Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Scanning Tunneling Telectroscopy

My "scene" (that is, you lot and half a dozen other people) has been buzzing recently about a new installation down at London Bridge. I therefore made a special trip this evening to view the wonder of the modern age that is... the Telectroscope!

If one were to believe the backstory, the Telectroscope is a vast tunnel running under the Atlantic Ocean, housing an optical viewing device by which residents of London and New York can commune with each other. The project was commenced around the 1890's, but was abandoned, forgotten, and only recently resurrected and completed. The full, tragic story is here. To add weight to the veracity of their claims, a couple of weeks ago a large piece of tunnel-boring equipment was found breaching the ground near City Hall. Finally, the Telectroscope itself was installed and finished.

Really it's all done by a broadband internet connection (hence its sponsorship by Tiscali, about whom I shall say nothing but that I'll never ever use them for telephonic services again, regardless of any goodwill generated by this), but stylistically it's very cool. Check out the details of the brasswork:

And even the ticket is in keeping:

What's not to like about steampunk? I'm sure it's already apparent that I love Victoriana in clothing - as I've said before I adore corsets, crinolines and hats, although sadly I don't get to wear them half as much as I'd like. I also passionately love science. The combination of Victorian dress-up, engineering and outrageous inventors and inventions... well, it could have been made for me, couldn't it?

That and the fact that you do genuinely get to wave and gurn like a loony at similarly over-excited participants over by the Brooklyn Bridge. This is what you look into at the business end:

My fellow Londoners and I were bouncing up and down, pointing and exclaiming, "Oh my god!" Our American co-Telectroscopers were evidently doing exactly the same (there's no sound but I could lipread and only the accents differed). Here are some of the people way down the other end of the tube. I'm in their photos so I'm sure they don't mind being in mine!

Time for some physics geekery: the meaning of the title! Scanning tunneling microscopy, whilst not something I've actually ever done, although I did get examined on it during my Masters year, is a fiendishly clever technique, for which the Nobel Prize was won in 1986. It allows viewing of surfaces at the atomic level. It's amazing. Tunneling itself, by which the microscope works, is one of my favourite concepts in science (do you want a list?) and one of the coolest things in quantum physics. Think of it as the ability to walk through walls, or for water to flow uphill. Electrons are marvellous little beasties and can do these things by means of their wave-like nature. Why does this matter to us? Well, it's the reason why food in a freezer still has a shelf-life, for a start. Those electrons will keep on moving, albeit very slowly, no matter how cold you get them, even down to absolute zero (where by definition there's no vibration). So very slowly, chemical bonds shift and reactions happen, and very very slowly, food still spoils. The concept is also part of the basis of such things as flash memory, which makes our little hard drives, iPods and digital cameras possible. Words cannot express how much I love quantum mechanics.

In other news, and sort of tying in with me hardly ever getting the chance to dress up, today I have been mostly bemoaning the fact that I do not have enough hours in the day to do all the cool stuff that there is to do in this wonderful life. More specifically, these are the things that I do not have time to do over the next couple of weeks, in no particular order:
So hopefully that will give some inspiration to anyone looking for something to do, although I will be practically chartreuse with envy.

If only I could say I was cash-rich, time-poor, but sadly the first part of that isn't actually true... I shall console myself with the fact that it's all because I'm doing other stuff instead. Unless, electron-like, I can walk through the walls of bank vaults, and then be in two places at once?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up on these events - I wish Time Out could be so knitting-specific! The telectroscope looks definitely worth a visit. I'm going to Woolfest, and had planned to see the Montse Stanley exhibition at Southampton, but didn't realise there was a whole knitting conference...

stash haus said...

I love how you list events happening around London.

A friend and I were able to go to Woolfest while in the UK last summer - loved it!

Another friend and I plan to come to the UK in fall of 2009 for Ally Pally. Mark your calendar for that!

How go the wedding plans? Please don't think you're a bridezilla if you post about it.