Category Archives: Writing

Introduction to MRI


(Before you complain, see note at end of post.)

Back in 1997, at the end of my tenth grade year, my chemistry teacher explained the principles underlying magnetic resonance imaging. I’m sure it wasn’t a very in-depth explanation, but I still remember thinking, “Wow, that’s complicated. I’ll never understand it.”

Well, a lot has happened since then. I got a bachelor’s degree in physics and math. I worked as a teacher for seven years, five of which were spent in China. Then I went back to graduate school to get a master’s degree in applied physics.

The topic of my research? Magnetic resonance imaging.

As I began studying MRI in graduate school, I still worried that I might not be able to understand it. But I once again rediscovered a truth that I keep finding myself rediscovering: namely, that if you invest enough time and hard work in studying a topic, you’ll eventually get it, no matter how daunting it may at first seem.

In the end, I didn’t just learn the basics of MRI, but I published a thesis on my own contribution to the field: an improved method for distinguishing between fat-based and water-based tissue in magnetic resonance images.

If you’re curious about how MRI works, I offer you this (click the link to download the PDF):

Foundations of MRI

It’s a chapter from my thesis that explains the basic physics of MRI — from how the tissue in your body is magnetized when you are placed in a magnetic field, to how images are obtained with the desired contrast between different tissue types.

I hope you’ll find it to be puddles of fun. Please splash around to your heart’s content.

NOTE: Anyone familiar with medical imaging will immediately notice that the Homer Simpson image at the top of this post is not an MRI. But hey, it’s already a fictional image of a fictional character, and it’s really funny, so please give me a break.

BWYA Graduation Speech – May 2009


In the spring of 2009, I had the honor of being asked to give the graduation speech at the Beijing World Youth Academy, where I taught physics from 2007 to 2009. It is (or was at the time) their tradition to ask one of the departing teachers to be the main speaker at the ceremony. They probably asked other people first, but no one else was willing, as we were all busy with our end-of-the-year insanity. And so they turned to me.

With my characteristic modesty, I declare that I did a pretty good job coming up with a simple and inspiring message. Here it is:

BWYA Graduation Speech 2009 – Olen Rambow

Stand with Cathy — The Book

The Stand with Cathy book is now available! Above is a picture of a printed copy. It weighs in at a healthy 5.5 ounces and has dimensions of 5.5-by-8.5-by-9/32 inches, with a total of 126 or 134 or 138 pages (depending on how you count). I quote these numbers for my own amusement. The most important question, of course, is how you can get a copy — because all proceeds will go toward breast cancer research. There are many ways, including the following:

  • To get a copy from us in person for only $5.00, come to West Houston Chinese Church (10638 Hammerly Blvd, Houston, TX 77043) on Sunday, February 5, for the 11:15 am service.* Cathy and I will speak briefly during the service, and books will be available for sale afterward. You can also come on the following two Sundays (February 12 and 19).
  • To order a paperback copy online for $6.99 (plus shipping), click here.
  • To download the Ebook version for Adobe Digital Editions for $5.99, click here. (You can get Adobe Digital Editions for free here.)
  • To get the iBook version from iTunes (for the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch) for $5.99, click here.
  • To get the Nook version for $5.99, click here, or search for “Stand with Cathy” on your Nook.
  • For a tiny sample of the book, click here.

In case you’re not familiar with our story, this book is an account (from my point of view) of my wife Cathy’s battle with cancer. It’s about how our community came together to sustain us by raising over $65,000 to help pay for Cathy’s treatment and by providing a place for us to stay when we were effectively evicted from our apartment. It is a testimony about the power of love and grace in the midst of hardship.

*All of the author’s profit from the sales of this book will be donated to the “Susan G. Komen for the Cure” foundation for breast cancer research. For each book purchased at West Houston Chinese Church, however, the full price of the book ($5.00) will be donated. (Of course, you are welcome to give more than $5.00.) Remarkably, the church has refused to accept any portion of the proceeds; everything goes to the Komen Foundation. Please note that the official name of the Komen Foundation is “Susan G. Komen for the Cure,” so if you write a check, please make it payable to “Susan G. Komen for the Cure.”

