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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Looking Inside The Human Body At SGH

I received this information from an old friend regarding a science.09 event at the Singapore General Hospital. If you are free this coming Saturday, why not bring your family along and check it out?


Division of Surgery presents

"Looking inside the Human Body - Science Fair @ SGH"

"Looking Inside the Human Body" is a Science fair organised by Singapore
General Hospital's Division of Surgery in conjunction Singapore Science
Centre's annual science festival, science.09. The fair will feature
hands-on activities showing the inner workings of the hospital and
demonstrating key surgical principles, and will promise hours of fun for
you & your family!

Experience how our surgeons train in keyhole surgeries! Be involved in
saving a heart attack patient! Pick out your favouriate hearing aid and
cosmetic implants! And fill your goodie bags with souvenirs and prizes!!

No registration required.

Please help to disseminate this to your staff who have no access to email.

See you at the Fair!


Let the kids have some hands-on fun - who knows, one of them may grow up to become a doctor... or even an angry doc!

Would like to know more?

A previous science.09 event:
Exclusive Interview With Dr. Bunhead

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

South Korea Launches Naro-1 Rocket

Yesterday, South Korea launched their first Naro-1 (also called KSLV-1) rocket from Naro Space Centre at Goheung.

Technically it was a cooperative effort with the Russians who designed and built the first stage of the rocket, while the Koreans built the second stage and its payload, the STSAT-2 satellite.

Check out the launch video:

One of the scariest launches I've seen so far!

The vehicle leans to the right immediately after lift-off and then makes a sharp correction to the left.

Not sure why this happened but I'm guessing that the gantry arm might have something to do with it; a video taken from another angle showed the rocket leaning away when released from the gantry.

In any case the rocket managed to reach space, but the satellite was sent to a maximum height of 342 km, which is higher than its planned orbit at 306 km. Some news sources report this as "overshooting the orbit" or "higher orbit" or "incorrect orbit" but I think it's more likely that the flight path was too elliptical to even make one complete orbit.

According to Reuters, South Korea's space agency had tried to play down expectations, saying that only about 30 percent of countries' first attempts to put a satellite into orbit succeed. Their officials have called this project a "partial success".

*Update: The satellite failed to reach orbit because one of the two fairings that covered it during the atmospheric phase did not fall off properly, causing the rocket to pitch up and also to lose too much speed to enter orbit (S. Korean Satellite Lost After Flawed Launch - Korea Times).

Would you like to know more?

- Latest updates: KSLV-1 launch (NASA spaceflight forum)
- Satellite Fails to Enter Orbit (The Korea Times)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Photo Gallery Fourteen

The photos for this week's gallery were not chosen for any artistic quality, but for their ability to mildly amuse me.

I hope that they will make you smirk too - in a "heh" sort of way.


(2009) Fuji J10

Someone dropped a tissue paper pack - at a strangely appropriate place.

(2009) Fuji J10

Hmm... think I might go for the chance to excel in clumsiness and learning disability...

Giant loaf
(2009) Fuji J10

Now all we need is a giant jar of kaya.

Manicure disaster
(2009) Fuji S6500fd

"See! I TOLD you to leave it to the professionals!"

Moustaches and women
(2009) Fuji S6500fd

The main thing that define the 1980s is Mario... and Luigi.

TWO things that define the eighties - Mario, Luigi... and Tom Selleck.

Wait... THREE things that define the eighties include Mario, Luigi, Tom Selleck... and George Lam.

No, amongst the things that define the eighties are such things as Mario...

I'll come in again...

Moving on
(2009) Sony Ericsson K630i

Whatever happened, it's time to move on...

Throw Felicia
(2009) Sony Ericsson K630i

Why Felicia? What did she do to you?

Would you like to know more?
Photo Gallery Thirteen

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Was It The Publication Record?

I must say that I find Dr. Cai Mingjie's blog "A Singapore Taxi Driver's Diary" an interesting and engaging read.

It is a brutally honest account of a new taxi driver trying to make a living on the roads of Singapore.

But after reading his posts, most readers would undoubtedly ponder the question:

What happened?

How did an Associate Professor become a taxi driver?

Prominent blogger AcidFlask has a hunch; he examined Dr. Cai's publication record and found that Dr. Cai published a total of 16 papers (14, plus two more discovered by his commenters) in 16 years.

He felt that:

"With that in mind, it becomes a damning fact that Dr. Cai only has 14 publications to his name since joining the IMCB 16 years ago. Going only by that criterion of quantity, publishing less than one paper a year makes for a truly unimpressive publication record. But just about every practicing scientist knows that despite the current pressure to publish or perish, science and research isn’t (entirely) about churning out more and more papers, and the number of papers that can attributed to one’s name is not necessarily a good measure of a scientist’s productivity."

