I'm beginning with the little acclaration that as my Internet connection was broken for the whole night and I didn't want to disturb my colleague Gerogi (we were both very tired), it was nearly impossible to post 'day-to-day' stuff in the blog. However, this text was written on WordPad the same night, so it does count as a live sharing experience.
Today was the day for introduction. We were put face to face with the facts of the upcoming week - that the MPIA is in the mountains, that it has scientists from all over the world, that it's part of other networks… nor did I have any information on its activities. In the morning Markus Pössel introduced us to OPTICON and gave us some astronomical background - something I admit I partially lacked in - thren we had a tour of MPIA with Claus Jäger, and later on we learned what the LBT is. Our focus was on mirrors and how they can be used to obtain the best space pictures possible. We've had 2 tours at the Institute and they were worth the time.
To be honest I feel a little weird. Before taking off to I already expected a difficult schedule at the Max Planck Astronomy Institute. I supposed there would be things I didn't know, too many of them and perhaps rather making it a harder task to communicate with specialists (at the beginning). Well, that first day showed that I turn out to be both right and wrong. I'm right because I did learn many things today. When we arrived in the morning, I did't have the faintest idea what the main difficulties with telescopes are, what makes the difference between a space and a ground telescope. I thought of a scientific lab as of a place which uses special equipment to boost the research processes, not a place which relies on self-produced technology, depending only on equipment made by the team's engineers. I also didn't know that Pluto is not a star any more - i.e. that it doesn't fall into that cathegory. In a nutshell, I learned both things that need a special place to be properly discovered and things that can be checked out in a simple way but normally no-one would do that as people pretend to be in a constant hurry… And I strongly believe both type of knowledge is necessary.
I'm wrong because learning and understanding some of the terms, concepts, events and processes explained to us turned out to be quite easy. A first insight into astronomy for someone who's got nothing to do with it? Quite successful, I believe. And it was obvious that both Georgi and I already have an overview in our heads. Some sort of a scheme how mechanisms in this science - and in this place work (efficiently if not the best). We even knew some of the things that have been told to us. However, the 'wrongness' comes from the fact that scientific terminology and briefly studied scientific point of view for natural events aren't what's most impressive (as an obstacle) for a new guest. For me the problem lies in reaching the next level. Looking for the unusual in a whole world of unusualities we people have come to accept - I mean general scientific public. Making ourselves ask questions and avoid the process of only absorbing information - the way many people do when reading encyclopedias or watching a documentary. Because we know more information can be extracted, more can be affirmed, even confirmed. The next level should be reached even though all topics have not been covered. Satisfaction with a pseudobig or pseudocomplete picture would put a great barrier in front on any similar attempt.
I must also admit I'm a bit irritated as writing in WordPad isn't difficult but was not what I was supposed to do and I'm just forced to it - so I'll give a better account tomorrow evening.
P.S. (Added Tuesday) Here it is - my Internet! My connection was shut down due to an unpurposeful existence of a P2P programme, uTorrent, in the msconfig of my Startup, which I forgot to turn of before entering the Guesthouse network, but the sys admin here has no way to know that - so - it's my fault.
In terms of project-related activities it was definitely a shorter day, but it seemed longer. And not because it was boring - actually it gave us a great deal of information. Well, maybe not as great as to make us well prepared in these fields (telescopes, interferometry, machines' design, engeneering and development, etc.). Nevertheless it added something to what we came across the day before. We got an insight into the general points of observing galaxies, evolution in concepts about the “content” of the Universe (it had crossed my mind that it is “mostly empty” but I've never really paid attention to it), discovering new characteristics of space objects in the course of technological upgrades… We had a funny experiment with metal rectangles in which some holes had been made to simulate telescope mirrors. It was simple but effective as yesterday I heard about the benefits of interferometry (merging the efficiency of 2 telescope mirrors to make them act as) a couple of times but found it a little hard to imagine the differences between the images received. Later on we had an overview of how big telescopes are built and what new projects are being implemented with the help of MPIA. I´ve written things down but right now I can´t remember some details. In the afternoon we could look into some of the cryogenic workshops for the VLTI. We even made some pictures that I´ll upload tomorrow (maybe I´m no good for science as there are always technical problems around and about me - my USB slots refuse to function). The encounter with apparatus in different stages of production (design, elaboration, almost done, etc.) helped understand the process of construction. Later in the day we went to the town to buy some food. Now I suppose my idea on a possible material gets clearer and clearer but I´ll wit for the next 2 days to pass to be sure.
