Category Archives: projects

Most notable science and technology from the last 20 years, and predictions for the next 20

Here is a selection of the most notable advances in science and technology over the last twenty years.

I’ve collected these from people working around me (there may be a Berkeley Lab or Optics bias!) or by looking at what around me had made life different (a  an Academic life or California bias!) They are listed in no particular order, but the ordering tries to highlight some relationship between the topics.

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ALS-U CD-3A

We were awarded CD-3A, yay!
Amazing team, and amazing project:)

On Dec. 23 the DOE granted approval for a key funding step that will allow the project to start construction on a new inner electron storage ring. Known as an accumulator ring, this inner ring will feed the upgraded facility’s main light-producing storage ring, and is a part of the upgrade project (ALS-U)

[…]

Powerful arrays of magnets bend the beam of electrons, causing it to emit light that is channeled down dozens of beamlines for experiments in a wide range of scientific areas – from physics, medicine, and chemistry to biology and geology. More than 2,000 scientists from around the world conduct experiments at the facility each year.

[…]

The ALS-U project will keep the facility at the forefront of research using “soft” X-rays, which are well-suited to studies of the chemical, electronic, and magnetic properties of materials. Soft X-rays can be used in studies involving lighter elements like carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen, and have a lower energy than “hard” X-rays that can penetrate deeper into samples.

It will also expand access to “tender” X-rays, which occupy an energy range between hard and soft X-rays and can be useful for studies of earth, environmental, energy, and condensed-matter sciences.

Milestone in Advanced Light Source Upgrade Project Will Bring in a New Ring

Science and politics – Part 1

On October 30th, 2019 I’ve organized an event at Manny’s (3092 16th St, San Francisco) on Science and Politics, with accomplished scientists Elaine DiMasi and Michael Eisen who chose to run for congress, in the wake of the 2016 US election, the Women’s March and the March for Science.

Dr. Michael Eisen and and Dr. Elaine DiMasi, who respectively ran for US Senate (CA) and US House of Representative (NY-1) , at Manny’s in San Francisco on October 30th, 2019

The setting was quite ideal for the speakers (Manny’s has held event for 17 out of the 20 Democratic candidates to the US Presidential election), and the two accomplished scientists shared many thoughts on their unsuccessful run.

A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed — I well know. For it’s a sign that he tried to surpass himself
George Clemenceau

Of the wave of scientists who ran in 2018, few were elected, but it’s is hard to change a political machine that has been here for many decades on the first attempt.Trial, error, re-calibrate, try again. I hope to shortly provide a summary of lessons learned in a “Part 2” (I have a recordings of the event, but it’s low quality.)

While there is a lot of work done in the realm of science policy (how to inform our representative and make sure they make evidence-based decision)—groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, Engineers and Scientists Acting Locally (ESAL) or closer to me the Berkeley Science Policy Group and interesting programs such as the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships— very few scientists do engage politics frontally, as candidates.

While other countries do have trained scientists at their helm (Angela Merkel from Germany and Xi Jinping from China are both doctors in Chemistry, and their respective term have been relatively successful up to this point), other countries not so much. Currently, Rep Bill Foster (D-Il), Steve Englebright (NY state assembly) and Dan Kalb (Oakland City Council) are scientists in public offices; Vern Ehlers and Rush D. Holt were the first physicists to be elected in congress (party did not matter so much, Ehlers being a Republican and Holt a Democrat; see College Professors Who Have Served in Congress – The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 2014) for a partial list)

Interestingly, a few rising stars (or shining bright already!) of the Congress are professors (but not scientists): Katie Porter, ❤️Kirsten Sinema💙, Elizabeth Warren. Jess Phenix is a geologist who has ran for the House of Representative; she has still been unsuccessful, but her time might come.
https://vis.sciencemag.org/midterm-science-candidates/

(edit 11/8/2019: note that Olivier Ezratty published a post on “Do we need more scientists and engineers in politics“, quite thorough (in French.) And if you speak French there’s this podcast on Les sciences peuvent-elles aider la démocratie?  (“Can sciences help democracy”) featuring Philippe Kourilsky (author of De la science et de la démocratie) – I was a bit disappointed: it’s mostly about scientists helping democratically elected leaders, not participating in it, but at least there’s some conversation.

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Threads

I’ve been using Twitter (@awojdyla) more frequently over the last 3 years, finding a lot value in this tool which allows to address a worldwide audience and reach out to people in a very effective way.

Straight goals

Twitter is a very strange medium, in that it can be extremely helpful to reach out to people (the six degrees of separation collapse to one, basically), but whose rules and purpose are hard to understand.

Here’s a few remarks on my experience, and some resources if you’re interested in engaging the tweet game!

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Poetry as philosophy in action

Every now and then, I read bits of poetry. Lately, I nibbled on Apollinaire, whose Alcools my father offered me, and I discovered W. H Auden’s Sonnet from China thanks to Shoshana Zuboff:

Falling in love with Truth before he knew Her,
He rode into imaginary lands,
By solitude and fasting hoped to woo Her,
And mocked at those whose served Her with their hands
— W. H. Auden

While I enjoy reading poetry, it only occurred to me recently that poetry is more than a thoughtful collection of word. Poetry is actually philosophy in action —  and even the Greeks knew that: ποιεῖν (poiein) means “to make”.

poenies

The reason for that has to do with the distinction between axioms and theorems (if you want to learn about that, I have an excellent book for you), or between things that are self-evident and things that are derived. Philosophy, being very rigorous, deals with theorems. Poetry enunciates subtle truths and help us navigate the blind spots of philosophy, such as beauty, love and meaning: everything that sets us in motion.

