Hacking Matter: Invisble Clothes, Levitating Chairs, And The Ultimate Killer App

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9780465044283: Hacking Matter: Invisble Clothes, Levitating Chairs, And The Ultimate Killer App

Programmable matter is probably not the next technological revolution, nor even perhaps the one after that. But it's coming, and when it does, it will change our lives as much as any invention ever has. Imagine being able to program matter itself-to change it, with the click of a cursor, from hard to soft, from paper to stone, from fluorescent to super-reflective to invisible. Supported by companies ranging from Levi Strauss to IBM and the Defense Department, solid-state physicists in laboratories at MIT, Harvard, Sun Microsystems, and elsewhere are currently creating arrays of microscopic devices called "quantum dots" that are capable of acting like programmable atoms. They can be configured electronically to replicate the properties of any known atom and then can be changed, as fast as an electrical signal can travel, to have the properties of a different atom. Soon it will be possible not only to engineer into solid matter such unnatural properties as variable magnetism, programmable flavors, or centuple bonds far stronger than diamond, but also to change these properties at will. Wil McCarthy visits the laboratories and talks with the researchers who are developing this extraordinary technology; describes how they are learning to control its electronic, optical, thermal, magnetic, and mechanical properties; and tells us where all this will lead. The possibilities are truly magical.

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About the Author:

Wil McCarthy is a novelist, the science columnist for the SciFi channel, and the Chief Technology Officer for Galileo Shipyards, an aerospace research corporation. Hacking Matter is an expansion of an article that appeared in Wired in October 2001. He lives in Lakewood, Colorado.

From Publishers Weekly:

In 1962, Arthur C. Clarke offered three laws of technological development, the last of which reads: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Expanding on an article he wrote for Wired, McCarthy uses Clarke's law as a jumping-off point for a grand tour of cutting-edge "quantum dot" research, a field that seems like nothing so much as alchemy, 21st-century style. Quantum dots are tiny pieces of semiconductor that can trap electrons, with a remarkable consequence: "the electrons trapped in a quantum dot will arrange themselves as though they were part of an atom, even through there's no atomic nucleus for them to surround." The result is an artificial atom, maybe 50 times larger than a natural one, that can simulate the properties of any element on the periodic table by catching or releasing additional electrons. McCarthy offers an extensive survey of both the science behind such "programmable matter" and the scientists developing it, reveling in applications as far-ranging as walls that light a room with their own radiant glow, cars that levitate along magnetic streets, and TV screens that "look less like a moving picture and more like a window into a real, three-dimensional space." The author, an engineer as well as a writer, is a part of the story himself, holding a patent for an application of quantum dots that he calls "wellstone" (his patent application is included as an appendix), and he makes an informative but at times technically dense case for the promising, even magical, potential of programmable atoms.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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