Thursday, December 18, 2008

Springer eBooks Trial

The library is pleased to announce a trial subscription to Springer eBooks.

Springer, the world's largest international publisher of scientific books introduces the world's most comprehensive digitized scientific, technical and medical (STM) book collection. The Springer eBook Collection offers the first online book collection especially made for the requirements of researchers and scientists.

The eBook trial includes access to 2005-2008 online eBooks, book series, and reference works. Sample subjects include:

· Behavioral Science
· Biomedical and Life Sciences
· Chemistry and Materials Science
· Computer Science
· Earth and Environmental Science
· Engineering
· Mathematics and Statistics
· Medicine
· Physics and Astronomy

The trial is good through 3 January 2009.

The collection can be accessed through the database trials page at:

Please send all comments to

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"Selected Works" pages - put your CV and publications online

The UMass Amherst Libraries have developed a means for collecting the intellectual output of the University. Each faculty member (or other researcher at UMass Amherst) may create their own "Selected Works" page that would be accessed through the Libraries' ScholarWorks website, the University's permanent digital archive for these scholarly materials. ScholarWorks is already collecting Masters theses and Doctoral Dissertations, as well as faculty writing, when possible. The Selected Works page could bring together all of a person's work.

Why do this? It is a convenient way for people to find you and your papers, and it can promote visibility for that writing - Google, for instance, includes the pages of ScholarWorks in its searches.

And the Library is committed to keeping the digital output of our community in perpetuity, so your work won't be victim to the ephemeral nature of many websites.

Posting online the full text of your writing raises the question of copyright - many academics have signed over the author's rights to their own work to the publishers of books and journals in order for that work to be published. Most articles and book chapters already published have legal restrictions on what you, the author, may do with your own work.

The Library has been working with other organizations such as SPARC to promote the principle of open access, which would, among other things, allow the author to post their own work on their own website, or a site like ScholarWorks. Using such resources as SHERPA/RoMEO, we can also find out the restrictions any individual publisher has placed on materials they have published, for which they have copyright.

The Library staff can help you to set up a Selected Works page in Scholar Works, or to answer questions you may have about this effort, or about the copyright status of your writings. Please get in touch with us if you are interested.

Nature to retract plant study

from The Scientist
Posted by Edyta Zielinska[Entry posted at 9th December 2008 04:43 PM GMT]

A highly cited Nature paper that identified a long-sought receptor critical for mediating plant response to stress is being retracted after researchers were unable to reproduce the results.

Corresponding author on the paper, Robert Hill from the University of Manitoba, first discovered a problem with the results over the summer when one of his students failed to reproduce the findings. "The binding assay procedures, at least in our hands, did not give the correct results," said Hill.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What information technology are undergraduates using? ECAR study

Findings of The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2008, from the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research investigates use and ownership of laptops, internet-ready mobile phones, etc., and what they do with them. "It analyzes the responses of 27,317 freshmen, seniors, and community college students at 98 colleges and universities in the United States to a web-based survey, as well as findings from a focus-group."

As a librarian, one of the most interesting tables was Table 1 in the "Key Findings" (p.4) of this report which shows "Student Computer and Internet Activities." At the very top of the list is Use the college/university library website with 93.4% of the students engaged, and a weekly median frequency of use. The Associated Demographic Factor was 4-year institutions/social sciences, so I can't celebrate too hard, but it still warmed the cockles of my heart.

I've only skimmed this, but it's pretty interesting to see what students are up to with the technology.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book for neophyte scientists - The Chicago Guide to Your Career in Science

I was looking for books about science writing and such to add to my subject guides and stumbled on this book - The Chicago Guide to Your Career in Science - a Toolkit for Students and Postdocs, by Victor A. Bloomfield and Esam E. El-Fakahany (U of Chicago Press, 2008). For some inexplicable reason, the UMass Amherst Libraries' copy is housed at the Du Bois library; its call number is Q 147 .B56 2008.

I haven't read it cover-to-cover, but I have dipped into it extensively at random. Every page I have read is full of sensible advice and good ideas, things that scientists know from hard experience or 20/20 hindsight, but might wish that someone had told them in advance. The subjects covered range from "Thinking about a Research Career" to "The Meaning and Responsible Conduct of Research" to "Going to Scientific Meetings" - see the Table of Contents for a fuller idea.

For example, the section "Senior or junior postdoc mentor?" (p. 85) presents a pithy and pertinent discussion on the pros and cons of working with someone with an established reputation and large lab vs. someone earlier in his or her career.

I don't know how well aspiring scientists are exposed to this kind of advice - perhaps it is done well in many labs, but in my humble opinion, this book should be required reading for anyone thinking of going into the sciences.

arXiv Online Scientific Repository Hits Milestone

On October 3rd 2008 arXiv announced that it passed the half-million article milestone. The online scientific repository was started in 1991 by Paul Ginsparg as a repository for preprints in physics and later expanded to include astronomy, mathematics, computer science, nonlinear science, quantitative biology and, most recently, statistics.

“arXiv began its operations before the World Wide Web, search engines, online commerce and all the rest, but nonetheless anticipated many components of current ‘Web 2.0’ methodology,” said Cornell professor Paul Ginsparg, arXiv’s creator. “It continues to play a leading role at the forefront of new models for scientific communication.”

“Researchers upload their own articles to arXiv, and they are usually made available to the public the next day. A team of 113 volunteer moderators from around the world screen submissions and recommend whether they should be included in the repository.”

“More than 200,000 articles are downloaded from arXiv each week by about 400,000 users, and its 118,000 registered submitters live in nearly 200 countries, including Suriname, Sudan and Iraq. Fifteen countries host mirrors of the main site, which is located on Cornell’s campus in Ithaca, N.Y.”