It was quite curious to know - and SEE, in both senses - how much aspects of human activity can be related to astronomy. It is not something that sticks in our minds when we hear it because it sounds boring, dull or whatsoever definition you would like to use. Or rather, it sounds plain. To see and realize it, however, is yet another world to explore. Even though laymen (and occasional passers-by, what we are) normally don't get much of an ability to look into it.
Today was a good example in that direction.
At the beginning it was just explanations and Q&As based on the E-ELT project and other telescope-related topics. We had the opportunity to learn many interesting facts about where the idea came from, how it is currently managed, what problems (mainly one problem) lie in front of the astronomer's work in case of the project - or any other project of that type. From basic technical matters to national budgets and their percentage in astronomy.
Later on there was a very different experience - observing (and symbolically participating in) parts' design and elaboration. It is true that mechanics for cryostats, detectors, interferometers, etc. are much more complex and require a lot of factors to have in mind. However, we were given the chance to create some small objects with our names on them and used the same apparati that processes different materials into technological parts. It was fun, but what if I had to repeat this process all the time? Besides, pieces created there requiere greater thought and precision. But nevertheless it was great because we put our hands on it. And even if it's not a real idea about how exactly these things are made, it's surely an image. And a good beginning. Not like just 'theoretically' or 'abstractly' knowing something, e.g. that development of any kind of technology takes time, effort, skill and patience. Now we have the freedom of our imaginations to work in that direction. No matter if we decide to use it or not.
Afterwards came another not-just-science session. Well, it wasn't practice but was definitely another perspective - meeting the editor-in-chief of the 'Sterne und Weltraum' (astronomical) and 'Spektrum der Wissenschaft' (generally scientific) magazines. We talked about the history, development, public, (hard to forsee) future of these editions, etc. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in a seious scientific magazine amateurs can contribute openly and they are respected. In this, as well as other aspects, this seems to be a media holding to its traditions and nevertheless keeping the interest of its readers. It may seem normal for most people but I also noted that 'Sterne und Weltraum' considers communication with the readers very important. And these are, besides, definitely beatiful editions… I was impressed. Pity such thing hasn't made its way in our country! And pity there wouldn't be many people to have more than a glance.
I am still not sure I can fully organize all that knowledge (for me it's “all that” and I realize that for someone deep into astronomy it's less than a byte or even bit of info). It's just quite new to me and perhaps it will take more time than I expected, even though I believe I undestand the greater part of it. Honestly I don't believe that the upcoming meetings will make any kind of an order out of the mess in my head. Even though I try a self-pose and convince myself it's all been organized, doing this with apparently plausible arguments. What I definitely know, however, is that people at the Institute know what they're doing. Now let's hope when I sit and begin to write something related to the last 5 days, I'll also know what I am doing.
(written between 23 and 23:30 on Thursday, 18.11.2010) Now I'll make a silly joke… But as they're my special part, I hope nobody gets offended. Well, we and Germany are definitely not meant to be! I am too much the absent-minded kind of guy to survive here. I had to make an important phone call and thus forgot to remove a P2P client from my Startup before connecting to the Guesthouse network. So I was shut down again, just like the first time - because I'd never had such an experience and had never considered torrents a menace to security, intellectual property, etc. Nor am I giving a small charade or justifying myself. It's just that I understand. I know it's not personal, just principles. You postpone turning a program off with a second and the firewall shuts you down - just security. Nothing personal. Here if you get distracted, you might get killed. No matter that exchanging a few Skype pictures or forgetting open a torrent client can be a lesser crime compared to Facebook's Farmville. Who cares? I'm not going against the system. Just having a thought on it. It's alright to come from a different culture and feel puzzled by the new culture's properties! Or am I wrong?
