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Beware! Before you read the post, I want you to know that I am also using this post to say to anyone from the Western Balkan countries interested in working with me (masters/PhD research work) that there are scholarships available through the Sigma project to travel to City University London. Read on for more…

See the world!  cartoon about exchange students

And make it count for your career too!

One of the great perks of academic life includes travel to many parts of the world, and meeting people from everywhere. Conferences are a fantastic way to do this. If you’ve read my post (Nice conferencing with you), you’d know I like travel, people, food and shopping!

But conferences are bite-sized experiences that often end far too soon… not giving us enough time in one exciting place. However, luckily for us conferences aren’t the only official reason to travel.

Besides, you might ask, what does travel have to do with building a career?

That is the sweet bit!

It is possible to spend time at universities/research centres in other countries through many exchange programme/mobility schemes. The schemes are many and varied. Some are for durations of a couple of weeks to a few months, while longer schemes can allow staying at a host institution for 6-24 months. There are schemes for everyone: undergrad/postgrad/PhD students, post-docs, and even staff. It is possible to attend another university and attend their courses, or do part/whole of your dissertation there, work on a research project, learn specific skills…

These schemes present a great opportunity to

  • experience a scholastic system different from your own
  • study highly rated courses and/or those not available in the home institution
  • to work with some world leading groups
  • learn new skills/techniques that are not available in your home lab
  • try out your language skills
  • experience a new country, culture and people
  • get a more global perspective on your field
  • put something on your CV that not everyone has
  • develop a network that is global
  • more things that I can think of and list!

So what are these schemes?

One example for schemes that allow travel related to European partners is the Erasmus schemes– the Sigma scheme linking staff and students in 6 EU countries with partners in the western Balkans. More information on Erasmus schemes in general (linking EU) can be found at http://www.mastersportal.eu/students/articles/erasmus-mundus/, http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/erasmus_mundus/index_en.php and http://www.em-a.eu/.

Some famous schemes include: the Fulbright that connects the US to other countries, the DAAD programme that connect Germany, the JSPS programme that connects Japan. There are many, many others and I only mention very few.

A great best place to find out is the student office/international office in your university which would list the schemes that the university is part of. A compilation of funding sources not restricted to travel/mobility is the famous Grants register.

So if you find something that allows you to come to the UK, come and work with me!

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The networking connection

This is not the first piece you would have read about using networks, both real and virtual to further your career. Everyone everywhere is talking about linkedin, delicious, mendeley, twitter, zotero…  (see http://www.rin.ac.uk/node/1009)

I have a linkedin profile but am hesitant about contacting people (I don’t know) through it. So what is the use?

How can slightly shy people use these tools effectively?

My limited way of using linkedin expanded a bit last evening:

I joined some groups such as Women in Technology.  There are many groups within Linkedin each with its own objectives, or common interest. Members within the group can post information and start discussions online on topics that are relevant to the group. It’s an easy way to pick up information on local events (job fairs, competitions, talks, seminars), job openings, latest industry trends and interesting articles without having to scour the web yourself. The simultaneously local (whats happening in your city) and global aspect (where is the area/industry as a whole moving) is quite cool.

And I found information about a student poster competition that I will tell my students about!

All of this without having to email unknown person on the site! So I was pretty pleased. But I went one step further from the passive reader role.

I posted a discussion on an event I am organising (http://securingip.eventbrite.com ). From being an information gathering tool, linked became a dissemination tool for me. I got a few signups for the event. Some of those signing up are people I don’t know, but will meet at the event and this makes new connections for me.

I am hoping that in the future I will make even more use of these tools since that’s the direction the world is headed in.

Stacking the Equiangular Spiral!

What a thrill!

Coming up with the idea of the ES design was a lot of fun and working with it, discovering the optical properties (see my papers) that we could get from it has been an addiction! I know addiction is not a word used with work very often, but this work has had me hooked. You can probably guess that by reading my previous posts: the magic of equiangular spirals and my research page.

Now I am writing about something that topped all that went before.

How to make the spiral!

Brilliant theoretical ideas, flights of fancy and exotic designs are not new in research. From that perspective the spiral PCF designs that I work on can be regarded as yet another cool idea that may not survive the first big hurdle: how do you make it real? If a design cannot be fabricated then it may get lost forever in the dusty past issues of a journal. However, if it can be made, tested and used, then the story might be different.

When some colleagues at the University of Nottingham, asked me how the ES design Hexagonal CLose Packed layers of spheres could be fabricated, initially I was stumped. I thought, “that’s the work of the fabrication experts surely?” On second thoughts, no! Some introspection showed me that making the ES design was not about changing the temperature settings in the oven. There was some beautiful science involved. And this post gives some insight into that.

There is more than 1 fabrication technique that could be employed for the ES design: extrusion, drilling and Stack-and-Draw (SaD). The first two are more recent, while the third is the most mature and used the world over. For that reason, I focused on developing an algorithm that could fabricate the ES PCF using the Stack-and-Draw  technique.

The SaD method is essentially a 2D form of Hexagonal Close Packing (HCP). HCP is a method of placing spheres on top of each other in 3D in way that maximises packing density. It results in spheres in 1 layer being placed in the depressions left from the spheres in the layer below. This leads to a hexagonal arrangement of spheres.

Giant's Causeway: HCP in action In PCF fabrication, we stack long cylindrical glass tubes/capillaries such that each layer of capillaries lies on the depressions left from the layer below. This naturally gives us a hexagonal arrangement of capillaries. Deviations from this arrangement are impossible using stacking (some what similar to this picture of the Giant’s Causeway)!

Then how can we use stacking to change the angle from 60 degrees, or the position of a capillary?

That’s where the beautiful Science comes in!

We recognise that the packing of capillaries is like 2D packing of circles. I found that using the concept of Steiner chains we could stack capillaries to form equiangular spirals. This work is discussed in my latest paper, available as a free preprint or from the IEEE website. In this paper, I’ve explained the algorithm and given some simulation results to show that there is a way. So if you are interested in making it, please get in touch!

Of course, the story doesn’t stop here. Now I am wondering if the Golden Spiral PCF can be made with this technique. Apart from other cool things that can be done with spirals…