A Phyrric Victory

May 14, 2008 at 2:00 pm | | lab safety

Alright, Stanford, you win.  I promise I won’t bring my bicycle in the lab anymore.  Now can I please have my pull-stations back?

Poll: Laser Breath

May 2, 2008 at 4:23 pm | | hardware, open thread

The above original adornment of our laser head had to be removed, ostensibly due to the possibility of back reflections, fire, and the subsequent destruction of sensitive optics. Although the first thing my boss said when he saw it was, “I really hate that guy;” so maybe that logic is only a smokescreen.

In either case, now that we’ve reconfigured the case, it is possible to redecorate it with something shooting a laser beam. As such, I leave it up to you to suggest possible candidates. Some suggestions were another Nixon, Reagan, Chuck Norris, Bishop Desmond Tutu, or the Hello Kitty. What do you think?

(Lab) Climate Change

April 13, 2008 at 3:42 pm | | grad life, stupid technology

The centerpiece of operation “Spider Monkey” was a DPSS pump laser to replace our old, post catastrophic cooling loss YAG. Everything was great until it was discovered the chiller lacked a secondary cooling loop to discharge the waste heat into the house cooling water. Needless to say, the 1kW localized heat source and accompanying thermal gradients didn’t help the laser stability. To mitigate the problem until the new chiller arrives, we decided to do a little home HVAC. Behold:

I actually felt a little dirty on this particular jury rigging adventure. We were using duct tape… to tape a duct. I’m sure there is some sort of warning label on the tape stating, opposite to your spray paint and OTC pharmaceuticals, that “Using this product for its intended purpose is a violation of Federal law.” The duct tape functioned rather poorly, I might add. Without the appropriate flashing, the process of sealing the duct to the box involved a round peg / square hole type problem of the duct tape folding over on itself.

The whole apparatus seems to work pretty well. I was finally able to get my Ti:Sapph under control, all while staying within the ambient operating temperature values for the chiller.

The Smell of Success

April 6, 2008 at 1:16 pm | | lab safety


I opened the sealed butanethiol shipping container only to find that the bottle seal had failed and leaked. My previous lifeguard training was paramount in how fast I then managed to strip off my gloves and lab coat, throw everything in the hood, and then scrub my arms like Lady MacBeth.

Squeezed Light

February 17, 2008 at 3:25 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature

A figure from “Manipulating the Vacuum: Squeezed States of Light (Eur. J. Phys 9 (1988) 257).


While the figure was cute, I was more impressed with how it was directly referenced in the text:

The uncertainties in E and B are non-zero even in the vacuum state (where no photons are present). Squeezed light (see figure 1) has the property of a lower level of uncertainty in either E or B than the vacuum state.

Do Not be Shame Because of Your Instrument Size

February 14, 2008 at 9:26 am | | grad life, hardware, nerd, wild web

From an email I received this morning:

Your chick shack up with your mate that is why you are alone.

By reason of of his instrument size. Chicks love huge device.

Do not worry bro. Today you have good possibility to Increase your machine size.

Lots of men the world over have increase. Now its your turn.

What the hell? My delay line is already 5 ft, quadruple passed. That’s a full 40 ns of pump-probe action. What I lack in girth (of pulse bandwidth), I make up for in S/N. Too bad it wasn’t enough to save my marriage.

Molecular Gastronomy

November 7, 2007 at 5:15 pm | | science community

From Alton Brown’s “I’m Just Here for the Food”:

Physical Reaction. Fire is a physical reaction wherein a fuel
(oxygen) combusts, in the presence of a catalyst (a chunk of charcoal).

Pictorially, this can be represented as:


It’s like watching The Core, only no Hilary Swank.

It came from the rocks

September 26, 2007 at 9:22 am | | science and the public, wild web

From a CBS affiliate on the anatomy of a Twinkie:

…Dr. Phillips says there are 39 ingredients packed into the dessert, and all but one are processed.

The ingredients cellulose gum, calcium sulfate, and polysorbate 60 are also used in sheet rock, shampoo, laundry detergent, and even rocket fuel. Author Steve Ettlinger spent five years tracking down the source of every ingredient found in a Twinkie.

“I was surprised that so many not only came from petroleum, but at least five came from rocks,” Ettlinger says.

The vitamins, artificial flavors, and colorings all come from petroleum. Phosphates from limestone make Twinkies light and airy.