While AcidFlask acknowledges that there could be many other plausible factors leading to Dr. Cai's contract termination, one of his commenters is much, much less charitable...

#4 by i am not that great at August 19th, 2009:

"i don’t think it is that worth defending him per se. in the current competitive research environment, his publication record in 16 years probably only speaks of one thing – he is working in a very sheltered environment in which he does not have to fight for funding, and he is very comfortable in it.

i didn’t go that in depth into digging up his past papers, but my impression from his pubmed-searchable papers is that – his lab didn’t actually grow that much in the 16 years, and he does not have collaborators.

if he had worked in the states, and if he had been so comfortable with himself, he wouldn’t have survived the assistant professor stage. he probably is indeed a good scientist, but the environment spolit him. and when imcb’s culture changed, he didn’t realise it and he didn’t change, and he got killed.

hence, regardless of what measure a*star uses to judge the performance of its employees, he would still have been killed. face it, even in the US, if you are a young professor, you will have to work for money. if you apply for funding from ACS, you ought to package your work around cancer. it is a fact of life. if you work in a*star, you will have to make those guys that give you money happy. it is a different story if you are tenured, but obviously that guy is not…!"


So, was it his publication record that ended Dr. Cai's appointment?

Here at Fresh Brainz, we are outsiders to this issue.

Moreover any single case is always a "unique" case.

However, Dr. Cai was not the only Principal Investigator who was affected.

When there is more than one case, an opportunity to learn more about the truth surfaces.

In Dr. Cai's blog a commenter by the name of Xinmin (most likely A/Prof. Cao Xinmin) left this comment:

Xinmin said...

"I read your article with tears. At the beginning, I was very sad, but at the end, I was so proud of you. I admire your courage and spirit. With these, nothing can beat you. As your former colleague, another PI in IMCB, we share a similar fate. I graduated from University of Chicago, working in IMCB for 19 years, publishing >50 papers (including 7 in 2008), trained many PhD, university, and polytechnic students. All the years of hard work and teaching don’t seem to count for anything. My lab will be closed down soon. You are not the first, and I won't be the last. We have made Singapore our home, and our children have gone or will go to National Service. More importantly, we have made our contributions to put Singapore on the world’s scientific map! Isn't it ironic that when the government is putting in considerable efforts to develop life science in Singapore, we lost or will lose our jobs? I may not have the qualification to become a taxi driver, but I will do my best in my life after IMCB, whatever that will be and to be like you. Even as a taxi driver, you live in a brilliant and wonderful way. I wish you all the best!

August 18, 2009 1:00 PM"

Was the publication record a major factor?

I'll let the readers decide.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

God Is Made Of People

Just read an interesting comment regarding the ST news story "PhD holder now a cabby".

Posted by: opinion2009 at Wed Aug 19 17:51:07 SGT 2009

"Solomon said that men of understanding are not the only ones who gain riches: 'nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding; nor favour to men of skill, but time and chance happen to them all'.

Solomon is telling us that those who are better, wiser and stronger don't win the war, don't win the race, don't get the riches and don't win the favour.

But those who are in the right place at the right time win the race, and enjoy favour and success.

The only one who can put you in the right place at the right time is God.

We can try through self-effort to better position yourself for success by studying more, working harder and cultivating more strategic relationships.

You may end up being slightly faster, slightly stronger and more well-connected, but only God can put you in the right place at the right time and give you success.

There are people who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are caught in a 'net' and they don't even know why.

For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, like birds caught in a snare, so the sons of men are snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them.

We need God for 'Right Happenings'.

If we are honest and humble enough, we will acknowledge our need for God in our lives."


So... God is somebody who gives you opportunities for success, and if you are "honest and humble enough", he will help you win wars, get $$$ and stuff like that.

But what if God has decided to put YOU in the wrong place at the wrong time?

And why would an all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful God want to "help" some of his creations to become so rich and powerful that they would dominate and utterly devastate some of his other creations?

To an extraterrestrial observer, it seems like a "God" is actually a human social network that aggressively grows to accumulate material benefits to insiders while engaging in territorial conflicts with other "Gods".

Hmm... that reminds me of a classic movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy".

Narrator: "But the Gods have been careless; they had sent only one. And now for the first time in their lives, here was a thing which could not be shared because there was only one of it.

Suddenly everybody needed it most of the time; a thing they had never needed before became a necessity. An unfamiliar emotion began to stir. A feeling of wanting to own, of not wanting to share.

And other new things came. Anger, jealousy, hate and violence.

He was angry with the Gods.

He shouted: "Take back your thing, we don't want it. Look at the trouble it brought!"

But the Gods did not take it back.

