Archive for the ‘Optics Education’ category

“Ada Lovelace Day” Feature: Hilda Kingslake

March 24, 2010

posted by: Damon Diehl

This is just under the wire, but Greg Gbur over at Skulls in the Stars put up a nice article on women in science that alerted me that today is “Ada Lovelace Day.”  In the words of the Ada Lovelace Day organizers:

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.

Ada Lovelace is widely regarded as the mother of computer programming, as she was the first person to develop a computational algorithm for Charles Babbage’s analytic engine. As it turns out, women have also been a driving force in the field of optics. I would like to take a moment to highlight someone particularly important to Rochester, NY: Hilda Kingslake.

The name “Kingslake” is famous in optics because of Rudolf Kingslake, but, as it turns out, Rudolf actually married into the field. Hilda Conrady, born 1902, was the very first full-time student in the Technical Optics Department of the Royal College of Science, a unit of the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London. Furthermore Hilda was already a second-generation optical scientist, as her father was Alexander Eugen Conrady, a professor of optical design. Rather than recount the story of Hilda and Rudolf Kingslake’s amazing 74 year joint career in optics, I will instead point people to a wonderful memorial written by Brian Thompson for the 75th Anniversary of The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. The article is chapter 6 in the book A Jewel in the Crown, edited by Carlos Stroud. (Incidentally, for those considering a career in optics, you may be further tempted by chapter 37, by David Aronstein: “Mmm… Doughnuts“, which traces an Institute of Optics weekly tradition that now spans four decades.)

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“Productive Stupidity” or “Failure Is the Only Way to Win the Nobel Prize”

March 2, 2010

I wanted to point people toward a really good article that appeared in the SPIE Professional back in October 2009 entitled “Productive Stupidity” by Martin A. Schwartz. It’s a reprint of his article “The importance of stupidity in scientific research”, which previously appeared in Journal of Cell Science 121, 1771 (2008). The thrust of the article is that “science is supposed to be hard,” and most of the time you’re going to be wrong… at least if you’re doing it right. That fact can be extremely difficult to accept, especially when we have built our entire education system around getting answers “right” on an exam. Even classroom laboratory research is generally focused on reproducing a certain result, rather than self-discovery. The upshot is that most science students leave college still believing that getting the “wrong” result is bad. If you are truly doing new research, then you are testing things that no one has done before, and that means that most of the time what your experiments reveal will not be quite what you expected.  Figuring out the how and the why of unexpected results is what scientific research is really all about. (As Celia recently discovered over at Ph.D.)

And just to drive this point home one more time, I encourage folks to listen to this interview with 2009 Physics Nobel Laureate George E. Smith. Around the 11 minute mark he talks about what it was about the Bell Labs environment that made their discovery of the CCD camera possible. He summarizes it this way:

In the exploratory efforts we had… we thought that if half of the projects you started actually worked, you weren’t being imaginative enough… not taking enough risks.

The Year of Astronomy

December 22, 2009

2009 is (well at this point it basically was), the International Year of Astronomy. One of the cooler outcomes of this was “The Gallileoscope” Project. For twenty bucks (plus about $15 shipping) they’ll provide you with a decent refracting telescope kit that you can assemble in about twenty minutes. Although this telescope is inexpensive, it’s not cheap. In particular it uses “achromatic lenses,” meaning that the images you see aren’t going to be a smeary mess of colors.

Better yet, the Optical Society of America (OSA) has a donation challenge going on. If you buy your scope through their website, then they will match your purchase with a donation to the charitable OSA Foundation. To sweeten the deal the telescopes are actually cheaper through OSA—$24 including shipping.

You just can’t lose, folks.