For more about this milestone read the press release at:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grants

This might be old news, but I stumbled upon this page today, and thought there might be a use for it on this campus. Below is an excerpt from the page.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE)

SARE works to increase knowledge about - and help farmers and ranchers adopt - practices that are profitable, environmentally sound, and good to communities. Several types of competitive grants are awarded by four regional administrative councils. Research and education grants, generally ranging from $60,000 to $150,000, fund projects that usually involve scientists, producers and others in an interdisciplinary approach. Professional development grants, generally ranging from $20,000 to $90,000, offer educational opportunities for extension, NRCS, and other agricultural professionals. Producer grants, typically between $1,000 and $15,000, go to farmers and ranchers who test innovative ideas and share the results with their neighbors. Projects address crop and livestock production and marketing, stewardship of soil and other natural resources, economics and quality of life. Application details, deadlines, and percent success vary by region and program (see "Apply" below).

Special Notation
More information on SARE
Who Is Eligible to Apply
1862 Land-Grant Institutions
1890 Land-Grant Institutions
1994 Land-Grant Institutions
Hispanic-Serving Institutions
Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
Other or Additional Information (See below)
Private Institutions of Higher Ed
State Agricultural Experiment Stations
State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed
State Governments
More Information on Eligibility
See Request for Applications for more detailed eligibility information.
Request for Application (RFA) Apply: Electronic Abstracts of Funded Projects

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Special issue of Nature on Big Data (Sept 3, 2008)

September 3 (electronically) Nature devoted a segment of an issue to "big data". The hard copy journal was published Sept. 4, v. 455, issue no. 7209.
It includes a commentary, "How do Your Data Grow?" by Clifford Lynch of the Coalition for Networked Information. Two news features: operations at a "petacentre" - facility which handles petabytes of data - by blogger Cory Doctorow, and one about using wikis to make sense of the mountains of data generated by genomics and other fields.
Another article explores visualization, not just for presenting data, but using it to design the original experiments ("Distilling Meaning from Data" by Felice Frankel and Rosalind Reid). In "The Next Google" a number of visionaries predict what the next big thing might be, from robots to RFI tags, to the Semantic Web and video visors. The longer piece is about data curation for biological information.
Some food for thought here.
Note: Some content is available only on the electronic journal. The link goes to a page called "NatureNews". I noticed that there are more articles on the internet and in the hard copy journal that aren't linked to this "NatureNews" page.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Scientist as Politician

To read this article you need to be registered with The Scientist website.
Here's the first bit:

The Scientist
Volume 22 Issue 9 Page 73
By Edyta Zielinska

The Scientist as Politician
So you want to change the world? It's easier than you think.

When Kathy Barker was a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Medical School during the 1980s, she knew she wanted to do more than just bench work on polymorphonuclear leukocytes, a first line of defense against infection. At that time, the United States was in the midst of its involvement in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and Barker decided to invite speakers to talk about US foreign policy, encouraging her colleagues and friends to attend. "There were people who looked down on me," she says. "You were supposed to be doing science and not other things." Barker's thick skin saved her from too much bruising. It was only the first of many civic actions she would take.

Political issues can crop up even closer to home. When Barker recently learned about a creationist biology teacher in her daughter's school district who refused to teach his students evolution, "I came in with my guns shooting," she says. In retrospect, Barker admits, it may have been the wrong approach. "It didn't earn me any friends," who could have helped her sway the school board. While she made little immediate progress in her first attempt, she learned the school board was resistant because it might mean ousting their only science teacher. She now plans to petition officers of the school district.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

E-Stuff - New feature on ISEL Update - Science Progress

As an experiment, we are going to blog on a database or an electronic journal of interest, one per month during the semester. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to use the comment or email us.

This idea occurred to me when I stumbled upon a journal I hadn't known about before,
Science Progress, which is our inaugural subject for this series.

What I like best about Science Progress is that it provides review articles on hot topics aimed at college students or scientists who are not experts in the field in question. Librarians often get students looking for articles which are written in language they can understand.

Most issues don't have a theme, and cover the waterfront, so to speak. But some issues have theme topics. For instance, in the current issue (Vol. 92, no. 2 - July 2008), all but one of the articles are about the effects of climate change on polar regions; it includes individual articles on climate change and whales and seals, polar bears, arctic fox, microbiology of the Antarctic Peninsular region, and (the non-polar one) butterflies as indicators of climate change. The articles are not short - the shortest in this issue is 9 pages (the one on butterflies), the longest 34 (whales & seals), and all contain extensive bibliographies, as one would expect in a review article.

The UMass Amherst campus has access to current issues electronically only, through a vendor, IngentaConnect. Publication of Science Progress seems to be a little erratic - but generally they put out 3-4 issues per year. It is published in Britain, so there is a tendency for the articles to be focused on Britain - e.g., the article above is about butterflies in Britain.

If you'd like to see recent issues of this journal (back to 2001), use the Library's link to the title through the
catalog or e-journal list, or click here on this IngentaConnect link to Science Progress. We have earlier issues (v.11 (1916)-v.87 (2004)) in paper as well.

Solar dish scales down - project of MIT students

Sustainable Futures - from environmentalresearchweb - Aug 14, 2008

Solar dish scales down

A group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US, has developed a small, easy to make, cost-efficient solar dish that might be mass produced by the company they have set up, RawSolar.

The dish consists of a 12-foot wide, mirrored parabola that concentrates sunlight by a factor of 1000. Attached to the dish's centre is a coil of copper tubing 12 foot long that has water running through it. When the dish is pointing directly towards the sun, the water in the coil instantaneously heats up to form steam. This is because the sun's rays converge onto the copper coil, providing intense energy. The steam comes out of the far end of the tube under the dish.

