60th anniversary of solar power in space…

Vanguard_1_satellite_sketchVanguard 1 was the fourth artificial Earth orbital satellite to be successfully launched and the first to have solar electric power. It was launched on March 17th of 1958 – sixty years ago this month.

The satellite (and the final state of its launch vehicle) remain the oldest man-made object still in orbit. Solar power has come a long way from the $300 per watt back then to less than a dollar a watt today.

What if we could take the heat out of the transistor easier?

For about the last decade efforts in computer design have moved away from higher clock speeds to providing more computing cores. Consumer PC computer speeds have topped out at close to 4 GHz for one reason – heat! The faster they run, and the denser the transistors, the more heat generated to the point where the devices begin to break down.

There may be a new approach being researched that could help address the issue of heat buildup. Researches at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have been experimenting with a form of iridium oxide, Sr3Ir2O7.

The electronic structure of a material is typically rigid, with distinct energy levels or “bands” that fill up as electrons are added. These levels are determined by the atomic structure and chemical composition of the material. In the study, these energy levels were observed to deform drastically, in a fluid way, as more electrons poured in, while the physical structure of the material did not change in any significant way.

“Guided by theoretical calculations led by Arun Bansil, a professor of physics at Northeastern University, researchers found that a gap between different groupings of energy bands in the sample material actually shrank as electrons were added, reducing the material’s stored energy level – like the water level appearing to decline in the cup example.”

The implications are that the real estate on chips could be used differently or computing clock cycles maybe increased. In either case should increase the amount of computing available to generate value.

Exponential growth and Earth Day

earthdayOn this Earth Day, there is little doubt that we are living in an exponential society as opposed to linear one. Change is happening so rapidly and broadly that it challenges our traditional (linear) way of thinking. Technology’s ability to enable change in other industries has been discussed by many over the years, but since the disruptions can be so insidious, they can still surprise us. The number and breadth of the change we’re seeing (or that’s happening behind the scenes that we’re not aware of) is staggering.

Whether it is the growth of computing capabilities, data storage or even gene sequencing (as examples), it isn’t the growth in one area where the impact is felt. It is the change in the surrounding environment where those skills can also be applied that offer the greatest surprises. Like using the understanding of genetics to clone the long extinct Woolly Mammoth.

There are many ways that IT can help with efficiency in the world around us, by providing better measurement, analytics, visibility and control to how energy is being consumed and waste produced. I had a post previously that discussed the various levels where sustainability change can take place– even within a data center. The whole Green IT movement reinforces this perspective on using the power of IT to be more efficient thought it could still be expanded to view the problem holistically, since it needs to address more than just green data centers.

Some more references to areas of exponential growth:

And if these are the secondary effects, the tertiary effects to industries like insurance, transportation, law are not close to being understood, in my opinion.

Where do you think we’ll see the impact of these capabilities? Will that make our planet a better place?