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Inspirational insights from Professor Leon Chua's Lecture


Contributed by Kirk Bresniker, HP Labs Chief Architect, HP Fellow


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I'm going to have to watch the replay of Professor Leon Chua’s lecture #2 on “Everything You Wish to Know about Memristors but are Afraid to Ask”, and correct and expand my notes. There is also a blog that summarizes his last lecture.  Professor Chua doesn't dawdle when it comes to going through the material in his lecture series.


There were some great takeaways from his lecture that were expressed in just a few words that I'm going to be thinking about for weeks. For instance, with the biomimetic behavior of complex biologic systems modeled with a handful of passive components once the memristor is involved, what kinds of design tools are we going to need to design and manufacture passive circuits with chaotic behavior that need to be designed, manufactured, and then trained? This is one of Professor Chua's timeless axiomatic approach to analysis.

But what really struck me was the simple lesson borrowed from Albert Einstein: “a model must be simple, but not simpler”. You'll know your model is too simple when it can't explain the evidence. For Johannes Kepler, it was the error in the Mars orbit, for Einstein it was the Thought Experiment (gedankenexperiment) about the speed of light, and for Professor Chua, it was the tunnel diode, a type of semiconductor that is capable of very fast operation. Having spent three years to master the vacuum tube, a device that controls electric current between electrodes in an evacuated container, Professor Chua was faced with not just the tunnel diode, but more than a dozen novel components that couldn't be explained.


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Rather than serial solve them, he took a step back and solved them all systematically with an expanded model. But he then explored the ramifications of that model and that uncovered the missing element, which led to the memristor prediction. It wasn't just that the model was more accurate in its results, it was that it gave a dramatic new insight into the behavior of entire classes of components, even those which had yet to be realized. The comparison and interesting counterpoint of the model proposed by Brian Josephson for his Josephson junction, where at a junction of two superconductors, a current will flow even if there is no drop in voltage, was accurate but did not generate the same kind of systemic insight.

Being able to listen to someone who has not only glimpsed the beautiful structure of the natural world through mathematics but has brought those insights to so many others is inspiring. If you've got a chance to see the remaining lectures live, I highly recommend it!  Register to attend the next lecture on Tuesday, September 22 at 10:30 am – 12 pm PT at HP or on the web. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to attend the rest of his lectures.



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