Led by Spencer Ahrens, the students hope that RawSolar will one day mass produce the dishes. They could be set up in large arrays to provide steam for heating, industrial processes, generating electricity, or even air conditioning.

The beauty of the new dish lies in its size – it is smaller than conventional dishes and so requires less support structure, which means it costs less, too. It is also robust (it has already survived a thunderstorm), uses easily-available, off-the-shelf parts and was made by hand, explains team member Matt Ritter.

The structure was based on a design by Doug Wood, an inventor based in Washington state. Wood patented key parts of his design – the rights to which he has now signed over to the MIT students – and says that Ahrens' team has made significant improvements to the original patterns. "They really have simplified this and made it user-friendly so that anyone can build it," he explained.

The students made their solar dish by riveting aluminium tubing to a steel crossbracing. Strips of mirror were then fixed to this frame and the coil collector at the top of the tube painted black.
The MIT team says the system could produce heat from steam for lower costs than that from oil or natural gas.

"I've looked for years at a variety of solar approaches, and this is the cheapest I've seen," said MIT Sloan School of Management lecturer David Pelly, in whose class this project first took shape last autumn. "And the key thing in scaling it globally is that all of the materials are inexpensive and accessible anywhere in the world." Pelly adds that the technology could scale without subsidies – a first in the solar dish world.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Epigenetics on Nova scienceNOW

I've been trying to catch Nova scienceNOW (yes, that's how it's written) on PBS with that engaging host, astronomer and American Museum of Natural History researcher, Neil deGrasse Tyson. It's one more way to keep up with new developments in a range of sciences, and to see what merits the attention of the mainstream. Last week, there was a piece on epigenetics, (a repeat show, I think) which I had never heard of (so shoot me), or at least it had never registered with me. Fascinating stuff illustrated with why identical twins can develop such disparate lives - one getting a life-threatening disease when the other doesn't - we're finally unravelling how gene expression works.

There are some resources about epigenetics on the site linked above, including a video of the segment from the show.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

SciFinder now available on the Web.

Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) now offers SciFinder on the web after many years of providing access via the locally installed client platform. To connect to SciFinder on the web the user must fill out a one-time registration form setting up an individual account with a username and password. Note that the user will need to be on a computer with a UMass IP address; off campus users will need to go through the library’s SciFinder page so that they can be authenticated.

The UMass Amherst Library has purchased access to SciFinder for 6 simultaneous users; only a limited number of simultaneous users can use either the web or client version, so please remember to logout when done.

For more information visit the library page about SciFinder.

For a comparison chart between SciFinder Scholar and the web version of SciFinder visit the Swain Libraray News blog at Stanford University.

New Piece of Climate Change Puzzle Found In Ancient Sedimentary Rocks by UMass Amherst Researchers

Press release from the UMass Amherst Office of News & Information.

July 23, 2008
Steven Petsch 413/545-4413

AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers have added a new source of carbon dioxide to the complex climate change puzzle by showing that ancient rocks can release substantial amounts of organic matter into Earth’s rivers and oceans, and that this organic matter is easily converted by bacteria to carbon dioxide, which enters the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.

“Sedimentary rocks contain the largest mass of organic carbon on Earth, but these reservoirs are not well-integrated into modern carbon budgets” says Steven Petsch, a professor of geosciences. “Since we need to know the budget of the natural carbon cycle in order to determine human climate impacts, this information will lead to more accurate climate modeling.” The research was conducted by Petsch and UMass Amherst graduate student Sarah Schillawski.

In a study published in the July issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Petsch and Schillawski focused on black shales from Kentucky. Black shales are rich in a type of organic matter called kerogen that contains carbon. Kerogen can turn into oil and natural gas when the rocks are heated. The first step was to determine how much organic carbon could be released from the rocks by simulating the weathering process in the laboratory.

Samples of the shale were placed in glass columns, and the effects of weathering were duplicated by running water through the samples for one year. Kerogen is thought to be difficult to dissolve, but the results of the column studies showed a slow, sustained release of organic matter from the rock. Over the course of one year, the rock samples had lost approximately 0.3 percent of their total organic carbon.

The next step was to determine whether this hard-to-digest organic matter could be broken down by bacteria into carbon dioxide. Using common bacteria found in natural waters, including the Quabbin Reservoir, Petsch found that essentially all of the dissolved organic matter in water from the column studies was rapidly degraded by bacteria over a period of nine days.

“This was the most surprising finding in the study, since these bacteria are adapted to digest organic matter from things like leaves and acorns, which is similar to carbohydrates consumed by humans,” says Petsch. “The presence of microorganisms capable of using kerogen may have significant implications for the global-scale cycling of carbon and oxygen.”

Petsch has also studied the release of carbon from sedimentary rocks by soil bacteria, which is another way that ancient carbon can be converted into carbon dioxide. “We have found outcrops of the New Albany Shale, which is usually black, that have turned a light brown color as bacteria consume carbon where the overlying soil meets the weathered rock,” says Petsch.

According to Petsch, the bottom line is that the release of organic material from sedimentary rocks contributes approximately 2 percent of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere each year. While this may seem like a small amount, it is another piece of the puzzle that can be used when determining how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Replacing Roofing, Siding, is a Golden Opportunity to Lower Energy Bills says UMass Amherst Researcher

Press release from UMass Amherst News Office on advice from Professor Paul Fisette, Department of Natural Resources Conservation.

