Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Will Moore’s Law Accelerate a Cure for the Corona Virus?

This morning on CNBC business news, guest commentator Thomas L. Friedman, Foreign Affairs Columnist for the New York Times suggested that Moore’s Law might hasten a cure for disease such as the Corona virus. He suggested that advances in medicine aided by computer technology might replicate the phenomenon predicted by Gordon Moore of Intel, that the number of transistors on a computer chip would double every twenty four months. Extending this analogy to medical research Mr. Friedman reasoned that compounding the rate of analytics could similarly empower medical research, hence a more rapid delivery of pharmaceutical response to disease (and possibly the Corona virus).

We must thank Mr. Friedman for his recognition of the computer industry and the enabling foundation of semiconductor chip manufacturers. Advanced analytics now proliferate the medical industry thanks to new technology. Powered by next generation semiconductor devices, IBM has tasked their Watson computer platform to provide medical researchers and doctors with more rapid analysis and diagnosis for a wide range of medical maladies. Drawing upon a huge base of medical data, Watson’s accuracy and response time exceeds that of human doctors and researchers saving and extending the lives of many. While Mr. Friedman’s observations are well considered, Moore’s Law is more an abstract in this medical scenario. Given the many advances in computer technology, Vaccines and medications still take significant time to develop. Enabled by advances in molecular biology newly developed medications and vaccines must still undergo testing for effectiveness and undesired side effects. Human testing is required and is time consuming. As applicable technologies evolve further we might some day abbreviate drug/vaccine trial testing or eliminate it all together. We’re not there yet but in the interim we have many tools previously unavailable and some common sense behavior might assist.

A Mean Free Path to Eliminating the Corona Virus Epidemic

While we await the arrival of more advanced and effective medications we can use some common sense physics to slow the spread of the Corona Virus. An atmospheric phenomenon known to scientists and engineers is defined as “mean free path”. In a given atmospheric environment, the mean free path is the average distance between gas molecules. This average distance can change with rapid molecular motion caused by pressure, temperature, gas composition, humidity etc. The mean free path at sea level is such that gas molecules are densely packed and collide frequently; we might compare this to an overcrowded room at a party. In outer space the mean free path can extend to several miles. That is to say a molecule of gas must travel several miles before it randomly collides with another. As humans we function in our dense atmosphere and if not careful can propagate germs and viruses very quickly. While we can’t live in the vacuum of outer space, we can reduce the spread of germs (and the Corona virus) by increasing our personal mean free path.

President Trump and health professionals have recommended we slow the spread of the Corona virus by avoiding personal contact and maintaining a distance from others. In other words, increase your mean free path. Work at home, party in place, avoid unnecessary travel and contact with others (but don’t be mean about it). For many experienced working from home the concept is not difficult but might require some adjustment in a more crowded home environment.

Another isolation concept/analogy we might adapt from a wafer fab environment is the reduction in pressure/mean free path by cryo-pumping. In advanced process equipment, cryopumps reduce pressure by freezing and trapping gas molecules on super cold/cryogenic surfaces at liquid nitrogen or liquid helium temperatures. If gas molecules can be trapped and held in place the measured pressure is reduced. Similarly, you can reduce the spread of the Corona virus by chilling out at home.  Stay put and eliminate unnecessary contact and travel.  Enough physics for today.  Be safe everyone.

Regards to all,
Thomas D. Jay

Semiconductor Industry Consultant
Thomas D. Jay YouTube Channel

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References and acknowledgements:

[1] CNBC business news 3/17/2020, guest commentator Thomas L. Friedman, Foreign Affairs Columnist for the New York Times

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