Silicon Bay

16 Feb

If any single person dominated the industrial life of the Bay area, it was the president and main stockholder of Silicorp, Zork Nastin. His company was the pioneer in silicon-based electronics and computers, continually opening up new frontiers where its competitors were compelled to follow.

Zork’s chief scientific advisor and technical expert was Dr. Mlad Stora, in charge of laboratory research and the development of new products that never failed to revolutionize Silicon Bay, over and over.

Towering, athletic Zork always greeted his old chum with the same words: “What do you have that can set the Bay on fire again?” The pair never tired of exploring for fresh, innovative breakthroughs. It was a game neither of them ever tired of.

They enjoyed sitting alone, just the two of them, on the sun roof of the silicon carbide office building of Silicorp, looking out over the waters and coast of the world-famous bay from which technological marvels emerged that enchanted and conquered the planet.

Short, spare Mlad took the chaise next to his friend and turned his happy violet velvet eyes upon him. “Nano-particle car batteries are now the number one energy producer for highway and city traffic,” announced the scientist. “Automobile bodies are already made of silicon, and so are their power sources for the most part.”

Zork drew a deep breath and sighed. “I realize that we are making strides forward and should be very happy with all our progress. But never forget, Mlad, that we are in fierce, endless competition, mainly against Dubsilic Corp. and its devil of an owner, Mr. Gimst Dubel. He never sleeps, it seems, because he is plotting against our company day and night. Just as his father carried on a war against my father, so the son has infinite hatred and jealousy toward me and Silicorp.

“That constant rivalry and conflict is something I cannot forget. My mind is always watching for what this enemy of ours will try to do next.”

A mental cloud seemed to fall over the pair as they became silent and thoughtful.

Gimst Dubel was a swarthy, gargantuan figure with coal-black hair and eyes. He summoned his team of top staff and researchers to his secret conference room and revealed his thinking and plans to them.

“I blame myself for allowing Silcorp to get the jump on us in the area of silicon-based lithium-ion batteries for road vehicles. That must never happen again, or else it will sink Dubsilic completely. So, I am ordering our scientific personnel to focus on and give first priority to the development and perfection of monocrystaline silicon sheets and wafers of a two-dimensional thickness. It is plain what we will be aiming for: the first effective quantum computer. It will have speed and capacities an infinity beyond what exists in today’s technology, and must be created by Dubsilic and no other firm here in Silicon Bay.”

Gimst grinned in a grimly sardonic manner, almost forgetting that the staff members were present. “That will be the final victory over the upstarts at Silicorp who have plagued my father and now me for so many years. The future of silicon shall be ours, not theirs.”

Mlad came to sense the need for a quantum physicist to advise him on the direction that the research campaign he headed should be taking.

“I have to go to the University of Silicon Bay to find someone to act as our technical consultant on the matter of exploiting electron spin for the purpose of quantum memory and data processing,” he told the head of Silicorp.

“You look into the faculty and identify who it is that can be of most help to us,” agree Zork Nastin. “We will sign up that person with a contract as soon as possible.”

Mlad looked through sources and asked questions at the shoreside campus, at last settling on the name of Professor Jia Knom, a renowned specialist in the area of quantum theory. He went directly into her office and announced who he was to her secretary. The physicist happened to be reading in her private backroom and was able to see and talk with her visitor from Silicorp.

Once he was seated in her book-cluttered inner office, Mlad described the initiative that his company was beginning in order to make the quantum computer practical, usable, and economical. Would she be willing to act as advisor to the program, with a stipend for her included in their agreement?

He smiled and gazed at the circular face and long, black hair of the physicist. What was her answer going to be? he nervously wondered.

“Yes, I would be happy to work with you,” she said with an enigmatic grin and a sparkle in her diamond-like eyes.

Mlad thanked her and promised to send her a contract to sign. Then he rose, shook her hand, and departed, not knowing that Professor Knom had neglected to tell him an important fact about her personal family history and relationships, not realizing what their significance might be for the mission she had just accepted from Mlad Stora and Silicorp.

Jia became a most conscientious advisor on quantum computing to Mlad and his corporation, and the two scientists saw each other more and more often, to the extent of having lunch together each day. Eventually, they added a late dinner at the end of the busy day.

“What do you think the chances are of Silicorp coming up with an effective quantum universal computer in the near future, my friend?” she asked the corporate head of research after several months of meeting and seeing each other.

