Monday, 20 April 2015

I tried to be an atheist once...

I tried, desperately, when I was aged between 19 and 21 to be an atheist. No religion for me, I joked. It's all a bit silly. No it makes no sense. I shall assemble my philosophy from the ramblings of youtube and the murmurings of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

But it was a poor endeavour. And I found that the more I mixed in the atheist circles, the more I realised that as much as they weren't religious, they were religious. Attending meetings where I was implored to bring the "good news" (of a lack of God) to people and arrange more meetings and more gatherings to talk of "logic" and "science" as if reason and religion were mutually exclusive. It just reminded me of the days of my catechism as a Roman Catholic. I could hear the words of Irena (my cathechist) coming from the mouths of these empassioned young boys who with great fervour declared that God did not exist as much as she once pressed to me that God did exist.

But I was not a good atheist. I had yearnings for more to my existence. My father pointed out to me (an atheist himself) that there was much more to life than just the chemicals and physics and mathematics of the universe. In atheism, there is nought but materialism. No Aristolean reason that matter is possessed of substance and nature. No, what it is it is and cannot be but. There is no reason behind that. It is not logical.

But that is an aside point. I couldn't hack it. It embued with me with a good world outlook however that people don't believe in God and why they put their faith in materialism instead. For me, it was too much like hard work. I prefer to support a good cause - making people happy, than upsetting them.

I was a terrible atheist, but I try to be a good theist. I am only a human.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Lab work, or what I did with my summer (2013)

This summer proved to be an interesting experience. For the first time, I was permitted to work in a research laboratory, doing experimental science. Not the stifled, predictable, has a correct answer work done in undergraduate laboratories but the open ended field of research science. I had agreed with Professor Andy Ellis of the University of Leicester to work in his laboratory over the summer, and the experiment was much more chemical physics, than physical chemistry. We were synthesising nanoparticles in helium nanodroplets. The first time I'd ever been able to do any such work and certainly an interesting experience. 

The door to the "office"

The helium nanodroplet experiment is an interesting area of research. The droplets themselves are cooled to a temperature of 0.37K, and hence the helium is superfluid. This means two things, the first being that molecules are free to move about inside of the droplets and also that due to the low reactivity of helium they don't form interactions with the helium nanodroplet and thus provides a fantastic way of capturing and holding particles to perform tasks like spectroscopy. This is aided by helium's transparency to most forms of radiation. An off shoot of this is the fact that the size of the droplets can be controlled and thus the size of particles within these meaning that the helium nanodroplet systems provide a novel and interesting method of synthesising nanoparticles with very tight size control.

One of the first tasks we had to do was test the oven we were using to introduce metal into the helium beam. This was done on an ultra high vacuum rig to simulate the conditions that the oven would be operating under. This also ensured that most of the water that had built up on the metal surface would be dissipated by evaporation. 

The oven in operation

The rig it was operating inside of

Eventually this was moved to the main rig. Normally, at this point I would show a picture of the main rig that was being worked on but unfortunately I couldn't find a good enough picture to show it off. It's a big piece of kit - kind of 2.5-3m long apparatus.

We produced nanoparticles fairly quickly containing aluminium. It was especially interesting to see these under a TEM however I cannot post them here as they are publication pending. Eventually we turned our attention to what we were seeing in our mass spectrum.

Now, a few years ago, some German scientists published a paper saying that aluminium atoms trapped in helium nanodroplets were separated by layers of helium and hence would not cluster together. Now, I know of work done that shows that excited electronic states of aluminium tend to the surface of the droplet and I also know of work done that shows that ground state aluminium does not. They had very limited evidence for their claim that these layers of helium existed. But one thing is certain, clusters would not be seen in the mass spectrum.

Yet, this is exactly what we saw!!!  Imagine our surprise. Even more interestingly was that these followed a near magic number progression! Even more interesting. The findings were published then in the Int. J. Mass Spectr. in 2014 and my name was on the paper!! Hopefully the first of many scientific papers in my name!!

It was a great summer and I was keen to repeat the experience again! Even if there were some ups and downs.