Strongest Natural Material?

David Schultz in ScienceShhot: Spider silk dethroned as nature’s toughest fiber:

Spider silk is famous for its amazing toughness, and until recently a tensile strength of 1.3 gigapascals (GPa) was enough to earn it the title of strongest natural material. However, researchers report online today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface that the record books need to be updated to properly recognize the incredible strength of the limpet teeth. … [T]he limpets’ teeth boast a tensile strength of between 3 and 6.5 GPa, researchers report.

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One more theoretical prediction about a supermolecule with 20 selenium atoms and 60 carbon atoms whose architecture resembles that of a volleyball (arXiv link to the paper):

The simulation gives a remarkably detailed picture of the properties of the new molecule. Jing and co have simulated the character of the bonds that hold it together, their binding energy, their vibrational frequencies, and the stability of the structure.

And they say volleballene is clearly the most stable of all the structures that Sc20C60 can form. The tam’s vibrational analysis suggests that volleyballene should be stable when heated and remarkably stable chemically too.

In other words, volleyballene is a molecule waiting to be synthesized.

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Nerdy cartoons

We talked a little about nerdy cartoons in my class this morning. The topic came up in the context of a couple of quotes:

  • George Box: “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” [This quote came up naturally in the context of the discussion on some of the (bad) implications of the underlying assumptions in a model that we were talking about].
  • Stephen Robbins: “God gave all the easy problems to the physicists.”. [This quote came up in the context of the need for simple models to study complex phenomena (such as those that we study in materials science); and nothing gets more complex than human behaviour studied by social scientists!] Here’s the context in which this quote appears (from the 15th edition of his textbook on Organizational Behaviour):

    Laws in the physical sciences —- chemistry, astronomy, physics—are consistent and apply in a wide range of situations. They allow scientists to generalize about the pull of gravity or to be confident about sending astronauts into space to repair satellites. But as a noted behavioral researcher observed, “God gave all the easy problems to the physicists.” Human beings are complex, and few, if any, simple and universal principles explain organizational behavior. Because we are not alike, our ability to make simple, accurate, and sweeping generalizations is limited. Two people often act very differently in the same situation, and the same person’s behavior changes in different situations. Not everyone is motivated by money, and people may behave differently at a religious service than they do at a party. [Bold emphasis added]

Which led immediately to a comment about every self-respecting academic has a healthy disdain for what others do. This disdain is expressed using some metric by which one’s profession can be “proven” to be better than the others; one such metric is purity (or, fundamental-ness) of one’s field, as in this absolutely great xkcd cartoon. Here’s a version of it in Abstruse Goose. This SMBC strip about a mathematician’s fantasy fight with a physicist is also a classic.

Elsewhere, I have a post on academic put-downs; and there’s a separate category on Interdisciplinary Wars right here on this blog.

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A short profile of Prof. Harry Bhadeshia

Over at Forbes India. He hits an interesting note (and I have heard him say this in a seminar at IISc many years ago, so this must be one of his favourites) when he says:

… Bhadeshia explored the world of steel, which was complicated and at the same time had an “unbelievable variety” that remains unseen by the world at large. Explains Bhadeshia: “Every year, 1.3 billion tonnes of steel is produced, but there is no need for the outside world to understand it…it is a product made in an extremely sophisticated and controlled environment…it is so reliable that no one needs to worry about it. On the other hand, everyone needs to worry about the operating software in their computers as these are not very well developed products!”

Prof. Bhadeshia’s website offers a wealth of information on many, many aspects of materials science and engineering in general, and physical metallurgy of steels in particular.

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The First Microscopists

Awesome video from Howard Hughes Medical Institute:

* * *

This video presents a somewhat more elaborate introduction to the early history of microscopy.

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Moire Animals!

If you know something about Moiré fringes (in materials, we encounter them primarily in transmission electron microscopy; see also the Wikipedia entry on Moiré patterns), you will appreciate Andrea Minini’s Animals in Moiré, a collection of black and white illustrations.

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Giant, Gorgeous Crystals

Here’s a video trailer for a 50-minute long movie entitled The Mystery of the Giant Crystals which “has been made freely available by Madrid Scientific Films and Triana Sci & Tech with the support of the International Union of Crystallography as an educational contribution to the International Year of Crystallography 2014.”

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