Smug Science

I think science as a discipline could benefit from a more practical approach.  This doesn’t so much refer to some of the really abstract and intangible research happening in fields like quantum physics as it does to something that I see more and more presented in lieu of actual experiments: computer models.  In just the past few weeks, I’ve read everything from government reports, to news articles, to peer-reviewed scientific papers that leverage as their evidence not practical experiments or real datasets, but computer models and statistical simulations.  There was even one that proudly proclaimed that it was based on interpolated data – in other words, data that is only inferred to exist between known data points.

The Nuclear Option

Whether or not it has anything to do with a certain fourteen year old and his garage-built fusion reactor, I’ve been long fascinated by nuclear energy, but not unlike space, it suffers from a massive communication problem.  If you asked someone to name a job harder than the proverbial “rocket science,” you very well might be answered with “nuclear physics.”  Like I try to explain concepts from astronautical engineering in ways that are approachable to the typical reader, I intend to use this post to explain nuclear energy in similarly approachable terms.

The Universe’s Habitable Zone

Humans have a severe case of societal loneliness.  We send signals out into the void in the hopes that someone might answer, we launch spacecraft into the interstellar medium with a record of our civilization, we push the edges of our technology to seek evidence of long-extinct microbial and unicellular life on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and other bodies in our solar system.  On a less evidential level, we seek clues, stories, and anecdotes that could enable us to believe that our species is not alone in the universe: points of light in the sky, a circle painted on a cave wall ten thousand years ago, unexplained happenings all over the world.

A Rational Defense of Manned Spaceflight

As computers have become more advanced, faster, and more capable, the arguments in favor of manned spaceflight have become weaker, and space travel has increasingly become the domain of machines.  Long before the invention of the microchip, Isaac Asimov proposed exactly this, describing unmanned, computer-controlled space exploration vehicles that would be able to venture into territories too extreme and too dangerous for humans.  That vision has come to pass, and it is now commonly argued that humans are indeed too soft, vulnerable, and unreliable to utilize in spaceflight, and that removing them from the paradigm removes the weakest link.  Manned spaceflight has largely been relegated to an oft-maligned holdover of Cold War international competition and patriotism.  This is a mistake.

Staging: Making Rockets and Stories More Effective

Other than indulging my penchant for expounding on space-related topics, and perhaps providing you with some insight into rocketry, I bring this discussion up because it informs a way I have been slowly coming to approach writing. I, probably like a lot of new writers, was approaching the writing of my stories like a single-stage-to-orbit. When I sat down to write, I had an expectation in my head that I would sit down and craft all of the components of a story in a single pass, and that revisions were mostly just for changing around wording and cleaning up typos. Which, it turns out, is really challenging to do, because stories are complicated.

TESS: Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

As a bit of a side project at work recently, I did some modeling work on TESS, which is a NASA spacecraft that was launched to help search for exoplanets using the transit method (I know, you could never have guessed that from the name's acronym breakdown). Working with satellites as much as I do, this was a really interesting project, because it was quite distinctive in its orbit and mission architecture from most spacecraft that I get to study on a regular basis. For one thing, it is a remarkably low-cost, robust, straightforward system, quite different from what you often see with NASA programs, which because of their scientific goals are often pushing the very edge of our capabilities and therefore become very complex and very expensive. For another, it utilizes a simply fascinating orbit. Since I've been trying to post occasional in-depth articles on various academic topics, it seemed appropriate to share some of what I learned from that project here.

Seeing the Light, Seeing the Lightning

There are certain principles that I have found underpin an astonishing number of our modern systems, and gaining a thorough understanding of a principle like that can enable you to understand or surmise how so many different things work. One of those, which is what we will be discussing today, is the photoelectric effect. It seems like at least once a week I come across some new piece of technology that leverages the photoelectric effect in a completely new or different way, and increasingly I marvel at how such a relatively simple principle underpins so much of our modern world. So let's talk about the photoelectric effect.

Quantum Computing as a Service

A while back now we posted about 5G technology as part of our efforts to develop educational content here on the site. This post about quantum computing technology and some of the ways in which we can anticipate it being implemented is in the same vein; quantum computing has been increasingly touted as another sort of “miracle” technology about which we hear a great deal of hype, but without a lot of insight into the details. This post will hopefully rectify that a little.

The 5G Miracle Cure

If you follow the news, you've probably heard something about 5G. It's been billed as the foundation of a new technology revolution, as the next thing that is going to change the way people do everything. I'm always cautious of people trying to make predictions like that, since it's notoriously challenging, and we have a tendency to only remember the people who were right about what happened in the past, but even if half of what is being hyped about 5G comes to be, it would change a lot...on the backend. Users might not even notice much of a different in daily life. Yet for all that this is supposedly a world-changing technology, it seems that most people have no idea what it actually means.