July 25, 2008
Contact: Paul Fisette 413/545-1771

AMHERST, Mass. – Are you planning to add a new roof or new siding to your home before winter? Paul Fisette of the University of Massachusetts Amherst says that these home improvement jobs can be the perfect opportunity to boost your home’s energy efficiency and lower your heating bills, especially if you own an older home.

“Often a catastrophic event like water dripping from the ceiling can launch home improvement projects into high gear, but there is a lot you can do beyond fixing leaks and replacing worn exterior siding,” says Fisette, head of the department of natural resources conservation and an expert on green building. “A well-designed exterior retrofit will lower energy bills and improve the comfort of your home by eliminating drafts.”

According to Fisette, roof shingles need to be replaced every 20 years, and if your home needs a new roof, it is safe to assume that it also needs new, or at least better, insulation. “Homes built 20 years ago are under-insulated by today’s standards, since fuel was cheap then,” says Fisette. “Builders of that time didn’t devote much attention to insulation and air-tightness. High energy bills, drafty indoor climates and ice dams on the roof are all costly symptoms of these subpar designs.”

For most homes, an energy retrofit of the ceiling is fairly easy. Just climb into the attic, block all air leaks connecting the living space to the attic with foam insulation from a can, and increase the thickness of the insulation on the attic floor. You will need 12 inches of fiberglass or cellulose insulation to deliver the R-38 values recommended for much of the country. A good plan is one that provides a continuous insulation barrier between the attic and the living space below.

The situation gets more difficult in cape style homes and homes with cathedral ceilings, where sloped ceilings mean that areas between roof rafters are sealed by finished surfaces. Shallow roof pitches can also be problematic, since there may not be enough space between the rafter ends and the attic floor to install enough insulation. In these cases, insulation needs to be added after the lower edge of the roof has been removed, exposing areas that were inaccessible from the inside. Insulation products with a high R-value per inch, such as rigid foam, may also be required due to space constraints.

If your siding has also seen better days, replacing it can not only dress up your home, but can also be a way of addressing places where air leaks, holes and lack of insulation reduce your homes energy efficiency.

“At first, this process may seem simple; just strip off the old siding from the walls, replace any failing trim, and put up new siding,” says Fisette. “But this limited vision can lead to lost opportunities to increase the insulation in the walls.”

Fisette says he is constantly surprised by the number of old houses that don’t have enough, or any, insulation in the wall cavities. Many owners of older homes replace or add to the insulation in the attic, where it is fairly easy to reach, but avoid the more complicated enclosed-wall insulation. Filling these cavities with blown-in cellulose, fiberglass and foam when old siding is removed becomes much easier, since the insulation can be placed in the wall cavities through holes in the exposed outer sheathing.

This is also the time to repair loose sheathing, replace any rotten wood and patch all gaps, holes and seams with foam insulation from a can. Sealing around window and door openings should also be done at this time.

For maximum energy benefits, Fisette recommends wrapping the exterior walls with rigid foam insulation, which is available in sheets. The rigid foam can be attached to the sheathing with glue or nails, and seams should be taped. Since siding should not be nailed directly to the rigid foam, this process can get a bit tricky, requiring the use of vertical wooden strips attached to the foam sheets to serve as anchors for the siding. This creates an air space between the siding and the insulation. While it may seem like a lot of work, this method will provide a tight, dry and warm structure for many years.

Fisette says that payback times are the most common question posed by homeowners, who wonder whether the cost of extra insulation will transfer into savings. “Payback can be very hard to calculate, since it depends on how much money is spent on improvements and a host of other factors, including climate, existing levels of insulation and fuel costs,” says Fisette. “Calculations on savings for adding insulation to the walls of a standard ranch house predict a five to 10 year payback.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

PubMed's Automatic Term Mapping (ATM) changed

PubMed Automatic Term Mapping (ATM) was originally developed to identify author names, journal titles, and MeSH terms in search queries without search tags. In the old schema, author name and journal title fields were not searched when the search terms also matched a MeSH term. This caused thousands of citation-type searches to fail every day. The new ATM addresses this problem by removing those field restrictions. Under the new schema, query terms can be found in both MeSH terms and every PubMed citation field.

For more information visit

SciFinder Web Coming Soon

Soon access to SciFinder at the UMass Amherst Libraries will be possible through the web. In addition to the traditional means of accessing SciFinder Scholar via a client, CAS is now offering web access. In total the UMass Amherst Libraries is limited to six simultaneous users. This means that it is important to remember to Logoff when finished to free up a connection for another user.

Users are asked to register, agree to the terms of use, and maintain their own username and password. After one submits the registration form, CAS sends an e-mail with instructions for completing the registration process. Therefore, you must have an e-mail address with your organization’s e-mail domain.

So, look for future information about this upcoming opportunity.

For more information about SciFinder Scholar visit

Thursday, July 03, 2008

"UMass studies alternative ethanol sources" - article in Springfield Republican/MassLive site

Highlights the work of "Stephen J. Herbert, a professor of agronomy in the UMass Department of Plant, Soil & Insect Sciences who is leading the research along with Om Parkash, an assistant professor in the department, and Randall G. Prostak, a weed specialist with the UMass Extension. "

UMass studies alternative ethanol sources

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


AMHERST - With corn prices rising and corn shortages growing around the world, ethanol made from corn - viewed just a year ago as the preferred substitute for gasoline - has rapidly fallen from favor.

In hopes that ethanol can still offer a way out of the energy crisis, this spring in the Pioneer Valley, University of Massachusetts researchers are field testing alternatives to corn that can be grown on land that offers poor support for food crops, such as on roadsides and hillsides and in rocky or dry soils. ...

