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Showing posts from 2012

Vertigo: on the edge of the fiscal cliff

Vertigo -- a dizzy, confused, disoriented state of mind -- is a nearly universal response when looking out over the edge of a cliff.

But the managers and researchers at labs and universities across the United States don’t have time for vertigo as they contemplate the brink of the impending “fiscal cliff.” With 10 days (and a major holiday week) before a deadline that would among other things substantially reduce federal funding for scientific research, the House of Representatives has adjourned until after the first of the year, delaying or eliminating the opportunity for a different resolution.

After the first of the year, more than $500 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts will begin to take effect, threatening to undermine the sluggish recovery and prompt a new recession, a Washington Post article noted yesterday. (The New York Times provides detailed analysis as well.)
So, labs and universities are reviewing contingency plans for worst-case scenarios while hoping …

A Congressional pledge for science? Respect could only help

In the face of recent comments by lawmakers and others in the public eye suggesting that accepting scientific evidence is akin to the decision to believe in a particular religion or political dogma, NPR commentator Adam Frank has suggested a clarifying solution.
Congress, he said in a Cosmos & Culture post on 11 December, should consider making a pledge to science -- not to wholesale acceptance of all published research, but simply to “uphold the integrity of basic scientific research and take no actions to undermine the broadest public education in empirically verifiable scientific truths." 

His underlying point that science and technology are “the engines of our economic competitiveness” echoes the words of leaders of 120 science, engineering, and STEM education organizations in a letter last week to Congress and President Obama urging them to avoid the “fiscal cliff” deadline. If policymakers are unable to work out a solution by the end of the year, blunt budget cuts wil…

'Sky at Night' host Sir Patrick Moore: astronomer, writer, inspiration

Sir Patrick Moore, who introduced generations to the wonders of astronomy through his BBC TV show “The Sky at Night,” died 9 December. According to news reports, Moore was the longest-running host of the same television show ever. “The Sky at Night” began its run in April 1957. Moore appeared on its most recent episode, which aired last week, on 3 December.

"He counted himself as a writer and broadcaster first and foremost. But as Britain's most recognisable scientist for more than 50 years, he inspired countless people to take up astronomy as a hobby or astrophysics as a career,” said colleague Chris Lintott in a tribute published on the BBCwebsite.
Among those many who Moore inspired is Nobel Laureate John Mather, Senior Project Scientist and chair of the Science Working Group for the James Webb Space Telescope and a Fellow of SPIE. Remembering Moore this week, he spoke of his enjoyment of Moore's writings, from childhood on.

Moore was entirely self-taught, passing …

Manipulating nanoscale ‘rainbows’ for solar cells and TV screens

The manipulation of light is a core photonics activity performed in numerous ways for numerous practical effects. For example, consider the design of lasers for purposes as diverse as repairing a retina to restore vision and downloading a movie over the internet onto a tablet for viewing.
Amazing as those human-scale applications are, imagine manipulating multiple colors of light on a structure about 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair -- and then applying that for the very practical effects of sensing toxins, improving solar cell efficiency, enabling optical circuits for tele- and data communications, and improving flat-screen display.
A team of researchers led by Anatoly Zayats in the Biophysics and Nanotechnology Group at King’s College London reported recently in Nature’s Scientific Reports that they had demonstrated how to separate and even rearrange a spectrum of colors and create artificial “rainbows” using nanoscale structures on a metal surface.
The researchers …

Heating up: remote sensing and global warming

After droughts, floods, and a “superstorm” this year, people everywhere are talking about the weather. Some people taking the long-term view are urging us all to not only talk but to think much more deeply -- and even to do something -- about climate change.

"Something extraordinary is going on in the world,” noted New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof as Hurricane Sandy began to dissipate. In a column headlined, “Will climate get some respect now?” Kristof recalled the amazement of Eskimos in Alaska toward the changes they were seeing: "from melting permafrost to robins (for which their Inupiat language has no word), and even a (shivering) porcupine."
Across the Atlantic, Fiona Harvey wrote last week in The Guardian under the headline “Climate change 'likely to be more severe than some models predict'” that the latest climate models predict higher temperature rises along with more extreme weather. In other words, expect more droughts such as the UK…

Why bother with STEM ed?

Experts in STEM education (science, technology, education, and mathematics) point out that in teaching, the “how” of science is more important that the “what.” As Shannon Warren, director of a science education partnership grant program in Washington State, noted in a recent magazine feature, learning science means exploring and analyzing, not just memorizing facts and listening to lectures.
The “why” is an equally key question, and one that evokes very personalized responses. Take Jin Kang’s story, for example. Twenty years ago, Kang was an undergraduate physics student discovering that while he found the theory behind optics and photonics interesting, what he really loved was building lasers and other optical devices.
Kang is now a professor and the chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Johns Hopkins University. He conducts research in biophotonics, fiber optics, and optoelectronic devices for applications in medicine and communications.
One of his primary …

'At the origin of all life': UNESCO backs International Year of Light!

