Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Importance of Stupidity in Research

Here's a brief essay by Martin Schwartz, published in the Journal of Cell Science. The title really says it all: The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research. There's not much more that I can say, except that I think Dr. Schwartz pretty much hits it right on the head with this one! It's a short, one-page essay about the importance of recognizing the human-ness of science and cultivating and fostering the proper attitude towards uncertainty and the unknown in research. Pretty good stuff, with lots of good advice for both Teachers and Students.

Works Cited:

Schwartz, M.A., 2008, The importance of stupidity in scientific research: Journal of Cell Science, v. 121, p. 1771

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Non-Newtonian Pool Party!

Yet more crazy YouTube videos of weird, geologically relevant stuff! This's non-newtonian fluids!

Newtonian fluids are the sort of everyday, hum-drum fluids we generally interact with (like coffee, or beer). If you exert some force over area on a newtonian fluid, it deforms pretty much instantly in proportion to the force applied to it. Another way of saying this is that newtonian fluids have a constant viscosity.

BUT non-newtonain fluids have a variable viscosity; generally, this viscosity varies nonlinearly as a function of either the amount of shear stress (force over an area) applied OR as a time-dependant function. Examples of non-newtonian fluids include things like ketchup (which gets stuck in the bottle until you shake it; the sudden application of force to the ketchup drastically reduces the viscosity, letting it flow out of the bottle) and whipped cream (which experiences an increase in its viscosity as a function of applied shear stress).

If you are lucky enough to be a geologist, then you actually have more opportunities than most to interact with non-newtonian fluids. Drilling muds and clays, used to lubricate drill bits, are examples of non-newtonian fluids. Even cooler, of course, are things like debris flows, which behave as viscous, non-newtonian fluids.

You can make your own shear-thickening non-newtonian fluid right at home, by mixing ~2 parts corn starch with 1 part water; get it good and gloppy, and you've got a fluid that, when you gently push against it, behaves just like water, but when you smack it hard, it behaves more like plastic. Try it out! It's insanely fun!

And, if you are really ambitious, you can fill up a whole giant tub of the stuff, and run across it, like these nuts did (the whole video is in Spanish, so that's a little tricky; still, it's fun!):

AND, just for more fun: here's a video of some of the "do-it-yourself home-made cornstarch non-newtonian fluid", put on a speaker!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Darwin and Earthquakes, on CNN

I found an interesting little article on CNN's website today: it's a brief write-up of Darwin's own Chilean earthquake experience in 1835, with some excerpts from The Voyage of the Beagle, including his musings on geology, rates, and processes. The piece is written by a historian of science, John van Wyhe, and reiterates that the Earth, just like Darwin observed and recognized, is a dynamic system.

You can read the article here.