LEVI McPHERSON, a graduate student of analytical chemistry at the University of North Central Florida, is approached by agents of the Homeland Security’s Counter-terrorism Unit. The agency is recruiting Lee to study and expose the loopholes of screening instruments in airports. Struggling financially, he accepted the offer, making him a paid, benevolent hacker of the nation’s gateway. Yet Levi is horrified when an Airbus from Los Angeles disintegrated in mid-air.

At 40, when everybody’s career trajectory is going up, Levi’s still a poor graduate student, struggling financially. His research projects however, are worth million dollars. Researching the highly classified and heavily guarded secrets of detecting traces of explosives, what Lee know was a goldmine. The agency's offer is his financial break . So Levi tackles the problem like a scientist, detailing the loopholes of the aviation security and turning what he knew into a big time money machine.

JIM and JONATHAN of the counter-terrorism unit, where nowhere to be found after Charlotte International Airport, a hub of Delta Airlines closed abruptly because of instrument malfunctions in their security lines. And in a post-Osama Bin Laden’s era, the biggest blow to the United Stated after the 9/11 disaster comes unexpectedly when a passenger plane blew up in the skies of Washington D.C., in the heart of the nation.

Levi knew it was only the start of more troubles, so he recruits his fellow graduate students to counter the future attacks. They have to think like criminals—and scientists too. With the help of FBI counter-terrorism experts, Homeland Security and Transportation Security Agency, the team races to close and plug the loopholes Lee identified.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On-the Job Training (OJT)

For the past days, my bosses were out of the country. My older Boss went to Hawaii for the summer break, then headed to the Netherlands for research. My younger adviser followed the same route, except for the Hawaii and the research part. So they're both in the Netherlands, the younger one visiting his girlfriend.

While they are out, I'm here in Gainesville with my 2 group mates. Both of my groupmates are eventually leaving this year, and since they have a combined 12 years experienced in research, I need to suck up all the knowledge and information that they can impart before I'm left on my own handling a high voltage, superconducting magnet with a delicate laser, just like a newbie, an OJT. These are expensive instruments that eat up a lot of electricity for the sake of science. Although I've handled this things before, I need more hands on experience to perfect my craft (just like today when power was interupted and trouble shooting was needed).

In a lighter side, my two group mates are very helpful. And they are both huge. I jokingly call them "the man" and "the tiger". The man is around 6' 5" tall, 300 lbs. Tiger is a smaller version. So you can imagine myself as the quarterback protected by the two offensive linemen. "The man" likes to work with the hard wares and "tiger" tinkers more on the software side. This explains why "tiger" has connection to several U.S. supercomputers housed at the Army, Naval and Air Force. He showed me a device that generates passwords every 40 seconds when he connects to secure computers to do his calculations.

Anyway, life goes on. Fortunately, they pay me for doing my OJT.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Facebook Stalk

(Note: the names in this blog are real, they were my students before)

Back in the Philippines, friendster is the most popular networking site. Sad to say, friendster is a dying breed.

Although friendster was one of the first in social network, the company can't catch-up with the big dogs, myspace and facebook, in terms of growth. But these are not the reasons I have a facebook account. It started when one of my students (His name is Alberth, Albert with an H) was asking me to make one.

At first, I was hesitant but eventually made one because Alberth coerced me every time I see him in the gym. But in the end, especially during the time when the grades are uploaded to the University's system, it became our (with my students) way of communication. Instead of receiving grievances and thank you through emails, notes are posted through the walls of facebook. In the walls of my facebook where Ryan, a Filipino-American, wrote how he enjoyed watching Rex Navarette's DVD (pronounced Dee-bee-dee).

Since it is an effective way of communication, I made a group in facebook so my students can join. In this way, posting an announcement is like posting in a bulletin board -- everybody can read the particulars anytime of the day in the comfort of their own rooms (Amanda was right, facebook is a viable and practical way to do classroom business).

During the semesters, facebook is a life-line, and when the classes end, when it's time to bid adios and sayonara, good-byes are ended by tagging, "I'll just facebook you". The phrase is equivalent to saying "I'll keep in touch". Remember when Xerox, Kodak or Band-aid became a verb, such as the phrase "xerox the paper" meant "photocopy the paper" (at least back in the Philippines, that's what it meant), facebook is now a verb. I'll wait when the linguists enter the word facebook to a dictionary.

Goodbyes also are tagged with words such as "I'll facebook stalk you". Facebook stalking may sound like a joke but it wasn't for one of my student Ashley. She told me she deleted her account because her high school classmate was stalking her in facebook, leaving remarks to her wall. The remarks became offensive. Isabel commented that people spend way to much in facebook. "It's addicting", Erin added.

I will stalk facebook. What I mean by that is I will wait and see when the facebook company becomes public. If the stock price is right during its IPO (Inital Public Offering), I'll buy some. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerburg will be the new Bill Gates, at least in my opinion. The company is expanding too. Have you ever heard of dogbook or catbook? And besides, I want facebook to stay around, I want to know in the future if some of my students live to their promises, that is to be a neurosurgeons.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Oral Exam Preparation

The nerve wrecking part of being a graduate student, is the preparation for oral qualifying examinations. Traditional education, such as classroom learning is simple: students pass the tests and they go on to the next level. Graduate students suffer differently, because you have to pass an oral qualifying exam.

I am preparing for my oral qualifying. After my committee members decide that I do have enough knowledge to continue my research, then I'm on to the next level which is a Ph.D. candidate. Right now, I'm reading anything related to my research: FT-ICR, OPO Laser and IR Laser. I take notes the fundamentals and basic of mass spectrometry, how a laser works and how is the laser useful for chemical analysis. The notes is color coded: Dirty white papers for anything mass spectrometry, Orange for anything OPO Lasers and red for Infrared related.

Passing this test requires a laser-like focus and concentration, an efficiency and strategy of a five star general, adding the analytical and methodical way of a neurosurgeon. You are not called a Ph.D. or an expert just for nothing. Suffer just like any other graduate students, as one of my friend described it as pretty hard, dude (Ph.D.)