Why blogging can be worth the effort

Summerschool at HZB

There are many outstanding blog projects, but I was especially intrigued by Douglas Natelson’s Nanoscale Views. “Why should Astrofolks have all the fun?” he asks in his intro. He is a full professor at Rice University, Texas, and he writes roughly once or twice a week about solid state physics, hypes and problems and open questions. I find his blog really worth readiNateng, as well as the serious comments of his readers. Via email I asked Douglas Natelson some questions, and I was very pleased that he answered them promptly!

Question: What has driven you to start your blog?

Douglas Natelson: I started my blog back in 2005, when there were a large number science-related blogs being launched. I had seen many blogs concerning high energy physics and astrophysics, but none that really addressed my area of study (condensed matter and nanoscale physics).

How do you get your…

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Why blogging can be worth the effort

There are many outstanding blog projects, but I was especially intrigued by Douglas Natelson’s Nanoscale Views. “Why should Astrofolks have all the fun?” he asks in his intro. He is a full professor at Rice University, Texas, and he writes roughly once or twice a week about solid state physics, hypes and problems and open questions. I find his blog really worth readiNateng, as well as the serious comments of his readers. Via email I asked Douglas Natelson some questions, and I was very pleased that he answered them promptly!

Question: What has driven you to start your blog?

Douglas Natelson: I started my blog back in 2005, when there were a large number science-related blogs being launched. I had seen many blogs concerning high energy physics and astrophysics, but none that really addressed my area of study (condensed matter and nanoscale physics).

 

How do you get your ideas? And when is your favorite time to blog?

DN: In the evenings, mostly.  Ideas usually come up through my work, what I’ve been thinking about, and often conversations with colleagues and students.

Do colleagues or students read your blog?

DN: Yes, some colleagues and students read my blog, and occasionally they bring it up, but usually not extensively.

Do you think blogging has made you more aware of your own opinions?

DN: Yes, in the sense that I have had to think carefully about how I would put some of my opinions into a form appropriate for public consumption.

Do you sometimes change your opinions after exchange with your readers?

DN: Occasionally, but my blogging is more about trying to explain interesting science than discussing politics or controversial topics.

Did you get faster in writing up a blog post due to a training effect? Does this help you in your work?

DN: Probably, and probably. Certainly it is a good idea for anyone in our profession to get practice writing short (blog post-sized) essays, and I likely have gotten faster at this over the years.

Would you advise young scientists (without permanent positions) to blog? And if yes, are there some traps they should avoid?

I think blogging is a great form of communication and a wonderful way to practice writing. Young scientists should blog if they feel like they have something to share with the community. Of course, they should use some common sense in their blogging – like any other public forum, you should be careful with what you say and how you say it, and remember that actions have consequences. (I.e., if a young scientist is having problems with the management at work, I would not generally recommend taking that to a public forum like a blog without an enormous amount of forethought.)

Is there any advice you would like to give younger scientists who think about starting their blog?

DN: Make sure you have something to say that you think is interesting.  Maintaining a blog requires some real effort, and if you run out of topics to discuss, that’s typically the end of the story.

 

Douglas Natelson’s Blog Nanoscale Views is published here:  nanoscale.blogspot.com

 

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Hands inside Glovebox

Earlier, i have seen glovebox in movies.

In my case, at HZB  it was an amazing experience for me to make some sample preparations inside the glovebox. Glovebox is arranged in such a way that the user can place their hands into the gloves and perform tasks inside the box without breaking containmet

The glovebox is an important tool in a modern inorganic chemistry laboratory for manipulating and storing air- and moisture-sensitive chemical compounds and for making sample preparations.

Glovebox at HZB Wannsee

Glovebox at HZB Wannsee

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HZB and Berlin – an unbeatable combination. Listen!

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Hey Asdrúbal, Andrea and Juanita – remember our interview?

Here’s what came out of my computer…

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My morning in a lab

Well, when I read Barbara’s post, I thought: “Oh, if she can take this challenge and write something, then I can as well!”. But my typical morning in HZB is very different than hers. I rarely work by a desk – my job involves mostly lab work. When I do so, I usually analyse optical measurements data with Origin and my desk looks more or less like this:

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A misleading photo – I rarely work like this 🙂

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Two laptops and a coffee

Recently, there was challenge by Mrs Rotger for us to show everybody how our mornings look like. So here’s mine!

