Friday, September 14, 2007

I Caved

OK. I gave in. I'm going to have a go at this 'blogging' thing.

I have no idea why. I went so far as to research a little about the 'blog' phenomenon. Don't get me wrong - I've read my fair share of blogs. I might even review a few of them and post about them here. I'll save that for when I have no inspiration.

The clues I got about blogging went a little like this:
  • Have a point
  • Use your experiences
  • Practice makes perfect

Well, I've got none of the first point, and little of the second. Fortunately, most of my friends will confirm that I've got plenty of practice at forming an opinion. Who knows, I might even be able to get someone out there in the ether to chuckle.

So why the name? Well, I'm a chemistry graduate, currently on a post-doc experience in Ottawa. I figured something vaguely chemical would be in order. In a pretentious moment, I viewed this blog thing as a distillery of ideas, where I could journalistically get to the crux of the matter, cutting through the shit, and finding something sarcastic to say about it.

An 'Alembic' was the top of the still used by alchemists some hundreds of years ago. It was the still-head, the part where all the magic of the distillation process happened.

The photo which backs my title is a phenomenon called 'Fraunhofer' absorption, and it was one of the greater mysteries of a couple hundred years ago. Take a prism and fire sunlight at it. You get a rainbow, right. Newton figured that out. Well, if you get really good at it, and use a fine enough beam, you start to see black marks in the rainbow. A little like the image to the left (which also has a neat old looking graph of the intensity of light as well).

Now Mr Fraunhofer knew this, but couldn't explain them. Why were those lines missing? The answer, we now know, is that chemicals and elements in the atmosphere of earth and the sun absorb some wavelengths of light. You can get really clever now and predict some of them using Quantum Mechanics, although that also requires you to lose any hope of a social life.

It took 'them' over a hundred years to sort that out. Helium - the second most simple element was discovered from those lines.

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