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Here and there

(published 25 November 2010)


All is quiet here.
As quiet as a windy dusk. The trees undulate and ripple in the gusty wind. The last of the commuting seagulls head on past, northwards to the coast. The blackbirds and moorhen squawk and chatter as they settle down in the dimming. The first observed bat flits about, a pipistrelle I think, a regular dusky site this lone flier. A few big black birds, crows or rooks or similar, skirt the edges of the trees, then settle into their browning tops.

In the darkening light of dusk the gingko, quince yellow in the full light of the subdued November day, has become the tree in Egon Schiele’s drawing. Black stemmed with an understated tight violence of glowing orange leaves; embers along the charred skeletal branches. In the wind a few leaves lightly flutter, around and down. Most are, as yet, still held. Apparently they all go together; one day attached, the next the gnarly rigidity of the tree’s structure naked baring into the winter; its silhouette daily present in the months ahead.

And there

Last week I spent a day in the lab with Dave. He was preparing a sample for testing. Many minutes of fine tuning multitudinous knobs before ten-second experiments. Passing laser light along a waveguide, looking for losses. Microscale silicon and mere seconds of time to determine fundamentals of the physicality of this light passage.

The waveguide is being tested, designed, created. A scar in the surface of the disc. It is to pass light from point to point; pass electric current from point to point; to have both electrical and optical properties.

The light that is being projected along this silicon etching has a wavelength of 1550nm. It is in a single plane, having been passed through a polarisation filter and along polarisation-maintaining fibres. (The two possible planes are transverse electric (TE) and transverse magnetic (TM).) These planar wavelengths are in phase. This is called single mode, I think. Today it is the passive optical outputs of microscopic channels for these tightly constrained waves that are under scrutiny. We are looking for power loss in Maxender interferometers. No, my phonetic spelling in my notebook is wrong, I am unconsciously corrected, Mach Zehnder Interferometers, MZIs. Next to this name in my notebook I rapidly scrawl some words about the fact that the group are making phase modulations but want to make intensity modulators. Later, re-reading my notes, I do not understand what these are, or the differences between them, nor, in fact, what the MZI is for. In the last weeks I have learned a great deal but as yet it seems that the MZI remains mysterious.

Time shifts around between here and there, as does knowledge. Information initially superficially absorbed is broken down, reconsidered and regurgitated, slightly mutated by the process, partially congealed in a mire of other images and experiences. The process of gaining understanding is not a uniform one. Waves of all forms collide, disperse, intermingle. It began with a guileless and simple question about photomultipliers. The answer was given, but not comprehended. Still not comprehended; an as yet unreached destination on a voyage of discovery. This voyage looks set to travel out into the vast (limitless?) unmapped territories of human intellectual endeavour. The far reaches disappear into potential and discovery yet to be made. The unimagined and, as yet, unimaginable. We may believe that we have seen the earth – physical explorations recorded and globally shared through, for example, the electromagnetic radiation of the television – but in our minds and in our futures exist worlds of possibly infinite variety and creativity. Our needs, understanding, imaginations and capabilities will combine to create aspects of our ongoing existences in myriad forms.

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