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On the left computer I google all the problems I have in COMSOL and try to solve them fast. Here and there people have had the same problems as me, they solved them and posted them online. On the right, there’s my COMSOL computer. I am currently trying to create some simulations, fingers crossed that everything works out well!

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Open air life in Berlin.

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When I arrived in Berlin I already knew it was rich in parks and gardens, but I didn’t know that they were so beautiful! Everyone can find a park fitting his taste. Here it is possible to access to wonderful historical parks so as the parks of the real residence in Potsdam or in Charlottenburg, where you can meet tourists from all over the world so as a typical Berliner Parents enjoying the weekend with their children; nice city park as Tiergarten with flowers, small lakes, rabbits, birds and other animals just in the heart of the town. There are places where people go to ride their bikes, do sport and so on, like in Tempelhof where an abandoned airport has been transformed in a city park, or places where young people go to play their instruments, relax, meet each other in an unconventional environment as in Mauerpark. Beyond the main green area there are a lot of other small gardens everywhere in Berlin where you can relax after work and enjoy the nature.

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Story hunting at HZB

Lots of my day is passed with reading and writing, but some of the best hours are spent with people, who give me background information which is not yet written somewhere: So yesterday, I met – by accident –  Antje Vollmer from the “User Office” in HZB Adlershof, who told me about dentistry research at BESSY II: a team of Berlin Charité analyses  cavities in teeth and the effects of different drilling techniques. How exciting! Who would not like to know whether the painful drilling process is really the best we can do? I was delighted and will try to contact them soon.

After lunch I took the HZB shuttle for Wannsee; There I got the chance to meet Guosong Chen from Fudan University in Shanghai, who had just recently done a very exciting experiment at the MX-Beamline at BESSY II. My colleague Hannes Schlender had written a press release on her beautiful paper in Nature communication.

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Arrangement of protein concanavalin A molecules in two different protein crystalline frameworks. Credit: Fudan University/HZB

In a nutshell, her team discovered a new method to make stable crystals from proteins – normally proteins don’t crystallize; it is an art to get them into an ordered state, and at best those crystals are very tiny and extremely fragile.

The Chinese scientists observed how certain helper molecules, like sugars and dye, can form a crystalline framework which helps the proteins to arrange.

“It was by chance”, the young professor told me. Because her original research goal was not to crystallize proteins, but to enhance fluorescence in proteins by adding sugars and dye molecules. But this did not work! Always a strange precipitation formed! Even when they changed conditions, they observed this solid “dust” particles.

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Yan Lu (left) and Guosong Chen (right) have met yesterday at HZB in Wannsee to discuss their research.

Finally they were intrigued and decided to have a closer look; HZB scientist Yan Lu, who works together with the Fudan Team, advised Guosong Chen to put these precipitations into the MX Beamline at BESSY II, which is specially equipped to analyze protein crystals. And, surprise! The dust consisted indeed of perfectly arranged proteins.

Serendipity and an open mind had led to a discovery which might provide a new tool for medical and biological research, with lots of relevant applications, for instance in drug design.

I am always excited to discover some good science story. Normally our HZB topics are not easy to communicate to laymen audience, it is rare that they make headlines in the “mass media”. Still, sometimes it can work, for instance, a press release on a breakthrough in solar fuel generation last summer triggered a report on the topic on a full page in one of the best German newspapers, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

What I do like the most of my job is to talk with scientists, to ask them about their  motivations and to learn a lot in the process.Fortunately, it is my duty to do so.

 

 

 

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Describe one morning

2014-09-04 09.41.26In this blogpost I would like to give you a subject for your next posts: please do describe a typical morning in the lab, make a snapshot of your desk or the place you are doing your work and tell us, what you are doing.

Why? I will give you three reasons:

  1. It is an essential part of your summer experience.
  2. You are the absolute expert and can write from first-hand experience what you are doing.
  3. Future students could get an impression of what awaits them.

I will do so as well so in case you might wnat to know what a science writer does, you can read my post tomorrow.

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Half program already gone!

A few days ago I was talking to my supervisor when, suddenly, he told me something completely unexpected! We were discussing about my work, I was showing him some results that I had obtained and everything was fine. I asked some advice to proceed and then the unexpected words: “Well, now that we have reached the end of the first half of your summer student program, I think we should…”. Wow, I suddenly woke up! Half program already gone, is it true? Is it possible that I have already spent a month here? I enjoyed so much my work here, the people that I have met, the weekend in the city that it seems to me that I arrived only a few days ago. I hope the next month will run slowly!

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