A One-Word Revolution

Bruce Rayner, Contributing Editor, Enterprise Efficiency OEM | 3/16/2012 | 15 comments

Bruce Rayner
Remember back in grade school when you learned the story of Alexander Graham Bell and the invention of the telephone? The tale goes that on March 10, 1876, Bell spoke nine words into the precursor to the telephone that changed the world: "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you." Two floors below in the cellar of the building, Mr. Watson heard him, and today we find ourselves inseparable from the powerful mobile communication devices we quaintly call "cellphones."

This week, it was reported that a similar message was sent and received. But instead of using a wire, the message was sent via a beam of neutrinos. The message simply said, "Neutrino."

According to a press release issued Wednesday, a research team led by scientists from the University of Rochester and North Carolina State University sent a beam of the nearly massless particles through nearly 800 feet of stone.

This communication system was a bit more complicated than Bell's, since it required the use of the Fermi National Accelerator Lab just outside Chicago, as well as a multiton detector called MINERvA, located in a cavern more than 300 feet underground. The Fermilab particle accelerator, one of the world's most powerful, created the beam of neutrinos by accelerating protons around a 2.5-mile-circumference track and colliding them with a carbon target.

This was a profoundly important moment in applied science. It proves that communicating between any two points on Earth is possible without satellites or cables, according to Dan Stancil, professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and the lead author of the paper describing the research. "Neutrino communication systems would be much more complicated than today's systems, but may have strategic uses," Stancil said in the release.

Of course, we won't have neutrino-powered cellphones anytime soon. But the "strategic uses" mean government (likely military) funding will be available for continuing the research. One of the applications Stancil cited was long-distance submarine communications through water, which is not possible with today's technology. Another is space communication -- for instance, sending and receiving messages from the far side of the moon or deep space.

All this speculation might seem farfetched and easy to dismiss. And neutrino-based communications might end up being a flash in the pan. But think of it in the context of the role that disruptive technologies play in the evolution of businesses and the birth and death of industries. Henry Ford put buggy makers out of business with a new model for transportation. Today, technological developments in sensors and computing are making possible autonomous vehicles that may revolutionize transportation again.

And consider the speed at which these disruptions occur. Starting with the founding of Bell Labs in 1889, it took 136 years to go from Bell's invention to the smartphone. That's four generations, going back to your great-grandparents. If anything, the pace of technological disruption is accelerating. The Internet was commercialized in the mid-1990s, and it's hard to recall what life was like before those three little Ws. Facebook will go public soon with an anticipated market capitalization of a few billion dollars. Who saw that coming a decade ago?

CIOs and communications OEMs around the world, take note of the disruptive word of the week: neutrino.

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kstaron   A One-Word Revolution   3/21/2012 2:47:30 PM
how does this work?
I'd be interested to know how this works, especially through differing media such as space, vs, water, vs, a multitude of surfaces in downtown Atlanta..., The very idea is blowing my mind a little. My kids may be spending their teens on neutrino phones. Very Star Trek. I wonder how this worked?
Bruce Rayner   A One-Word Revolution   3/20/2012 1:39:35 PM
Re: Whispering Gallery
@Kicheko - I recall many years ago when on a tour of the Capitol building in Washington DC being given a demonstration of the whispering gallery in the Statuary Hall. Amazing. 

But neutrinos are even more amazing.

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Bruce Rayner   A One-Word Revolution   3/20/2012 12:42:54 PM
Re: One word
@inpactnow - in the shortrun the impact will be within the scientific research community. Real-world applications are probably years away. But if I were to speculate, I'd say the first place you'll see applications will no doubt be in DoD "black" projects or space-based applications. 
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impactnow   A One-Word Revolution   3/20/2012 11:35:17 AM
One word

Bruce very interesting where do you see it making the most impact in the short term?

geeky   A One-Word Revolution   3/19/2012 10:42:50 AM
Re: A One-Word Revolution
It is facinating and imagine the possibilities it can provide for other important sevices.
kicheko   A One-Word Revolution   3/19/2012 4:19:13 AM
Whispering Gallery
This story reminds me the story of the whispering gallery. The phenomenon where a person standing at a corner of the building and another standing at a different corner far away, can whisper and hear each other. The Grand Central Building is said to have the whispering gallery, and so does ST. Pauls church in London. Its amazing that someone even discovered that..
tekedge   A One-Word Revolution   3/17/2012 8:00:23 PM
A One-Word Revolution
It is just mind boggling that we can send nearly weightless particles at the speed of light through 800 feet of rock, and the uses for this are endless.
WaqasAltaf   A One-Word Revolution   3/17/2012 10:48:57 AM
Revolution at the backend ?
Considering the pace at which revolutions are taking place esp in the communications industry, we might see Neutrino for home-use as well and sooner than we think. All technologies at the time of invention are restricted to govts, militiaries and corporations but their usage trickles down to common man if they have potential of improving lifestyles. Though I am not very good at applied science but I see this revolution at the backend of communication systems which means that the upfront devices would remain the same. Please correct me if I am wrong.  
Henrisha   A One-Word Revolution   3/16/2012 11:45:36 PM
Re: Amazing how far we've come, and how far we have yet to go
@David, I remember reading about the same thing earlier (about neutrinos being faster than light), but it was a faulty experiment because of bad wiring: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17139635

So technically, all the laws of Physics are still safe. The concept of truly wireless communications is interesting, though. Just wondering what side effects this technology might have, though.
Bruce Rayner   A One-Word Revolution   3/16/2012 5:37:47 PM
Re: Amazing how far we've come, and how far we have yet to go
Curtis - You're right - its the straight-line path that neutrinos take that appeals to the Navy for the submarine communications, for example, and NASA for communicating with space stations on the other side of the moon. You can communicate straight through objects the size of planets (in theory).


As for the speed of C (I'm assuming you mean light, as in E=MC2) I'm pretty sure they have determined that the calculation was faulty regarding the claim earlier that neutrinos could travel faster than C. 

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