Skulls in the Stars Just another Scientopia site Fri, 25 Jul 2014 18:41:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Departing Scientopia... Wed, 06 Oct 2010 18:11:12 +0000 So I've finally come to making a decision that I've been agonizing over for the past few weeks: I've decided to leave Scientopia and return to my WordPress blog at

Suffice to say that this isn't due to any problems with the Scientopia crowd, who are awesome; I really just feel that I'm not that comfortable at this time being part of a collective.

Thanks to everyone in the Scientopia crowd for their camaraderie during the past couple of months, and I'll see everyone on the internet and twitter!

As I've noted, you can find me back at, starting more or less immediately, with the usual RSS feed.

]]> 4
Kitty fostering: Mango and Mandarin! Tue, 05 Oct 2010 02:14:04 +0000 We've had a new pair of foster kitties in our house for over a week, but I haven't been able to get pictures of them because they've been hiding under the bed! On Sunday, Terry of F.U.R.R. (whose rescue kitties we're fostering) came to our rescue and helped us move them to another room with fewer hiding spots.

Tonight we had our first real one-on-one (without Terry) interaction with the cats. These two -- sister and brother Mango and Mandarin -- are much less acclimated to people than our previous fosters and take much more effort to work with at this stage. They were hiding under a dresser when we came in and we had to gently pull them out -- with much hissing -- and make them interact. In short, as trained by Terry, you calmly follow them around until they get bored and allow you to pet them.

And don't you know it, it worked! We got both kitties out and purring and being generally okay with us petting them. They were calm enough for us to get some pictures. Here's Mandarin:

And here's Mango:

They're beautiful kitties, and actually quite docile once they've calmed down! If you know anyone in the vicinity of Charlotte interested in adopting these two, please point them towards Terry at F.U.R.R.! You can also donate to F.U.R.R. here.

]]> 5
ResearchBlogging editor's selections: cells of ice, heavy metal flowers, white dwarf v. neutron star, and the Ig Nobels! Mon, 04 Oct 2010 20:58:59 +0000 skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Was Ice the Original "Cell" in Early Earth? Though scientists have a reasonably good grasp on the evolution of life on Earth, there is much less understanding of how life began. Michael Long of Phased describes an intriguing hypothesis which suggests that voids in ice crystals may have served as a cell wall, keeping primitive RNA strands together and accelerating their interaction.
  • HEAVY METAL SHIELDS FLOWERS FROM DISEASE. In what appears to be a major evolutionary win, it has been found that a certain small species of flower sucks up heavy metals, which in turn protects it from bacterial infection. Casey Rentz of Natural Selections discusses the research, and its potential practical impact.
  • What Happens When A White Dwarf Collides With A Neutron Star? It's a question you've always wanted to know the answer to, right? Now researchers have simulated the results of such a clash of the titans; Joseph Smidt of The Eternal Universe summarizes the catastrophic results.
  • The Ig Nobels have been announced! Finally, it's that time of year again: the winners of the awards for the most bizarre and entertaining research have been released! Christie Wilcox of Observations of a Nerd gives us the rundown on the prizes in all categories.

Check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

]]> 1
Weird science facts, July 18-July 31 Wed, 29 Sep 2010 15:00:34 +0000 The Twitter #weirdscifacts from July 18 – July 31 are below the fold!

127. July 18: Horror author H.P. Lovecraft wrote an astronomy column for a local newspaper -- and got into print wars w/ astrologers! I've blogged about this previously -- Lovecraft did a pretty good job debunking the astrological nonsense.

128. July 19: In 1813, Michael Faraday ended up traveling with Humphry Davy to the continent not only as his assistant, but also his valet! (Davy's valet canceled at the last minute before the trip, forcing Faraday to fill in the dual scientist/valet role.) It's quite remarkable to see Faraday's progression -- he went from being a lower-class worker who was ignored by the Royal Society, to working as an assistant/valet to Davy, to eventually being one of the most distinguished and revered scientists in the world.

129. July 20: After the deadly 1902 eruption of Mt. Pelee, a massive obelisk grew from it to 2300 ft, sometimes at rate of 50 ft/day! (The obelisk collapsed rapidly, and was known as the Tower of Pelee.)

130. July 21: Early Egyptian antiquities collector Belzoni (1778-1824) originally worked in the circus as a strongman.

131. July 22: Michael Faraday was inspired early in his life, pre-scientific career, by a self-help book by Isaac Watts, "Improvement of the Mind". Read a late edition of this book for yourself!

