Long Island Sound Trip: Manhattan


On Saturday morning, I took PATH back to Greeley Square to visit an MIT friend who is now at Princeton and a high school friend who is now at Columbia.  We had lunch at a refreshingly air-conditioned Korean barbeque place, then went to Bryant Park and the New York Public Library.  As I’d only been there in mid-winter, and hadn’t been able to go inside the building, it was nice to get to see the park on a summer Saturday afternoon.  After our visit to the library, my high school friend had to leave, but my MIT friend and I had a second lunch of pizza and then took the subway down to lower Manhattan to see the 9/11 Memorial.  I was actually unexpectedly impressed by the memorial.  The two massive holes with waterfalls around the edges were both beautiful and appropriate-seeming.

Long Island Sound Trip: Jersey City


Back in June—yes, it’s been two months; I need to get better at posting things promptly—I took a weekend trip to Long Island Sound. Or rather, to various places bordering Long Island Sound, though the trip also involved a circumnavigation of the western half of it. I began by taking a Friday night Megabus to Manhattan. We arrived about an hour late, mostly due to the predictably bad traffic getting out of Boston, but that meant that I arrived just as the friend I was visiting in Jersey City got out of work in Manhattan, so we took PATH to Grove Street together and had pizza for dinner.

I’d never really been to Jersey City before, and I was actually fairly impressed by it: the area I stayed seemed like a nicely walkable residential neighborhood with retail on the main streets. I was mostly confused by the architecture of the condo that my friend was sharing with her fiance. The building had four floors, each set up as a separate apartment with a locking door to the common central staircase. However, they were renting the bottom two floors, which were configured so they couldn’t be inhabited separately: the bottom floor was a livingroom/kitchen area and a half-bath, while upstairs had bedrooms and a huge bathroom, but no kitchen. That meant that they had to take keys to get between the two halves of their condo.

The Foebeasts


This poem is more easily datable than most of my high school poetry. The spring of twelfth grade, spring 2005, the DC area had a particularly bad swarm of periodic cicadas that made my life nearly intolerable. Given that I’m fairly terrified of bugs in general, having it be impossible to go outside without being collided with by lots of huge flying bugs, many of which would stick on your clothes, and some of which would sneak indoors, made my life utterly miserable for about a month.

The foebeasts stir in their caverns,
The monsters climb and crawl up now,
To soon come out; invade the air,
And plague us with their myriad swarms,
Each swarm is many myriads strong,
A host of hosts invades us now.

They dark the earth and fill the sky,
And climb the trees and scale the walls,
They leave their shells behind them when,
They gain their wings and start to fly,
Outnumbering Xerxes’ many times,
A host of hosts invades us now.

Although a month will see them pass,
And they’ll not live all summer long,
Before they die they’ll leave their curse,
Another locust plague will come,
The cicadas will rise again,
When seventeen years have passed once more.

A quick reminder of how big my Science Machine is…


I’ve told you all that the ultra-high vacuum chamber I work on in lab is called the “Big Machine”.  I may have mentioned that professors who visit MIT and get lab tours are always dumbfounded to see how big it is.  But I suspect that a lot of you don’t really have a good sense for how absurd it is.  So here are some photos to demonstrate

This summer, I had to repair something at just about the most inaccessible point in the main vacuum chamber.  This involved me climbing all the way in, so that only my feet were sticking out.  While I was doing this, I got one of my labmates to take a couple photos:


Me, entirely inside the Big Machine

A photo of me inside the ultra-high vacuum chamber.

A photo of me inside the ultra-high vacuum chamber.

Wanderer in Darkness


At some point in high school I declared that all poetry was either about religion or about love, and noted that all of my poems were about religion, since I didn’t understand love. I maintained this belief for a fairly long time, but I did write one thing in high school that I considered to be a love poem: “Wanderer in Darkness”. I initially remember thinking that it sounded rather arrogant and self-involved. It still does, but I’m actually happier with it than I expected to be before rereading it.

A darkened blanket sets upon the world,
a shroud that covers life in inky black.
The waking world lies down to restful sleep,
and I—alone, awake—may not partake.

I wander through the darkened world each night,
a glowing lantern resting in my hand.
I search the world in my long-fruitless hope,
to find another—sleepless, searching—soul.

The dwellers of the day have gone to dream,
they’ve left their troubles for their nightly bed.
And tired as my weary mind may be,
still, I—aware, accursed—may not partake.

All through the long and restless night I hunt,
to find another for whom sleep’s denied.
Alone I bear my burden through the night,
to find another—kindred, waking—soul.

Oxygen Adsorption on Au-Ni(111) Surface Alloys

Twilight Sparkle posing with the text of his paper on the door to lab.

Twilight Sparkle posing with the text of his paper on the door to lab.

