Welcome to The CITE -- a blog on Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education, created by Mark Nelson and now part of the Publications Department of the National Association of College Stores. CITE is a pun with multiple meanings - referring to cite as in citation, something people reference; site as in location, website, or place people go to; and sight as in foresight or looking ahead to what is coming. Comments, discussion, feedback and ideas are welcome.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Photonic beetles of all things!

Okay, I have been in a real "stretch my mind with some new thoughts" mode lately. My last few posts are probably showing some of that. Former students of mine are always sending me little news clippings and stories about different emerging technologies or ideas that they find interesting or that remind them of some topic we discussed in class. One of them sent me a recent article from Wired Magazine about photonic beetles. Okay, maybe this posting is the sign that I really need to take a vacation -- or at least a full weekend off from work -- but stick with me for a moment. There is a relevant thought here.

So the article is about how for decades scientists have been trying to create new forms of computer chips based on light (more accurately called photonic crystals), but have failed. "Enter a beetle known as Lamprocyphus augustus," the articles notes. Apparently through evolution this bettle has ended up with the perfect molecular configuration to produce the photonic effect researchers have been seeking. If they are successful, the next generation of optical computing technology could do in a second what currently takes computers days or weeks to perform. The discovery was made by "sheer luck" because an undergraduate student had studied iridescent beetles as part of an high school science project.

So what is the relevance of this story to this blog? It is an interesting example of innovation and the payoff that can come from experimentation. It is also an example of how we need to share ideas with others, pull our customers into the problem solving process, and be open to new ideas and perspectives. You never know where the next great idea might come from, but if you are not open minded or willing to look -- even at the ideas that seem somewhat crazy -- then potential breakthroughs like the photonic beetle may pass you by.

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