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O Canada!!!

March 28, 2009

So it was time for me to get my globe out and spin again and I ended up in the magical land of Canada. I will be searching for some unis to randomly select soon and then I am sure we will see some quality work (the original research) and shite commentary (my blog posts) very soon…


Hunan – Shockwaves and chaos!

March 25, 2009

Wow the title of this post almost sounds like some kind of natural disaster hit Hunan.  Well in a way it has – today’s paper is on a topic that goes completely over my head so I am sure I will make a bit of a hash of it, but here goes anyway.

Today’s institution boasts a full range of disciplines which run the gamut from law to business to arts to sciences and engineering and everything in between or outside that sphere.  By the look of it, their campuses are absolutely beautiful *drool*.  I am of course talking about:

Hunan Normal University

I must admit that the name of the university did bring a smile to my face – like every other university is abnormal *immature giggle*.  Like the paper from Chengdu, today’s paper is from the area of ‘hard sciences’, which is entitled:

Hai, W., Zhu, Q., Rong, S., (2009), Chaotic shockwaves of a Bose-Einsten Condensate, Physical Review A, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevA.79.023603

When I read the term ‘Bose-Einstein Condensate’, chaotic shockwaves are what happen in my brain.  I like physics, but basic physics, forces and electricity and all that stuff.  Bose-Einstein stuff and some of the whimsical terminology that is used (refer to abstract for Smale-horseshoe chaos) just make me go what the…?

That being said – here is my pathetic attempt to make sense of the paper.  This is where we enter through the looking glass of particle physics.

Particle physics

Particle physics

By the way if you wanted a definition for a very nerdy joke that is terrible and unpunny – that’s it right there….and yes the mirror imaging is also incorrect…

First, for the benefit of us non-physicists I will define what a Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC) is – it is a boson which is constrained by an external potential being applied at a temperature very close to absolute zero -273.15C.  Bosons are not actually fat, piratical sailors, but they are small particles, sometimes subatomic in size, sometimes (as in the case of 12C and 4He) atomic in size that behave in a manner modelled by Bose-Einstein statistics.  The elusive Higgs boson belongs to this exclusive club.  So BEC’s are pretty much very cold tiny particles.

The paper which I am discussing today shows some pretty fancy maths for describing matter shock waves with both periodic and chaotic amplitudes and phases.  The paper claims that the existence of chaos actually helps to suppress the blast of a matter wave.  Breaking it down very simply the authors modelled the behaviour of shock waves caused by tiny frozen particles constrained in a ‘potential’ space.  They modelled what happens in a nice orderly system when things occur at regular intervals and at regular magnitudes.  Then they basically scribbled all over it and figured out what happens when the shock waves behave in a chaotic manner.

They also have some awesome graphs – if you can’t get hold of the paper, email the authors and they can send you one, otherwise I can pass on one. Anyway Figure 1 basically looks like a sideways hot air balloon with a face.  I am sure it means something very scientific but all I am seeing is pure Rorschach.

If anything I have said is incorrect, then that is not really very surprising…..

Chengdu – Phun with Phase Diagrams

March 23, 2009

The institution of the day is again located in China (as the country that has been selected for the week) and is located in Chengdu, Sichaun (I always think of spicy chilli dishes when I see that name).  The university I am writing about today specialises in the areas of science (yay!) and engineering (yay again!) but also offers courses in business (economics and management), arts, philosopy and law.  It is:

Chengdu University of Technology.

Historically CDUT carried out a lot of work in geology and some of their research centres reflect that as the university houses both the National Key Laboratory of Oil and Gas Reservoir Geology and Exploitation (hmm not sure if that last word translated correctly)  as well as the National Specialty Laboratory of Geohazard Prevention and Geoenvironment Protection (interesting juxtaposition of research).

Today’s work actually falls inside my field, chemical engineering, so maybe I will have something lucid to say about this work (or not…):

Deng, T., Yin, H., Li, D., Metastable Phase Equilibrium in the Aqueous Ternary System (Li2SO4 + MgSO4+ H2O) at 348.15 K, Journal of Chemical and Engineering Data, 54(2), 498-501.

I am already loving this paper as it is only 4 pages long, when I looked closer the 4th page was made up of half a page of references.  EXCELLENT paper already.  Hopefully it means that it’s succinct and to the point.  The aim of this paper appears to be add to the general lexicon of physicochemical data by gathering information on the ternary phase diagram of the 2 salts and water in equilibrium, both stable and metastable (duh!) – this is of particular interest as the authors explore the possibility of ‘mining’ lithium and magnesium salts from  natural salt lakes.

This paper is a true to the spirit of chemical engineering paper – the authors built and used their own apparatus to investigate the phase equilibrium – genius!  I also like this paper because there is very little waffling or pontificating (I could learn something here).

