Posted tagged ‘atoms’

Episode 3: Ted makes the call (superposition of states and Schrödinger´s cat)

April 13, 2010

So far, Ted´s attempts to find himself a date have led us through the ideas of probability and that light comes in individual lumps known as photons. We left him as he was about to make a call to a girl he had met the night before…

Having finally worked up the courage following his lighting-related procrastination, Ted decided it was time to bite the bullet and make a call to the girl he had met the night before. He knows that confidence is everything, but still it takes him a good fifteen minutes or so of sitting with his phone in hand, thumb hovering over the small green dial button.

He can feel the adrenaline rising with his heart rate, and for some reason his bladder feels much more full than it actually is. He went to empty it anyway, then went back to the phone, took a deep breath, and pressed dial… (more…)

10minus9 interview: Philip Moriarty (Part 2)

March 23, 2010
In the final part of this interview with Philip Moriarty from the University of Nottingham, we talk about pattern formation in nature, research funding, and find out the one physics problem Professor Moriarty would most like to see solved.
Part one ended with a shortlist of scientific heroes…
  • OK, but if you have to pick just one?

Let’s go with Fourier.

  • One major theme of your research has been pattern formation- why is this so interesting to you?

Every scientist searches for patterns in their data, whether those data arise from a highly complicated state-of-the-art particle physics detector (generating terabytes of measurements), a simple first year undergraduate experiment on the diffraction of light, or a digital image of a micro-organism.  We spend a lot of time thinking up different ways to represent the data so that the underlying pattern is easier to see. (We plot graphs rather than display the data as columns of numbers for precisely this reason). What really fascinates me – and very many other scientists – is when very similar patterns appear across widely different length scales.

the Cellular network is a pattern appearing in natural structures over a huge range of sizes, from the cells in a piece of cork (a), the hide of a giraffe (b), the Giant's Causeway (c) and the structure of the universe (d)

(more…)

10minus9 interview: Philip Moriarty (Part 1)

March 19, 2010

As part of a new series here on 10minus9, I’m interviewing various people working in and around nanoscience. First up is professor of physics, nanoscientist  and all-round nice guy, Philip Moriarty, who I was lucky enough to have as a PhD supervisor.

He’s featured in several of the University of Nottingham’s sixty symbols videos, which I personally think are fantastic for explaining some complex, and sometimes weird physics in an accessible way without dumbing down. He’s also heavily involved in running the university’s nanotechnology and nanoscience centre, which opened in 2007.

  • Can you define nanoscience in one sentence?

Nanoscience is the study and manipulation of matter on length scales where a small change in the size of a structure can radically alter its physical and chemical properties. Very difficult to provide a definition of nanoscience which covers all bases in a single sentence!

  • At what point did you know you wanted to be a scientist? Was there one thing that inspired you?

A really important early influence was my uncle. He was a radio amateur (radio ham) and I have very fond memories of spending time when I was eight or nine learning about basic electrical circuits (batteries, bulbs, electromagnets, capacitors, oscillators) from him. He also introduced me to the “Ladybird” series of books on electronics when I was a little older. He and I used to build circuits from those books where we’d simply hold components in place on a piece of wood using drawing pins. I still vividly remember the thrill of building a crystal radio on a piece of  softwood and hearing music from “out of the aether” – the idea that radio waves alone could drive the circuit with no batteries or amplifier fascinated me. My parents also bought me a microscope for Christmas around about the same time and guess that’s what initially triggered my interest in microscopy. So I knew from a fairly early age that I wanted to be a scientist. As a teenager, however, my choice of potential future career switched to rock star (..ahem…). (more…)

Thinking like a novice: the bottom up approach to explaining nano

March 2, 2010

I’ve gone back to square one. I’m a complete novice again.

I’ve said before that the way to explain science is to try to make a connection with your audience. This means two things; to be passionate, and to be responsive enough to adjust your own view to that of the audience, rather than the expert.

The problem with being on the expert’s side of the fence is that after a while some ideas can become so familiar we don’t even think about them any more, especially if we talk to other scientists on a day to day basis. So to think like a novice it’s necessary to smash apart what we know and put it all back together from scratch.

For example, take a simple statement about nanoscience, that the properties of materials change when made small enough. All you have to do to reach the beginner’s state of mind is to keep asking the simplest possible questions until you run out of answers. It doesn’t take long. (more…)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.