Monday, October 31, 2005

Would curd rice before operations help?

Take a look at this story about soap, probiotics could best hospital bugs from the science blog:
At the same time we could trial the benefits of using 'good' bacteria to saturate the skin on doctors' hands and even patients' wounds prior to surgery, to see if this would prevent the settling of pathogenic, antibiotic-resistant bacteria. For instance, a surgeon who has spent the morning repeatedly scrubbing his or her hands in an operating theatre may well have got rid of many harmless skin commensals. When the surgeon then goes to the wards, the more virulent bacteria may settle into the areas left vacant. As a first step, the surgeon could use probiotics to try and prevent this sequence of events, for example by dipping their hands into a probiotic substance such as yoghurt.

So, I am not the missing link!

Descended from the apes! My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known.
- The wife of the Bishop of Worcester upon hearing of 'Origins', quoted by Patricia G. Horan, Foreword, The origin of species, Avenel Books, New York, Edition 1979.
That is my favourite evolution-intelligent design quote from the editorial of Prof. Balaram. Apparently, the missing link (dashing the hopes of the wife of Bishop of Worcester) between apes and modern man has been found; he is known as 'The Turkana Boy' (And, I heaved a sigh of relief). Here is an informative interview with paleontologist Richard Leakey; link via John Hawks.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Darwin, the human!

Thanks to Pharyngula, I learnt about this special issue on evolution in the magazine Natural History. I found this passage from the article Darwinism today: evolution in action,
Charles Darwin’s wife, Emma, was terrified that they would be separated for eternity, because she would go to heaven and he would not. Emma confessed her fears in a letter that Charles kept and treasured, with his reply to her scribbled in the margin: “When I am dead, know that many times, I have kissed and cryed over this.”
and this description of Darwin of his daughter Annie (who passed away when she was ten),
Her dear face now rises before me, as she used sometimes to come running down stairs with a stolen pinch of snuff for me, her whole form radiant with the pleasure of giving pleasure. . . . She would at almost anytime spend half-an-hour in arranging my hair, “making it,” as she called it, “beautiful,” or in smoothing, the poor dear darling, my collar or cuffs, in short in fondling me. She liked being kissed; indeed every expression in her countenance beamed with affection & kindness, & all her habits were influenced by her loving disposition. . . .

All her movements were vigorous, active, & unusually graceful: when going round the sand-walk with me, although I walked fast, yet she often used to go before pirouetting in the most elegant way, her dear face bright all the time, with the sweetest smiles. . . . [In the last days of her illness,] when so exhausted that she could hardly speak, she praised everything that was given her, & said some tea “was beautifully good.” When I gave her some water, she said “I quite thank you”; & these, I believe were the last precious words ever addressed by her dear lips to me. . . . We have lost the joy of the Household, and the solace of our old age.
from Darwin's shrink moving.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Thanks to MR, I now know that...

My blog is worth $1,693.62.
How much is your blog worth?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

An evolutionist's heaven?

Nature news says that the complete works of Charles Darwin would be made available online; the archives include 42 volumes written/edited by him, his journal articles, and his private notebooks. Looks to me the vision of an evolutionist's heaven!


According to Boing Boing,
At last, mathematical proof that you can make tables stop wobbling simply by rotating them until all feet are flat on the ground.
Here is the note published in Nature.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Smart, agile, cute, clever, and bug eating...

Here is a post by Phoenix about the release of Minix 3 by Andrew Tanenbaum. The post also tells about the mascot of Minix, and has a pointer to the Linus and Tanenbaum debate, which is fun to read!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Biology, physics, chemistry, and, stamp collecting!

Recently, Nature published an essay about Schroedinger's book What is life? and how researchers are still looking towards quantum theory to solve the mystery of how life started. And, here is Pharyngula on the futility of the attempts to reduce biological processes to physics and chemistry. Unfortunately, the comments in Pharyngula's post are more about evolution than about the origins of life; or, so it seems to me. Wouldn't it be interesting to know what biologists think about looking for the origins of life in quantum theories? Any pointers to the relevant literature?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The great hybrid way!

