Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lit Post.

A few interesting-looking papers that I have stumbled across lately:

- Cellular solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Clearly, analyzing membrane proteins that are still in the native intact cell membrane is what we'd all like to see.

- Red wine, iron telluride, and superconductivity. Sadly, I do not think that soaking any of my biological samples in a preferred alcoholic beverage will facilitate noteworthy results. Although perhaps I should try, just in case.....

- The Next Big(ger) Thing. Actually not a research article, it's a news item on mesoscale science.

As I've had to suppress a fair amount of sarcasm while writing this post, I will end things here. Read more!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Break On Through To the Other Side

I was reminded to share this page in light of some recent conversations elsewhere. I would also encourage interested readers to check out the rest of Prof. Sethna's web site - there's a whole lot of great material on numerous interesting topics in physics and "complex systems," as well as what seems to be a nice, modern introduction to statistical mechanics for a wider audience than for whom most texts are intended. (I've only skimmed over it here and there so far - your mileage may vary.) Disclaimer - I am not affiliated with the lab. In fact, my only affiliation with Cornell is that I once dated a girl who lived in Ithaca, and her father worked at the university. Heh.

I will say that many physicists I've known - at least publicly - aren't convinced that they are after finding 3 laws to explain 99% of the behavior in the known universe. Most have far less ambitious goals (like being able to explain superconductivity for non-BCS systems), although I suppose this is their PR problem - they clearly need more Philip Andersons and Robert Laughlins to champion what most physicists are actually interested in, and not just what the very prolific high energy theorists and astrophysicists are putting on the book shelves. Of course, it's not to say that there can't be some excellent synergy going on - there's plenty of fundamental physics going on at neutron sources worldwide, and many groups are interested in using the tools of AMO physics as increasingly powerful probes of fundamental physics.

We can all recount anecdotes from our personal experiences - I met a bio grad student who clearly thought of their project in terms of cartoon diagrams without a number or semi-quantitative thought in mind, the theoretical physicist who thought that explaining his ideas to the experimentalists (or anyone who wasn't actually a frustrated mathematician) was the role of the phenomenology folks, and the chemists who complain about lack of rigor yet still seem desperate to explain everything in terms a first-year chemistry student would recognize. What we should focus on is trying to understand what is useful in such diverse approaches and work from there.

Biophysical chemists such as myself do not suffer from such faults, as we have all of their strengths and none of their weaknesses. We're also very modest. :) Read more!