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!

Repeat, repeat, repeat

Today while I was reading up articles on solar cells I came across something that touched a real chord with me:

In the September 2014 issue of Nature Photonics, Zimmermann et al. had a commentary piece titled “Erroneous efficiency reports harm organic solar cell research” on page 669.

The authors commented that mischaracterization or solar cell power conversion efficiencies and inconsistent data being published in scientific journals (in the field of solar cells) was particularly harmful for the area. The race for getting the best results and publishing them in the journals with highest impact factor, has in part led to people being less careful about incorrect measurements and poor reporting.

The danger when such articles multiply and proliferate is that the data being reported is unreliable and one doesn’t know which data/papers to trust. The progress of the field as a whole is hampered.

Having data and results that can be trusted, repeated and verified is a must for scientific research. In some cases, the methods to be used for characterization are clearly laid out and researchers can follow these, and/or conduct standardized tests/measurements to show the veracity of their results. This instills confidence in readers about the work and should positively impact the citation of the work too.

Obviously such issues are not confined to one field alone. For numerical modeling as I have said in previous posts, benchmarking results of a new technique against existing test cases/analytical solutions is a must!

The sheer number of the papers that were reporting results which overestimated performance though was quite a shock!

I think from now on I am going to be even more rigorous about my results as well as those of the papers I review/edit!

A new dimension

I am intrigued by a new development: Springer has started a new series of books called Science and Fiction. This series contains sci-fi books written by scientists and writers of hard sci-fi which contain apart from the story itself, a section about the Science in the book. That is not all, the series has books that have a critical commentary on sci-fi and its interaction with modern Science, religion etc.  The series as the publisher’s site says, looks to uncover mutual influences, prompt fruitful interaction.

It is great to see a scientific publisher see the close link and interaction that human imagination creates between sci-fi of today and the Science of tomorrow.
It will be an interesting experiment and one that I hope will be successful.

I also wonder when those from the so-called literary establishment will see the same connection and give sci-fi its rightful place in the pantheon of serious literature.

CLEO 2015: a great few days!

While the Californian weather was chillier than expected the conference and people were as warm as ever.

I spent last week at CLEO 2015 in San Jose and had a marvellous time. Ruminating on the conference these were the highlights for me:

The plenary sessions included talks by Nobel Prize winners like Shuji Nakamura who helped solve the issues with blue-green LED/laser. One plenary in particular really caught my fancy: “Light’s twist” by Miles Padgett of University of Glasgow. Some of the things he talked about : the orbital angular momentum of light having helical phase fronts which are not be confused with circularly polarised light were fascinating. The fact that unlike the linear Doppler effect, orbital angular momentum would impart the same frequency shift irrespective of the frequency of the light wave was new to me, but when you think about it makes perfect sense. Perhaps the most thought provoking idea was that it is transverse boundary conditions/limitations on the extent of the light beam that lead to the beams such as Airy and Bessel beams, and a waveguide per se is not required. I need to go away and do a lot of reading, but I am excited!

In the “Modes in Fiber” session the talks covered large mode area fiber designs, as well as fabrication, and went on to some very interesting new ideas on quantum walks in multi core fibers. Large mode area fibers, as a member of the audience pointed out is not a new born field and there are several designs out there. So what makes a design worthy of attention? I think one of the authors answered this very well in his presentation, SM2L.2, when Deepak Jain spoke of the three factors that are key:

  • the metric used to decide what effective single moded operation
  • loss of the fundamental mode
  • the effective radius or area at which bend loss becomes large

This discussion particularly interested me because it is this sort of perspective setting that is so important for good research. At times one can get lost in the virtual forest of journal and conference papers each of which announce a slightly (or hugely) better performance. Yet what is the process for determining which design is really best and will perhaps become the industry standard? This is where conferences like CLEO that bring members of the community together can help find the answers or set people on the path!

Undoubtedly the most exciting talk of the session was SM2L.4 by Peter Mosley from Bath. He showed some exciting simulation and experimental results for multicore fibers, whose propagation constant differences were reconstructed by a Markov chain Monte Carlo simulation, a statistical approach. The striking thing was the difference between the classical behavior one might see (when a particle moves through an array with equal probability of moving left or right) and the non-classical behavior they demonstrated for a photon between coupled.

To me the highlight of Tuesday was the Women in Photonics Lunch that had two very high profile speakers: Prof. Michal Lipson of Cornell University and Dr. Hong Liu, principle engineer at Google Technical Infrastructure. These ladies gave very frank and honest insights into their career paths, the challenges they have faced specific to them being female and their advice for women in general.

When Michal said that people at times assume she works for Alex Gaeta, her husband and also a professor at Cornell, but never the other way round, it produced a wave of a laughter and nods of recognition at what so many women face: being talked over at meetings, being mistaken for the secretary etc. The sub-text or unspoken messages that women are given, of their careers being secondary to their male partner’s or colleagues were all realities that many present in the room could empathise with and perhaps you can too as you read it.

