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April 2009

Last Day to Catch Vendors at the Exhibits!

Catch vendors while you can, as they are packing up after today. Note that they are useful to talk to even if you don't have an intention of buying equipment. I had a good discussion with a vendor that we've already bought things with about getting support with our equipment, switching parts out, etc. Also, many vague experimental questions can be cleared up by stopping at vendor booths and discussing; often the folks there used to be grad students and scientists themselves and have been working on solving experimental issues for a while and thus have good insight. Take advantage of all of them being in place!

I ain't heard no fat lady!

So Thursday mornings talks have been super exciting.

There were the big two this morning by the nobel laureates of 2007 in Physics:
Peter Grunbberg and  Albert Fert. Sandwiched between those two I also got to see a group member give her first ever conference talk! She was awesome, very poised and professional. Not to mention her work was exciting. MRS is awesome because as grad students we can get put in the same sessions as nobel prize heavyweights. Its humbling and awe inspiring to present your work right beside some of the biggest names in the field. Who knows maybe my labmate could be on her way to some of the next big ideas in the field! Great Job Jodi!

There are still at ton of talks left, and I surprisingly haven't had my fill yet. You would think after all these talks one would get tired. But seeing all these colleagues excitement about science just gets me more motivated! 

Poster/Discussion Sessions

As great as the talks are at MRS, and they have been fantastic so far, most presenters barely leave enough time for a couple of surface level questions, let alone any discussion. I suppose its because 15 minutes is a really short amount of time to give the audience a little background and sum up a year's worth of work. This is why I look forward to the discussion sessions and poster sessions all week. 

Symposium M: Discussion: What will replace CdTe and CIGS?
The compound thin film photovoltaic community seems to be split into two factions these days: those who believe there is a shortage of tellurium and indium in the world, and those who don't. I was dissappointed with the discussion yesterday because it was basically these two groups argueing with each other about the merit of the work they were doing. What is worse is it was the same tired arguements being dragged up again. This is how every arguement between these two groups goes:

CdTe/CIGS Detractors: Tellurium is rare, indium is rare, cadmium is toxic
CdTe/CIGS Supporters: The only reason Te and In are rare is because they aren't used in large quantites and thats why they are rare. Cd toxicity can be addressed by recycling CdTe solar cells.

The thin film compound PV community would have been better served if the discussion had been focused on: a) how the mature technologies like CIGS and CdTe were competing  with other PV technologies like silicon, GaAs and concentrators, b) what research should be done on the next generation of technologies in the pipeline to make them more competitve. 

Wednesday Night Poster Session
I had a great time at this poster session! I spent most of my time talking to students who were working on my materials system. They were able to answer some of the questions I hadn't been able to find answers to in the literature. I was able to answer some of their questions and it was extremely productive for everyone.

- Dan

P.S. I'd like to thank MRS for having dinner + drinks at the poster session :)

Speaking with a legendary oxide theorist

So poster sessions are great. Awesome informal settings. Food and beverages. Tons of science. Well tonight I got to have a one-on-one brainstorming session with Daniel Khomskii. Now Professor Khomskii has worked on the material systems that I am looking at for many decades, and is still at the peak of his game in terms of understanding whats possible and what isn't. He had some great insight on what to look for and some things to try, plus we exchanged emails and hopefully we will get to speak more about the science going on in these material systems.

But talking with such an active and even 'courageous (by todays standards) theorist got me thinking about how theory and experiment relate. Now I might get in trouble for some of my thoughts on this so I will try my best not to offend anyone. I think too often I see "collaborations" between theorists and experimentalists ending in deadends. What is needed is for both sides to be actively thinking about the whole picture. We need to break the dependency or reliance of what is actually happening on what the model is telling us is happening. Too often we are using fancy tools just because we can but aren't basing the modeling off any sense of the reality of whats happening in the system.

In any case, it has been awesome having Professor Khomskii and his 'provocative' questions after nearly every talk in symposium W at the conference this year!

