Human nature insulates or unites, extinguishes or ignites, disrupts or delights by choice, not chance or circumstance.
Douglas Arnold, The Ingenuity Guru, is a writer, workshop leader, and speaker on ingenuity, imagination, and creativity. His upcoming book “Ingenuity!” focuses on sparking greater innovation in the workplace and community. His weekly podcast “Ingenuity180” airs here on this blog every Thursday, You are invited to follow his blog and on Twitter @DouglasArnold
Harnessing the enormous technological potential of high-temperature superconductors – which could be used in lossless electrical grids, next-generation supercomputers and levitating trains – could be much more straightforward in future, as the origin of superconductivity in these materials has finally been identified.
Superconductors, materials which can carry electric current with zero resistance, could be used in a huge range of applications, but a lack of understanding about where their properties originate from has meant that the process of identifying new materials has been rather haphazard.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have found that ripples of electrons, known as charge density waves or charge order, create twisted ‘pockets’ of electrons in these materials, from which superconductivity emerges. The results are published in the June 15th issue of the journal Nature.
Low-temperature, or conventional, superconductors were first identified in the early 20th century, but they need to be cooled close to absolute zero (zero degrees on the Kelvin scale, or -273 degrees Celsius) before they start to display superconductivity. So-called high-temperature superconductors however, can display the same properties at temperatures up to 138 Kelvin (-135 degrees Celsius), making them much more suitable for practical applications.
Since they were first identified in the mid-1980s, the process of discovering new high-temperature superconductors could be best described as random. While researchers have identified the ingredients that make for a good low-temperature superconductor, high-temperature superconductors have been more reluctant to give up their secrets.
In a superconductor, as in any electronic device, current is carried via the charge on an electron. What is different about superconductors is that the electrons travel in tightly bound pairs. When travelling on their own, electrons tend to bump into each other, resulting in a loss of energy. But when paired up, the electrons move smoothly through a superconductor’s structure, which is why superconductors can carry current with no resistance. As long as the temperature is kept sufficiently low, the electron pairs will keep moving through the superconductor indefinitely.
Key to conventional superconductors are the interactions of electrons with the lattice structure of the material. These interactions generate a type of ‘glue’ which holds the electrons together. The strength of the glue is directly related to the strength of the superconductor, and when the superconductor is exposed to an increase in temperature or magnetic field strength, the glue is weakened, the electron pairs break apart and superconductivity is lost.
“One of the problems with high-temperature superconductors is that we don’t know how to find new ones, because we don’t actually know what the ingredients are that are responsible for creating high-temperature superconductivity in the first place,” said Dr Suchitra Sebastian of the Cavendish Laboratory, lead author of the paper. “We know there’s some sort of glue which causes the electrons to pair up, but we don’t know what that glue is.”
In order to decode what makes high-temperature superconductors tick, the researchers worked backwards: by determining what properties the materials have in their normal, non-superconducting state, they might be able to figure out what was causing superconductivity.
“We’re trying to understand what sorts of interactions were happening in the material before the electrons paired up, because one of those interactions must be responsible for creating the glue,” said Dr Sebastian. “Once the electrons are already paired up, it’s hard to know what made them pair up. But if we can break the pairs apart, then we can see what the electrons are doing and hopefully understand where the superconductivity came from.”
Superconductivity tends to override other properties. For example, if in its normal state a superconductor was a magnet, suppressing that magnetism has been found to result in superconductivity. “So by determining the normal state of a superconductor, it would make the process of identifying new ones much less random, as we’d know what sorts of materials to be looking for in the first place,” said Dr Sebastian.
Working with extremely strong magnetic fields, the researchers were able to kill the superconducting effect in cuprates – thin sheets of copper and oxygen separated by more complex types of atoms.
Previous attempts to determine the origins of superconductivity by determining the normal state have used temperature instead of magnetic field to break the electron pairs apart, which has led to inconclusive results.
As cuprates are such good superconductors, it took the strongest magnetic fields in the world – 100 Tesla, or roughly one million times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field – in order to suppress their superconducting properties.
These experiments were finally able to solve the mystery surrounding the origin of pockets of electrons in the normal state that pair to create superconductivity. It was previously widely held that electron pockets were located in the region of strongest superconductivity. Instead, the present experiments using strong magnetic fields revealed a peculiar undulating twisted pocket geometry -similar to Jenga bricks where each layer goes in a different direction to the one above or beneath it.
These results pinpointed the pocket locations to be where superconductivity is weakest, and their origin to be ripples of electrons known as charge density waves, or charge order. It is this normal state that is overridden to yield superconductivity in the family of cuprate superconductors studied.