He shouted: "You must be crazy to send us this thing, take it back!""


Of course, the Gods will never take it back, because it was made by human beings.

To dispose of it, someone would have to take it to end of the Earth and throw it off, even if it meant that the person would have to walk for 20 days, perhaps 40.

Have you started walking yet?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Taxi Driver, Associate Professor

In a bizarre turn of affairs, Stanford-trained former Principal Investigator and Adjunct Associate Professor Cai Mingjie is now a taxi driver.

He writes the blog "A Singapore Taxi Driver's Diary".

It's a great read, please check it out.

Here's an exerpt:

"On my way home, I thought about what “man goes higher” means. In most people’s dictionary, it means higher pay, higher education, higher social status, etc. A higher position on the social food chain. That’s the norm of the society. From a professor to a taxi driver could only be seen by most people as a classical example of the exact opposite of “man goes higher”. But, I look at it differently. Yes, the bigfoots sitting high on the food chain can force me into a jobless situation. What it has done to me, however, is only to push me to a “new high”, a new boundary where their powers to set the rules, to twist the rules, to do whatever at will, do not apply, where I don’t have to survive by playing their games.

This is all that matters to me. Low or high, I can take it either way. In fact, I feel happier now as a taxi driver than before in my last two years as a professor, when I often had to feel sorry for myself for having to work in that environment."


Still think that research is about the love of science (or pouring liquids from one tube into another)?

That's not the whole story, my friends.

*Update (19 Aug 2009)

Dr. Cai has been interviewed by Amresh Gunasingham from the Straits Times.

Online edition: PhD holder now a cabby

Print edition (scanned): cabby PhD holder now a taxi driver

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Exclusive Interview With Dr. Bunhead

Just visited the X-periment! 2009 venue this afternoon and it was a blast!

I caught Dr. Bunhead's 2:30pm performance and managed to grab a hold of him after the show for some totally impertinent questions.

The sort of questions YOU would ask him!

But first, a quick overview of the whole exhibition:

Compared to last year's event, this time round there are even more activities for audience participation at the booths.

Here are some visitors assembling electronic parts...

... learning about instant snow...

... learning how to constructing model molecules...

... making model molecules with lots of soapy films (which seems to be a hit among the kids) ...

... creating rainbow-coloured layers of sugary stuff...

... or playing a virtual version of "Human Tetris".

And it's not just the kids who are curious about the exhibits!

Our old friend the non-Newtonian fluid is back, this time as a glob of green-dyed cornstarch on top of a subwoofer speaker.

If you set the conditions right it can appear like a disgusting clump of teeming worms, but this glob here doesn't look that wormy.

Not sure if that is a good or bad thing.

In addition to the booths from various research institutes, this year there are booths set up by other organizations as well.

One of them is the Science Centre, which brought over some of their exhibits. Here, a girl and her mother play with a device that creates moving pictures.

A volunteer amuses a couple of visitors with a set of classic visual illusions.

The Singapore General Hospital has set up a booth too. This young lady is practicing laparoscopic surgery using a surgical trainer.

Oh NOES! Which hapless furry animal is at the sharp end of her merciless tools?

Whew... she is only trying to manipulate a furry wire through a series of metal loops.

She might have a future in suture!

And now - time for Dr. Bunhead's show!

He actually has a different show for a different timeslot, and some members of the audience have followed all of them.

"How many of you have seen four of my shows?"

A number of hands went up.

For this show, Dr. Bunhead introduces the audience to... LIQUID NITROGEN!

Uri Abusikov would have been proud.

Очень хорошо!

"Its temperature is -196 degrees, which is so cold that it's hard to imagine how cold it is. Does anyone want to touch it?"

Any brave volunteers?

When the cup of liquid nitrogen is lightly touched, it boils at a faster rate.

"Let me put it nearer my microphone so that you can hear it."

*fizz... pop pop... fizz...*

When you blow carefully into a container of liquid nitrogen, the water vapour in the breath condenses into a mist of water droplets.

"Look, her face is in a cloud!"

Next, Dr. Bunhead blows a long orange balloon and asks: "What would happen if I dip this into liquid nitrogen?"

Kids: "I KNOW! I KNOW!"

Will it become hard? Will it explode?

Let's see...

*squeek squeek*

Hmm, it didn't explode.

Let's squeeze it in there for a little while longer.

*squeek squeek SQUEEK!*

Oh my... it shrank!

Whoa, it's starting to expand again...

Next, what would happen if we put this piece of cut rubber tubing into liquid nitrogen?

It becomes hard enough to drive into a plank of wood!


"It looks hard now, but it's not a good idea to make nails out of rubber. Unless you can keep the entire room in a very cold environment."

