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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

From a Scientist

Newsweek lets a scientist speak about science for a change.

Sure, people would sometimes ask about my work in the same way they say "How are you?" when you pass them in the hall, but no one, other than the occasional fellow scientist, would actually want to know. No one wanted to hear about a boring old scientist doing boring old science....

I find it odd that a society so dependent on science is so uninterested in it. Our military dominance, our economic strength and our high quality of life are all outgrowths of our scientific achievements....

Keep in mind that many of these technologies are based on scientific ideas that had little or no practical use when they were discovered. And the next time you meet a scientist at a party, remember: he or she may be working on something really, really boring, but 20 years from now, you'll be glad he or she did. So say thanks, after all, they make your world a better place.


Blogger JanieBelle said...

I'd like to just take a moment to thank whichever one of you scientists is currently (and perhaps unwittingly) working on the breakthrough that gives us the warp drive.

I really, REALLY want to go check out the home planet of those transgender purple octopi aliens.

And kisses, too. Lots o' kisses.

October 16, 2006 7:13 AM  
Blogger PiGuy said...

Can't help witht he warp drive thingy but I do encourage you to kiss a scientist today!

October 16, 2006 8:13 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

What are you working on, PiGuy? I'm curious to know! And

~MWAH!~ from afar, all you scientists.

October 16, 2006 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, in my lacklustre scientific career, I have so far attempted to make some novel solid oxid fuel cell anode materials, that didnt work. I have attempted to make some fluoridated PZT piezoelectric material, that too didn't work.
Then I've spent time making up doses for animal testing of new drugs. As well as analysing ceramics and metals for a company in Sheffield.
Finally, my current job involves working as a materials technologist in a company that makes high temperature furnace insulation out of carbon. Its good stuff, is used in many silicon crystal pullers around the world, so is fundamentally important, in a very small way, for the continued production of good quality silicon chips and solar cells.

Hopefully some of that made sense to you, we're all geeks here together, right?

October 16, 2006 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading the entire article, it strikes me how much, (At least looking back at it) the sceintific endeavour is a model for society in general. We have both competittion and cooperation, and whilst many individual smake important breakthroughs, the job is a whole lot more to do with teamwork and suchlike than people appreciate.
Take the atomic bomb for exampkle, there were a dozen or more top flight people involved in it, it wasnt just the product of one genius working away in his basement laboratory.

Yet that is a change that has occured more over the past 100 years, as science gets more and more specialised and difficult. I was reading a book about Mauve recently, and the field of aniline dyes was effectively opened up by one bloke working in his home made laboratory.
Although it took the efforts of many other people to bring the sheer variety of dyes to fruition of course.

October 16, 2006 4:48 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Hopefully some of that made sense to you, we're all geeks here together, right?

I caught the stuff about high temperature furnace insulation.

I agree that the scientific model is a good one for society in general! Isn't that what the Englightenment was about? I still hold out hope that people will return to the optimism of that time (instead of giving up and waiting for the Rapture).

October 17, 2006 9:13 AM  
Blogger PiGuy said...

I just finished wiring up the Laboratory (pronounced la-BOR-a-tory) in the basement two weekends ago and moved all of my electronics stuff down there. I plan to do some silly robot things - nothing fancy at first but I'd love to make one that could get a beer from the fridge (which is also in the Lab) but that's way off, I'd think. Hey - a guy can dream!

Actually, I've had an idea kicking aournd in my head for about 10 years for a way of modifying/automating a procedure known as the Foucault Knife Edge Test that's used to determine the shape of telescope mirrors. While pros at a big optics firm can already do this sort of thing with hig-tech equipment, my version only requires an LED, a couple of photdetectors and an oscilloscope (they have software that can do this on the computer) or even jsut a $10 voltmeter. We're not talking NASA or the Space Telescope Science Institue stuff but you'd probably be surprised at how many people actually build their own telescope as a hobby. I'm thinking that maybe a I can assemble a kit of electronics components, a computer program that manipulates and presents the data, and some directions and put some ads in the back of Sky and Telescope magazine. I think that some people would spend $50 or so for something like that.

Sorry to bore you al like that - I can't help it. I'm a geek!

October 17, 2006 9:22 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

you'd probably be surprised at how many people actually build their own telescope as a hobby.

I'm not! Kristine read "telescope mirrors" and her ears pricked up! I've thought about building my own telescope. How very cool.

October 17, 2006 2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carry on piguy. I like the idea of a lab in your basement. One of the consultants at work has a scanning electron microscope in his garage, and I shall be getting trained to use it in a fortnights time.

And that was me commenting anonymously on the article below my first post.