As I mentioned some time ago, my labmate Twilight Sparkle finally got the O2 paper that he’s been working on for the last two years published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry C. Honestly, this paper ought to be enough for him to graduate right now, but our advisor is insisting that he publish a second paper, on CO, as well. Hopefully, they’ll be able to agree on it a bit quicker and he’ll have it published in the spring, but for now everyone in lab is being quite excited that this paper. We even taped the full text of it to the door to our lab offices!

The paper can be found online and the abstract is:

Molecular O2 dissociates upon interaction with a Ni(111) surface as the spatial and energetic overlap between the Ni 3d electrons and the O2 antibonding orbitals is quite favorable. On a Au-Ni(111) surface alloy where the extent of this overlap is greatly reduced, exposure to O2 results in adsorption of molecular O2 characterized by three peroxo- or superoxo- like vibrational bands centered at 743, 856, and 957 cm-1 as observed by high resolution electron energy loss spectroscopy. These bands correspond to the stretch vibrational mode of O2 at respective adsorption sites of type pseudo-3-fold fcc/hcp, degenerate-pseudo-2-fold fcc/hcp and bridge, and pseudo-3-fold bridge. These unusual chemical environments are brought about by surface alloying, rather than the presence of Au clusters on Ni, and are further stabilized by a dramatic reconstruction of the top two surface layers, as explained with an idealized surface alloy model in conjunction with electronic structure considerations. The ability to adjust the relative populations of the different oxygen cohorts by varying the Au content suggests the utility of surface alloy motifs for engineering applications.

For those of you who aren’t surface scientists, I suspect that that’s a kind of incomprehensible gibberish, so I will try to provide a bit of an explanation in simpler terminology with some extra context. Many catalysts used in industry consist of solid blocks of metal with surfaces that reactions can occur on. This sort of catalyst—a heterogeneous catalyst—has the advantage that it is unlikely to get mixed with and lost in the reaction products. In particular, nickel (Ni) surfaces are known to very effectively catalyze the splitting of oxygen gas (O2). An O2 molecule that lands on a Ni surface almost immediately splits into two O atoms. On the other hand, a number of similar metals, including platinum, palladium, and gold (Au), allow O2 to land on the surface without splitting. This property is useful, because it means that O2 molecules can be present on the surface to be used in catalyzed reactions with other molecules. On the other hand, nickel is much cheaper and more common than platinum, palladium, and gold, so it would be very useful to be able to use it as a catalyst instead.

It turns out that if you spray Au atoms on a Ni crystal, the Au atoms won’t dissolve in the crystal. Instead, you’ll get a single layer of mixed Au and Ni at the top of the crystal, with the rest of the crystal consisting solely of Ni. This, of course, is much cheaper than creating a pure Au crystal or a crystal consisting of a mixture of Au and Ni, so this surface is very industrially interesting. Our lab demonstrated that on this sort of mixed Au and Ni surface, O2 molecules are stable (as they are on Au, but not on Ni), and that this is due to a mixed surface of Au and Ni, not due to balls of Au sitting on top of the Ni surface. Furthermore, and perhaps most interesting, Twilight Sparkle figured out what is actually going on with the structure of the crystal surface. Au atoms are significantly larger than Ni atoms, so a Au atom can’t easily replace a Ni atom without distorting the structure of the top layer of the crystal. It turns out that the crystal actually accommodates this by rearranging the second layer of atoms in the crystal so that the mixture of Au and Ni regions on the surface will fit into the low-energy positions on the second layer’s crystal structure. The geometry of how this can happen defines the energies of different regions of the surface, and thus produces areas where O2 binds differently and produces different spectra when the surface is observed.

The Cold Winds Blow


I am not entirely sure how to classify “The Cold Winds Blow”: it’s a somewhat depressed poem that doesn’t really fit into the patterns of any of my other high school poetry. The inspiration was a number of instances of my having what I’d now recognize as breakdowns and going for walks by the playground of the elementary school I went to through fourth grade. I seem to have found the cold rain surprisingly soothing.

While I’m not sure when I wrote this poem, it must date to before the winter of eleventh grade, because on “the old playground” refers to the New Carrollton Playground, which was destroyed by collusion of the accursed Principal Gaines of Carrollton Elementary School and Mayor Hanko of New Carrollton on 17 and 18 February 2004. I had unfortunately not taken any photos of it until the afternoon of the 17th, when my mom informed me that it had already been half-demolished. However, I recently received a set of photos from its construction, which I need to scan and post on this blog sometime soon.

The cold winds blow,
	beneath the frowning sky
	beneath the pressing clouds
	beneath the falling rain.

The cold winds blow,
	above the cold, cruel ground
	above the hard cement
	above the sea of mud.