Which means that you CAN make nails out of rubber... on Pluto.

NASA never tried this!

Ho ho, is that a banana?

Dr. Bunhead actually gave the banana a name, but I forgot what it is so I'll call it "Mr. Banana".

I think I can see what's coming...

"I need a volunteer to check if Mr. Banana is firm and muscular."

"Mr. Banana is a very grumpy banana. You must approach him carefully, like you would approach a tiger."

Slowly... slowly...


Rabid banana on the attack!

"And now it's time for Mr. Banana to go bungee jumping into the container of liquid nitrogen!"

"Are you ready Mr. Banana?"


Sounds painful.

Mr. Banana is now hard enough to drive a metal nail into wood.


Oh NO! Mr. Banana's head has fallen off!

Dr. Bunhead picks it up with a pair of tongs.

When liquid nitrogen turns into gas, it expands about 700 times in volume.

"This bottle contains about 100 ml of liquid, which will expand into 70,000 ml or 70 litres of gas, which is a much bigger volume. Normally this is difficult to see, but we can see this by attaching a balloon to the bottle."

The balloon starts to fill up...

... getting bigger...

"Maybe I should stand over here instead..."


"Did that balloon pop scare anyone? Good, because I am going to try something bigger!"

"How many lumps should we put inside this bottle?"

Strange that Dr. Bunhead says "lumps" instead of "cups".

"... and one more lump - just to scare me."


"Hey, the balloon is not expanding. What's going on?"

The kids in the audience are all pointing to the liquid nitrogen container.


"Will it work if I take the bottle out?"

Wow it is really expanding!

In fact it's expanding a bit too quickly.

"Should I be holding this?"

Kids: "NO! NO!"

"All right then. Do you want to hold it for me?"

Kids: "NO!!! AHHH!"

Children retreat anxiously as Dr. Bunhead scouts unsuccessfully for a volunteer.

Maybe cooling it in this pail of water will slow the expansion...

"YIKES! It's expanding even more quickly! What should I do? What should I do?"




"And now for the finale I will attempt to make the biggest cloud in the shopping mall!"


"Thank you everyone!"

With that, the show is over and it's time for the kids and their parents to pose with Dr. Bunhead for photos.

And time for me to ask Dr. Bunhead some questions!

Here goes:

1. Can you tell us a bit about your experience as a grad student?

Dr. Bunhead: "I applied to work with someone whose research I really liked, but he had no money. So I had to go to another supervisor, but I hated the project. We were fighting right from the beginning. The research work was repetitive and very precise, such that a small mistake could ruin three months of work. I found it very boring, very tough and very lonely."

2. How did you first get the idea to perform as a stunt scientist?

"During my PhD I was invited by a friend to do a chemistry show at a local school. It was just to help him out really, but they liked it and the school headmaster invited me back. Gradually, I did more and more shows, and less and less research. At first I was doing the shows for free. Then one day I met someone who was explaining some difficult physics concepts to an audience. I was impressed by his explanation. He gave me his namecard - 'Adam Selinger, Science Communicator'. Up till that time I had no idea that such a career existed; I was 30 years old and didn't know what to do. That was my Eureka moment."

3. Of the other Brainiac presenters, who do you like the most - Richard Hammond, Jon Tickle or Vic Reeves?

"Richard Hammond is my favourite. I think that Brainiac is most suited to him. He enjoys doing it and brings a cheeky enthusiasm to the show. I try to learn from him; when he speaks, his delivery is compelling, like David Attenborough. I feel that they are two of the most compelling science presenters in the UK."

4. How does the Brainiac production team manage to find so many sexy women for the show?

"I'd like to know that myself, actually *laughs*. And why they always get assigned to Jon Tickle. I am more handsome than he is!"

5. On the Brainiac show you are always unsuccessful when you try to use science to get a date. Were the women on the set really unimpressed or did you manage to work your charms on some of them?

"Actually, in real life about half the women responded positively. I was shown to be unsuccessful to make the comedy work. When we were making 'Pub Science with Dr. Bunhead', there was this lady who said that, yeah, she would go on a date with me after the show. But the production team wanted her to say no, and she protested 'why should I say no?'. In fact, this incident later became the inspiration for the "Dr. Bunhead on the Pull" segment. So, it does work in real life. I mean, how many men will walk up to you with a fire tornado?"

So there you have it. All your questions about the big mysteries that beset mankind, answered right here on Fresh Brainz.

OK, that's not really true, but you can still send your other questions about the Universe by tweeting them to @ProfWhy.

Don't miss your chance to win an Apple 16GB iPod Touch!

Would you like to know more?

Last year's event: X-periment! 2008

Other fun science shows:
- Kids Science Fest!
- Science in the Gardens