Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pre-Conference Homework

I am a bit ashamed to admit it, but this is really the first time that I have done any pre-conference homework. What I am referring to is looking at the conference schedule, browsing the website, looking through abstracts, and even using the online planner to make an itinerary.

Though maybe a bit nerdy, or perhaps just naive, this has been an epiphany for me. For any conference-goers reading these posts, if you don't already, I urge you to take a look at the conference program well before you get to San Jose. Do a little planning now so that you can arm yourself with those good questions to advance and broaden your research. Some brief searching on the CLEO website last night already got me thinking about some new directions for MID-IR work as well as resurrecting some old ideas I had about novel pulsed sources using optical-phase locking.

To start your planning, I suggest going to the Hot Topics categories midway down on the main conference page. Typically I am cynical about what seem like cute little multimedia ploys to spice-up dry, technical subject-matter like the You Tube shorts on this page. However, these are well delivered and helpful. They are worth a listen. I found myself playing them all even though many were out of my sub-field. The list of tutorials and invited talks beside each short was particularly useful.

In one of the shorts (above), Peter Smowton, the Semiconductors Subcommittee Chair, from Cardiff University teased my interest in prompting what he thinks could be a "controversial" talk, CTuKK1, "Direct Observation of Two-Photon Gain in Semiconductors." This is the first observation of two-photon gain in a solid. Be sure to show up at 4:45 pm on Tuesday, May 18, in room A6 to watch the drama unfold.

In another short, Konstantin Vodopyanof, the General Chair from Stanford and Brian Applegate, the Biophotonics Subcommittee Chair, from Texas A&M University prompted me to schedule William Moerner's tutorial on supper-resolution into my itinerary, 4:45 on Thursday, May 20, in room A4. What is super you may ask? Less than 100 nm. Impressive.

After browsing Hot Topics, you may try what I did and build up a conference itinerary.

If you are going to CLEO you're a nerd already, embrace it and do some nerdy planning too.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Missing Optics and Volcanic Lightning

Photo from Marco Fulle, National Geographic Daily News

In the lead-up to CLEO I have been trying to do some work in the MID-IR wavelength range. I have been waiting for some CaF2 lenses that were due to arrive a few days ago only to find that they were held up by the ash plume from Eyjafjallajokull's recent eruptions. It turns out that the distribution center from where my lenses were to be shipped is in Germany.

Searching the news for more information, I learned about the woes of poor stranded European travelers (rock stars, film-makers and pro-wrestlers included; it seems ash plumes don't discriminate),how to pronounce the name of the Icelandic volcano that caused all of this trouble (by the way it is EY-ya-fyat-lah-YOH-kuht), debate among officials about the safety of flying through ash plumes, but most interesting to the scientist in me, volcanic lightning.

I stumbled across these stunning pictures on the NY Times blog Lens from Icelandic photographer Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson. These photos that show the explosions, ash, and volcanic lightning from Eyjafjallajokull seem to be more like something from a George Lucas film (like that fiery lava planet in Star Wars: Episode III) than reality.

I then did some browsing on volcanic lightning to find some more photos and some explanation . The same ingredients in the eruption are found in thunderstorms: water droplets, ice, and particles all interacting. The ash plume provides lots of surface area for charging. I am reminded of stories I've read about the dust bowl in the plains of the U.S. during the 1930s when people refused to shake hands for fear of large static shock and that they also dragged chains from the tailgates of their cars to ground charge build-up. I guess it should be a no-brainer that lots of moving dust = lots of static build up.

I wish those still delayed in Western Europe safe and uninterrupted travel. May your delays be short. Maybe my lenses will arrive soon too...