Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Small scale and slow motion

A lot of research is done with the purpose to make computers faster and to generally improve them. One of the goals is to develop a fast optical computer. The advantages such a computer would have are clear - electricity heats the circuit it moves in, but not light. The problems needed to be solved in order for such a computer to be built are enormous, but surprisingly Nature managed to overcome at least some of them a long time ago - photonic crystals needed for such a computer were recently found in the shimmering, iridescent green scales of a beetle from Brazil. Read this article for the full story.

The reason I am writing about this is that it is an excellent example of an important principle at work. This principle is that all the inventions we made are already present in Nature in some form. It probably sounds a bit strange. But if we will look, we will see that the problems we use technology and science to solve, have a "more" natural solution already. For a simple example, lets look on nuclear fusion. We don't yet have control over it (probably it will happen soon, but not yet) but the problem we are trying to solve with it is a need of heat energy. The heat will be used to produce electricity, but we need to produce heat firstly.The nature has the some problem - in order for the universe to develop somehow, heat is needed. Heat is also needed for production of new, heavier elements. How did nature solve it? Nuclear fusion is exactly what heats stars. This example is cosmological, and it speaks more about properties of matter. Yet there are many more examples. The computer can be viewed as our attempt to recreate the human brain using technology, for example.

It can be argued that seeing such connection is a bit too much, and yet the problems we (as a race) face are in no way unique. And if so, there is good chance to see solutions of them already present in the Nature. But to find such solutions, we will need to look on the small scales.

The reason for this is that when viewed from another angle our world doesn't look the same. In the video below you will see a series of simple actions first in normal speed and then in slow motion. The actions stay the same, but there is a difference. It is well visible in the experiment with balloon and fire. In normal speed it looks like it was burn by the fire, but it looks differently in slow motion.

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