Consumatory Scholarship

Bruce Henderson in The Chronicle of Higher Education calls faculty to be more proactive in defining their contributions to educational institutions.  In this time of cuts to education, university and secondary school faculty must help the general public understand the nature of their contributions.

Demographics of MOOC Students

MOOCs, massive open online courses, are gaining credibility. Two organizations offering MOOCs are Coursera and Udacity. These organizations have been fielding demographic surveys to better understand the background of the enrolled students and why they chose to take the MOOC courses. An article by Steve Kolowich in Inside Higher Education summarizes some of the survey data. One pertinent finding was that the majority of the enrolled MOOC students reside outside of the United States.

Chemistry no mystery; or, A lecturer's bequest. Being the subject-matter of a course of lectures, delivered by an old philosopher, and taken in short-hand by one of the audience, whose name is not known

I have in my library several chemistry textbooks from before 1860, but "Chemistry No Mystery" is not one of them.  Reflecting as they do an approximation of the chemistry known at the time, they provide insight about the history of both science and pedagogy. I learned about this one from my friend Ron Perkins, a skilled chemical demonstrator, and "Chemistry No Mystery" is the most demonstration-oriented of the old textbooks I have seen.

The Artificial Leaf: Daniel Nocera's vision for sustainable energy

MIT’s Dan Nocera (soon to be Harvard’s) gave a seminar in our department about a year and a half ago, and I heard him speak again in ACS President Bassam Shakhashiri’s ”Presidential Symposium on Catalysis” at the Spring national meeting in San Diego. The chemistry he described is a beautiful example of how fundamental research can potentially impact the lives of billions of people. Dan and his research group have discovered what appears to be an inexpensive, self-healing, air-tolerant catalytic system to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. We have seen before grand announcements about photocatalytic water-splitting systems, but this one appears not to suffer the fatal flaws of the others – requirement of pure water, expensive ingredients, and short duty cycles.

The Climate Fixers

Suppose that the earth’s atmosphere continues to warm, beyond the levels that we know are already inevitable.  Suppose that the arctic permafrost melts, releasing millions of tons of methane, which is about thirty times more effective at warming than is carbon dioxide, as well as much CO2 as is already in the atmosphere. Within a few years, the mean temperature rises by five degrees Celsius or more, sea levels rise, crops fail and millions starve.

Effective Peer Review

All academics are encouraged to become reviewers to keep abreast of new developments in their field, to help shape the direction of their discipline, and as their scholarly responsibility. The article has many more details and is worth a quick look.

Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure

What is this?  Art? Humor? Sports? Math? – or all of the above? With baseball season starting, I found it irresistible to recommend “Flip Flop Fly Ball”, which reminds me in some ways of the beautiful series of graphical exemplar books by Edward Tufte, and in others of Michael Lewis’ MoneyBall (the book, more than the movie, although the movie was ok).

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins attempts in this book to address some of the questions that might arise in the minds of children about topics with which science deals. It was written for kids of unspecified age; I would guess that middle school would be a reasonable estimate.

Letters to a Young Chemist

Imagine yourself to be an undergraduate science major, with some interest in the possibility of a career in chemistry. Wouldn't it be interesting to have lunch with more than a dozen (actually seventeen) accomplished academic researchers, who could tell you about some of the cool things that their work has discovered, and what they are currently excited about.

A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos

I enjoyed so much Dava Sobel's previous books, "Longitude" and "Galileo's Daughter" (both of which were Hal's Picks), that I was eager to read her latest, which was judged "best science book" for Fall, 2011 by Publisher's Weekly.