Saturday, January 26, 2008

updated group webpage + grad recruiting

It took a little work, but I finally did a major overhaul of my group's webpage. It's hard to get a good sense of how important it is to have a good webpage. My impression is that prospective students put a surprisingly large amount of weight on this, and I'm pretty sure that many others (funding agency personnel, referees, news media) do a lot of web-based background chasing, too. Nothing says "disorganized" like having a webpage that clearly hasn't been updated in four years.

My department is in the process of overhauling its webpage as well. We are very interested in increasing our applicant pool, and this certainly can't hurt (provided that it's done well, of course). Rice's big challenge is one of overall visibility, in my opinion. I just want to make sure that undergrads at the top 25 places in the country are at least aware that we have a thriving graduate program. That's easier said than done.... When I was a senior Rice was not even on my radar screen - growing up and going to school in the northeast, I just didn't think about them. Of course, the best thing to do to boost graduate applications is to do great science and make sure that people know about it, but that takes time.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two recent ACS papers

Real life is very time consuming. This is a quick post about a couple of cute papers that are up as asap on Nano Letters at the moment.

Coraux et al., Structural coherence of graphene on Ir(111) - This is the first of what I suspect will be a large number of papers coming from people trying to find nice surfaces on which to grow graphene. Sure, it's possible to get graphene over large areas of SiC wafers, as the Georgia Tech group has shown very prettily. Still, for graphene to really come into its own as a technology, it would sure be nice to grow it by some technique like CVD or MBE. These folks have shown that it's possible to grow good graphene over large areas using single-crystal Ir as a substrate. Unfortunately, that's not too useful in and of itself. Still, it's a start, and it lets them look at things like the growth mechanisms and the way graphene accommodates substrate roughness and point defects.

Yang et al., Experimental observation of an extremely dark material made by a low-density nanotube array - This immediately calls to mind the famous line of Nigel Tufnel in This is Spinal Tap, when discussing the cover of their "Black Album": "It's like, 'How much more black could it be?', and the answer is 'None - none more black.'" These folks have been able to use the intrinsic optical properties of nanotubes + the fact that they can be grown in "carpet" form to make the blackest material ever. Pretty cool.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

the arxiv and publishing

Journals seem to have a love/hate relationship with the arxiv. For years Nature in particular used to campaign actively against electronic preprint servers, though they have given in and no longer consider posting preprints to compromise a journal submission. Science still forbids web posting of preprints before publication, presumably because at the end of the day they think that people won't buy the journal if they can get versions of the paper for free. This comes up most often when someone has a hot result and they want to get it out there to the community quickly (perhaps to establish priority), rather than wait weeks or months for the editorial process at a journal. Other publishers have attitudes that run the gamut from embracing preprint servers to ignoring their existence. Does anyone out there know if there is any actual evidence to support or refute the idea that preprint posting harms journal circulation?

Back to science soon....

I will start blogging about actual physics again soon. It's been a busy time lately, between the start of the new semester and having two proposals due - one this past Thursday for the IMR program, and one this coming Friday for the MRSEC program. Writing equipment proposals like the IMR these days feels like a complete throw of the dice. For those who don't know, after your startup period, it can be challenging to get the resources needed to buy significant pieces of equipment (say $200K-$400K). You can't just ask for that kind of equipment as part of a standard grant proposal, which is why they set up separate proposals just for gadgetry. I'm trying to get a piece of equipment that will be a major boost to all areas of my research program, and after the initial grant period I'm planning on adding it to Rice's shared instrumentation pool so that it's there to help the whole campus community. The big question is, with the current budget woes (described so completely by Gordon and Chad, among others, so there's no need for me to say much more), what's going to happen to this program? Is the proposal success rate going to be 10%? Lower? The equivalent program at DOE just got cancelled entirely. The reason that the recent remarks of the Harvard president hit a nerve is that there is a grain of truth to them....

Monday, January 07, 2008


Like many physicists, given my druthers I'd write everything in LaTeX, but there are times when it's necessary to write large documents (like proposals) in Word. While LaTeX has the BibTeX bibliography management tool, in Word the main choice is EndNote, the offering from ISI (the folks who do Web of Knowledge). EndNote isn't too bad, but there are times when it's dreadfully painful, particularly if you're merging documents with contributions from multiple authors, each with their own EndNote library. This afternoon I had to upgrade to version X1 - the joys of planned obsolescence, since I couldn't read the libraries of my colleagues with more recent versions than mine. What a racket. I wonder if the new version is smart enough to read article numbers (as in PRL) as page numbers, instead of me having to type them in by hand.