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My experience day by day:

Contact me henry.james.lau@gmail.com

Monday 1st March 2010

Catalan phrase of the day: Em dic Henry - My name is henry Table football
My first day at ICFO was bathed in the brilliant Barcelona sun. There was not a cloud in sight.

I'm here with Jonathan, a science journalism student from Germany ( read his blog)

We've been given our mugs, t-shirt and a tour. Everyone we've met so far has been very welcoming. The place seems very modern with bean bags next to the whiteboards and table football in the coffee area. We bumped into the director of the institute and had a spontaneous quick match with him. We lost, but then we are on his home turf.

The rest of the day has progressed far too fast. We sampled the delights of the canteen in the science park. The food was tasty and not too expensive. It brought back memories of eating in the university canteen in France, where food is a priority; a far cry from the university food in London.

In the afternoon we had a chat with Alejandra about outreach and the forthcoming LaserFest. LaserFest is celebrating 50 years since the invention of the laser. It's not often that you think about how lasers have changed our lives.

After Alejandra, we spoke to Niek van Hulst. He spoke about what ICFO are doing in the realm of nanophotonics. The first thing he asked us was what is nanophotonics. I didn't really have an idea before but after spending a short time with Niek I can say it's dealing with light at the nanometre scale. This is almost counter-intuitive as light is something that operates in the several hundred nanometre scale. What was really interesting for me what how Niek talked about working in science, and this really struck a chord with the philosophy of science we study as part of the Imperial College Science Communication course link.

I'm excited to see what tomorrow brings.

Tuesday 2nd March 2010

Catalan phrase of the day: Vull denunciar un robatori - I want to report a robbery


This is Arnaud Gardelein. Here he is setting up an experiment in entangling photons. By the end of the morning I was witnessing for the first time the passing of entangled photons. These manifested themselves as blips crossing an oscilloscope screen. Not monumental I know. It is only when Arnaud explains what the entangled photons can be used for, do they start to merit the importance they deserve.

Entanglement is the description given to an object that mathematically appears as one object, but in reality is two. In our case, the photons are our objects. Interesting things happen when you deal with entangled photons. Photons can be aligned to a certain direction, but this direction is not known. With entangled photons, once you measure the direction of a photon, the other unmeasured photons changes so that it's direction is the corresponding opposite direction. This is useful in creating a system for quantum cryptography.

With standard cryptography over the internet, large prime numbers are multiplied together. This is used as the code for encrypting data. In theory, with enough computational power and time, this multiplication can be cracked. Quantum cryptography, as Arnaud says is “unconditionally secure”. It has been mathematically proven, that even with imagined future capabilities of technology that communications can be secure. It will not be secure in the traditional way as in it will be hard to read data, but you will know if someone is listening in to you data.

Another way of doing quantum cryptography is using a “faint pulse source”. This is what Marc Jofre Cruanyes is doing. The goal of Marc's work is to produce technology that will allow a “global quantum communication network”. This requires making his bench-worth of equipment fit into the size of a shoebox. Oh, and the small matter of making it survive in space; withstanding the intense launch vibrations and g-forces, the huge variability of temperatures and the high radiation exposure.

To finish the day at the lab, we had a meeting with Armand Niederberger and Giorgio Volpe. They talked about the student chapter here at ICFO and the OPfocus magazine they run.

Wednesday 3rd March 2010

Catalan word of the day: pluja = rain

Oh what horrible weather for an ICFOnian (a resident of ICFO)! That is unless you're a seabird riding the strong winds. This morning was the second time I took advantage of the close proximity to the beach to do some fitness training for my upcoming ultimate frisbee tournament. There is a great beach here at Castelldefels and only a short jog from the hotel. I was quite envious of the seabird rising the strong ocean breeze as I puffed and panted doing my rocky-style sprints. Unfortunately I didn't have Apollo Creed to run again.

Last night we ventured into Barcelona city again. I remembered a restaurant I went to when I was here with my parents. Los Caracoles or something similar. I just knew it meant snails in Catalan or Spanish. However when I went there last, we spent a considerable amount of time trying to find it as it's hidden in the old part of the city, where the streets are narrow and many. By pure chance, we were able to find it. Success!

My time in the lab started with Guillermo Alejandro Cárdenas Sevilla. He showed me his work on making a biosensor out of some fiber optic. I noticed in his lab book many diagrams explaining the processes accompanying the laboratory notes. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

My next stop was with Vittoria Finazzi in the industrial lab. The industrial lab worked with companies to bring new technology to applications that could possibly one day become commonplace. During my chat with Vittoria I asked her about how she felt about commercial partners setting the science agenda, in her case ESA. She replied that it was a great “honour” to work for ESA.

Thursday 4th March 2010

Catalan phrase of the day: Tens uns ulls molt bonics - You have very beautiful eyes

Visiting Barcelona

Last night we ventured in the wet to look round the sights of Barcelona. Being from Germany and Britain we dismissed the rain as mere drizzle and walked around as it is was sunny. This was the first time we saw Barcelona during the day.

