atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#991: I love coherency.

Looking back over the more recent posts here on Atomic Fungus--and a comment I left over at Chizumatic--it looks to me like I've become reasonably coherent lately.

I'm not sure why; maybe I'm thinking about what I write again. That would be pretty cool, because Lord knows there aren't already enough people on the Internet who post shit without bothering to think about it....

* * *

The movie Real Genius centers on super-genius high school kids developing a single-shot 5 megawatt laser for--it turns out--the CIA.

I can forgive the plot cliche--oh-so-enlightened geniuses (because you know a genius would be a liberal) finding out that their work was being used by the evil CIA to build a weapon! and acting to stop it--because they got so much of the technology right.

Yeah: the number one genius in the country cracked because he found out his stuff was being used to kill people. Now the "next generation" learns, to its horror, that the laser they built is going to be used to assassinate people from orbit.

It's a shame that the standard Hollywood template had to be applied to the movie, becuase it had so much potential to be more than it was. But still, what there is is pretty freaking awesome.

"In so doing," Chris Knight intones, "I was able to couple to a state which is radiatively coupled to the ground state." That's real physics jargon! And it's pretty much right!

They didn't just make shit up that sounded good (*cough*Star Trek*cough*) but actually hired technical advisors who knew physics and lasers and could make the science right in the script...and they actually listened to them.

Contrast that with my perennial favorite of the same vintage, Manhattan Project, which I discussed in detail here and here. (And then, later, here.)

This movie, as I mention in the linked posts, is a turd from the scientific point of view. (If you must know why I invite you to read the linked entries.) Where Real Genius took great pains to get the science correct--and told an entertaining story in the bargain--Manhattan Project took no pains whatsoever to use real science, and told an story which was more of an annoying cliche than that of RG. I can summarize the plot thus: < Mr. Mackey >Nukes are bad, mm'kay?< /Mr. Mackey >


* * *

Still wondering if neutronium is, or at least can form, a Bose-Einstein condensate.

Now I find myself wondering if the word is pronounced "new-tron-ee-um" or "new-trow-knee-um". The latter is how I've always pronounced the word, ever since I first read it. It's not a word that came up in most of the science shows I watched as a youth, nor does it get any mention in the media today. I guess the idea of having acces to stuff of a neutron star--when a bit the size of a dime weighs about 100,000,000 tons--is a bit beyond what most people want to deal with in "Sunday supplement science" shows.

But when I think about the stuff--however you pronounce its name--I wonder if it's a liquid, like mercury, or a solid? Or would it flow like a liquid even though it was actually solid? 'Cause I fail to see how it could resist its own gravity.

Metallic hydrogen gives me the same problems. What happens when you release the pressure that made the hydrogen turn metallic? Wouldn't it just gasify again?

* * *

From coherent thought to coherent light to coherent matter--and where else can I take the thread?

I became interested in esoteric physics after discovering the Larry Niven books at the Crete Public Library in the late 1970s. The Niven books they had delved into some of the weirdness coming out of the theoreticians in the 1960s, such as the Niven short story Neutron Star, in which Beowulf Shaeffer makes a cometary orbit around a neutron star. That story marked the first time I ever really understood how tides worked, why they worked--certainly I had never learned it in school.

Neutron Star is a classic "man versus the elements" story, but it's damned good science fiction. Niven's work has been nearly as great an influence on my own writing as Heinlein--he's #2 on the list. Unfortunately, I lack his easy access to really smart and educated people who can explain the holes in a particular idea in layman's terms.

I'd love to hear from anyone with a major degree in physics what's wrong with my idea of non-gravitational singularities. If the four forces are unifiable, why couldn't you have a magnetic or strong force singularity? And what would the properties be?

Of course we don't really know if they are unifiable. There's evidence suggesting that the Weak force and electromagnetism can be unified, and some lesser evidence that seems to imply that gravity and the weak force are not incompatible--but since everyone is working with string theory right now (and since no one is getting degrees or grants for working with anything else) God only knows.

In my considerably uneducated opinion, a magnetic (or charge) singularity would make faster-than-light possible, one way or another. Your ship would have to be heavily shielded against EMF, and there would be other issues you'd have to be cognizant of, but a Kerr ringwarp using a magnetic singularity would get you past all the nastiness you get from putzing around with black holes. And we already have a lot of experience dealing with high density magnetic fields and large electrical currents and voltages.

I'm just sayin'.

* * *

Why do we not spend more time, money, and effort on making monocrystalline materials?

In Descent of Anansi, Niven and Barnes build a story around a spool of iron monofilament which is incredibly strong stuff. It's a single iron crystal that's miles long, wrapped with carbon fiber, and it's strong freaking stuff.

What's the tensile strength of an individual iron crystal? Does anyone know? And iron can't be the only material that you could do this with. What if you used titanium?

I sometimes think about what this or that theoretical material would do if you made a present-day automobile engine from it. An engine made from iron monocrystal would be able to take a hell of a lot of abuse if made to the same dimensions as a typical engine. Or it could be a hell of a lot lighter and more fuel-efficient if built to the same strength as a typical production engine.

What if you have a hyper-strong material (such as Niven's hullmetal, or the material which makes up a General Products hull) that is "zero friction" (largely frictionless) and use that to make an engine? What properties change?

For one thing, you don't design the rings and other components to "bed in" as is done with a typical modern engine. The stuff won't wear, so it must be manufactured to a tighter tolerance.

Oil would still be necessary, since super-stuff would wear super-stuff out, even with zero friction--but depending on how you built the thing, it would probably wear very slowly, and routine oil changes would limit that.

Super strong: your components could essentially be injection-molded and hollow. The throttle response would be phenominal, and an enormous V8 engine could be carried with one hand. (Tuning the engine would be finicky, since without much thermal mass the engine would essentially run "cold" most of the time, and have to run richer. Would the rich fuel mix offset the fuel savings due to decreased friction and weight? I wonder.)

A monocrystal would have interesting properties. Maybe it's just too hard to make them big enough to experiment with. And that's a shame.

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