Monday, April 21, 2014


As Thumper explained to Bambi, "he's twitterpated."
In the real world, twitter has taken on new meaning. Having recently joined the twitterverse - with considerable trepidation, I might add - I wanted to share my experience.
I have to admit, the Twitter format seemed impossible, at least it did before I started. But the 140 character limit turns out to be a boon for creatively sharing information. The strict format fosters creativity, much in the same way that a highly structured poetic form encourages more imaginative use of language, or a small studio apartment motivates clever uses of space. I have to think about what I'm going to say and how I'm going to say it, to a greater extent than when blogging or posting to Facebook (to say it without using txt spk is an even more difficult undertaking!). That isn't to say that I am sloppy with other forms of media, but instead that the format affects the content in a particular (and interesting) way.
Because of this, I think Twitter would be a good exercise for any scientist who wants to work on getting better at communicating with the public. If it takes more than 140 characters to explain, in basic terms, what you're researching, then perhaps it's not so compelling research after all... either that, or (more likely), you're not doing a good enough job of explaining! (A decade or so ago, we used to refer to this kind of communication as "talking points.")
So call me twitterpated. I don't mind.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Many Worlds of Leo Szilard

I've just returned from the APS April meeting, which hosted a special session entitled The Many Worlds of Leo Szilard (yes, Neil deGrasse Tyson was also there....).
Sadly, I overheard two students in the auditorium behind me commenting that they had no idea who this "Sizlard? Zilard? Lizard?" guy was.
Dr. Szilard, a physicist from Austria-Hungary, was instrumental in the development of the first nuclear reactor, electron microscope, linear accelerator, cyclotron, and was involved in the Manhattan Project. He is even anecdotally credited with designing his own radiation cancer therapy. My work would not be possible without the solid foundation he provided.
Despite his work on the nuclear bombs of the Manhattan Project, he had a tremendous respect for human life and hoped desperately that the United States would not actually use the weapons. He drafted a petition, collected signatures, and presented the result to President Harry Truman, but to no avail - the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war in the Pacific arena. Szilard was eventually dismissed from the Manhattan Project by General Leslie Groves for having suspected communist sympathies.
Today, few people outside of those interested in our nuclear history know his name (let alone how to pronounce it). In spite of this, he is forever memorialized with a crater on the dark side of the Moon named after him.
I can only hope those students learned something. I'd rather not repeat the history that Dr. Szilard tried so valiantly to prevent.