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Asking uncomfortable questions

varning – det inlägg är off-topic – läser du på egen risk

Yesterday I hopped over to one of the regular weekly PhD Tea meetings at the physics department of Sofia university. These are informal meetings run by the some of the nicest PhD students from the physics and (sometimes) chemistry/biology departments, so I typically try to pay a visit on some rare occasions when I'm there. Anyway, the topic of yesterday's talk was about molecular switching devices that could potentially replace CMOS one day. The presentation was executed in a superb fashion – probably one of the best appearances in Bulgarian I've listened to in the recent years. This together with the super exciting topic made me write a bit more about the devices, but an odd experience at the after-talk tea leads to this which I think is more important. I also hope this doesn't turn the blog into a philosophic one. Hardcore electronics on the way, I promise!

Let me give you a brief intro: I was super excited throughout most of the talk, even though I soon realized that the presented devices are way ahead (or behind?) of our time and it is likely that we won't see such replacing CMOS anytime soon. The focus of the presentation was on Tautomer-based switches. These organic compounds act as color filters which change their transmission peak between two different wavelengths (blue - red) when the acidity level (PH) of the environment they're residing is altered. It also turns out that this process is irreversible which is a topic of further investigation by the group.

I see more hope for such devices in color filter or bio-sensor applications rather than anything close to CMOS or electronics as it was presented. When I asked what the input stimulus to this device is and how could it be interfaced with an electric signal I got some bad looks from most of the (otherwise really friendly) people in the room i.e. why is that idiot asking this now?. I also asked how is it that an ogranic molecule could be faster than a few atom (7nm) Si transistor, whose switching effects occur on crystal rather than molecular levels? Ah well, it seems like asking such critical questions can bring you into trouble. I thought we're all seeking the truth in this room, but it turns out not really. Everyone else tried to compensate the discussion by asking nicely irrelevant questions about micromachines and whatnot, except for a few people who had a clue of what's going on but never dared to say anything.

Although, I was trying to be super friendly at this point, stressing that the answer doesn't really matter and most likely there's plenty of other exciting applications, I just felt like the bad work-bashing foreigner there, ah ah nobody can understand my thoughts... All of that reminded me of a quick rant by Derek Muller on the nature of asking uncomfortable questions. Let me finish off with that one:

People, if someone is asking quastions straight to the point, that doesn't really mean that they're being nasty and/or find no merit in your work. Please, shape up!

Date:Thu Apr 08 08:17:39 GMT 2017


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