Browsing: Materials

My mom is a painter, so I grew up in a messy house full of brushes, twisted tubes of paint, pots of ink, plaster busts of various Romans, rolls of papers, and shelves of art books. I remember spending many hours poring over the glossy pages of my mom’s art books and trying to imitate the drawings I liked. I got so good at drawing the profiles of Agrippa and Venus that they became my favorite things to doodle. However, whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answers were usually a doctor, an astronaut, a scientist—never an artist. For me, art was something I enjoyed in my free time and appreciated having around…

I’ve worked with many valuable materials in my career. Precious metals like gold and platinum, rare engineered nanomaterials, and fragile gemstones nearly as old as the Earth itself. But the unassuming jars of fine gray-brown powder I found myself holding last year left them all in the dust, so to speak. I think I probably kicked up some dust, too, when my colleague Ed Garboczi called to ask if I wanted to help him make some measurements of particles that the Apollo 11 and 14 astronauts had collected during their lunar landings. After all, when you get a call like that, you don’t walk, you run. Ed, a NIST Fellow and researcher in the Material Measurement Laboratory, and Jay Goguen of…

Cars, buildings, computer chips, you and me and the air we breathe, everything is made of atoms. We learn this in elementary school, because, well, it’s an elementary fact. But we seldom think about it because we are big, and atoms are small—so small that, even with the help of the most powerful of microscopes, they’re almost completely invisible to us. For most of our history, we humans have been pretty much clueless as to what’s going on at the scale of individual atoms. Despite our ignorance of this microscopic world, we’ve made some miraculous innovations just by studying the behavior of materials at the macroscopic scale. After all, we didn’t need to know anything about atoms to build pyramids…

A catchphrase from a popular reality show goes: “One day you’re in. And the next day, you’re out.” For the purposes of the show, the host is referencing fashion. But the same could be said about science. With each new discovery or advance, an old theory or idea often becomes obsolete … or at least less important. We here in the NIST public affairs office thought it might be fun to list some of the NIST-relevant scientific ideas that we think are on their way in and out in 2017. While the items on the list below may not be as monumental as the discoveries that led to this year’s Nobel Prizes, MacArthur Foundation “genius” grants or Breakthrough Prizes, we…

I think curiosity is at the root of all scientific careers. That, and insecurity. In my formative years, I felt compelled to assign a rational explanation to everything. I didn’t know it then, but I was practicing to be a scientist—and having lots of fun. I remember entertaining numerous misconceptions. Looking back, I think in many cases the misconceptions made a better story than the truth. For instance, as a child, I thought that when you dropped a letter into the mailbox on the corner, it was delivered to the correct address through one of a multitude of underground channels connecting all mailboxes to all residences. Then I grew up a little. It’s definitely more fun making things up, but…

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