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Wokipedia

Wikipedia is probably the best thing on Earth after sunsets, but it’s still far from perfect. Some articles are quite amazing, but oftentimes article about science topics or science personalities are nowhere near where they should be, and it seems that researchers should spend more time trying spread knowledge. Unfortunately, two things are in the way: the writers never get credit for it, and it’s bad optics in science to be the judge of notoriety for others.

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.
– Harry S Truman

Recently I became aware of an effort to improve the representation of scientists on Wikipedia, which is the go-to place to look up someone and evaluate their authority – in a world when men seems to preternaturally commend more than women. Let’s fix this!

Here’s a few people for who I have started a page (I’ll keep this list updated as I go – yes, I do take credit, on a page no one will ever read in hopes this may inspire some wandering soul.)

Scientific Topics:

People than need to be put on Wikipedia:
  • Daniele Ushizima – https://crd.lbl.gov/departments/data-science-and-technology/data-analytics-and-visualization/staff/daniela-ushizima/
  • Haimei Zheng – https://haimeizheng.lbl.gov/
  • Pascal Elleaume – synchroton radiation pioneer; https://www.esrf.eu/news/general/elleaume-obituary/index_html https://docplayer.fr/62415068-L-archicube-numero-special.html
  • Bianca Jackson https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1515-9650
  • Ashley White (AAAS Fellow, scientific communication)
  • Lady Idos (DEI Officer at Berkeley Lab)
  • Tara de Boer (CEO) –  BioAmp diagnostics
  • Chrysanthe Preza – Computational Imaging, University of Memphis https://umwa.memphis.edu/fcv/viewprofile.php?uuid=cpreza
  • Teresa Williams (TechWomen/AAAS fellow) – https://today.lbl.gov/teresa-williams-helps-to-inspire-a-culture-of-mentorship-and-networking-in-egypt/
  • Tokiwa Smith  – https://www.blackengineer.com/news/tokiwa-smith-changing-world/
  • Susan Celniker – https://sites.google.com/a/lbl.gov/women-at-the-lab/p/susan-celniker-ph-d
update August 2019
I went to a workshop organized by SPIE and led by the very Jess Wade; it was quite useful.
Here’s what I learned:
  • Do not paraphrase bios found on other website –– but you somehow can. Better than nothing!
  • You can use pictures from governmental sources for illustration, it’s always ok to use them (copyrights)
  • You can help with translating pages to other languages.

Kolmogorov Access

Back in undergrad, I remember being fascinated by the notion of Kolmogorov complexity in computer science.

Put simply, the Kolmogorov complexity is the minimal length (number of lines) of the code needed to generate a signal, would it be a mathematical sequence (such as one listed in the OEIS) or an image, irrespective to the size needed to store it. It bears deep relations with the notion of entropy (a great book on the topic is Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms by the late David MacKay.)

For example, a series of eight billion ones in a row would require 1GB of memory, but can be written in a few lines of code:

for i in 1:1e9; print 1; end

(To some extent, this is why computer science is often problematic, since one of the goal of a good code is sometimes to reduce its Kolmogorov complexity, but the final code does not show all the lines that have been erased to get there…)

In the field of arts, culture and science, this description seems naive: can you really generate a book based on a script, or has it infinite entropy?

Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.
– Immanuel Kant

In the age of the Internet, can we do better?

update 6/10/2019: I’ve seen recently on Twitter the embodiment of these ideas, see Nicole R.‘s thread. Way to go!

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Vision+Light

Somehow my art piece has been accepted! A delightful play on the wavelike behavior of light, and the particle0like behavior of silicon atoms, in a tribute to Malevich. Instant Classic!

Incoherent on coherent

You can now see it at the Vision+Light exhibition on Berkeley Campus, from February 20th to March 14th, 2019

Art & Science (X) – Science pictures

Vision, and the means to capture it – photography – plays a momentous role in science.
I was much impressed by a remark of Aldous Huxley, that we owe our civilization largely to the fact that vision is an objective sense. An animal with an olfactory sense or with hearing, however well developed, could never have created science. A smell is either good or bad, and even hearing is never entirely neutral; music can convey emotions with an immediateness of which the sober visual arts are inca pable. No wonder that the very word “objective” has been appropriated by optics.
Dennis Gabor – Light and Information
It is therefore fitting to take a look at all the great pictures that have been recorded by all means.
Here is a selection of scientific picture competitions and galleries you might want to have a look at:
I found that The Atlantic and The Guardian usually have beautiful galleries.Astronomy is an obvious domain where picture are breathtaking, but more so is space imaging.
Here are some amazing pictures from the past few years:

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Albany Bulb

Once upon a time near Berkeley, there was the Albany bulb, a place where homeless people would build their own house out of the scrap they could find. All these stricture have since been demolished (ca 2014.) Here’s a few memories.

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