Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Harry Gray

He's won the Welch award to go alongside numerous other awards such as the Priestley Medal and the Wolf Prize.

Being a polymer chemist/chemical engineer, I've never really dealt with any of his research. I only mention this because of a memory tucked in the distance recesses of my mind. Back in early 1985, I was a freshman at the U. (Which U you ask? Why Minnesota. Everyone calls it "the U". I'm not sure why that doesn't happen in other areas. It wasn't like that in Urbana, even though UIUC dominates the town so much more that the U dominates the Twin Cities.) The professor mentioned at the end of one of the lectures that one of the authors of our textbook (Harry) was going to be giving a seminar later that afternoon and that we could certainly stop by and listen even if it was going to be way over our heads. So three of us did go and yes I can't tell any technical aspects of the work at all. I do remember a few other things though. He had a great happy personality (I don't think I would recognize him if I ever saw a picture of him without a huge smile on his face), he kept joking that he hoped
all his efforts would someday amount to something worthwhile (we all do, but how few of us openly talk about it) and he walked into the talk with a can of beer (there had been a reception before the talk, and he (and others) had kept some refreshments with them as they left the reception and went to the lecture hall. How times have changed.)

No long term lessons here, just some reflections.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Accelerated aging gets even faster

How 63x for an acceleration factor? My first thought was that the material would cook 63 times faster (i.e., ALL thermoplastics including the highest temperature polyimides that only exist in the patent world would be reduced to a ball of charred goo comparable to a roasted Peep) , but given that the mirrors avoid reflecting IR and longer visible wavelengths, maybe not. I've talked in the past of the dangers of over-acceleration and if that isn't a real possibility to you here, then it never will be. But this still could be a useful test. I'd just be sure to runs some slower accelerations at the same time to be sure that there is a correlation to point to.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

This worked real well

From Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry , May 2009, p. 22:

"On March 13, FDA's then-acting commissioner Frank Torti issued a memo warning staff about leaking confidential information. Three day later, a copy of his memo surfaced on the In Vivo blog."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I guess this is the week for "Peer Review"

So it was more than just the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine. The Scientist is now reporting that a total of 7 different such "journals" existed in the early part of this decade, all sponsored by corporate entities, all starting with "Austalasian...". The sponsors are not named, but I suspect that it won't take much detective work to ferret them out. After all, the point of these articles is to use them as a reference, so I'm sure somebody has a copy or two hanging around their office.

What are the long-term ramifications of this? What can be done to prevent this in the future? I wish I knew. I gave the FDA a brow beating the other day for their minimal standards in the use of publication as sales literature, but they certainly set the bar high enough to not allow this stuff through. A boycott of the publisher would be of dubious value.

A letter to the editor? Their website has a feedback option. Take advantage of it. In a time when the line between news/entertainment/opinion is being blurred in the popular media, having a scandal like this in scientific media is horrific.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Peer Review (Again!!)

Sense About Science has a nice website. It's a pop-science debunking site, but I was really taken in by the tab on "Peer Review". It's aimed at students, but makes the point that the general public is really in the dark about the process - that it exists at all and what it entails. This link will take you to the pdf.

A few of the points I take issue with, such as 1) you can tell a result is peer reviewed when it has some obscure reference with unintelligible abbreviations, and 2) the statement "Scientist never draw firm conclusions from just one paper or set of results", which is quite laughable. To try and capture all the details and subtleties of peer-review would be impossible, and making general statements is always a balance between keeping some significance to the statement and making it meaninglessly vague.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Rheological Math

The math in rheology gets to be really hairy at times, largely because of the constituitive equation. The basic equation is t = m dg/dt, which is deceptively simple. Both the stress, t, and the strain g are 3 x 3 tensors, and m, well m can be just about anything you can imagine as long as your imagination is limited to nightmares. Keep in mind that rheological fluids of interest have a memory of what has just happened to them, a fading memory, but a memory nonetheless, and that this memory needs to be incorporated into the relationship. The only successful efforts are limited to simple flow patterns that allow for simplifications, the creation of linearities and other limitations. In most cases, the equations still can't be solved analytically (in closed form) but need numerical analysis.

Tensors are more than just matrices in the same way that vectors are more than just a row or column of numbers. They are objective quantities, meaning that the relationship between them needs to be valid in all references frames, not just an arbitrary one. A really common example in rheology textbooks is to show that if you study simple pipe flow on a rotating turntable, then with non-objective equations, the viscosity can depend on the rotational speed.

Rumor has it[1] that Einstein, who's first major result was the Stokes-Einstein equation, gave up on the field of rheology as it was too difficult. He went on to something considerably easier - relativity, an area of physics which required the development of new mathematics - objective tensors.

[1] ...which means that I've heard it said, but despite looking everywhere, can't verify it. The facts are true, it's just the motivations that are questionable.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Chrysler's Bankruptcy - The First Domino?

I'm more concerned about Chrysler's bankruptcy than most commentators seem to be. Compare the noise to that made about the Porky-the-Pig Plague, which has killed only a few hundred when all flu combined kill tens of thousands each year.

The Big Three have been in trouble for years, and unfortunately they are not alone. Many of the Tier 1 suppliers (those that supplied finished assemblies to the automakers) have had the screws tightened during the decline leaving them in horrible shape as well. Look at the bankruptcies of Meridian, Tower Automotive...

Even when Chrysler is the smallest manufacturer, it could be enough to set off a whole chain of additional defaults, much like what happened in the insurance and banking industry. Chrysler goes under, one or more suppliers go under, making it difficult/impossible to supply Ford and/or GM, further compounding their problems. Keep in mind that there are also Tier 2 suppliers, mold makers, service providers...that will all be directly affected as well.

People love to beat up on the automakers for being out-of-touch with their massive designs and poor quality - "just let them fail" - but it's more than just the Big Three at issue here. There are hundreds of thousands of additional people supporting this industry. The exodus from Michigan is already estimated at one family every 12 minutes, and this can only increase it, raising the cliche question:

Will the last person leaving Detroit please shut off the lights?