You know you are a chemist when…

… the advertisement displayed on a blog you frequent is this:

you know you are a chemist_v2

I am a chemist.

 


Luminescence

I am on an exciting trip in my head. I am thinking of certain words – of what they do in science and what they do in literature. Whoever it was who said words have power, was very right!

I am taking on ‘luminescence’ today. But I am certain I will be posting on many such words in the days to come, for the journey these words take me on is truly awe-inspiring.

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Luminescence is the emission of light by a material after it has absorbed energy.

– Solid State Chemistry and its Applications.

by Anthony R. West

Pictured below is a solution of luminol under UV light.

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An Apprenticeship is written by Clarice Lispector.

One of the pages in the book reads: Luminescence.

Nothing else.

I haven’t read the book, but I am moved by Lispector’s writing. Currently reading her A Breath of Life.

Google Books tells me this little something about An Apprenticeship:

An Apprenticeship is Clarice’s attempt to discover just how two people might be joined. Lori’s is not an easy journey, and consequently the book is roughly written, lurching, sometimes giving the impression of an incomplete first draft.

[…]

it contains some of the most beautiful passages Clarice ever wrote.

– Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector

by Benjamin Moser

Moser further writes that this is the book where Lispector uses rather avant-garde devices in punctuation. It famously begins with a comma and ends with a colon, he adds. Words aren’t properly capitalised either.

On reading this, my mind immediately raced to Aram Saroyan.

Saroyan is an American poet known for his minimalist poetry. In the 1960s Saroyan stopped the literary world in its tracks and caused a lot more than eyebrows to be raised when he wrote his single word misspelled poem smack-dab in the centre of a sheet of paper. It was:

lighght

Disruptive luminescence. Closing the post with that welcome thought.


Ig Nobel, celebrating the unusual in science

It’s no secret that the Nobel prize is the highest award in the natural sciences. There’s however another breed of altogether interesting awards that celebrates dicoveries in science that first make us laugh, and then make us think. The Ig Nobel awards. Presented every year at Harvard by Nobel laureates, the Ig Nobel awards laud the light-hearted side of science. Science and light-hearted, do I hear you murmur with disbelief? Well, yes, that’s a legitimate combination! What follows is  the proof not in the pudding, but in patents and books and journals.

Clocky – The alarm clock on wheels. Can jump from a 3ft nightstand.

The snooze function in the alarm clock is the debilitating soporific weapon in many a crusader’s arsenal. Self included. Now imagine the snooze function in an alarm clock that makes it rise to dizzying heights, or roll to discreet locations, in this case. An alarm clock that leaves you no option but to get up when it goes off! That’s possible on planet earth because of this devious contraption called Clocky. The idea here is that the sly clock runs away from you when it rings at the set time, and in a bid to silence the damned thing you run after it. Neat sensors doing their job rather neatly in here. The simple logic underpinning the device being: now that you have risen, you might as well shine. Gauri Nanda of MIT bagged the Ig Nobel in 2005 for Economics for this invention.

Or consider the Ig Nobel awarded to Thomas Thwaites in 2016 for Biology. Thwaites roamed the Swiss Alps with a herd of goats in a prosthetic goat suit made specifically for this adventure. A British designer, Thwaites survived on grass using an artificial rumen in this holiday he took from being a human. In an NPR interview, when asked if he had learned anything about goat behavior during this experiment, Thwaites replied, “I was trying to forget myself. I wasn’t trying to learn about them.” That’s mindfulness all right atop the Alps in a goat suit.

The GoatMan Thomas Thwaites (L) with a member of his herd.

One of my personal favourites in the Ig Nobel pantheon is the award given to Peter Barss of McGill University, Canada for his impactful paper in The Journal of Trauma, titled Injuries due to Falling Coconuts. Here’s the abstract of the paper. Note the very accurate last sentence.

Falling coconuts – injurious to human health.

Initiated in 1991, the ten Ig Nobel awards given every year, ostensibly though a parody of the Nobel prizes, are in fact awarded to spur people’s interest in science, technology and medicine. It’s ultimately doffing one’s hat to scientific imagination; it’s a nod to the scientific spirit that treads down unusual paths.

Finally, here’s an article I wrote for The Wire last year prior to the Ig Nobel announcement.

PS. The Thomas Thwaites image caption may or may not be a shout out to the person who captioned this Martin Solveig image.


It’s a lot of D-s

Define. Discuss. Describe. Differentiate. Derive.

Those are the most common question verbs from a regular question paper. I have used those very verbs often.

Humour me, and imagine how would it be to have the following as question verbs in examinations.
Dismiss. Declaim. Discover.

To wit: Dismiss the existent theory with one of your own. Declaim it. Discover possibilities.

I know, I dream. A course on Science Fiction with a very D-question verbs assessment. Hah!


21st All India Children’s Audio Video Festival

21st All India Children’s Audio Video Festival – 2017

Last date for submission of entries: 10 February, 2017.

Know a school going kid? Pass on the info!


Things off the top of my head

1. Reading Sherlock Holmes last night knowing today was a working day, I didn’t feel guilty. I called it class prep! Teaching Forensic Science this semester.

2. It’s a strange, strange feeling to have Nancy Drew pop up in class discussion. Even if it is a Forensic Science class.

3. Q: How would it be if House weren’t a diagnostician, but a forensic scientist?

A: It’d be several kinds of fantastic. I could then just screen episodes of the series in class for the entire semester and feel mighty chuffed.

Everybody lies! Hence the need for evidence.

4. “This is really hard.”

Apropos of nothing, I am suddenly reminded of Minnie Driver’s aforesaid comment on organic chemistry in Good Will Hunting.


The times*

There are times when the paper you are working on refuses to write itself. This is one of those times.

There are times when exploding cats and flying crocodiles refuse to do what they do best. This is one of those times.

There are times when you need an extra-large dose of imagination to save yourself from doing what the aforesaid animals refuse to do. This is one of those times.

There are times when you link International Talk Like A Pirate Day with Chemistry, and quietly chuckle to yourself. This is one of those times.

Aaargon.

What is a pirate’s favourite element?

(*And these are times that are median-ish. Dickens would have scoffed.)