Uram Smiled

Professor Dr. Ubuntu Ramanujan woke up recognizing the song of a nightingale.
He looked outside through the opto-electronic sheer curtains of his bedroom window at the moonlit sky, and smiled. The small holographic clock that popped up midair sensing him awake, displayed exactly 3:00AM. Beside him his wife Philomela was sleeping peacefully, undisturbed. She was 8 months into her pregnancy. Ubuntu marveled at her angelic beauty for a timeless minute and seamlessly turned his attention outside into the woods. The same beauty resonated there. The early summer night sky was crystal clear – the star-studded tapestry adorned by the milky way rising like a gigantic plume was no longer a spectacle to behold. It had become commonplace thanks to decade old global restrictions on artificial lights, after introduction of the now ubiquitous tunable night vision technologies. Yet, it was a very special moment for Prof. U. Ramanujan, a.k.a Uram as christened by his classmates during his high school years. He had long accepted the mischievous sobriquet with some comic relief, but was recently intrigued by the destined synchronicity. Today on his 40th birthday, he was about to receive the 2050 Nobel Prize in Physics for developing the Unified Random-Access Memory (URAM) in water-based organic nanocomposites, mimicking the phenomena of intuition and epiphany in human psychosomatics. However that was not the reason for his smile.

Uram got up from the bed gingerly, slipped on his sandals, and made a fast and unique hand gesture that represented a Deer head in the Indian classical dance form Odissi. His smart home architecture came with the default gesture operation protocol (GOP) based on standard sign language, but Philomela had insisted on customizing the main gestures with the yoga mudras from her dance practice. Uram had obliged after his initial reluctance was swiftly obliterated by his wife at a Sunday dinner table.
A soft key note acknowledged the gesture, and the square tile below his feet softly lifted Uram up by 5 mm from the floor through a superconducting levitation, and glided him out of the bedroom into the toilet. The home recycled all the waste water and any extra supply required at the garden and orchard came from an AI optimized combination of rain water harvesting and atmospheric moisture condensation technology. The entire electric power requirement of the house was provided by a high-repetition-rate laser lightning rod. A single induced lightning discharge from a passing cloud stored within super capacitors and distributed through superconducting micro fibers, could power the house for more than a year. The indoor air quality management recently became a thing of the past.
The civil society had successfully reversed anthropogenic climate change by moving completely away from fossil fuel and mining by 2030. Artificial photosynthesis which mimicked natural leaves led the transition to a solar hydrogen-based economy. By 2040 the entire carbon requirement for renewable synthetic materials were satisfi ed globally using environmental CO2 and sunlight as resources.
The tragic 20s had shaped Uram and Philomela into crusaders for sustainable technology. The couples’ family were left homeless by a devastating wild fi re that swept through the western United States in autumn of 2020 and they were hosted at a common municipal shelter where a viral pandemic took the lives of their grandparents. The couple had first met over a soap bubble magic demonstration for children organized by the local science and arts club at the shelter facility. They sat beside each other, enthralled by the show. That was when they first held their hands in excitement, and something resonated in both that would shape their lives and future careers. While Uram worked in applied physics and engineering, Philomela had her breakthrough contributions in sustainable architecture.
Uram and Philomela’s day started every morning at 5:30AM. After a quick shower Uram’s routine continued with an hour-long silent meditation followed by another hour of practicing on his musical instrument-the classical Sarangi. But today was different. His STEP (Superconducting Transport Emulation Pod) lowered him through the bathroom floor into his ground floor studio. The workspace was designed like an egg incorporating mushrooms-based building materials that doubled as sensors and reservoir computers – monitoring, light, temperature, stress, humidity, and consequently optimizing the building architecture and indoor living space. An embedded wireless acoustic sensor network (WASN) customized the audible and the inaudible. A large electronic window stretched across the wall facing the garden. It functioned as a scalable screen for display and was AI optimized to tune transparency for an outdoor view. The studio was equipped with self-assembled levitating office furniture. An interesting piece of furniture in the modern space was an antique Thonet Rocking Chair that originally belonged to Philomela’s great grandfather. Uram sat cozily on it while his white Siamese cat Schrödinger curled up on his lap. Uram closed his eyes and relaxed into a meditative contemplation.

