Posts Tagged ‘Physics’

In praise of boring projects

April 1, 2012

How many scientific discoveries have been made by investigators carrying out studies that, in principle, should have merely reproduced known results and/or confirmed the conventional wisdom ? I do not have numbers but I suspect many. Serendipity plays much more important a role than many a scientist  would care to admit. 

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What is the deal with that supersolid thing ?

March 18, 2012

I am occasionally asked that question by friends and acquaintances. I am referring here both to professional scientists, typically working in fields other than mine (I happen to have a lot of friends in this category, through my work), as well as to individuals who are not themselves scientists, but have some interest in science and try to keep reasonably abreast with the latest discoveries and developments.

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The mystery of quantization

March 5, 2012

Quantum mechanics owes its name from the hypothesis that originated it, initially proposed by Max Planck, and successively extended by Niels Bohr and others.
The hypothesis of quantization can be formally expressed through Bohr-Sommerfeld conditions, which constitute the core of what is presently called the Old Quantum Theory. Their most immediate consequence is that the energy of an individual particle is in some cases quantized, i.e., only allowed to take on specific, well-defined values, arranged into a regular pattern, describable mathematically by simple formulae.
In these cases, an experimental measurement of the energy yields no other outcome than one of these “allowed” values — nothing in-between is ever observed. This is what is meant by “quantization”.

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Letter from the trenches

February 20, 2012

I have received a letter from a student who obtained their doctoral degree with me a few years ago, and after one postdoctoral appointment decided that their heart was really into teaching.
They wrote me to let me know how things are going, and gave me permission of posting their letter here (I am withholding the person’s name). It may be of interest for those who might be considering switching from research to a teaching career. Currently, only a tiny fraction of doctoral degree holders take that path.

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Whither scientific publishing ?

February 13, 2012

I come back to one of my favorite subjects, prompted by a recent comment asking for my opinion on the proposed boycott of Elsevier, a company publishing a number of scientific journals. In the eyes of many, some of Elsevier’s practices are incompatible with the ultimate goal of achieving the widest dissemination of scientific information and progress — a goal that many a scientist hold so vital that even in a market economy, no acceptable business model for scientific publishing should sacrifice it to the altar of profit.

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Independent and original

January 30, 2012

I doubt if I can offer any deeper insight or more pointed advice to a tenure track assistant professor in the sciences, than what anyone can find on a number of reputable science blogs.
Often times, however, as I go through posts describing the “dos and donts” of young scholars wanting to maximize their changes of eventually landing tenure, while I find myself in agreement with the general ideas expounded (we are not really talking secrets, anyway), I also feel that some of the most common recommendations could be taken too far, or interpreted too rigidly, ultimately doing the probationary faculty more harm than good.

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On the road again

December 23, 2011

A long and tiring term is coming to a close. Time to celebrate the holidays, then head out to Vancouver for a few days, to end 2011, and then it will be a new year and a new term. The Winter term of 2012 is also going to be very intense, but for different reasons — I have quite a bit of traveling ahead of me. Indeed, it looks as if I shall be in Europe (Germany and Italy) until Summer.

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A simple criterion

November 28, 2011

Agreement seems lacking, among researchers, on the question of which citations to a scientific article are “legitimate”, i.e., worthy of being included among the total number of hits received by that particular article (typically for the purpose of evaluating one’s h-index).
Should one include a cite to an article, if that cite appears in a manuscript that has not (yet) been refereed, such as a book chapter or a preprint ? What about a conference abstract ? Or, a talk that is available online ?

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Google Scholar Citations

November 21, 2011

Thanks to Bee of BackReaction, I have become aware of a new feature of Google Scholar, called Google Scholar Citations. It is essentially a free alternative to Web of Science (WoS), allowing researchers to create a public profile, with a list of all of their publications, including the citations garnered by each article.
(This is mine, by the way).

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The boss is out to lunch

November 18, 2011

The two basic criteria to establish whether someone is your boss are:
– Can they fire you ?
– Can they give you a raise ?
Unless the answer to both questions is yes, then they are not your boss.

(can’t recall who said that to me… my dad, maybe ? Nah, it’s impossible, that would make him right…)

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