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In this issue:
Save the Date: Let's Celebrate Jonathan!
Safety Today: It's Easy Being Green
symmetry: From Eye to Sight

SLAC Today

Tuesday - May 6, 2008

Save the Date: Let's Celebrate Jonathan!

Click on poster image for larger version.

A symposium honoring Jonathan Dorfan's distinguished career at SLAC and his leadership of the laboratory and in the broader scientific community is scheduled for July 24, 2008. The event, which will begin in SLAC's Panofsky Auditorium, will include talks by David Dorfan, John Galayda, David Hitlin, Keith Hodgson, Steven Kahn, Martin Perl, John Seeman, Rick Van Kooten and Albrecht Wagner.

In the afternoon, the celebration moves to the SLAC green, where all SLAC staff and visitors are invited to join symposium attendees for ice cream, cake, and celebration. Speakers include Burt Richter, George Trilling, Marcello Giorgi, Hiro Aihara and John O'Fallon.

The day-long event will conclude with a reception and dinner at the Stanford Faculty Club, where Stanford President John Hennessy and Neil Calder will speak. A fee will be required for the dinner, but the rest of the event is free to all. Please simply visit the event website to register.

(Column - Safety Today)

It's Easy Being Green

Judy Fulton and Carlos Pereira display a recently removed toxicity warning signs from a janitorial supply storage area. (Click on image for larger version.)

SLAC became a little greener on Thursday when its janitorial vendor replaced many of their cleaning supplies with more environmentally friendly alternatives. In a modern version of a "ribbon-cutting" ceremony, Hazardous Materials Program Manager Judy Fulton and Facilities Engineer Coordinator Carlos Pereira marked the transition by removing the toxicity warning signs from the janitorial supply storage area.

"This is another step SLAC is taking toward becoming more sustainable," Fulton said.

"The new cleaning products make cleaning safer and are better for the environment," Fulton said. Many of the conventional cleaning products being replaced contain toxic ingredients and in some cases are corrosive. They require special storage and handling precautions and hazardous waste disposal. The new chemicals are Green Seal approved to meet high environmental standards. They contain less-toxic ingredients, such as dilute hydrogen peroxide

"If you look at the whole life cycle of how a chemical is made, moved and used, every milestone along that process will have less impact on the environment," Fulton said.

The switch was motivated by a 2007 Executive Order from President Bush directing federal agencies to become more environmentally sustainable. The directive inspired Fulton and colleagues Sandra Brown-Grossinger from Purchasing and Environmental Management System Coordinator Micki DeCamara to detoxify SLAC's janitorial cleaning supplies.

Carlos Pereira has spearheaded the change, overseeing the ordering of the new chemicals and negotiations with janitorial contractor UBS, who was willing to make the switch to greener chemicals without the need for a contract modification. The janitorial staff will also switch to using microfiber dust cloths, which pick up more dust than regular towels and can be washed and reused many times.

"All these changes will make SLAC an even more safe and healthy place to work," DeCamara said. "Switching to green cleaning chemicals is the wave of the future." Green Seal is a non-profit organization that certifies environmentally safe consumer products and advises the Environmental Protection Agency. More information about green products can be found at the Green Seal website.

From Eye to Sight

Image courtesy of Sandbox Studio.

Seeing is easy. We open our eyes, and there the world isin starlight or sunlight, still or in motion, as far as the Pleiades or as close as the tips of our noses. The experience of vision is so common and effortless that we rarely pause to consider what an astounding feat it is: Every time our eyes open, they encode our surroundings as a pattern of electrical signals, which the brain translates into our moving, colorful, three-dimensional perception of the world.

This everyday miracle has attracted the devotion and expertise of an unlikely individualAlan Litke, an experimental particle physicist based at the University of California, Santa Cruz. When not in Geneva, Switzerland, where he is working on the ATLAS particle detector for the Large Hadron Collider, Litke is working with neuroscientists and engineers, adapting the technology of high-energy physics to study the visual system.

The central challenge is to understand the language the eye uses to send information to the brain. Light reflected from our surroundings enters our eyes through the transparent window of the cornea and is focused by the lens, forming an image on the retina. The retina of each eye contains about 125 million light-sensitive rods and cones, which translate light into electrical and chemical signals. These signals travel to the visual centers of the brain through a million retinal ganglion cells, or RGCs.

The retina thus encodes the activity of 125 million cells in the signals of one million output cells, which deliver the brain a highly compressed neural code from which our entire visual experience is derived. Litke wants to understand how this neural network processes information from our surroundings and portrays it to the brain.

Coming from a particle physics background presented many challenges for Litke. Not only would he need to adapt particle detector technology for the messier, wet world of living tissue, but he would also need to win over skeptical biologists and funding agencies. He was proposing a whole new way of doing research in neuroscience, one that promised a vast leap forward in what could be measured and analyzed.

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