lab-cleanup day

June 30, 2006 at 6:31 pm | | everyday science, lab safety

The Moerner lab had it’s (approximately) annual lab-cleanup day: We spent from 10am–3pm cleaning up the lab (with a break for lunch, of course). Here are some pics, including some before-and-after:

peoplecleaning2.jpgFigure 1. Look at everyone cleaning!

nickdye.jpgFigure 2. Unlabeled vial?!? I bet it’s dye.

Read more of this post…

is that a laser in your pocket?

June 27, 2006 at 7:08 pm | | literature, nerd, news


This letter in J. Chem. Phys. reports using a red laser pointer (the kind you get on keychains) as a ultra-cheap excitation source for spectroscopy. Here are the first few lines of the letter:

To get straight to the point of this note, Fig. 1 shows I2 absorption spectra recorded on a UV-visible spectrophotometer (Shimadzu UV2101PC), using as light source an inexpensive key-chain-type red laser pointer (< $5, from China, but no stated manufacturer). Other measurements show that >98% of the light produced by these devices comes in a single longitudinal mode. The spectral resolution exceeds that in the comparison spectrum, which was obtained with a very high quality Fourier transform instrument.

Years ago, members of Moerner lab used a green laser pointer as a 532-nm excitation source and imaged single-molecules. I just love when toys start to surpass high-end technology.

reporting from the GRC

June 20, 2006 at 1:06 pm | | conferences, news, science community

I’m here at the Gordon Conference on Single Molecule Approaches To Biology in New London, NH. When I get back to CA, I’ll get back to writing the blog…

man, parrots are stupid

June 12, 2006 at 10:16 pm | | literature, nerd

Andrew sent me a cool paper (although his version had some humorous typos). The idea was to ask some parrots to count and add numbers. The birds—Alex and Griffin—hadn’t been explictly trained in this practice.


The results: Parrots are as stupid as children. Man, just look at all the stupid mistakes those bird-brains made:


OK, it got that 4+2=6, but it thought 5+0=6. Idiot. Even I know that the correct answer is 5. Oh, and here’s my favorite part:

Of interest was that these experiments were unplanned. My students and I had begun a sequential auditory number session (training to respond to, for example, three computer-generated clicks with the vocal label “three”) with another bird, Griffin, in the standard manner, by saying “Listen,” clicking (this time, twice), and then asking “Griffin, how many?” Because Griffin refused to answer, we replicated the trial. Alex, who often interrupts
Griffin’s sessions with phrases like “Talk clearly” or who occasionally answers even though he is not part of the procedure, said “four.” I told him to be quiet, assuming that his vocalization was not intentional. We then replicated the trial yet again with Griffin, who remained silent; Alex now said “six.” I thus decided to replicate the Boysen and Berntson (1989) study […]

I mean, Griffin was so stupid that even his parrot friend had to tell him to speak clearly. And anyway, it’s “speak clearer,” you stupid parrot. Gosh.

I, for one, welcome our new kitten overlords!

June 10, 2006 at 8:37 am | | science and the public, stupid technology

I was reading this blurb on slashdot:

“San Diego-based company, Allerca, said that using a technique known as genetic divergence, it has ‘bred the world’s first hypoallergenic kitten, opening the doors and arms of millions of pet lovers for whom cuddling a cat has, until now, been a curse … After identifying the genes of kittens with proteins that provide less of a reaction in humans, they selectively bred litters over several generations to end up with an allergy-friendly super cat.’ The company says its customers are expected to take delivery of their $4,000 hypoallergenic kittens in early 2007.”

Except for one thing – its bullshit! Apparently these boys are also working on GFP imbued flourescent deer, you know, to avoid car accidents. Oh , and by the way, why not just check out the all-natural alternative?

nature’s peer review trial

June 8, 2006 at 10:47 pm | | literature, news, science and the public, wild web

The journal Nature has decided to perform a new trial peer review process. Check it out here. During a trial period, authors who submit articles to the journal for publication can opt to have their manuscripts available on an open forum, where the whole world can read and comment on the preprint. The normal review process would occur in parallel, but the editors (and presumably reviewers) can read the public comments and take those into consideration in their decision to publish.

