Tag Archives: spectroscopy

Behind the Science: Hyperspectroscopy

We spend a lot of time here at the BSR talking about all kinds of awesome scientific findings.  But reporting your discoveries is only a small fraction of the life of a scientist.  The large majority of our time is spent finding problems and using tools to solve those problems.  Personally, I find that one of the coolest things about science isn’t in the final discovery, but in all the ingenious ways that we try to reach up with that discovery.


As such, this is the first in an ongoing column that talks about the actual tools that scientists use in order to understand the world.  This might be anything from mathematical concepts to cutting-edge hardware to clever uses of proteins and biology.  When you begin to understand the tools that scientists use, you get a unique glimpse into the immense challenge that any scientist faces: attempting to find truth in an incredibly noisy and complicated universe, with remarkably few ways to actually do this.

Hyperspectroscopy: not your grandpa’s backyard telescope

And so, I want to start off this series with a technique that has found use in everything from astrophysics to geology.  It’s called hyperspectroscopy, and it aims to identify objects based solely off of the light information that they emit into the world.  At this point you might say, “Yeah, that’s a telescope, so what”?  The trick here lies in the fact that there’s much more to light than wavelengths we can actually see.

Structural color

Researchers in Singapore are pushing the boundaries of printed color. In a recent issue of Nature Nanotechnology, Joel Wang and coworkers report a method of printing diffraction-limited pixels using the structural color of metallic nanostructures. Structural color refers to materials which derive their pigment from the interaction of tiny mico- or nanometer structures with light, rather than the absorption of light that occurs in most organic dyes. The light scattered by silver, for examples, can be different colors depending on the structure (size, shape, aspect ratio) of the metal at the nano-scale. In this recent paper, the idea of structural color is refined to create extremely high resolution printing. Specifically, arrays of nanometer-scale glass posts are coated with silver; the size and spacing of the posts controls the color of each pixel consisting of a 2×2 post subarray. The result is a remarkably reproduced Lena image, a standard test in the imaging community.

Data, data, everywhere

https://newsline.llnl.gov/_rev02/articles/2009/nov/11.06.09-SLAC.phpAs a scientist, I have a love/hate relationship with data. When I don’t have enough data, life can be very difficult. When there’s too much, I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of numbers and pixels. Faced with the latter problem, a Berkeley researcher recently came up with a brilliant solution: share it!

Filipe Maia, a postdoc with LBNL’s Petascale Initiative, created a public database for people to browse and share their treasure troves of images taken with x-ray lasers. That’s right, I said x-ray lasers (as if lasers weren’t cool enough already). The Coherent X-ray Imaging Data Bank (CXIDB) aims to make the most of the terabytes of imaging data that is produced each day by researchers at particle accelerators around the world. That’s 1012 zeros and ones– put them together, and you get pictures of single molecules in motion. Because the laser pulse is so fast, it can capture snapshots of atoms as they move around. As you can imagine, scientists are using this opportunity and taking as many snapshots as they can, which means a LOT of data (thus the need for petascale computing, i.e. 1015 zeros and ones at a time).