Vivid Color Patterns on a Soap Film

Momentous events of the past three decades started to unfurl like a silent movie in his minds’eye. It appeared as a floating soap bubble with intensely
bright colors that morphed into a high defi nition computer screen. Colors swirling in vortices, random layered flows, non-Newtonian surreal tears of an advanced extraterrestrial –a compassionate god who wept for humanity.
Frames of destruction – oil drenched dead whales washed ashore with plastic in their bellies, migratory birds falling from the sky, carpet of dead honey bees … dissolved into a strong jawline, eyes moist and sparkling, bodies relaxed and strong like ballerinas, a group of youth on a coffee table, a CAD drawing, equations written with chalk, a business case-study, jeans and t-shirts, hiking boots, a backpack, an accordion, a bamboo flute, a guitar, and a warm hug.

Tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, massive solar fl ares, space based cold wars abandoned and nuclear missiles dismantled, global leaders’ summit is led by the youth reclaiming their future.
Soap molecules were designed with catalysts, and soap bubbles became photocatalytic reactors converting CO2 into usable solar fuel and industry feedstock. News headlines floated in: Deep sea mining, mountain top removal, fracking, mining in general near any habitat – banned.
Snippets from the agricultural revolution gushed in. A forest based ecological economy emerged within a decade. Dams were dismantled and rivers fl owed clear through a symbiotic landscape. New sustainable eating habits emerged naturally, weather patterns normalized, pollution vanished from the face of the earth, violence at all levels and in all forms were abrogated voluntarily by the civil society.
POEMS were invented. Proto-Opto-Electro-Mechanical-Systems. Soap molecules made out of organic semiconductors stabilizing a soap film into an optoelectronic semipermeable membrane. They served as building blocks of a hybrid proton-electron based technology. Laser branching experiments in a soap fi lm led to a fundamental understanding of life in living matter. Insects were simulated by the technology and highly efficient bionic sensors and devices were born out of a decade’s dedicated scientific and business effort. Communication technology was revolutionized with the understanding of quorum sensing and collective behavior in birds, fish, and insects.
Room temperature superconductivity was discovered in synthetic plastic aqueous nanocomposites. Transport was revolutionized with matchbox size superconducting traction motor drives working on palm size organic solar panel and tandem supercapacitors. Public transport was transformed by superconducting levitation. Seminal discoveries in quantum gravity inspired a generation of scientifi c research on Cartesian Coordinate Hopping (CCH) in long distance vehicular transport. For urban ground transport, bicycles featuring advanced materials and technology support, were selected unanimously throughout the globe as the preferred mode.
A pioneering WHO report disseminated a comprehensive understanding of music and noise on human wellbeing and symbiosis. An industrial revolution led to a clean noise free world. Honey bees, butterflies and humming birds returned.
Sonars were banned, ships sailed with wind power – whales and dolphins returned. Nature of music changed – the youth returned to playing fields, to the oceans, to the skies, to the hiking trails, and voluntarily gave up all forms of addictions.
The global academic model and environment underwent a revolution. Science Arts and Philosophy blended seamlessly promoting an unprecedented expansion of the human mind. Technology unconditionally served health peace and awareness. Gender, age, ethnic barriers dissolved. The United Nations on the first Global Solidarity Day declared a universal
anthem, building on Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and Ravindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. As billions sang in unison the anthem dissolved into a peaceful empty silence within which all that remained was a distant song of a nightingale. The intelligent WASN noise cancellation system had fi ltered outdoor sound and streamed
it to percolate within the studio space.
With his eyes still closed, Uram smiled again. Nightingales
were declared extinct in 2030.

