Thursday 24 May 2012

Principal Investigator Fred Minetto holds the fractal Penning discharge pins he fabricated for his space-based dust buster.

For years he mulled over different ways of increasing the system’s strength, and then it came to him in a dream.

“It wasn’t even a mathematical thing, per se; it was visual. I saw an outline of the golden mean that I remembered from elementary-school math class,” Minetto said. The golden mean, also called the golden ratio, is when the ratio of the sum of two quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger to the smaller. It’s a concept used in both math and art. In math, the golden mean has the unique property of saying ‘a plus b’ is the same to ‘a’ as ‘a is to b.’ The value of the golden ratio, expressed mathematically, is one plus the square root of five, all divided by two. The resulting number is 1.6180339887 — and on into infinity. When this is expressed in geometry, the result is an ever-curling spiral that looks like a snail’s shell.

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Minetto is now perfecting this process in a small glove-box chamber in his laboratory, with an eye toward finding a way to combine the electron gun and the fractal Penning pin into the same device — his so-called fractal wand. “I’m still not sure how I’m going to combine the two,” he said. “I probably need to sleep on it.”

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