A different kind of pride

Usually my blogposts here are about topics thaWP_20151029_18_17_34_Prot interest me (on Science, policy, equality and diversity etc.) and my own research.

Today I feel especially proud writing about my PhD student, Swetha. Swetha entered the UK ICT Pioneers competition of the EPSRC  in the information overload category. She  made a short film about her research work, which took her to the finals of the competition and was amongst only 15 chosen, with only 4 including her in her category. There she presented her work on a poster and explained it to a rather tough panel of judges drawn from EPSRC, companies like Hewlett Packard, Samsung and Facebook.

As a student only in her first year of PhD she was the youngest (in research age and stage of PhD). So this was a huge achievement. It has also spurred her onto believe in her own merit and that she can do great Science.

It was a lovely experience for me as a supervisor to attend the awards night and see my student feted and acknowledged.

Academia is a strange life: for a very long time we work hard to reach the lowest rung of this ladder (10+ years of study to finish postdoc and get a first faculty position in many cases). We are regarded  as junior for so long that it is often not till much later when we supervise PhD students that the realization of the end of our student days dawns upon us.

Having one’s own students do well is the best possible way to realize I am no longer a student!! So my thanks to Swetha.


Nature’s paint palette

I wrote some time ago about structural colour.

More now on that theme.

Some creatures, such as butterflies of the Papilio genus, have sculpted multilayers on their scales: that is they have 2d shapes (for example,like golf balls or dimples) in arrays that maybe interlinked.

Light reflecting off the bottom of the depression (which acts as a 1D structure) is of a different wavelength (and hence colour, say yellow) to that reflecting off the walls (also acting as a 1d structure), say blue. At a far distance the two colours, yellow and blue seem to mix and give the impression that the wings are green!

Another very neat example of structural colour!

Sunday at IEEE Photonics Conference

As I arrived slightly jet lagged and tired for the IEEE Photonics Conference (IPC) I was also a little disgruntled that my favourite shoe shop was far from the hotel.

Not a good start I thought.

But all the cobwebs and irritation was blown away.

The Photonics Pro Training session was mindblowing!

The first talk by Elizabeth Lions on leadership made me ask my self what leadership meant to me, why I or anyone wants to be a leader and how to go about leading. The second talk by Prof. Ben Eggleton carried forward with the theme of leadership and he talked about his career path, the challenges he faced and how he achieved his success.

The IEEE Photonics Society plans to have more such sessions on career development in future conferences to help students and young professionals in the field to gain skills they need to succeed. Judging by the number of people in the room and the age distribution, it seems it is not only young people who want such discussions!

This session was followed by a Women in Photonics panel, where 5 women from diverse research areas, form industry and academia, talked about their career paths. They answered questions from the audience and in a very frank and honest manner gave their take on how to be successful and overcome the challenges they faced. These included hilarious things like a career advisor showing detailed reports to a panelists’s parents on how few women succeed in Science and Engineering to deter her from continuing her studies as an engineer!

Their 5 word advice to young people was:

  • don’t the sweat the small stuff
  • don’t give up
  • follow your passion
  • don’t be hard on yourself
  • believe in yourself

It was interesting that almost all the panelists’s parents had wanted them to be doctors and their choice of Photonics was unexpected to their families.

I am looking forward to Monday now!

Optical illusions, lighting and art

I had a great time yesterday visiting Chain Reaction,a  show at the Kircaldy’s Testing Museum.

The show brought together engineers and artists to put together an interactive display. By clever lighting and use of their signature technique which blends music, light, sound etc. a sense of movement with which the observor could interact was created.

There were exhibits for example, of a swinging chain. When the observor puts her/his hand in a metal ring (breaking the LED light beam that a sensor can sense) the lighting stops so the chain seems to stop swinging. Similarly falling blocks that break, can be stopped or seemingly frozen in mid air by breaking the light path between an LED source and sensor. the accompanying music that mimics the sounds of things falling and shattering (in the case of the blocks) or the swinging chain make the effects very realistic. You actually feel there is a chain swinging towards you!

It challenges perception and the technique of creating such an exhibit is quite exciting. I won’t spoil the fun, look it up at the Trope website!

Art, light and the Serpentine

Every year since 2000 the Serpentine Galleries host a summer pavilion by celebrated architects who have not worked/displayed in UK before. Serpentine Pavilions a pictorial history

This free to the public event is immensely and is a terrific way to see some high quality design and interplay of ideas that bring together architecture, design, art, science.

The 2015 pavilion by the Spanish practice, Selgasgno, have created a colourful pavilion using Fluorine coated polymer which seems to have an iridescent colour and appearance. These effects are obviously interferance as opposed to structural colour  related. Unfortunately the pavilion wasn’t open beyond 6pm for me to see how the effect changes when the lighting is not so bright, or is Sodium lighting. To me the whole thing felt a bit like a low budget sci-fi movie set so I was a bit disappointed.

Iridescent colour of the polymer film

Though the pavilion tries to explore in the words of Selgacgno “public to experience architecture through simple elements: structure, light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials”, it seemed like the understanding of light is still somewhat non technical.

What technical understanding of light would bring and how, I am unable to say. But I do know that it would be lovely to see it being used to being about a true melding of art, design and the Science of light.

