Amazon exec becomes quantum pioneer at IonQ

IonQ CEO Peter Chapman

Peter Chapman says there are parallels between his previous work and his current job as CEO at IonQ, a quantum computing company. (IonQ Photo)

How does a guy go from being the engineering director for Amazon Prime to serving as the CEO of a quantum computer company? It’s a classical move for Peter Chapman, the president and CEO of IonQ, which provides the firepower for Microsoft’s recently announced Azure Quantum cloud computing platform.

Quantum computing promises to address the same kinds of optimization problems that Chapman had to deal with for Amazon’s next-day deliveries, but on a grand scale. It also doesn’t hurt that Chapman previously worked for futurist Ray Kurzweil, or that he believes quantum computers provide the only path to strong, human-like artificial intelligence.

“I really like that kind of bleeding edge,” Chapman told GeekWire.

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Blue Origin expands at its HQ and in L.A.

Blue Origin HQ

A monolith adorned with Blue Origin’s feather logo stands at the construction site for a 400,000-square-foot office and warehouse-style facility in Kent, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

KENT, Wash. — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is rapidly expanding on several fronts, ranging from its headquarters facility south of Seattle to a new beachhead in the Los Angeles area — within the orbit of its main competitor, Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Just three and a half years ago, Blue Origin’s workforce amounted to 600 employees, and even then, Bezos said his company’s 300,000-square-foot office and production facility in Kent was “busting out of the seams.”

Now the employee count is at around 2,500, heading toward 3,500 in the next year. That’s according to a report from a Bangkok space conference quoting Clay Mowry, Blue Origin’s vice president for global sales, marketing and customer experience.

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Books let you explore parallel universes in print

Parallel universes

One hypothesis for the nature of the cosmos visualizes parallel universes as huge membranes, or branes, that are stacked alongside each other in extradimensional space like books in a cosmic bookcase. A “big bang” results when two branes touch. (NASA Illustration / Dana Berry)

Parallel universes are big in science fiction, popping up in shows ranging from the “Terminator” movies to “The Man in the High Castle” to “Hot Tub Time Machine.” And strangely enough, those fictional tales have their parallels this year in a pair of nonfiction books about parallel universes.

We’re leading off our annual holiday roundup of science books with “The Number of the Heavens” and “Something Deeply Hidden,” and continuing the theme with six other thought-provoking picks about other realities, fictional and factual. If that’s not enough, you’ll also find links to geeky book recommendations from outside sources, plus our own top picks from previous years.

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NASA’s in the market for quick space taxi rides

Starliner and space station

An artist’s conception shows a Boeing Starliner space taxi approaching the International Space Station. (Boeing Illustration)

NASA already has committed billions of dollars to procuring regularly scheduled rides to and from the International Space Station from commercial space taxi operators — but now it says it’s interested in buying short-term trips as well.

The proposed arrangement, detailed on Nov. 26, is aimed at giving a boost to the commercialization of space operations in low Earth orbit, as well as to NASA’s drive to send astronauts to the moon by 2024. It also makes the line dividing government-funded and privately funded space efforts even fuzzier.

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Mixed reality takes you on an expedition to Titan

Expedition Titan

GeekWire’s Alan Boyle (foreground) and University of Washington planetary scientist Baptiste Journaux take a thrill ride through an ice volcano, courtesy of Expedition Titan, a mixed-reality experience at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

It’s doubtful anyone alive today will get to ride through the ice volcanoes of Saturn’s largest moon — but you can do the next best thing at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center, thanks to a mixed-reality experience called Expedition Titan.

The walk-through production is the latest showcase for Hyperspace XR, a startup-in-residence that’s pioneering the frontiers of mixed reality at the science center.

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Cloud-based vertical farming at the supermarket

Infarm kiosk

Lelaina Beyer, one of Infarm’s urban farmers in the Seattle area, harvests greens at the kiosk-sized farm in the produce section of the Kirkland Urban QFC store. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

KIRKLAND, Wash. — The Seattle area offers a rich smorgasbord of geeky tech-as-a-service offerings — ranging from software as a service, to gaming as a service, to pizza as a service.

Now you can add “farming as a service” to the list.

That’s what Infarm is going for, with hydroponic plant-growth cabinets that shrink the acreage needed to grow fresh greens to fit in a grocery-store aisle. The startup, based in Berlin, Germany, has just opened up its first North American “farms” inside a pair of QFC supermarkets east of Seattle, at Bellevue Village and here at Kirkland’s Urban Plaza.

“It’s a merger of agriculture and technology,” Emmanuel Evita, Infarm’s global communications director, told me during today’s “first harvest” in Kirkland.

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TerraPower branches out into medical isotopes

Nuclear processing

A team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory opens a uranium-233 canister inside a glovebox. (ORNL Photo)

TerraPower, the nuclear research venture founded by Bill Gates, is joining with Isotek Systems and the U.S. Department of Energy in a public-private partnership aimed at turning what otherwise would be nuclear waste into radiation doses for cancer treatment.

The partnership matches TerraPower’s demand for radioisotopes with the federal government’s need to dispose of nuclear material that’s been stored for decades at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Isotek, a DOE contractor that’s responsible for overseeing Oak Ridge’s inventory of uranium-233, will use the proceeds from the sale of extracted thorium-229 to accelerate the schedule for disposal of the Cold War stockpile. In a news release, the Department of Energy said the deal will save $90 million in taxpayer dollars.

TerraPower will use the thorium that it purchases from Isotek to further medical applications of radioisotope technologies.

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