Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Put a ring on it: chemistry/aviation geek style!

When picking my ring for my wedding ceremony, my family and in-laws were insisting that I wear gold. I'm Indian, so I was not surprised. Most Indians I know received gold jewelery as part of their wedding ceremony and many sport gold rings. Is it tradition? I can't really say--I'm not traditional, so I'm the wrong person to ask--but I know it's common.

I believe that a man's wedding ring reflects loyalty, reliability, strength, trust, and love. And over the years, the dings and dents it accumulates reflects experience. It's a symbol of a strong and lasting bond.

So when it came time for me to choose, I selected a metal alloy that reflects my beliefs: aerospace grade titanium alloy. Naturally.

Titanium alloys exhibit great strength and resist corrosion, fatigue, cracks, and deformation at high temperatures. In fact, part of the success of the Mach 3+ SR-71 Blackbird spy plane can be attributed to the extensive use of exotic (at the time) titanium alloys throughout its structure. Today, titanium alloys are used in on modern commercial airliners on several high-stress parts (especially in the engines).

Yes, I think it's cool to have a ring made from spy plane metal on my finger. In doing so, I satisfied my inner chemistry/aviation geek (it's my ring, after all). But ultimately, I selected a titanium alloy because is reliable and strong, which reflect my relationship with my wife.

As for the dings and dents, since I've known my wife for over a decade before we were married, I ordered ball peen finish to remind me of our years of friendship.

And in case you are wondering, I ordered my ring from Boone Rings. I don't receive any kickbacks if you buy a ring from them. I'm just a satisfied customer who wants to spread the word.

Dr. Dave

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Genius or in tune with Nature?

A recent "Nova Science Now" episode about bird songs brought back memories of my graduate education in synthetic organic chemistry. What do bird songs have to do with chemistry? Nothing, except...

Bird songs are complex, but when songs were replayed at a slower speeds, many sounded like classical music. One bird song example sounded like the main theme Beethoven's Fifth Symphony!

What this episode implied is that Beethoven was inspired by a bird (Nature) and ran with the idea to compose his Fifth Symphony. The bird existed long before Beethoven, so it's very likely he sought inspiration from Nature. For this we call him a musical genius.

OK, so what does this have to do with chemistry?

Nature is the largest chemical factory in existence. Over eons, Nature made a fascinating array of molecules rich in structural diversity and biological activity. Some molecules may even cure the most insidious diseases know to man and it is the role of a synthetic organic chemist to make these molecules.

It takes a lot of knowledge, skill, planning, and some luck to assemble a complex molecule. A synthetic organic chemist must sort through thousands of reactions to determine the correct order of assembly. Most reactions don't apply and those that do are often frought with limitiations. It's science and art, and it's not an easy task.

Oftentimes, an organic chemist will enlist the help of Nature. Through bioanalytical chemistry, we can understand Nature's approach to complex molecule construction and substitute our own laboratory surrogates for each reaction. In many cases, laboratory surrogates for Nature's reactions do not exist. Rather than seeing this as a limitation, it serves as inspiration to create new chemistry.

So just like Beethoven, chemists are also inspired by Nature!

Indeed, Nature's approach to chemistry has inspired the creation of several amazing chemical reactions that makes the rapid construction of interesting molecules possible. Ultimately this translates into improved efficiency for the synthesis of modern medicines.

Nature continues to perform reactions that amazes and inspires even the most experienced chemists. It makes sense, Nature has a several hundred million years head start!

Dr. Dave

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dusting off my wings; train the way you fly, fly the way you train

Flying is my passion. As it is an expensive passion, I decided to ground myself so I could focus on more important matters: my wedding and buying a home.

My wife (who is also my best friend) knows my passion for flight and has been encouraging me to take to the skies once again for some time now. Yes, I'd like to go flying, but Chicago's weather and my free time are rarely in sync. My gut tells me they have formed an unholy alliance to keep me grounded. I've been distracting myself by playing guitar, drawing and painting. These hobbies help, but I'd rather be flying.

Microsoft Flight Simulator: My Flying Surrogate

I've played versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator since I was in the 4th grade. When I started my instrument flight training some 15 years later, I realized that it was more that just a game: it's a training tool. In fact, after every instrument flying lesson in an airplane, I would repeat the same lesson on my flight simulator.

I flew the simulator the way I was trained to fly the plane. I did everything the same, from using my checklists to tuning VORs and everything in-between. Plus, I always set the inflight visibility to a half mile just so I could force myself to fly by instruments.

Training to a high standard on the simulator made my flight training seem easy by comparison. Even the flight examiner was impressed that I passed the instrument checkride at the FAA minimum experience requirements!

To this day, I still use my desktop flight simulator to keep my instrument flying skills sharp; however, I am concerned that I'm not training in the plane I normally fly: a Diamond Star DA40 with a G1000 panel. The plane is technologically advanced, meaning it has a lot of fancy gizmos and gadgets that can make long distance flying easier, but it requires knowing how to interact with the flight computer. I'm computer savvy, but staring at a computer screen while flying through the air is a problem in my book.

Don't get me wrong, the Diamond Star still flies like any other airplane. I can navigate "old school" using VORs (I use them to back up GPS data), but my concern is that I can't practice the way I fly. I guess that's what the real plane is for, but I would feel better if I could fly like I train and train like I fly. Not only is it safer, it's considerably less expensive.

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Exam Taking Philosophy: Pick the low-hanging fruit; don't dwell

The sweet siren song of summer vacation beckons, but before you can succumb to its tune, final exams block your path. Ah, the memories...

Exam Strategy 101
After all the studying is done and the books and notes are set aside, the only thing that's left is to rock the exam. Ithe sciences, a killer strategy makes your studying count.

Having been a chemistry instructor at the university level (which means I have written exams), I recommend ploughing through each page and pick off the questions you know how to answer. Not only will you knock a lot of questions out of the way, but you will also get a feel-good mental boost.

Pay attention to problems throughout the exam because little clues may trigger your studying memory. Numerous times during chemistry and physics exams, I often found clues in later problems that help solve the ones I could not.

My last bit of advice works best for people who trust themselves: once you are certain of your response, don't second guess yourself. I knew many students who changed a correct answer to a wrong one. Trust your instincts. Unless you are 100% certain an answer is wrong, don't change it.

Happy studying!

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science