Winter Olympics, Ravel and Science

The title of this post may seem crazy but there is a logic to this madness!

While watching the ice skating event (on TV alas) at the Winter Olympics, I heard presentors talking about the Tovrill and Dean performance (watch at this link) set to the music of Bolero by Ravel.
The routine won the performers a gold medal and they became the highest scoring figure skaters in the world, receiving perfect 6.0 from all judges for artistic impression. The dance is indeed gorgeous.

The music of Bolero however just took my head apart!

To me Bolero is the spirit of Science and hence the title of the post. I am no music expert or afficinado and so I write here about my emotional reaction to this piece. The drums with their regular beat (to me) so beautifully catch the logical and systematic aspect of Science, while the clarinets, tuba and flutes with their whimiscal, dreamy and in turns soaring notes perfectly capture just those aspects about Science. I didnt think that a musical composition could express the nature of Science- to my extreme pleasure and surprise for me Bolero does just that!

Hear it and tell me what you think.


You may think that is a strange title for a post. You are probably right. However I am so excited and satisfied that I could not contain myself and this is the result:

I am working with an experimental partner on Si solar cells. They do the experimental bit and we do the modelling. Now we are starting to get the first set of results and it is immensely satisfying to see our modelling work being correlated to something physically real and measurable. I can’t yet discuss the results here (I will once we publish). As this is one of the first projects for me in which I am working so closely with an experimental partner and for the first time seeing results in a less abstract manner- the sense of satisfaction is magnified. If I had been doing this for 20 years may be it would not be as exciting?

Isn’t Science wonderful?

The PhD crucible

Recently interviewing a PhD candidate brought back memories of my own graduate student days. Specifically the time when I wondered what my PhD meant!

Like many Science students during taught masters and undergraduate courses, one saw the big developments in various fields. It was exciting and inspiring to understand key theories in Physics and the big advances that were made. Names like Gauss, Newton, Feynman, Planck, Boltzman and many others became familiar.

Then came the PhD. The beginning sees a fresh faced and eager candidate hoping to contribute something big to Science. Something like the stuff one was taught in class all these years and there is the desire to add one’s name to the list of distinguished scientists.

But thats not how the PhD seems to proceed!
The stuff one is doing seems so narrow and focused, and you wonder where the big picture is. What is the value of this small piece of work? How will this work ever measure up against the really big developments studied in textbooks?

It takes time to realise that the advances we learned about were made over long periods of time and represent the work of many people. Science can often advance through small increments added up, with each scientist a worthy contributor to the bigger picture. Some make bigger contributions and may become famous. That does not detract from the work of others or the sheer joy everyone can derive from research.

Once you settle this in your head and see where you fit in the larger scheme of things (not completely useless!) it helps! Or at least it helped me find peace in my heart, pride for my work and motivation to keep improving.