This is your brain on … policy

September 11, 2007 at 10:14 am | | literature, science and the public

Just saw a recent article in the LA times that should get some attention. Here is the Nature Neuroscience primary source:


That’s right folks … I always knew THEY were strange and different!

From “publish to perish” to “patent and prosper”

July 25, 2007 at 12:35 pm | | everyday science, grad life, literature, news, science community

Hey folks,

I recently came across a very interesting retrospective in the Journal of Biological Chemistry written by Howard Schachman, who’s been engaged in biochemistry research in Berkeley for over 50 years.

Schachman lays out the changing nature of research and academic life as he’s observed them over the past 50+ years. I, for one, am always interested to read about how things have changed and where they’re heading. Here’s a particularly interesting quote:

In 1953, while McCarthyism was rampant, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began screening grantees. Based on FBI reports, Oveta Culp Hobby, as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) in the Eisenhower administration, interceded and ordered the cancellation of grants to Linus Pauling and other prominent scientists.

Read on to find out what happened! I guess that president Rove’s clumsy meddling isn’t as bad as it can get.

Gone for Good: Tales of University Life After the Golden Age

July 20, 2007 at 7:46 am | | grad life, literature

Somebody recently raised the question: would our professors survive as young scientists in today’s competitive academic environment? After all, their Ph.D. was 4 years, and doing a postdoc was unheard of. I’ve asked this question of several established faculty (John Brauman, Mike Fayer, Vijay Pande, Steve Boxer) and I am watching my cousin go through the tenure meat grinder as I prepare for it myself.

To anyone considering a life in academia, I strongly recommend reading this book by Stuart Rojstaczer (available in the Stanford chem library):


From the blurb:

During the “golden age,” research money flowed freely. But the end of the cold war reduced competition within the international research community and government dollars diminished correspondingly, forcing schools to seek funding elsewhere. These days, Rojstaczer writes, overburdened professors must deal with making their courses easier for students (who seem more interested in heading out into the job market than in getting a quality education), which in turn increases the teachers’ popularity and assures future full classes. The educators must also contend with writing grant proposals, student athletes, and campus politics. Rojstaczer’s is not a pretty picture, but Gone for Good is an important book that suggests that the halls of ivy are not as green and fresh as one might hope. Ron Kaplan

If you’re seriously considering going into academia, reading this book is a must.

Graduate School Money V – Return of the PostDoc

July 19, 2007 at 12:54 pm | | grad life, stipends

To follow up on Charles’ theme, I decided to post what you can expect to make as a postdoc in the sciences. The information below comes from the excellent Sigma Xi postdoc survey. Read it and weep.

The salary increase from graduate student to postdoc is not too bad ( ~35%) but one must not forget that the average postdoc is in his/her early 30s, already has a partner/spouse that may or may not be working, and may be looking forward to starting a family:
Most schools base their postdoc salary from the current NIH postdoc stipend rate. These rates are only marginally adjusted for years of experience and do not reflect the differences in cost of living between, say, Ohio and NYC. Furthermore, most schools do not treat their postdocs as students so on-campus housing, medical, gym, and other “perks” are significantly more expensive.

Graduate School Money IV – Revenge of the PhD

July 19, 2007 at 12:08 pm | | grad life, stipends

After reading Charles’ excellent summary, I ran around our lab @ Columbia and surveyed the grad students:

Subject A – Biochemistry Graduate Student

Base salary: ~$28,000
After taxes: ~$24,000

  • Medical insurance covered by Columbia.
  • Monthly Transportation Cost: $100 for MetroCard and occasional taxi
  • Columbia subsidized studio: $900/mo
  • Basic cell phone plan: $55/mo
  • Monthly food expense: $300

Disposable income: $7,740/yr or $645/mo

Subject B – Biology Graduate Student

Base salary: $27,600
After taxes: ~$23,500

  • Medical insurance covered by Columbia.
  • Monthly Transportation Cost: $90 for MetroCard
  • Columbia subsidized apartment share: $770/mo
  • Basic cell phone plan: $55/mo
  • Monthly food expense: $400

Disposable income: $7,720/yr or $643/mo

There you have it – two very consistent data points. Even though the cost of living in NYC is greater than Palo Alto, generous student housing subsidies and inclusion of medical insurance make their disposable income greater than what you have.

Powers of One

June 21, 2007 at 10:41 am | | cartoons, science and the public

Hey folks, Sam dug up this awesome cartoon, entitled Powers of One, from the site:

Powers of One
If you’ve never seen the original video, drop whatever you’re doing and hit the play button below immediately!

The Power of Ten
I’ve always loved this awe-instilling little video and its continued to inspire me for many years! To read up a little about the history of this film, check out the Wikipedia page:

Powers of Ten is a 1977 short documentary film written and directed by Charles Eames and his wife, Ray. The film depicts the relative scale of the Universe in factors of ten (see also logarithmic scale and order of magnitude). The idea for the film appears to have come from the 1957 book Cosmic View by Kees Boeke.