132. July 23: The first paper describing a nano-optical imaging device was written over 80 years ago, by E.H. Synge, in 1928. Synge was the first to suggest that the resolution limit of optical imaging could be overcome by passing light through a subwavelength-size hole in an opaque screen -- and by placing the hole very close to the object to be imaged. This is the central idea of modern nano-optical probes, which were not put into use into the 1980s!

133. July 24: Many historical sea serpent sightings are thought to be misidentified giant squid! This is discussed in Richard Ellis' excellent book, The Search for the Giant Squid. For certain sightings, such as the sea serpent spotted by the HMS Daedalus in 1848, the identification really jumps out at you.

134. July 25: Mathematician Ludovico Ferrari (1522-1565) is rumored to have died of arsenic poisoning via his greedy sister! (His sister immediately married and lost all her money to her new husband, who quickly left her.) This is another one that isn't confirmed, though the story seems rather suspicious.

135. July 26: In 1935, physicist von Laue held a Nazi-forbidden memorial for a Jewish colleague -- and was one of two professor attendees. von Laue was a bad-ass who vehemently opposed the Nazis. Check out the Wikipedia page to see more of his overt resistance to National Socialism.

136. July 27: Water at the Earth's equator is more deuterium-enriched than at the poles! (h/t @modernscientist!)

137. July 28: c. 1800, Chemist Humphry Davy discovered the giddy effects of nitrous oxide by self-experimentation -- and shared w/ friends.

138. July 29: The odd "sailing stones" of Racetrack Playa.

139. July 30: Mathematician von Neumann died in 1957 under military security lest he inadvertently reveal nuclear secrets on his deathbed.

140. July 31: Humans have landed spacecraft on the surface of Venus, and taken pictures there! I don't recall hearing much, if anything, about these missions when I was a kid. I suspect the Cold War may have had something to do with it.

]]> 0
ResearchBlogging editor's selections: WEIRD evolution, pelican's beak, and rainforest reactors Mon, 27 Sep 2010 15:04:16 +0000 skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Reflections on the WEIRD Evolution of Human Psychology. There are lots of psychology studies out there with interesting conclusions, but how universal are the results? Eric Michael Johnson of The Primate Diaries in Exile looks at recent research that shows that many of these supposedly universal results are really, well, WEIRD!
  • The Pelican’s Beak: Success and Evolutionary Stasis. We tend to look at species (such as the coelacanth and the horseshoe crab) that have remained unchanged over great stretches of time as "primitive" compared to us; in reality, though, the opposite is in a real sense the case. Using the pelican as an example, Brian Switek of Laelaps investigates concepts of "evolutionary progress" and "evolutionary stasis".
  • The Amazon Rainforest Reactor – A Rain Factory. Over at A Scientific Nature, Michael Gutbrod describes research showing that the Amazon rainforest acts as a biogeochemical reactor to sustain itself!

Check back next week for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

]]> 0
Weird science facts, July 04-July 17 Wed, 22 Sep 2010 18:57:58 +0000 The Twitter #weirdscifacts from June 20 – July 03 are below the fold!

113. July 04: Feynman (1918-1988) demonstrated a hole in a security fence by reentering the guarded area multiple times w/out exiting. This is described in the chapter, "Los Alamos from below," in Feynman's memoir, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"  The sergeant at the gate almost had Feynman arrested for his shenanigans.

114. July 05: The liger: cross between a male lion and tigress; specimens reach 10 ft long and 900 lbs! It is also possible to breed a "tigon", a cross between a female lion and male tiger.

115. July 06: Via @Laelaps, Funky worms cause ants to mimic fruit!

116. July 07: Over the right surface, a square-wheeled bicycle will give you a smooth ride!

117. July 08: (via @edyong209) Robins can literally see magnetic fields! (This was all over twitter on that day, and I decided I couldn't beat it as a weird fact.)

118. July 09: Physicist Thomas Young (1773-1829) wrote his first autobiography in Latin -- at age 14.

119. July 10: The "flying snake", Chrysopelea ornata! This snake can glide great distances by curving its ribcage below its body, and can even make mid-air turns.  Be sure to watch the long-distance gliding videos (and note the grad students running to catch the snakes!).

