Sunday, 24 February 2013

Macro Letters "cool cover"

The relatively new ACS Macro Letters journal has joined Twitter ("finally", I hear you all call out)! Their 3rd ever tweet boldly publicises, "The cool cover for the sample Jan '13 issue". So let's see just how cool it is...

Cool. adjective, 1. moderately cold

Macro Letters cool coverThe cover image for the first edition of 2013 really does stand out, but is it for being cool? Simple, is maybe the biggest compliment I could give it. Old fashioned, boring, forgettable are perhaps more fitting descriptions. Perhaps the editors had inadvertently left their first paper copy in the fridge and so were just commenting on how it was now at a fairly low temperature. Different journals do often distinguish between articles with catchy names, such as Chemical Science's "edge articles" and Angewandte's "hot papers". Using these definitions does lead to a distinction between papers in the same journal and is in part an (successful?) attempt to bring modern and exciting language into a sometimes dry, emotionless academic world.

But leaving behind this first attempt to reach out into the hip and trendy world of twittering, let's dissect the imagery...

Separated into four pictures, the bright colours and ambiguity of the images at least attracted my curiosity as to what this is all meant to mean. Some nice regular pattern going on at the top left with a close up at bottom right. The always fashionable brown shading, favoured by eccentric physicists, indicating an AFM image. In the top right corner we have a mold pressing in to a surface or perhaps a representation of some complimentary interactions? I'm a big fan of simple cartoons, but a little context would be nice. And finally at the bottom left we have some actual science with a cross-linked polymer structure that can possibly rotate. This piece of the puzzle confirms the polymeric patterning idea, although it would have been good of them to choose slightly nicer ChemDraw settings.

The January issues of ACS Macro Letters are open access, a rare and potentially lucrative way of attracting a new readership. But this also puts more of an emphasis on first impressions and therefore the cover. A great opportunity then to show off some eye-catching, "cool" scientific artwork. Opportunity missed I fear for this year.

Reversible covalent bonds

The paper: Thermally Induced Nanoimprinting of Biodegradable Polycarbonates Using Dynamic Covalent Cross-Links

The actual science is not too bad at all. Copolymers are produced with furanyl and maleimido side chains which can undergo a Diels-Alder reaction at an elevated temperature of 130 °C. This process cross-links the polymer, giving it an increased rigidity. They use a nanoimprinting method to put a pattern into the polymer film at the high temperature and then when cooled down the design stays put. The effect is reversible, as when the temperature is increased once more the side chains break apart and, in the absence of a mold, will form new unstructured bonds with no overall shape on the macroscale. A simple and nicely demonstrated idea.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Nano Star Wars

The first cover from the past to make the list is a blockbuster from Angewandte Chemie.

Nano Star Wars AngewandteThe Force is strong with this one

The Death Star is being attacked by the Rebel Alliance which appears to be using its new range of hydrazine based spacecraft. Eye-catching and certain to draw attention as the cover is based on an already iconic image.

An A-wing hydrazine ship (not the Rebels' best) can be upgraded to an X-wing (the pride of their fleet) by the simple addition of nickel ions. Now why didn’t Admiral Ackbar think of this earlier? Armed with these ion blasters the hydrazine ships swoop down into the Empire’s stronghold reacting with the innocent platinum nanoparticles imprisoned within.

An interesting analogy here, which begs the question of whether the authors have actually seen Star Wars. But nevertheless a smart reimagining of a classic tale. Personally however, I think I’ll stick to the original for my film of choice.

Science-fiction to science-fact

The paper: Highly Active Nanoreactors: Nanomaterial Encapsulation Based on Confined Catalysis
Found at: Angew.Chem. Int. Ed. 2012, 51, 3877–3882 

Things may seem more exciting when high powered laser beams are being used, but reality is often no less interesting. Back on Earth, the research presented here does illustrate the use of nanoreactors for confined and controlled catalysis. Hydrazine reduces the nickel ions and the encapsulated platinum nanoparticles catalyse the formation of metallic nickel. The hollow, porous silica nanocapsules provide the perfect environment for a confined reaction, allowing dynamic exchange of the reagents without loss of catalytic activity.

With nanoparticles forming nanocapsules as nanoreactors enclosing nanocrystals for the production of nanomaterials, this paper surely deserves the prize for the most excessive use of the prefix nano.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Cover Art

Science is art

At first glance, academic journals may seem to be all seriousness and impersonal facts. But at the very front of every edition lies an artistic outpouring. The cover is the place for scientists to highlight their work and at the same time show off their skills with Photoshop.

Here, researchers have a chance to show off the essence and ingenuity of their fantastic work, or so they hope. Creativity, imagination and communication are core principles of art and design. These same attributes are also vital in science.

Many journal covers have caught my eye over first few years of my fledgling academic career and so here I shall promote some of the best (and worst) examples. The scientists deserve some recognition for what they have produced after hours slaving away, perfecting their art.

The importance of cover art

There is a certain prestige to having your work plastered on the front a shiny little book. However, with the movement to electronic editions with fewer people ever seeing a paper copy and therefore not starting from the cover, have they lost significance? In the last 3 years I can count on one hand how many paper journals I’ve flicked through. It is far more normal now to jump straight to a pdf of the specific article you are searching for. Altmetric investigated this further with discussion in a recent blog post.

Cover Art Science magazineAt The University of Leeds we have a common room that has cover art from the latest publications by Leeds academics posted around the walls. And whether these images have helped gain funding, entice the smartest undergrad or simply aroused the interest of a lost history student, there is a certain something to them that is worth talking about.

Bringing scientific information to life

The cover of Science this month exemplifies the importance of this art. It showed the winning illustration in the 2012 “Science NSF International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge”. A stunning image of a “wiring-diagram”, which represented long-distance neural connections in the brain of a macaque. The outcome was that the visualisation could provide guidance for forming a brain-like network from multiple computer chips.

Science magazine is found at: Science2013, 339, 6119, 481-616

The goal of the competition is nicely stated as,
"to encourage new ways to visualize data ... for conveying scientific principles and ideas across disciplines and to the general public, and for revealing the hidden beauty of structures on scales from nanometres to the cosmos."
Fun, informative and about monkeys (sort of), what more could you want?