3D printers for the masses

The latest Wired magazine arrived at my door today and on the cover: a MakerBot three-dimensional printer, slated to change the world. There are actually two new machines available for under three thousand dollars that can create objects in bioplastic from CAD files. A 3D printer in 4-6 weeks? Crazy, right?

The Wired article brought to mind Cory Doctorow’s story, Printcrime, originally published in 2006 in Nature. It is a short story and a good one so I won’t give away the ending here but it is about a man who goes to prison for building and operating a 3D printer.

I admit that I have been day dreaming about 3D printers ever since I noticed that there is the possibility of a live demonstration on October 20 at the Access 2012 library technology conference, from folks at Dalhousie Libraries. I’ll be there with camera in hand and I’ll check back in with you afterwards!

Image from Makerbot Industries

Our principal joins the New York Academy of Sciences

“Prof. Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University, has been named to the prestigious President’s Council of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS). She will join 27 Nobel laureates and other prominent leaders of academia and industry from around the world on this advisory board. The mission of the Academy is to promote the resolution of society’s global challenges through science-based solutions, to support scientific literacy and to advance scientific research and knowledge.”

For more information, see McGill Principal appointed to NYAS President’s Council

Image by Associated Fabrication

So that’s how a Space Shuttle gets around on Earth!

Space Shuttle Endeavour on top of NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft above California

Endeavour on its tour of California

I really liked these photos at Wired and these photos from NASA of the retirement journey of Space Shuttle Endeavour to California last week. Endeavour was the fifth Space Shuttle commissioned and had its first flight to space over 20 years ago on May 7, 1992.  In my mind’s eye, the Space Shuttles would have eclipsed a Boeing 747 in size, but apparently not so!

From NASA’s Space Shuttle mission news: “Endeavour was NASA’s fifth and final space shuttle to be built. Construction began on Sept. 28, 1987 and it rolled out of the assembly plant in Palmdale, Calif. in April 1991. It was named after a ship chartered to traverse the South Pacific in 1768 and captained by 18th century explorer James Cook. Endeavour flew 25 times, traveling more than 122,000 miles and accumulating 299 days in space. Like shuttles Discovery, Enterprise and Atlantis, Endeavour is embarking on its next mission – to inspire the next generation of explorers and engineers at the California Science Center.”

If you’re looking for info, articles or books about space flight, Schulich Library has a subject guide devoted to Aerospace Engineering. There you can find recommended databases, materials for finding background information and links to other relevant sites.

Image: NASA / Jim Ross

Writing in the Sciences

Writing is not only a duty for the students in humanities and social science majors, students in sciences at different levels all face the challenge of good writing. As a librarian in a science and engineering library, I often receive questions on this matter. A hands-on course with quality examples and practice may address this need.

Starting tomorrow, Sep 24th 2012, Kristin Sainani, a professor at Stanford University and also a health and science writer, will offer an online open access course on Coursera, Writing in the Sciences.  As the introduction says, “this is a hands-on course that focuses on examples and practice. In the first four weeks, we will review principles of effective writing, examples of good and bad writing, and tips for making the writing process easier. In the second four weeks, we will examine issues specific to scientific writing.”  Read more at Writing in the Sciences.


Do it yourself science videos

If you are thinking of dabbling in videography, here is some advice on making science videos from MinutePhysics creator, Henry Reich, in Waterloo, Canada.

MinutePhysics celebrated it’s first birthday this year and is now up to 67 educational and entertaining videos, 35,011,571 views and 487,686 subscribers. Learn about the Higgs boson (parts I, II, and III), for example, or why there is no pink light.

Oh, and be sure to watch the Rolling in the Higgs video from McGill graduate student, Tim Blais, for an extra boost of inspiration.

Happy DIY!