Nonetheless I enjoyed my visit and this series of new summer pavilion each year is something very much worth visiting!

Of butterfly wings and that light feeling

I would not be the first person to find butterflies beautiful creatures with their gorgeous, coloured wings. What makes their lovely colours even more special is how they come about.

The beautiful Morpho butterfly exhibits a brilliant blue colour that is lustrous, is not affected by chemical change, lasts more than 100 years (can be seen even in fossils) and maintains its hue over a very large angular viewing range.

This colour arises not from pigmentation but from the structure of the delicate wings.
The wings have arrays of shelves that contain ridges. The interferance within a single shelf gives the blue colour while the diffraction of light from these ridges causes the wide angular spread over which the colour remains blue to the viewer. There is a degree of randomness in the shelves and which prevents other colours from being reflected by interferance. As the shelves are densely packed the reflectivity is quite high.

So what is interesting is that initially people thought that interferance from multiple layers gave rise to the specific colour(s) that we observe in insects such as Morpho. But interferance is by its very nature yields narrow fringes. Yet we observe the blue colour over a broad (angular) range and no fringes, a mostly smooth pattern. So much research has gone into explaining the nature of this colour.

What is amazing is that a wing that looks so delicate and thin can have such a complex structure on it!

Perhaps even more amazing is this way of creating colour. A method that gives fade proof colour that wont wash away, or lose it shine and will last a very long time and which is ecologically friendly!

Farewell the Scientist President of India

It was with great sadness that I read the news of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalaam’s death. Dr. Kalam, a brilliant scientist, a fabulous president for India and a great man.

He was immensely popular among the people of India and hugely respected. As a scientist he rose to prominence with his successful heading of the Indian civilian space and missile programme. This programme has been a source of great pride to people: a clear indicator of the scientific and technological progress that the nation has made.

Dr. Kalam’s appointment as the President of India was like a breath of fresh air: a president who was not a politician, someone the average person could look up to. His emphasis on development and growth  reflected his forward thinking and scientific mind.

If only there were more like him. You will be missed Dr. Kalam but your legacy will live on.

By artiagrawal Posted in opinion

Status quo

The thing about the status quo in Science is that it never lasts very long. Depending on what time horizon you employ the Science we know and take as the writ of nature, changes. We discover new things that contradict or modify our understanding. It is both disquieting and exciting.

The discovery of Pluto’s mountains and relatively crater free plains with their polygonal shapes is one such. Where we thought that only large planets with active cores could show volcanic activity we are now seeing some as yet not understood mechanism that may make small icy worlds like Pluto geologically active.

Seeing those first few images of Pluto has been a revelation to scientists and amateurs alike. Imagine that sitting here about 4 billion miles away we are speculating what makes the mountains on Pluto!

What we learn may change our concept of our solar system and planet formation yet again, but each step seems filled with breathtaking excitement.

Just yesterday I saw a TV documentary discussing in scientific detail how a manned mission to Mars would operate. Perhaps when we land there (or even Jupiter or Saturn in some years!) we’ll find something that makes our world tilt yet again.

This applies of course to the very small as well as to the very large.

The discovery of the pentaquark has been a little overshadowed by Pluto’s shenanigans. But is no less cool. Will the LHC confirm the supersymmetry view of the world or do we go back to the drawing board?

To have a week like this, filled with such exciting discoveries with potential for taking our thinking in new directions, is one to savour. I just want more photos from Pluto!!

The connection between beauty and Science

Last evening I attended the most incredible lecture by Prof. Frank Wilczek from MIT. A Physics Nobel prize winner (2004), Prof. Wilczek has written a book: A Beautiful Question.

The lecture also titled, A Beautiful Question, explored the deep and fascinating connection between beauty and Science or our understanding of the world.

He asked: “Does the world embody beautiful ideas” and “Is the world a work of art”.

In exploring the answers to these questions, the tour took us through some very cool principles, not unknown to scientists and engineers. But in the context they seemed fresher and somehow their beauty became more apparent than before.

For example, symmetry. If we perform a transformation that leaves the content unchanged but changes the form. A circle might be rotated, an equation like x=y with the transformation y becomes x and x becomes y, remains unchanged in content : y=x , but changes in form. Effectively we are only changing perspective and in the new perspective the object might look different, but it’s reality is unchanged.

He showed us a slide of how colours of electromagnetic waves appear different in the relatavisitic Doppler effect. Red shifted when moving away, and blue when moving closer. This led me to ask: if the wavelenght/frequency of light is a matter of perspective, then what is the underlying content or intrinsic reality of an electromagnetic wave that doesn’t change?

He considered anamorphic art and how an image changing media is needed for this. As a parallel he considered general relativity where a metric fluid is needed for similar effect. See for example http://loudwigvanludens.weebly.com/anamorphic-works.html, something I found later. The parallels between art and science where beauty plays a part were a completely new way of expressing perhaps the loveliness many of us see in science.

There was some very persuasive examples that physics theories can be beautiful. Often theories that are beautiful may lead to deep insights with the caveat that one must always verify and not trust blindly to any theory no matter how beautiful. So as a proponent of the SUSY or super symmetry model which envisages a unification of all the forces that is the point he left us at.

I intend to read the book if only to see science from a romantic, aesthetic angle!