“By identifying other materials which have similar properties, hopefully it will help us find new superconductors at higher and higher temperatures, even perhaps materials which are superconductors at room temperature, which would open up a huge range of applications,” said Dr Sebastian.
This week’s book report is on a classic that was originally published in 1940. Too old school for you, creative hipster? Well, it has occupied shelf space on most advertising, PR, and scientific researchers for more than 70 years — because it is a terrific reference that educates and enthuses the truly creative and does so in an amazing 28 pages.
James Webb Young penned A TECHNIQUE FOR PRODUCING IDEAS back in the day when German tanks were rolling on Poland and the second Roosevelt was in the White House.
It was written to assist young copywriters and creative directors at fledgling ad agencies to improve their conceptualization of selling American products. In the foreword, William Bernbach, former chair of the international acclaimed ad giant, Doyle Dane Bernbach, said “Young writes about the creative spark, the ideas, which bring spirit and life to an advertisement. Nothing is more important to the practice of our craft.”
The book offers a simple, five-step formula to increase individual and group creativity at the office or at home. The formula is well thought out, insightful and intuitive. Young, at first, offers the obvious, but, not unlike practicing baseball — you must drill on the basics to master the finesse of the game.
You catch the ball. You throw the ball. You hit the ball.
It sounds so damn simple, yet only a few hundred people on the planet can make a living doing it.
Young’s book should be a mandatory read for every 13 year old student. It stimulates finding creative solutions in life, in labor, and in love.
Forego that reality show tonight. You can slip through this book in about an hour. Then pass it along to a colleague or niece or neighbor.
Let’s make the world a little more creative.
Douglas Arnold, The Ingenuity Guru, is a writer, workshop leader, and speaker on ingenuity, imagination, and creativity. His upcoming book “Ingenuity!” focuses on sparking greater innovation in the workplace and community. His weekly video “Ingenuity180” airs right here on his blog every Thursday, You are invited to follow his blog here and on Twitter @DouglasArnold
In my upcoming book, INGENUITY!, I present a new model of how creativity and ingenuity meld 10 intrinsic elements to achieve innovation and invention.
In a nutshell, inspiration stimulates and drives the individual’s imagination to act. Inspiration can come from a near infinite number of avenues or inputs.
Imagination is an amalgam of five human traits that blend, reform, reduce, expand, stir, simmer, and generally tumble through the mind. The book spends a great deal of time and energy on these five traits. It presents a number of observations on how the traits weave and entwine to examine and evaluate options to innovation.
From this clever brew emerges ideation and incubation — the time it takes to let the recipe ‘cook.’ For some, the creative moment occurs in a nanosecond; for others the moment can take place after incubation of many years.
This moment is the illumination. It is the aesthetic or pragmatic solution that leads to the two products of this entire process: invention and innovation.
I am producing a series of short videos that will expand upon each of the elements in the process. They will be presented here, at no charge or obligation. I hope you will join me each Thursday for these three minute programs entitled INGENUITY180.
I’ll introduce the first next week in Mid-June 2014.
Solar Roadways is a modular paving system of solar panels that can withstand the heaviest of trucks (250,000 pounds). These Solar Road Panels can be installed on roads, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks, bike paths, playgrounds… literally any surface under the sun. They pay for themselves primarily through the generation of electricity, which can power homes and businesses connected via driveways and parking lots. A nationwide system could produce more clean renewable energy than a country uses on many roads.
They have many other features as well, including: heating elements to stay snow/ice free, LEDs to make road lines and signage, and attached Cable Corridor to store and treat stormwater and provide a “home” for power and data cables. EVs will be able to charge with energy from the sun (instead of fossil fuels) from parking lots and driveways and after a roadway system is in place, mutual induction technology will allow for charging while driving.
Did you know:
Solar Roadways has received two phases of funding from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration for research and development of a paving system that will pay for itself over its lifespan. We are about to wrap up our Phase II contract (to build a prototype parking lot) and now need to raise funding for production.
Our glass surface has been tested for traction, load testing, and impact resistance testing in civil engineering laboratories around the country, and exceeded all requirements.
Solar Roadways is a modular system that will modernize our aging infrastructure with an intelligent system that can become the new Smart Grid. We won the Community Award of $50,000 by getting the most votes in GE’s Ecomagination Challenge for “Powering the Grid” in 2010. We had the most votes again in their 2011 Ecomagination Challenge for “Powering the Home”.
On August 21, 2013, Solar Roadways was selected by their peers as a Finalist in the World Technology Award For Energy, presented in association with TIME, Fortune, CNN, and Science.
