April 27, 2006 at 9:16 pm | | news

I just hosted Prof. Jim Gimzewski from UCLA for a student-hosted talk. Very strange talk; on the same level as Barry Sharpless in its absurdity. But it was really enjoyable if you just let him take you on a journey … to nowhere, really.

I suspect many people in the audience were expecting a more sciency—or coherent—talk, and this disappointed them. But there was certainly a fraction of us who really loved it. What a wonderful break from the usual science talk. He was rambling about Buddhist Atomism, where what we see is a movie of atom-things flashing in and out of existence. And the sounds a butterfly makes while in the chrysalis. And sticky cells. And an outfit designed to mimick protein folding. And dancing representing the nano. All so strange.

Well, I’m not describing his talk very well, but you should just try to see him sometime. And Sharpless.

easy as 1, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4

April 24, 2006 at 11:57 am | | everyday science, lab safety

Labs at Stanford are supposed to have all these safety posters everywhere: we’re super cautious about lab safety. Part of this has to do with the hyper-regulation in California. Here’s one of my favorite posters:


It’s so easy now! Really, the best part is that there are even bulleted subsections under sections under numbers. That’s more than simple: it’s complex!

single molecules with a digital camera!

April 19, 2006 at 4:58 pm | | cool results, everyday science, hardware, single molecules

These are single fluorescent molecules imaged using a microscope and a hand-held consumer digital SLR camera (i.e. Nikon D90):


I think that’s pretty impressive. Usually, we use expensive, cooled CCD cameras which are very sensitive and designed for scientific imaging. Here, I used a (cheaper) conventional digital camera and even got a color image. This is possible in part because this fluorophore (one of the Moerner/Twieg labs’ DCDHF dyes) is super bright and long-lived!

that sucks

April 19, 2006 at 3:59 pm | | literature, news

Check out this retraction from the Vanden Bout group at UT-Austin. They had to retract three papers (including on Science paper) because (a) they can’t reproduce the raw data and (b) the analysis of the raw data wasn’t correct. Shit.

I’ve met Dave Vanden Bout, and he’s a really nice, smart guy. His group does good work. That’s why it’s so scary to see this retraction. What the hell happened? They were doing single-molecule studies in polymer films, so I suspect they had either bad polymer or impurities that screwed up their raw data. And it sounds like they used the wrong correlation function for their analysis. All three retracted papers came from one student. Maybe they discovered all this when a new student tried to continue her work after she left. I doubt there was any foul play here, just complex mistakes trying to get complex results.

This is why I never publish…

stupidest … idea … ever

April 18, 2006 at 3:06 pm | | stupid technology

Check out this video at CNN. They’re saying that this “air scooter” will make traffic obsolete. Right. They will eliminate both traffic and limbs actually attached to your body. Here’s a pic that I got from the AirScooter website.

I think this one deserves a new category: Stupid Technology. There’s enough bad design out there to merit this category.


April 17, 2006 at 8:22 am | | news, stupid technology

Recently, a “nano” cleaning product in Germany was recalled because several user suffered respiratory problems and some were admitted to the hospital after using the product. (Read about it in The Economist.) Now the nanosceptics are up in arms, claiming this as proof that nanotechnology poses severe health hazards. This doesn’t appear to be the case: similar symptoms have appeared with products not containing “nanotechnology” and other products with the same nano-ingredient don’t cause problems. The real cuplrit seems to be an anti-corrosion additive in the aerosol spray.

The nano-ingredient turns out to be colloidal silicate particles that lodge into cracks and crevices on the surface, reducing places that dirt can collect.

In this case, it seems that the nanoluddites are out to lunch, but are they crazy in general? It’s not inconceivable that nanoparticles could cause health risks, and there’s no real form of testing the safety of nanotech products. On the other hand, nature invented nanotechnology far before humans started making Windex with silicate particles in it—there are a lot of nano things around us everyday. On the third hand, everyday things can harm us (think asbestos).

I dunno. I hope that new products are tested for their safety, regardless of whether they are marketed as “nano” or not. And I’m curious whether some nanodevices will turn out to pose a health risk. But I suspect this is just another case of change scaring people.

f=e^(very complicated)

April 12, 2006 at 10:37 pm | | everyday science, software

Dealing with engrained technology can be a little frustrating. Many years ago, a grad student wrote a program in LabView to fit Gaussians and exponentials. This is a simple problem, and there are many fine programs for dealing with numerical analysis. The problem with LabView is that it isn’t one of them. As shown in Figure 1, it gets a little complicated.

Figure 1. This is not even half of the damn thing.

