Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know

Today's question (and more to the point, the answer) from Dr. Science is simply wonderful.  Here it is:
"What is the difference between electromagnetism and animal magnetism? When I kiss my boyfriend, which phenomenon causes our lips to stick together"

Submitted by Kathy Cooper from  St. Clair Shores, MI

"Animal magnetism is a furry, damp form of electromagnetism. Unlike its sleek counterpart, animal magnetism needs to be fed and cared for to be effective. Electromagnets can be made permanent, but animal magnetism is as changeable as animals, which partially explains current divorce rates. What you and your boyfriend have been noticing in your lip adhesion probably has more to do with naturally occurring mouth Velcro than magnetism. If you notice the phenomenon more in the winter months, it may be the same thing as getting your lip stuck to a cold swingset or an outdoor water faucet. In either case, carefully add crazy glue and then pull apart quickly. "

This is simply one more instance of the brilliant insight provided by Science (the institution, not the journal*).

*Though the journal's pretty sweet, too.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Economics of my Wallet

I am not generally inclined to comment on the current state of our economy, however struggling it might be.  Nor do I like to talk about how very little the new administration has changed things for the better.  That said, I fail to understand why I can't get even the piddliest job.

I have applied to a number of coffee shops and food places that have had "Now Hiring" signs out front for months now.  Without exception, every single one of them has either ignored me completely, or told me, as one general manager put it, "I think we're good."

This is pretty depressing.  I've spent the last 8 years of my life in school, doing research and making (I think) pretty substantial contributions to our body of knowledge.  (Maybe not on a global scale, but at least within my own little microcosm of scientific specialty.)  And now, after all of that, I can't get a real job to save my life.

On top of that, I can't get a piddly job serving coffee just to pay the bills.  Instead, my wife had to take a job managing a toy store, rather than in a library, which is her chosen career path (no openings there either).  The more places I try to get a job to pay the bills, the more I get rejected.

I wonder if this has anything to do with engineers and scientists having no "people skills."  Most of the positions I've tried for have obviously been dealing with people.  Do you suppose that the hiring managers took a look at my application, saw "engineer," and immediately discarded it based on the typical stereotype of engineers being introverted?

That's my guess.

I can't imagine somebody thinking I'm able to design spinal implants, yet can't serve a cup of coffee.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More Writing Ahead

The fact that I am trying to get my first paper published is quite exciting.  The fact that this is my first paper as first author is even better.  The worst part is trying to get my edits back from my old PI.

That this sort of response is typical of our entire 4 year relationship doesn't help much.  It's this sort of nonsense that turned me away from the academic career route in the first place.  I mean, my PI only had 5 grad students!

Oh well.  I suppose the good news is that I'm still interested in science and engineering.  PI's may break your balls, but (hopefully) they never break your will.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Remembering Jokes

I was just perusing the NY Times Science section online, and I came across an article by Natalie Angier.  Basically, she's investigating memory formation and the difference between long term short term memory, how memories are formed, and why we have trouble remembering that great joke we just heard.

What it comes down to, according to researchers, is pattern development.  Our brains have a hard time dealing with random information.

“The brain has a strong propensity to organize information and perception in patterns, and music plays into that inclination,” said Michael Thaut, a professor of music and neuroscience at Colorado State University. “From an acoustical perspective, music is an overstructured language, which the brain invented and which the brain loves to hear.”

A simple melody with a simple rhythm and repetition can be a tremendous mnemonic device. “It would be a virtually impossible task for young children to memorize a sequence of 26 separate letters if you just gave it to them as a string of information,” Dr. Thaut said. But when the alphabet is set to the tune of the ABC song with its four melodic phrases, preschoolers can learn it with ease.

That's why making a silly song out of something will help you remember it.  And she quoted a researcher from Colorado State!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Self-Healing Polymers

Researchers Biswajit Ghosh and Marek W. Urban at the University of Southern Mississippi have come up with a new polymer compound that repairs itself if damaged.  The best part is that it is made (in part) using a natural material derived from the shells of crustaceans, chistosan.  The main component of this polymer chain is a polyurethane, a polymer group familiar to most of you as the varnish used for protecting your wood deck.  However, polyurethanes are also used for a number of other products, depending on the manufacturing method: car seats, dashboards, watchbands, tennis racket grips, and even upholstery or bedding.  In addition to chitosan, Ghosh and Urban have added oxetane, a four-membered ring.

When this polymer network is physically damaged, the oxetane rings open up to reveal two reactive ends.  Upon exposure to UV light, the chitosan chains are effectively "snipped," forming crosslinks with the reactive ends on the oxetane, repairing the network.  This is capable of happening in under an hour.

Think about the tremendous potential!  If your truck gets keyed by a crazy ex-girlfriend like Carrie Underwood, you don't have to send it to the body shop, just park it in the sun for an hour.  Read more in the March 13, 2009, publication of Science.
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