The P.A.

A weekly address from Patrick Adams,
President of St. Louis Community Credit Union

Physics Is Cool – And Clear As Mud!

On October 15th, 2012, posted in: Uncategorized by 1 Comment

The Nobel Prizes are being rewarded. The Nobel Peace Prize is the most noted, but there are many awards across many disciplines. It probably snuck by you, but the Nobel Prize for physics was passed out a couple of weeks ago, too.

Unless you’re one of the geeks on the popular CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, chances are you have no idea as to what, how or why their discoveries were worth such a prestigious acknowledgment. I’m on that side of understanding. In fact, my breadth and depth of physics is pretty much wrapped up in Isaac Newton’s discovery of an apple falling to the ground. I’m already in over my head, but is he the guy who determined “What goes up must come down (spinning wheels got to go round)?” I’m pretty sure it was either Isaac Newton or Three Dog Night. (A rare Three Dog Night reference.)

Let me get all “physics” on you. The prize winners discovered how to “control ghostly quantum particles.” If you are no better off after hearing of such a world-changing discovery, then let me elaborate. The prize winners successfully manipulated microscopic quantum particles – atoms, electrons and smaller elementary objects. There you go – clear as mud.

The work has been described as “amazing control of photons and atoms.” Getting them to “interact on demand” has got the entire world of physics all goose-pimply. To you and me, the benefit comes in three forms: 1) it lays the groundwork for extremely precise clocks; 2) it will enhance the hard-to-crack cryptography systems; and 3) it will allow for quantum computers with number-crunching prowess.

Stop yawning. This stuff is real.

More precise clocks? Nobody’s on time any more. We are bringing greater levels of sophistication to timekeeping at the same time the current generation of young people are more sedentary and less concerned with time more than ever before. What irony. A whole generation is wasting away on a couch somewhere watching video games with no concern for a clock and a couple of physicists are busy creating greater precision. Oh well, at least in the future, we’ll be able to determine exactly how much time is wasted.

Hard-to-crack cryptography is cool. I actually get this. The data in the strip on the back of your debit card is encrypted. If through photons and atoms we can tighten up against fraud, I love these guys. Lastly, I don’t know what a quantum computer is.

I know physics is omnipresent in our lives. I know this from watching those shows on sports TV that reveal such things as the moving parts and their interaction in order to launch a golf ball, or hit a baseball, or throw a football to a target 25 yards away.

Physics is cool, I think. With those in the know getting their hands around the world of photons and atoms, the world in which we live is looking up. There you go – clear as mud.

One Response to “Physics Is Cool – And Clear As Mud!”

  • JSchroth says:

    Simply (ok, somewhat simply) put, in theory quantum computers should be able to manage sets of data that are geometrically (that is to say, a lot) larger than any current (digital) computer can handle.

    The ability to manage much, much larger sets of data (systems with a huge number of variables) = either a) much faster computation, or b) ability to analyze far more complex systems.  And probably both a) AND b).

    One example of theoretically possible impact: completely accurate minute-by-minute weather forecasts.

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