Science and Technology Headlines

The LHC is coming closer everyday to solving fundamental questions of physics

More than ever science and technology play a very important part in peoples’ everyday lives. It is important then, that they are aware of its continuing development away from the glare of the general public. I have included here four news stories which I think have the potential to greatly effect our everyday lives, ranging from the simple question of which app you should download next to the rather more difficult question of the legalisation of cannabis.

Apps and the Smart Phone Wars

Apple are now making it easier to develop apps for the iPhone, paving way for an Adobe Reader app on the iPhone. Adobe are a major, America-based software development company who have developed many widely used pieces of software including Adobe Reader, Flash and Flex. There have been tensions between Apple and Adobe over the lack of such an application for a while. And, even after the technical issues, including problems with antennae, the iPhone 4 is selling very well, with any slight sales drop offset by the launch of the iPad.

Apple’s main rival, Taiwanese firm HTC, have just released two new phones the Desire HD and the Z Android. Both use the Google developed Android operating system, which aims to rival that of Apple’s iOS and Blackberry’s Blackberry OS. Operating systems are software which sit in between the applications and the hardware of a computer to provide a common environment for both. At the moment the advantages with this operating system is the ease with which to develop apps as all the development software and tools are free to download and use. This has led to a large development base with a estimated one hundred thousand apps said to have been developed.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

It’s not here to create black holes, or end the world, rather to research how the world – and everything else – came to exist.

The LHC is a 17 mile long tunnel about 600ft beneath the French-Swiss border. It was conceived and built by CERN, the European Nuclear Research Centre. The LHC is supposed to investigate the very building blocks of matter and answer questions, or help develop theories, for example regarding a General Unified Theory. This theory aims to brings together the three separate theories that currently exist for electromagnetic, weak and strong interactions into one overarching theory for all three types of forces which would help scientists to better understand these forces.

After suffering setbacks due to electrical fault in 2008, the LHC has been fixed and has already broken the record for the highest man-made energy particle collision on March 30th this year at 3.5 TeV, half its designed energy. Other questions the LHC hopes to answer are why gravity is so many magnitudes weaker compared to the other fundamental forces and to try and, as required in some theories, to prove the existence of other dimensions

Intel’s New Chip “Sandy Bridge”

For many years now Intel has been leading the way in the development of microprocessors and their latest unveiling looks like it is likely to keep them at the forefront. Intel’s new 32 nm (32 billionths of a metre) chip which “will revolutionise PCs again” according to Intel’s chief executive Peter Otellini. The chip aims to incorporate both a microprocessor and graphics processor onto the same chip. Microprocessors are the basic building block of a computer’s processing power, where as graphics processors are specialised processing units for rendering 3D and 2D graphics. The chip will focus on power efficiency, on the connections of the processor core and uses a new microarchitecture developed by Intel which may be used on the next two generations of chips if it proves difficult scaling it down to the aim of 22 nm.

The chip has also been described as an “Nvidia killer” in reference to the graphics processor manufacturer Nvidia. However Nvidia released a statement saying “Intel’s been proclaiming the death of discrete graphics for years, but real GPUs (graphics processing units) just keep getting more important.” Although there is little doubt that Intel’s chips will, as always, be widely used.

Legalisation of Cannabis

Once again this hotly disputed topic is in the news. Speaking at the British Science Festival in September Roger Pertwee (Professor of Neuropharmacology at Aberdeen University) said that “In my view, we don’t have an ideal solution yet to deal with recreational cannabis. We should consider licensing and marketing cannabis and cannabis products just as we do alcohol and tobacco. At the moment, cannabis is in the hands of criminals, and that’s crazy. We’re allowed to take alcohol, we’re allowed to smoke cigarettes. Cannabis, if it’s handled properly, is probably not going to be any more dangerous than that.”

Once again this topic has been opened up with a movement towards legalisation in order that cannabis production can be regulated. It would then be available with a doctor’s prescription from vendors with a special licence. This does bring to mind a certain South Park episode where Stan’s dad microwaves his balls in order to get cancer and a prescription from cannabis as a therapeutic drug. Hopefully, not everyone will take such drastic measures to get their hands on a doctor’s note.

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