Sunday, September 23, 2012

Quicktime movies on some of my favorite chemistry topics.....

I found these and thought they were really helpful in explaining some fundamental concepts in introductory chemistry:

1. Periodic Trends video
2. Multiple Proportions video
3. Electron configuration and orbital energy video
4. Rutherford Gold Foil Experiment/Nuclear Model of Atom video

All four of these topics were emphasized on my first exam.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

measurement and uncertainty

I am grading labs right now and reflecting on the importance of not only reporting a measurement with the correct units but also including the correct number of significant digits. This is critically important in science. The more I teach this class the more I emphasize its importance. It is the number one reason people get marked down on their lab reports.

I read somewhere recently that there was a major error made by NASA as a result of someone using metric measurements as if they were English measurements. Can you imagine such an error being made by scientists at the level of NASA engineers? I certainly can't. Obviously their introductory chemistry instructors did not emphasize the importance of this critical skill and they were able to mask their ignorance in upper level classes. This resulted in a major problem with a NASA satellite up in space.

At the level of the earthlings, however, the individual errors result in nothing more than a lower grade on a test or lab report. Insignificant in itself, however, predictive of larger problems down the road.

Uncertainty is critical in chemistry. Measurements must be precise and accurate.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Juggle, Juggle, Juggle as a mom

A few days a week, I get up at the crack of dawn to drive up to Orange County to teach an introductory chemistry class. As much as I enjoy teaching the class, it would be so much more convenient to have it closer and a bit later in the day. But...... here I go again breaking my resolution to appear nothing other than completely content. No, no, no, no complaining for me.... EVER.....(See my posts about Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project)

For this reason I relish days like today when I have NOTHING to do but sleep late, take care of my daughter and try to keep some semblance of a clean, orderly house.  On the sunny side, I suppose I should just be glad I have a day like today to relish. Some people get up at the crack of dawn every day just to make ends meet.

I'm going to enjoy the fall sunshine at the zoo this afternoon.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Listen. Write. Present. A Review

Listen. Write. Present: The Elements for Communicating Science and Technology
Stephanie Roberson Barnard and Deborah St. James. 2012. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. [ISBN 978-0-300-17627-8. 192 pages, including index. US$22.00 (softcover).]

“Listen. Write. Present.” The three title words summarize this book’s purpose. Stephanie Roberson Barnard and Deborah St. James write a concise, thorough summary of the skills needed to succeed beyond the classroom in science and technology professions.
One reason Listen. Write. Present. is successful in reaching its audience is that it encompasses highlights from other communication books into a one-stop shop resource. For example, the writing section highlights important grammar and punctuation rules; of which many are found in Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. The chapter on presenting includes tips about how to optimize the use of slides—information that is a condensed version from Garr Reynolds’s Presentation Zen Design.
Also covered are topics of networking, serving, and listening. These are always helpful soft skills to review and practice, but particularly necessary for advancement in science and technology. Networking, serving, and listening are also necessary skills in other professions. This book is practical as a guide for almost any career. The chapter about meetings includes a section about how to run an effective meeting. Having sat through many meetings unrelated to science and technology, I kept thinking about how I wished everybody, regardless of their discipline of study, would review these skills to create faster, more efficient meetings. Perhaps Barnard and St. James could modify their title to encompass additional career fields and garner a larger audience.
Listen. Write. Present. could be used as a job searching tool for scientists as it includes sections about interviewing and résumés. A helpful addition might be a curriculum vitae sample as it is often easier to understand format by example than by description.
Many of the traditional communications books do not include information on how to incorporate technology into professional communication. This book does. From helpful tips about email etiquette to tips about formatting PowerPoint presentations, technology is definitely emphasized as a critical component to current communication.
One goal stated in Listen. Write. Present. is to create a quick reference manual for scientists. Although this is largely successful for the general information about writing and communicating, I found a flaw in this book for specific disciplines of science. The writing chapter includes a section about writing in the active voice instead of the passive voice. In writing scientific papers in chemistry, the passive voice is the accepted format for publication in a journal. For the scientist trying to submit a paper for publication, this section would provide misleading advice.
However, for a general guide about how to effectively leverage soft skills to maximize career opportunities, Listen. Write. Present. is an excellent resource. With its detailed index and list of additional resources at the end, it is a one-stop shop reference for any scientist’s shelf.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Nutrition Lesson 101

While I was pregnant last year it became evident that I had inherited my Swedish grandmother's tendency for anemia. Yes, I was iron deficient. So it has become habit for me  to look at the ingredients and nutritional information on the side of many household foods to see how much iron I am getting in a given serving. I am always trying to increase my daily intake of iron from common foods so I don't have to eat large amounts of meat or take a supplement.

For this reason I glanced at the black molasses jar that my husband was going to use for his breakfast. We keep it in the back of the fridge mostly for Lent, but he occasionally eats a special breakfast of molasses and tahini with his bread.

I did not know that black molasses contains 69% daily allotment of calcium per serving. (Each serving is 8 oz.)  This means I could chug molasses daily and easily get my daily allotment of calcium. (My other deficiency is usually calcium as shown by my thin fingernails and peeling toenails).

Sometimes the strangest foods seem to meet my nutritional needs.