120. July 11: The development of the CT scanner may have been aided by The Beatles!

121. July 12: The father of physicist J.W. Gibbs (1839-1903), J.W. Gibbs Sr., was a key witness in the Amistad trial.

122. July 13: Mathematician Niels Abel (d. 1829) died two days before receiving a letter notifying him of his 1st faculty appointment. Abel died tragically young, at age 27; he had contracted tuberculosis while traveling through Europe on a failed job hunt.  It's probably cold comfort, but post-docs struggling for work should realize that things can be much worse!

123. July 14: Contagious Yawning in dogs. Dogs can catch yawns from humans! (Another popular post of the day that I just couldn't beat!)

124. July 15: Haidinger's brush: many people are able to (weakly) sense the polarization of light!

125. July 16: Reginald Scot's 1584 book disproving witchcraft earned the ire of King James... of the King James Bible! This tweet refers to my own post on Scot's work.  It is quite shocking (and depressing) to realize that the "author" of one of the most popular Bibles in existence was in fact a fanatical witch-believer.  James wrote his own book on witchcraft in answer to Scot's refutations.

126. July 17: Physicist Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) invented the "enchanted lyre", an instrument that seemed to play by itself! (In fact, the lyre was connected by wire to instruments played on the floor above)

]]> 3
Optics basics: surface plasmons Tue, 21 Sep 2010 05:12:09 +0000 My goal in my "basics" series of posts is not just to introduce the most elementary topics in optical science, but also to give background on some of the more advanced concepts for future reference. Much of my own research, and consequently my blog interests, center on nano-optics -- the study of the behavior of light on scales much smaller than the wavelength of light -- and one specific aspect of nano-optics that has grown tremendously in importance over the past ten years is the concept of a surface plasmon.

Broadly speaking, a surface plasmon is a traveling wave oscillation of electrons that can be excited in the surface of certain metals with the right material properties. Because a plasmon consists of oscillating electric charges, they also have an electromagnetic field associated with them which also carries energy. There's a lot of terminology to explain in that short definition, and in this post I'll explain what a surface plasmon is, the properties of surface plasmons, and how those properties make them useful in nano-optical applications.

A simple schematic of a surface plasmon is shown below¹:

To explain this picture, it first helps to say a little bit about the electrical properties of electrical conductors like metals. Electrically conductive materials have a large "pool" of electrons within them that are essentially free to move about the material. When an electric field is applied to the conductor, the electrons are pushed into new positions, leaving positive ions behind. The electrons tend to flow along the surface of the metal, and the net positive charge left behind is also on the surface:

The induced charges on the surface create their own induced electric field that tends to cancel the applied electric field within the conductor. Electric fields tend not to penetrate very far into metals, and this observation forms the basis of the Faraday cage.

Roughly analogous arguments may be made concerning the electric field of a light wave; as we have noted previously, light is an electromagnetic wave, with electric and magnetic fields oscillating perpendicular to each other and generally perpendicular to the direction of motion:

The electric field of visible light oscillates extremely rapidly -- roughly \(10^{15}\) cycles per second -- and this field sets the electrons in the metal oscillating, mostly near the surface. Generally, these electrons just vibrate back and forth, but under the right conditions (to be discussed below), the light wave can excite a longitudinal wave of electrons. This electron wave produces its own electromagnetic wave, though this plasmonic wave is confined to a very small region near the surface, and exponentially decays away from it (indicated schematically in the right-hand side of the plasmon figure above).

This wave of electron density and its associated electromagnetic field is what is referred to as a surface plasmon. The term "plasmon" is chosen both to suggest that is it an excitation in an electron plasma and also to indicate its quantum nature -- just as a "photon" is a quantum of light, a "plasmon" can be a quantum excitation of an electron plasma. This terminology is somewhat misleading, however, because surface plasmons in fact arise in the solution of Maxwell's equations without the need to invoke quantum mechanics at all!

It is important to note that not all metals can support surface plasmons.  They exist only in metals with the right material properties, and typically only over narrow frequency ranges.  For visible light, silver and gold have plasmon resonances and are typically materials used in applications.  (A discussion of the specific material conditions required for surface plasmons is outside the scope of this post.)