Mlad gave her a bemused little smile. “It’s anybody’s guess, because a lot will depend upon our good luck and sheer chance. That’s the way it always is in the evolution of a new technology. No one can predict with accuracy what the final, successful solution is going to be.

“Look, for instance, at the predictions that have been made in print about the eventual form of the quantum computer that prevails. Some authorities think it will operate on nuclear magnetic resonance using liquids and gels. Others hold that the center feature will be diamond forms with centers filled with nitrogen. And I have come across accounts that bank upon optical lattices operated by laser. All sorts of ideas about the final method to be used exist, because nothing has been permanently settled yet.”

“What do you and your staff at Silicorp believe it will be?” she asked him, staring into his violet eyes with their velvet texture.

Mlad gave a single chuckle. “Since I work for a silicon chip maker and we are located on Silicon Bay, I have to bet my money on some form of two-dimensional silicon, probably monocrystaline and only one atom in thickness.”

The pair laughed and finished their meal in a seafood restaurant.

Zork Nastin could no longer delay the decision on where to focus company resources and personnel.

He called Mlad to his office to make his first announcement of the pivotal choice on what to attempt. Once both men were settled, the president revealed where the corporation was going to be headed.

“I have come to the conclusion that the best course for us to take is with monocrystaline silicon chips with only two dimensions to them. It has the best chance of being successful. And since we have the experience necessary for working in silicon, no major technical problems should face us.

“The only remaining questions are on the computing side, and my hope is that Dr. Knom has cleared up many topics for us in that area. How has she impressed you, Mlad?”

The latter grinned. “She is a brilliant physicist and mathematician. Her advice on quantum questions has been marvelously informed, I must admit. My contact with her has given me great confidence that the quantum universal computer based on electron spin is in sight and will very shortly be realized in fact.”

Zork gave him a trenchant look. “Yes, I have the impression that this physicist has had quite an influence on you, my friend.”

Professor Jia Knom was surprised at the wave-phone call she received one afternoon. It was from her godfather, whom she had not seen or heard from in many years.

“Jia, how are you, my girl? I haven’t talked with you for a long time now. The days and years go by so fast! Of course, I have been a busy man, and you are always hard at work at the University. What kind of things are you involved with at present?”

“Godfather Dubel, it is so good to be hearing from you. Yes, we have not seen each other or spoken since I don’t know when. I am a busy person, teaching classes and writing theory papers. You must be occupied all the time running your big company. How are things going for you?”

“I am in good health for my age, and hope that you are well, dear Jia. The reason that I called today is because as president of Dubsilic I have to choose a guest speaker for our annual corporate shareholders meeting, and I thought of you as a potential candidate for the honor. We are having it a week from today and have no one chosen yet. Would you be willing to give us a talk on any topic that you think would be of general interest to ordinary shareholders in the company?”

Jia did not hesitate for a moment, but quickly accepted the invitation.

“And could we have dinner tonight to talk over your appearance and all that has happened to us in recent years, my dear?”

Once again, Jia gave her consent.

She had no way of knowing what her godfather was after from her.

The gourmet restaurant was situated on a picturesque cliff overlooking the clear, placid waters of Silicon Bay. Both diners chose ocean tortuga as their main dish and finished it with gusto and satisfaction.

Gimst began to describe what he was engaged in at Dubsilic.

“I believe that in the very near future there will be spectacular breakthroughs in developing the quantum computer that everyone in the business has been dreaming of. Our research has indicated several paths that have the potential of reaching that goal, and I am at present weighing and comparing them with each other, Jia.”

The latter took a bite from her avocado salad. “That is most interesting, because I have learned that Silicorp is itself attempting the very same thing.”

Gimst laughed. “Indeed, I have heard on the grapevine that you were hired by them as an informal consultant on electron spin matters. That must have been most interesting for you. They have a formidable crew of researchers and silicon experts on their staff.” He looked at her expectantly, waiting for his goddaughter to tell him more.

“They are still in the decision-making stage, the same as you,” Jia remarked. “But their research chief, Dr. Mlad Stora, favors two-dimensional silicon sheets as the mainstay of quantum computing. That is the impression that I get from him in the conversations that we have had.

“I have my doubts, though. Another, superior system of memory and data processing may have to be adopted in the final analysis.

“I think that I would give your company, Godfather, the exact same advice if I were asked. There are reasons for taking a new, different road when it comes to nano-technology at the subatomic level. The final successful material may end up being something no one thinks of using today.

“But that is only my own, individual opinion on the subject,” she pleasantly smiled.

