to convey a bit about how a scientist thinks. It is long but largely successful.

Religious Beliefs of Scientists

The NYTimes has an excellent series of articles on the evolution and intelligent design debate, recently stirred up again by remarks by President Bush and Bill Frist. Today's Times has a fantastic article about religious belief among scientists. Two interesting statistics: 40% of American scientists believe in God, specifically a God to whom they can pray and expect to receive an answer; but only 10% of "elite scientists" (in this case, members of the National Academy of Sciences) believe in God.

I suppose that I am rather surprised by this second statistic. I have certainly encountered a great deal of skepticism about religious organizations among the physicists that I know. Consequently, I would not be surprised to find out that many physicists believe in a general Deism, or that their practice of religion would be limited to such pluralistic forms as Unitarianism. However, even in my lab there are 3 graduate students (including me) who are practicing Catholics. So, I am also well aware of scientists who seem to reconcile their faith with science. I guess there are fewer of us than I thought.

For the NYTime's complete coverage of the Evolution debate, go here.

My first physics conference

Summer 2005 007
Originally uploaded by bjohnson00.

I got back yesterday afternoon from my first ever physics conference. The subject of the conference was "Manipulation and Control of Quantum Systems" and I learned about many cool projects going on while there. One might equivalently say that the topic was quantum computing, but the actual title of the conference probably better states the actual problems people are working on (you can't build a quantum computer until you've learned how to manipulate a quantum system). The setting was also nearly ideal: a resort town situated on the side of a mountain which over looks a lake. You can see a view over the lake here. There are more pictures from my trip on flickr.

Explaining Quantum Computing

I recently got another request from someone for an easy-to-read reference on quantum computing. So, I did some searching; unfortunately, I wasn't too happy with anything that I found. The references which are easy to read also contain many mistakes, and the ones which have good info are too in-depth or use too much unexplained jargon. The reference in Wikipedia is ok, but it is still too detailed for what I'm looking for. Consequently, writing my own "brief" explanation of quantum computing (and what I am doing) has just been added to my to-do list for the summer.

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