The Hofstadter Butterfly Effect has been directly observed for the first time after being proposed as a theory in 1976. I find several things really interesting about this, despite a lot of the science being a bit over my head.
It’s always interesting when something is proposed as a theory and then confirmed once technology evolves to where the science can be tested. In this case, the gap between theoretical physics and applied science was over 40 years. It’s things like this that reinforce that we can never assume we know where science will lead- sometimes theories are dismissed as being irrelevant or “pie in the sky”, but then a breakthrough occurs and a new growth industry is discovered. When John O’Sullivan was researching mini-black holes, no one could have predicted that the result would be the wi-fi technology that is changing how we use objects and how those objects communicate with each other.
This research could potentially lead to breakthroughs in materials sciences where patterns are introduced that make materials more or less conductive depending on the desired use. You could imagine a specialized hybrid glass designed to have a fewer of these patterns to make it a good conductor of electricity. It’s noteworthy that graphene nanotubes were involved in the experiment that was able to generate the butterfly pattern. As researchers get better at producing graphene and other carbon nano-materials, the amount of breakthrough discoveries will likely accelerate. Of course, the impact of these breakthroughs on the rest of society will have to wait until mass-market quantities of these nano-materials can be manufactured.
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