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Different Wavelengths

Different Wavelengths, a blog by contributing editor Gary Boas, explores issues that impact the optics and photonics community.

- Gary Boas




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You, too, can be foiled by lasers while trying to steal a diamond
Sep. 3, 2013 — It’s a well-worn trope in heist movies: the array of lasers surrounding a diamond — or the Fabergé Coronation Egg  — in the middle of a museum gallery, the beams crisscrossing at odd angles, ready to sound an alarm if a thief inadvertently breaks one of them. You won’t often find such arrays in real-life museums; if Catherine Zeta-Jones can outfox a security system while blindfolded it’s probably not the most effective means of protecting...

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Autonomous driving spurs concerns about cybersecurity risks
Aug. 21, 2013 — Self-driving cars are one of those things — like jetpacks and silver lamé bodysuits — that have come to be synonymous with “the future,” to represent everything we hope to achieve and everything we hope to become. But...
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Imaging at the movies: Siemens, others contribute to accurate portrayal of technology and maybe even better stories
Aug. 1, 2013 — I was sitting in the darkened theater, watching the credits roll by as I pondered what I’d just seen in Star Trek Into Darkness. I was only half-paying attention — mostly I was trying to decide whether (SPOILER ALERT) Spock’s...

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Everything you need to know: Graduate program offers crash course in the politics of peer review
Jul. 16, 2013 — The University of Leicester’s Journal of Physics Special Topics is kind of a downer. In perusing a single issue I discovered the following:   The helicarrier — the flying aircraft carrier that’s home to a bunch of...
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Irreproducible research spurs reassessment of editorial guidelines
Jul. 8, 2013 — Publish or perish, they say. But what if the pressure to do so is undermining the scientific process? C. Glenn Begley, senior vice-president at TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals in Malvern, Pa., is acutely aware of this possibility. Whenever he...

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Brain scanning can improve road safety
Jun. 27, 2013 — Do you ever find yourself glaring at the driver in the car next to you, thinking, “He’s totally not paying attention to the road”? Now an optical technique can help you confirm that suspicion. In a demonstration in San...
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Laser weapons: An affordable answer to a costly problem
Jun. 4, 2013 — You know you’re living in the future when the US Navy starts installing laser weapons on its ships. You really know you are when you hear the reason why: Those laser cannons zapping sea- and airborne threats like something out of Star...

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The car of the future will be here soon. You just don’t know it yet.
May. 14, 2013 — The future can be sly. We expect to wake up one day and suddenly have jetpacks and sentient robots trying to kill us. But as often as not the technology of the future comes at us slowly, incrementally. So it’s no great surprise when it finally...
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Animal-rights activists break into facility in Milan, are smacked down online
May. 1, 2013 — I almost always regret reading the comments sections of online articles. The speed with which they devolve into vitriol and simple, unrestrained idiocy is breathtaking and totally dispiriting. Millions of years of evolution give us the capacity for...

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Is this the end for the academic journal?
Apr. 16, 2013 — Imagine a world in which the academic paper is no longer the ultimate goal, the inviolable end product of science. It’s hard, isn’t it? For centuries, scientific journals have offered a means to communicate new findings...
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The Peek-A-Boo Prober Capsule
Apr. 1, 2013 — The future, as they say, is now. Everything we know today was once just a possibility, a germ of an idea that might come to fruition months or years or decades down the road. In the 1960s, the television series Star Trek offered a vision of...

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The secret history of the biophoton
Mar. 22, 2013 — A friend handed me a business card for a holistic health & beauty practitioner. On the back of the card were an appointment reminder, a note about the practitioner’s cancellation policy and a list of the areas in which she was certified:...
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Nerds, terraforming and dinosaurs with ray guns
Feb. 28, 2013 — Consider this for a moment: Dinosaurs might still be alive today if they had had a space program. If dinosaurs — Stegosauruses, Velociraptors, whichever genus proved the most adept with a slide rule — had developed a means of...

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Valentine’s Day Edition: Oysters, rhino horn and other pseudoscience claims
Feb. 14, 2013 — Here’s what I learned last night about aphrodisiacs: While oysters, ginseng and rhinoceros horn have all been touted as the perfect means to arouse or intensify sexual desire, none has ever been proven to have aphrodisiac qualities. Sure,...
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5 applications of optics we totally didn’t see coming
Feb. 1, 2013 — Call it the law of unintended application: No matter one’s objective in developing a new technology, no matter how much the technology promises to address an important, heretofore unmet need in society, somebody will come up with an entirely...


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