Tips from writer and physicist Alan Lightman on science writing


Imagine a poppy seed sitting at the center of Fenway Park. If the baseball stadium were the size of an atom, then the poppy seed would be the relative size of its nucleus, nearly 100,000 times smaller.

This is an example of one of the tools that Alan Lightman, internationally renowned writer and physicist, discussed in his talk on “Science Writing” earlier this week: the use of metaphor to express large numbers and complex ideas. Lightman is a visiting professor in Brown’s Nonfiction Writing Program, and he holds joint appointment at MIT in the English and physics departments as one of only a few professors to straddle the sciences and humanities. He is best known for his bestselling novel Einstein’s Dreams, and has published numerous other books and essays in addition to, you know, doing theoretical astrophysics research. Thanks for the feelings of inadequacy. Check out a few more of his tips on science writing after the jump: Continue Reading

Brown selected for CubeSat mission


Providence isn’t generally regarded as a hub of space travel (for now), but the engineers and astrophysicists of College Hill are nonetheless set to leave their mark on the stratosphere with NASA’s recent announcement of its CubeSat Mission candidates. The mission — an initiative to launch a class of nano-satellites aboard rockets scheduled for 2015, 2016, and 2017 — will use satellites designed and constructed by fifteen educational and research institutions, including Brown. Read the details here.

If there’s one thing the film Gravity taught the world, it’s that poorly constructed satellites are a big no-no. With the sturdy designs of Brown’s astrophysicists up in orbit, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock will hopefully run into fewer difficulties while at work.

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Know your Lecture Board Fall Speaker Poll candidates: Bill Nye the Science Guy

Upon learning that the Lecture Board  Speaker Poll was officially open, one of our writers sprung into action to proclaim that she planned to vote for Mindy Kaling. World War III erupted as both BlogDH staffers and readers alike disagreed with this preference. As such, several members of our team were inspired to action and decided to write pieces advocating for their first-choice speakers. Expect fleshed-out plugs for each candidate from now until the poll closes. It’s like All That‘s ‘Know Your Stars’… except not fake. 

First of all, I have to say Lecture Board did a PHENOMENAL job with this year’s candidates. Sure, Mindy Kaling is pretty cool; Arianna Huffington created one of the most popular news sites of our age, which is okay; Guy Fieri is ignorant about his ‘90s boy-band frosted tips, which is completely amusing; and Sir Ian McKellen was knighted, which I guess is kind of a big deal. But guys… BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY.

Make your childhood-self proud.

Seriously, this guy.

Find the reasons why you should vote for Bill Nye the Science Guy after the jump. Seriously, go vote. Right now. Continue Reading

This week in The Herald: Introductory science education at Brown


This week, The Herald is running a four-part series examining students’ experiences in introductory science courses at Brown.

This topic is particularly relevant now — nearly 60 percent of the class of students that Brown admitted this year expressed the intent to concentrate in the sciences. The Committee on Educational Innovation, one of the strategic planning committees formed under Christina Paxson this fall, identified science, technology, engineering, and math fields as a key area of focus in the strategic planning process.

Improving undergraduate science education has also been an area of recent national concern, with a growing amount of press devoted to high attrition rates in certain STEM fields. In 2011, the Association of American Universities announced it would undertake a five-year initiative to improve STEM education at its member institutions, including Brown.

Introductory courses enroll significant percentages of the student body each semester. In spring 2011, for example, nearly one-fifth of the freshman class enrolled in BIOL 0200: “The Foundation of Living Systems.” Continue Reading

Brown’s new wireless brain-computer implant

If you possess an internet connection, it’s more than likely you’ve been reading up on the next big tech trend predicted to sweep the globe: augmented reality, centering around the much-hyped visual interactivity of Google Glass.

Recently, researchers in the BrainGate program here at Brown University announced a breakthrough that has the potential to add an entirely new dimension to augmented reality: an implantable, wireless, rechargeable brain interface. The implantable Brown-computer implant has been tested on animals before, but humans have only undergone tests with a tethered BCI rather than a wireless one. An incredible video of a May 2012 test (below) shows a paralyzed woman using a tethered BCI to manipulate a bottle with a robotic arm.

According to a recent article in ExtremeTech, scientists here at Brown have implanted the wireless BCIs in animals; after 13 months of testing, the researchers are planning to move to human subjects for testing in the future.


A Cool Thing You Probably Missed: GZA on ‘Dark Matter’

A bit over a month ago, I attended a GZA show in Boston and thought to myself “Gosh, I wish I could take a class with this guy. I mean, he’s a f*cking GENIUS.”  Yesterday, RISD’s STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Math) initiative made this dream come true by bringing The Genius (born Gary Grice) himself to the RISD Auditorium. The talk that transpired was ostensibly a discussion of GZA’s career and Dark Matter, his upcoming science-inspired album that has been years or, according to the rapper, decades in the making. Yet after GZA’s talk I emerged not with a newfound interest in physics, but rather a greater appreciation for curiosity, artistry and how the two, for artists of GZA’s stock, are ultimately one in the same. Continue Reading