Archive for: October, 2009


Oct 16 2009 Published by under ... the Hell?, Travel

The scene at San Jose International Airport, 5 am:


No responses yet

Other blogging of Frontiers in Optics

Oct 14 2009 Published by under Optics, Science news

By the way, if you're looking for other blogging about the Frontiers in Optics meeting, there are 3 official  bloggers this year, and they can be read here.  I actually know Adam and Bob, and I'm absolutely convinced they're trying to muscle in on my turf!  I'm posting a mental note to crush them sometime in the future...

No responses yet

Frontiers in Optics: Monday

Oct 14 2009 Published by under Optics, Science news

The main "act" on Monday at the conference was the Plenary Session/Awards Ceremony.  Lots of scientists I'm familiar with (and whom I've met at one point or another) were given awards, including Joseph Goodman (known to students for his books on Fourier and statistical optics), Anthony Siegman (known to students for his Lasers book), and Roland Winston (a pioneer in the development of solar concentrators).  Victor Vesalago, whose 1968 paper on negative refractive index ushered in the era of metamaterials, was given an award for this contribution.  (I was surprised; with apologies to Dr. Vesalago, I always assumed he was dead.)  The OSA Student Chapter of Laval University won an award -- if only there was somebody from Laval here at the meeting that I could congratulate!

Roy Glauber, who was a joint winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2005, was awarded honorary membership in the optical society.  He gave a charming short speech in which he described his early (pre-age 14) experiments in optics.  Among other things, he built his own refracting telescope, and thought for a while that he had discovered "rainbows on the moon"!

Although the Physics Nobel this year went to three optics researchers, and Society members, none of them could come to the meeting.  Apparently a podcast with one of the winners is available on the OSA website, but I haven't been able to dig it up yet.

The winner of the Frederic Ives Medal (the highest award conveyed by the society) was Robert L. Byer, a pioneering researcher in laser technology.  He gave a very nice talk about the historical development of the laser, from devices which could produce milliwatts of power with an electrical to light conversion of 0.2% to current devices which can produce megawatts of power and have 70% conversion efficiency.  Such powerful lasers have applications which are both practical and scientific.  On the scientific size, such powerful beams are to be used to accelerate electrons to ultra-relativistic speeds at the SLAC linear accelerator for particle physics research.  On the practical side, such beams are being used in attempts to generate nuclear fusion, at the National Ignition Facility.  Such attempts have been going on for years without success, so it was eyebrow-raising to hear that they think that they will actually achieve fusion in October of 2010!  If accurate, the implications for the world's energy needs is huge.

The first plenary lecture was by Andrea Ghez, an observational astrophysicist at the University of California at Los Angeles.  Her talk, "Unveiling a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy," was quite fascinating.  Certain galaxies, known as active galaxies, radiate massive amounts of energy, a process which we are confident is due to mass accretion by one of these supermassive black holes (SGHs).  But active galaxies are rather uncommon, which raises the question: do all galaxies have SGHs in their center, just "quiet" ones?  Our own galaxy is the best place to look, since we're obviously in it.  The trick is to look near the very center of the galaxy.  An SGH would be an object with 4 million times the mass of the sun in a very tiny, planet-size or smaller area.  By looking at the orbit of stars near the galactic center, one can estimate the amount of mass at the center and a lower limit of the area contained by that mass.  Work by Ghez has shown that 4 million masses of the sun is contained in an area the size of the solar system; this is not quite small enough to prove that it is a black hole in the center, but it is unlikely to be anything else at that scale.  Future experiments to make more precise measurements will require larger telescopes, with even staggering 30m aperture telescopes proposed!  (The Keck observatory has a 10m aperture.)

The second plenary was a talk on X-ray microscopy by Janos Kirz.  It was interesting, but couldn't compare to black holes, and I found my mind wandering during the talk and myself not recalling much of the details.

Later in the day, I went and listened to Victor Vesalago's talk on negative refractive index.   There was nothing much new in the talk -- the original research was done 40 years ago -- but it was really neat to hear the original "inventor" of negative refraction describe his ideas.

3 responses so far

ResearchBlogging editor's selections: mega-rings, nano-anglerfish, and resilient algae

Oct 12 2009 Published by under General science, Science news

  • New mega ring around Saturn discovered using Spitzer. The big news in astronomy this week is the discovery of a BIG, hidden ring around Saturn! Dave at Exploding Galaxies and other Catastrophysics gives us the details.
  • Nano Anglerfish Snag Orphan Enzymes. Keith at Omics! Omics! describes a new approach for studying enzyme activities using nanotechnology -- and does so by making an analogy with anglerfish!
  • Algae bounced back after a knock. How can we tell what really killed the dinosaurs? Thomas at Thomas' Plant-Related Blog describes one important clue: the recovery of algae in the immediate years following the event.

