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Hacking Matter: Levitating Chairs, Quantum Mirages, and the Infinite Weirdness of Programmable Atoms Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0465044290 ISBN-10: 0465044298

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465044298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465044290
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,536,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1962, Arthur C. Clarke offered three laws of technological development, the last of which reads: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Expanding on an article he wrote for Wired, McCarthy uses Clarke's law as a jumping-off point for a grand tour of cutting-edge "quantum dot" research, a field that seems like nothing so much as alchemy, 21st-century style. Quantum dots are tiny pieces of semiconductor that can trap electrons, with a remarkable consequence: "the electrons trapped in a quantum dot will arrange themselves as though they were part of an atom, even through there's no atomic nucleus for them to surround." The result is an artificial atom, maybe 50 times larger than a natural one, that can simulate the properties of any element on the periodic table by catching or releasing additional electrons. McCarthy offers an extensive survey of both the science behind such "programmable matter" and the scientists developing it, reveling in applications as far-ranging as walls that light a room with their own radiant glow, cars that levitate along magnetic streets, and TV screens that "look less like a moving picture and more like a window into a real, three-dimensional space." The author, an engineer as well as a writer, is a part of the story himself, holding a patent for an application of quantum dots that he calls "wellstone" (his patent application is included as an appendix), and he makes an informative but at times technically dense case for the promising, even magical, potential of programmable atoms.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

McCarthy, perhaps best known for his science fiction (see the review of his latest novel on p.1286), turns his attention to a real-life scientific revolution somewhere in our future. Eventually, he predicts, matter will be made programmable--easily changed from hard to soft, for instance-- by "quantum dots." Readers who are barely on nodding terms with Einstein need not be deterred. McCarthy employs a soothing narrative manner that draws readers into the story; even when the science gets tough to digest, there's enough "fiction"--freewheeling speculation--to keep you going. As an engineer, sf writer, and journalist, McCarthy says he has an "obsession with the future." That's what allows him to take the quantum-dot theory and run with it, extrapolating how these very tiny dots will change the ways homes use heat and light, make Jetson-style transportation possible, and even bring about the development of new colors. Throughout, McCarthy describes the phenomenon of programmable matter as a kind of magic. His knack for describing it is magical in itself. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Richard Soderberg on June 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book for the title alone, while shelf-browsing at ETcon 2003; to see a non-fiction book discussing programmable matter on the cover was enough to catch my attention.
I found it a casual, yet enjoyable read; it threads gently through the prerequisite background, glossing over the specific details to keep the primary focus of the book intact; as it turned out, this didn't affect my enjoyment at all, while providing lots of jumping-off points for the interested observer to research further.
Managing to not get distracted by the fact that such things as "electron shells" and "thermochromatics", it introduces the reader (educated as they may or may not be) to the concept of a kind of material whose properties can be changed at will, by humans (not just nature). The core concept at hand is "quantum dots", and the text returns over and over again to this, diverging occasionally to provide anecdotes, or ways these semi-magical materials have already been (or soon, could be) used.
Overall, I felt the book a good read; if you're looking for an introduction into the world of quantum dots, dynamically modifiable materials, and science the likes of which one would formerly have expected from science fiction. It's not a book in which can be found explicit technical details, though there's more than a hundred references in the end-of-book bibliography; for that alone, it would be a perfect entry point for research.
Highly recommended.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By PJJ on January 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By William T. Katz on April 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Hacking Matter" deserves 4-5 stars for addressing a very interesting topic - artificial atoms - and 3-4 stars for its presentation. The book can be divided into two parts. The first section, about 110 of the book's 200 pages, gives us a tour of actual research in solid-state physics and its implications for material science. The second launches us from real developments to speculative devices and applications. McCarthy tries to focus the book on programmable matter and only touches on other aspects of nanotechnology. I think that's a great idea, but it should have afforded him the opportunity for deeper explanations of research and ideas that were only briefly described.
McCarthy is facile with language, as might be expected from a writer of fiction. But while the reading flows easily, the first section suffers from an uneven handling of the material. For example, McCarthy delays the discussion of atomic orbitals until the middle of the book, and even then it's a watered-down introduction with the reader directed to a freshman chemistry textbook for more information. Given the complexity of the topic, I felt he should have assumed a certain level of reader compentency, start with a more detailed review of the atom with better diagrams of orbitals and material characteristics, then build from there and drop the "monkey on limbs" analogy. In contrast to some areas of hand-holding explanation, some quotes from physicists, given without further explanation, assume a certain level of sophistication from readers:
"In general, high temperatures tend to equal more interactions, because there are a lot more blackbody photons emitted from hot surfaces, which can then be absorbed and destroy atomic superpositions.
Read more ›
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By Tiffany on December 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was a little nervous to order a book off of here, but I'm glad I did. The book is in perfect condition and got to me in two days. Thank you so much! (:
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By PK on December 30, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have no degrees in physics, just a bit of curiosity and for me this book was wonderful. A very well written (for laymen) brief on a technology that is just over the horizon. If only half the apllications he describes are realized, wellstone will change our lives.
I was left with only one (whimsical) question about wellstone; could you build a ringword with it?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think the previous reviewers have not been keeping up with the leaps and bounds that technology has been making with quantum dots. They exist folks and they are being used as we speak. While the applications for this technology as discribed in this book are not possible at this point in time, they should no longer be considered impossible. Just type 'quantum dots' in your search engine or check out some of the popular science websites. This is real and it is utterly facinating. Definately a good book but you'll need to read up on some basic quantum mechanics first to really enjoy it (the reason I gave it 4 stars and not 5).
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