Sci-Advent – Flexible and powerful electronics

Researchers at the University of Tsukuba have created a new carbon-based electrical device, π-ion gel transistors (PIGTs), by using an ionic gel made of a conductive polymer. This work may lead to cheaper and more reliable flexible printable electronics.

Organic conductors, which are carbon-based polymers that can carry electrical currents, have the potential to radically change the way electronic devices are manufactured. These conductors have properties that can be tuned via chemical modification and may be easily printed as circuits. Compared with current silicon solar panels and transistors, systems based on organic conductors could be flexible and easier to install. However, their electrical conductivity can be drastically reduced if the conjugated polymer chains become disordered because of incorrect processing, which greatly limits their ability to compete with existing technologies.

Now, a team of researchers led by the University of Tsukuba have formulated a novel method for preserving the electrical properties of organic conductors by forming an “ion gel.” In this case, the solvent around the poly(para-phenyleneethynylene) (PPE) chains was replaced with an ionic liquid, which then turned into a gel. Using confocal fluorescent microscopy and scanning electron microscopy, the researchers were able to verify the morphology of the organic conductor.

“We showed that the internal structure of our π-ion gel is a nanofiber network of PPE, which is very good at reliably conducting electricity” says author Professor Yohei Yamamoto.

In addition to acting as wires for delocalized electrons, the polymer chains direct the flow of mobile ions, which can help move charge-carriers to the carbon rings. This allows current to flow through the entire volume of the device. The resulting transistor can switch on and off in response to voltage changes in less than 20 microseconds — which is faster than any previous device of this type.

“We plan to use this advance in supramolecular chemistry and organic electronics to design a whole arrange of flexible electronic devices,” explains Professor Yamamoto. The fast response time and high conductivity open the way for flexible sensors that enjoy the ease of fabrication associated with organic conductors, without sacrificing speed or performance.

Fast Response Organic Supramolecular Transistors Utilizing In‐Situ π‐Ion Gels. Advanced Materials, 2020; 2006061 DOI: 10.1002/adma.202006061

Sci-Advent – New type of atomic clock keeps time even more precisely

This is s a reblog of an article in ScienceDaily. See the original here.

A newly-designed atomic clock uses entangled atoms to keep time even more precisely than its state-of-the-art counterparts. The design could help scientists detect dark matter and study gravity’s effect on time.

Atomic clocks are the most precise timekeepers in the world. These exquisite instruments use lasers to measure the vibrations of atoms, which oscillate at a constant frequency, like many microscopic pendulums swinging in sync. The best atomic clocks in the world keep time with such precision that, if they had been running since the beginning of the universe, they would only be off by about half a second today.

Still, they could be even more precise. If atomic clocks could more accurately measure atomic vibrations, they would be sensitive enough to detect phenomena such as dark matter and gravitational waves. With better atomic clocks, scientists could also start to answer some mind-bending questions, such as what effect gravity might have on the passage of time and whether time itself changes as the universe ages.

Now a new kind of atomic clock designed by MIT physicists may enable scientists explore such questions and possibly reveal new physics.

The researchers report in the journal Nature that they have built an atomic clock that measures not a cloud of randomly oscillating atoms, as state-of-the-art designs measure now, but instead atoms that have been quantumly entangled. The atoms are correlated in a way that is impossible according to the laws of classical physics, and that allows the scientists to measure the atoms’ vibrations more accurately.

The new setup can achieve the same precision four times faster than clocks without entanglement.

“Entanglement-enhanced optical atomic clocks will have the potential to reach a better precision in one second than current state-of-the-art optical clocks,” says lead author Edwin Pedrozo-Peñafiel, a postdoc in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics.advertisement

If state-of-the-art atomic clocks were adapted to measure entangled atoms the way the MIT team’s setup does, their timing would improve such that, over the entire age of the universe, the clocks would be less than 100 milliseconds off.

The paper’s other co-authors from MIT are Simone Colombo, Chi Shu, Albert Adiyatullin, Zeyang Li, Enrique Mendez, Boris Braverman, Akio Kawasaki, Saisuke Akamatsu, Yanhong Xiao, and Vladan Vuletic, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Physics.

Time limit 

Since humans began tracking the passage of time, they have done so using periodic phenomena, such as the motion of the sun across the sky. Today, vibrations in atoms are the most stable periodic events that scientists can observe. Furthermore, one cesium atom will oscillate at exactly the same frequency as another cesium atom.

To keep perfect time, clocks would ideally track the oscillations of a single atom. But at that scale, an atom is so small that it behaves according to the mysterious rules of quantum mechanics: When measured, it behaves like a flipped coin that only when averaged over many flips gives the correct probabilities. This limitation is what physicists refer to as the Standard Quantum Limit.advertisement

“When you increase the number of atoms, the average given by all these atoms goes toward something that gives the correct value,” says Colombo.

