Cool Physicists and Poor Chemists

8 03 2012

All science is either Physics or stamp collecting

~ Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics.

Normally when I ask my Physics friends, “what are you working on these days?” they answer something on the lines of string theory, relativistic quantum effects or dark matter or looking out for some supernova or you know, one of those cool sounding words. Contrast that with my Chemist friends who answer me something like, synthesis of second fragment of a taxol or characterizing my sample with IR or one of those things about no one seems to care much.

My Physicists friend might grumble but then isn’t it true that what a chemist does, affects the general public, or aam aadmi, directly? I mean would you rather prefer a cheaper paracetamol or would it be better if someone told you that some star exploded a few thousand light years away? But then ask people names of famous scientists and what you would hear is Einstein, Newton, Heisenberg, Feynman. You would surely not hear them say Langmuir, Fischer, Wittig or Hoffmann. I mean who cares who was responsible for the wonderful windshield of your car that dries off almost immediately when you would rather be happy about knowing that “the force between the elctrons is an exchange force arising from the exchange of virtual photons.”

Not just that. Physics has wonderful jokes too. You have jokes about Pascal and Newton playing hide-n-seek. You have movies on Heisenberg, Einstein. They are natural philosophers who write wonderful quotes about religion and ethics and say what God doesn’t like to play with. Then there are these legendary stories of Archimedes running nude and apples falling on heads. And then those wonderful T-shirt captions on the lines of “Gravity is a myth. The earth sucks.

Meanwhile we are stuck with one single joke that we repeat everywhere. “My name is bond. Ionic bond.” We don’t have legendary stories except perhaps the elucidation of ring structure when whats-his-name was sleeping and dreamt of snakes. The discovery of fullerene, beautiful molecules that looks like football, might make good movie but then do we care? Even the super-villians are more engineers or biologists who don’t have to sit in front of a foot long column separating R and S isomers of some poisonous chemical. Who cares when we say that we have 117 elements on the last count as opposed to the great GOD who has only 5?

Anyway, why am I whining? Hopefully one of us would be the next savior of humanity or something. May be then, we might get a bit of respect. At this moment all that I can do is take a potshot. No, it won’t be directed at my software engineer friends. They earn 10 times more than I do for their “work”. The above quoted Ernest Rutherford who called my poor chemistry as mere stamp collection, got a Nobel Prize in 1908 in, hold your breath, C-H-E-M-I-S-T-R-Y. **** on that.

A Definitive Guide to PhD (Pt 1)

16 09 2010

Hello Folks,

Welcome to the first part of “The Definitive Guide to PhD”. As an 8th year PhD student and with the due blessings of my seniors (9th to 11th year PhD students (uncles?)), I feel I am qualified enough to tell you newbs what to expect from your PhD. It’s always good to be prepared. Sun Tzu, as he says in, “The art of war”,

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”

Sun Tzu

Not to say of course that PhD is a war. War is something where either of the sides can win. When it’s already decided that you are a loser, it can perhaps be called PhD, for simply lack of words.  But before you get disappointed, let me share my wealth of experience. The wise ones as they say learn from others mistakes. Though people and at times you, yourself would doubt how wise it was to have joined for PhD, be very sure that you have not made a mistake. Mistake is something that can be corrected. When it cannot be, it’s called a blunder.

For the first part, let’s describe the types of advisors or “guides” that you may come across. But before that, what should you know:

  • First and foremost, know that your boss is your God. (And do not forget, Yama, the God of death, too is a God.)

Yama: The Boss

  • The number of years you will take to finish you PhD is give by,

n = 3 (m+1)

where m is the number of years your boss says he will give your PhD in.

  • Your boss will never crush your dreams. The dreams with which you enter the campus like curing cancer or making a time machine or sorry…I forgot what mine was (it was at the beginning of this century, dude!) are simply unrealistic. All your boss does is to let you know that, journals like Science and Nature are out of your scope and you should be satisfied with the IEEE or Elsevier is where you belong.
  • Your boss does not have a big ego. However, it would still be wise if you never ever tell him something like, “But you only said it.”

Once you know these basic axioms, I will come up with the different “Types” of Boss in part two of the series. Until then, ya well… download movies from the repositories.