Views From Science

Dear Science Enthusiast,

Doing science is all about learning how the universe around us works. Experiments, when feasible, are often performed to study nature's behavior. If the actual objects or materials are inaccessible, computer simulation may be called upon for a closer look. Either way, marvelous and quite unexpected beauty is revealed in addition to nature's secrets. The pictures and videos that you will encounter here are recordings from some of my experiments. The intent is to encourage you to explore the surrounding universe through your experiments.

I remember my first chemistry set. I was about 9 or 10 years old. The set was an A.C. Gilbert kit in a blue metal box. I recall placing sulfur in a spoon and heating it over an alcohol lamp until the sulfur caught fire, sputtering glowing blue droplets all over the place. However, I quickly extinguished my bed sheets (my bedroom doubled as a lab) and moved on to the next experiment. But it was my second kit, a Chemcraft set in a red, wooden box, which opened to both sides from the middle, that proved the most exciting. In that delightful kit, The Porter Chemical Company included a small, silver-gray aluminum capped plastic tube with a lens on one end and sealed on the other. Inside, on the sealed end, was a small, round disk of cardboard coated with zinc sulfide. A trace amount of a radium compound had been coated or mixed in with the zinc compound. I am quite sure that I didn't wait too long to try it out. After accommodating to the dark for the required 15 minutes or so, I peered into the tube. An incredible display of flashing sparks of light appearing like a meteor shower became visible. The longer I stayed in the dark, the more visible the flashes became. That little tube (really, a viewport into the world of the atom) is called a spinthariscope and was invented by Sir William Crookes at the turn of the 20th century. The device and its wonders are discussed in greater detail on one of the pages to follow. Incidentally, as you can see from the photo animation, I still have the device and it continues to work quite nicely. Well, that was it. That sight, my introduction to radioluminescence, was all I needed to start me off on a quest to see and learn as much as I could about the incredible world that we live in!

I produced this site so that I can share my passion for science with others. One of my goals has been to develop novel approaches and techniques in order to explore the world in a different light. There have been pleasant successes along the way, and that's always exciting. I have even managed to come up with several cost-effective ways of doing some interesting science. Every now and then a winning blend of new, improved, and less expensive occurs.

Examples are scattered throughout the site. In the Special Methods section, I describe a technique that I originally developed purely for optical microscopy that carries over nicely to scanning electron microscopy. Using only a few dollars worth of chemicals, a researcher can triple the value of a desktop SEM—well, at least for some very select applications. Also, in that section, I discuss my low-cost, optical interferometric microscope that can be used to detect nanoscale variations in height. I discuss my cathodoluminescence macroscope too. Most recently, I added a section on my experiments with laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy. After an incredibly successful landing on August 6, NASA's Curiosity rover will be using this well-established technique to examine the mineralogy of Mars. In the LED Fluorescence section, I present an inexpensive system that enables experimenters and researchers to use LEDs for fluorescence microscopy. Elsewhere, I explain how I create ammonia snowstorms on a microscope stage. If you're interested in dusty plasmas, you might want to have a look at my experiments with an off-the-shelf, surplus atomic absorption tube that should get you started. You'll find that in the Plasma Science section. In other sections of this site, I delve into additional areas of science.

I try to make my References section as complete as possible. The listing of books, papers, and links expand upon what I've developed and written for each section. Credits listing specific software used, links to other Web sites that may be of interest, and notes of appreciation are also included.

Perhaps something you see on this Web site will encourage you to enter the world of science or to explore new and different ways of doing things. I hope that after your visits here you will agree that, to paraphrase Jacques Barzun, science—the systematic study and knowledge of everything in God's physical creation—is truly the great entertainment!


Ely Silk


P.S. My gratitude to Discover Magazine for including me as part of its December 2008 issue highlighting contributions being made by scientists from all walks of life. And special thanks to Popular Mechanics for their June 2009 online article with an inside look at amateur science that included a discussion of some of my work.




The legal stuff:

If you would like to use any of the materials and ideas developed in this Web site for any endeavor, please check with me first. Unless otherwise indicated, all the images, text, and videos are strictly under my copyright. All rights reserved.

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