Wednesday, January 18, 2012

BlackOut against SOPA & PIPA

I swear I will write a real blog soon, but until then, I am blacking out my blog in protest of SOPA & PIPA.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

An excting day...

I love freejumping my mare, it is so much fun to watch her figure out the answers to the questions posed by the jumps. On last Saturday, we posed the question of vertical-bounce-vertical-one stride-oxer-one stride-oxer. This arragement of jumps is asking her to sit back over the first few fences, then use that collection to move up over the more challenging oxers. Don't rush, but keep your head in the game.

I was also very excited that the boyfriend was coming to watch. I was happily getting Miss gray mare all groomed and polo wrapped, when I heard a clopping from the barn aisle. These were obviously the footfalls of Calloway, who is my boyfriend's favorite. "Oh," I thought, "He wants to take him for a walk." Cal is now retired, and he gets a bit jealous when when the grey mare gets to do fun things like jumping, so I just thought the boyfriend was giving him more special attention. I turned back to the foreleg I was grooming, and then was starteled when the clopping stopped infront of me.Calloway had dropped his head so low that he was looking me eye to eye, and the boyfriend was kneeling in front of me. With something very sparkly.


"Calloway wanted me to ask you a very important question. Will you marry me??"

Obviously, I said yes. Duh! Free jumping was a bit less important this weekend, but still pretty awesome.

All in all, a really awesome day!!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Crystallographic Equestrianism

                My gray mare is growing up, and it is so satisfying to feel it in every stride. She has such a greater understanding of what I am asking for now. The clarity is what makes it fun. There are some things that I can ask for so subtly, that I feel as if I am just thinking the idea when she answers me correctly. Yes, we have our train-wreck moments still, but they are further and further apart. I would like to now derive a contrived metaphor, because it feels good.
                In crystallography, we determine the structure of a molecule.  In the first stages, there is only a rough shape of an object,  that will look meaningless to an untrained eye. This is your unbroken yearling- all legs, doesn’t understand what you want, and isn’t really good for anything yet. It just takes up space.
                From our initial, meaningless blob, I use chemical knowledge to sift through the blob, and decide what parts have meaning, and what is just noise. The structure gains some meaning, even if it isn’t compete yet. This is your newly under saddle horse- trying to carry your weight, stay upright and grow into a big horse.
                A structure can be considered complete chemically when all the representative parts are visible.  It may not be pretty, yet, but it shows all the parts that should be there.  The resolution may not be all that great yet, and the atoms might still be trying to settle down. Things can still be a little fuzzy.  I imagine this to be the green broke horse- it has stop, it has go, it has some gaits that mostly show up when you ask for them.
                Chemically descriptive and crystallographically complete, the finished structure contains all the information that you can derive from the data. It has been polished to maximum shine. This is not always easy- some structures will never be satisfyingly finished. Some are too defective. Some will not co-operate and will be consigned to the circular file. The finished structure is more than a sum of the chemical parts- the molecule can be described on its own or as a small part in a much larger crystal. This finished structure is now ready to go out into the publishing world.
 The finished horse is a creature that shines with all that you put into them. Your care, your attention, your patience. Your weekday evenings and weekends.  Your praise and your demerits.  It may be exhausting at times, and you will be tested. The polish of flying changes or automatic distances is not achieved over night.  Not every horse will be finished- some never get the chance, some will not find the right person for the job.   But a finished horse is a beauty to behold, and I hope you all get the chance to experience it.
Maybe one day I will with the Gray mare, but  I am a big fan of the” life as a journey” analogy.  Every day I remind myself that there is no “there” that is better than “here.” In science and life,  enjoying the journey is the key to a happy life. So I will love my partially refined mare as she is right now.

Parenting skirmishes…

When my daughter was in  2nd or 3rd grade ( I am not quite sure which one now, it’s been such a blur) she had a teacher who we will henceforward refer to as Mrs. Z, since I have willfully banished her name from my mind as well. Mrs. Z was a control freak who liked to pontificate on the behavior/misbehavior of her students in great detail. She would go on and on, in a humiliating manner about this student or that student, and expected that no parent would ever know  what was happening. Mrs. Z obviously didn’t know my kid, who had been attending college classes and study groups as long as she had been alive. My kid wrote all these disparaging remarks down on her hand,  came home and reported them to me.  I was appalled! In my loose frame of parenting, one of my big rules is respect. Mrs. Z was obviously not showing these students respect. It was not long before my daughter was targeted by her teacher’s sermon, and I go the full report. Luckily this was right before parent-teacher conferences. I tried to play nice, and listen to her blather on about the importance of standardized tests, but then she veered into a topic that I had not expected.
“You need to schedule your daughter more. She needs more structure outside of school.” Said Mrs. Z. I cocked an eyebrow, and looked at her sharply.
“Excuse, me? She’s eight. She gets structure all day at school. I want her to be a kid,” I retorted.
“Structure is the most important thing she can have now,” the mad woman replied. Playing nice was killed  dead, so I unloaded…
“No, I think the most important thing she can have right now is the respect of authority figures, such as yourself, which I am pretty sure is lacking in your classroom,’ I then proceeded to ask her why she thought it was acceptable to treat children in such a manner.
“I am always respectful to the children. Your daughter is a liar.” She snarled. I hadn’t even begun to describe how she had talked to my child, so I decided to tell her what I knew. As I recounted the story my child had told me, Mrs. Z began to get pale and concerned. The level of detail my child had given me was hard to deny. She began to stutter denials and random condemnations.  She was obviously sweating by this point. Her red pen clattered to the floor.  I stood.
“ I think there is nothing more to talk about here. I will be speaking to the principal about changing classes.” I left, without giving her another minute.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Crystallography in a very small nutshell