I think this is sorta weird. I mean, do we really want the entire world reading our preprints before they are accepted? I mean, there’s a reason we try to keep the entire public out of the loop a little: there are a lot of crazies out there! For instance, I don’t really know anything about Ivor Catt, but he sure seems crazy. Well, I guess it will be sorta like arXiv. I’m not completely opposed to the idea, I just don’t think it’s the best first step in correcting the peer review process.

The first thing I would do is change the half-blind style of reviewing: reviewers know who wrote the paper they are reviewing, but the author never knows who accepted or rejected their manuscript. This is silly. Reviewing should either be fully double-blind or fully open. I lean toward double-blind, anonymous reviewing: I can’t think of any good reason either the reviewer or the author should know the name of the other. The alternative (double-unblind?) would mean more accountability, but might encourage personal vendettas. The current scheme means that the reviewer isn’t accountable—and can either let vendettas fly or let a manuscript slide in by the merits of the author.

Well, I admit that I haven’t really thought about this enough. There’s a lot more to discuss on this topic, but maybe that could be for another post, another day. Or we could head over to the Nature discussion forum on peer review.

For only $880,000, you can do your part contributing to low-orbit space Junk

June 8, 2006 at 7:29 pm | | stupid technology

Taken from Physorg.

” Once upon a time it was a letter in a bottle. Now a Japanese company is offering the chance to buy a personal satellite to launch a love letter or personal treasures into space…Until now, a satellite was something ordinary people could not afford to buy,” company executive Ichiro Koike told a press conference Thursday.

“But space has always been mysterious and pure. That is why people feel romantic about it,” he said, suggesting a husband might send a love letter into space in the capsule instead of buying expensive jewelry.”

With low-orbit space being peppered with this junk (remember the golf-ball incident?), it makes you wonder.

I must say, though; as an alternative to “expensive jewelry,” this definately takes the cake.

oobleck fingers

June 8, 2006 at 5:41 pm | | literature

Steve presented a neat paper at CPJC this week. He gave a cool presentation on granular materials. But the coolest part was the video:


They shook cornstarch in water (AKA oobleck) and saw some very strange effects. The authors explain the effects by shear thickening, which means that the viscosity increases at higher shear rates (i.e. when the fluid slides). That’s the same reason silly putty bounces when you throw it and oozes when you leave it sitting on the table. Shear thickening is an effect seen in some non-Newtonian fluids. It’s like a different universe!

Ahh the Onion, so funny it hurts!

June 8, 2006 at 7:32 am | | news, science and the public

This administration has lost its sanity when it comes to “national security.” This story from the Onion is a little dated, but feels more applicable than ever:

Physics T.A. Not Born In U.S.

September 18, 1996 | Issue 30•06

AUSTIN, TX—Scandal rocked the University of Texas Monday, when it was learned that Bin Lu, a 28-year-old physics teaching assistant, was not born in the U.S., but rather in China. “We are investigating this matter fully,” said C. Thomas Brady, Director of Administrative Affairs at the school. “How a foreigner infiltrated our system, and got through our exhaustive set of security clearance checks, is a question we must answer.” Brady vowed to get to the bottom of the matter.

and the original link.

three lasers

June 6, 2006 at 3:28 pm | | cool results, everyday science, hardware

In an older post, I talked about aligning multiple lasers on my setup. Now I have a cool picture of all of them (I used a little liquid nitrogen for scattering):


Those are lasers at 488, 532, and 633 nm.

chemistry of the future

June 2, 2006 at 2:45 pm | | literature, nerd


It is 18,000 years in the future: Single-molecule spectroscopy is still going strong, but it is a strange and post-apocalyptic world.

Coming to theaters near you: Chemistry of the Future!

explosive chemistry

June 1, 2006 at 8:05 pm | | lab safety, literature

Dylan had a funny post about azides and their danger. It really seems like labs that use azides explode all the time. That’s why I’m a p-chemist: just don’t shoot the laser in your eye and you’ll be fine.


But the all-time winner of the stupid-stuff-to-do-in-lab award goes to the infamous quote above from Merer, A. J.; Mulliken, R. S. Ultraviolet Spectra and Excited States of Ethylene and its Alkyl Derivatives. Chem. Rev. 1969, 69, 639–656.

Quote: “Evans boldly put 50 atm of ethylene (C2H4, trans-C2H2D2, or C2D4) in a cell with 25 atm of O2. The apparatus subsequently blew up, but luckily not before he had obtained the spectra shown in Figure 8.”

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