Hello and welcome to the scientificanada newsletter. You can think of it as a personal correspondance with me, Adam Fortais. Issues will have a smattering of research, opinions, interviews, and hot takes on academic culture from myself and guests.

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The Dickey Lab is working on a way to make Liquid Metal Wires. Liquid metal wires are a promising technology for designing stretchable and wearable electronics. Unfortunately liquid metal has a high surface tension, so attempts at squirting out liquid metal into long, thin wires usually ends in fat drops instead. But the team found stable cylindrical streams (wires) were possible by applying a voltage to the metal as it is injected into an electrolyte (salty liquid) at low velocities. This allowed the wires to grow a thin, oxidation layer (rust) at the wire surface that lets the liquid metal flow and bend without breaking. [Insert Terminator joke here]
Liangbing Hu and his group at the University of Maryland are making transparent wood. When I grow up, I want a house made entirely of wood. Including the windows. Dr. Hu is going to help my dream come true. 

Lignin is a big chunky molecule that acts as the structural supports of a lot of plants. In wood, lignin also contains "chromaphore groups" which are largely responsible for its brown, woody colour (yes, I described wood as having a brown, woody colour). Previous research has shown that the lignin can be removed from wood, making it transparent. This is expensive, difficult, and requires a lot of chemicals and energy. It can also make the wood weaker. 

In a new paper in Science Advances, Dr. Hu and team demonstrate a method for modifying the lignin in wood to remove its colour while leaving most of the actual lignin intact. The really cool part is that the technique is accomplished by brushing on an H2O2 ink, letting it rest in the sun (UV illumination - wood turns white), and finishing with an epoxy-infiltration step, which is all cheap and doesn't compromise the strength of the wood all that much. The result is a structurally sound, optically transparent piece of wood. 

Photo credit: Qinqin Xia, University of Maryland, College Park.
Thoughts: @AcademicChatter and Weak Ties
One of the hashtags/bots I follow on Twitter is @AcademicChatter . This particular bot scrapes twitter for tags and hashtags calling it and retweets whatever it finds, and a community has built up around it. It is about inclusivity, support, and empathy for others in academia. Case in point, a post I saw recently: Academia is a weird, isolating system and sometimes we are aching to connect with someone going through something similar. Screaming into the void can be cathartic, but attaching that @academicchatter changes things. Despite having only around 250 followers, @biogeochemfem received over 500 likes, 25 retweets, and most importantly close to 50 responses of the following sort: This made me think about an article in The Atlantic by Amanda Mull, which was about the loss of an "entire category of friendship". The people you meet in coffee shops or bars. The stranger that you've come to recognize from being in the same place at the same time, over and over. People you might nod at if you saw them in the hall but would never think of jumping on a Zoom call with. You might not even know how you would find them online. These are referred to "weak ties" in Amanda's article, and I think @AcademicChatter is turning into a daily vitamin for getting that kind of interaction. 

"The psychological effects of losing all but our closest ties can be profound. Peripheral connections tether us to the world at large; without them, people sink into the compounding sameness of closed networks. Regular interaction with people outside our inner circle “just makes us feel more like part of a community, or part of something bigger,” Gillian Sandstrom, a social psychologist at the University of Essex, told me. People on the peripheries of our lives introduce us to new ideas, new information, new opportunities, and other new people. If variety is the spice of life, these relationships are the conduit for it."

Does that sound at all familiar to you? It did to me when I read it and was kind of a lightbulb moment. It made me think that maybe, to get out of this mid-pandemic slump I've been feeling, I need to branch out and be more active online. What do you think? You can reply to this email, or better yet, tweet me @AdamFortais, and be sure to tag @AcademicChatter.
Coffee break: Pip and Sawayra talk Navier-Stokes and Turbulence 
The Navier-Stokes equation is like the e=mc^2 for fluid dynamicists. It's like Newton's Laws for flow. It's used to model fluids, airstreams, flow of money, and a wide variety of other things, and it's been around for a very long time... but we don't actually know how to solve it...
This week, Sawayra talks to Pritpal Matharu, a graduate student in the Math department at McMaster University, who specializes in Navier-Stokes, and explains what it means to finally "solve" the equation.
Find the interview on YouTube or your favorite podcast service. Look for "scientificanada".
Tyler Thrasher is the Platonic Ideal of what I mean by Art+Science, and the most recent Patreon I've joined. Tyler is a self-taught chemist whose crystalized (pictured) and opalized insects have made a buzz (and a budding biz) via Instagram. In 2018 he was profiled by Christine Suh for the American Chemistry Society, which you can read here. Allow me to share an excerpt that stuck out to me:

"Q: Do you view yourself as more artist than scientist or more scientist than artist?

A: I would say I’m equal parts chemist and artist. It’s hard, because I want to spend more time doing chemistry, and really learning it. I wonder if I should go back to school. But I do enough research, and I’m obsessive enough sitting at home poring through books. That doesn’t work for everybody. I learn a lot by giving into my obsessive tendencies.

Art for me is something I do. I do think I’m an artist. But it’s kind of like breathing. It’s something I do all the time. It happens when it does, and that’s not going anywhere. Chemistry feels more fleeting.

But I get in this mindset: Can I call myself a scientist? I don’t have a degree. Can I call myself that?"

If you're asking me, then yes. You are definitely a scientist.
So there you have it. First one in the books. Thanks for reading, and please consider forwarding this newsletter to someone you know. If you have any questions comments or feedback, you can reply directly to this email. See you next time!
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