A break from thesis writing.

The one downside to have had some very good news yesterday[1] is that I now have to spend a week making material to send away.

This means at least two whole days in the lab, with all that entails (sulphur smells, strobe flashes from the laser, noise from the laser and other gear, etc). Then another day or so in a different lab imaging the results, (have I pimped my random micrograph images before? If not, here they are) the aim being to make a load of very very sharp micro-needles.

I’m one day down on the lab work and have three of the six or so samples ready for the next step. I should really be back in the lab tomorrow, but I’m off to the LiveJournal picnic in Cambridge, so I’ll have to spend Sunday working instead. ‘Tis all fun and rather more interesting than trying to document and justify the last three years.

[1] Alas, I really can’t say anything yet, except that a rather prestigious institution is taking an interest in my work.

The end of an era

At around 6am this morning (BST) the last Skylark sounding rocket blasted off from Swedish Space Corporation’s Esrange site, near Kiruna Sweeden.

The Skylark was the last wholly designed UK rocket. First concived in 1955, the Skylark was at the forefront of low budget UK space science. In the 50 years since it first flew, the Skylark project has launched over 440 rockets carrying payloads designed to investigate everything from X-ray sources in deepspace to protein growth and frogspawn fertilisation in microgravity.

All future suborbital launches will now be made with the more expensive American-built Oriole sounding rockets. Truly the end of an era in UK space science.

Edit: The launch finally took place on Monday 2nd of May 2005 instead of Sunday 1st of May.

RCA cleaning silicon

I’m sure the RCA process for cleaning silicon wafers was invented when Werner Kern got drunk in the lab one day and decided to have some fun…

How else would any sane man come up with the idea of taking a half litre each of several of the most corrosive things you can image then heat them up until just below boiling, then chuck in something that makes it fizz and froth and pump out ammonia fumes?

That’s just step one.

Step two is more of the same but using something even more corrosive and toxic – hydrofluoric acid. This stuff eats through glass at about the same rate warm water eats through ice. Oh, and it boils as it does it and pumps out toxic gas.

Step three is tame in comparison, it just sits there looking like water. Still nasty and corrosive as you find out when you get some on your gloves / skin.

You go through all this to get a nice shiny, contaminant free silicon wafer, atomically flat – an almost perfect mirror. Then you drop it on the floor watching as all your good work comes undone.

Rinse and repeat.

The joys of trying to publish a scientific paper…

So, you’ve got some decent results at last and want to let the world know? Then you want to publish a paper.

You write it, submit it to the journal, they send it to 2 or more referees who being conscientious professionals, read it and report back promptly. Corrections are made and the process is repeated until the paper is either accepted or rejected.

Or, you get this:

Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics
Automated status enquiry

Reference number: 1xxxxx Surname: tL

This service enables authors to track the current status and progress of their article. If you have any questions, please contact the Editorial Office at the usual address, jphysd@iop.org.

However please note that the Office is not able to give details of referees’ recommendations until a final decision has been taken.

Non-lithographic method to form ordered arrays of silicon pillars and macropores

3 Nov 2004————Referee reminded
26 Oct 2004———–Referee reminded
21 Oct 2004———–Referee report received
7 Oct 2004————-Referee did not report
7 Oct 2004————-Article sent to referee
5 Oct 2004————-Article sent to referee
5 Oct 2004————-Article sent to referee
8 Sep 2004————New submission received and acknowledged.

Where the referees don’t even reply to the journal, and you are left wondering what is going on two months after you submitted.

In December we got a list of corrections to make, nothing major. These were accepted and we finally got confirmation that we would be published earlier this month.

You cannot have too many papers before your PhD viva.

Get some idea of the stuff I do here: http://www.iop.org/EJ/abstract/0022-3727/38/4/017/
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Some photos.

I work in a surface science lab. My work involves blowing up and etching lots of silicon; the results can look quite good. Some of my favourite images are now here: