The half-billion-dollar laser, er, why Silicon Valley is gonna be important for decades
If you are in Silicon Valley you probably drive over it if you drive Freeway 280.
It's a long building right next to Marc Andreessen's office (you can actually see his office in the top right of the photo below) and runs right next to Sand Hill Road.
What are they doing there?
Well, they rebuilt it. Back in the old days this used to be the Stanford Linear Accelerator. Now it's just called "SLAC." It's the place the first website in the United States was done (by Google+ member +Bebo White
who used to work there as a physicist).
But now they have a new half-billion-dollar machine inside. It's the Linac Coherent Light Source. What does that do? It converts accelerated particles to XRays and runs them down a tube to a variety of experiments. It's like a really long, really bright, XRay Laser.
This thing is damn bright as XRay lasers go (I think it's the brightest in the world) and accurate, with pulse timings down to a few femtoseconds of accuracy. Read the details about the science they are doing here: https://www6.slac.stanford.edu/news/2013-02-19-xray-laser-timing.aspx
What does this machine do? It lets scientists study materials at the atomic and molecular level AND see electron interactions.
Why is this machine important?
Because it will let scientists find new ways to make processors and memories even smaller.
Industry is so interested in this machine (they pay to rent time on it and conduct experiments) that SLAC is building a second version.
It's why Silicon Valley will be important for decades to come. How many startup communities can claim to have one of these in their backyards?