Optics and exhibitions

Recently I visited two exhibitions and both have completely blown my mind.

The first was the Cosmonauts exhibition at the science museum in London  and the second was the Phillips collection where I  had the opportunity to see the Paul Allen


Poster from the Cosmonauts exhibition

collection in  Washington DC.

So about Cosmonauts first:  the exhibition tells the story of Soviet Russia’s foray into space and how it put the first man-made objects, landed them on other planets and launch the first man into space.  Imagine seeing the space suit worn by Valentina Tereshkova the first woman in space!  It was a stunning experience as well as a very moving one.

There was a letter there from a young girl who asked the soviet space agency to send her to the moon because she had the appropriate fur coat and boots!  She said that she was willing to die but would they please please send her!

This passion for space and exploration is not new and the exhibition showed the excitement generated the world over when  when the Gagarin went into space.


Poster from the Cosmonauts exhibition

What does this have to do with optics?

Well if you’ve seen the new photographs from Pluto they completely break apart the theories that we have about planets.  How can a planet that is not in geologically active have mountains?

The roll that optics has to play in all this is  is opening our eyes to new wavelengths-  enabling us to observe the world in frequencies that we haven’t been able to do so before  as effectively as we can now.  With the new sources and detectors in the IR and far IR we should be able to detect signs of life potentially!

So with optics to the stars then!  And this time we can possibly travel there too.

And now about the Paul Allen collection: at the OSA  winter leadership meeting there was a reception held at the Phillips collection,  and I’ll gallery in D.C.  The Paul Allen collection on landscape painting with charted how landscape painting has changed over 400 hundred years was being shown.

The sumptuous  collection of Monets, Manets, Signacs, even a Matisse and Kandinsky, a surreal Magritte were simply fabulous! Unfortunately i could not take photographs of these and post them here.

Optics took me to DC and it was optics that give me the opportunity to see these masterpieces.  Not to mention that there was the visual optical process of actually looking at these paintings.

Overall I would say optics is a win-win! I had a fabulous time and I hope you can  experience what Art other sciences bring in conjunction with optics in to our lives.



The business of being busy

Very often when you try and arrange a meeting with an academic colleague the first available date seems to be more than a month in the future. Everyone is super busy, buried under mountains of marking, preparing for lectures, admin duties, writing grant proposals, vivas, other meetings and rushing about between conferences. Summer seems to offer no letup even though teaching is mercifully in a hiatus for some time. All the things one cannot manage during term get shoved into the summer. As though one can binge research in 2-3 months what one should be doing over an entire twelvemonth!
But such is academic life.

I don’t think this is great. I think we should have time to think and ponder, for our creativity to really flow. For both our research and our teaching.

There is a deeper issue here: Do we bear the badge of busyness with too much pride?

It seems to me that for some people the dashing about while juggling the many things they have to do gives them a sense of importance, perhaps a self affirmation. If we don’t have something to do every minute of the day we feel at a lose end. We need to radiate busyness with matters of global importance or we feel insecure about our place in the order of things.

But is it really cool that we never have enough time for leisure? That we can never slow down, or have a few minutes each day to think or just let our minds be blessedly blank of the endless to-do list?

I find myself doing this at times and I want to stop myself going too far down that road. I want to have time to smell the flowers as much as I want to solve the next global crisis.


I am in India right now, and in this trip home, I have had the chance to catch up with old friends. But a reunion with friends has led to a lot more than I expected.

One friend (we did our doctoral work in the same lab at IIT Delhi) now teaches at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, where I had done my undergraduate studies. So when we met at  Stephen’s I expected a pleasant time seeing my beloved college, meeting some of my old professors and catching up with a close friend.


I was dragged into giving an impromptu talk to the Physics Honours students! While giving talks (even those at short notice) is not new to me nor is the enjoyment that comes in interacting with people, this talk was special. To be in the same lecture theatre where I spent 3 very happy years beginning my journey into Physics, made me relive those time. Standing at the same lectern from which my inspiring teachers taught and giving a talk was an incredible feeling. I don’t think any talk I have ever given has given me quite so much of an emotional high as this. I don’t think this talk was my best, yet it was very satisfying to be there.

Sometimes its not about success, or achievements as much as it is about reconnecting. Its humbling and moving that even after all these years, on my return the College still had something more to give me.



Just another manic…

Monday, week, month, year…?

The way I feel right now, it seems that life has been manic for a very long time. I have postponed my doctor’s appointment twice due to lack of time.  The diary always seems to be full and each day I diligently work on many things, yet the ‘things to do’ list is unending. I feel mentally tired!

Now, I am not writing this to simply moan. I guess many of you feel this way too. So I wonder how people manage to relax, turn off the mind when going to bed, regain mental and physical energy?

Life feels like a treadmill that one can’t get off. It’s not all bad: lots of exciting work, adrenaline, enjoyment, new relationships, challenges.. Yet all these things amongst the tough stuff can tend to take over.

For me, exercise is a way to freshen the mind and unwind- when my body feels better my mind tends to follow. Meeting with friends helps and I get  a lot of energy from having a good conversation and laughter with people I like. One of my favourite ways is travel and I’ll post soon on an upcoming trip!

Stuff that I haven’t tried but have heard of includes

Gardening (it’s the good bacteria in the soil that apparently does the trick)

Acupuncture/acupressure (though I’m real scared of needles!)

Avoiding junk food and over-processed stuff like chocolates (though I don’t know if I could survive without choccies…)

What do you do, that works to de-compress?