This is why today’s atomic clocks are designed to measure a gas composed of thousands of the same type of atom, in order to get an estimate of their average oscillations. A typical atomic clock does this by first using a system of lasers to corral a gas of ultracooled atoms into a trap formed by a laser. A second, very stable laser, with a frequency close to that of the atoms’ vibrations, is sent to probe the atomic oscillation and thereby keep track of time.

And yet, the Standard Quantum Limit is still at work, meaning there is still some uncertainty, even among thousands of atoms, regarding their exact individual frequencies. This is where Vuletic and his group have shown that quantum entanglement may help. In general, quantum entanglement describes a nonclassical physical state, in which atoms in a group show correlated measurement results, even though each individual atom behaves like the random toss of a coin.

The team reasoned that if atoms are entangled, their individual oscillations would tighten up around a common frequency, with less deviation than if they were not entangled. The average oscillations that an atomic clock would measure, therefore, would have a precision beyond the Standard Quantum Limit.

Entangled clocks 

In their new atomic clock, Vuletic and his colleagues entangle around 350 atoms of ytterbium, which oscillates at the same very high frequency as visible light, meaning any one atom vibrates 100,000 times more often in one second than cesium. If ytterbium’s oscillations can be tracked precisely, scientists can use the atoms to distinguish ever smaller intervals of time.

The group used standard techniques to cool the atoms and trap them in an optical cavity formed by two mirrors. They then sent a laser through the optical cavity, where it ping-ponged between the mirrors, interacting with the atoms thousands of times.

“It’s like the light serves as a communication link between atoms,” Shu explains. “The first atom that sees this light will modify the light slightly, and that light also modifies the second atom, and the third atom, and through many cycles, the atoms collectively know each other and start behaving similarly.”

In this way, the researchers quantumly entangle the atoms, and then use another laser, similar to existing atomic clocks, to measure their average frequency. When the team ran a similar experiment without entangling atoms, they found that the atomic clock with entangled atoms reached a desired precision four times faster.

“You can always make the clock more accurate by measuring longer,” Vuletic says. “The question is, how long do you need to reach a certain precision. Many phenomena need to be measured on fast timescales.”

He says if today’s state-of-the-art atomic clocks can be adapted to measure quantumly entangled atoms, they would not only keep better time, but they could help decipher signals in the universe such as dark matter and gravitational waves, and start to answer some age-old questions.

“As the universe ages, does the speed of light change? Does the charge of the electron change?” Vuletic says. “That’s what you can probe with more precise atomic clocks.”

Entanglement on an optical atomic-clock transition. Nature, 2020 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-3006-1

Computer Programming Knowledge

I came across the image above in the Slack channel of the University of Hertfordshire Centre for Astrophysics Research. It summarises some of the fundamental knowledge in computer science that was assumed necessary at some point in time: Binar, CPU execution and algorithms.

They refer to 7 algorithms, but actually rather than actual algorithms they are classes:

  1. Sort
  2. Search
  3. Hashing
  4. Dynamic Programming
  5. Binary Exponentiation
  6. String Matching and Parsing
  7. Primality Testing

I like the periodic table shown at the bottom of the graphic. Showing some old friends such as Fortran, C, Basic and Cobol. Some other that are probably not used all that much, and others that have definitely been rising: Javascript, Java, C++, Lisp. It is great to se Python, number 35, listed as Multi-Paradigm!


File Encoding with the Command Line – Determining and Converting

With the changes that Python 3 has brought to bear in terms of dealing with character encodings, I have written before some tips that I use on my day to day work. It is sometimes useful to determine the character encoding of a files at a much earlier stage. The command line is a perfect tool to help us with these issues. 

The basic syntax you need is the following one:

$ file -I filename

Furthermore, you can even use the command line to convert the encoding of a file into another one. The syntax is as follows:

$ iconv -f encoding_source -t encoding_target filename

For instance if you needed to convert an ISO88592 file called input.txt into UTF8 you can use the following line:

$ iconv -f iso-8859-1 -t utf-8 < input.txt > output.txt

If you want to check a list of know coded characters that you can handle with this command simply type:

$ iconv --list

Et voilà!


Backslashes v Forward Slashes – Windows, Linux and Mac

“Why do I have to use backslashes (\) in Windows, but forward slashes (/) in everything else?” This is a question that I have been asked by a number of people over the years and I have been meaning to write something about it for a long time now. 

It seems that Windows is really the odd one out as Linux, OS X and even Android uses forward slashes. It seems that the cause of this annoying (at times) difference is due to accidental events. 

