Archive for May 1st, 2007

Scientific papers–how much of copyright is too much

May 1, 2007

Rob Knop at Galactic interactions makes a strong case for “Attribution-Share Alike” Creative Commons License for scientific papers (and nothing more). While I agree with his first reason for the need for attribution in scientific works, I do not agree with his second one, namely,

The second reason is for the reader. When I go and look at a list of scientific papers, I look at the author list. If the paper looks like it might be a little nutty, but the author is somebody whose work I know and whom I respect, I’m going to realize that I have to at least give the paper a chance to be taken seriously. Scientists are people, some are better than others, and some do more respectable work than others. Who is behind a given paper is useful information.

While I agree with him about the fact that some researchers in my research area deserve special attention than others, if the idea in a paper sounds nutty, there is no reason for me not to take it seriously, even if it is not by an established researcher. But knowing the author(s) of a paper helps me understand their biases and systems of belief, which is important in putting the work in perspective. In that sense, it does help the reader to know the author of the paper. Apart from this minor quibble, I am in agreement with the rest of what he has to say on the issue. Take a look!

Undergraduate research

May 1, 2007

During my undergrad days, we did not have any chance of research; in fact none of the professors had a doctorate, while the Head of the Department was on leave for his PhD. And, we had just one Professor in the Mathematics Department who had a publication in a journal. So, I never had a chance to experience what it means to do research–the closest we came to is a visit to the Vainu Bappu Observatory where we heard some nice talks–in fact, two–one by Dr. Ramnad Cowsik on the structure of the universe, and another by Dr. Priyamvada Saraswat on the birth and death of a star.

However, during my grad student days we had several summer students visit the lab; they were undergrad students from different parts of India. I do not know how much they enjoyed/benefited by their stay in the lab; but, we enjoyed having them around; and, I would never have thought about some of the issues of phase field modelling but for their asking me all those questions. Of course, as this poem notes (pdf), there was the pleasure of seeing them have their “aha” moments.

So, is undergrad research good idea? I say yes, at least for those who work with them, if not for the undergrads themselves!

A few links on reading and writing

May 1, 2007

Violent protestors–who is to blame?

May 1, 2007

Fabio at orgtheory has an interesting hypothesis (in fact, several, of which I decide to highlight one):

Violence is not simply a matter of what the movement decides to do. It is also a matter of what the police and state choose to do. Since the 1960s, police departments have tried to be way less violent in their monitoring because of a general liberalization of American culture, and also because they can get sued. In my research on the anti-war movement, I’ve been to a lot of events, and with a few exceptions like 2004 RNC protests in New York, the police have been fairly restrained. It is also often the case that the major movement groups will often alert police about their plans, to minimize violence and arrests.

In fact, Fabio goes on to suggest,

…police policies and behaviors also play a role in how much violence we have. It’s certainly true in revolutionary movements – repressive states tend to generate more violent movements. An enterprising social movement student could mine this insight in more detail.

I know of several places in India where such a student might want to go for her/his field work.

Bubbles and growth

May 1, 2007

No; this is not about soap bubbles or grain growth. This is about economic bubbles and why they are great for economic growth.

David Turnbull: RIP

May 1, 2007

From Zhigang Suo at iMechanica, I hear about the passing away of Prof. Turnbull; Prof. Suo also collects some relevant links in his post. Here is a list of his publications. I knew of Prof. Turnbull through the Solid State Physics volumes that he edited, and through my friends working in the area of solidification, who used talk so passionately about his work and contributions.

Surfaces are different–even if it is water

May 1, 2007

Material surfaces have properties which differ from that of the bulk. Most of these changes in properties can be attributed to the change in bonding that occurs at the surface. For example, in the interior of a solid, an atom is surrounded by atoms on all sides; however, on the surface, some of the bonds are missing; this could lead to a different lattice parameter, and different melting/freezing temperature for the surface (which in turn can lead to surface induced phase transformations). The wiki page on surface science has some interesting information and links. For those of you who are interested in more technical articles, here is an annotated reading list (which is a one stop spot for almost all the surface physics and chemistry literature).

In the latest issue of PNAS, Victoria Buch et al report on the differences in the pH of pure water between the surface and the bulk; unlike the (pure) bulk water which is neutral (pH = 7), apparently the water surface is acidic (with a pH < 4.8). They reach this conclusion based on both molecular dynamics simulations and IR spectroscopic measurements on ice nano crystals.

A point to note: the molecular dynamics simulations are carried out on liquid water, while the experiments are carried out on ice. Will that have a bearing on the results? It might. However, Buch et al note that the disordered surface layer in nano ice crystals might justify their comparing the liquid simulation results with that of the solid experimental ones.

Buch et al also discuss the significance of their results to the interpretation of some of the earlier experimental results, to the nature of surfaces in mildly acidic solutions, and, among other things, to atmospheric science and electrochemistry.

Take a look!

Experimental nanomechanics

May 1, 2007

Over at iMechanica, the journal club topic for May 2007 is experimental nanomechanics; Xiaodong Li has written a nice introduction to the club article wherein he discusses the experimental techniques and the size effect. There are eight papers that Li has chosen for discussions; and, of course members can add material, papers, questions, and/or comments to the club article. Have fun!

Evolution of genital morphology in waterfowl

May 1, 2007

Here is the PLOS paper on the topic; here is the NY Times article summarising the results; via Carl Zimmer.

 Dr. Brennan was oblivious to bird phalluses until 1999. While working in a Costa Rican forest, she observed a pair of birds called tinamous mating. “They became unattached, and I saw this huge thing hanging off of him,” she said. “I could not believe it. It became one of those questions I wrote down: why do these males have this huge phallus?”

That passage reminded me of Amitav Ghosh‘s In an antique land, in which, he recounts his first encounter with the duck (or geese) genitalia, and how his surprise was misconstrued by his informants for naivette, and how the incident led to the breaking of ice between him and his informants; unfortunately, I do not have my copy of Antiuqe Land handy to quote the relevant passages.

Anyway, here is the answer to the question in the quote above:

“Basically, you get a bigger phallus to put your sperm in farther than the other males,” Dr. Brennan said.

Dr. Brennan realized that scientists had made this argument without looking at the female birds. Perhaps, she wondered, the two sexes were coevolving, with elaborate lower oviducts driving the evolution of long phalluses.

And, why do female birds have elaborate oviducts?

Dr. Brennan argues that elaborate female duck anatomy evolves as a countermeasure against aggressive males. “Once they choose a male, they’re making the best possible choice, and that’s the male they want siring their offspring,” she said. “They don’t want the guy flying in from who knows where. It makes sense that they would develop a defense.”

Female ducks seem to be equipped to block the sperm of unwanted males. Their lower oviduct is spiraled like the male phallus, for example, but it turns in the opposite direction. Dr. Brennan suspects that the female ducks can force sperm into one of the pockets and then expel it. “It only makes sense as a barrier,” she said.

A very interesting piece: take a look!