Learning Is Good For You: Bizarre Quantum Tunneling

Most people have heard this trivia question: What were the first words spoken over a telephone? "Mr.Watson I need you". But, do you know what the first Faster-Than-Light transmission of information was? It was a piece of Mozart's 40th symphony transmitted through a 4.5 inch barrier (11.4 cm), at 4.7 times the speed of light. It was a FM microwave signal (a? an? is it "an" FM? hrm...), and the received signal came out as music. The information did not actually traverse the distance through the barrier, it appeared on the other side.

Did you know that these strange and exotic properties of quantum physics are utilized by many everyday electronic gadgets all around you? Your little flash-memory thumb-drive uses quantum tunneling to erase the stored information. Hard-disk drives use it. Even the simplest and most primitive bits of electronic hardware would not work without quantum tunneling. Your light switches would not work if electrons could not quantum tunnel through the layer of oxidation on the metal contact surfaces. Quantum tunneling has already been applied with the use of polymer nano-material hybrids, to create 3d touch-screens that you will be seeing on all new cell-phones. Your touch-screen will be depth sensitive, as opposed to just the flat 2D sensitive touch-screens that you see now. They'll be pressure sensitive, with practically inconceivable levels of accuracy. Imagine a gap/barrier between two conductors, the closer the two conductors are to each other, the higher the probability of a particle (an electron) magically disappearing and reappearing on the other side of the obstacle. It's so sensitive that for every 1/10th of one nanometer of change in distance between the conductors, there is an order of magnitude (a factor of 10) change in the gap's "resistance". The material can act like an insulator at rest, with a 10^12 (a million million) ohm resistance, or it can behave like a metal with a 1 ohm resistance (equivalent resistance, as the electrons are not actually being resisted).
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