Requiescat In Pace

April 18, 2008

This has been a somewhat sad week for science, physics in particular. John Archibald Wheeler passed away on April 13, and a few days later on April 16, Edward Lorenz died.

I first came across Wheeler’s name as a first year undergraduate student while reading James Gleick’s biography of Richard Feynman, entitled Genius. All I remembered about him from that book (and what most non-physicists might care to remember about him) was that a) he coined the term “black hole” and b) he was Richard Feynman’s Ph.D. advisor.

A wonderful personal tribute to the man can be found here. On that blog, someone kindly posted a link to a series of video interviews about his life and times. Its a wonderful repository of information for anyone curious or just fascinated by the golden age of physics. Other interviews include those of Dyson, Gell-Mann, and Teller.

Edward Lorenz was a name I encountered less than a week ago ! A colleague in Lab, drew my attention to a book, “Nonlinear systems and Chaos” by Steven Strogtaz. I have only managed to go through the first two chapters of the book, in what is my first serious attempt to understand nonlinearity and chaos. Although I had heard of the butterfly effect, I hadn’t connected it to the name Edward Lorenz. During the course of this past week, this oversight has indeed been emended ; by virtue of the book, as well as the sad demise of Edward Lorenz.

There are plenty of videos out there that illustrate nonlinear phenomena, but for me personally, the following was most pedagogically efficacious (and brief):


h-index for Chemists

April 18, 2008

A discussion came up at lunch today about h-index for chemists. I hadn’t thought about the h-index for some of the leading chemists of our times, or even what the magnitude of the h-index might be. Henry “Frtiz” Schaefer III, of the University of Georgia has compiled a list, ranking the h-index of living chemists. When the list was first published online by Chemistry World in 2007, the Harvard organic chemist E. J. Corey came out tops with an h-index of 133 (which means Corey has published at least 133 papers, each of which have been cited at least 133 times) . A recent update ( March 2008 ) finds fellow Harvard faculty, G. M. Whitesides, has pipped Corey with an h-index of 140 !

A few chemists who work in the general area of electrochemistry and/or electron-transfer reactions, are listed below:

Name, h-index, (Rank):

Allen J. Bard, 106, (11)

Harry B. Gray, 97, (16)

Thomas J. Meyer, 91, (34)

Royce W. Murray, 87, (44)

Rudolph A. Marcus, 84, (51)

Jean-Michel Savéant, 81, (57)

R. Mark Wightman, 71, (119)

Fred C. Anson, 68, (152)

Christian Amatore, 54, (389)

Andrew G. Ewing, 51, (463)

The full list can be found here. The highest ranked Indian chemist is C.N.R Rao (74) with an h-index of 76.

Traffic Jams

April 2, 2008

Hap(pi) Birthday !

March 14, 2008

Today, March 14, (3/14) happens to be π day, as well as Albert Einstein’s birthday. Here’s a nice little article on π from the BBC Science section.

Shock and Ohh !

February 26, 2008

While browsing through my copy of Electric Circuits by Nilsson and Riedel, I came across a table which listed the physiological reactions to current levels in the human body:

REACTION                     CURRENT

Barely perceptible             3-5 mA

Extreme pain                     35-50 mA

Muscle paralysis                 50-70 mA

Heart Stoppage                 500 mA

…and then the quote, “The numbers in this table are approximate; they are obtained from an analysis of accidents because, obviously, it is not ethical to perform electrical experiments on people”.

Not a boring review !

December 21, 2007

Sydney Brenner reviews Jim Watson’s “Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science / And Other Lessons from a Life in Science” in the Nov 23 issue of Science. Writing about the recent Watson episode, Brenner says:

” [..] But this and the Summers episode go much more deeply than the display of bad manners, for which one can always apologize. The Greeks had a word for it: hubris, the self-confidence and arrogance that always leads to disastrous retribution. If Euripides were with us, he would have said “Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first expose to the public press.”

The review is wonderful and has all the characteristic wit and humour that typifies Syd Brenner.  Another gem:

The Human Genome Project, which Jim led in its early years, has had one bad–one might say, boring–consequence in generating factory science that I have called “low input, high throughput, no output” biology.


December 16, 2007

Lisa Jardine, writing in the BBC Magazine, thinks the story of Ramanujan’s life should inspire “young people to see the beauty in numbers”. Further she writes:

As a child, I found the whole story of the brilliant, self-taught Indian clerk who solved some of the most difficult problems in number theory and died so young, extremely romantic

Romance is all about where you are from and what you are thinking about (and in this case, how old you are). I personally think the hypothetical scenario of a tormented Cambridge professor renouncing everything and coming to India to seek out a mathematical genius and eventually perishing in India, would have been infinitely more romantic. Ramanujan’s death, on the other hand, will always remain deeply tragic.

Btw, this link on Ramanujan ridiculously describes him as, “one of India’s greatest mathematical geniuses”, a bit like Erdos was one of Hungary’s greatest mathematicians or Einstein was one of Germany’s greatest physicists !

Asked by Paul Erdös, what he thought was his greatest contribution to mathematics, Hardy is said to have replied, “the discovery of Ramanujan”.