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Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Here's my theory about certain theorists:

The word theory shares the same root as theology. When a scientist tenaciously hangs on to a theory well past its utility he has become theocrazed; hence the term theocracy to describe the self-delusional group-think that he and his followers may acquire.

As far as theory goes, I admit the previous paragraph is the scientific equivalent to iambic pentameter. However, I really would like to understand how the mind can get stuck in clearly debunked or misguided scientific trains of thought. From abiotic oil to perpetual motion, the energy field certainly has its shares of silliness. After fully digesting last week's article by the perpetual venture motionists Huber and Mills, I have to wonder when and where the foolishness and gullibility will end.

My only real educational experience of an academic who tenaciously held a wild theory occurred during grad school. Prof. Nussbaum did research in the theory behind heterojunction band alignment, crucial to the field of nanotechnologysarcasm. Nussbaum essentially tried to make sense of the physics by applying simplistic energy balance and field continuity arguments to a generalized semiconductor heterojunction.

Frensley provides a set of review slides to the field here.

It's likely even more complicated than that. Semiconductor materials don't normally like to be stuck together; interface states, traps, strain all add imperfections that could affect the alignment in the real world. One of Nussbaum's main opponents was Prof. Herb Kroemer of UC-Santa Barbara, who eventually received a 2000 Nobel Physics Laureate (bio) for his work on heterojunctions.

All of us students taking the class knew that Nussbaum did not match up well against Kroemer (to use a sports analogy). I was doing weird experiments on growing the structures at the time, and Kroemer was already considered god-like in the field (I have a hazy recollection of meeting Kroemer but do strongly recall his German accent from various talks of his). Even more sad, Nussbaum's own graduate students didn't seem to have the drive of other students.

I would have been a little more harsh in my appraisal of Nussbaum if I hadn't learned that the emeritus professor recently died at the age of 85. RIP. His pet theory likely went with him.

Or did it? One of Nussbaum's grad students was a young Turk named Hilmi Unlu. I don't recall if he finished his research with Nussbaum or not, but a quick Google search shows that this fellow is still working his thesis and applying it to GaN heterojunctions.

And to show that everything is connected, the vulture capitalists Huber and Mills company Digital Power Capital have put up extra seed money in a GaN manufacturer. That's the thing about theorists, they might get it horribly wrong, but as far as their instincts on where the money lies, they can get it dead to rights. The carrion of discredited theories still tastes good to these vultures.

"I'm exercising quite hard these days, and I get up very early. And so the book has become somewhat of a sedative.." George W. Bush talking with Brian Lamb


Professor Anonymous Jonah Greig said...

I hope you are well!

5:22 AM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

Still breathing, thank you.

11:49 AM  

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