Gimst smiled back at her and the dinner slowly came to an end.

Mlad made a positive report on laboratory progress to his superior, the president of Silicorp.

“I believe that we have found a method of making pure silicon into a two-dimensional substance with new, unique conducting properties. The name chosen for this nano-material is silicene. It can be formed into a hexagonal honeycomb that resembles the graphene made out of pure carbon in two-dimensional form. But it is much smoother, and does not cluster together like graphene does.

“This silicene is not completely planar, but contains many surface ripples. We have tested it for many purposes and discovered that it is has excellent storage characteristics for electrical energy. I myself hope that it can be utilized in improved lithium ion batteries for transportation and photo-voltaic functions.

“But its main promise for us is as the central factor in the economical quantum computer. That is what I am now concentrating on. My dream is that this will solve all the possible problems.”

“That sounds promising,” remarked Zork Nastin. “Go forward at full steam, so that we have this silicene material in hand fast.”

When Mlad next saw Jia for a technical consultation, he was unable to be silent about the great laboratory achievement that he and his staff had scored.

“I believe that we have what we need,” he gushed to her. “It was a hard, long slog, but our company now has the basic building block for construction of a practical operating quantum computer. And your calculations of the subatomic spin at the quantum logic gates will be the plan that we follow. The sequence of the silicone components will be the one that you have mapped out for us, Jia.”

The latter was so overwhelmed that she turned nearly breathless.

“The algorithm that I devised will work as effective quantum gates, I pray,” she said, suddenly frowning. “Their proof will lie in how they actually operate when the computer is built.”

President Gimst Dubel was busy working in his corporate office when a wave-phone call came to him from his goddaughter, Jia.

They exchanged greetings and asked each other how the other was feeling, but then the physicist proceeded to the main reason for her calling him.

“I have thought a lot about the advice that I gave to Dr. Stora at Silicorp. He accepted all my calculations and algorithms, but turned down my number one recommendation.”

“What was that?” inquired Gimst with eager curiosity.

“I told him to avoid silicon, that there are other candidate materials that would be even better conductors, completely free of resistance.

“But that corporation intends to stick with silicon, even when converted into two-dimensional nano-sheets. Of course, I am by no means any kind of chemist, but I judged myself competent to give such a warning and make such a proposal to him.

“But it was turned down, and they are proceeding with a quantum computer that is made from silicone.”

“Thank you for telling me this, my dear. I will take it under consideration. What you say is profoundly interesting to me. Thank you.”

He closed his receiver and went back to work, uncertain what to do about what he had just learned from Jia.

Scientists often hold that they are ready to change their ideas and approaches when surprisingly new evidence surfaces, but in actual practice those who prove capable of a change in direction are very few. Do I have enough backbone to revise thought and action? Mlad asked himself when an unexpected research report came to him from his material researchers.

They had been testing the conductivity and stability of many different rare metals for a considerable length of time, and the results on one particular element had taken long and had been frequently delayed.

But now the comparisons with nano-silicon and silicone in two-dimensional sheets were possible. The conclusions were earth-shaking and completely unexpected.

Mlad had difficulty believing what the report said, but he realized that he had to swallow it and revise his entire perspective on quantum computing.

The research had carried out hundreds of tests on a nano-thin version of tin. The name given to it was stanene, and it had been proven to possess 100% electric efficiency as a conductor. It qualified to be labeled a super-material. There was no dissipation of energy whatever associated with this two-dimensional version of tin. There was an absolutely free flow of electrons using it. Use of stanene promised to eliminate all possibilities of interference from inside or outside a quantum computer based on this metal. It would provide perfect connections of all components in a series. This was what research had for a long time searched for.

His brow covered with nervous perspiration, Mlad picked up his wave-phone and pushed the button that would connect him with Zork Nastin.

The president of Silicorp, after long discussion, decided to follow the judgment of his chief of research.

The corporation pivoted away from a silicone quantum system to one based on two-dimensional tin, now known as stanene.

Zork Nastin forgot about his initial stubborn resistance and convinced himself that he had been a willing pioneer along with Mlad.

Jia was not informed of this change in technical plans, although she had been the one to indicate frustration with the use of silicon and a desire for a superior substitute.

Her godfather, the president of Dubsilic, remained in the road he had taken that depended upon two-dimensional silicon.

He had ignored the warning sounded to him by his goddaughter and continued to compete with Silicorp with a silicon quantum computer that his competitors had dropped.

Final victory went to a contender off on the side, one called stanene.


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