Hey Ma, we’re on TV!

I just saw a commercial for a new touch-screen camera on TV with Ashton Kutcher. Now, as much as I dislike the guy (mostly the product of an old roommate who met him and wouldn’t shut up about his man-love for Ashton), I got really excited for the commercial. A non-Ashton version is also floating around: new camera commercial

Listen to that! He said OLED! On a national commercial! (Actually, that commercial says “organic LED” while the Ashton one actually says “OLED”.) Organic LEDs, of course, being one of the two major projects of my thesis. Pretty awesome! The more the phrase starts getting thrown around outside of academia, the better. It’ll make it just that much easier for OLEDs to become The Next Big Thing.

For the curious, the basic principle of OLEDs in two sentences boils down to this: traditional LED displays use all sorts of semiconducting metals and elements (the big ones are gallium, phosphorus, and arsenic…yes, arsenic) to produce different colors. Organic LEDs use mostly “organic” elements to make their colors: hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen…fluorine too to some extent.

So why would you want OLEDs? Well, the obvious answer is cost. Carbon and oxygen cost way less to get a hold of than gallium or arsenic, so you can make your displays much more affordable. They’re also our gateway to sci-fi, since they’re really well suited for flexible stuff like this. So flexible displays, wrap-around lighting, that sort of thing. There’s still tons of work to be done (hence, my thesis!), but it’s exciting to see the phrase showing up on TV commercials.

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Science waits for no one

I’m starting a new research project which isn’t exactly so new. My advisor used to be working on it back when he was doing R&D with one of the Major Computer Companies of the past decade (hint: they do mostly software nowadays, but used to be big dogs in the chip industry). I asked him for some background reading so I could get caught up on where they were when he stopped, and he gave me a few binders full of info: review articles, patents, publications, etc.

The interesting thing is that these are all the original copies of the papers that he and his team were reading as they were working, so they’ve got all sorts of comments sprawled in the margins and on sticky notes. After a while the personalities of each guy in the group starts to come through, and so I’ve actually been paying more attention to the running commentary than the papers themselves. There’s the guy who always calls bullshit on minor points of a paper, the one who suggests using some techniques on their projects, and the guy who just likes underlining stuff in red.

You can tell they were doing some cutting edge stuff by the comments they make on other groups’/companies’ stuff. One of the guys on the team, we’ll call him Dirk, was particularly anxious a lot of the time. Pretty much all his comments are some variation of “We need to work faster!” scrawled on the front of some other people’s article.

My favorite comment, far and away, is from Dirk on a sticky note attached to a new patent:
“This is because we were too slow!!! (Especially Campbell!)”

Poor Campbell. I bet it was payback for some hilarious prank he pulled on Dirk the week before.

The politics of science

There’s been a lot of climate talk hubbub going on in the past few weeks. It’s mostly been about those chats in Copenhagen, but who still remembers the leaked climatologist emails? I know I’m late to the game, but I just ran into this article by Mike Hulme (one of the climate scientists whose emails were stolen): The Science and Politics of Climate Change.

I’ve been trying to come up with some comments, but he does a fantastic job of discussing the science/policy disconnect. Ultimately it’s an issue of mismatched expectations from both the policy and science sides on how they each work. Bottom line: science gets distorted to fit policy needs instead of being used to compliment policy decisions. A better understanding of how the act of doing science works would do wonders for public understanding. While the article was just on climate change (which is undoubtedly the biggest science/policy interface existing right now), the same sort of arguments could be made for how the public perceives science in general (and vice versa: a more inclusive scientific community would help integrate and open itself to everyone else).

Hulme makes a case for the transparency of science (and believe me, there’s little that’s more opaque than academic science), which is hopefully something I’ll be able to help with as I talk more here about life as a researcher. (And with classes now mostly out of the way, posting volume should definitely increase as I move into the lab semi-permanently for the next 5ish years.)