Note: The Story was published in the January edition of Bunsen Magazine

The image of the soap film is from the University of Princeton’s art gallery

Developing Next Gen Technology with Soap Films

Facts are stranger than fiction, and so are soap bubbles.
These apparently inconspicuous objects are utterly intriguing to children of the world – irrespective of differences in nationality, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status; and to a short list of adults, featuring Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Pierre-Gilles de Gennes. Recently, Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck received the prestigious 2019 Abel Prize and Alessio Figalli the 2018 Fields medal – both pioneered mathematics on soap films and bubbles.
What mystery is then camouflaged as soap bubbles, which mesmerizes the extremities of the intellectual spectrum – the nascent and the scientific genius?
The answer can perhaps be sought at the crossroads of cognitive neuro psychology, and the fascinating materials science of aqueous soft matter nanocomposites. A soap film is perhaps the simplest synthetic archetype, modelling living matter which is constructed with building blocks of function and memory composed of nanoscale water scaffolded to macromolecules like proteins and DNA.
Generally – A soap bubble is a temporary gas compartment, enveloped by a thin semipermeable membrane, made out of a soap film.
Looking deeper, a common soap film is a soft matter nanocomposite uniquely characterized by a proton-conducting, flexible, semipermeable, and quasi 2-D aqueous phase, which doubles as a smooth substrate for two self-assembled surfactant monolayers on its opposite surfaces.
Synthetic surfactant molecules comprise lipid tails with hydrophilic head groups, and they are traditionally designed for use as detergents or colloidal stabilizers. The scope of modifying electronic, opto-electronic, catalytic, and organic molecules for chemical and biological sensing, to create new surfactants is wide open. The development of new surfactant class materials and deciphering the characteristics of water in nanoscale are expected to empower soap film based biomimetic future technology. The recent emergent developments in the science of soap films and sudden global attention to the particular material architecture, is a testament to an accelerating momentum in the subject- an example of a fundamental breakthrough being the observation of branched flow phenomenon of light within a soap film. ,
The EU Commission has recently funded two (SoFiA and PROGENY) coveted future and emerging technology (FET) grants to soap film/foam-based core technology development projects. The impact of these developments is envisioned to have globally transformative social outcomes. With the success of the projects, human civilization may complete the full evolutionary cycle in materials-based technology which began with the use of earth, air, and fire, to develop ceramics, metals and semiconductors, culminating with the scientific understanding of nanoscale water scaffolded in living matter and its technological use. Science will perhaps then be able to cross over to research in psychosomatics. Furthermore, the use of something as simple as soap film in high fidelity technology, making life simpler and society better, will be perception altering. Extensive day-to-day use of such technologies in the future will strengthen the social focus on the importance of water as “a material of value”.
Project PROGENY is a case study:
The 21st century has seen an unprecedented proliferation of electronic devices, dramatically altering the world economic map and human social behavior, while creating socioeconomic and environmental burdens in form of energy consumption and massive electronic wastes. Not only does e-waste contain significant amounts of toxic substances such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and brominated flame-retardants, but its informal disposal and low technology recycling also generate additional toxic pollutants. The problem is appended by the environmental and sociopolitical suffering created due to mining for rare earth and other electronic materials. To gauge the magnitude of the problem, consider that 53.6 million tons of e-waste generated globally in 2019 –a number that is likely to skyrocket as consumers replace their old devices with the newest 5G-ready gadgets by 2021.
Clearly, the electronic industry is indispensable, but unsustainable, thereby demanding immediate sustainable innovations – in materials and in device design: PROGENY initiates both.
The project derives its rationale from the fascinating membrane properties and charge & mass transport properties of a small soap film. PROGENY is developing electronic soap molecules designed to significantly reduce surface tension in aqueous solution, self- assemble at water-gas interfaces, and mechanically stabilize a new class of electronic soap films. These new soap molecules will then be used to develop sustainable Proto-Opto-Electro-Mechanical Systems (POEMS) for future bio-mimetic devices and sensors.
The risk of popping a soap film is approached with a completely different outlook -that of a conceptual dynamic stability. The soap film can be continuously regenerated. Furthermore, a small soap film can be stabilized almost indefinitely under proper design of a frame, arresting evaporation, and by controlling the environment (for example temperature, pressure, gas interface). Afterall, almost a century ago James Dewar had kept a soap film disk with a diameter of 19 cm for over three years!
Man has created the machine in his own perceived image. It has brought him immense power to compensate for his limitations in his quest to dominate over nature. In the process, civil society has gradually disidentified from its natural environment which hosts and nurtures it. It is an irony that the machine today acts as a mirror reflecting both the power and the irresponsible myopia in human technological endeavors. Today we stand at the crossroads of our creative actions where rekindling the spirit of the renaissance man has become an absolute social necessity. The stark choice is between balancing humanity’s audacious leap into the future by embracing nature in a responsible symbiosis, or to perish along with it as a result of its anthropogenic destruction.
Fortunately, there are among us many torchbearers who have the courage to dream of not only a clean and sustainable future but also an overwhelmingly empowering one fueled by our established global connectedness and power to create together. Moving beyond the urge to subjugate and dominate they evoke the tone of harmony in contrast to domination – collimating their efforts into teams building smart civilizations on harmonious technological foundations.
Some are dreaming of a clean and noise free society by 2050 with the dawn of the new age of aqueous soft matter nanotechnology: Devices working on resistance free ballistic transport and superconductivity, unconventional quantum computers, sensors and micro machines that emulate insects, and water desalination and air purification technologies using soft matter membranes, are some of the ideas floating around. These ideas will lead to bio-mimetic devices and machines for everyday use, working like clear mirrors, reflecting the vitality of life and bringing us closer to our selves and to others in interconnectedness.