This blog is for all my horsey friends, and anyone else who would like to know what I do, with a minimum of large, gangly sciency words. I have used some convenient analogies and simplifications-The more precise description is in my dissertation- feel free to look that up… I give this explanation at almost any party/social gathering that involves non-science people. I think it works pretty well, but I am always open to constructive criticism.
A chemist makes a new compound*. They don’t know what the molecule looks like, i.e., they don’t know which atoms are bonded with which. They would like to know the 3-dimensional structure of their new baby, so they grow a crystal of it (Crystal growth is a complete whole ‘nother blog, sorry!) They then lovingly send their crystal to me.
I then blast their beloved crystal with 10^10 photons per second of X-ray radiation…I mean, I bathe their crystal in X-rays.  X-rays interact with electrons in a crystal in  predictable ways. The X-rays enter the crystal, run into an electron, and collide elastically, like a billiard ball.  The experiment I do consists of 1) shoot crystal, 2) measure where the X-rays bounced off to, and how intense they are, and 3) rotate crystal slightly, and repeat 3600 times or until crystal dies. Once we know where the X-ray bounce to(also known as the diffraction pattern), and how intense they are, we can do some math** and then do some more math*** which leads to a map of the electron density. Using chemical knowledge, I look at the map and figure out which atoms are where, and what the molecule looks like. I then provide the chemist with what they really wanted the most…

…A picture for their journal article J

*A compound is a generic term for a combination of atoms.  A molecule is a group of atoms bonded together. A bond is formed when atoms share their electrons. Whew!
**Direct methods, which solves the crystallographic “Phase Problem” –which would require many science terms and another blog
***An inverse Fourier Transform, which relates the  diffraction to the electron density

Livng life as a "big girl"...

I am not small, never have been. I am not obese, more like tall-ish, heavily muscled with a protective layer of fat. I probably will never fit into anything from Express  or Hollister without a hunger strike or a famine. My size 11 feet will never fit into shoes you can grab off the display.  The only shopping worse for me than bathing suit shopping is unsuccessful bathing suit shopping.  But I have to remember that there are many things I can do handily, because I am big and strong.
I can push my car when I run out of gas.
I can still carry my daughter when she falls asleep in the car.
I can easily lug a bag of feed.
No jar can thwart my attempts at opening!
When the beamline computer desk needed adjusting, I leg-pressed it.
Changing tires is not a problem.
Crowds of people seem to part for me.
I can always handle all of the luggage that I regret taking..
  Upon writing this list, I start to wonder, why does society treat bigger people so crappily? I am pretty sure that 100 years ago, a farmer would have been thrilled to have me as a daughter. Yes, we have an obesity crisis today, but not all bigger people are created equal.  Just because I am not average sized, I receive a lot of unsolicited weight-loss advice. My mother was never very  helpful , when I was a kid, because she would go from shrieking  “take a smaller portion!!!” at dinner to making cupcakes or cookies, and offering me one, while not wanting to drive me to the barn/ pool, etc. In my adult life, I was told  “You really should exercize more,” by my OB-GYN, as she sat on her wheeled chair, glaring at my stats and a BMI chart. “But I ride almost every day,” I mentioned, before getting cut off. “Riding horses isn’t exercise!” she retorted. I would love to see her face if she was riding Cal or the grey mare! “Oh that sweat rolling off isn’t from exercise!”
If the judgments were limited to parents and doctors, that would be ok, but it’s not. People have a lot of stereotypes associated with size.  I am apparently lazy, unmotivated, dumb, poor, tasteless, unsophisticated, unworldly with a menial job! People get very confused when I tell them that I am a scientist.  Go figure!

A letter to my family..

 I am writing this to let you know that I am happy , healthy and living a great life with my kid and boyfriend. You may have heard otherwise.  That is unfortunate.  I am finally living life as an independent adult, shaping my world though the lens of my priorities.  I am living without guilt. I am living without self-loathing.  I am living without un-constructive, excessive criticism.  I have spent too much of my life drenched in these things- I am not going to waste another minute with them.  I am only 30, there is so much life yet to be lived!