attila szabo’s autobiography

August 30, 2008 at 6:37 pm | | grad life, history, literature, nerd, science community

If you want a fun and inspiring story, read Attila Szabo‘s autobiography for his JPCB Festschrift (here). It’s only 4 pages.

Here’s a great except:

How could I get my hands on a little red phosphorus? Who would sell some to a 14 year old boy? Well, Fisher Scientific would.


I want my Margarita to be NIST traceable

August 28, 2008 at 1:37 pm | | great finds, hardware, stupid technology

Presenting the Retsch Grindomix Laboratory Knife Mill (blender).  For a cool $3,589.73, you can “quickly and efficiently batch process a variety of dry, soft and medium-hard foodstuffs such as fresh fruits, meats, cheese, oilseeds, grains, breads and pastries.”  Sub-300 micron smoothies, mmmm.

political science: McCain wants to cut science funding

August 26, 2008 at 1:29 pm | | news, political science, science and the public

While his campaign claims he supports science, McCain is going around mocking ecology research, getting conservatives riled up about federal spending on science:

“My friends, we spent $3-million of your money to study the DNA of bears in Montana. Now I don’t know if that was a paternity issue or a criminal issue,” he said to laughter from the crowd gathered at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California on Aug. 16, 2008, “but the point is, it was $3-million of your money.” (source)

In truth, the USGS study uses DNA to track populations of the endangered Grizzly Bear.

Regardless of what he says, McCain is anti-science and will continue Bush’s attack on science and science funding. At least that’s the stench I smell from him. I don’t think I can take another four years of Republicans, with their misleadership, truth-twisting, and corruption.

Observation of the 0-fs pulse

August 22, 2008 at 5:40 pm | | cool results, literature

I’m coming back from a wonderful single molecule Gordon conference in the picturesque hills of New Hampshire.  Richard Zare gave a fun talk that seemed to be a hit with the crowd.  To commemorate, I thought I’d put out his seminal paper in the field of non-linear optics.

The authors make sure to consider the radical implications of their results:


UPDATE: Dan M writes:

The paper you refer to as Dick Zare’s article was actually written by Wayne Knox, not by Zare. Wayne persuaded Zare and Hoose to be co-authors so that the author list would be amusing. In fact, Wayne didn’t actually know Hoose before this; he had to hunt through various directories in order to find somebody in the field of optics whose name sounded vaguely like “whose”. The other Knox, by the way, is his dad, who was a biophysics professor for many years.

olympic FRET

August 20, 2008 at 7:34 pm | | nerd, single molecules

In the spirit of the Olympics, I have a new idea: In order to directly probe the dynamics of the Olympics using fluorescence, we need to label athletes and measure their locations and conformations.

For instance, labeling Michael Phelps with Cy3 and Cy5 will allow us to locate his position in the pool with nanometer precision.

Moreover, we should also be able to watch the FRET trace to observe the conformational changes of his arms. In this fashion, we should be able to determine if Phelps travels down the lane using the widely promoted “butterfly” model, or the more controversial “flagellar” model, which posits that his arms spin like propellers.

This work will be continued and I wish to reserve the field for myself.

political science: McCain vs. Obama

August 13, 2008 at 5:47 pm | | political science, science and the public, science community

NPR had a good piece yesterday about how the two candidates plan to heal the wounds science has suffered after 8 years of the Bush Administration. The good news: they’re both more pro-science than Bush. The main difference between candidates is that Obama backs up his support with promises of more money for science.

Here’s an excerpt:

Obama: He would reverse policy adopted by President George W. Bush that placed restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. Obama has also said that he would double the amount of federal money available for scientific research, in hopes of giving American high-tech companies a leg up. Obama has not said over what time period he would double funding, nor where the money would come from.

McCain: He has said that he would support legislation that would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and place fewer restrictions on it. But in a nod to the anti-abortion community, his adviser also has said that he hopes to not have to rely on embryonic stem cells in the future. In terms of scientific funding, McCain is sympathetic for the need to fund basic research, but is not sure where the government would find that money.

I understand what McCain is saying: doubling the budget for science means less money for something else. However, I think that we do need to better fund science—in order to promote technological progress and American prosperity. Maybe Obama won’t be able to convince Congress to fully double science funding, but I’d prefer Obama’s breakable promise to McCain’s no-offer-at-all.