Dealing With Conference Exhaustion

Picture 2 

The above GChat status is no joke, let's be honest, we're all starting to feel it:  8-9am until 8-9pm of walking from session to session, riding escalators, getting your caracature drawn, walking through poster session, it all starts to wear on you come Thursday and Friday. What can we do? I'm not sure I have the answer, but we can brainstorm:

  • Come in a bit later. If you don't have any key talks to go to in the morning, sleep in a tad to rest up, it'll make the rest of the day worlds better.
  • Take breaks. Avoid slide-blindness where every presentation and all slides start sounding and looking the same! Sitting through a session when you're not really paying attention makes this worse, so try going out and reading or catching up on email at a quiet table (if you can find it). 
  • Try new things. Go to talks in sessions outside of your core field. Go to a Symposium X lunchtime talk (there's only one left). Talk to vendors (tomorrow is the last day). Do something to mix it up!
Any other brilliant ideas? Leave a comment. 

Musical Chairs...

How come a lot of the symposia at this conference don't have enough seating??  At the plenary session tonight, only half the room was filled with chairs, and the other half of the room was filled with people standing around...
Same thing happened at Symposium R.  But some of the other conference rooms are filled with chairs!   What's the deal?

Weight of the world...

I went to some pretty hard hitting talks today-- the lunchtime symposium X on community development in Mali (by Richard LeSar, Iowa State and Scott Lacy, Emory) was inspirational, but very intense.  It takes so much time, money, persistence, awareness, and HEART to go to a village in Mali and really make a difference.  Like they said, there are too many "drive-by development projects" where engineers drop in, build something high tech and well meaning but entirely impractical, leave, and the thing is never used again.  Both of the projects presented today are designed for the long term with awareness of the culture and daily life of the people in the village (mud and straw stoves and new sorghum strains).  After lunch I went to the talk on Materials and the Sustainable Energy Challenge by G. Crabtree from Argonne, and learned about the challenges facing materials scientists to find breakthroughs in all sorts of fields.  Exciting, but also rather stressful-- makes me want to go back to work!! 

Guest Post

Hi All,

One of my colleagues from Stanford was very excited about the MRS blog and wanted to take a shot at writing a post. The following is a post he wrote up about our excursion to a local restaurant for lunch today.

P4150073 (WinCE) San Francisco.  The culture of this city invades your senses around every corner – so much so that it lingers inyour mind even as you reside in the protective atmosphere of a symposium conference room.  I just took my lunch break after the last M talk.  As I walked outside Moscone West, the cool breeze swallowed my neck in a comforting massage, and the hard concrete clicked under the quick steps of my dress shoes.  Echoes of unknown sources confused my ear drums as they bounced off the surrounding sky scrapers.  A group of us hurried our way through Union Square to a little Thai place at the corner of Ellis and Powell called Bangkok Thai.

We snuggled ourselves into the back corner and were quickly serviced with our beverages.  The menu choices overwhelmed me, and I was forced to make a decision with incomplete information.  We chatted for only around four minutes before our plates were in front of us, and our nostrils picked up the mingling scents of peanuts and spices, and our retinas were blinded by the colorful platters lying on our table.  There was unique background noise – a blend of a low rumble from passing streetcars, the sweet harmonica from a street musician, and the distinct ruffle of Spanish accent discussing the zinc oxide band gap.  The food did not survive long – as the sensations conquering our taste buds encouraged us to eat quickly.  It wasn’t long before 1 pm arrived and we were forced to depart. Fortunately, our senses were surfeit for at least another day.

I hope you all liked it. Unfortunately he would prefer to stay anonymous, but feel free to send me comments and I'll forward them on.

-- Dan


Every now and then you get to hear a talk that really gets you to think. It takes a lot of things for this to happen:

First th speaker has to develop the story well; there are rarely 'new' ideas, just forgotten ones, or ones that haven't heard by a particularly focused subset of the scientific community. So it needs to be presented on a basic level that can be easily followed. 

I just heard a talk about the new mosfet devices that utilize capacitances that stray from the typical textbook definition. This idea was devloped to a symposium on complex oxide interfaces. Intentionally. 
Jochen Mannhart from the University of Augsburg just delivered this talk to an audience full of top experimentalists and theorists working on really complex phenomena ranging from superconductivity to 2D electron liquids. 

The main idea was that we need to start thinking about quantum contriubutions to capacitances. This can create a new range of capacitors with negative capacitances or increased capacitances. And these things are no longer purely a function of the dielectric material and the size of the plates, but geometry, and new plate materials can be a variable to play affect these new numbers. 

In a larger vein its useful to think about where groundbreaking ideas come from."research".