Dec 18, 2008

Flexible, Stretchable, Transparent Carbon Nanotube Thin Film Loudspeakers - Nano Letters (ACS Publications)

Flexible, Stretchable, Transparent Carbon Nanotube Thin Film Loudspeakers - Nano Letters (ACS Publications): "We found that very thin carbon nanotube films, once fed by sound frequency electric currents, could emit loud sounds. This phenomenon could be attributed to a thermoacoustic effect. The ultra small heat capacity per unit area of carbon nanotube thin films leads to a wide frequency response range and a high sound pressure level. On the basis of this finding, we made practical carbon nanotube thin film loudspeakers, which possess the merits of nanometer thickness and are transparent, flexible, stretchable, and magnet-free. Such a single-element thin film loudspeaker can be tailored into any shape and size, freestanding or on any insulating surfaces, which could open up new applications of and approaches to manufacturing loudspeakers and other acoustic devices."

You've got to watch the demonstration movie: 1, 2, 3. !!!!!.

Dec 1, 2008

A sense of humility

And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the dvides that have held back our progress.
-- Barack Obama, Victory Speech in Chicago

In a workshop on group dynamics and effective communication I attended last week, the coordinator asked the participants to name some of the qualities that enable effective communication within group. Respect, honesty, fairness, open-mindedness, acknowledging diversity, and appreciating differences are first a few in the long list of qualities. Towards the end, one quality, mentioned by a guy from engineering, resonates deeply inside me. He said he would like to collaborate with someone with a sense of humility, someone who does not think he has already figured everything out.

Humility is a rare quality in North American culture, where assertiveness is generally prized and often wrongfully confused with self-confidence. But humility is traditionally prized in East Asian cultures, and this value hasn't been changed in this age of rapid globalization.

An understanding of our fallible nature necessitates a sense of humility. It tempers our egos, helps us empathize with others, and facilitates communication. But it should not be confused with a lack of self-confidence. The general misconception of the mutual exclusiveness of humility and self-confidence may come from the fact that their combination is a rare quality.

I would argue that such a quality is best developed in multicultural societies where people make dramatically different assumptions of life, people and society. These assumptions are dubious at best. Unless people making their own assumptions explicit to themselves, they tend to fall back in their own seemly safe and cosy world-view. By being aware of those assumptions, we know our values, and know they are individual, not universal. Awareness of our unique values help build our self-confidence, and the realization of the diversity of different values keeps us humble.

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Nov 30, 2008

A new approach for science : Article : Nature Materials

A new approach for science : Article : Nature Materials: "First, in spite of America's deepening financial crisis, Obama has pledged to boost scientific funding significantly under his presidency. Like Roosevelt, Obama hopes to ameliorate the deepening recession by increasing spending on domestic programmes, including research and innovation1.

The most likely boon for materials researchers will be a promised US$15 billion annual investment in clean energy technology. That would be a formidable increase compared with the roughly US$2 billion a year that is spent at present. Almost certainly, a significant fraction of the new money will go towards materials research in areas such as fuel and solar cells, energy storage technologies and energy efficiency."

The trend of new energy is too obvious to be ignored.

Nov 20, 2008

Seriously, why so serious?

Why so serious?
-- Joker, in The Dark Knight
Be serious, not too serious.
-- John Polanyi
Take everything you like seriously, except yourselves.
-- Rudyard Kipling
Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.
-- Oscar Wilde
Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.
-- Aristotle

I like to plan things. And when planning, I need to be serious. But things do not always go according to plans. Actually, things usually go in different directions other than the planned, especially for things involving two persons, such as dating.

Toronto is a fascinating place where people with all sorts of backgrounds meet. And their dating behaviours differ dramatically. I've met a guy who changes his girlfriends every two months; I've seen a girl who calls one-year relationship a long one. But I've also acquainted with people who know what they are looking for, and once they find it, they commit totally to it. Different cultural and social backgrounds put different labels on each behavior, and these labels reflect their values and attitudes towards what is acceptable. Though it might be easy to judge each behavior within one particular community, judgment becomes increasingly difficult in a multicultural society. The clashes of values from different backgrounds make me really wonder what my values are and what I believe.

I had my trials. There has been awkward situations. Being too serious does not seem to be a good option. But insights into myself accumulate each time. So far, one thing has persisted. It's the belief, forcefully expressed by Steve Jobs, that "as with all matters of the heart, you know it when you find it".

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Nov 15, 2008


Axiom 1: Hardware's sole purpose is running a specific algorithm.
Axiom 2: You have to bring up your own process within semiconductor industry
-- Geordie Rose, D-Wave

Geordie Rose, the founder of the first company that commercializes quantum computer D-wave, gives a brief talk at CIFAR Nanoelectronics about bringing quantum computation into reality. The axioms of his company are at heart of the company's problem-oriented philosophy. Their computer is algorithm-dependent. It means that the hardware is designed and fabricated to run a specific algorithm. This approach is completely different from the generic approached adopted by researchers worldwide who try to build basic logic unit. Because their computer can only run one algorithm, their application is limited, and therefore their market is limited as well. But the company still attracted huge amount of attention from the media, academy and business, and have investors such as Goldman Sachs. Why?