Scientific Writing for Chinese Researchers

Book Cover

Pardon my Chinese, but . . .

从2005年到2007年,我在中科院半导体所从事论文编辑和英语教学的职业。 在这期间,我为想要在国际期刊上发表论文的在校研究生们编辑过好几百篇的论文。 在我编辑这些论文的同时,我也记录下了母语为中文的人的论文中最常出现的英语语法错误。等到我结束在半导体所任教时,我根据这些观察和记录编写了一本书, 名为 Scientific Writing for Chinese Researchers.

写 完这本书的很长时间内,我都不太愿意在美国公开和出版这本书。因为我认为它只适合中国研究生。但是,最近我又重新读了一遍这本书,并在读过之后改变了我的 想法。其实书中有很多写作规则适合任何想要写论文的人。其中更适合中国学生的部分也会对在美国的中国留学生很有帮助。


Okay, now here’s everything in English:

From 2005 to 2007, I worked as an editor and English teacher at the Institute of Semiconductors, which is a branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. During that time, I edited hundreds upon hundreds of papers that were written by Chinese graduate students who wanted to have their work published in international journals. As I corrected their writing, I kept track of the most common errors that native Chinese speakers make when they write in English, and at the end of my time there I compiled all of my observations into a book: Scientific Writing for Chinese Researchers.

For a long time, I was reluctant to share this with people in America because I felt that the book was only appropriate for graduate students in China. I recently went back and read through it, though, and I’ve changed my mind. Many of the principles are appropriate for anyone who wants to write a paper, and the parts that are specifically for Chinese students will probably be very useful to Chinese graduate students here in America.

The book is available here.

A Book about Our Journey

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finished writing the final draft of a memoir about my wife’s experience with cancer . . . and other experiences as well, including a crazy dispute with a landlord who would soon be convicted of his wife’s murder. I’m naming the book after the year-long fundraising campaign that helped us raise $65,000 to cover Cathy’s treatment expenses: Stand with Cathy. The above picture is the front cover of the book as it stands now. I’ll give a special prize (not really) to anyone who can explain the play on words with the Chinese character.

The book should be available for purchase in both paperback and electronic formats within about a month. All profits from sales of the book will be donated to a cancer-related charity–probably the Komen Foundation, though I haven’t decided for sure yet. As soon as possible, I will post links to the web site where the book can be ordered from, and I will also post a sample from the book so you can see what it will be like.

I also recently added pages to this blog to showcase interesting words and quotations. Please take a look, and feel free to recommend words or quotations that you think deserve a place on the lists.

A Place in the Sky

When Robert Jordan, the author of the awesome Wheel of Time series, died of amyloidosis in 2007, some fans published a compilation of short stories to raise money for amyloidosis research. I wrote and submitted the following story, and it was included in the compilation:

A Place in the Sky

If you’re interested in buying a copy of the anthology, it’s available here:

Note: The war in which Denelain was wounded nine years ago was very different from the “Great War,” which was waged generations ago and involved the gods themselves. I think I need to edit the story a little to make that more clear.

The Judgment of Stan Wellcroft

This is a short story I wrote back in 2007 for a contest. It’s about a guy who goes to hell. Or heaven. Or both. Read it and see what I mean. The most important thing not to miss is the double entendre in the title: Is God passing judgment on Stan, or is Stan passing judgment on God?

Here it is:

The Judgment of Stan Wellcroft

Perhaps it’s a bit irreverent. But it’s just a story. I’m not trying to make any theological points.

What’s Needed for Effective Education Reform?

After spending four years teaching high school math and physics, I am now entering graduate school to pursue research in applied physics. I wanted to write down my thoughts on teaching and, in particular, on the state of our education system, while the experience was still fresh in my mind. I did so back in June, and I am now ready to post the finished product online. It ended up being a 45-page essay. It’s more for myself than for anyone else, but I think some people will find it interesting. So here it is (as a PDF):

What’s Needed for Effective Education Reform?

In the essay, I make some unconventional proposals, including:

  • doing away with grades entirely
  • doing away with grade levels entirely
  • doing away with the high school diploma entirely
  • encouraging early specialization
  • developing a culture of respect for teachers
  • disciplining students in more effective ways