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Stacia Marcelynas Battles Wind, Rain to Place UMass Amherst Eighth in National Supermileage Competition

The UMass Amherst team created a super-mileage vehicle nicknamed "The Homewrecker" (I'm sure there's a story there!) which "racked up an impressive 683 miles per gallon at the Eaton Corporation proving grounds in Marshall, Michigan, finishing in the top 25 percent of a field of 35 teams from around the world at the June 5-6 event. "

Wordle Me This

A quick diversion not wholly unrelated to things science: Wordle! Here the introductory text of "What is Nanomanufacturing?" can be reproduced thus:

And the article itself is good reading, too!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Amazing what you can find online these days - Ernst Haeckel: Kunstformen der Natur 1899-1904

My colleague, Maxine, says that Kunstformen der Natur means Artforms of Nature. It is an online scan of a beautiful book, a collection of page plates of living things, many microscopic, but in any case, beautiful shapes that have been rendered in drawings by Ernst Haeckel. These images are pretty spectacular - some in color and others black & white. If anyone knows more about this book, or Ernst Haeckel, I'd be interested to hear about it.
I think the whole book can be downloaded from this site also, though my German is non-existent, so I'm not certain!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Gmelin Database Trial now through 8/30/08

The UMass Amherst Sciences & Engineering Library has arranged for a trial subscription to the Gmelin database now through August 30th.

The Gmelin Database is the sister database to Beilstein, covering inorganic and organometallic compounds from 1772 to date. Based on a German publication, the Gmelin Handbuch der anorganischen Chemie, the database currently comprises over 2.5 million compounds, including glasses, alloys, ceramics, minerals and coordination compounds, 1.9 million reactions and 1.3 million citations.

During this time period we will also have access to the Patent Chemistry Database.

For instructions on how to connect to the database contact Paulina Borrego

Thursday, June 26, 2008


New York Times blog post (June 17, 2008) from Olivia Judson on the upcoming 200th anniverary of Charles Darwin's birth Feb 12, 2009; also, "July 1 [2008] is the 150th anniversary of the first announcement of his discovery of natural selection, the main driving force of evolution." This was at a meeting of the Linnean Society of London (see yesterday's blog post on the Linnean Society collections) where both Alfred Russel Wallace and Darwin read papers on natural selection. Judson outlines the prior claimants to the concept of evolution and natural selection, and then asks the question, why do we celebrate Darwin over any of these others? it was for On the Origin of Species, published on November 24, 1859.

The reason the “Origin” was so powerful, compelling and persuasive, the reason Darwin succeeded while his predecessors failed, is that in it he does not just describe how evolution by natural selection works. He presents an enormous body of evidence culled from every field of biology then known. He discusses subjects as diverse as pigeon breeding in Ancient Egypt, the rudimentary eyes of cave fish, the nest-building instincts of honeybees, the evolving size of gooseberries (they’ve been getting bigger), wingless beetles on the island of Madeira and algae in New Zealand. One moment, he’s considering fossil animals like brachiopods (which had hinged shells like clams, but with a different axis of symmetry); the next, he’s discussing the accessibility of nectar in clover flowers to different species of bee.

At the same time, he uses every form of evidence at his disposal: he observes, argues, compares, infers and describes the results of experiments he has read about, or in many cases, personally conducted. For example, one of Darwin’s observations is that the inhabitants of islands resemble — but differ subtly from — those of the nearest continents. So: birds and bushes on islands off the coast of South America resemble South American birds and bushes; islands near Africa are populated by recognizably African forms.

He argues that the reason for this is that new islands become colonized by beings from the nearest continents, and that the new inhabitants then begin evolving independently. He then asks: can animals and plants from the continents get to new islands, especially those that are far out at sea? To investigate this, he conducts experiments to see how long seeds from different plants can remain immersed in saltwater and still begin to grow. In short, he tests his reasoning over and over again.
Let's celebrate Darwin's birth this coming February! And then the publication of Origin in November!

Science Blogs

As you all know, the blogosphere is burgeoning - people have things to say, and the Web makes it possible for folks to find an audience easily. The thing to do is find the right name!

I was reading a blog I found through the environmentalresearchweb newswire written by a woman named Liz Kalaugher doing Arctic research onboard the icebreaker/research vessel Amundsen, and started wondering if someone was collecting all the science blogs.

So I Googled "science blogs" - and found someone has taken that name. Seed Media Group has a site called "Science Blogs" - a group of about 70+ bloggers that this company has selected. So no, I haven't found a collection of all science blogs yet, but there's some pretty interesting stuff on this site - not just people propounding their own point of view, but discussion from readers. In my opinion, that's where the real action is.

For instance, I sampled a blog called Drug Monkey which is written by DrugMonkey, an NIH-funded biomedical researcher, and PhysioProf, an NIH-funded basic science faculty member at a private medical school. PhysioProf was ranting about (1) the way up-and-coming scientists - grad students, post-docs - are not exposed to the possibilities of 'alternative' career paths other than 'academic science' (in the private sector); and (2) don't expect him to change the system - he's only one person. This piece was posted yesterday, and there are 40 responses from thoughtful (mostly) people as of this writing. Forty responses tells me the blog has a lot of people who follow it, not only reading but writing in. It's a little community.

If anyone finds a big list of science blogs from different sources, please let me know - I'd like to start collecting them, if not reading them!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Linnean Collections online

The Linnean Society of London (U.K.) is creating a digital image collection of the plants and insects in their possession. They have completed the 14,000 plants, and the moths and butterflies segment of the insect collection. The images show both top and bottom views of the butterflies/moths, and the labels. The photographs are beautiful.

