PHYSICS: UNIFYING FRAMEWORK  IN  S & T  DEVPT - PART 3

MANILA, JUNE 13, 2009 (STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Felixberto A. Buot, Ph.D. - (Third of a series)

Besides matter and energy, physics is also involved in the study of the foundation of computer and information sciences, and in the link between consciousness and reality. Indeed, instead of the commonly held notion of the divergence of religion and sciences, physics is beginning to converge with some of the religious beliefs and dogma. There is already a rapid convergence of different disciplines within physics, such as in quantum-field theory of elementary particle/force physics, cosmology, and condensed-matter physics. However, the exact unification of quantum physics and general relativity theory (i.e., classical physics in space-time geometry) continued to be a challenging pursuit among theoretical physicists since the time of Einstein. It is worth emphasizing that the study of condensed matter physics yields parallel concepts with cosmology in astrophysics, and the synergy between the two areas of research has been mutually beneficial towards their respective advances.

Also, the intriguing theoretical prediction of entirely new states of matter based on carbon elements, namely fullerenes and buckyball crystals, based on spin and quantum-Hall systems, based on strongly correlated systems possessing internal degrees of freedom, based on string-net condensation, etc., all present challenges for intellectual exploration by the young and future generation of physicists. For example, graphene material, a crystal structure of carbon atoms but arranged in a flat plane, has the potential for ultrafast transistors and could also lead to specialty circuits that compute in new ways, perhaps using some characteristic of electrons other than charge. Since all of the rules are really changed about the ways the electrons behave in plane crystals, “there are probably more questions than answers now, but it’s got a lot of people excited,” says a well-known Harvard physics professor. Other novel materials, such as the so-called left-handed materials, have caught the wild imagination of researchers and strong funding interest by the department of defense since one of the interesting properties of these materials is the capability to cloak other matter so as to become transparently invisible. Integration of optical pathways into nanocircuits using plasmonics is another challenging area of research with potential significant impact on computer, information, and communication technology.

On the other hand, the rapidly emerging role of physics in the life sciences, both in the instrumentation and theoretical/conceptual grounds is expected to yield mutual benefits, especially in the area of nonequilibrium physics, “driving life force” behind the primordial metabolic processes, light harvesting and photosynthesis, membrane transport, and other physiological processes. How the brain processes information very quickly is another challenge in the quantum physics of computers, as well as the science of consciousness and self-awareness. Physics of fault-tolerant quantum computers and holonomic (i.e., using the geometric phase of quantum states) quantum computing presents other challenges. Clearly, the area of highly nonlinear and nonequilibrium processes, autonomous or sustained nonequilibrium cyclical processes, nonequilibrium symmetry breaking, and the physics of multiscale phenomena, e.g., turbulence, still present intellectual challenges.

Nonequilibrium nanophysics, in terms of highly nonequilibrium, ultrafast, and highly nonlinear quantum transport physics in nanosystems, coupled to the outside world via boundaries of the source and sink of particles or quantized energy fields, presents new challenges that call for urgent solution by virtue of its potential impact on the computer and information industry and in novel-functional material applications.

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Dr. Felixberto A. Buot is a research physicist (retired) from the US Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C. He is currently a research professor at the Center for Computational Materials Science, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. He is a fellow of the Washington Academy of Sciences, and a senior member of IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). He is the guest editor of a special issue of the Journal of Computational and Theoretical Nanoscience on “Transport Physics of Low-Dimensional Systems, Mesoscopic Structures and Nanodevices: Theory, Modeling, and Simulation” (American Scientific Publishers, August 2009 issue). He authored a new book entitled “Nonequilibrium Quantum Transport Physics in Nanosystems” with subtitle “Foundation of Computational Nonequilibrium Physics in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology” (World Scientific Publishing Co., July 2009). E-mail him at fbuot@gmu.edu.


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