Everyday Practice of Science- Frederick Grinnell

Now this is the book which I finished most recently. I read about this book in review article in one of the twitter feeds I follow (I think it was Chemistry World). Got interested to find the review quoting this book to be a good ‘bedtime’ read. And after having spent around almost a month in reading the book, I would very much agree with the initial review that the book is optimal for bedtime/ leisure reading.

I would recommend the book to all science enthusiasts especially to students planning to pursue research careers. There is a lot of information for ‘to-be’ researchers in the book.

The book begins with talking about what actually is the ‘Everyday Practice of Science’. It describes in detail how the perspective that most science students develop about research and scientists, as very un-affected and focused people wearing white lab coats working all day long in a small lab in some corner of university campuses with their heads buried in a thick book or a complex instrument, is not correct. How the actual lives of scientists are and how it differs from the widely prevalent perception. It highlights the intricacies in the processes of discoveries and inventions and how scientists too feel the human emotions of frustration and despair. All research is not as organized and neat as presented in the papers that the research leads to; how the life of a scientist is full of frustration of not getting the right readings and data as his theory postulates; how they sit in despair in self-doubt and doubting their original ideas.

The book is full of examples from the life of the author, which I must say is extensive and all encompassing, and these example truly relate to the topic in mention with complete details. The best part is that the author has himself experienced all that he talks about, from self-doubt, to ideas being stolen, plagiarism and how ideas and focus of research changes during the research. 🙂

The book is divided into two broad parts: Science and Science and Society. I would definitely go on to say that he division is very apt and the sub chapters cover almost all the topics (I can think of) which a researcher might touch or face in his career. The sub-chapters, namely, Practicing Science, Discovery, Credibility in the Science section and Integrity, Informed consent and Risk, Faith in the Science and Society section touch all these topics in details from live examples of the author and quite a lot of Nobel Laureates.

Starting from an idea, getting people interested in your idea (mainly your advisor), pursuing it, seeking guidance, preparing, carrying out experiments, getting data, segregating noise from actual data, importance of noise, getting journals to publish your findings, socializing your claims and papers, spreading them around the scientific community, getting credibility, getting citations, informed consent, stolen ideas, ethical problems, human trials, everything. I mean literally everything that you can think of or maybe even did not know could come up has been discussed and touched in the book.

I would not go into a lot of detail about the inner workings of the book or the concepts discussed (which should make individual posts :)) and would leave room for you to explore the book on your own. Throughout the book the pace of writing and the topics keep the readers busy and thinking, it is not a book which would make you tired after a couple of pages, due to lots of science involved, nor is it a book where you would lose interest/get bored after a couple of pages; it is one in which you would probably continue to read for as long as time permits, and then close it and continue from that same paragraph the next time you open it, with ease. It is a great and entertaining read, which I would go on to say, is absolutely essential for anyone thinking of pursuing a career in research. It would serve as a guide and tell you about the times to come (warn you maybe :)).

The most important thing (at first thought) that I learned from this book is the importance of citations and citing the original authors of any work (or anything, even a quote) when you use it. It doesn’t hurt, not doing so can kill your reputation and even result in them suing you.

Great book, a must read, you may not want to put this on your Top-Priority-Reading list, but it should definitely be on your To-Read list (I have these lists, and geek-ily presume others do too :)). It is also something you can read while studying something else; I for example was reading another book at the same time; switching to this when I god bored/tired of the other which required a lot more thinking. This one was my refreshing-read. For the students who are planning to pursue research in the near future, I would say, definitely make this your top priority:). It’s not a long read around 200 pages, but great 200 pages at that.


Cold Fusion

The thought of writing this article came to my mind while reading some news about some scientists who have [supposedly] been able to accomplish cold fusion, or Low Energy Nuclear Reaction, LENR as it is now known. I stumbled upon an update from a tweet about the myths and realities of cold fusion as being experimented and the results achieved so far. Reading the article lead to several others on the same theme; all about different scientists or research institutions trying to achieve cold fusion. The one in particular that I read about was about a scientist and entrepreneur Andrea Rossi from Italy, who claims to have achieved fusion at room temperature. Sustainable fusion…

Before I plunge into depth of what all I was able to read (not find- there is so much more), I wanted to mention, that I also stumbled across an article titled, ‘Could starships use cold fusion propulsion?’.  I wanted to write about that article too but then I diverged into that field also, and I feel that separating out the two would probably be the best choice keeping in mind that I do not wish my article to be 5 pages long J. So this one is only about Cold fusion.