Surface plasmons (SPs) were first introduced theoretically in 1957 by Ritchie², who introduced them to explain characteristic losses of energy that fast electrons experience when traveling through thin metal films. We will introduce more of the history of surface plasmons as we describe some of their interesting properties:

1) Field enhancement. As noted, surface plasmons have an electric field that is extremely localized to the surface of the metal. This "compression" of the electric field results in plasmonic field amplitudes that can be two orders of magnitude larger than the electric field that excites them! This field enhancement is implicated in a very unusual phenomenon known as surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS), first experimentally observed in the 1970s.

Raman scattering (without the "surface enhanced") is the inelastic scattering of a photon (light quantum) by an atom or molecule in which some of the vibrational, rotational, or electronic energy of the matter is removed or added to the photon's energy. The corresponding frequency shifts of the scattered light is practically a molecular fingerprint and can be used for material identification; unfortunately, the Raman signal is typically very weak, requiring large amounts of material in order to make a conclusive identification.

In the 1970s, however, researchers noticed that the Raman signal from molecules deposited on plasmon-supporting metal surfaces was orders of magnitude larger than expected; this has been partly explained by the field enhancement of surface plasmons (though there is not a completely satisfying explanation of SERS, even today).

2) Long-range propagation. As I've noted, light does not typically penetrate very far into a metal -- typically on the order of nanometers. (This distance is referred to as the "skin depth" of the metal.) However, surface plasmons can travel along the surface of a metal over a significantly longer distance before being dissipated -- even up to millimeters! That may not seem like a very long distance, but that is a million times longer than the skin depth. The effect is particularly pronounced when plasmons are propagating along a very thin (nanometers-thick) film of metal; as noted in the 1981 in a theoretical paper by Sarid³, the strength of dissipation actually approaches zero as the thickness of the metal film approaches zero. The long-range propagation property of plasmons is being employed by people interested in making a new, smaller generation of electrical and optical circuits.

3) Short wavelength. Let us consider first a light wave propagating in vacuum with angular frequency \(omega\) and wavenumber \( k = 2pi/lambda\), where \(lambda\) is the wavelength of the wave. From basic properties of waves, one can show that the frequency and wavenumber are related through the speed of light by the expression,


The above expression is what is known as a dispersion relation, which I have touched upon in a previous post. For a quantum particle of light (photon), this expression may be given more definite meaning. A single photon (light particle) propagating in vacuum has an energy \(E\) dictated by its angular frequency \(omega\) of oscillation through the equation,

\(E=hbar omega\).

The constant \(hbar\) is Planck's constant. The momentum \( p\) of the photon is given by the equation,

\(p = hbar k = frac{2pi hbar}{lambda}\).

If we combine the previous equations, we find that the energy and momentum of a photon are related by


This expression may be also said to show that that energy is proportional to momentum for a photon propagating in vacuum.

Surface plasmons also have a dispersion relation that connects their energy and momentum, but in general it is a much more complicated relationship. A standard plot illustrating the relationship is shown below (taken from the thesis of my former Ph.D. student, Dr. Choon How Gan):

Ignoring the equations, we can see that this is a plot of the dispersion relations for light (black line) and a surface plasmon (red). For a given frequency (horizontal line), the wavenumber of a surface plasmon is always larger than that of a photon. Because wavenumber is inversely related to wavelength, we may say that a surface plasmon has a shorter wavelength than light of the same frequency. This has huge implications for optical applications: for example, the resolution of conventional imaging systems is typically limited by the wavelength of light; reducing the wavelength is essentially an improvement in the system resolution.

However, the different dispersion relation of plasmons has a downside. If we consider this relation in terms of energy and momentum, we may say that a surface plasmon always has a larger momentum than a photon of the same frequency. Because energy and momentum are always conserved, in order for a photon to be converted into a surface plasmon additional momentum must be provided. Light shining on a smooth metal surface will in consequence never excite a surface plasmon.

Broadly speaking, two methods may be used to provide the required additional momentum. The first of these is to introduce surface features to the metal, such as surface roughness, a grating pattern, or even a single surface bump; these surface features serve as a runner's starting block of sorts, giving the plasmon something to "push off of" in order to get moving:

The second method is a little more subtle. When light travels in a material of refractive index \(n>1\), its wavenumber is increased to the value \(kn\). If this light wave experiences total internal reflection on the inner surface of the material, it produces an evanescent (exponentially decaying) wave outside which has a horizontal momentum greater than \(k\)! If the evanescent wave is brought close enough to a metal surface that supports plasmons, it can excite them directly:

This arrangement for exciting plasmons is known as the Otto configuration. The mismatch of momentum between photons and plasmons makes it harder to excite them, but it has an upside -- a plasmon, once excited, cannot radiate back into a photon unless it hits another surface feature.

