Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Humor in Science: The Ig Nobel Prizes

New podcast episode!

Sam and I interview Marc Abrahams from the Ig Nobel prizes. Marc had some great stories to tell and it turned out to be a really great episode.

Everything discussed can be found at http://www.improbable.com/

~1:00 - Chad starts the podcast off by pronouncing the guest's name wrong. Don't worry, that only continues for the entire episode.

~3:00 - How the Ig Nobel prizes began.

~5:00 - How Marc became editor of a magazine that he'd never read before.

~7:00 - Deciding the categories of the prize. Inventing a category name for a prize. I think Sam gives a very good name for the suit of armor to protect against grizzly bears.

~12:00 - Can you try to win an Ig Nobel prize? Marc says no, but plenty of people nominate themselves each year.

~14:00 - How has the description of the Ig Nobel prizes changed over the years?

~18:00 - Analyzing dragging sheep across the floor.

~23:00 - Winner(s) of both the Ig Nobel prize and the Nobel prize.

~25:00 -  What do stinky feet and cheese have in common (chemically speaking)?

~28:00 - Miss Sweety Poo, the cutest solution to a problem every award ceremony has.

~44:00 - Are some of the prizes tongue in cheek?

~50:00 - Chad realizes he's been saying Marc's name incorrectly.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bora Zivkovic resigned today from his position at Scientific American. 

But you probably already know that. I don't intend to give all the facts about what happened here. I also don't plan on defending Bora; what he did was wrong.

Bora is arguably the most influential person in science writing today. Following him on Twitter over the past year has been informative enough for me that I all but stopped using an RSS feed; If it was good I knew I was going to see it on Twitter anyways. Bora has also been a great personal help to me. I sent him an e-mail about a year ago telling him about my blog and the aspirations I had of being a well known science writer. He took the time to read a few of the things I'd written, gave me some simple feedback, and gave me tips on how to share the things I was writing. Bora leaving Scientific American is a huge blow to the scientific community.

But Bora had to go. Sadly, he had to go for all the same reasons that made him great. He was influential. He guided young scientists and writers. He organized important meetings, tweet-ups, and forums. Someone with that amount of influence and power can't act the way he did and keep that influence.

There might be some that would argue that Bora should stay with Scientific American. They might say the good outweighs the bad. They would be wrong. If he were to stay at Scientific American it would send the clear message that inappropriate behavior is acceptable - as long as you balance it out with a position of power. But remember, it's the position of power that is the problem in the first place.

Influential people aren't immune to criticism, they're the most deserving of it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Computational Chemistry with Professor Chris Cramer

New podcast episode!

In this episode Sam and I are joined by Professor Chris Cramer from the University of Minnesota. Show notes after the embedded player.

Remember, you can also find us on iTunes or just subscribe using the RSS.

All times are approximate (± 2 minutes):

1:45 - What is computational chemistry? Also, my phone goes off right next to the microphone during a question I can't reasonably edit around.

4:00 - Chemistry (or at least computational chemistry) seems to have its own definition of "theory".

5:30 - What types of questions does Chris work on? Chris talks about different scales of calculations: Length, time, and energy. Each of which bring their own insight and problems to the table (computer?).

8:30 - What system have you worked on in the past that you're glad to be done with?

9:15 - Odd projects that are "finished" often launch new research.

9:45 - Collaboration with experimentalists.

13:30 - Computational chemistry as a guide to experiment.

15:00 - Nobel prize in Chemistry.

19:00 - Paul from ChemBark gives his prediction for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. See the full Google Hangout here.

21:00 - The H-Index

22:00 - Where does computational chemistry go from here?

23:00 - What are the limitations in computational chemistry? Chris talks about messy systems. Do we need more computing power or do we need a new theory?

28:00 - Accuracy in computational chemistry. Chad gives a bad analogy. No really, it's bad (it works perfectly in his head, though).

29:00 - More thoughts about collaboration with experimentalists. The take home: If you go to Prof Cramer and he says "We should write a proposal" it may just be because you haven't thought about it enough yourself.

31:00 - Chris explains what a wavefunction is (with a much better analogy than the one Chad gave).

33:00 - What is the life of a computational chemist like? What should a student do to prepare?

39:00 - Chris brings up the impostor syndrome. Two episodes in a row now. Chad loves nothing more than listing the things he's not good at.

41:00 - Computational chemistry in Sci-Fi boks and movies.

45:00 - The Fortnightly Scientist. Chris talks about grandfather to his children Paul Dowd and his work with Non-Kekulé biradicals. Chemists will love this section. Non-chemists may need the wikipedia article to understand (but it will be worth your time. These molecules are pretty cool).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Alternative Forms of DNA with Dr. Zoë Waller

We're back with another podcast!

This week Sam and I sat down with Dr. Zoë Waller to talk about her research into alternative forms of DNA, what inspired her to be a scientist (I seriously enjoyed her answer to that question), and the "CSI effect".

Give it a listen, it's great stuff! As always, if you have someone you want to hear from on the podcast please let us know. You can do that here in the comments, by e-mailing chad (at) thecollapsedwavefunction.com, or find me on Twitter (@thecollapsedpsi).

Timestamps for this episode (all approximate)

1:30 - Zoë gives the basic idea behind her research: Alternative structures of DNA.

12:20 - What is your day to day like?

15:30 - What did Watson and Crick think about their research? (Here's a link to a version of the paper with some interesting commentary. Original paper found here).

19:00 - What are the big unanswered questions in your field?

21:00 - The Fortnightly Scientist: What scientist has been the greatest inspiration to Zoë?

24:30 - People around you in science are important; inspiration can come from many types of sources.

26:00 - How Chad became a chemist. The impostor syndrome. The best science comes from being able to doubt yourself correctly. Here's the article Sam is talking about.