Progress in microscopy is the title of a most excellent book by Francon (1961). If you want to know about airy discs and phase contrast microscopy it’s THE book to buy. I’m not writing about Francon’s book though, I’m writing about me. It’s all about me, today 😀
What a long way I have come in a year or two!
I always think that there are various levels of learning.
1) understanding and accepting what the text books say
2) understanding how those things interact and why those interactions matter
3) being able to apply your knowledge
4) automatic understanding – this happens when you know your subject so well that you no longer have to consciously work anything out. You have opinions. When this happens you tend to forget a lot of the details, at least you are unable to recall them succinctly on demand. Every fact has a story, a history, a background, connections. You give mini lectures to your friends (and they’re great lectures). The information has become part of you. That’s when you really know your stuff. That’s when you become an absent minded professor who knows everything about something but who needs a written formula in order to soft boil an egg*
5) being able to create something new from your understanding.
Right now I’m probably at level 2. I’m starting to get it. I understand kohler illumination, phase contrast, numerical aperture, tube length, planes, real and virtual images, different kinds of lenses, fluorites, APOs, achromats, compensating eyepieces, aberrations, relay lenses.
I’m starting to see how one thing effects another. It’s not automatic yet and I certainly don’t understand fully, but I’m beginning to fit it all together. I get quite a few of those light-bulb moments where I read something and I can actually feel something in my brain go “PING”. Another connection made. I frequently find errors in things I read which leads me to investigate further. 9.9 times out of ten I discover that the writer has not made an error, I have misunderstood some subtle point of maths or physics, but at least my brain is sending me “alerts”. My brain is working, it is ringing the alarm bells to let me know when something doesn’t quite fit with the other information I have. My brain is asking for clarification. Your brain doesn’t send alerts like this when you are completely clueless, it’s too busy remembering stuff to think about the stuff.
I’m starting to apply this knowledge. Clumsily and slowly at the moment, I frequently think I have something cracked only to discover that I missed something crucial, but I’m getting there. It’s very satisfying.
*Engineers seem to be exempt from becoming dippy. I think it’s something to do with magic smoke inhalation. It may also be because engineers undergo frequent socialisation as they are so regularly required to fix stuff for friends and family. They are far less likely to be locked away in a small room with only books and Asperger’s syndrome for company.