Heres a silly question, piguy, how sensitive are the bits of equipment that you need? WOuldtn you also need a very rigid jig to hold things at the correct angle? Thanks to specialisation I have no idea what a Faucault Knife edge test is.

My own mad scientist proclivities are at the moment limited to experiments with a mock medieval furnace, with which I hope to make glass, brass, bronze and anything else that I fancy.

October 17, 2006 2:37 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I like the idea of a lab in your basement.

So do I! But I hasten to add, unless anyone gets the wrong idea, that I myself don't have one, and know nothing about Foucault Knife Edge Tests or PZT piezoelectric material. I'm not as geeky as you guys (wish I was), I'm a general reader, and as for telescopes, I have a 20-year-old Bushnell with a crappy mount that I got for my birthday.

October 17, 2006 3:40 PM  
Blogger PiGuy said...

anonymous #1 and #3 (I think):
Yes, the ideal platform is called an optical bench but many amateur telescope makers already have one. They use it to do the Knife Edge test the old fashioned way. I think that it might also work on a 6 foot length (~2 m for those of you thinking metric) of peg board but there is a moving (spinning) piece in my system so it may not be stable enough. The standard method requires a very intense light source, a "Zone Mask" - a black disk with a series of concentric slits - and a lot patience looking at the illuminated mirror. Doing it that way a few times is what drove me to find a better way.

kristine: I built a telescope about 8 years ago (well, that's when I finished it) and we used it on Mandy's Girl Scout camping trip last weekend, in fact. It was really clear (and really, really cold but they were all very brave and stayed out all night; a couple of mom's, too!) and we pointed out Taurus (What's your sign, baby? I'm a Taurus.), Pegasus (they all knew who that is from the Disney Hercules DVD), and Vega, which bright and high in the fall. I still have to get the marshmallow (s'mores) off of the eyepiece but it seemed like that was a hit.

I hope that you get a chance to build one!

October 17, 2006 3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, guthrie, are/ is/ am all the anonymous people on here.

If you need a very intense light source, why not one of those cheap laser pointers? LEDs are pretty bright in their own way, but are you after coherent light or what?

The really annoying thing is that the older I get, the more I know, the harder it is to be really geeky about stuff because I know theres so much out there to learn about, from telescopes to biology to properties of metals to ceramics to geology etc etc.

Just as long as general readers have a handle on the scientific method and appreciate that we are human, thats all I ask for. You seem to know all that already, so thats good.

October 17, 2006 5:10 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Just as long as general readers have a handle on the scientific method and appreciate that we are human, thats all I ask for. You seem to know all that already, so thats good.

Thank you, but despite my advancing age I do aspire to true geekdom at last.

After finishing grad school (in geeky science librarianship or systems) I am thinking of getting another bachelor's (in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the U of M).

Perhaps I'll have built my telescope by then. Because I'll be 102 years old.

Just kidding. (BTW, PiGuy, I'm an Aries. Richard Dawkins and I are just days apart, don't you know!)

October 17, 2006 7:49 PM  
Blogger PiGuy said...

That's part of my modification - I've replaced the incandescent bulb (typically 300 Watts or more) and use an IR LED (actually a laser diode because it's a coherent source - very nearly one wavelength - that I've powered down with a filter circuit so that it doesn't lase) and two IR photodetectors. Without going into to much detail (I must have nearly bored you all to tears by now!) my protoype system was two photodiodes mounted on a Staedler-Mars compass (like for drawing circles) on a Lego Platform. I'm totally serious. The rest of the system is a curve fitting routine in Visual Basic (you only have to input the diameter and focal power that you're shooting for and it reads the data you've collected from an Excel spreadsheet) that plots the surface of the mirror against the desired shape and indicates where they are different so that you can back and grind the mirror at those points. I know I'm not being very modest but I think that it's really quite nifty.

I just think it's cool that you're interested in continuing to learn - anything. And aspiring to be a geek, well, I'm sure you know by now that I have a special fondness for people like that! Keep up the good work.

October 18, 2006 8:28 AM  
Anonymous SLC said...

A couple of examples of bssic science being eventually turned into practical applications are two papers published in 1905 in the Annals der Physik by an obscure employee of the Swiss Patent Office. One of those papers lead to nuclear power (and it must be admitted, nuclear weapons), the other led to the CD player (i.e. the laser).

October 24, 2006 3:58 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Another, contemporary, patent clerk named Wächtershäuser has been investigating the heat vents beneath the Galapagos Islands (appropriate, that) which produce organisms that live on chemosynthesis, rather than photosynthesis. He could be close to observing the process of the formation of life itself, our modern philospher's stone (and ironically, involving the compound iron pyrite).

October 24, 2006 8:21 PM  

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