Prof. M.F. Ashby, that master of materials-property charts, has written an extremely accessible and interesting paper on some aspects of the design of engineering materials:
Hybrids to fill holes in materials property space, M.F. Ashby, Philosophical magazine, Vol. 85, Nos. 26-27, 11-21 September 2005, 3235-3257.
So, what is the idea? Here it goes:
...the idea of hybrid materials -- combinations of two or more materials assembled in such a way as to have attributes not offered by either one alone.
Much like mules, the hybrid of horses and donkeys (An analogy used by Prof. Ashby himself). In short, to exploit the `hybrid vigour'. A cool idea, wouldn't you say?

Energies in materials science: a gem!

Stop everything. Go get this paper:
A survey of energies in materials science, F Spaepen, Philosophical magazine, Vol. 85, Nos. 26-27, 11-21 September 2005, 2979-2987.
(Unfortunately, the Taylor & Francis Ingenta system does not give me a html page to bookmark and share the same with you all).

The paper tabulates the thermal, structural, chemical, defect energies, and energies associated with externally applied stresses, strains, magnetic fields, or supersaturation; what emerges from such a tabulation is some truly startling insights (which, at least I haven't seen anywhere else). Here are some samples for you:
Chemistry always wins - Attributed to WD Nix
Ion-induced amorphization, occurs by the direct displacement of atoms (rather than via defect creation), while, mechanical alloying induced amorphization is a result of chemical mixing (and, not due to the storage of mechanical energy).
A simple argument, based on the polytetrahedral nature of the structure of liquids, to explain why the configurational part of the entropy of melting for many elements is close to 1k, where k is the Boltzmann constant.
On the whole, a not-to-be-missed paper; and more than that, a paper to ponder, to savour, and to internalise and extend.

Happy birthdy Email...

According to this blog post from googleblog, Email turns 34 this month. Happy birthday Email, and I cannot imagine a world without you, though I lived in one such universe upon a time.

Intelligent apes: a continuing saga!

Here is the latest update on tool use in gorillas; via John Hawks. Did you notice that Itebero is also a female gorilla?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Nice in parts!

Might be worth taking a look at this article on nanotechnology for some of the interesting descriptions about quantum-dots, electron tunneling, wave-particle duality, and all such geeky stuff. However, I do not understand why such a nice educational piece should end on such a dismal note. Compared to the effort invested in explaining the technical stuff, very little thoughtful discussion, if any, is there in the final ethico-socio-political doomsaying!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Taylor fest!

The two-day Taylor fest came to an end just now. The day started with a discussion in the Department with Prof. Taylor; Dr. Eric Lord made a wonderful presentation about his work on periodic minimal surfaces, surface tiling, and such stuff. This was followed by a round table discussion on Women in Science in CCS under the aegis of the academy committee on women in science; the discussions were presided over by Prof. Rohini Godbole, who also made a half-an-hour presentation on women in Indian physical sciences. The last program of the fest was the public lecture given by Prof. Taylor on "Soap bubbles and crystals". It was a more popular version of her mathematical talk in TIFR yesterday. After her talk, M \epsilon \delta sounds so cool; but that doesn't rule out it popping up in my nightmares though. And, the soap bubble pictures from her July 1977 paper were just lovely.

On a more personal note, I managed to get the reprint of her paper from the Bulletin of American Mathematical Society autographed. I asked her about Atiyah looking towards physics for inspiration, while she herself is looking more towards materials science. She feels that there are two modes in which mathematicians work; the inward looking and the outward looking. She feels her own PhD times, it was more inward looking. Now, mathematicians are reaching out to other fields looking for problems. And, she feels that this alternation between modes is the way the field actually evolves. On the whole, a very stimulating two days; and, for the next few days, our coffee house discussions will undoubtedly revolve around soap bubbles, minimal energy surfaces, and the like!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Electron microscopy with a difference!