Leaving that aside, it was a great day. A weird thing - yesterday I thought I had heard as much as I could about adaptive optics. Then it turned out that we had a whole morning and afternoon dedicated to them. We spent out time to lunch at the lab where a detector for LINC-NIRVANA is being tested and calibrated. We needed patience to contemplate the progress of this testing - and imagine how patient scientists can be! We realized most things they usually do are not friutful just at the moment when they begin their implementation. We had the opportunity to participate in the use of their software, but I believe out interference was rather vague. Nevertheless it was a curious feeling to imagine what would the world look like if we were in their place. We heard a few interesting stories behind MPIA scientists' work - things that happend to them in the process of construction, experimenting or just looking for a suitable place to put a telescope. However, it's a little difficult (or rather I'm a little reluctant) to tell about that chat in details. I only know it was once again quite useful speaking of explanations, introductions, Q&A and, of course, stories. What we are here for even behind the self-misleading mask of science journalism. Lunch followed and then we went to test apparatus working with piezo matter, trying to eliminate vibrational disturbancies as part of the Argos equipment. We had a great talk too - and among the important things in the session were mistakes. Or rather takes that won't work. It's true - science is perfect only when presented on PowerPoint… The good news is that I've got an idea for my topic. The bad one is I need some sleep.
Just as I suspected, the last day didn't become a completely free part of our stay here. It wa rather well organized - as we had 2 appointments and one half-appointment in schedule. Added a small trip to Heidelberg (we didn't use the bus but climbed down the mountain for about 30 minutes), it was all like a final sketch to our activities, observations, impressions related to work in the Institute. Because no matter astronomy is some kind of exact science, it has its relation to places, faces an other aspects of human life. It wouldn't be possible without human life after all.
What we mostly did was meet people for 'last checks'. First we met a Bulgarian - how curious there could be about 3 Bulgarian people at the Institute and we learned that yesterday! Bulgarians don't tend to show off too much, don't we? We talked to Maria about a project that is supposed to lead to the construction of a Planetarium in Sofia. It turned out there was a group of astronomers in Bulgaria we knew nothing about - even though they'd had some media activities! Quite unfamous. But I guess with current attitude of our country to science such state of things is also quite expected. I believe we'll help her cause - I have some connections in newspapers that could help. And I also have a workplace whose owners prefer scientific news! But alright, I guess a cable television wouldn't bring much news to many people. We'll see that…
Then it was Jakob Staude, the ex-editor-in-chief of the 'Sterne und Weltraum” magazine, one of the most popular astronomical magazines and surely unique of its kind - I don't know if I mentioned it yesterday, but it's quite cuirous that its office is in the Institute and one of its goals is to reach more people belonging to the general public. Apart from learning stories about the magazine, we could make some conclusions on how such media could be made the best way - not by targeting it to a cetain group but by writing it in a way people could understand. I was amazed. No by the statements by but the way Jakob Staude explained it to us. And all that sincerity.
Then we met Wolfgang Gässler and finished our conversation on human stories in science at the Insitute. That's also a thing that doesn't really need to go to a blog but rather deserves an article. It's quite interesting, though - to keep your respect for astonomy even when you here things suitable for the EPIC FAIL blogs. I loved this part.
Then we went to the town. It was fun. And definitely an experience. That's what matters for the blog's purposes. The rest, I guess, is for my grandchildren :D
I want to thank to RELATE for having the possibility to spend a week at the Institute. Secondly, but with the same priority, I want to thank Markus Pössel for the help and the organization. I also want to thank to Jakob Staude, Wolfgang Gässler, Tom Herbst, Leonard Burtscher and all the people that made me remember some theory. For science and me in one place? If I remember something, that's remarkable. And I did.