Cool Science Fiction Concepts That You Don’t Really Need to Understand To Use
Posted by erikthereddest
Hello all! I have a slight tendency to go on and on about science-related stuff, but I do my best to only explain things in detail if:
- Having a decent understanding of the workings is important to using the concept believably in your story.
- It’s really just that interesting.
I’ve already talked about metamaterials as a component in cloaking devices, but what I didn’t talk about is their general usefulness due to their optical properties. For those who haven’t read my post on Invisibility and Cloaking (hint hint), metamaterials are these weird, nano-scale (that’s one one-billionth of a meter) shapes made out of different types of interlocking metal alloys that for some only partially-understood reasons have very unique effects on light. Depending on the particular shapes and particular metals, metamaterials can be used to alter the way light bends around its field, potentially rendering something invisible. These sub-molecular shenanigans could also possibly be used to make specialized imagers for looking at molecules and other atomic stuctures, for electronics applications, or data storage.
Metamaterials are pretty arcane even to the guys who discovered them, and are so adaptable you can almost apply them to any sci-fi situation. I’m not telling you to throw the term around constantly, but practically any super-high tech dealing with things on the nano-scale could make use of metamaterials, and you have a lot of freedom in what they could be applied to. Just keep in mind that these are very intricate and specifically designed; they do not occur naturally (as far as we know).
(For a more in-depth article and the source of the above image, head over to Futurity.com.)
Graphene is an atom-thin latices of carbon atoms that has some really neat conductive properties that makes it very attractive as a potential material for extremely fast electronics. The problem they’re currently working out is that they can’t easily make transistors out of it, which act like tiny switches that carry data in microprocessors. It carries elecctrons “ballistically”, which basically means that instead of having to deal with clouds of electrons in metals, Graphene could be much simpler to deal with, and much more compact. It’s also extremely durable as a material (just like those carbon nano-tubes you keep hearing about), and very flexible, so it has tons of other applications as well.
There’s more to it than that, but mentioning that components are made of graphene meshes both sounds high-tech and references what could be the future for micro components in computers and electronics.
(For a more in-depth article about graphene, head over to Ars Technica.)
Quantum computers are built on chips that use “qubits” (quantum bits) to handle data. Instead of having millions of tiny transistor switches like we use in standard computers, quantum computers utilize freaky quantum magical tricks to essentially fool two electrons into thinking that they are actually the same electron (called “quantum entanglement”), so that if one of the electrons is affected, the other is affected in exactly the same way, no matter how far away the two are. This could potentially make processes very close to instantaneous, and speed up computers extraordinarily. The issue right now is that qubits are very unstable, so researchers are trying to figure out the best ways to utilize them in a brief window of time, or else figure out how to make them last longer.
I’ve already seen this concept used a lot in science fiction, as the basis for future computers as well as a nifty way to have almost instantaneous communication across huge distances. Just remember that these things are delicately produced; even if the technology is old hat by the time of your story, people can’t just make these anywhere; they have to have the right equipment.
(For a more in-depth article about quantum computers, head on over to Ars Technica.)
Alright, that’s it for today. Until next week, has anyone else come across these concepts in science fiction? Let me know in the comments below!