Now we already know that fission reactors are being used world-wide as a source of clean (ignoring the small amount of radioactive products), efficient, and cheap (long-term) source of energy. The safety of the reactors has always been a debatable topic and as per me, will remain to be so. Nuclear Fission as a science has made a lot of progress in the last half century with newer techniques of fission which increases the list of fissile materials considerably making it a more easy to use source. New designs of reactors, to increase the safety, reduce the size, make radioactive products of fission handling easier have been designed and researched extensively. Many of the private sector companies have been researching in this field and have shown promising results. There is a lot of social repulsion from ‘useless’ NGOs and so called ‘Public welfare’ groups who oppose nuclear reactor construction owing to the risks it has. I disagree with all of them, they like commenting and yelling to stop their construction but let us see them trying to find another source, better than fission, for meeting the ever-growing demands of the public. I do not wish to go into the details of this subject as this is not what I wanted to write about. I had posted an earlier post somewhere close to this topic on my old blog, which can be found here.

Fusion has eluded scientific minds since it was discovered as the power source to the sun. The energy it holds and promises seems to make it worth the effort and resources to try. This has made it one of the very interesting mysteries of science. Several experiments have been carried out and fusion has indeed been achieved on the earth, we have a bomb based on nuclear fusion already. The Hydrogen bomb, much, much, much more powerful than the Atom bomb. Ivy Mike, a simple name,  a video for a glimpse of its power can be found here. Anyway, making a bomb was the easier part; we want the energy to be uncontrolled, we don’t care about the cost of the bomb. While trying to use this technology, both these factors play an essential role. As far as the experiments in this field have gone, fusion is achievable, but under similar circumstances as in the sun. EXTREMELY high pressure and temperature, in the order of millions of degrees. Don’t ask me how they did it, I have not researched deep enough yet. My point being, the inputs required are very big. Then the resulting energy being produced is not enough even to recover the cost of the inputs. The energy required to start the reaction is not recovered as the output making it highly inefficient, and unsuitable to the used commercially.

Now the solution to this puzzle as expected is to achieve nuclear fusion at low temperature and pressure conditions, reducing enormously the input energy required. This would make it commercially viable and the most trustable and dependable energy source ever known to man. Unfortunately some physicists have claimed that cold fusion is not achievable. It is against the laws of physics, to which I and others argue, the laws of physics are based on the things we already know. It has happened on many occasions before and will happen when the laws of physics known to man have been proven to be wrong and amended. A page which talks about this person’s claims and analyses to some extent the weight and truth can be found here.

So this Andre Rossi says that he has been able to achieve Cold fusion at room temperature in a reaction between Nickel and Hydrogen combining them to produce Copper. He has made claims which have been widely rejected by the scientific community as he has [voluntarily] not shared the details of the experiment, nor published any peer reviewed papers. This and many others reasons have made the scientific community shun his claims. He however reasons that he does not need to produce or disclose any details to the people, the home use generators that he plans to make, nay, produce will stand testimony to his achievement.

My views? He’s bluffing. There is no reason whatsoever not to share the details with the scientific community. He can get a patent and maintain sole rights to the product making the money that he desires. Along with this, there are lots of other reasons which tend to incline me on the non-believer side. I found a very informative page by a theoretical astrophysicist who has given in depth details on why his claims are a hoax. I would recommend everyone take 30 minutes to go through it. The page can be found here.

Cold fusion will be indeed a very useful, perhaps the most useful discovery/invention of science if achieved. But I believe it has a long way to go. I hope I could share some knowledge which I wanted to, I wanted to keep the details as general as possible for general public and not go into too much detail.

 Fiimaan illaah…