Magnetically Charged Goodness

May 31, 2007 at 11:00 pm | | science and the public, stupid technology

I was at my local Fairways Supermarket the other day looking for some shampoo when I came across this gem of an item:

The label reads:

Magnetically charged hair care for naturally beautiful hair.

and the list of ingredients is:

Aqueous (Water) Extracts of *Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis) Oil, *Coltsfoot Leaf (Tussilago Farfara), *Sage Leaf (Salvia Officinalis), *Clary (Salvia Sclarea), *Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris) Oil, *Soybean Protein (Glycine Soja), C12-14 Olefin Sulfonate (coconut derived), Cocomidopropyl Betaine, ** Magnetite (Fe3O4), Citric Acid (corn), Lactoferrin (Metalloprotein), Mica, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Sodium Chloride (sea salt), Grapefruit Seed.

I guess a little magnetite will go a long way. Do the good people at the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists know about this miraculous breakthrough in “naturally beautiful hair” technology?

Another Victory for Newtonian Mechanics – take that Brownian Motion!

October 21, 2006 at 6:54 pm | | everyday science, literature

It is well known that low Reynolds number flows are reversible.

This is perhaps the best demonstration of Newtonian mechanics in fluids that I’ve ever seen. It’s also a great analogy for “dephasing-rephasing” events that happen in photon echo, NMR, and other spectroscopic experiments. Take a look, and make sure to check out video 1.

My nerd-factor goes to 11!

October 12, 2006 at 10:45 am | | great finds, hardware, nerd

Hey hey hey, do you know what Saturday is? Its electronics flea-market day! I plan to check out this fine event at De Anza community college. Interested? come along.

In other news, I just got an ELENCO ANALOG-DIGITAL TRAINER XK-550 from eBay for a song. Finally I can learn some neat-o PIC programming and start working on my next Burning Man project(s). Look ma, no flip-flops.


Time permitting, I’ll be throwing out schematics for my latest and greatest circuit ditties occasionally for the masses

Powers of Ten – Prepare for the Mind-Melt

August 24, 2006 at 8:29 am | | science and the public, wild web

Drop everything, hit play.

I first saw this movie, as a wee first year graduate student while killing sometime in the Green library media room. If this doesn’t inspire you to be a scientist, I dont know what will. A high-quality DVD is available from the Stanford media library. From the official site:

In 1977, Charles and Ray Eames made a nine-minute film called Powers of Ten that still has the capacity today to expand the way we think and view our world …

Folding in Style

August 23, 2006 at 10:19 pm | | nerd, news, science and the public, science@home, software, wild web

The folding-at-home package has been ported to Sony’s much anticipated PS3 console. The point? None! But, it’ll make Vijay’s group happy and its always nice to see some of our peers get street-cred in the popular media. I hear their groundbreaking cell architecture is a ~10x improvement over your typical PC!

Ah, the irony – this is probably the only software out there that can leverage the PS3’s sweet sweet cpu cycles. Now, if I could only frag more of those proteins … sigh … here is some eye candy:

The official press release from Folding at Home and some coverage from Engadget.

Tamiflu – July Molecule of the Month

July 23, 2006 at 11:28 pm | | nerd, wild web

From the wild, wild web comes a pretty fun site: Molecule of the Month (MOTM), brought to you by Dr. Paul May of Bristol University Dept of Chemistry. I recommend you check this out when you’ve got 5 minutes to kill while that ol’ laser is warming up.
Tamiflu, in all its glory:

Some neat tidbits on Tamiflu, care of the excellent MOTM Tamiflu Page:

  • Tamiflu is made from a complicated 10 step synthesis that requires shikimic acid, a product extracted with great pain (and cost) from anise seeds.
  • Tamiflu is our best bet against avian influenza. It binds to the neuraminidase protein on the viral coat and reduces the virus from exiting an infiected cell, thereby reducing the number of infected cells.
  • There comes a point when the number of infected cells is too large for the tamiflu to work effectively therefore it must be taken as early as possible.

A Call to Arms – for Science!

July 22, 2006 at 9:52 am | | nerd, science@home

Its time to rally the troops against the forces of darkness – literally. Today, I’m embarking on my solar-oven-building adventure. Why? you ask.

Burning Man!!!!

What is burning man? you ask. Shame on you. Now go google until you finally learn something useful in college.

The solar oven is relatively simple – basically a box with a bunch of reflectors that shoot the light inside and can cook food in sunny environments. I plan to build several for the upcoming BMan’06 . The best part is running all the controls to determine optimal cooking conditions: insulation type, angle relative to sun and time of day, black paint or no paint, oh so much science it makes my knees weak!

Pictures of the type of box I am building:


Let me know if you’re interested in helping out with this fun weekend project. If you have some 1337 woodcutting SkillZ or ToolZ that’d be cool. I also have an extra BMan ticket at the lowest price point that I can part with. There will be a group of Stanford chemists going up with me and you’re welcome to join our camp on the playa.


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?

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.

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