Solar Roadways was chosen by Google to be one of their Moonshots in May of 2013.
Solar Roadways was chosen as a finalist in the IEEE Ace Awards in 2009 and 2010.
Solar Roadways has given presentations around the country including: TEDx Sacramento, Google’s Solve for X at Google’s NYC Headquarters, NASA, Keynote Speaker for the International Parking Institute’s Conference and much more…
Solar Roadways is tackling more than solar energy: The FHWA tasked us with addressing the problem of stormwater. Currently, over 50% of the pollution in U.S. waterways comes from stormwater. We have created a section in our Cable Corridors for storing, treating, and moving stormwater.
The implementation of our concept on a grand scale could create thousands of jobs in the U.S. and around the world. It could allow us all the ability to manufacture our way out of our current economic crisis.
Science and medicine are often entwined in politics and ego, but the most dramatic example was the life of Ignaz Semmelweis, an Austrian physician in the 1840s. His simple observation and analysis saved hundreds of children — but prejudice and tradition overshadowed his discovery and countless thousands died.
Semmelweis was an obstetrician who observed that infant mortality — known in the 19th Century as “childbed fever” — was linked to a lack of doctors washing their hands between deliveries. As absurd and incredible as this seems today, handwashing was not a protocol in hospitals and clinics.
Germ theory of disease had not yet been discovered and science doubted the unseen could be a cause of death. Semmelweis deduced an unknown “cadaverous material” caused childbed fever. The doctor established a policy of using a solution of chlorinated lime (modern calcium hypochlorite, the compound used in today’s common household chlorine bleach solution) for washing hands between autopsy and the patient exams.
The results were dramatic. The number of childbed fever cases dropped significantly when doctors washed their hands thoroughly. Statistics kept over a prolonged period of months clearly provided the outcome was conclusive.
The issue was that the medical leadership throughout Austria and Germany rejected Semmelweis’ speculation that there was unseen agents (germs) carried from cadaver or ill patient to an uninfected patient. Semmelweis did not win over his colleagues and the masters of medicine — to the contrary, he proved annoying and he angered the elder statesmen of science. Even with the statistical evidence, they ignored, denied and challenged his beliefs.
Semmelweis, enraged by the indifference of the medical profession, started penning angry — and very public — letters to prominent doctors and scientists. He accused them of irresponsibility and denounced them as murderers. His fellow Austrian doctors, and his wife, thought he was going mad and in 1865 he was committed to an insane asylum. Ironically, he was severely beaten upon being admitted to the asylum and he died of septic infection within a few weeks of his arrival.
What is the Semmelweis Effect? It is metaphor for a certain type of human behavior characterized by reflex-like rejection of new knowledge because it contradicts entrenched norms, beliefs or paradigms — named after Semmelweis, whose perfectly reasonable hand-washing suggestions were ridiculed and rejected by his contemporaries.
I sometime think many executives who refuse to consider social media as a critical and essential 21st Century communications channel are suffering from the Semmelweis Effect.
What do you think?
blockquote>Douglas Arnold, The Ingenuity Guru, is a writer, workshop leader, and speaker on ingenuity, imagination, and creativity. His upcoming book “Ingenuity!” focuses on sparking greater innovation in the individual, workplace teams and the community. Follow him here and on Twitter @DouglasArnold
Current computing is based on binary logic — zeroes and ones — also called Boolean computing, but a new type of computing architecture stores information in the frequencies and phases of periodic signals and could work more like the human brain using a fraction of the energy necessary for today’s computers, according to a team of engineers.
Vanadium dioxide is called a “wacky oxide” because it transitions from a conducting metal to an insulating semiconductor and vice versa with the addition of a small amount of heat or electrical current. A device created by electrical engineers at Penn State uses a thin film of vanadium oxide on a titanium dioxide substrate to create an oscillating switch.
Using a standard electrical engineering trick, Nikhil Shukla, graduate student in electrical engineering, added a series resistor to the oxide device to stabilize oscillations over billions of cycles. When Shukla added a second similar oscillating system, he discovered that, over time, the two devices began to oscillate in unison. This coupled system could provide the basis for non-Boolean computing. Shukla worked with Suman Datta, professor of electrical engineering, and co-advisor Roman Engel-Herbert, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, Penn State. They reported their results today (May 14) in Scientific Reports.
“It’s called a small-world network,” explained Shukla. “You see it in lots of biological systems, such as certain species of fireflies. The males will flash randomly, but then for some unknown reason the flashes synchronize over time.”
The brain is also a small-world network of closely clustered nodes that evolved for more efficient information processing.
