The Science of Haute Couture and the Fashion of Science

I want that gorgeous Chanel bag. I do!chanelpaperbag

Is there any science and logic behind it? Not from my side, but I suspect there is considerable science (and well Art) from Chanel.

Surely the fashion and designs sold to us through seductive advertising are not merely the unfettered, free-spirited, creative output of talented designers? I suspect there is plenty of science behind how trends change and new trends are introduced to the market.

Conversely I think the trends in Science follow fashions too.

What does that mean?

There are usually areas/approaches that attract the attention of policy-makers, grant-giving bodies, editors of journals and reviewers. And work done in these areas/approaches tends to attract more funding, gets published more easily, and receives more attention than less fashionable ones.

The advantages of such fashions include the channelling of resources into strategically important areas/approaches, their possible rapid development, potential return to the taxpayers, investors, industry, improvement for the public in products/services. With limited resources some parameters on priority areas/approaches are indispensable.

The disadvantage can be over-funding of some topics at the expense of other deserving options, neglect of promising potential developments, restricting creativity and diversity in thought.

Science is frustratingly enigmatic: we can’t always predict which seemingly obscure development or outlandish piece of research will lead to a fantastic new technology or product that changes our lives. Nor can we be sure that the hot area that many work on and that holds so much promise will eventually deliver the goods on schedule.

This fickle quality is what makes science so exciting to work in. You can’t really know what the work of today will create for tomorrow.

I take the example of Photonics (as this is my area of work, I feel more comfortable drawing from my not so vast experience): it has many applications and photonics is often an enabling technology in many other disciplines. In my view the current trend in Photonics is to largely focus on experimental work. Theoretical ideas that are proposed are sometimes regarded with a jaundiced eye in the peer review process: if you can’t or haven’t fabricated it (a prototype) or demonstrated it, reviewers and editors are hard to convince about the potential of the idea.

Yet the principle behind the laser (and its development by several researchers over the years) was published years before the first prototype was demonstrated. Today lasers are everywhere: in our printers, DVD reader/writers, we use them to cut machinery, to operate on patients… But would this wonderful idea have survived the peer review of today?

Another example I take is that of LHM/NIM (Left-Handed Materials or Negative Index Materials). The concept of negative refractive index was predicted by Veselago in the 1960s when no experimental verification of the concept was possible: fabrication of such structures was not feasible with the technology of the day and no known examples existed in the natural world. Yet the work was published and has since the 1990s led to a huge research effort globally. Everyone has heard of metamaterials! Whether these exotic materials will give us the breakthroughs that researchers expect remains to be seen.

And so I feel we need to encourage a more balanced perspective (and resource allocation) which does not lean too heavily in any one direction, lest we ignore incredible ideas that can transform science.

Why I want to be a S(A)MOSA!


As a MOSA or member of Optical Society of America I have enjoyed several samosabenefits: discounted conference registration, access to journals, free OPN, resources for student chapters and most of all the opportunity to network with other people in Optics. It’s been worth paying the yearly membership dues for all these and other privileges.

OSA like other professional bodies has grades of membership and once you are a MOSA, the next step is SMOSA or senior member of OSA and finally FOSA or Fellow of OSA if you have done sufficient sterling work. These grades reflect achievement and seniority in the profession and also serve to add value to one’s CV.

All of the above sounds rather serious and highbrow.  But it tickles me just a little.

SMOSA immediately reminds me of samosa, a tasty Indian savoury snack. I really like the idea of being a S(A)MOSA. I don’t obviously want to be eaten alive by anyone.  Nor do I want false pretences to be my claim to fame: first live human samosa!

However, the merit of being a S(A)MOSA apart from the serious stuff and what that entails, is that it might just bring a smile to someone’s face and it may be cool to be associated with a delicious snack.

Now what could FOSA conjure up?

First blog is the hardest: to blog or not to blog

Hello and thanks for looking in.

This is my first post on this blog. It comes after some cogitation and agitation… to blog or not to blog? I was pretty sceptical about social media, to me twitter, facebook and even blogging seemed more suited to teenagers obsessed with boy bands. So I could not take this media seriously or see myself using it, much less starting a dedicated personal blog!

And yet here we are, you are reading this post, and I obviously, have written it. How came this transformation in attitude?

Well, a colleague at the university, spoke about social media as a tool for academics. I was quite taken by the ideas

(- a way to communicate with a larger, global audience

– freedom to say more about research (context, why you did this piece of work…) than papers allow

– get more exposure and raise profile of one’s research

– ability to discuss other topics related to science)

he presented and so I investigated by reading the blogs of some other academics that my colleague recommended. It got me quite keen and my first blogposts were as a guest for the Optical Society of America at a conference. You can see the results of those first attempts here:

I found that I enjoyed blogging a lot. So much so that it was scary as it was so addictive! I found myself thinking of what I would say in my next post more than what I would say in my paper presentation.. which is why I delayed my own blog. Was I prepared to be a slave to this new compulsion?

And so after much cogitation and agitation, I decided to conduct a scientific experiment on myself with the blog reading community as witness. I would start a blog and see if in the long run the compulsion consumes me or tapers off to a normal level comparable to other activities. I hope you will stay with me on this journey and experiment and be part of the outcomes. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy reading the posts.

Welcome to my blog!