Archive for: October, 2008

FiO 2008: Day two

Oct 21 2008 Published by under Optics, Science news

My hotel's wireless internet completely crapped out late Sunday night, and they still have not been able to get it fixed.   Fortunately, there's wireless connectivity in some of the conference center, so I thought I'd post an update while I'm thinking of it.  Being the first 'real' day of the conference, there were a lot of distinguished speakers.

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Letchworth State Park in Autumn!

Oct 20 2008 Published by under Travel

I brought my fiancée for the first few days of my stay in Rochester, both to introduce her to my former thesis advisor (who insisted I couldn't get married until he approved of my choice) and to show her a few of my favorite 'haunts' from my graduate school days.  On Saturday, we went to Letchworth State Park, a wonderful and spectacular stretch of wilderness which follows the Genesee River for some 17 miles.  The park consists primarily of the estate of William Pryor Letchworth, and was bequeathed to the state in 1906.

The park contains wonderful views from the heights of the river gorge, lovely waterfalls, and even an excellent restaurant/inn.  This is a great time of year to visit Letchworth, as the leaves are turning colors and the weather isn't yet oppressively cold.

Below, I display some of my preliminary shots of Letchworth Park.  When I get back home, I'll also stitch together some panaramas that I took of the landscape.

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'Liveblogging' the What's Hot in Optics Today? session at FiO

Oct 19 2008 Published by under Optics, Science news

I thought I'd experiment and try liveblogging a session about What's Hot in Optics Today? at the OSA Annual Meeting.  This was in fact one of the first sessions, and seemed interesting enough.  Unfortunately, I couldn't liveblog, because I didn't have wireless access in the chamber!  I wrote up my real-time comments in MS Word, and post them, slightly edited for clarity, below.

To summarize briefly: the division chairs (or their representatives) of the different technical groups of the meeting each gave a presentation concerning exciting research in their area.  The different talks were:

  • Chris Schaffer, Frontiers in Biomedical Optics: Nanometer scale optical imaging inside cells.  Typically, one can only resolve (i.e. distinguish) features of an object which are separated by a size larger than half a wavelength.  Unfortunately, the internal structure of cells contains features which are much smaller than a wavelength.  The talk described very clever techniques for beating the diffraction limit.
  • Daphne Bavelier, What's Hot in Vision and Color: Pwning normal vision.  It turns out that playing fast-paced, first-person shooter video games is actually a benefit to vision!  This talk discussed research into the effects of video gaming on various aspects of vision.
  • Juerg Leuthold, What's Hot in Photonics and Opto-Electronics.  One of the current big challenges of fiber-optic communications is increasing the amount of data that can be transferred over a fiber-optic cable.  This talk discussed different techniques for improving this bit transfer rate, anticipating the next generation of internet connections.
  • R. John Koshel, What's Hot in Fabrication, Design and Instrumentation: The Optics in Energy and Imaging Systems.  Modern optical systems need to be efficient, both in collecting light (e.g. for use in solar cells) and in transmitting light (e.g. for making highly efficient light bulbs).  This talk discussed strategies for developing this next generation of optical technology.

The actual talks are supposed to be put online on this page for public consumption; in the meantime, you can read my 'liveblogging' below!

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Attending Frontiers in Optics 2008!

Oct 18 2008 Published by under Personal, Science news

My blogging will probably be a bit slow over the next week, as I'm attending the Optical Society of America's annual meeting, Frontiers in Optics, being held in Rochester, NY.  I'll hopefully find some interesting optics-y topics to post about while I'm here, and I also have a few other little tidbits to blog about during the week, but no guarantees!  I tend to get preoccupied with socializing, planning collaborations, catching up with old friends, and just getting drunk while at these things.

Oh, and I'll probably be spending a non-trivial amount of time at Millenium Games, one of the best role-playing/boardgame stores in the country...

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The Bee Gees as a tool in cardiac resuscitation?

Oct 17 2008 Published by under Science news, Silliness

Via CNN, we learn an interesting little factoid: the 103 beats per minute rhythm of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive", and its catchy, memorable tune, can be used by CPR practitioners to properly time their chest compressions!

A small study done by The University of Illinois medical school found that doctors and students maintained close to the optimal 100 compressions per minute while listening to the Bee Gees' classic hit.

Most ridiculous quote in the article?  "I don't know how the Bee Gees knew this," Nadkarni said. "They probably didn't. But they just hit upon this natural rhythm that was very catchy, very popular, that helps us do the right thing."