“Biological synchronization is everywhere,” added Datta. “We wanted to use it for a different kind of computing called associative processing, which is an analog rather than digital way to compute.”
An array of oscillators can store patterns — for instance, the color of someone’s hair, their height and skin texture. If a second area of oscillators has the same pattern, they will begin to synchronize, and the degree of match can be read out.
“They are doing this sort of thing already digitally, but it consumes tons of energy and lots of transistors,” Datta said.
Datta is collaborating with Vijay Narayanan, professor of computer science and engineering, Penn State, in exploring the use of these coupled oscillations to solve visual recognition problems more efficiently than existing embedded vision processors.
Shukla and Datta called on the expertise of Cornell University materials scientist Darrell Schlom to make the vanadium dioxide thin film, which has extremely high quality similar to single crystal silicon. Arijit Raychowdhury, computer engineer, and Abhinav Parihar graduate student, both of Georgia Tech, mathematically simulated the nonlinear dynamics of coupled phase transitions in the vanadium dioxide devices. Parihar created a short video simulation of the transitions, which occur at a rate close to a million times per second, to show the way the oscillations synchronize. Venkatraman Gopalan, professor of materials science and engineering, Penn State, used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to visually characterize the structural changes occurring in the oxide thin film in the midst of the oscillations.
Datta believes it will take seven to 10 years to scale up from their current network of two-three coupled oscillators to the 100 million or so closely packed oscillators required to make a neuromorphic computer chip. One of the benefits of the novel device is that it will use only about one percent of the energy of digital computing, allowing for new ways to design computers. Much work remains to determine if vanadium dioxide can be integrated into current silicon wafer technology.
“It’s a fundamental building block for a different computing paradigm that is analog rather than digital,” said Shukla.
Also contributing to this work are Eugene Freeman and Greg Stone, all of Penn State; Haidan Wen and Zhonghou Cai, Argonne National Laboratory; and Hanjong Paik, Cornell University.
The Office of Naval Research primarily supported this work. The National Science Foundation’s Expeditions in Computing Award also supported this work.
Douglas Arnold, The Ingenuity Guru, is a writer, workshop leader, and speaker on ingenuity, imagination, and creativity. His upcoming book “Ingenuity!” focuses on sparking greater innovation in the individual, workplace teams and the community. Follow him here and on Twitter @DouglasArnold
Work progresses on my upcoming book, “INGENUITY!” and I am flattered at all the requests for advance copies.
Recently, I was asked to contrast creativity versus ingenuity. This comes up frequently and, as the masthead speaks above, creativity is only part of innovation.
Creativity has intrigued philosophers and poets for hundreds of years. In the late 1880s, more sophisticated research began on how people create and communicate ideas and thought.
Ingenuity often seemed overshadowed and ignored by the students of the mind who were swept up by the enticing allure of composers and painters. Creativity, with its snap and sizzle, danced and flourished in color and song. It was far more captivating. It was far more seductive.
For most, ingenuity demanded creativity, but creativity did not demand ingenuity. But let’s explore below the veneer.
Creativity is most aligned with human expression in the visual and performing arts. It marries beauty, symbolism, color or sound, weaving words into a magic or light into image. It conveys tragedy, humor, love and luck. It is elegant and electrifying.
Ingenuity is creativity’s distant cousin. It blends process and productivity. It forges metal and shapes stone. Ingenuity connects the living with the machine. If necessity is the mother, ingenuity is father of invention and innovation.
The outcome of creativity is always aesthetic and subject to the senses of the beholder.
The outcomes of ingenuity is always weighed by society as having beneficial social, industrial, financial, or governmental products or processes.
Douglas Arnold, The Ingenuity Guru, is a writer, workshop leader, and speaker on ingenuity, imagination, and creativity. His upcoming book “Ingenuity!” focuses on sparking greater innovation in the workplace and the community. Follow him here and on Twitter @DouglasArnold
NASA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to science and engineering communities for ideas for a mission to Europa that could address fundamental questions of the enigmatic moon and the search for life beyond Earth.
The RFI’s focus is for concepts for a mission to Europa that costs less than $1 billion, excluding the launch vehicle that can meet as many of the science priorities as possible recommended by the National Research Council’s 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey for the study of Europa.
“This is an opportunity to hear from those creative teams that have ideas on how we can achieve the most science at minimum cost,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters inWashington. “Europa is one of the most interesting sites in our solar system in the search for life beyond Earth. The drive to explore Europa has stimulated not only scientific interest but also the ingenuity of engineers and scientists with innovative concepts.” Continue reading