Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Annoying Units of Heat Capacity

Now that thank you letters are off the desk, and I have promised myself to quit nail-biting, it is time to return to science-blogging. 

My favorite formats are short-form. I like three minute songs, one-page poems, books that say less rather than more, the twitter 140 character limit, and single-page nuggets-o-science.

I am working on several papers describing the high pressure and temperature thermal properties of materials. To generate useful, quantitative thermodynamic quantities I need to be able to manipulate the heat capacity. This is more easily said than done. The first step of most scientific calculations is to understand the units. This is especially tricky for heat capacity. Here is a one-pager defining heat capacity, and examining the units.

Future one-pagers will describe the actual behavior of the heat capacity. Thankfully for most planetary-interior applications, high temperature approximations hold. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thank You Note Catch-Up Session

I have many more to write, but here I am early Saturday morning, catching up on just a few of my late thank-you-notes.


Dear Assistant Dean at Northwestern,
I remember the day that you stopped me in one of the hallway of the Northwestern Tech building, and asked me if I had seen my undergraduate advisor yet? Yes—I was just walking away from his office. “I’m your advisor from now on” you said. You sat me down in your office, and we talked about my schedule—another year of calculus, physics, and the start of my engineering requirements. You might have asked some questions; I don’t remember. But I do remember that our meeting corrected the course twist that had likely been set into effect after my previous meeting. I don’t remember his name, only that he was an engineering professor. He closed the door behind me and I showed him my planned schedule. He remarked that it was a particularly demanding schedule. I told him that according to my reading, it was exactly what was required for a sophomore engineering student. He then asked me if I was a party girl. I remember confusion—mostly centered on the definition of a party girl and whether or not I met the criteria. And I remember leaving his office and walking out the door and my brain was creating a new path (by now well-worn) between two simple but previously unconnected ideas: Do I belong? and What an asshole! Your intervention that day told me: Yes. I do belong. And that was all I needed to hear.


Dear Professor,
            I don’t remember who you are nor where nor when, but I remember our interaction. You saw a student (me) with the paperback version of The Double Helix on her stack of papers and folders.  You barely knew me, but you stopped and asked me if I had read Anne Sayre’s book too. Huh? Who? You looked me in the eye and said: You can’t read that (put your finger on Watson’s book) without reading the book about Rosalind Franklin. You made me write it down. You made me promise. And then we parted ways. I didn’t like either book, with different reasons for each, but you’re right—I needed both.  So thank you for your presence in my life at that moment.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How To Get A Good Night's Sleep

One of the strings to my bow is the ability to get a good night’s sleep. This is especially important this time of year, when work is hard and associated pressures are high. Most academics I know are suffering from exploding head syndrome during the late fall. Geophysicists especially: our big annual AGU meeting is held in early December, coinciding with the end of term, grant proposal due dates, and upcoming holidays.

Being well rested helps. It helps immune systems fight off diseases. It helps brains concentrate and learn. A good night sleep helps with mood stabilization, and helps ward off anxieties.

So here are some of the techniques I have developed over the years to help ensure good consistent sleep. The general key is consistency and low-level mindfulness, to minimize anxiety.

1. Get enough sleep. This seems so simple, yet it does require an explicit commitment to myself to prioritize sleep.  Getting enough sleep does means less time for other things. However I recognize that my awake-life is much much better when I’m well-rested, and this helps me renew my commitment to myself. 

2. Be aware of body needs When I'm aware, my body and brain do a good of letting me know how much sleep I need. The amount varies depending on season, time of month, and what is going on in my life. In a summer of fun adventures, I only need about 7 hours of sleep each day. In a winter of proposal writing, I might need 9 or more hours for a few days during the week. Generally I average about 8 hours of sleep a day.

3. Maintain bedroom as sanctuary My bedroom is a work-free zone, and mostly an electronic-free zone. I prefer to keep my computer and iphone out of my room. I (almost) never work in bed.

4. Establish a bedtime routine  I go to bed at approximately the same time each night, around 9:30 pm. I have a simple bedtime routine that helps wind me down and remind my body it’s time to go to sleep. Bathing, family good-nights, reading time.

5. Don’t use an alarm clock. I have rarely used an alarm clock since high school. At this point I have a good internal clock and can generally wake up when I wish, as long as I’ve had enough sleep. I only use an alarm clock if I need to catch a flight or be on time for a meeting in the morning and to do so I must wake before I’ve had enough sleep. Even in these cases, I usually wake up before the alarm goes off.

6. Take naps When possible, I take a short nap during the day. I’m not able to do this most days at work, but I do take a nap most weekend days. During college, I was able to take a daily catnap. After a few weeks I became very efficient at putting my head down, quickly falling asleep, and waking up revived after 15 minutes.

7. Accept occasional insommnia Sometimes my brain whirrs me up in the middle of the night or way too early in the morning. I try not to fight against this, but move out of my bedroom. If it is too early to start my day, I make tea and read. No computer-phone-tv allowed. If I decide to start my day early, I make coffee and get moving on my morning routine.

8. Be flexible My routines are flexible, and I think this helps keep my sleep habit resilient. If I want to stay up late, I do. If I need to sacrifice sleep for a few days for something important, I will. If I have an urge to use my computer in bed to catch up on emails, or to set my iphone alarm, I will.