In spite of the preceding three properties -- field enhancement, long-range propagation and short wavelength -- surface plasmons did not receive significant attention until 1998, when T.W. Ebbesen and collaborators published a paper4 in Nature entitled, "Extraordinary optical transmission through sub-wavelength hole arrays." The researchers considered the amount of light transmitted through a rectangular array of subwavelength-size holes in a thin silver plate:

Since the 1950s, theoretical results had established (as we alluded to at the beginning of this post) that very little light is transmitted through a hole of subwavelength size. Ebbesen's team found, however, that the amount of light being transmitted through the holes was a factor of 10 larger than theory predicted. They attributed this anomalous enhancement to the presence of surface plasmons on the metal plate!

It is a little difficult to explain why the presence of surface plasmons enhances light transmission in hole arrays; in fact, depending on the specific behavior of the system, plasmons can also make the transmission less than expected5. The short answer, however, is a combination of all three properties mentioned above. The field illuminating the metal plate excites plasmons at each of the holes. These plasmons travel to other holes and can interfere constructively with other plasmons as well as with the field directly transmitted through the holes. This resonance phenomenon enhances the field at each of the holes, where it is converted back into a propagating light wave.

The observation of enhanced transmission, though initially controversial, opened researcher's eyes to the potential of surface plasmons. The ability to squeeze light through a tiny hole made many nano-optics applications more feasible, and introduced many others (such as the plasmonic circuits mentioned earlier, as well as some schemes for producing invisibility). There is even a journal dedicated to plasmonics research, initiated in 2006, with the descriptive title of Plasmonics!

The study of surface plasmons is now its own subfield of optics, within nano-optics, and holds significant promise for future technology. Only time will tell, however, whether the phenomenon will fulfill all the hype that has been heaped upon it!


¹Figure adapted from a classic monograph, H. Raether, Surface Plasmons (Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 1988).

² R.H. Ritchie, "Plasma losses by fast electrons in thin films," Phys. Rev. 106 (1957), 874.

³ D. Sarid, "Long-range surface-plasma waves on very thin metal films," Phys. Rev. Lett. 47 (1981), 1927.

4 T. W. Ebbesen, H. J. Lezec, H. F. Ghaemi, T. Thio & P. A. Wolff, "Extraordinary optical transmission through sub-wavelength hole arrays," Nature 391 (1998), 667.

5 This is actually work that I was a co-author on: H.F. Schouten, N. Kuzmin, G. Dubois, T.D. Visser, G. Gbur, P.F.A. Alkemade, H. Blok, G.W. 't Hooft, D. Lenstra and E.R. Eliel, "Plasmon-assisted two-slit transmission: Young's experiment revisited", Phys. Rev. Lett. 94 (2005), 053901.

]]> 2
ResearchBlogging editor's selections: the Peruvian coffee paradox, galactic positioning, going green, the Alpine Fault, and hurricane plankton Mon, 20 Sep 2010 17:15:55 +0000 skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Peruvian Coffee: Matching Consumption With Production. Though Peru makes and exports awesome coffee around the world, locals primarily drink Nescafé! Krystal at Anthropology in Practice looks at this seeming cultural disconnect, and draws an analogy with Soviet sausages to help explain what is possibly going on.
  • How do we know…? Where we are in the Galaxy. Astronomers seem to have a pretty clear idea of the Sun's location within the Milky Way galaxy, but how do they know? Niall at we are all in the gutter gives a concise introduction to the science behind our galactic positioning.
  • Going green… literally. Though human beings have devoted a lot of effort to drawing energy from sunlight as a renewable energy source, we're just amateurs in the process compared to plants! Brian at the Berkeley Science Review Blog describes two recent innovations in the understanding and implementation of plant-like photosynthesis.
  • All quiet on the Alpine Fault? A couple of weeks ago, New Zealand was shaken up by a very strong earthquake. This wasn't necessarily a surprised, as it is a seismically active area, but what is surprising is how quiet the nearby Alpine Fault has been. Is it "due" for a massive earthquake? Chris of Highly Allochthonous looks at the history of the region and the inevitability of an Alpine Fault earthquake.
  • Can tiny marine plants steer some of the world’s biggest storms? Finally, Vivienne of Outdoor Science looks at a surprising hypothesis -- that tiny phytoplankton that permeate regions of the ocean actually have an influence on the location and severity of hurricanes in the region!

