Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Back in action... and optomechanical backaction

I returned to Orlando on the red eye from LA Monday morning and am back in the swing of things (paper writing, data analysis, fixing broken equipment, etc.). I unfortunately had the flu for part of the FiO conference, so I did not attend many talks. A few that I did see and were interesting included FMD1: Near Threshold Optomechanical Backaction Amplifier, FTuZ1: Extracting information from optical fields through spatial
and temporal modulation, and FTuS7: Optically Induced and Directed Manipulation on Surfaces. The abstracts and submissions should be up at within the next month.

FTuS7 was especially interesting. This group out of Oxford used an optically heated metallic substrate to form colloidal crystals from thermophoretically and convectively trapped silica microspheres. They employed standard video microscopy to observe the grain boundaries between two crystals and recorded the annealing time—the amount of time it took for the grain boundary to disappear due to large scale reorientation of the two crystals. The position of the nucleation sites for the crystals were controlled by splitting and directing the laser beam through the microscope objective with a spatial light modulator.

Pretty cool stuff. Fortunately, I got better in time to do some climbing in Yosemite. This time we hit the Five Open Books and I followed on my first Yosemite 5.9, Commitment. The crux on Commitment is ridiculous.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Conference preparations

I'm preparing for next week's Frontiers in Optics conference, which means I'm pretty busy. So, instead of my usual philosophical ramblings, I leave you with the following YouTube video:

And come to my poster presentation in San Jose on Tuesday between noon and 1:30 PM (Presentation number JTA23)!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"It's an exothermic reaction!" "Your face is an exothermic reaction."

I learned yesterday in the lab that aluminum reacts with water (though not always so spectacularly like in the video above). The barrier to witnessing this is that it usually is coated in a thin layer of alumina (oxidized aluminum). If you want to witness this reaction without resorting to molten aluminum, you can treat the surface with mercury (II) chloride, which forms an amalgam with the aluminum. The reaction may then proceed, producing heat and hydrogen gas.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Philosophy isn't useful for science? Don't be crass.

Richard Feynman once quipped, "Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds." Dr. Feynman is one of my scientific heroes, but this quote often tempers my admiration for the man. I respect him because he appreciated what was good in many different things, from the simple aesthetics of a flower to the intricate mathematics underlying quantum mechanics. He was not one to dismiss ideas simply because they were "artsy" or not of pure science. This is why I often puzzle over how he could have made such a statement concerning philosophy.

Without philosophy, I would not be the same scientist that I am, and I would venture that I would not be as good of one, either. Philosophy is the art of critical analysis; the philosophy of science examines the methods and logic that form the foundation of our field. The result of this investigation exposes the mental machinery that powers our work. But this knowledge has also produced a number of practical applications throughout history. The following are two examples.

E. T. Jaynes and R. T. Cox, among others, re-examined the long-held rules of inference. A simple redefinition of probability led to an explosion of techniques for drawing conclusions where information was limited, from signal processing to economics. This is the well known Bayesian revolution. As another example, Henri Poincaré established a daily routine that complemented his work as a scientist. He postulated that the subconscious was at the focal point of discovery, and so he took steps to nurse its well-being. A modern day analog to this is the development of programming philosophies that are intended to increase a software engineer's productivity by tailoring work methods to the structure of the mind.

My justification of philosophy to science was to make a point, but I don't think it was necessary. It is unfortunate that we must always find utility in our work. As I've stated before, science is ultimately a creative process that is powered by our primal nature and instincts. To remove its basis from the romantic mindset and place it solely in the context of practicality is a fallacy. I do science and philosophy because I like to, and no better justification is required than that.