Check back next Monday for more “miscellaneous” highlights!

No responses yet

"Liveblogging" What's Hot in Optics at Frontiers in Optics 2009

Oct 11 2009 Published by under Optics, Science news

Each year, Frontiers in Optics has a session entitled "What's hot in optics".  I thought I'd "liveblog" it (type it up on my computer and post it later) like I did last year; hopefully the comments make sense, considering I got up at 4 a.m. to fly to San Jose.

There were some very interesting things discussed, though I always feel that these talks lack a certain amount of energy.  If you're going to label a session "hot", I would think that the speakers should bring some enthusiasm to the podium!  Then again, people may be a little gloomy due to the economy, which has hit optics like everything else.

The blogging:

Continue Reading »

One response so far

Off to Frontiers in Optics 2009!

Oct 09 2009 Published by under ... the Hell?, Science news

Today my life is complete chaos as I try and get things together for the OSA Annual Meeting, aka Frontiers in Optics 2009.  Wouldn't you know it, today is the day that suddenly a dozen extra meetings and phone calls take place, and a bunch of other urgent tasks appear as from nothing! I was hoping to finish my talk this afternoon, but it looks like I'll be doing it on the road...

I'll try and blog, as I did last year, about events at the conference.  This year, however, seems to be super-busy, as I've accepted all sorts of new conference-organizing responsibilities and am going to try and hash out a few papers with people while there.

If any of my regular readers are going to be at FiO and want to meet up to say "hello", send me an email and we'll see what we can do!

Speaking of OSA, this month's issue of Optics and Photonics News has a nice biography of Robert W. Wood, who I recently declared one of the earliest investigators of invisibility physics.  I'm not sure if it is an open access article or not, but it's an interesting read if you can get to it.

4 responses so far

The Linkin' Log, video edition: October 8, 2009

Oct 08 2009 Published by under [Politics], Entertainment

Over the past couple of weeks, a few videos caught my eye, for various reasons.  I thought that it was a good time for a collection of links:

Via Steven Benen at Political Animal, a video has been found which encapsulates the obstructionist policy of the Republicans with respect to health care and, come to think of it, everything else:

Via Roger Ebert's "Answer Man" column, I learned of the movie Paranormal Activity, a low-budget, "Blair Witch"-style documentary horror film which is getting rave reviews as a stunningly scary film.  It hasn't received wide theatrical release yet, but hopefully it will be coming to a theater near you soon:

Shepard Smith, though an anchor on the stunningly dishonest Fox News, manages to demonstrate an admirably independent thought process.  This week, when Senator John Barrasso spouted spurious GOP talking points about the proposed public health option, Shep let him have it (via Talking Points Memo):

As long as we're speaking of Fox News personalities, I can't pass up pointing out what a phony slimebag Glenn Beck is.  Though it will surprise few that his teary-eyed commentaries are completely faked, it is still amazing that this video was released showing his tear-producing method: Vick's Vapo-Rub:

Finally, via HuffPost, some truly amazing video: the only known film footage of Anne Frank, a short scene in a video of the wedding of the girl next door.  This footage was released by the Anne Frank House, and is now on YouTube:

That's all for now!

No responses yet

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is trying to drive me insane

Oct 07 2009 Published by under ... the Hell?, General science

What a difference a letter can make!  The Nobel Prize in Physics this year went to Charles K. Kao for developments in fiber optics and to Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith for the development of CCD cameras.  Fiber optics is a huge field, however, and the news descriptions have been a little vague as to what, exactly, Kao did for the prize, so I decided to look up Kao's original paper for details.

The Nobel Prize site has a nice description of the scientific background; it includes the reference to the seminal contribution:

K.C. Kao and G.A. Hockham, "Dielectric-Fibre Surface Waveguides for optical frequencies," Proc. IEEE 113, 1151 (1966).

So, no problem: I went to the website of the IEEE and browsed to the location of the reference.  No good: the paper is not in the Proceedings of the IEEE, and the volume for 1966 is 54, way off.  Now discombobulated, I did a search through the IEEE journals for the title of the paper.

