Saturday, August 14, 2010

Full circle to Buenos Aires

My South America trip has come full circle and I'm back in Buenos Aires, having flown from Santiago de Chile this morning. The last few days have been exciting and surreal and for some reason, still unknown to me, I had my 15 minutes of Chilean fame (ok, mild fame, but I'll take that too). The last two days have seen interviews with three different papers, including one which promises to go into Chile's biggest magazine, El Mercurio, a videoed interview and a couple of rather odd photoshoots. This was all in relation to my talk on Atmospheric Optics which was the first in hopefully a series of talks for the general public in Andres Bello University, one of the top private universities in Chile. The talk itself went pretty well, with plenty of questions once the students got their confidence up and my first experience of being simultaneously translated. I ran through the basics of the talk with the translators beforehand to make sure there wasn't too much jargon, and the only thing they wanted in the end to look at in detail was the quote from Descartes which I include on the section about rainbows:

"A single ray of light has a pathetic repertoire, limited to bending and bouncing (into water, glass or air, and from mirrors). But when rays are put together into a family - sunlight, for example - the possibilities get dramatically richer. This is because a family of rays has the holistic property, not inherent in any individual ray, that it can be focused so as to concentrate on caustic lines and surfaces. Caustics are the brightest places in an optical field. They are the singularities of geometrical optics. The most familiar caustic is the rainbow, a grossly distorted image of the Sun in the form of a giant arc in the skyspace of directions, formed by the angular focusing of sunlight that has been twice refracted and once reflected in raindrops." 

Still the most poetic explanation of a rainbow I've come across.

Anyway, there are still adventures galore to catch up on, but these, as normal will have to wait. For now I thought I'd share some of the photos I've just put up on Flickr from the trip across the Andes by bus from Bariloche to Valdivia, where I gave an enjoyable two hour talk. The seminars in Valdivia are legendary for their questions and the idea, which I highly approve of, is that there should be no time limit, but that the talk goes on until the speaker wants to stop, or the audience truly understands what is being said. The atmosphere is really wonderful and although there are a huge number of questions, none of them is aggressive, and I get the impression that the members of CECS in Valdivia really have a deeper understanding of a larger range of subjects than the average group of theoretical physicists, largely due to this atmosphere of probing questions.

Anyway, the trip to Valdivia was stunning (I was lucky enough to see the Andes from above today as we flew straight over the top with perfect clear skies. I sat in my seat itching to get the camera out but there's no moving around until you're clear of the peaks) and although from the bus I didn't manage to get any good shots of the higher mountains themselves, the snowy scenes were pretty spectacular. This was the lake skirting Bariloche town centre as we pulled out early in the morning, with the morning fog resting on the water

smoke on the water in Bariloche
And the tree lined roads leading up into the Andes:
winter trees in the Andes
Bariloche to Valdivia
Getting to Valdivia I met my Couchsurfing host and we went for a quick stroll down the river where the sealions were basking in the rather unusual sun (Valdivia is reknowned for its constant rain):
So, I leave South America on Sunday, though I'm sure I'll be back. It's been a good trip for giving talks, a fascinating trip for talking with lots of great physicist, an excellent month for thinking of new ideas, but in terms of sitting down and calculating, it's been pretty tough. Moving from place to place isn't conducive, at least for me, to deep concentration and now I'm really looking forward to getting back and having two weeks in Santiago to try and finish some long overdue calculations before heading off again for weddings and a two week stay at a long term program in doesn't stop.


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Russ said...

Hey, that's one really nice description of rainbows too! I've never known science to be so poetice!

Jonathan Shock said...

I think that when you can get beyond the equations which often put people off, science really gives a natural poetry of the world around us.

Nick said...

WOW ! awesome pictures !!! I'll be traveling to argentina really soon, i'm looking to rent apartment buenos aires where i can stay for most of the time, and then ill go to Mendoza and maybe Puerto Madryn, is going to be great !