In the 1970s, Unix first introduced the forward slash to separate entries in a directory path. So far so good. In the meantime, the initial version of MS DOS did not even support the use of directories… and we are talking early 80s here! At the time, IBM has the main contributor to Microsofr utilities and they used the forward slash as a flag or switch character (In Unix we use a hyphen for this). You can still see a vestigial tail in some commands… Think dir /w for example. 

 The next version of MS DOs started support for directories and to keep compatibility, IBM expected to continue usage of / as a flag and as such the alternative for directory path separation, Windows started using \. Once you start using this in your own environment, who cares what other people use in their operating systems!! Right? In that way, in Windows the use of the different slashes tells you if you are running  an option (/) or a directory path (\). 

And the rest, as they say, is history!

10-10 Celebrate Ada Lovelace day!

It’s Ada Lovelace day, celebrating the work of women in mathematics, science, technology and engineering. To join the celebration +Plus Magazine revisits a collection of interviews with female mathematicians produced earlier this year. The interviews accompany the Women of Mathematics photo exhibition, which celebrates female mathematicians from institutions throughout Europe. It was launched in Berlin in the summer of 2016 and is now touring European institutions.

To watch the interviews with the women or read the transcripts, and to see the portraits that featured in the exhibition, click on the links below. For more content by or about female mathematicians click here.

A new house for the Design Museum in London

If you had the opportunity to walk near Holland Park, you probably are familiar with the location where the Commonwealth Institute used to be: a Grade II listed building dating back to the 1960s. The building was designed by Robert Matthew/Sir Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners, architects, and engineered by AJ & JD Harris, of Harris & Sutherland.

The building is the new house for the Design Museum. The museum was founded in 1989, originally located by the River Thames near Tower Bridge in London, and recently relocated to Kensington opening its doors on November 24th, 2016. The museum covers product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design. The new location also houses the Swarovski Foundation Centre for Learning, 202-seat Bakala Auditorium and a dedicated gallery to display its permanent collection, accessible free of charge.

I recently visited the museum and had the opportunity to attend the Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition currently being shown. The exhibition showcases designs produced over the previous twelve months worldwide.The entries are nominated by a number of internationally respected design experts a, falling into the seven categories of Architecture, Transport, Graphics, Interactive, Product, Furniture and Fashion. Since 2015 there have been six categories: architecture, fashion, graphics, digital, product and transport. Beazley Insurance came on board as exhibition sponsor in 2016.

I was very pleased to see at least two entries from Mexico. One of them is the work of the mexican Alejandro Magallanes for the Almadía publishing house, a small but innovative publisher based in Oaxaca, Mexico. I highly recommend reading the post in Yorokobu entitled “Las portadas exquisitas de Alejandro Magallanes”.

Name: Almadía book covers design
Designers: Alejandro Magallanes
Paragraph description:
The front covers for the Almadia book series was conceived when Magallanes looked into the archives and origins of the Almadia publishing house. Creating a bold design, the covers add an element of craftsmanship whilst providing an object that the reader would like to behold.

The other entry from Mexico was Yakampot, a fashion brand that aims to become an international name while embracing the cultural heritage of the country’s womenswear.

Also notable are the entries from Jonathan Barnbrook for the design of David Bowie’s last album “Blackstar”, as well as the Space Cup that enables astronauts to drink from a cup rather than a straw, developed on the International Space Station. The cup was a result of addressing the microgravity effects faced by fluids while at zero-gravity. The project “Capillary Effects of Drinking in the Microgravity Environment” (Capillary Beverage) studied the process of drinking from specially designed Space Cups that use fluid dynamics to mimic the effect of gravity.

Designers: Jonathan Barnbrook
One line description:
The album cover uses the Unicode Blackstar symbol creating a simplicity to the design allowing the music to be the focus and the creation of an identity that is easy to identify and share.
Paragraph description:
The album cover uses the Unicode Blackstar symbol creating a simplicity to the design allowing the music to be the focus and the creation of an identity that is easy to identify and share. Designed using open source elements, the artwork for the album became open sourced itself following Bowie’s death enabling fans to engage, interact and use it.

Name: Space Cup
Mark Weislogel: Innovator (IRPI LLC/Portland State University)
Andrew Wollman: Designer (IRPI LLC)
John Graf: Co-Investigator (NASA Johnson Space Center)
Donald Pettit: NASA Astronaut Innovator (NASA Johnson Space Center) Ryan Jenson: Sponsor (IRPI LLC)
One line description:
Using capillary forces to replace the role of gravity, the Space Cup enables astronauts to drink from a cup rather than a straw and was developed on the International Space Station.
Paragraph description:
The Space Cup was designed and developed using scientific results of experiments conducted aboard the International Space Station. The cup is designed to exploit passive capillary forces to replace the role of gravity in an earth-like drinking experience, but in the low-gravity environment of space. Sealed drink bags are normally sipped through a straw to avoid spilling in space. The Space Cup however uses surface tension, fluid wetting properties, and a unique shape to drive the liquid toward the astronaut’s mouth while drinking.

