Piled Higher and Deeper: Diapers and PhDs

Here are two perspectives on the subject:

a graphic essay from phdcomics.com

a written essay from The Chronicle of Higher Education

Published in: on January 12, 2010 at 7:50 am  Comments (7)  
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Nobel Role Models: Heroes and Heroines?

President Barack Obama wasn’t the only one to receive a Nobel Prize last week.  On Thursday, December 10, the Nobel Prizes in science and literature were awarded in Stockholm, Sweden.  (The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway.)

I blogged last week about the value of these individuals as role models and heroes for those of us involved in science. (See “Life Lessons from Laureates “ at the American Chemical Society’s “ACS Careers” blog.)  Over my years as a science writer, I’ve had the opportunity to interview a number of Nobel Laureates, and I’ve found them to be both gracious and smart.

In addition to Nobel Laureate Dudley Herschbach, whom I mentioned in the ACS Careers blog post as an interviewee and a former teacher of mine, I came across recent information online about two other Nobel Laureates–information that further confirms these two scientists as worthy role models.

First, one of this year’s Nobel Laureates in Medicine, Carol Greider, says, “I live a pretty normal life.” As a single parent with two children (ages 10 and 13), she is a role model for all of us seeking to maintain the ever-elusive “work-family balance.”   In fact, she was folding laundry at 5 a.m. on October 5 when she received the telephone call from the Nobel Committee informing her of the news. An article on CNN.com provides more details about this heroine (see “A Day in the ‘Normal’ Life of a Nobel Prize Winner”.}

The second scientist who can serve as a good role model for scientists is Bill Lipscomb.   He received the 1976 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and he’s been a professor at Harvard University since 1959 .  Prior to moving to Harvard, he was on the faculty at the University of Minnesota.

He celebrated his 90th birthday on December 9, with a big celebration given by his “scientific family” (former students, students of students, and students of students of students–his scientific children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren).

When I was a grad student at Harvard, Lipscomb had already received his Nobel Prize, so there was a certain mystique to his research group.  The thing that I remember most about him (in addition to the string tie that he always wore) was his sense of humor, as demonstrated by his leadership role in establishing the Ig Nobel Awards.   If you appreciate good scientific humor (no, that’s not an oxymoron), you’ll want to check out the Ig Nobel website.

Published in: on December 14, 2009 at 11:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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April Fool: Chemistry humor (?)

Several of my recent posts have hinted at the possibility that scientists have the full range of human emotions, including a sense of humor. (The humor can, admittedly, be somewhat warped.)

As further evidence, I offer this link to “The Periodic Table of Rejected Elements.”

I dare anyone who has taken a chemistry class to study this periodic table without smiling, chuckling or laughing out loud.

Published in: on April 1, 2009 at 7:44 am  Comments (2)  
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Periodic Table in NY Times

The level of chemical literacy in the New York Times is definitely “on the rise.”  (He, he, he.)  (Pun intended. )  See the graphic accompanying this article.

In addition to looking at the graphic, you might want to read the article…. But don’t believe a word that is written.

I take strong exception to the author’s belief that a pun is a tawdry form of humor.  He’s obviously never spent quality time with a bunch of scientists in a bar.  (Oh, look at the author’s bio…. He’s a law student.  He probably doesn’t even like jokes about bar exams.)

I and a number of my scientist colleagues are inveterate punsters.  We have no shame.  No pun is too low.  And if it elicits a groan from the audience, that’s even better.  (Here’s a link to some really bad chemistry puns. And here’s another link to more bad chemistry puns.)

Why am I writing about puns in a blog supposedly devoted to science and/or parenting?  Is there a link between science and puns?

Perhaps.  The kind of thinking required for both activities involves looking at an object or a word from several perspectives at the same time.   The mental agility required to play with words (while punning) is not that different from the mental agility required to play with molecular structures (while visualizing chemistry in your head).

One of my favorite parts of organic chemistry was learning about the concept of chirality and stereochemistry.  Two molecules with the same formula and the same configuration of bonds can actually be quite different, because they can be “mirror images” of each other. In my memory, I can still see my St. Olaf College chemistry professor, the legendary and iconic Wes Pearson, holding up his left hand and right hand to introduce the concept of “handedness” as it applies to many organic molecules.

One of the most dramatic examples I recall from that college class is the anti-nausea drug, thalidomide.  Wes Pearson showed us that there can be two stereoisomers (also called “enantiomers”) of this chemical compound.  One version of this molecule is effective in treating morning sickness.  The other version, however, is teratogenic, which means it can cause birth defects.  The tragic story of thalidomide (used in more than 40 countries in the late 1950’s) certainly got our attention during that lecture, and I’ve been fascinated by the concept of stereochemistry ever since.

So, the moral of this blog post is that puns are linguistic enantiomers.  (No pun intended.)

(Part 2 of this article will consider the relationship between puns and parenting.)

Published in: on March 28, 2009 at 9:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Isaac Newton: Alchemist Role Model?

Olivia Judson writes about Isaac Newton in today’s New York Times (“The Ten Days of Newton“).  It’s heartening to see an article in a major newspaper discussing some aspect of science in both an informative and entertaining way.

I must confess that I use Sir Isaac Newton as one of my secret justifications for my interest in alchemy, as well as my interest in the interaction of science and religion.  If he could dabble in alchemical studies, I guess it’s OK for me to do the same.  (See Wikipidea’s extensive article on “Isaac Newton’s Occult Studies.”)

Published in: on December 24, 2008 at 7:51 am  Comments (1)  
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