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Quantum Dots: From Theory to Gadget

The purpose of this blog is to explore the marvels of human creativity from discovery to invention, travelling through abstractions and orders of magnitude from quantum to cosmos. This inaugural post focuses on the overlap between physical science, engineering and technology, and the impact of the quantum world on everyday technology.

We live in a world where technology advances at an ever increasing rate, with a new revolution lurking at every corner. This technological progress often comes coupled with an expansion of the understanding of the principles that rule the universe we live in. The 20th century brought us one of the greatest advancements in scientific history, the Quantum revolution challenged many of the preconceptions of classical physics and brought us closer to understanding the workings of the subatomic world. This schism in physical science produced ripples that propagated throughout all fields of human knowledge. Thus, quantum physics paired with the new developments it triggered in the understanding of the behaviour of materials, semiconductors in particular, and channeled by the spark of human creativity, opened the floodgates for the unprecedented stream of innovations in the field of electronics that changed our lives forever. This technological revolution was spearheaded by the invention of the transistor (1947), which allowed us to move past the bulky, unreliable and inefficient vacuum tubes and boost the development of the complex, reliable, portable, consumer-oriented and increasingly powerful technologies we use nowadays (cell phones, personal computers, pacemakers, etc.).

We might be witnessing another big leap in electronics fueled by our knowledge of the quantum world, the emergence of the quantum dot. As everything quantum, a quantum dot’s reduced size is the source of its power. Their size ranges between 2 and 10 nanometers, which translates in about 10 to 50 atoms. This confers the device the power of controlling single electrons, a level of detail that a transistor is not able of achieving. This property allows for a universe of possibilities for the enhancement of technologies we use in our everyday life.

A quantum dot emits light whose color is defined by its size. Smaller sizes tend to the bluer side of the color spectrum (more energy). Conversely, larger dots tend to the red side of the spectrum (less energy). This allows for very precise color tuning which other light-emitting technologies currently used (LEDs) don’t posses. The use of quantum dots in LCD screens has allowed for displays with more precise colors and wider color ranges. Another big advantage quantum dots provide is lower power consumption. This is particularly beneficial for portable device screens as they represent the first source of battery life exhaustion. It is no coincidence that companies such as Amazon (Kindle Fire HDX) and Sony (Triluminos TVs) have been implementing LCD displays with quantum dots. It is rumored thatApple might use this technology in the upcoming iPhone 6.

Unleashing the human potential

On Econoception

How do we actually unleash the genius within each person?

First we need to recognise (and trust) that every person is special and has his or her own unique talents and abilities. Yet, how many of us have seen teachers who have gave students the disapproving shake of the head, or have heard parents tell their children that they will amount to nothing if they do not get good grades in school?

Having a system is not enough, it must come with people who truly believe in it.

It is very important that the education system is designed to promote a diversity of talents and recognise each child's unique ability. For example, by having a wide range of subjects for students to choose from and different educational paths for students with different interests and aptitude.

Still, the results we achieve ultimately boils down to the quality of educators implementing the system. Teachers need to believe that every student is capable of great things, even if it is not in the subject area that they are teaching. Teachers are not just there to teach their own subjects, they are there to be a role model for the students and to provide advice on handling problems life may throw at every student.

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