Monthly Archives: September 2012
A couple of months ago, maybe a little bit more, I got the news that the project I submitted to the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACyT) was approved! Now we only have to wait for the money to actually show up and that might take a while – a long while! Nevertheless this is always very good news and we are very excited about it because this means more money for research, specifically on the electronic molecular pathways of photosynthesis.
When I submitted the project I wrote a little post about the funding scheme which seemed, if not unfair, at least flawed, and I still believe in what I wrote. To be honest I thought it wouldn’t be funded but it turns out it was but I still think the reviewing process could be better.
There is a lot of research to do – too little time to do it.
If a mind is a terrible thing to waste, then wasting a collective mind is an even more terrible thing. During the past weekend the library at the institute of chemistry suffered a flood caused by a broken pipe just above it, which incidentally happens to be the lab were I used to work as an undergrad student. When it comes to scientific journals, our institute still relies a lot on paper issues for the oldest numbers; we can order them online but it’s just easier to Xerox it at the library if you really need to read that old reference.
This morning the librarians were appalled when noticed not only the huge puddle on the floor but all the books and scientific journals that were dripping water from the shelves. The broken pipe has been fixed and the water on the floor has been mopped. It is now the books the ones that suffer the aftermath of this accident. Not only saving the information was important; wet paper is a great culture media for fungi which in turn could pose a health threat to all users. The administrative staff immediately got to work in recruiting academics and students to help the drying process: “Heal a book!“, they informally called it. Everyone grabbed an item and with the help of industrial blow dryers – the kind we use in chemistry labs to dry wet glassware – and an extraordinary amount of paper towels, each person got to dry the journals page by page.
I got an item that corresponded to the British journal New Scientist, which consisted of about fifteen issues from the year 1980. When I noticed the title in my hand I wanted to switch it. Should we save first those journals with the highest impact factor? or should we work on those that are most relevant to our own research? Should we throw away Chemical Abstracts now that the whole database is online? After all, New Scientist is a magazine which summarizes research that has already been peer reviewed and published; it is journalistic work, not peer reviewed science. But I was afraid to look pedantic so I got to work on drying it.
Each person had their own technique. Some journals had their binding covers still in good shape so they were placed open standing on the floor in front of fans. Some placed paper towels carefully between pages and after a while they would remove them and then use the blow dryer. I thought that if I heated the edges of the paper and thus dried them, capillarity would drive the moisture in the innermost part of each page outwards. Didn’t quite work, at least not in a pragmatic time scale, so I went back to page by page.
I’m glad I did so. That way I was able to find some real pieces of history which could make any scientist nostalgic. For example: I took these photos with my iPod, and if you are by any chance reading this piece on an iPhone, you must find the following picture about Swedish research endearing.
Yes, online doodling games were already a thought back in 1980!
Are you subscribed to this blog? That means you got a notification by e-mail. So what? No big deal! Well, back in 1980 Britain was getting excited over a new form of comunication called the ‘Electronic Mail’ (available only at a couple of post offices). Besides, you wouldn’t have been able to get that message nor read this post on an HP Matrix Machine (you can’t even find a decent link in google about it nowadays!)
But scientists are not all about working, we like games too! So how about purchasing a ‘Hungarian Magic Cube‘ or a ‘Chess Computer‘?
We also love a juicy piece of gossip. For instance, did you know that John Maddox was a controversial editor for Nature back in the 70’s who, as a student, went into chemistry because if he’d gone into physics he could’ve been drafted by the army in WWII to work on radars? Well me neither. But it seems that we should have known who he was, and now we do.
There were many pieces of science news that nearly kept me in the library all night, if not for the fact that I had to drive 50 miles from Mexico City to my place in Toluca, but the one that captured my attention more than any other was the news of a European dream envisioned more than three decades ago; a dream from a group of scientists about looking for answers, like any other group of scientists, answers that are fundamental for the understanding of our universe and the understanding of matter, back when some of the biggest questions hadn’t even been fully posed, this group of visionaries agreed on taking the necessary steps to build an enormous subatomic-particle Supercollider for the European Center for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN.
Back in 1980 I was already alive but I was only two years old. I could barely talk and had no idea what the word ‘future‘ meant, let alone what I’d become when it reached me. Now, even if I’m not a particle physicist I get excited about the news regarding the finding of the Higgs Boson and even if I’m not an astronomer I also get excited about pictures from the Curiosity Rover on Mars. I am a scientist. One out of hundreds of thousands or perhaps even millions, and this is part of my collective memory, the memory of the work of those who paved the road for us, those giants upon whose shoulders we struggle day by day to stand with dignity and against all odds. But here is the thing: those giants are actually made of dwarfs, millions of them; millions of us. Thousands and thousands of papers written, reviewed and published; papers that collectively gather the scientific experience summed up in rigorous experiments both successful and failed.
Preserving the information in those wet journals is important despite the fact you can get them all online. I hope one day a bored chemistry grad student goes to the library and browses old issues of New Scientist and other journals just for fun; they’ll go for a trip down a collective Memory Lane which will remind them that if they can dream it in the present, they can make it come true in the future.
This morning at around 9 AM, I guess, this little blog of mine reached a significant milestone: It reached 100,000 visitors!
The blog started about 3.5 years ago when I was still living in Romania working at the lab of the late Prof. Dr. Ioan Silaghi-Dumitrescu. Back then I started the blog as a way to make my research visible to others and maybe in that way I could gain some notoriety which could help me in the near future to land a fine research position. None of that happened. I remember we were having some issues with some PCM calculations in the lab and after a lot of hard work and a lot of asking we gather some tips to work with implicit solvation models in Gaussian. Prof. Silaghi suggested we should write them down and put them on the wall of the lab so we had them available at all times; it was then when I suggested we could place them in my little blog so we had them available online. This happened in September 2009, three years ago, and little did I know, this post became quite popular, it is still one of the most visited ones in the blog. Later on we had a similar problem while trying to visualize Natural Bond Orbitals, there was too much information but it was all scattered, so we did it again, we gathered some of the info and made a new post which became also quite popular.
Little have I written about my own work, mostly because of fear of being scooped, I guess.
I’d like to thank every reader who has ever liked, commented, rated, favorited, shared, reblogged, blogrolled, recommended any of my posts and the nearly 200 people who have subscribed or followed this little blog, as I like to call it.