Check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

]]> 2
Henry Kuttner's The Well of the Worlds Fri, 17 Sep 2010 03:52:59 +0000 Have I mentioned how much I love Henry Kuttner's writing? I've reviewed quite a few of his books here -- Elak of Atlantis, Thunder Jim Wade, The Time Axis, Destination Infinity -- and have greatly enjoyed all of them. Kuttner (1915-1958) was a versatile writer of the pulp era who could easily jump between styles. He wrote fantasy, horror, science fiction and adventure stories and managed to compose classics in each genre, though some of his greatest work was written in collaboration with his wife, C.L. Moore. His science fiction is what he is most remembered for, and the stories are a joy to read, often employing mathematical and scientific concepts in clever, even poetic ways. Though I've been sidetracked by other things of late, I've been eager to read all of his novels.

The most recent book of his I've gone through is The Well of the Worlds (1952):

(Picture of early edition via Fantastic Fiction.)

So what can I say about 'Well? I actually had a hard time getting through the first few chapters, because I found it initially somewhat erratic and unsatisfying, but it picks up significant speed about halfway through (it's only 125 pages) and I enjoyed it much from then on. It isn't quite the same caliber as The Time Axis or Destination: Infinity, but it is still an enjoyable book.

The novel starts oddly enough -- government agent Clifford Sawyer has traveled to a remote uranium mine to investigate reports of ghosts haunting its lower levels. He first meets with Klai Ford, a lovely young woman with a mysterious past (she doesn't remember her own past) who is co-owner of the mine. From her, he learns that the other co-owner, a shady old man named Alper, has communed with the spirits in the mine and may have set his sights on having Klai eliminated.

Sawyer meets next with Alper, and events quickly spiral out of control. Alper tricks Sawyer and manages to bring him under his power, but events in the mine thrust Alper, Sawyer and Klai into the extra-dimensional world from which the ghosts originate. Once there, they find a ruling class of immortal and invincible godlike beings, the Isier, who cruelly rule over a society of humans known as the Khom. Also involved are a sub-human but also invincible race of being called the Sseli, who are the sworn enemies of the Isier, and the mysterious Firebirds, the ghosts of the mines, whose connection to the others is not quite clear.

Nevertheless, Alper, Sawyer and Klai find themselves in the middle of a power struggle between the Isier, and they end up in a cycle of temporary alliances and unexpected betrayals that lead inevitably to the secret of the Isier and the possible destruction of their world.

As I noted, the story initially lost me -- the characters are quite superficial, especially compared to Kuttner's other sci-fi works, and the early events such as Alper's seizing control over Sawyer seemed rather contrived. Even the first descriptions of the extra-dimensional world felt kind of uninspired!

As always, however, Kuttner eventually justified the faith I've had in him. The early events set up a wonderful power struggle between the various characters, human and Isier alike, and the twists and turns of the story used the seeming contrivances in very clever ways. The world itself fleshes itself out quite nicely once the primary villianess, the Isier Nethe, really starts her own machinations, and it is intriguing to imagine wicked beings who are genuinely impervious to harm and the implications of this.

Kuttner again draws his inspiration from a scientific idea; in this story, he works with nuclear physics and radioactive decay. The Isier are described crudely as "isotopes" of humanity; this idea sounds somewhat silly at first but Kuttner manages to develop an entire world and history around it.

I couldn't put the book down while I was reading the final chapters. Though I don't consider it quite as good as Kuttner's earlier science fiction, it is still an enjoyable novel with thought-provoking ideas.

]]> 2
The Giant's Shoulders #27 is out! Thu, 16 Sep 2010 14:44:52 +0000 The Giant’s Shoulders #27 is up over at Entertaining Research, the third year in a row that Guru has hosted it there!  He has put together a delectable assortment of tasty history of science posts; go check them out!  (And thanks to Guru for being a great and consistent host!)

The deadline for the next edition is October 15th, and it will be held at From the Hands of Quacks.  It will be yet another special edition: the broad theme of the carnival will be on visuals and representation in the history and philosophy of science, technology, and medicine. Entries can be submitted through or directly to the host blog, as usual!

]]> 2