[Update: Nanoscale Views beat me to the punch!]

more HHO

August 8, 2008 at 10:46 am | | pseudoscience, science and the public, science@home, stupid technology, wild web

We just love writing about water hoaxes at EDS (here and here). And what about running your car on water?

On the big truck that is the internets, there are several kits for splitting water from electricity from the car’s battery and burning the H2 and O2 gases with gasoline (e.g. Water4Gas). The idea is as follows:

  1. harness any wasted electricity from the alternator (or use a solar panel)
  2. use that electricity to splitting water into H2 and O2
  3. pipe the gases into the air inlet of the internal-combustion engine
  4. by burning the H2 and O2, you produce water and some energy
  5. allegedly, the hydrogen and oxygen gases also make the gasoline combustion more efficient by somehow optimizing the air/fuel mixture
  6. the combination of (4) and (5) increase your car’s MPG 

So does it work?

Well, the thermodynamics of the scheme is simple: it is impossible to generate more energy by creating water (by burning hydrogen and oxygen) than it took to split the water in the first place. So it is ridiculous to take energy from the engine to split water and burn water. But it is possible to harness external energy (i.e. via solar cells or by taking “extra” electricity from the alternator, if there is any) and convert it to chemical—then mechanical—energy. So, conceivably, you could increase your MPG by converting solar or “excess” electrical energy to hydrogen and oxygen gases, then burning them.

And then the kinetics. Fluid dynamics is very complex, and there’s no way I can guess how different gasses will affect the way the air/fuel mixture flows and explodes. I am very skeptical of the idea that the air/fuel mixture in modern internal-combustion engines is dramatically inefficient, and that throwing in a little hydrogen and oxygen gases to the mixture fixes the problem. That said, the densities of H2 and O2 gases are different than that of air, so it is conceivable that adding these molecules to the combustion mixture changes the efficiency with which the engine burns gasoline. But I would guess that those changes would be for the worse (based on Murphy’s law).

So, although I am very very doubtful that Water4Gas could work in principle, the only way to really be sure would be to test this. (That is, before Big Oil and Detroit kill all the inventors and bury their breakthrough!) But I can’t find a site that gives any real evidence of one of these “HHO” devices working. The closest to an honest test I have found is this—and these guys never saw an increase in MPG, even after a lot of tweaking!

HHO for fuel has all the warning signs of bogus science. Seriously. All of them. For instance, there is tons of marketing; such as the fake debunking sites that actually tell you to buy the product in the end: “water4gas scam revealed.” Googling will give you many more hits like this. Smart marketing!

I think Water4Gas and other HHO fuels are bunk with a lot of misleading marketing. What they’re really selling is a huge confusing book, a glass Ball jar, and a lot of tubing.


I would love to see a comparison between a well-tuned car and a well-tuned car with an “HHO” thingie. I bet there’d be no change in MPG. Anyone want to test on their car?

the economics of stupid

August 5, 2008 at 8:26 am | | news, science and the public

Someone has been firebombing scientists’ homes in Santa Cruz. Probably some antivivisection extremists, because the scientists work on animal research. This really disgusts me, as a scientist, as a vegetarian, and as an environmentalist.

Burning houses is certainly not carbon-neutral (or entropy-neutral)! And the energy that needs to go into repairing the structures and vehicles damaged is harmful to the environment and economy. If you don’t like animal research, why not just write letters and signs on the back of used paper and posters?

But seriously, these events are the result of a perverse philosophy. This is not chaining yourself to a tree, it’s in a different league of black-and-white thinking. Look, I’m an ethical vegetarian—you could even call me an animal-rights advocate—but I know that protecting animals should not extend to threatening or harming humans who disagree with you. Researchers are animals too: animals who think they are doing the best actions they can to benefit the world. Maybe they’re mistaken; maybe I am; maybe we all are. Let’s not kill people over this disagreement.

Antivivisection extremists and their apologists give all ethical vegetarians a bad name, and probably push back many years any rational effort to alter humankind’s tyranny over the animal kingdom. Maybe there could be a reasonable discussion about the need for animals in biomedical research, and more efforts to develop new reliable in vitro tests, but not while people are firebombing each other.

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