From various pages on their website:

The Linnean Society of London holds some 9,000 specimens, including 3,200 Linnaean ones, of which many are important types. After acquiring the collections from the widow of Linnaeus in 1784, Sir James Edward Smith, the founder and first President of the Linnean Society, added his own specimens to the collection, almost trebling its size. Because of difficulties in recognising all the material interpolated by Smith it has been maintained as a single historic collection. Besides insects as we understand them today, the collection also includes such things as spiders, scorpions, millipedes and crabs – all ‘insects’ as Linnaeus understood them.

The prime scientific importance of the Linnaean part of the collection is as type* specimens for the species which he described. Smith's material (which can often be distinguished from Linnaeus' by the type of pins used to secure specimens) is a valuable source of information on insects from around the globe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but so far has been little exploited.
[*A type specimen is one which is permanently associated with a given scientific name, and acts as a permanent reference point to confirm the identity of the species to which the name must apply.]

For more information see "The 'Linnaean' insect collection" by Mike Fitton and Kim Harman in The Linnean Special Issue No. 7, 2007, 'The Linnaean Collections'.


The Linnaean Collections comprise the specimens of plants (14,000), fish (158), shells (1,564) and insects (3,198) acquired from the widow of Carl Linnaeus in 1784 by Sir James Edward Smith, founder and first President of the Linnean Society. They also include the library of Linnaeus (of some 1,600 volumes) and his letters (c. 3,000 items of correspondence and manuscripts). All are housed in a temperature and humidity controlled strongroom in the Linnean Society.

It is the Linnean Society's aim to make available its primary research material in digital formats to support taxonomic and conservation efforts worldwide as well as providing public pleasure and enjoyment.

Browse the Collections
Search the Collections by categories: Herbarium or Insects.

The Herbarium archive contains all 14,000 Linnaean plant specimens. This first phase of the Insects archive contains the Linnaean and Smithian butterflies and moths only. All the remaining insects from the collection will be made available early in 2009.

Apparently, the Fish and Shell Collections will also be digitized, eventually.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Database Trial - Henry Stewart Talks: Biomedical and Life Sciences Collection

The library currently has a trial subscription to the Henry Stewart Talks: Biomedical and Life Sciences Collection database. View more than 700 online animated seminar style talks by leading scientists on biomedical and life sciences topics.

The trial ends June 30, 2008.

Send comments to

Yes, We Will Have No Bananas

New York Times Op-Ed from Dan Koeppel, the author of “Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World,” suggests that distance, the practice of monoculture, and a virus will cause bananas to become much more expensive, and be regarded as what they are, "an exotic fruit that, some day soon, may slip beyond our reach."

Monday, June 16, 2008

New 'super-paper' is stronger than cast iron

Article on the New Scientist Tech site - perhaps of interest to our wood technology folks, as well as the nano folks, and anyone interested in new materials.

First three paragraphs:
Punching your way out of a paper bag could become a lot harder, thanks to the development of a new kind of paper that is stronger than cast iron.

The new paper could be used to reinforce conventional paper, produce extra-strong sticky tape or help create tough synthetic replacements for biological tissues, says Lars Berglund from the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

Despite its great strength, Berglund's "nanopaper" is produced from a biological material found in conventional paper: cellulose. This long sugar molecule is a principal component of plant cell walls and is the most common organic compound on Earth.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Another blog

I really enjoy Olivia Judson's blog posts for the New York Times. She's an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College in London, and she's witty, imaginative and seems really smart. Today's post discusses the bacteria discovered in rocks deep below the seafloor, and the possibility that they may contribute to weathering of the crust. She has blogged about ichnofossils, rain-seeding bacteria, and what the world would be like if all genetic mutation stopped. She is given to flights of fancy, like this one on dinosaur mating habits:
"Which brings me to my tyrannical fantasy. I want to take a journey 68 million years back in time to see a Tyrannosaurus rex couple mating. What was it like? Did they trumpet and bellow and stamp their feet? Did they thrash their enormous tails? Did he bite her neck in rapture and exude a musky scent? Somehow, I imagine that when two T. rex got it on, the earth shook for miles around."
Or this one on things that live among pineapple leaves:
"The other day, I went to the supermarket to buy a pineapple. I didn’t select the one that smelled the ripest, but the one with the most impressive leaves: tall, bushy and uncrushed by the journey from Costa Rica. When I got it home, I put it in the kitchen sink, turned on the tap, and watched how the water gathered and formed pools in the spaces between the leaves. And I began to imagine that I was not a human in an apartment in London, but a small frog in a tropical forest, climbing up the leaves of a plant like a pineapple, looking for a pool where I could deposit the tadpole I’m carrying on my back."
Her curiosity as an evolutionary biologist leads her to think about a range of environments, from clouds to the "deep subsurface biosphere." As a geologist, I find lots to think about in her articles. Take a look at a couple yourself. They make for provocative reading, but they're somehow relaxing.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Journals Find Fakery in Many Images Submitted to Support Research

Article by Jeffrey R. Young in the Chronicle of Higher Education, May 29, 2008 on doctored images in scientific journals, their prevalence, detection, and consequences.

"Kristin Roovers was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania with a bright career ahead of her—a trusted member of a research laboratory at the medical school studying the role of cell growth in diabetes.

"But when an editor of The Journal of Clinical Investigation did a spot-check of one of her images for an article in 2005, Roovers's research proved a little too perfect."

Putting science into people's lives

A thoughtful op-ed article from the New York Times, June 1:

Put a Little Science in Your Life

Published: June 1, 2008
Science is a language of hope and inspiration, providing discoveries that fire the imagination and instill a sense of connection to our lives and our world.

'... in teaching our students, we continually fail to activate rich opportunities for revealing the breathtaking vistas opened up by science, and instead focus on the need to gain competency with science’s underlying technical details.