Food for thought

I love hamburgers. What’s not to love? I’m not really a gourmet burger type of girl (brie cheese and pear chutney – no thanks) or a McDonald’s junkie (I have been known to rhapsodize once in a while though, about the perfection of the McDonald’s cheeseburger). My poison is the simple diner burger, dressed with lettuce, cheese, tomato and pickle. The key to my enjoyment of these tasty delights is that I enjoy them in moderation. I’m certainly not the poster girl for moderation but I do have a basic understanding of over-consumption and the toll this can take on the body and the earth. I learned a lot about this cause and effect from The hidden costs of hamburgers, a short animated video produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting. You may have heard it all before, but the animation and the script are really well done, and at the very least, it’s a basic review of the environmental impact of beef production on an unsustainable scale.

Image by Andy Potts for Scientific American

Europeana opens data for 20 million cultural items

Europe’s digital library – Europeana has become a significant web site for its huge and open collection of digitized books, paintings, photographs, recordings, and films from more than 2,200 contributing cultural heritage organizations across Europe, such as the British Library, the Louvre, and the Rijksmuseum.

So far, Europeana has opened up data on 20 million items under the Creative Commons rights waiver, which means that “anyone can reuse the data for any purpose – whether using it to build applications to bring cultural content to new audiences in new ways, or analyzing it to improve our understanding of Europe’s cultural and intellectual history.”

Europeana described this release as “by far the largest one-time dedication of cultural data to the public domain”. “Hopefully this will help to establish a precedent for other galleries, libraries, archives, and museums to follow… [and to build up] digital commons of cultural content that everyone is free to use and enjoy.”

Read more at Europeana opens up data on 20 million cultural items

Oliver Sacks – Hallucinations

I gave several workshops in the past two weeks, as did many of my fellow librarians. One of the topics we cover in our workshops is the importance of making the distinction between popular and scholarly literature, namely the difference between scientific articles that are written for the general public and those that are meant to communicate ideas and results of scientific studies among academic researchers. Today’s post is about a scientist who most certainly writes for the general public but is no less fascinating or important for it. Just don’t cite one of his popular publications if you’ve been asked to find scholarly and peer-reviewed articles :-/

Oliver Sacks is a physician, best-selling author, and professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine. He writes primarily about people with neurological disorders, but it doesn’t stop there. His latest book, Hallucinations, comes out in November and the title is pretty self-explanatory. If you’d like a taste, read an excerpt called Altered States from The New Yorker (Vol. 88 Issue 25, p40-47) published this summer. Just search for The New Yorker from the Journals tab on the Library homepage and then, from within the journal, search for this volume/issue and read it online. Easy! Oh, and here’s a video from The New Yorker of Sacks, in anticipation of his new book, discussing the hallucinogenic mind…

Check out some other classic titles in the McGill Library catalogue including: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales and of course Awakenings, the book that the 1990 film of the same name is based on. Happy reading…

Image courtesy of www.oliversacks.com

Climate change permits sailing through the Arctic

Three international sailors made history by being the first crew to successfully cross the M’Clure Strait in Canada’s Arctic Ocean after 90 days at sea.  The M’Clure Strait has always been entirely covered by ice.  This small crew departed from Newfoundland and is crossing the Arctic to record the melting of polar ice and increase awareness of climate change.

Visit “A Passage through Ice” for more information about this expedition.

Image from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Uncommon chemistry

I talked about ChemSpider in a previous post but if you are serious about finding information on substances there is a chemistry database like no other: SciFinder.

Just last year Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), a division of the American Chemical Society, announced that the database was moving from the software version to the web. Since then there have been a number of changes to SciFinder, along with a newly redesigned CAS website. For example, there are great interactive SciFinder training videos for all aspects of substance and reaction searches that point out new features.

What sets Scifinder apart is not just the chemical literature, with articles, patents, dissertations, etc., going back over 100 years, it is how they bring together a wealth of information on reactions, structures, properties, and commercial sources, and link it all to substances with unique identifiers, called CAS Registry Numbers. That means that if you come across the name of a compound in an article that you do not recognize you can use the Explore Substances search in SciFinder and find out just what it is.

McGill students, faculty, and staff can now benefit from unlimited access to SciFinder (registration is required) so let me know it works for you.

CAS does have a free search engine for substances of general interest if Common Chemistry is more your thing.