Saturday, 31 January 2009

On professionalism and maturity

This picture illustrates the very reason why the finer points of ellipsometry have so far eluded me.

During the final period of my university life I attended a seminar on ellipsometry by a guest speaker from another British university. Given that my work was increasingly moving away from pure synthesis and into physical chemistry I felt that this lecture would be very useful. We all sat quietly waiting for the speaker to introduce his favourite analytical tool. He switched on the projector and began talking.

Unfortunately, while this was indeed the very beginning of his talk, it was also the precise instant where my attention to the science faltered, so I am forced to extrapolate. I believe he almost certainly must have started with an opening paragraph that went like this:
Linearly polarised light is reflected from the surface of a material. The reflected light becomes elliptically polarised, the degree of ellipticity being determined by the optical properties of the solid being probed... (since I cannot actually remember what he said, i copied this from somewhere else)

What I heard was this:
Linearly polarised light [AAHHH-TCHOOO] is reflected from the surface of a material. The reflected light becomes elliptically polarised......................................

The speaker sneezed and immediately stepped into the beam of light. He had a sizable drop of snot dangling from the tip of his nose, and this was now magnified many times over and visible in its full glory in the guy's projected profile.

Transfixed I, and the rest of my colleagues, struggled not to laugh and, mesmerized by the shadow of the dangling filament of mucus on the screen, missed pretty much whatever pearls of wisdom he had for us.

He might as well have been saying to us:
Learn this now and your future will be assured. You will be able to dictate with whom you'll work and you will command astronomical salaries. Other, lesser, scientist will regard you with a mixture of reverence and invidiousness.

Whereas what was going on in my head was this:
You've got snot, you've got snot. Oh my God you are gross, you've got snot.

Eventually, the slime impacted on the side of his face when the lecturer made a brisk movement of the head, and that, sadly, marked the end of the projected fun.

However, when you have missed the beginning of a lecture on ellipsometry, there really is no catching up. So, while I remain woefully ignorant of the fine details of elliptically polarised light, Dr. J.K. will forever be remembered for his prodigious filament of snot.

I believe I win.

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