'In fact, many students I’ve spoken to have little sense of the big questions those technical details collectively try to answer: Where did the universe come from? How did life originate? How does the brain give rise to consciousness? Like a music curriculum that requires its students to practice scales while rarely if ever inspiring them by playing the great masterpieces, this way of teaching science squanders the chance to make students sit up in their chairs and say, “Wow, that’s science?”'

Brian Greene, a professor of physics at Columbia, is the author of “The Elegant Universe” and “The Fabric of the Cosmos.”

Thursday, May 01, 2008

New Art Exhibit at ISEL

“Images: Neotropical Birds”

An exhibit of photographs by Jeff Podos at the Integrated Sciences & Engineering Library

Associate Professor of Biology Jeff Podos’ exhibit of Neotropical birds is on display from May 5 to August 29, 2008 in the Integrated Sciences and Engineering Library, Graduate Research Center Lowrise at UMass Amherst.

The exhibit includes twelve 16" x 20" color photos or photo montages of birds from the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest and the Galápagos Islands. The birds were photographed in their natural environments.

Jeff Podos has been affiliated with UMass Amherst since 2000 and is currently an Associate Professor of Biology. With the help of his students and collaborators, he studies the behavior and evolution of birds, with particular emphasis on the evolution, function, and development of vocal signals.

According to Professor Podos, “the Neotropical region supports a remarkable diversity of bird species, including many species that are found only in specific regions such as the Brazilian Atlantic Rain Forest. Brazil by itself contains about 1700 described species, with new species being described each year. All of North America, by contrast, supports about 700 bird species. Much about the lives of Neotropical birds -- their behavior, distribution, mating patterns, and so on -- remains relatively unknown.”

For more information contact Paulina Borrego at or 545-7891.

What Have You Done With Your Cognitive Surplus Lately?

Clay Shirky explains how 1 trillion hours of worldwide television consumption per year could translate into 10,000 Wikipedia projects per year. If only we could kick Desperate Housewives.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's National Library Week-- Do you know where your librarian is?

Since 1958, the nation has designated a week in April as National Library Week. Since we're in the midst of it now, I thought I'd talk about one relatively new aspect of the UMass Libraries-- the Peripatetic Librarian.

As more library resources become available electronically, some people think they don't need librarians to get the information they need. Of course, that's not true. Nevertheless, some people avoid coming to the library for help. Librarians being who they are, then, ride out to the rescue.

At UMass, I'm aware of four outside-the-library places where you might find us waiting for your questions, or maybe just reminding you by our presence that you have a question.
  • Mike Davis, Library Liaison to the Isenberg School of Management, holds office hours there in Room 212 every Tuesday from 10:30am to 12:30pm.
  • Barbara Morgan, Liaison to Legal Studies, Political Science, STPEc, and Steve McGinty, Liaison to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, as well as Sociology, SDPPS, TEC, Economics, Educational Policy, and Research & Administration (whew!) can be found just outside the Thompson Cafe each Wednesday and Thursday from 11:30am to 12:30pm.
  • Maxine Schmidt (that'd be me), Liaison to Biology, Environmental Sciences, Geosciences, and Resource Economics-- in the Blue Wall every Wednesday from 10am to noon.
  • Madeleine Charney, Liaison to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture and Landscape Architecture, is currently on maternity leave, but normally holds hours in Hills.
So stop by one of these outposts and say hi sometime, and look for more of us in more places outside the library. Of course, you're always welcome in the Good Ole Library too!

Friday, April 11, 2008

New Subject Guides

The UMass Library subject guides are getting a makeover! We are using an application called LibGuides that gives us a lot more flexibility with content and style. We can include rss feeds from blogs and news sources, embed videos and even a chat widget, so you can "chat" with us live when we're online. You can also comment on the guides and their contents. The guides we have up so far look really good, and we'd love your feedback. Check them out at
There are four ISEL-related ones at present. You can also find some at the appropriate pages on the new Research Database Locator

New Journal Ranking Source

BioMed Central's blog has a piece on "SCImago – a new source of journal metrics offering a wealth of free data on open access journals." The importance of a specific journal is of interest to anyone publishing their research - obviously, one would prefer to publish in a journal with the greatest impact. Thomson Scientific, as the first to create this metric using Citation Indexing with their Journal Citation Ranking (JCR), has long had the dominant role, but many have criticized their methodology, and been frustrated by their slowness to include new journals. Also, this service is costly.

A few companies have challenged Thomson Scientific's monopoly (Scopus and Google Scholar, for example) and now SCImago has joined the fray. It uses data from Scopus, and gives weights to the citations based on their sources - a citation from a lesser-read journal will have lower impact on the rating than one from Nature or Science.

Thanks, to Jim Craig for bringing this to our attention.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Two-sided printing available at ISEL

In response to numerous requests from our patrons, printing on both sides of the sheet is available from public workstations.

Two points:

Send the print job through as a two-sided print request - you cannot choose it after sending it the printer. This means you shouldn't just click on the printing icons that send the print job directly to the printer without bringing up a dialog box. In the printing dialog box, select Properties; this usually brings up Printing Shortcuts, where you can chose Two-Sided Printing.

The cost is the same as whether you use one or two sheets of paper to print two sides. The only benefit to you is that it uses less paper.

Any questions, please ask the library staff.

Wireless access vastly improved at ISEL

Recently, new nodes for wireless network access were installed and activated by OIT. We now have much better signal strength on all four floors, though perhaps the best signal is on the first, second, and third floors. There are no actual nodes in the basement, but you can get signal there from the 1st floor nodes.

Come and check it out!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

RefWorks using science databases

Learn how to use RefWorks focusing on science databases such as Agricola, PubMed and Web of Science.