The Winton Gallery opens at the Science Museum

During the recent Christmas and New Year break I had the opportunity to visit the Science Museum (yes, again…). This time to see the newly opened Winton Gallery that housed the Mathematics exhibit in the museum. Not only is the exhibit about a subject matter close to my heart, but also the gallery was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. I must admit, that the first I heard of this was in a recent visit to the IMAX at the Science Museum to see Rogue One… Anyway, I took some pictures that you can see in the photo gallery here, and I am also re-posting an entry that appeared in the London Mathematical Society newsletter Number 465 for January 2017.

Mathematics: The Winton Gallery opens at the Science Museum, London

On 8 December 2016 the Science Museum opened a pioneering new gallery that explores how mathematicians, their tools and ideas have helped shape the modern world over the last 400 years. Mathematics: The Winton Gallery places mathematics at the heart of all our lives, bringing  the subject to life through remarkable stories, artefacts and design.

More than 100 treasures from the Science Museum’s world-class science, technology, engineering and mathematics collections help tell powerful stories about how mathematical practice has shaped and been shaped by some of our most fundamental human concerns – including money, trade, travel, war, life and death.

From a beautiful 17th-century Islamic astrolabe that used ancient mathematical techniques to map the night sky to an early example of the famous Enigma machine, designed to resist even the most advanced mathematical techniques for codebreaking, each historical object has an important story to tell about how mathematics has shaped our world. Archive photography and lm helps capture these stories and digital exhibits alongside key objects introduce the wide range of people who made, used or were affected by each mathematical device.

Dramatically positioned at the centre of the gallery is the Handley Page ‘Gugnunc’ aircraft, built in 1929 for a competition to construct a safe aircraft. Ground-breaking aerodynamic research influenced the wing design of this experimental aircraft, helping transform public opinion about the safety of ying and securing the future of the aviation industry. This aeroplane highlights perfectly the central theme of the gallery about how mathematical practice is driven by, and in uences, real-world concerns and activities.

Mathematics also defines Zaha Hadid Architects’ design for the gallery. Inspired by the Handley Page aircraft, the gallery is laid out using principles of mathematics and physics. These principles also inform the three-dimensional curved surfaces representing the patterns of air ow that would have streamed around this aircraft.

Patrik Schumacher, Partner at Zaha Hadid Architects, recently noted that mathematics was part of Zaha Hadid’s life from a young age and was always the foundation of her architecture, describing the new mathematics gallery as ‘an important part of Zaha’s legacy in London’. Gallery curator David Rooney, who was respon- sible for the Science Museum’s recent award- winning Codebreaker: Alan Turing’s Life and Legacy exhibition, explained that the gallery tells ‘a rich cultural story of human endeavor that has helped transform the world’.

The mathematics gallery was made possible through an unprecedented donation from long-standing supporters of science, David and Claudia Harding. Additional support was also provided by Principal Sponsor Samsung, Major Sponsor MathWorks and a number of individual donors.

A lavishly illustrated new book, Mathematics: How It Shaped Our World, written by David Rooney and published by Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers, accompanies the new display. It expands the stories covered in the gallery and contains an absorbing series of newly commissioned essays by prominent historians and mathematicians including June Barrow-Green, Jim Bennett, Patricia Fara, Dame Celia Hoyles and Helen Wilson, with an afterword from Dame Zaha Hadid with Patrick Schumacher.

World of Watson – Talk on Data Science

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the annual IBM conference in Las Vegas. The World of Watson conference, formally known as Insight,  provided me with an opportunity to meet new interesting people, talk to colleagues and customers, learn new things and share some ideas with like-minded people. As you can imagine, with Watson being at the centre stage of the event, there were a large number of presentations, stands and marketing featuring Watson-related things: from cognitive chocolate and brews through to cognitive computing and beyond.

World of Watson Presentation
World of Watson Presentation

My session took place on Monday October 24th and I was very pleased to see a full room, and even later standing-room only just minuted before the start. We covered some of the fundamentals of data science and machine learning and took the pulse of their use in the insurance industry in particular. I then had the opportunity of sharing some of the results of the work we have been doing over the past 12 months at the Data Science Studio in London. The case studies showcased included examples in insurance, banking, wealth management and retail.

All in all, it was a very successful and enjoyable trip, in spite of the constant flashing lights of the slot machines around Las Vegas different venues.