Friday, July 30, 2010

Social Work

A social worker I know once described a major frustration of working in a state system. Sometimes a child is clearly being abused but not badly enough to justify removing the child from the unhealthy environment. At that point, the depressing hope for the future may be that the child be abused just badly enough to provide enough evidence to get him or her out of the awful situation.

I was reminded of this sad description by a New York Times article on the long history of pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. Terrible as the oil spill may be, one positive aspect is that serious attention and money are finally being given to the region.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Asbestos in serpentinite

California is debating whether or not to drop their official state rock. The mineralogy community is now going batsh*t.

Personally, I’ve never had any particular use for state rocks or state birds or state whatevers. They were always just items on the list of stuff to memorize. Except for the Catahoula Leopard Dog and Petosky Stone, of course. They’re alright. However, the appeal of these items for educating people continues to elude me, particularly with all the dramatic geologic events (volcanoes, earthquakes, extinctions, climate change…) that we can discuss instead.

Still, if you decide to designate a state rock, I agree that it’s a little silly to then go through all the trouble and expense of dropping it. My understanding of the argument for de-rocking CA is that celebrating a rock that contains any amount of any form of asbestos constitutes support of the use of very hazardous materials in buildings. This argument has gotten mineralogists in a funk. Their (ok, our) main issue is this:

Some types of asbestos have been shown to be significantly less harmful than others.

The term asbestiform refers to a shape, not a particular mineral. Several minerals can take this shape (I believe there are 6 officially regulated types), and little evidence exists to suggest that the particular type of asbestos found in the CA state rock is especially harmful in most situations. The cute analogy suggested by Mary Johnson is asbestos: amphibole asbestos (the really bad stuff) as ivy: poison ivy.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hello World

This blog is about science and my experiences with it. As a woman struggling to make good use of a PhD in science, I often run across the “leaky pipeline” metaphor to describe the absence of women at high levels of science (i.e., tenured at major research universities). I’m not thrilled with this metaphor. Why would anyone want to be stuck in some dark, clammy pipe? Science should be about exploring the world, not feeling confined to The One True Path of pursuing tenure. Not that I’m against having a tenure-track gig, mind you. I just want other options, and I believe that many if not most other scientists do to.

My primary fields of interest are mineralogy and materials science applied to environmental and energy issues. My expertise is on nuclear waste, but I’m interested in any and all nasties – arsenic, organics, whatever. The big issue of the day is the BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana, which happens to be where I grew up and went to college, so I imagine that will come up.