“Sorbic acid is made from natural gas. That really blew my mind,” Ettlinger says…

Steve is a real winner with this alarmism. CAME FROM ROCKS, oh my God!?!

UV-Vis Lamps

September 21, 2007 at 10:58 am | | stupid technology

I’m still trying to figure out this one. The first trace is a transmission spectrum taken of a potentially suspect optic. A handful of scans later, the lamp burned out, and the second is that taken with the new lamp, same optic. Both in dual beam mode, with no additional background subtraction or zeroing.

Thankfully, the stupid check prevented me from drawing conclusions based on the original scan (you can’t have a lasing cavity with a Q=.05), although the shape matched almost exactly with the anomaly we were seeing. Weird, huh?

Laser Safety Glasses

August 6, 2007 at 3:08 pm | | everyday science, lab safety

Always the skeptic, I decided to put my new pair of laser safety glasses to the test.

I was actually a little surprised with the results. Since we have doubled YAG (532nm), YLF (527nm), and VO4 (535nm), l figured the glasses should work work for each since they are rated OD>5 for 190 – 534. But as you can see, at 535, the OD is already down to only 3.5. That’s should still be enough (esp. at only 5W), but I guess you really do have to yield to their manufacturer warnings not to exceed the specified wavelengths. I was too lazy to use the nice CARY, so I can’t comment on their performance in the NIR.

Laugh it up, Fuzzball

July 18, 2007 at 9:16 am | | crazy figure contest

The figure is from an economics editorial from the Wall Street Journal. Since nothing I could say can do a better job than Dr. Chu-Carroll, I’ll let him do the discussing. I guess us crazy chemists aren’t the only ones that can fit a 10th order polynomial to 2 points.

Fun with lines

July 11, 2007 at 2:40 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature

Found this figure on the JACS online front-end graphic in this month’s edition.

They drew a line through 2 points, and missed one of the points in the process. Having never actually collected data to publish, I’m a little mystified by these graphics, since they aren’t from the paper. I’m sure in some context it would make sense, but I’m going to go ahead and just assume they haven’t pulled out the ol’ bore sighter for their fitting software in a while.

While we’re on the subject, do you submit these graphics in addition to your manuscript? I recall one graphic that looked like it was drawn on a piece of notebook paper a while ago.

Aerogel Jewelry

July 2, 2007 at 5:55 pm | | everyday science


Aerogel Jewelery: +10 nerd, +4 chemistry cred, and -10 charisma*. Personally, I’m holding out for a pendant full of radium, Curie style.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Science Fair

June 17, 2007 at 3:06 pm | | crazy figure contest, science and the public, science@home

Last weekend I had the pleasure of judging middle school science fair projects. It’s always refreshing to see the kids interested (or at least pretending to be interested) in science. There were a lot of great projects. It was also nice to have a coordinator that wanted us to find a winner, instead of the “everyone’s a winner” approach I’ve encountered judging at some other schools. In honour of their efforts, I’ve put together my own science fair project.

How do glasses relax? This is important because glasses are important for people with bad site to see good.

I think glasses will relax. I think this because if glasses didn’t relax, then we wouldn’t be able to see through them. But I’ve seen through a glass before, so it must have relaxed.

1) Paper
2) Pencil
3) Regeneratively amplified femtosecond Ti:Sapphire oscillator
4) Stopwatch
5) Notebook
6) Something to make things cold

1) I ask 5 friends, David, Melissa, Lindsay, Billy, and Rainbow if they thought glasses relax.
2) I wrote down what they said, and averaged the results.
3) Make a liquid supercold.
4) Shine a lazer through it, and see what comes out.
5) Analyze your results.

My independent variable was the number of people I asked. My dependent variable was if the glass relaxed.

These were my results.

As your can see, David, Melissa, and Rainbow all said that glasses relax, while Billy and Lindsay said glasses cannot relax. This confirms my hypothesis that glasses can relax, because more people think glasses can relax than glasses cannot relax.

My hypothesis was correct. If I could do this experiment again, I would see if playing different types of music would make the glasses relax faster. This experiment was important because it shows science works.

100 Great Science Fair Thesis Projects


June 5, 2007 at 5:18 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature

It’s not the worst figure, but I did laugh a little that only 2 out of 10 points fit comfortably within their respective error bars.

Source: J. Phys. Chem. B, 2005, 109, 15172-15177

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