Monday, September 6, 2010

Tools for a scientist: September Scientiae

Anthropologists can study civilizations by examining their tools. This month, we can learn a lot about what some science bloggers do by hearing about the tools that they use in their daily science lives. You might pick up a useful suggestion or two along the way, be it software, pens, or notebooks!

rocketscientista calls this the most wonderful time of the year. I knew there'd be at least one person who wanted to effuse their love of office supplies! She tells us about her quest- and success- in search of the best lab notebook ever. I'm sure others will want to find out what it is. Also, she gets to play with liquid nitrogen. Awesome. But perhaps best of all, rocketscientista uses owl pellets. How? You'll have to read her post and find out.

Rocksinspace has a great list of supplies that keep her organized including multiple colors of pens and special notebooks. She also has 3 terabytes of external hard drives and is going to need a 4th soon- she works with enormous data files! On her blog she also shares a revelation about the disorganization of pdfs on her computer and is now getting reorganized with Mendeley.

FrauTech literally has a toolbox. She's got some timeless classics (drafting pencils and calipers) as well as the more sophisticated tools of today (matlab and a 3D modeling program), some basics that few of us can do without (coffee and Excel), and some things that are unquestionably tools by anyone's definition (screwdrivers, wrenches, a hammer, and more). Can you guess her field of work?

ecogeofemme doesn't obsess over school supplies but associates this time of year with new clothes. She also finds that the new lab she has joined as a postdoc is missing some of the things that belong in a lab based on her previous experiences.

Jaxwolf does a lot of her science in the field and has to be ready for anything with the ten essentials. She'd rather not head to the field without a GPS, compass, maps, first aid kit, multitool, waterproof notebooks, and duct tape. That stuff is amazing.

sarcozona gets the prize for most unique tool: the cone guillotine. What in the world is a cone guillotine for? You'll have to go check it out, complete with a photo.

microbiologist xx needs some sterile wooden sticks and a whole lot more for her research. She tells us why the microscope is her favorite tool, and includes some awesome photos to illustrate her point!

Melissa from Confused at a higher level shares some outstanding advice for anyone starting up a lab (especially at a primarily undergraduate institution). She has great suggestions for how to make the most out of start-up funds by thinking long-term. In the same post she shares an A-to-X list of things she uses in an experimental condensed matter physics lab. I love it!

NJS (Scientist Rising) reminds us that a lot of science doesn't happen in a lab (or in the field). Her work relies on her "laptop, research group computers, the department computing clusters, and a supercomputer or two." One advantage of computer-based work is that it's easily portable and she shares some tricks for managing connections with the other computers. Without those tools, she might have "killed at least one computer."

Like NJS, Alyssa's (aka Mrs. Comet Hunter) research relies heavily on computers and the internet. She wonders if she's missing out or isn't a "real scientist" because she doesn't work in a lab or do field work. As host of this month's theme, I say nay! Computers and the internet are most definitely "real science" tools, and both field and lab work have their drawbacks. If you have thoughts on the matter, you can join the discussion on Alyssa's post.

Two different bloggers wrote about their love for R (a free statistical package) and LaTeX (a free typesetting program). mariawolters calls R "the one tool I couldn't live without." As an academic who has frequently changed institutions, she is liberated from the software subscription ties of any particular university to various other [expensive] statistical packages. Eugenie also tells us how she uses Mendeley (another free program used for managing and annotating references) and BiBteX to make bibliographies in LaTeX. So much free software!

fridayafternoonwriter has learned which tools are most important to her while writing up her thesis: good software (no one else mentioned many of these programs), good hardware (wide screen monitor!), good music, and good tea. Her post reminds me that the small things that create our optimal work environment are important, too.

I have absolutely loved reading all of the different posts for this month's carnival. Thank you to everyone who contributed! I've learned about many tools that I didn't even know existed. I hope that everyone enjoys these glimpses into different fields of science!


Alyssa said...

Great carnival! I can't wait to read all the posts!

EcoGeoFemme said...

Good carnival!

Jax said...

This is interesting. I think your topic turned out really well. It's great to read everyone's posts about the tools they use or enjoy the most. Great idea!