The World Forever Changes
Eighty ago today, J. Robert Oppenheimer was appointed to lead the Manhattan Project, the massive American effort to build the atomic bomb.
The movie Oppenheimer, and book it is based on, talk about the lasting ramifications of his work.
But his success also had a major impact to the world of quantum physics - the role of government funding, and their push away from theory towards practical research and development.
Quantum mechanics began with theorists and mathematicians over a century ago in Europe.
The first quantum revolution began in earnest with Einstein's suggestion of a "quanta of light" in 1905, and rapidly led to the foundations of quantum mechanics: the wave function and the Schrödinger equation, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, the EPR paradox and “spooky action at a distance”, were all developed in papers and thought experiments that were hotly debated by some of the greatest scientists in history.
But the rise of the Nazis fractured this vigorous community and scattered these scientists to the four winds, some of whom (including Einstein) settled in America.
After the success of the Manhattan Project, the US government realized the value of encouraging these previously ignored scientists and researchers (see below).
Thus began the second quantum revolution. The laser, transistor, MRI, and atomic clock, were all developed with government funding before becoming commercial products with massive benefits for society.
Today we are in the third quantum revolution, where we've moved beyond just harnessing the aggregate quantum properties of bulk matter to actively creating and manipulating individual bespoke quantum systems with incredible precision. These breakthroughs are leading to quantum computers, quantum sensors, and quantum communications (including our technology) that have the capability to fundamentally transform society.
While these developments were seeded with government funding, they are now reaching commercial viability.
This is also the legacy of Oppenheimer.
Last Week's Theme: What is Old is New Again
- Gave a Time Appliances Project (TAP) presentation on "Quantum Time Transfer." The TAP motto: "Time is a key element to get the highest efficiency in a distributed system."
- A busy proposal season is still in force. One proposal submitted as part of a team, expecting to get feedback in Q4. Proposal two approved for full submission after a review of our outline proposal. Two more proposals in development.
- Developing new IP and provisional patents to file later this month.
- Following up from meetings at World of Quantum, Q4I, Quantum 2.0 Conference and European Navigation Conference, with new partnerships in work.
- Preparing for presentations at APSCC in October and the International Timing and Sync Forum in November.
- The US Space Force chief of space operations expressed concern about advancing anti-satellite missile capabilities: “The destruction of a satellite may not have that same public effect as a missile attack into a civilian population, but from a military standpoint, you’ve still definitely created an act of war.”
- In light of the recent US Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act to prepare for quantum computers one day cracking encryption, Europe is considering their own quantum cybersecurity agenda to include “setting priorities for the transition to post-quantum encryption.”
- GPS jammers are illegal in the US but still pretty easy to find. France uses their National Spectrum Authority (ANFR) to locate active jammers, noting recent a GPS disruption “near Merville airport in March 2023… affecting planes and air ambulance helicopters” that led their agents to seize a "sophisticated, multi-band jammer purchased online.”
- The first satellite of a planned Chinese “constellation of 13,000 satellites code-named Guo Wang” meant to compete with Starlink was recently launched.
- A pair of US bills to address technology weaknesses are in consideration. Concerns about the ease of satellite hacking led to a suggested bill to fund a Satellite Task Force, but it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. And the Quantum Sandbox for Near-Term Applications Act was introduced “to take a leap of action by expanding our quantum technology program to include the development and deployment of near-term applications that promote U.S. innovation for solving critical real-world problems impacting American society.”
- Not one, but two Coronal Mass Ejections (CME), are coming. According to NOAA’s latest forecast model, “It should hit Earth's magnetic field on July 22nd. The one-two punch of CMEs arriving on July 21st and 22nd boost the chances of a G2 or greater geomagnetric storm later this week.”
The Manhattan Project and the resulting Atomic Age left an indelible impact on the world.
But its success also left a legacy for the scientific community and their ability to aid society.
Realizing the need to keep its atomic advantage led the government to form a number of US national laboratories, including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (1931), Los Alamos National Laboratory (1943), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (1943), and Argonne National Laboratory (1946), Brookhaven National Laboratory (1947), and the Sandia National Laboratories (1949).
It also started a deepened partnership between the US government and university researchers and affiliated labs, including MIT's Draper Laboratory (1932) and Lincoln Labs (1951) and Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (1951), that "would be in the vanguard of the kind of large-scale research that Alvin Weinberg, the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, would call Big Science."
But the biggest beneficiaries would be the large corporations that, supported by government projects, set up R&D centers that were once famous for their innovation: Bell Labs (inventor of the transistor, the laser, the photovoltaic cell, the CCD, and information theory), Xerox PARC (laser printing, Ethernet, the modern personal computer, GUI, and the computer mouse), Lockheed's Skunk Works (the U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird) are some famous examples.
But alas, US federal R&D funding has dropped over the years, while other countries are accelerating theirs.
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