"Light is at the origin of all of life," proponents of the declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Light (IYOL) told the UNESCO Executive Board last week.

The board agreed at its meeting in Paris, giving its enthusiastic support to an international effort to recognize optics and photonics technologies through a year-long observance in 2015.
Although a final declaration by the UN General Assembly is not quite a done deal, the UNESCO support paves the way for a large-scale effort to raise awareness of the essential role light-based technologies play in driving industry and enhancing life.
Why is awareness so important?.
"The science and technology of light have revolutionized medicine, have opened up international communication via the Internet, and are central to linking cultural, economic and political aspects of global society," SPIE Fellow Paul Buah-Bassuah of Ghana’s Laser and Fibre Optics Centre at University of Cape Coast told the UNESCO board. Repr…

Mixing it up: science and politics

Sitting in a conference room, listening to Roger Angel (REhnu and College of Optical Sciences, University of Arizona) talk about how he is refocusing astronomicalinstrumentation to build highly efficient, cheaper solar cells, or watching Eva-Marie Sevick-Muraca (University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston) show the first-ever video of lymphatic flow inside a human being, or hearing Mario Paniccia (Intel) talk about the amazing advances in computing speed that are around the corner in silicon photonics … well, politics is perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind.
But politics definitely does come to mind at some point, and most scientists recognize the importance of the relationship between the two spheres. Today’s endorsement by 68 Nobel Prize winners in science of the candidacy of President Barack Obama for re-election is one illustration.

You can read what they said about their endorsement in a story in the NewYork Times.
Cut science first?

As to why they felt ins…

Green —and universal — photonics: 'Sustainable Energy for All'

It's estimated that three billion people — more than 40% of the world’s population — use wood, coal, charcoal, and other matter for cooking and heating and that 1.5 billion people lack access to electricity.

The human, social, economic, and environmental costs of this inequity are tremendous because energy is fundamental to health, safety, comfort, and progress for all seven billion people on Planet Earth.

Yet access to energy varies widely depending on whether people live in a wealthy or a poor country.

But more attention is being paid to this growing problem.

As Steve Eglash (Stanford University Energy and Environment Affiliates Program) and Kara Fisher (Duke University) write in the October issue of SPIE Professional, the optics and photonics community are finding sustainable ways to generate, convert, store, and use energy without destroying the planet.

The importance of sustainable energy was reinforced when the United Nations declared 2012 as the International Year o…

Gender bias? In photonics?

Yes, this excerpt from a study on gender bias in science is from this year, 2012:
“Despite efforts to recruit and retain more women, a stark gender disparity persists within academic science."
The recent study from Yale University involving several institutions investigated gender bias on the part of faculty in biology, chemistry, and physics, and found that male and female faculty were just as likely to: judge a female student to be less competent and less worthy of being hired than an identical male studentoffer her a smaller starting salary and less career mentoringappear to be affected by “enduring cultural stereotypes about women’s lack of science competence” that translate into biases in student evaluation and mentoringand yet … report liking the female more than the male student.
“I think we were all just a little bit surprised at how powerful the results were -- that not only do the faculty express these biases quite clearly, but the significance and strength of the resul…

‘Golden Geese’ and essential technologies: optics and photonics!

Photonics enjoyed the spotlight in Washington, D.C., last week
First, on Wednesday morning leaders from the optics and photonics community give an enthusiastic launch to the new National Research Council report “Optics and Photonics, Essential Technologies for Our Nation,” aided by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and former Intel CEO Craig Barrett.
Chu and Barrett were featured speakers at a briefing for agency leaders. Their remarks included references to several important benefits enabled by photonics: economic strength sustainable energy sources new methods for medical detection and treatment of diseases and chronic conditions more efficient lighting, computing, manufacturing, automobiles, and very much more. Wednesday afternoon, the House R&D caucus heard from leaders of four societies in the sector about the report’s findings on economic impacts of optics and photonics, the importance of improved STEM education, and the committee’s recommendations on particular technology di…

Photonics for fun and games -- and serious business!

A clear and present interest in using optical sciences and photonics to better our world shone through (no pun intended) at the Photonics for a Better World pavilion and other activities at SPIE Optics and Photonics last month in San Diego. Organizations are making dedicated efforts to improve the future of photonics, increase awareness in science education and improve the global community, and even to teach us how to have fun with photonics!
The other Olympics: Optics Outreach!

Nearly 220 people attended the Optics Outreach Olympics on Sunday 5 August. Teams from 16 Student Chapters from 9 different countries competed against each other by presenting their best optics outreach demonstrations that they use to teach children at schools about optics. The goal was to showcase effective, original educational activities that promote science education. In 2011, SPIE Student Members promoted science outreach to over 9,000 young students.
This year, the winning demonstrations included “The Ma…