Problem solving

Source:  Problem solving    Tag:  sls synchrotron
Although not in the way you might expect. See, for the past few days I had been aware of my skin emitting a fresh scent like tea-tree oil. Now, it's not a bad smell.. so I wasn't too worried, just bemused as to what should cause my pores to excrete such a thing, because I wasn't using any tea-tree products, nothing in the soap... certainly nothing in the food... but today I figured it out. It is in fact Olbas oil, which is impregnated on the hankies I have been using. Sorry for the anticlimax, but it had been puzzling me for some time.

Today was spent digesting all of yesterday's information (and the afternoon, digesting a "warm lunch"). It feels like a slow process but I may actually have an inkling of what the research is about now. Without getting too technical I'll attempt to give a primer to the research which I'll build upon in later posts. I'll start by explaining what the Swiss Light Source actually makes possible... well to start off with you should know that it's a synchrotron to provide light, if it wasn't already obvious from the name. It gives access to wavelengths between infrared light and Hard X-Rays.


The image to the left (linked to source), is a diagram of the SLS and its beamlines. It's at these beamlines that different research takes place. People who are based at PSI use it - visiting institutions use it too. For a concise explanation of what the SLS is and why it is, read PSI's own guide. If you don't know what a synchrotron is, read this first. I work on the cSAXS beamline where we use hard X-rays (Hard X-rays differ from soft X-rays in that they are higher in energy, and X rays produced in a synchrotron have a far greater intensity than those from an X-ray tube, like in hospitals).

So she's working with X-Rays....

Yes. The research is to do with X-ray microscopy. It's microscopy at a level that doesn't need a lens - the light is focussed using a method of diffraction instead. The next piece of information you need to understand is that a wavelength has an amplitude and a phase. And there's this thing called the "phase problem" - when you measure a wavelength, all the information about the phase is lost. Unfortunately the phase contains useful information about whatever it is that's being measured. This problem has been tackled through things called algorithms - just sequences to process data in a particular way.

And that's probably enough information to be getting on with, eh?

So she doesn't really get what's going on beyond this...

Not true! It gets a bit complicated from here and I haven't found a way to explain it yet. Give me time.

It remains very warm, I think I already have t-shirt lines, or my usual ones are accentuated. It's hard to believe that the weather isn't always so nice here but I am assured that it is not. In fact there's meant to be Donner und Blitzen tonight. There is a river that splits the two sides of PSI. I work on PSI West, and I have drawn in the Synchrotron in this picture (maybe slightly big, but perhaps not too exagerated), as Google maps weren't so up to date... construction of the SLS began in 1998. I heard the images on Google maps were meant to be updated every 4 years. Or maybe 7. I digress...

I have my own computer at work to go along with my fancy email address, and it is FAST. The machines waste NO time! They operate with Scientific Linux and (get this) should my machine not be fast enough for whatever reason, I can log on to another system that gives me some 16GB RAM. It's great working with a small team who are ever ready to answer my questions - explaining in greater detail some things that were touched on in university lectures. That's to be expected of course, the undergraduate degree at university gives a broad education of as much as possible - to be built on further if any research is to be entered into. Actually seeing a point to these things makes it a lot more enjoyable.