Florida Tech’s Research Future Highlighted in After Hours Event

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In the first 60 years of Florida Tech’s history, the school has made many advances in aerospace and physics research, as well as biomedical, computer and ocean engineering. As the university celebrates the anniversary of its 1958 founding, a handful of faculty members gathered at Evans Library recently to offer forecasts and predictions on what the next 40 years will bring.

Steven Lazarus, professor of ocean engineering and sciences, discussed, “Publishing in the future under the paradigm of interactive notebooks and open data.” Lazarus spoke on the changing paradigm of the changing paper: For centuries, research has been published in a traditional, static method through research papers. Lazarus sees a transformation through digital notebooks from companies such as Jupyter.

“The web browser interface is awesome and dynamic. You can tell a story. It’s interactive,” he said. “Maybe in 40 years the scientific paper will be a different beast, finally, after 400 years.”

Keith Gallagher, associate professor of computer engineering and sciences, offered, “What will tomorrow’s errors look like? Are we safe from ourselves?” With software there are error recovery programs – a backup that can bring the entire program up to speed. However, with organization process to fix mistakes, human error can lead to character flaws in fixing the software.

“I think of the guy at the workstation, but it was a breakdown of that process, and that’s going to continue to happen because we’re humans,” Gallagher said. “I think the errors we’re going to make in 40 years are the same ones we’re making now.”

Joel Olson, associate professor of biomedical and chemical engineering and sciences, spoke about, “Moore’s Law and the Evolution of Computing Power and Nanotechnology in Medicine and Genetics Technologies (i.e. CRISPR).”

Moore’s Law was a 1965 observation from Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit chip doubles every year while the costs are halved. With that generally holding true, some are now predicting we are on the threshold of a fundamental size limit for computer processors.

“In theory, the smallest we could make a transistor-type device is about one nanometer in dimension, because if you go smaller than that, the electrons themselves can hop over whatever gap you have because their position is vague and spread out,” Olson said.

For nanotechnology for medical use, one example Olson referred to was taking gold nanoparticles and chemically tethering them to compounds that will activate receptor sites in a cancer tumor. With the tumor saturated with the nanoparticles, the pieces can be tuned with light that will heat up and kill the tumor cells.

Genetic technologies, specifically CRISPR, utilizes virus-like activity to insert generic code into existing cells, allowing for a level of direct control previously unseen. The coding has the potential to be a big step in the fight against cancer, by altering the code so the cells affected no longer carry the disease.

“Previously if you wanted some sort of genetic code, it had to exist already, but with these new CRISPR technologies, you can put whatever code you want into cells,” Olson said.

Hamid Rassoul, Distinguished University Professor of Aerospace, Physics and Space Sciences, discussed, “What is the Likely Future of Physics and Space, Specifically ‘Astroparticles,’ Extra Dimensions and Their Potential Impacts by 2058?” Rassoul addressed some of the currently unresolved turning-point questions in science, with a focus on promising avenues in our understanding of the nature of matter and energy, as well as needed technological advancements to investigate them.

Rassoul sees the future of astroparticles, a subatomic particle of a cosmic origin, relying heavily on three principles: The discovery of dark matter and measurement of its properties, understanding the asymmetry of particles and antiparticles, and understanding of quantum gravity and its implications in black holes.

Rassoul believes to better understand these properties, we may need new accelerators, quantum computers and superconducting magnets that could analyze particle physics energy past the current 13 teraelectron limit. With projects being discussed in Europe at CERN, which operates the Large Hadron Collider, and in China, Rassoul is optimistic about the future of these efforts.

“These projects would take 20 years to be designed and constructed and another 20 years to run and analyze the data, so it is feasible to think 40 years from now, we may know the answers to these fundamental questions,” he said.

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