Their advice which works for both women and men contained some real nuggets. For example, “don’t put yourself down because the people around you do that to you”. This action of not internalizing the negative messages from those around us sounds very simple but can be very profound. They also advised everyone to set a high personal standard for oneself. Achieving to a high standard then means we feel more confident and feel we belong and deserve the success that we will hopefully achieve!

I cant end the post without talking a little bit about the great talk by Ayman Abouraddy from CREOL, Florida, who gave an invited talk Wednesday morning. He discussed in a very simple and engaging manner the challenges with making multimaterial chalcogenide fibers. He then went on to explain how using polymers in the process his group had overcome these challenges to fabricate  large index difference, small diameter, robust fibers with low bend loss. It wasn’t that the Science being explained was necessarily completely new to me, but a good review of the field coupled with very accessible explanations of the challenges and their solutions was valuable. A 30 minute talk allowed me to walk away feeling I have a good handle on the latest on the field of mid IR fibers. So time well spent!

Now that I am back in London, I am hitting the papers hard and hope to use my time at CLEO well, and planning for next year’s CLEO.

Conferencing and making conferences

Last month I breathed a huge sigh of relief, gratitude and immense pride after the successful completion of OWTNM 2015. The OWTNM 2015 was the 23rd Optical Wave and Waveguide Theory and Numerical Modeling Workshop. Here is a video from the conference: https://www.dropbox.com/s/j7aqcnst1q536zt/City_OWTNM_edit01.mp4?dl=0

While this was my first experience of making a conference happen, I learned so much, I am off now to CLEO to teach a short course on Finite Element method. I am so very glad that I will be mostly attending and not responsible for more than my short course and after that my own person!

I wanted however to share some of my learnings from OWTNM here.

For those of you organising (or thinking of) their first conference these tips might come in handy!

1. Dates: make sure you get the dates that don’t clash with another premier event of the same nature. That way you don’t compete with other conferences.

2. Venue: a city that has strong tourism appeal, easy flight connections and travel ease will invariable attract more people. Though big cities can be expensive, they are easier to get to, find hotels of all budgets and there are things for people to do in the leisure hours they have. Apart from choosing the city, the actual venue should be easy to reach by public  transport and preferably not in the wilderness. Disabled access, enough toilets, some social space for delegates to sit and relax, wi-fi access make things pleasant.

3. People: perhaps the most important thing of all! You will need the right people for each task. For local committee and reviewers you may need senior academics. Some of these will only review papers, some will only give you contacts (with distinguished speakers you want to invite for example).They may not have time to do the running around, so be realistic in your expectations of them.

You will need people to do the nitty gritty work; making the conference programme, book of abstracts etc. These have to be people who you can rely on to do a good job on time. they will tend not to be super senior.

Advisors: again probably senior people who have organised several conferences and from their experience can help you a lot with timely and useful advice. the previous year’s organisers are good potential advisors too. Someone who had organised an event in your institution is good to speak with aswell: they know how to deal with the challenges specific to your institution.

The heavylifters: no (not counting the very expensive and professionally managed, like CLOE) conference is possible with out the sincere and dedicated work from an army of student volunteers. These young people, mostly post-grads, PhD students, do a lot of the running around. They can come up with the most creative ideas, solutions to problems and exciting inputs. Remember though that they are not experienced in this so can make mistakes. Be prepared to supervise and also be calm and listen!

The administrative staff! you will need to work with finance, catering, IT, security and such services. All these individuals will have an impact on the conference but for most it is not their primary concern. So you must be sensible in dealing with colleagues from these services: make sure you communicate clearly, ask for things in advance and remind them as needed.

4. Communication: a good website is a must for a successful conference. Getting people to learn about the conference, giving them information about paper submission, acceptance, registration, visas, accommodation, venue etc… all this determines how many people attend and how much they enjoy the event. Make sure your website is updated constantly, and emails are answered promptly. An easy to navigate, attractive site is always better than an eyesore!

Communication is important also within the team . You need to make sure people know what is expected of them. That you know what they expect from you! Remember to thank people and acknowledge their efforts, their contributions.

5. Finance and sponsors: you need to start with this almost as soon as you know you will host the event. Ask previous organisers for sponsors who gave support. Talk to all the companies in the field, professional bodies, publishers. Call people! Sometimes you will have to call them again and again. It is harder to say no to someone verbally than in an impersonal email. So call! You will need conference information to sell the event to them: Highlights from the previous year, and what you expect will happen this year, the benefit to the company. The website is very handy for this. That is why keeping it updated is an enormous help in attracting sponsors.

6. Flexibility and planning : somethings will go wrong despite your best efforts. Try and keep some slack in the plans you make. Above all you need to stay calm, rational and informed to make the best decisions at a time of crisis. Make sure you have a list of tasks that need to be completed, and by when, what their priority is. This master plan should be updated regularly and will help you stay on track.

Delegate: don’t try and do every thing yourself. You have picked a team that you trust, now show confidence in them!

For now that is all I can think if! Don’t hesitate to send in your comments and thoughts.

This is part of the wonderful team of students who made OWTNM  2015 possible.DSC03777