Using RefWorks with Science Databases - Integrated Sciences and Engineering Library

Tuesday, April 15, 2008, 11:15 am-12:15 pm
Wednesday, April 16, 2008, 4:00-5:00 pm

The workshops will cover the basics: how to access RefWorks, search catalogs, import references from library databases, retrieve and manage citations, and create bibliographies according to various citation styles (e.g. MLA or APA). They will also cover more in-depth applications: how to manipulate your database, use Write-N-Cite to add parenthetical references to your work, use RefShare to share folders with other researchers, and other questions you may have.

To register email

Friday, March 14, 2008


A press release from the UMass Amherst Libraries:


“Engaging the Web for Scholarship, Pedagogy, and Publication”

Amherst, MA – UMass Amherst will host “Engaging the Web for Scholarship, Pedagogy, and Publication” on March 28, 2008, from 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. in Campus Center Room 163C at UMass Amherst. Dr. Siva Vaidhyanathan, associate professor of Media Studies and Law at the University of Virginia, will give the keynote talk “The Googlization of Everything.” The program will also include a faculty panel presentation of Scholarworks implementations, remarks on the Carnegie Classification on Community Engagement, and a facilitated luncheon that will result in action plans for keeping author rights and publishing in an online environment, addressing concerns about Intellectual Property (IP), and adopting ScholarWorks. Dr. Vaidhyanthan’s talk and faculty presentations are open to the public. The roundtable lunch portion of the program is open to UMass Amherst faculty and staff only.

A cultural historian and media scholar, Siva Vaidhyanathan is the author of Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (New York University Press, 2001); and The Anarchist in the Library: How Peer-to-Peer Networks are Transforming Politics, Culture, and Information (Basic Books, 2003). He is co-editor of Rewiring the “Nation”: The Place of Technology in American Studies (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007). After five years as a professional journalist, Vaidhyanathan earned a PhD in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Vaidhyanathan has taught at the University of Texas, Wesleyan University, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and New York University. He is currently associate professor of Media Studies and Law at the University of Virginia and writing his next book, The Googlization of Everything, a critical examination of Google's disruptive effect on culture, commerce, and community, on a public website produced by the Institute.

Scholarworks@UMassAmherst ( is one way the campus supports the open communication of the scholarship at UMass Amherst. Over the past several years, UMass Amherst has made a significant investment in ScholarWorks to enable the shift to a digital culture. Using this digital technology and the web has its benefits but its use also raises many questions including, "Have I been losing the rights to my own work?" "How can I keep my author rights?" and, "If my work isn't online, is it invisible?"

ScholarWorks provides the infrastructure and support for creating access and dissemination vehicles and providing the long-term preservation of research and scholarly products. Critical for this transformation are faculty awareness of author and IP rights, alternative digital publishing platforms, and knowledge of how to use ScholarWorks. The final portion of this program, a facilitated roundtable discussion for UMass Amherst faculty and staff, will be devoted to this awareness. Participants will leave with actionable plans for their use of ScholarWorks.

This third annual Digital Quadrangle Series Colloquium is sponsored by the UMass Amherst Libraries, Office for Research, Center for Teaching, the Graduate School, and new this year, the Office of Outreach.

For more information, contact Marilyn Billings, 545-6891,, or Marla Michel, 577-0092,, or visit Faculty RSVP is requested to Marilyn Billings by Wednesday, March 19, 2008.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Indigenous maps safeguard territories - an article from an environmental research newswire.

Indigenous people know their own territory best, and if they can create a map which includes all the places that are important to them, it is a powerful tool when working with corporations.

This article comes from a useful environmental newswire, Environmental Research Web.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Near Arctic, Seed Vault Is a Fort Knox of Food

An article from the New York Times this Leap Year day, discussing the establishment of a formal network of seed banks.


A vault buried under the permafrost in Norway has begun to receive millions of seeds, an effort to save the genetic legacy of vanishing plants.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ten Worst Jobs in Science 2007 - from Popular Science magazine

Popular Science's annual bottom-10 list, in which they salute the men and women who do what no salary can adequately reward.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

National Science Debate

A group of scientists, educators, government officials, business leaders and other prominent people in the US have called for Science Debate 2008. The goal is to get the presidential candidates to talk about their views on science and technology policy, environmental issues, and medicine and health issues. You can read about the beginnings of the effort here. There are lists of supporters, both individual and institutional, on the website, and you can add your name to the list as well.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Spring Semester RefWorks Workshops

If you don't use a citation manager, you're working waaay too hard. It's a very easy and convenient way to store and format all of your references-- books, journal articles, websites, etc. The Library has made RefWorks is available to everyone at UMass, for the entire time you're here. It's a web-based citation manager, so you can access your bibliographies from your room or your office, or Baltimore or Barcelona. Formatting options for the most commonly used styles in academia are included. There's even a Write-n-Cite feature, which allows you to insert a placeholder for a reference into your paper as you're writing, and formats the in-text references as well as your bibliography.

Here's the schedule for this semester:

Tues 2/12, 9:30-10:30
Tues 3/11, 11:30-12:30
Thurs 3/27, 2:30-3:30
Wed 4/9, 2:30-3:30
All workshops will be held in the Calipari Room on the Main Floor of Du Bois Library. You can get more info here.

If none of these times work for you, you can also register for the RefWorks webinars (taught by the RefWorks folks, not UMass librarians). Go to the RefWorks website and, down on the bottom right, choose the topic that suits you.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Journal Science Returns to JSTOR

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and JSTOR have reached an agreement reinstating the journal Science in the online journal archive. The journal’s decision to withdraw its affiliation last summer was met with much criticism by librarians and others in the field.