Saturday, 21 June 2008

Nano no-nos

Vice Chancellor: As you know gentlemen the government has launched a new initiative in nano-technology, which one of my fellow vice chancellors has dubbed "mega-bucks for nano-metres". So, I asked our Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Business Development, Professor Robin Banks, to develop a strategic plan to exploit this opportunity. Professor Banks has conducted a skills audit throughout the university and canvased the opinions of some of our leading academics. Professor Banks...
Pro-Vice Chancellor: Thankyou Vice-Chancellor. As you indicated I have made fact-finding visits to a number of research groups and my first visit was to the world-leading "non-linear optics" group of Professor Len Scleaner. My initial impression that they were enthusiastic and told me about some of the innovative wave shaping techniques they are using to develop wave guides for optronic devices. They are making materials with negative refractive indicies apparently.
At this point a distant memory of "O"-level physics kicks in as I struggle to remember the definition of refractive index. I wonder if I should make a fool of myself by asking the obvious question? Nothing to lose I suppose the academics generally treat me like a fool anyway.
Registrar:Professor Banks I was just wondering if negative refractive index means that light somehow goes backwards out of the medium?
PVC:Well actually that is a good question! I am sure they did explain it, and suffice it to say that it was all very complicated and technical, as your would expect from advanced research. They have proposed a project which they dubbed Funcaster University Centre for Kinetic Krypton Nano Optical Wave Shaping. Sounds like just the thing!
VC:Very good, what did the other departments offer?
PVC:Well Vice Chancellor, the Mathematics Department were less cooperative.
As he spoke I saw him dust some chalk off his sleeve disdainfully. I make a mental note to check with the audio-visual unit to see if the Mathemafia have smuggled blackboards and chalk back in to their building.
PVC:I noticed that they specialized in something called Micro-local analysis.
VC:And what does that involve?
PVC:Well Professor Tikemov explained to me that it involved something called "cymbal calculus on the cotangled byundle" but to be honest I am none the wiser. When I asked if he could explain it simply he started explaining something called "vile quantisation" but I'm not sure what he had against "quantisation". Anyway I wondered if micro-local analysis might conceivably be re-branded as nano-local analysis.
VC:And what did they think?
PVC:They called me a "nano-brained nit-wit" Vice Chancellor.
(Sounds to me like they just about got the measure of him. Oops I hope I didn't say that out loud)
VC:Well at least we can count on the Physicists to be helpful. Typical of those mathematicians. Who else did you talk to?
PVC:Well the x-ray physicists have a kind of x-ray scanner that can go down to a tenth of a micrometre. They wondered if they could get away with calling it "nano-tomography" even though it can only resolve a hundred nanometres.
VC:Well the more nanometers the better, I say! That sounds very positive. Anything else?
PVC:Well an unusual one Vice Chancellor. The Fine Art Department wanted to make the world smallest sculpture using the latest nano-fabrication techniques. They said something about "Angels dancing on the end of a carbon nano-tube"
VC:Sounds very innovative. Have to make sure they talk up the technological aspect. Can't have it look like they are doing art for art's sake! Right. Sounds to me like we have a front runner with those optics boys. Now what we need is a really snappy acronym.

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Adam Upwrite is Professor of Creative Accounting at the University of Middle England. His Registrar's Diary is about a fictional registrar and an equally fictional English university.