Tuesday, July 03, 2007

This is how the modern world ends.

(pic courtesy of Jay Brusse/Henning Leidecker at NASA)

All manner of freaks and lunatics have been claiming the end of the world for quite a while now. Apocalyptic visions, natural disasters, disease, etc. The whole four horsemen scenario in gory technicolor with 3D Lucas DTS™ Sound.

In reality, the end will be much more subtle and is already upon us. I'm not talking about goofy biblical predictions, Nostradamus, or any of that nonsense. No, I'm not talking about some super computer virus or worm -- that sort of thing we can deal with.

What I'm talking about is something so fundamental that it rocks the foundations of how we understand metals. What I'm talking about is a kind of "metallurgical disease" that is infesting and wreaking havoc on all of our modern systems from GPS satellites to ordinary PC's to heart pacemakers.

Think about metal for a moment. The modern world, and its electronic and power infrastructure, depends heavily on the exploitation of various metals to build our technology transmit power, and construct all the myriad controls, computers, airplanes, etc we rely on.

Some metals appear to not be as well understood as we thought. They're not the inert lumps of metal stuff we imagined them to be. Some critical metals appear to behave almost like living organisms sometimes. They move around, they do things previously considered very "un-metal" like. They grow "whiskers". Whiskers that can conduct electricity, break off and raise havoc in electrical systems as they float around, or grow to a length where they short out components.

Check this shit out! (links to NASA)

Satellites disabled.
Computer centers crashed.
Military systems failing.
Medical systems failing.
A nuclear reactor shutdown.

All due to these metal "whiskers" -- which NOBODY understands the dynamics of. To date, we can't explain why this phenomenon happens.

More here(gold whiskers), here(zinc whiskers), blown apart avionics relays, failed circuit breakers, electric utility failure, NASA video of impact on space shuttle, and Australian Tax Office data center crashed.

So this is how it will all end - not with a bang, but with a whisker.

BTW, the Eurpoean Union recently banned lead based solders, so heavily tin based stuff will be mandated for anything to be used in Europe. Expect a wave of electronics failures in Europe in the next few years. California has also foolishly legislated against lead solders and will be cranking out problem products very soon as well.

Nano tech? DOA baby, DOA until this whisker issue is understood and beaten.


mesablue said...

That's pretty freaking weird.

Interesting stuff, though.

Dinah Lord said...

Hmmm. Very interesting, indeed.

DirtCrashr said...

Sounds like some kind of oxidization process, maybe alloys of dissimilar content "reflexively" de-alloying?
We're screwed here in CA anyhow! ;-)

Purple Avenger said...

Not oxidization - the whiskers appear to be a single long metal crystal that grows.

Internal stress seems to be a factor - you can squeeze stuff in a press and accelerate their growth considerably.

The process seems to have three stages - incubation, where nothing happens, then rapid growth, then growth tapers off to almost nothing. What parameters trigger these stages are not well understood.

Mr Minority said...

That is as freaky as those fibers that have been known to grow out of lesions on people's arms.

Yep, definitely end times.

DirtCrashr said...

Maybe that explains why we grow weird and crusty hair out of strange places when we get older - internal stresses! It could explain Nancy Pelosi to a certain extent anyhow - more botox! :-)

Ymarsakar said...

I actually think they might learn some stuff for nanotech from this. If they can use a biological or biological simulating process, R and D on nanotech should be cut down in length.