My Workplaces: Mad Scientist Lab versus Chinese Red Banners
    By Sascha Vongehr | February 29th 2012 08:35 PM | 11 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    It may be of interest for those outside of science and academia to get a closer look at what diverse scientists’ work environments are like.  Some may be surprised about the drab conditions.  Only few places look like the mad scientists’ secret laboratory in movies, although my previous lab was just like that (see below).

    Here is my present work place at the National Laboratory for Solid State Microstructures, University of Nanjing, China.  Most of the day, I am in front of a computer in My Office, which I sometimes convert into a standing desk deal; see Dumpster Diving For Longevity:

    Notwithstanding the lame state of the inside, the outside in front of my window is really beautiful with the trees and what may be Qing-dynasty stile houses for all I know.  Nanjing University is more than 100 years old, and I am at the original campus where only the graduate students and upwards in the hierarchy wander.  Pesky undergraduates are at some monster facility out in nowhere, where I refuse to set foot.  Anyway, here around my office, the Campus is quite nice:

    But modern times have left their imprint and this is already a valley surrounded by growing mountains (that blue thing is one of the highest buildings in the world and now totally dominates Nanjing – and the upper region of the view out of my office window):

    Our Laboratory has nothing very impressive that looks different from many chemistry labs.  That we make amazing nanostructures nevertheless, proves how awesome we are.  I should put this in perspective – for all the X-ray dispersion, and Scanning Electron Microscopy and Tunneling Electron Microscopy and other optical/thermo-chemical/magnetic/… analysis and so on and so forth, we go into different labs, all of them having impressive expensive devices!

    If I may, pride leaves me no choice, compare to my previous laboratory at the University of Southern California, which I almost build from scratch myself (starting from connecting electricity and vacuum and cooling and all of it):

    The setup you see here is described in more detail in  You can see only the west half of the laboratory, but not the computer and the chemical preparation table and so on.  Back to my situation now.  What may be most interesting to many are the following pictures below.

    There are red banners almost everywhere here in China still today.  Many supermarkets have them: Long red stripes of cloth with mostly white or yellow/golden characters on them.  There are always some when I walk into the main gate of Nanjing University:

    There is a big red banner in my research group’s conference room:

    Apparently total mind control, pervasive propaganda is aimed at.  But what is written on them?  The banners along the street and on the shops say bad communist stuff like “Happy New Year! All 10% Cheaper This Week!

    On the university main alley they proclaim revolutionary slogans like “2010 International Conference of Sustainability and Water Resources”.  The one in our office even says:  “Nanjing University Materials Department PhD and Master Thesis Defense Meeting”. Oh axis of evil!

    The color red and red banners, wedding dresses, greeting cards, red everything is an important aspect of Chinese culture.  Chinese people traditionally like red, and they liked it long before Karl Marx.  If you ask about the origins, it is always “red brings good luck”, but that is the same answer you get on almost everything, whether it is the number eight or not sticking chop sticks into the rice bowl.  The Chinese like the red color so much, I wonder whether this influenced the success of the communist movement in China early on.  Maybe socialism would never have won the hearts of the Chinese if it had offered itself under a green flag?

    By now, many foreign correspondents know Chinese well enough; they could enlighten their audience if they wanted to. Such pictures trigger associations with Stalinism and even the third Reich, and the way they are often shown in Western media make me doubt that this is just an oversight that creeps in once in a while. Aimed misrepresentation of China in the hope to trigger fears?


    More from Sascha Vongehr sorted Topic for Topic


    My office is my son's old bedroom, and it's half full of boxes, some furniture, a couple bookcases, and a desk with 2 22" monitors, two keyboards each with a mouse, plus the required number of stacks of paper and sticky notes.
    But I do have a forest in the backyard

    and a national park
    Never is a long time.

    Your are beginning to think like Edward Said with his “Orientalism”, which interpreted every aspect of European portrayals of (in particular) the Arab world and culture as being part of one big imperialist plot. 

    The trouble was, he ended up becoming one of the stereotypes he decried, in his case the Arab that was always going on about the “feelthy Breeteesh”.  He might have come to a more balanced view, if he hadn’t been idolized by the ‘intellectuals’ of Harvard and Yale.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    No I don't, I simply live here and compare reality with what is written in Western news. A "more balanced view" does not equal denying imperialism, except if you are paid by Fox news that is.
    Thor Russell
    Here in New Zealand we find this pretty funny,20913/ 

    and we are more than happy not to be important to the USA: 

    Thor Russell
    Those are some funny articles, both in their own way. The Onion seldom lets us down. They call it fake news, but it is often less fake than the "real news". After all, the Chinese did make the US leadership dance a most silly dance, twirling around, toward the east bowing to obey the new overlord, when facing the west blowing up its chest. The second article made me aware of how little I know about NZ. I should look into that. I know prostitution is legal, but do you guys have something like Nimbin, too? I need a place like that to retire some day, but there are too many Germans already in Australia.
    Thor Russell
    We have NIMBY for prostitutes, don't know what happens in Nimbin. 
    Golden Bay  is probably the closest thing you will find, with lots of stoned hippies more than happy to discuss quantum physics with you ...
    Thor Russell
    Well, the semi-legality in Nimbin is precisely what would allow me to avoid having to be too close to hippies just to score reasonable material.
    Photo below  is of my own little Hogwarts facility. What separates it from other digs is that it is built from scratch with no government or institutional funding. I even put in the private utilities (water well, leach field, solar electricity, propane tanks) and I also maintain and partly constructed the mile long road to the property. Official move in date is this coming fall (ten years after I bought the raw land). Currently, I'm in a slightly more modest structure a mile away that I also built from scratch (including its road). Outside photo by yours truly is from a temporary lift after brushing a mix of linseed oil 'n turps on the wood. (Maybe today I can run the snowplow up and taken a wider view of the exterior). Inside photo is of the central fireplace and pizza/bread oven …..

    In a year or two, the plan is to have the grounds available for special events and parties, maybe even a think-tank or two .... It will have its own private ski run with almost 400 feet of drop plus direct access to vast National Forest Land via snowmobile in the winter. Below is a snapshot of part of the view that dramatically changes every hour and with the seasons. It's a great location from which to ponder the meaning of virtual particles.

    Very nice! The first photo looks like you have a great location to add an observatory.
    Never is a long time.
    Thor Russell
    Wow! I would like to have a "work" conference there.
    Thor Russell
    Photos from Hogwarts ... today and yesterday ....


    Scroll down for a panorama of three views from SW to NW.

    Not sure why my properly resized photos are fuzzy .... Nearest city lights and major laboratories are on the far side of the Continental Divide from here. On the far side of 13,500' Arapaho Peak in the center is the Arapaho Glacier and the Silver Lake's area for Boulder's watershed.
    Scroll down to see the view continued to the left.

    Scroll down to see more to the left. Great place to gaze directly across to soaring birds.

    Further to the left is much more of Rocky Mountain National Park. In back to the west and northwest is vast expanses of Arapaho National Forest.