Emphasis mine.  They probably didn't?  What, you think that they designed the song as a CPR tool, and just didn't tell anyone?

The money quote in the article is at the conclusion, from one of the study's participants, Dr. Gilbert:

Also, Gilbert said he's not really a disco fan.

He does happen to like a certain Queen song with a similar beat.

"I heard a rumor that 'Another One Bites the Dust' works also, but it didn't seem quite as appropriate," Gilbert said.

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The Giant's Shoulders #4 is up!

Oct 17 2008 Published by under General science, Science news

After a little delay, the fourth edition of The Giant's Shoulders is up at Second Order Approximation!  Thanks to Dave for putting it together!

The next edition will be held at Podblack Blog on November 15th.  It will already have an entry, as I finished my Fabry-Perot post too late for #4!

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Fabry, Perot, and their wonderful interferometer (1897, 1899)

Oct 16 2008 Published by under History of science, Optics, Physics

This is my entry for the fifth edition of The Giant's Shoulders, to be held at Podblack Blog on November 15th.

By the late 1800s, physicists had begun a serious study of the structure of the atom.  The best tool for such studies, indeed pretty much the only tool in that pre-quantum era, was a spectroscopic analysis of the light emitted/absorbed by the atom.  Each species of atom radiates light at its own distinct, discrete set of frequencies ('spectral lines'), and knowledge of these frequencies could be used, for instance, by astronomers to determine the chemical composition of distant stars.

Devices which could be used to analyze the spectral content of a light field in that era were, however, limited.  Like a far-sighted person trying unaided to read the fine print of a newspaper, the spectroscopes of the time were limited in how well they could distinguish ('resolve') very closely-spaced spectral lines.  Researchers needed a device which could outperform existing techniques, such as the use of a diffraction grating or a Michelson interferometer.

In 1897, Charles Fabry and Alfred Perot introduced a new interferometric device which would eventually bear their name: the Fabry-Perot interferometer.  The design of the interferometer is, in principle, simplicity itself: light is passed through a pair of parallel, highly reflecting mirrors.  Interference between components of the light undergoing multiple reflections result in extremely well-defined interference fringes emerging from the device, from which spectral properties of light can be deduced.

Fabry and Perot published a large number of papers on their interferometer, including 15 joint articles between 1896 and 1902.  The first of these articles dealt with the theory of the interferometer and applied it to the accurate measurement of very small distances, while the second described the apparatus in detail and applied it to spectroscopy.

In this post, we discuss the scientists, their interferometer, the results of their first few papers, and the impact the F-P interferometer has had on physics in general.

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History of science at ScienceOnline '09!

Oct 15 2008 Published by under Science news

I should mention that I've been asked to help lead a discussion at ScienceOnline '09 about the History of Science and blogging, along with the excellent bloggers Scicurious, Brian Switek, and John McKay.  ScienceOnline '09 is the third-annual scienceblogging conference, to be held in January.  I'm delighted to be participating and sharing the session with such excellent bloggers!

A wiki page has been started to get the discussion going before the meeting.  Taking a cue from Brian, let me ask the readers here: is there anything in particular that you think should be covered in a History of Science and blogging discussion?  I can definitely give an impassioned argument as to why I think it is important, and also give oodles of tips about what I do to prepare a science history post, but I'd be interested to hear what other people might think are important topics to cover.

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A brief political observation

Oct 14 2008 Published by under Personal

I went to Best Buy to buy my DVD copy of the fourth Indiana Jones movie, and I passed a major intersection where McCain supporters were standing with "Honk for McCain" signs.  On my way out and back, I was there for perhaps five minutes -- and heard two honks.

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'Ultima' creator takes the ultimate ride!

Oct 12 2008 Published by under Silliness

This is quite cool: Richard Garriott, the millionaire creator of the Ultima series of fantasy role-playing videogames, is now in orbit!  Garriott is one of the board members of Space Adventures Ltd., the space tourism company which has been sending people up to the ISS since 2001.  He blasted off from Kazakhstan in a Soyuz TMA-13 capsule at 3:01 pm EDT today.

It's no surprise that Garriott would do such a thing: he's well-known for exceptional antics.  For years, he held elaborate haunted houses at his home, Brittania Manor.

He also deserves credit for making one of the first truly literary video games, in Ultima IV.  When I first played it years ago, I was incredibly surprised to find that the 'quest' was not the destruction of some ultimate evil, but rather the moral perfection of one's own character!  Ultima IV was the first video game that really made me think about the consequences of one's actions.

Anyway, best of luck to Garriott during his stay on the ISS and in his return journey!

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