Bingo, it seemed: I found the paper, with the right authors, and the right title.  It was in the Proceedings of the IEE, not the Proceedings of the IEEE -- a common mistake.  IEE refers to the Institution of Electrical Engineers, a British society which was first founded in 1871 and became the IET in 2006, while IEEE refers to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an American institution which was formed from the merger of other organizations in 1963.  There was a significant overlap of the two organizations in time, making things mildly confusing.

So I sat down to read the article.  A quick glance at the citation showed that it still didn't match the Nobel reference, but hey, maybe they totally screwed up!  Then I happened to glance at one of the references in the paper: G. Hockham's Ph.D. Thesis, 1969.  What??!! Kao and Hockham's paper was supposed to be written in 1966 -- could they see the future??!!

A closer look at the citation shows a problem: the paper I'm looking at was published in 1986.  I suddenly had my doubts that I was looking at the right paper -- perhaps I was looking at a review article, or an article so closely related it had the same title?

All of this confusion happened over about 5-10 minutes.  At this point, I think capillaries started to burst in my head.  I did a frantic internet search to try and find the proper citation, which was not only fruitless but almost destructive -- a search on "kao iee" brought me to one of those sites that tries to "virus scan" your computer and sell  you crap.

Finally, I calmed down a bit and looked again at the 1986 paper.  In small print on the bottom of the front page, I found:

Paper 5033E was originally published in the Proceedings IEE, July 1966.

The version of the paper I found was a reprint of the original.  The original didn't turn up in my IEEE website search because they haven't updated their digital archives that far back.

So the document on the Nobel Prize site has a citation which is off by only one letter -- one too many 'E's -- and that threw me into a complete tizzy.  Let this be a cautionary tale on the importance of properly citing articles.

However, I still don't understand how a reprinted paper can cite a Ph.D. thesis which was written 3 years after the original publication.

I'll actually write a post about the substance of the Nobel-winning research when my head stops throbbing...

4 responses so far

Lord Rayleigh's comments on invisibility (1884)

Oct 07 2009 Published by under History of science, Invisibility

Found it! I pointed out in my previous invisibility post that R.W. Wood attributes an early discussion of invisibility to Lord Rayleigh in his Encyclopædia Britannica article on optics; however, I couldn't find the quote after browsing Rayleigh's articles and wondered if Wood had miscited Rayleigh's work.

A bit of closer inspection, however, shows that I overlooked Rayleigh's comment, which was buried in a footnote in his article on geometrical optics (Encyclopædia Britannica, vol. 17 (1884, 9th ed.), 798-807), in what I would have considered an unlikely place, namely his discussion of achromatic object-glasses (p. 805).  The footnote is as follows:

Even when the optical differences are not small it is well to remember that transparent bodies are only visible in virtue of a variable illumination.   If the light falls equally in all directions, as it might approximately do for an observer on a high monument during a thick fog, the edge of (for example) a perfectly transparent prism would be absolutely invisible.  If a spherical cloud, composed of absolutely transparent material, surround symmetrically a source of light, the illumination at a distance would not be diminished by its presence.

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Themes for "The Giant's Shoulders?"

Oct 06 2009 Published by under General science, Science news

The other day I was mulling over one of my recent 'history of science' posts, on an early physics crank whose work dates back to 1891.  About the same time, I was thinking about other 'challenges' I could pose for sciencebloggers similar to my classic papers challenge that really launched my whole interest in science history.

Hey, I then realized: why not put the two ideas together?  What I'm thinking is to have themed editions of The Giant's Shoulders, one of which would be "Failures, Frauds and Fools", discussions of the works of those people who were horribly wrong about a phenomenon, published fraudulent research, or were just plain nuts!  Such a theme would seem natural for the upcoming April issue of TGS.

Another theme that quickly came to my mind involves the 9th edition (late 1800s) of the Encyclopædia Britannica, the so-called "Scholar's edition."  Many of the articles of the scholar's edition were written by leading experts in their fields, including articles by Lord Rayleigh on optics, and the entire edition can be found online with some searching.  The theme would be to take one of those articles and write about the current state of understanding of a particular research topic. I'm thinking that this could be a nice theme for an upcoming issue, say November.

The theme of any particular TGS edition would not be exclusive: bloggers could still submit history of science posts on any topic of interest, but the themes would give some ideas on what to write about.

Does this sound interesting?  Let me know what you think.  If you have other ideas for themed editions of the carnival, let me know that too!

4 responses so far

« Newer posts Older posts »