Happy pills

On passing through the narrow streets of the old town. We passed a shop called Happy Pills. It had a white, clinical appearance, clearly reference hospitals and pharmacies. But instead of pills, they sold sweets.

I managed to meet up with my Catalan friend Pau who I knew from my internship in Finland. We had a great night, and I took the last train back to Castelldefels.

In the morning the sun returned, energising us for the penultimate day at the lab. We chatted this morning with Marta García Matos, Tania Gómez Manchado and Alejandra Valencia (again)

Tania (left) and Alejandra (right)

They talked about their roles at ICFO in visual communication. This encompassed a variety of tasks including creating illustrations and videos for scientists to help them communicate their science to general and specialised audiences, designing name badges for conferences and laying out the programs and running the website. Alejandra and Marta both work on outreach projects for ICFO and they commented on how little details like giving school children a well designed name badge with their name printed on it made them feel important.

For me it was interesting seeing sides of art and science mix; the creative with the accurate. What was enlightening and surprising to hear was that Maria felt scientists benefited from having to explain their scientific concept from words to an image; tackling tough concepts such as what do quantum spin states look like. It is encouraging to hear that the visual communications aspect of the institute's work, whether though outreach or reports, is supported from the “upper sphere”.

I would like to end on something which I found very profound. Marta talked about the motivation for communicating science; “what's important is for people to know the human desire to know.” People are not interested in facts, but rather they are fascinated by the motivation, value and passion displayed by scientists in their pursuit of knowledge. And I think this is the crux of why science is respected as such a noble activity.

Friday 5th March 2010

Catalan phrase of the day: Fins ara - See you soon

Marc Jofre in the lab

I sit on the hard seats in Barcelona airport waiting for my flight. My time here has been short yet significant. I came with an open mind about what this project would be about. I think the divide between art and science, highlighted by C. P. Snow as “the two cultures” still exists today. So would a project like this make some ground to bridging the gap? In some ways, I don't think it has. Science will still keep churning as the giant machine that is it. Journalism plays its role on the periphery, vying for attention, causing science to look up for a fleeting glimpse. I feel this is the case because although the institute was welcoming and I'm grateful for all they did. I was not completely accommodated by the scientists. Some gave me time to talk to them, but some did not, feeling the pressure from the science world to produce science.

At times I thought the project had unrealistic aims, mainly due to the artificial stimulation of the news process; how often would a journalist spend a week in a lab looking for a story. But on the other side of the coin, I did learn more about the political, commercial, managerial and social aspects around science. And I hope I gave something back to the people I met at ICFO. I refound my passion to learn again, as I found myself becoming engrossed in the scientific details.

So Friday. The last of my days at the lab. My last day started well but unfortunately ended badly. My morning run to the beach was uplifting. The smell of the oil from the fir trees filled my lungs with energy. Running up a bridge, rising above the tree line, I almost felt like I was taking off. The sun fought to rise above and clouds, and I thought of the way ICFO was trying to use light to control nature. And then a plane came by.

During the morning we spent a short while chatting with Silvia Carrasco about the commercial side of science. I did not realise the extent to which science and business are linked at the applied end. I just thought business and science worked through collaboration, but they also need each other for consultation, hiring of personal and the exchange of licenses.

Following this, I had a talk with Niek van Hulst about European science funding, particularly the framework program. I had been interested in this topic before I came to ICFO and had intended to write an article about this. It was good to hear the view on FP7 and Spanish science from a Dutchman. From the material gathered, I think I will write an article based upon this interview.

In the afternoon we departed for Barcelona again. We visited Parc Guell, which is a huge tourist trap. And strolled through the district of Gracia. Gracia used to be a neighbouring village, before being encompassed into the expanding Barcelona. The streets are narrow, breadshops are a stones-throw from each other and the plazas filled with children playing. It was very pleasing to find this village atmosphere still thriving.

At the end of the day we ventured to Barceloneta and to the Olympic Port. Unfortunately, here I was a victim to a pickpockets. I lost 35 euros but nothing else, due to reactionary shoulder barge. I keep replaying the scenario in my head thinking about all the warning signs and what I should have done. But in the end of the day, I have to be grateful I was not hurt and I did not lose anything else.

I would like to thank Jonathan for being great company during this week. Thank you Sinead for looking after us so well. Thank you to everyone we spoke to at ICFO (Marc Jofre, Valerio Pruneri, Niek van Hulst, Alejendra, Vittoria, Arnaud Gardelein, Armand, Giorgio, Guillermo, Tania, Marta). Finally, I would like to thank the European Journalism Centre for allowing me this great opportunity.

 
barcelona/henryblog.txt · Last modified: 2010/03/06 22:39 by henry
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