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Shifts in space and time… November 20, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in Uncategorized.

Or at least their units.

I think the most mind boggling thing that I am doing right now is simply the mental shift I make every day when I get home from work.

Most of you know that my ‘day job’ is working part-time as an electrical engineer while I am also working on my PhD project. Allow me to get more specific. The engineering aspect of my job is (in part) helping to design and electrically model packaging for silicon-on-sapphire ICs. And although I don’t have the specifics nailed down quite yet, my PhD project will be about modeling dynamo processes on the sun.

It blows me away every single time I think about the differences of scale of the two projects.

First example would be to look at the time scale on which the processes I’m examining occur. When I’m looking at my packages, I’m working on signals that are in the tens of gigahertz. If you’re looking at the equatorial region of the sun, the period of rotation is 28 days. The frequency of the process there is roughly 400 nanohertz.

Do you realize that’s about 17 orders of magnitude difference?

Now think about size. The sun’s radius is 700,000 km…or 7•108. The features on the packages I’m working on are sometimes around 50 microns or 5•10-5. The size changes about 13 orders of magnitude as I go from one to the other. The die are so small, they look like glitter in the right light, and the sun is so huge that we really don’t have a frame of reference. (It’s hard enough for me to conceive of how large Earth really is…but a star?)

I was very surprised the first time I actually saw a package I’d worked on. I’d always looked at objects on a computer screen, and they were huge. It was a real shock to realize that all I would see was a small black box…smaller than even a little pebble.

The cool thing about both of these is that the computer really doesn’t care much about how big or how small your object is; it will apply the rules of physics the same to both processes. And it’s amazing that physics works no matter what scale you’re working at.



1. Fluxor - November 21, 2010

Physics? Did you used to date Dogbert by chance?


mareserinitatis - November 22, 2010

Perhaps, but I got smart and quit dancing. 😀


Fluxor - November 23, 2010

And ended up with the pretty boy after all.


mareserinitatis - November 23, 2010

I had to have some arm candy!


2. FrauTech - November 23, 2010

I met an unemployed physicist at a job fair and said “oh, theoretical engineering!” I don’t think he liked that.


mareserinitatis - November 23, 2010

I think they fancy themselves “applied mathematicians” instead. 🙂


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