To be fair, it does work. It fits mighty nicely after it is debugged and running, as shown in Figure 2. As my co-worker says, “When it works it works well.”


Figure 2. A good fit.

how to tell if your rabbit is dead

April 12, 2006 at 7:44 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature, nerd

I was flipping trough one of my favorite books, my signed Dover edition of Dynamic Light Scattering by Berne and Pecora, and (on page 77) I found this great figure:


I think this would be a good first contestant in a Worst Figure Contest. I mean, what the hell is the point of this experiment, anyway? If I handed you a possibly dead rabbit, would your first thought be, Hey, just throw it into this light-scattering device? It would be if your name was Bob Pecora.

Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) fires first President, Robert Laughlin.

April 12, 2006 at 2:51 pm | | news

A few years ago, KAIST made a bit of a stink at Stanford by hiring away Nobel Laurreatte Physicist Robert Laughlin to be their first University President (they paid him about $500,000 U.S. a year). This was part of South Korea’s new initiative to compete with Japan, China, and India in becoming the premier Asian science nation.

Laughlin immediately expressed his wish to make a variety of “radical” changes – privitazing the university and charging tuition, adding pre-medicine and pre-law departments, and focusing on undergraduate education as well as graduate education. Basically, he sought to “Westernize” the univeristy. He came under just-as-immediate attack by the faculty, who claimed he was hired not to make drastic changes, but to simply make the university more prominent in the world by just…well…being there.

Anyway, the Board of Trustees for the university voted unanimously not to renew his contract.

Laughlin claims that he wasn’t given clear expectations, and (according to rumor) has been heard commenting that the University was backwards compared to U.S. universities, and that it wanted notariety, not reform. The University claims that Laughlin alienated the professors and failed to provide a clear vision for KAIST’s future. Shortly before his removal, they also began a campaign focusing on “abuses” of funding for business trips to foreign countries.

Regardless of everything that’s happened, both sides do agree on one ting – that for KAIST to successfully undergo reform, it needs someone that’s familiar not only with science, but with South Korean culture and politics.

Sources: Science, The Korea Times, San Jose Mercury News

3-d surface

April 11, 2006 at 4:31 pm | | cool results, everyday science, single molecules, software

A fellow labmember showed me how to use MatLab to make a 3-dimensional surface from an image of single fluorescent molecules, where z is the intensity. Here’s a taste. I converted this:

into this:

The funny thing is that the pretty image is only that: it actually contains less information than the 2-d grayscale image, becuase it needed smoothing and convolving with Gaussians to make it look so nice. But that kinda shit brings in the big $$.

Global Climate and Energy Project

April 11, 2006 at 3:08 pm | | everyday science, news

The latest Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) brochure recently came out.  It’s a $225 million Stanford Program, funded primarily by General Electric, Toyota, ExxonMobil, and Schlumberger, whose purpose is to fund environmentally-motivated research.  This involves everything from carbon dioxide sequestration to alternative fuel synthesis to hydrogen storage to fuel cell design.  It’s also what funds my research in part.

By the way…check out page 26 (28 in the pdf).


bubbling nitrogen

April 10, 2006 at 8:53 pm | | everyday science

The extent of chemistry chemistry that I do is making solutions of fluorescent dyes. But once in a while, I get to bubble N2 through a solution or something like that. I’m checking to see if this solution will bleach when de-oxygenated. But look how cool I am:


Isn’t that so cool? Here’s what my whole operation looks like (note the awesome poster in our lab):


great headline: hope over laser ‘that melts fat’

April 10, 2006 at 8:31 am | | nerd, news

The headline really says it all. Hell, stick your fat butt in front of our Ti-Sapph and I think you would probably melt some of that fat off…

Dance of the Black Holes

April 9, 2006 at 12:57 pm | | nerd, news

Two black holes in the Abel 400 cluster are dancing with each other right now, circling in a death spiral that, according to astronomers at the University of Virginia and NASA, will lead to a merging of the two.  The merger, expected in the next few million years, would create a super-black hole with the power consume a few billion stars.

Source –

Cue your junior high-level humor

April 8, 2006 at 6:08 am | | nerd, news

I keep having to check the dates on the recent science-oriented articles I find, just to make sure they’re not from April 1. The latest article was titled “Blue Ring Discovered Around Uranus.” What? Blue? Geez, what’s been going on there!? The astronomers seemed to expect the rings to be red, which is a rather common color for rings. But Blue? Uranus never surprised so many. Or smelled so much like Koolaid. (Bwa?) Source

Okay. And how about this one from a little while back: “Brain scan finds the penis at last.” Read more of this post…

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