The circumstances in which scientists are science journos

On September 6, 2019, two researchers from Israel uploaded a preprint to the bioRxiv preprint server entitled 'Can scientists fill the science journalism void? Online public engagement with two science stories authored by scientists'. Two news sites invited scientists to write science articles for them, supported by a short workshop at the start of the…

The imperfection of strontium titanate

When you squeeze some crystals, you distort their lattice of atoms just enough to separate a pair of charged particles and that in turn gives rise to a voltage. Such materials are called piezoelectric crystals. Not all crystals are piezoelectric because the property depends on what the arrangement of atoms in the lattice is. For…

Starlink and astronomy

A composition of 300 13-second exposures taken within 70 minutes from Waldenburg, Germany, on August 12, 2018. Most of the lines are made by satellites reflecting sunlight from the Sun below the horizon. Caption and photo: Eckhard Slawik/IAU

SpaceX's Starlink constellation is currently a network of 120+ satellites and which, in the next decade, will expand to 10,000+ to provide low-cost internet from space around the world. Astronomers everywhere have been pissed off with these instruments because they physically interfere with observations of the night sky, especially those undertaken by survey telescopes with…

The press office

A press-officer friend recently asked me for pointers on how he could help journalists cover the research institute he now works at better. My response follows: Avoid the traditional press release format and use something like Axios's. answer the key questions, nothing more. No self-respecting organisation is going to want to republish press releases. This…

Two things

First As a professional science journalist, I've accrued a long list of 'contacts' in India and abroad, so whenever I discuss my career prospects with friends, I'm often told that I'm well-setup to become a freelancer. However, I recently realised I might be a terrible freelancer, mostly because I am my own writer. By this,…

Does Kangana have to look like J.J. to portray J.J.?

The poster for a new biographical feature about former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa is out, featuring Kangana Ranaut: At first glance, it's not evident that the woman in the picture is Ranaut, nor even Jayalalithaa, but in an uncanny valley in between both of them. Ranaut seems to be in some kind of…

Accumulation then philanthropy

Peter Woit's review of a new book about Jim Simons, the mathematician and capitalist who set up the Simons Foundation, which funds math and physics research around the world but principally in the West to the tune of $300 million a year, raises an intriguing question only to supersede its moral quandaries by the political…

To see faces where there are none

This week in "neither university press offices nor prestigious journals know what they're doing": a professor emeritus at Ohio University who claimed he had evidence of life on Mars, and whose institution's media office crafted a press release without thinking twice to publicise his 'findings', and the paper that Nature Medicine published in 2002, cited…

A new map of Titan

Cassini's last shot of Titan, taken by the probe's narrow-angle camera on September 13, 2017. Credit: NASA

It’s been a long time since I’ve obsessed over Titan, primarily because after the Cassini mission ended, the pace of updates about Titan died down, and because other moons of the Solar System (Europa, Io, Enceladus, Ganymede and our own) became more important. There have been three or four notable updates since my last post…

The trouble with laser-cooling anions

For scientists to use lasers to cool an atom, the atom needs to have two energy states. When laser light is shined on an atom moving towards the source of light, one of its electrons absorbs a photon, climbs to a higher energy state and the atom as a whole loses some momentum. A short…

Quitting the Thing

A year ago today, I quit the Thing. The Thing didn't quit me until three months later, and spending those months not getting back to the Thing was the most difficult thing I ever did. Earlier on the day I'd quit, I'd watched a GSLV Mk III rocket soar into the evening sky from the…