Lazy days in Delhi

I am in Delhi right now – part work and partly a holiday. The work bit is attending the Workshop on Recent Advances in Photonics (WRAP) at IIT Delhi, my alma mater.

Its been a great opportunity to hear some brilliant speakers- David Payne, Govind Agrawal, Wolfgang Freude, C. Jagdish, Kent Choquette, and others. The networking is also brilliant- I have had a chance to meet several young researchers in leading institutions in India who are setting up new labs in Photonics and opening up new areas of research. Then there is the connecting with old colleagues and friends from my student days.

One would think that attending a workshop while on holiday would be a drag. Surprisingly, its been anything but. I have had so much fun catching up with friends and colleagues, over tea breaks in the weak sunshine…talking about our teachers, exchanging gossip and life stories. It has made me feel both relaxed and lazy – a combination one rarely associates with attending a conference.

One thing that i really liked about the workshop was that it brought together students and researchers from across India, many of whom would not be travelling to many larger international conferences, and gave them an opportunity to hear the latest work in the field from globally leading figures. On the other hand many of the young attendees had out up posters and were able to get feedback on their work and ideas from these leading figures in a relatively relaxed and stress free environment. This kind of exposure can be invaluable and inspiring.

Lest you think i haven’t heard a single talk and only chatted with friends, i will summarise two of my favourite talks from the workshop:

The first by Govind Agrawal was about adiabatic wavelength conversion in resonators. The key idea is that the wavelength (or frequency) modes of a resonator depend on the refractive index
and length of the cavity. By changing the refractive index, the resonant frequency changes and this causes the energy stored in the resonator to transfer to the new resonant frequency.
This fairly simple principle was applied and experimental results were presented as corroboration.

The second talk that i enjoyed tremendously was by Sidharth Ramanchandran on optical fibers with an annular refractive index profile, exhibiting modes with Orbital Angular Momentum (OAM) that does not change as the modes propagate. The phase or OAM shows a spiral dependence (looks like an archimedean spiral to me!).

Now I shall endeavour to follow up on the contacts I made and enjoy a coffee with my teachers from my graduate days.

Review for my book

I feel a bit like a kid whose story has been read by the teacher and who is going to give her verdict!

My publisher sent across this review from the Midwest Book Review:
Finite Element Modeling Methods for Photonics
B.M. Azizur Rahman and Arti Agrawal
“Finite Element Modeling Methods for Photonics provides a powerful resource describing the applications of FEM in photonics devices and covers everything from problem-solving applications to real-world examples and mathematical concepts. Engineers involved in developing photonic components will find this a powerful guide to the simulation process as a whole, with chapters including formulas, structure analysis, discussions of different methods and approaches, and investigations applying different methods to problems. The result is a powerful technical reference highly recommended for any engineering library.”
– The Midwest Book Review
November 2013

Needless to say I am pleased (blush). Hope the readers find the book useful.

You, me and Science

Two recent articles have got my blood racing and the excitement has led to this post. Both relate to citizen science, a concept that involves the common man in science and making big science accessible to everyone.

And how does citizen science work?

One example is the Ardusat satellites (and such like) which are tiny satellites on which time can be hired by the high school student, the amateur astronomer, the layman virtually! These carry simple equipment like temperature sensors, Geiger counters, digital cameras and the like. For costs of $35-45 per day people can hire time (in blocks of a few days) on these to perform experiments in space, take photographs of Earth/celestial objects from space…and much more. These firms such as NanoSatisfi mostly raised money through crowd sourcing but have made it possible for everyone to work with a slice of space!

The second example is just as exciting because the possibilities are endless! The GalaxyZoo project launched in 2007 by Chris Lintott and Kevin Schawinski asked volunteers to classify galaxies as spiral or other shapes. By their estimation the data they had collected from the Sloan Digital Sky survey, about a million images of galaxies would take years to sort through. Machine algorithms are still not as efficient as humans at recognising shapes. They reckoned that they would get 50 odd volunteers and finish the work in a year and a half. Instead thousands of volunteers from all over the world trawled through the data in 3 weeks!

The amazing thing about this project is that it allows the average Joe and Jill to do big science, to connect with big projects and be part of the romance of Science even if they are not professional scientists. It cuts across age, race, culture, gender, profession… it brings people together in their love and wonder of the natural world.
So now the question is: can we design other studies and experiments using this concept of citizen science and solve big problems, not just in astronomy but in all disciplines (projects that take forward the zooniverse principle)? Imagine the power of harnessing the talent and effort of hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy the discipline (even if they are amateurs). This diversity in thought and experience enriches the work so much, while sparking interest and a common sense of purpose amongst so many people.

Countries like China, India, Brazil (and others) would do especially well to engage the millions of people who could contribute and may be this can even help bring down the costs of certain kinds of research!

This much I know: I am itching to create a project like this of my own!