On breaking things and making presentations

Doug at Nanoscale views has a couple of great posts.

The first is about an outreach programme in which Doug participated:

Yesterday I did an “Ask a scientist” event at the Children’s Museum of Houston, as part of their Nano Days events. It was fun. (…) The most fun part was when I invited the kids up to help me take apart a Wii-mote, while I explained that sometimes breaking things down is the best way to figure out how things work. The high point: an eight-year-old whispering “Awwwwsome!” to his friend after playing with the guts of the Wii-mote. (Note: opening up any Nintendo gear requires this kind of screwdriver….)

The second post about the quantization of the optical conductivity of graphene, and how one of the groups — forgive my using the eff word here — frame their results is a must-read:

Nair et al., in a preprint, arrive at essentially the same result, but present the data in a much more dramatic way that does a great job of emphasizing the consequences of the physics. Many people don’t have a good intuition for what optical conductivity means. Nearly everyone, though, has a decent sense of what optical adsorption means. These folks demonstrate that the quantized optical conductivity implies that the white light absorption of graphite is quantized (!) in units of the fine structure constant (!!), so that each additional graphene layer absorbs 2.3% of the light incident on it, even though each layer is just one atom thick. The figures in the paper, particularly the last one, do a great job of making this point.

The take-home message about presentation: having a compelling physics story to tell is good, and casting it in terms that a general audience can appreciate with some intuition is even better.

Take a look!

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