Radio is the new star along with the photonic radar

I dont think video ever really killed the radio star, perhaps outshone it to an extent?

Never the less, the new inventions in radio are certain to shine bright: software radio!

As most of you would already know, to send and recieve information on radio waves, the modulation and demodulation required is done by dedicated electronic cicruits that work for particular frequency bands and setups. So its not possible to switch bands and a radio/system set up to work in a particular country/band/ etc. cant be used to transmit/receive other signals (say FM instead of AM or wifi or tv) or in different countries.

With software radio, a piece of software performs the modulation/demodulation on the software that represents the signal. So literally any signal can be used in this setup. The Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP) works as the hardware which converts the actual radio waves/signal into software that can be used with the radio software program.

The potential benefits of software radio can be huge: the same system could be a radio or a TV, wifi transciever even! One place where it may well prove to be a big hit is the photonic radar.Using software radio it would be possible to replace several components (each of which performs a dedicated task such as sending out signals or detecting them etc.) with one lighter, energy efficient and more versatile equipment for the photonic radar.

The photonic radar has recently made big news due to its connection with the missing Malaysian Airlines flight. However, the invention itself is ingenious: by heterodyning (or producing beats) between two modes of a mode locked laser so the phase of the resulting signal is very stable, it is possible to use the signal for radar. One can go to higher frequency ranges and broader bandwidth compared to traditional electronic circuits that produce signals that are noisy at hgih frequencies and have limited bandwidth.

This combination of photonics with digital radio offers a great new solution that overcomes several problems simultaneously. I found this really exciting and am looking forward to learning more about it in the future.

A non-linear response

For most practical things we expect that the effort we put in to achieve a goal is proportional to the expected reward. A sort of linear response curve.

So I am endlessly fascinated by the non-linear response on display when it comes to competitions. In many fields such as robotics, rocketery and others, competitions (and historically there have been several) are held with maybe a small prize on offer.

The desire to compete, to pit their wits (and designs) against others’ seems to drive people to such an extent that they invest far more than the prize money may warrant. The resluting entries in competitions vary from ingenious to the ridiculous. Yet the special spark that competing lights, gets the creativity of people blazing. What this also does is generate a huge amount of brilliant new ideas that can be used by all of mankind.

This is recongnised by for example, the XPrize foundation which holds a number of competitions in various fields.

To me the investment (from the point of view of the organisers) is miniscule compared to the outcomes and generated wealth (of intellectual capital). It sure seems to beat paying a steady salary to bright epeople, when a small fraction can get you something that would take years to achieve!

Technical education

I recently enrolled in the University’s MA in Academic Practice programme to learn about well, learning and teaching. I am keen to enhance and improve my teaching using the latest technology available as well insights that learning theory can give.

So I entered the world where humanism and meta cognitive theory[1] (and many others) are approaches within the context of which learning is looked at. How do these frameworks impact teaching design, curriculum, learning, assessment and so much more.

The impact of technology in terms of the “blended learning” environment, “chunking” and how our information processing capability is limited [2], reflection, wikis… all this has now entered my life.

Perhaps it is this interest that has led me to noticing more articles about teaching or maybe more people are writing about it in STEM, I do not know.

In a recent issue of Physics World devoted to eduation, many articles addressed making Physics more interesting to young students (ages 5-16), designing curriculum with this in mind; about educating or informing general audiences about Physics using Youtube.

In other posts I have mentioned Just in Time teaching and topdown approaches to teaching that some people advocate: talk about a big problem (how does you recognise a picture?) that interest students and then breaks them down level by level to get them to the concepts they have to learn in the class/module. This keeps more students engaged than the regular approach of bottom up..

I am yet to find an article/theory/approach about effectively teaching mathematical content (within Physics for example) at university level. My class has a large distribution in terms of both interest and ability in Mathematics: some students enjoy it and are adept while others find math difficult and scary. The challenge is how to engage and develop the ability of the weaker students. In my view (everyone may not agree) it is difficult to go to a higher level in Physics without being able to do Mathematics.

If you have any ideas on how to solve this puzzle get in touch!

1. Anderson, T (ed), Elloumi, F (ed). (2004) Theory and Practice of Online Learning.
2. Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97