Too Much; Not Enough

On Starts With a Bang, Ethan Siegel investigates the hamstringing of the James Webb Space Telescope. Originally scheduled to launch in 2013 at a cost of $5.1 billion, the JWST was pushed to 2015 and $6.5 billion by a government review panel that faulted NASA mismanagement. But the revised numbers counted on timely infusions of cash, and because “a miserly US Congress” withheld them, the cost of the project ballooned to $8.7 billion, with a new launch date of 2018. Although its unprecedented mirrors are nearly finished—along with its electrical instruments and their housing—the JWST still waits on its massive sunshield, which means the project will stay grounded even as its price tag gets more astronomical. [UPDATE: funding for the JWST has been restored!] Meanwhile, on Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel imagines an ark defined by qubits instead of cubits. God decrees, “thou shalt take into thine ark all of the numbers,” to which Noah astutely replies, “if the ark is to be 300 by 50 by 30 qubits, then the maximum number to be stored within it must be no greater than 2450000.” The supreme being asks if this is not close enough to infinity—and threatens to start smiting things when Noah suggests including more than just positive integers.

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Feats of Engineering

It seems like every time we turn around, there’s another new smartphone or robotic butler pouring coffee in our laps. On Uncertain Principles, the engineering breakthroughs du jour are “technical advances in ion trap quantum computing.” Chad Orzel explains, “previous experiments have used optical frequencies to manipulate the states of the ions, using light from very complicated laser systems.” Such lasers (though effective) are unwieldy, and researchers are now using simple microwaves to perform the same functions. This promises quantum computers on a chip—eventually. Meanwhile, on the USA Science and Engineering Festival blog, Kandy Collins profiles a researcher who used nanoparticles “to build synthetic platelets of biodegradable polymers which are designed to link with the body’s natural platelets to slow or stop bleeding faster after injury.” And on The Weizmann Wave, scientists are fabricating some of the straightest nanowires ever by depositing molecules of gallium nitride into the grooves of an artificial sapphire surface. Professor Ernesto Joselevich says since “control of structure and miniaturization go hand in hand in the semiconductor industry, this method could well become standard within the decade.”