Monday, April 14, 2014

Kitchen Chemistry you can do at Home (ask your parents first)

You can do some pretty cool science experiments at home with your parent/guardian's permission. Watch this video to learn how!
What do you observe? A good scientist must record his or her observations.

Friday, April 11, 2014

What other types of energy are there? Why solar? Why not wind energy, nuclear energy, or hydropower?

That is a good question. There are a variety of types of energy, such as:
  • Mechanical (like wind)
  • Magnetic
  • Electric
  • Light
  • Chemical (like fossil fuels)
  • Gravitational (like hydropower)
  • Nuclear
  • Thermal (like geothermal)
This video talks about the benefits  of renewable energy sources. Check it out!

Solar energy is a good energy source because there is more than enough of it to meet our current energy needs and also gives us a lot of room to grow. It also causes less harm to the environment than many of the other technologies available and it isn't something we will run out of (unless the sun goes out, in which case we would be in a whole lot of trouble). Solar energy, also, is abundant in some of the most remote places to which it wouldn't make economic (or political) sense to build transmission lines. In some places, solar energy is going to be the most competitive technology. In other places, nuclear, hydro, or geothermal will be the most competitive. In many places, fossil fuels will reign for a while.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What is it like to be a researcher?

I must point out that everyone has different experiences and it is different for everyone. When transitioning between being a student to being a researcher, I noticed several things. Here are my observations and experiences:

  1. You become comfortable, yet not content, with not knowing things. We research things because they are unknown. There is no known answer and it is up to you to figure it out, or at least make some sense of what you see. Things do not always turn out how you plan or even predict. This can also be a good thing if it tells you more about how things really work.
  2. You may not come up with a catch-all "answer". Sometimes you can only rule out other things that may happen. This can be nearly as useful as a complete answer. For example, for my experiments, x-ray diffraction is not good at telling me whether I just have Cu2ZnSnS4 or if I have a mixture of Cu2ZnSnS4 and ZnS. It is still a useful technique because it can tell me about when and whether other phases form and can give me kinetic information on many of the reactions that can take place in the film, but it does not give me a complete answer. I can use other techniques to make up for this limitation and can still get some good information from the technique. 
  3. Questions can be more fascinating than answers, since they lead to more questions, which allow you to reach more complete answers. I have been recently reading some papers that talk about the crystal structure of Cu2NiSnS4. Several papers say that it is cubic, whereas one paper says that their material was of a wurtzite (hexagonal) structure and all have data to back up their claims. Why are these different groups seeing different things?
  4. Other people will know things that you do not. This does not make you stupid or mean that you are less intelligent. It is just an opportunity to learn more and see how you can use what you know to help them and how you can use what you learn from other people. Questions are a sign of an active, agile mind. 
    Photo from Travelated
  5. The pictures that you see in the media and group websites depicting scientists at work are often hilarious. In our efforts to get as many people on a research team into pictures and appear cool and cutting edge, poses often look funny from other angles. You often end up with photos of yourself staring intently at steel blocks that do nothing. If the photo were taken from any other angle, it would look ridiculous. Also, you don't always work with shiny new equipment. Sometimes the old stuff works better or you already have old equipment on hand that suits your purposes just fine. Sometimes you just need to creatively make something from what you have available. Scientists have budgets, too.