The cold winds blow,
	across the open field
	across the old playground
	across the slow, long road.

The cold winds blow,
	upon the now-numb hands
	upon the tear-soaked face
	upon the weary mind.

The cold winds blow
	to soothe the anger
	to touch the sadness
	to clean the unclean.

The cold winds blow,
	and bring thoughts of life
	and bring thoughts of death
	and bring thoughts of truth.

The cold winds blow,
	pureness in their ice
	honor in their cold
	justice in their howl.

The cold winds blow,
	a foe to gladness
	a friend to sorrow
	a balm to all sins.

Union Station


The following poem is not from high school: it’s actually a poem that I wrote this summer. While I haven’t gotten to Los Angeles yet on my West Coast trip, I will be passing through Union Station, and thinking of it reminded me that I had wanted to try to write a poem about it for some time.

They call this the Last of the Great Rail Stations;
     and it is great.
The waiting room a dark, airy cavern;
     a cool respite from the burning desert sun.
Soft armchairs from another era rest our tired feet;
     courtyard gardens a respite for freeway-weary eyes.

Still, it shares in the sins of this city:
     it was built, after all, to destroy Chinatown.
Chosen in place of a network of els,
     it sealed our choice of rubber over steel.
Now moats of asphalt and exhaust chain it in place;
     an island apart from the city it serves,
     a reminder of the city this could have been.



“Flame” is another of what I consider to be my religious poems, though it is perhaps as much about emotions as religion. I wrote a number of such poems, mostly revolving around the concept of duty and the negation of will, but most of them were fairly bad: I think this is perhaps the best of that set, even if it isn’t entirely representative of the topics I covered.

A Flame is smold'ring in the Dark of Night:
     A Fire—unextinguished heat
     When fuel and air shall feed it well,
     But never slain by want of these.

A Flame is smold'ring in the hearts of men:
     A Fire waiting to escape,
     To burn their friends and foes alike,
     To lead them on the path of Flame.

A Flame is smold'ring in the depths of Earth:
     A Power biding in the Dark,
     Awaiting when the time is right,
     To Burn the World to Even ash.

A Flame is smold'ring in the depths of Earth:
     A Power biding in the Dark,
     An Even Flame—a most just God
     That knows not mercy, knows not hate.

A Flame is smold'ring in the hearts of men:
     It gives us warmth in times of cold,
     It guards us 'gainst the unknown Night,
     It guides us through our periled lives.

A Flame is smold'ring in the Dark of Night:
     A Fire—unextinguished heat
     When fuel and air shall feed it well,
     But never slain by want of these.

The Snouters


Striding on its noses
there comes the Nasobame,
with its young in the tow.
It isn’t yet in Brehm’s
It isn’t yet in Meyer’s
And neither in Brockhaus’
It trotted out of my lyre
when it came first to light.
Striding on its noses
thereon (as I’ve said above),
with its young in the tow,
there goes the nasobame.

This story, strangely, starts with an odd bit of history from my time at Caltech. Before the renovation of the South House dorms—which started the summer before my freshman year—some residents rescued all the whiteboards that had been spread throughout the dorms and moved them to the off-campus house where they were to live the next year, 555 S. Catalina, the “Batcave”. At the end of my freshman year, they left the whiteboards there since more residents of Blacker would be living there the next year and the renovations were not yet complete. However, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, Caltech decided that they needed to renovate the Batcave as well, and there was concern that the whiteboards would be thrown out. So, one evening, the Robot and I went to rescue some of them for 240 S. Michigan, “Flatland”, where we would be living the next year. While we were looking for and collecting all the whiteboards, I found a book called Form and Life of the Snouters describing, in great detail, an order of mammals with very unusual noses.

The book was very amusing, but I decided to leave it there, as it wasn’t clear to me who it belonged to. I probably should have rescued it as well, on the principle that the building was to be renovated and there was a good chance that it would’ve been thrown out otherwise. In any case, I’d mostly forgotten about the incident until recently, when I found the Wikipedia article on snouters and, more importantly, the above link to the full text of the book. I was very excited to reread it—and recommend that you all read it as well—and I asked MITSFS to purchase a copy.

The story of rescuing the Batcave whiteboards should perhaps be continued. Bringing them back on a shopping cart was probably one of the more sketchy-looking things I’ve done, especially as the largest was about two meters long and had to be balanced on the cart like wings. We also had to push the cart carefully down the center of the road as it was too wide for sidewalks, which annoyed some drivers quite a bit. We did get the whiteboards to campus, though, and moved them to Flatland at the end of the summer. They lived there for my sophomore year and then, when we moved out, they were repatriated to Blacker House. I’m not sure what happened to all of them, but I think that one became the whiteboard in Purgatory, the lounge in blacker adjacent to the alleys of Heaven and Hell.


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