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.”