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Graham Bell
Graham Bell
Graham is VP of Marketing at Real Intent. He has over 20 years experience in the design automation industry. He has founded startups, brought Nassda to an IPO and previously was Sales and Marketing Director at Internet Business Systems, a web portal company. Graham has a Bachelor of Computer … More »

The Times They are a-Changin': Gravity Waves, Moore’s Law, and Record Basketball

February 11th, 2016 by Graham Bell

Big changes happened this week.

First, gravity waves have been detected for the first time in an announcement on Feb. 11.  This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos. Physicists have concluded that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.

The gravitational waves were detected by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, USA. The LIGO Observatories  were conceived, built, and are operated by Caltech and MIT.

Last March, researchers completed major upgrades to the interferometers, known as Advanced LIGO, increasing the instruments’ sensitivity and enabling them to detect a change in the length of each arm, smaller than one-ten-thousandth the diameter of a proton(!). By September, they were ready to start new observations and then saw the black hole merger.

Physicists are understandably excited:

‘We are really witnessing the opening of a new tool for doing astronomy,’ MIT astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala said in an interview. ‘We have turned on a new sense. We have been able to see and now we will be able to hear as well.’

‘This is the holy grail of science,’ said Rochester Institute of Technology astrophysicist Carlos Lousto. ‘The last time anything like this happened was in 1888 when Heinrich Hertz detected the radio waves that had been predicted by James Clerk Maxwell’s field-equations of electromagnetism in 1865,’ added Durham University physicist Tom McLeish.

Second, the current issue of Nature discusses the demise of Moore’s law. Next month, the worldwide semiconductor industry will formally acknowledge what has become increasingly obvious to everyone involved: Moore’s law, the principle that has powered the information-technology revolution since the 1960s, is nearing its end.

Chip development is complicated. If you don’t have all of the technology, equipment and processes in place you cannot move to a smaller node. The US semiconductor industry launched a roadmap effort in 1991, with hundreds of engineers from various companies working on the first report and its subsequent iterations. In 1998, the effort became the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, with participation from industry associations in Europe, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

Every time the scale is halved, manufacturers need a whole new generation of ever more precise photolithography machines. Building a new fab line today requires an investment typically measured in many billions of dollars — something only a handful of companies can afford. And the fragmentation of the market triggered by mobile devices is making it harder to recoup that money. “As soon as the cost per transistor at the next node exceeds the existing cost, the scaling stops,” says Bill Bottoms, president of Third Millennium Test Solutions, an equipment manufacturer in Santa Clara. Many observers think that the industry is perilously close to that point already. “My bet is that we run out of money before we run out of physics,” says Daniel Reed, a computer scientist and vice-president for research at the University of Iowa.

With this sea-change, this year’s report, in keeping with its new approach, will be called the International Roadmap for Devices and Systems.

Third, the Golden State Warriors NBA basketball team were the first ever to reach the mid-season All-Star break, with a record of 48 wins and only 4 losses.  If they keep up this pace, they will hold the new record for most wins of any team from any era in the NBA.  Go Warriors!

We give the final word to Bob Dylan and his song The Times They are a-Changin’.  It was recorded in 1964, one year before the inception of Moore’s law.

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