The authors propose harnessing the power of natural effects (wind energy and solar techniques) to carry out the salt ‘mining’ but obviously first there is a need to know something about the equilibrium of the salt mixture in water.  The metastability provides the opportunity for harvesting of salts (I think) and the reactions can be exploited to promote this.  As well as getting phase equilibrium data, to help the process along, solubilities, densities and refractive indices were also determined.  There is a lot of quality info packed into this little paper and if you happen to be interested in this area it’s well worth a read.  If you are any type of physico-chemical  scientist it’s also well worth taking a look at how to write a nice, concise ‘meat and potatoes’ paper.

As an aside I must say looking at the phase diagrams takes me back to my halcyon undergraduate days….For those who aren’t familiar with ternary phase diagrams, basically it’s a way of combining data on the concentration of  elements in a 3-phase system and then determining how much of each resides in a particular ‘form’ (e.g. solid, liquid, solid solution etc).  The most common example out there is that for stainless steels because these typically contain iron and two other elements – they have been extensively studied as a result of industrial drivers and hence are well known systems.

Within a phase diagram you can select a composition point within the ‘space’ and ‘tie lines’ can be used to help determine the composition of the material at that point.  Here’s a link which has a nice basic description of how a ternary phase diagram works.

And now here is an example of a phase diagram that I want to work towards –

Phase equilibrium of a scientist

Phase equilibrium of a scientist

Sorry about the crappy resolution on some of the font…I’m not very arty or very phunctional in Photoshop – I might fix it one day, but my laziness about blog posting will probably deem otherwise.

Shanghai – Learning and Linguistics

March 21, 2009

China is a very large country with research strengths in many areas of science, however my randomly selected institution for the day excels in the areas of literature, education, economics, management and law.  It is located in Shanghai, it is:

Shanghai International Studies University

Shanghai International Studies University

(I think the image on the left is the actual university)

The research at this institute focuses in the areas mentioned above and has established more than ten research institutes and groups mainly focussing on foreign language and literature, international politics, economics, and cultures.  They do publish a lot of work in Chinese so I did have my work cut out for me finding a paper I could read and critique properly!  I had difficulty finding something in Web of Science – which admittedly does not have every work ever published in its database but it is quite comprehensive.

Google Scholar didn’t seem to be as helpful with research papers but did pop up with a lot of books in its search.  I then ended up using the very scientific method of typing into standard Google the following search “journal papers Shanghai International Studies University” and picked the first link that sent me to a paper that actually had an author affiliated with the institution.  On the 21st of March 2009 that paper happened to be:

Ellis, R., (2008), Educational Settings and Second Language Learning, The Phillipine ESL Journal, Volume 1, (90-111)

The author, Rod Ellis, is the Chiang Jiang scholar of the institution but is also affiliated with The University of Auckland.  Luckily I do actually have the ability to read his paper!

The paper focuses on students learning a language or another topic in a language other than their mother tongue, and the different scenarios in which they may do so.  Read more…

Enter the Dilettante

March 21, 2009

I am trying to rid the word dilettante of its negative connotations and use it to highlight my interest in scientific research of all kinds.  My area of expertise is chemical engineering and food science, however this does not prevent my interest in any other research.

I like any and all science, so this is my playground where I can properly discuss other areas outside my expertise without getting a bad formal peer review!  Since I am a dilettante my observations will be from a biased viewpoint, but that’s ok – I hope some experts can wander in here and be ready for some lively debate discussion!

Each week I will blog about recent research carried out in a randomly selected country somewhere in the world.  My methodology for selecting articles for discussion will be very simple.  The country where the research is located will be selected randomly using the tried and true ‘spinning globe and pin‘ method.  A list of research universities will be found for that country and again, one will be selected at random.

I am having trouble finding a convenient comprehensive database of research institutes or companies that carry out research, so if anyone can point one out I would be grateful.  If one doesn’t exist, then I might start one up!  Since there are only about 195 countries in the world, by the time I get through them once just looking at universities, I might have found such a database

Since I am not limiting my search to research within my field, I will simply plug in the institution selected for the day into a science search database.  I am very fond of Web of Science, although you do need institution access – I am using mine from The University of Queensland.  I will then write about the first article listed (which will be the most recent) which is actually from the selected institution.  It does not matter what the article is about or where it is from – this blog is not about writing about ‘rockstar’ research but about giving every institution a chance to have their work critiqued and disseminated.

If no results are found then I will do a broader search for papers (involving Google, a paper clip and chewing gum, a la Macguyver style).  If a country should be spun up again on a subsequent day in the future that spin will be rejected and another spin for a country not yet selected will be carried out.