When I asked Geordise Rose how could he convince his investors to put money to a computer that can only solve a specific problem, his answer surprised me. He said being specific is actually an advantage in his case.

Nov 9, 2008

Justified Hope

This is our time — to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

-- Barack Obama Presidential Victory Speech

To be frank, I had been cynical about US politics, especially presidential elections. But since his first victory in Iowa, I have become more and more interested in Barack Obama and have been following his journey to the White House closely. His respect for opponents is the first character that I admire, among many others, such as humility, calmness, acknowledging the imperfections of US, vision, discipline, looking for mutual understanding instead of direct confrontation, and, most of all, the ability to inspire hopes.

His huge popularity around the world proves again that there is something that we human all share, something most fundamental to all, something deeply rooted in our conscience: hope, hope that helps us conquer over fear. But hope alone will not make the change happening. What distinguishes him from the rest politicians is his ability to inspire others to take the responsibility and initiatives, and to be that change. It is only when actions are taken that changes are possible, that the gap between where we are and where we want to be is filled, and that hope is justified.

China Unveils $586 Billion Economic Stimulus Plan -

China Unveils $586 Billion Economic Stimulus Plan - "In a sweeping move at a time when major projects are being put off around the world, Beijing said it would spend an estimated $586 billion by 2010 on wide array of national infrastructure and social welfare projects, including constructing new railways, subways, airports and rebuilding commuties devastated by an earthquake in southwest China in May."

Besides being a strategic responce to the current financial crisis, this plan contains a message that challenges the old Chinese wisdom of how ordinary people should handle their money: Spend it; not save it.

Image source: Flickr/delapropia

Oct 31, 2008

Science and China's Modernization -- Jiabao 322 (5902): 649 -- Science

Science and China's Modernization -- Jiabao 322 (5902): 649 -- Science: "The history of modernization is in essence a history of scientific and technological progress. Scientific discovery and technological inventions have brought about new civilizations, modern industries, and the rise and fall of nations. China is now engaged in a modernization drive unprecedented in the history of humankind.

Over the past half century, China has made great achievements in basic science and technological innovation. It now ranks among the top nations in the annual number of papers published internationally and patent applications filed. China has also made achievements in such areas as manned space flight, high-performance computers, super-large-scale integrated circuits, and third-generation telecommunications technology. High-tech industry has experienced rapid growth, accounting for over 15% of the manufacturing industry.

Francis Bacon, the 16th-century English philosopher, referred to science as a means to improve humankind's lot. Today, the hybrid rice variety developed by Chinese scientists has been adopted for planting in over three million hectares and has become a 'golden key' to meeting China's own food needs and boosting world cereal production. Scientific and technological development in the realm of health has also increased average life expectancy in China to that in developed countries.

To encourage further innovation, the Chinese government has formulated a Mid- to Long-Term Plan for Development of Science and Technology (2006-2020), which highlights research in the basic sciences and frontier technologies, with priority given to energy, water resources, and environmental protection. We strive to develop independent intellectual property rights in areas of information technology and new materials, while strengthening the application of biotechnology to agriculture, industry, population, and health.

The future of China's science and technology depends fundamentally on how we attract, train, and use young scientific talents today. Thus, at the core of our science and technology policy is attracting a diverse range of talents, especially young people, into science and providing them with an environment that brings out the best of their creative ideas.

In the field of science and technology, we will intensify institutional reform, restructure scientific research, rationally allocate public resources, and enhance innovation capability. We advocate free academic debate under a lively academic atmosphere, where curiosity-driven exploration is encouraged and failure tolerated.

Science has no boundaries. China's endeavors in science and technology need to be more integrated with those of the world, and the world needs a China that is vibrant and able to deliver more in science and technology. Just as collisions generate sparks, exchange and communication enrich imagination and creativity. Many Chinese scientists have stepped into the international academic arena, where they and their foreign colleagues learn from each other and jointly contribute to the worldwide development of science and technology.

To encourage the learning and application of science among the general public, we need to embrace a scientific culture by promoting scientific rationality while cherishing Chinese cultural heritage. Enlightened by science, the rich and profound Chinese culture is bound to shine more gloriously.

I firmly believe that science is the ultimate revolution. At a time when the current global financial turmoil is dealing a heavy blow to the world economy, it has become all the more important to rely on scientific and technological progress to promote growth in the real economy. Economic and social development must rely on science and technology, and science and technology must serve economic and social development. We will rely on science and technology to promote economic restructuring, transform development patterns, safeguard food and energy security, and address global climate change. We are confident that China will reap a rich harvest in science and technology and that this will have positive and far-reaching effects on human civilization and the well-being of humankind."

This is the highest level of thinking you can get from anyone in China. It's very much in consistent with what we were taught at school. What he didn't say is that China learned the importance of science and technology from its painful history. But this omission represents a win-win thinking that focuses on the future rather than on the past. Only this thinking can lead to a better future, with due diligence on the problems at present , of course.

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