Once, a friend of mine told me why I should not call myself a physical metallurgist: I have never done electron microscopy. Another recently told me why I am not even a metallurgist; I have never been taught Iron-Carbon phase diagram (with friends like this...sigh). Undoubtedly, electron microscopes and Fe-C phase diagram are to metallurgists what the magic wand and spells are to Harry Potter.

The latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, carries this article and this profile, both of which are worth taking a look at. The article is about electron microscopy with specific emphasis on the phase information (which is not usual in our circles); but, all those interference patterns, vortices and magnetic domains are too lovely to be missed. The profile is about Dr. Akira Tonomura who had developed this type of electron microscopy; it is very well written and might make a good bed-time reading.

Prof. Taylor and mathematisation of materials science!

Prof. Jean Taylor gave a talk today in TIFR-Mathematics centre on "Some mathematical challenges in materials science". For those of you, who have seen this, the addition was the grain rotation stuff that was published recently. A nice, albeit a bit too mathematical, talk. The talk was pitched for mathematicians and ended with the moral that materials science is the place where mathematicians should be looking for problems to solve. Reminded me of this talk of Michael Atiyah, where the emphasis was on the role that physics may play in mathematics research.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Jumping-flea polymer?

Some researchers have synthesized a highly resilient polymer with extraordinary mechanical properties. Here is a report.

h-index and Sir Arthur Adding-one!

Remember this post about the h-index? There is a letter in the latest issue of Nature which claims that the idea of such an index can be traced to Sir Arthur Eddington. The name of Eddington reminded me of this Eddington story: Apparently, Eddington thought that the fine structure constant was 1/136 and gave a numerological explanation as to why the number is 136. Later, more accurate measurements showed this to be 1/137. Eddington came up with the modified explanation as to why it should only be 137, which earned him the name "Sir Arthur Adding-one" from Punch.

Connecting fiction and science!

Take a look at this opinion column published in the October 2005 issue of Materials Today; here is project SciTalk page. So, if you want to interact with fiction writers, go make yourself a page at SciTalk.

What about scientists who want to write fiction? Well, the idea of fiction is not new to scientists. That venerable Dada of computer science Knuth, for example, wrote Surreal numbers: How two ex-students turned on to pure mathematics and found total happiness. ET Bell and Isaac Asimov wrote memorable science fiction. Further, the best scientific communication, be it a talk or paper, happens when it is (almost always) structured like a mystery novel. In fact, in my opinion, good mystery novels approximate scientific writing. So, if you have that irresistible urge to write fiction, why not start today?

Monday, October 10, 2005

The voice of Einstein!

Go here, and listen to Einstein on mass-energy equivalence; link via cosmic variance.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Some good news from Nature!

Nature has started a weekly (free) podcast service: the first issue is here. Go here for further information.

After materials, it is time for Physics now: the first issue of Nature Physics is here!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Vacancies and stress relaxation!

Zhang, Johnson and Dahmen have recently published a paper in Acta Materialia on vacancy mediated elastic stress relaxation. Zhang et al use in-situ transmission electron microscopy to study the solidification of lead, lead-cadmium, and lead-indium particles embedded in aluminum. The elastic stresses that develop due to the shape and volume changes during the solidification are relaxed by ferrying vacancies to the precipitate-matrix interface from the bulk. The experiments are done on inclusions well inside the matrix; that would mean transmission electron microscopy on samples of thickness of the order 100-200 nm. I found no explicit mention of that information in the paper, though, I understand that with microscopes that operate at higher voltages, it indeed is possible to study specimens that thick. The experiments are isothermal and hence the thermal strains are ruled out. The micrographs in Figures 2 and 4, and the (schematic in) Figure 4 are sort of neat; a paper worth taking a look at.