Category Archives: non-technical

An introduction to the water structure problem

Although the macroscopic properties of water have been heavily studied, there are things we don’t understand about this ubiquitous substance. In this post, I will provide an introduction to the problem of describing water’s structure. At first glance, the idea of a liquid having structure seems preposterous. Indeed, liquids cannot maintain a structural arrangement of atoms like solids can. Instead, the atoms/molecules tumble past each other in constant state of motion. This allows for the defining property of the liquid state – the ability to fill a container.   Continue reading


Filed under non-technical, research, Uncategorized

Our Nature Communciations paper – ice-like phonons in liquid water

Our paper, “The hydrogen-bond network of water supports propagating optical phonon-like modes” was published on January 4th in Nature Communications (full open access pdf). A press release about our work has been issued by the Stony Brook Newsroom and picked up by news aggregator

Our work shows that propagating vibrations or phonons can exist in water, just as in ice. The work analyzes both experimental data and the results of extensive molecular dynamics simulations performed with a rigid model (TIP4P/eps), a flexible model (TIP4P/2005f), and an ab-initio based polarizable model (TTM3F). Many of these simulations were performed on the new supercomputing cluster at Stony Brook’s Institute for Advanced Computational Science.

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Crackpot Nobelists

I have mixed feelings about the Nobel Prize. To some degree, I sympathize with Feynman:

I agree with Feynman that the discoveries that people made about the nature of reality are more important than titles and distinctions. The true test of scientific work is what it tells us about reality.  Of course “importance” is subjective, but importance can be defined operationally in terms of how much implication a discovery has for the workings of the universe, as made manifest through the breadth of experimental results that it can help explain. The importance of a discovery can also be defined through the impact a discovery has on technology and society.  The later definition is actually closer to Nobel’s intent, although the former version of “importance” usually implies the later as well. The invention of the transistor, a singular event by a few people, surely passes the test. Scrolling through the Nobel prizes in physics, they all appear to pass these operational tests at the highest level. Still, more generally prizes and awards are often corrupted by human cognitive biases and by the insularity of certain social networks – ie winning the prize becomes more about ‘who you know’ rather than ‘what you discovered’. Continue reading


Filed under Musings, non-technical, pseudoscience

Neuromorphic hardware – a path towards human-level artificial intelligence

Recently we have seen a slew of popular films that deal with artificial intelligence – most notably The Imitation Game, Chappie, Ex Machina, and Her. However, despite over five decades of research into artificial intelligence, there remain many tasks that humans find simple which computers cannot do. Given the slow progress of AI, for many the prospect of computers with human-level intelligence seems further away today than it did when Isaac Asimov’s classic I, Robot was published in 1950.  The fact is, however, that today neuromorphic chips offer a plausible path to realizing human-level artificial intelligence within the next few decades. Continue reading


Filed under Neuroscience, non-technical

The chance that a child will have a severe reaction to the MMR vaccine is less than the chance they will die in 200 mile car ride

Backstory: Several weeks ago Newsday refused to publish a comment I posted on the article “Vaccine court protects ‘big pharma‘”. Having experienced this before (they have a very limited window to submit comments), I decided to rewrite the comment and submit it as an editorial. Recently I discovered it had been published. Unfortunately, the editor removed one of the key points from my piece, and also botched the grammar on the third line, so I am republishing the full piece here, with minor copyediting.

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Filed under non-technical, pseudoscience, Science communication

“Halting State” by Charles Stross

Halting_State(1stEd)Halting State
by Charles Stross
2007, 336 pgs

I originally learned about Charles Stross at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute transhumanism club, where his books Singularity Sky and Accelerando where highly lauded. Shamefully, I have not yet read either of these yet. As it turned out I picked up some different books by Stross when the Borders Books in Smithtown closed down. Continue reading

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Filed under books, non-technical, scifi

“The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert A. Heinlein

The Moon is  Harsh Mistress
by Robert A. Heinlein
1966, 382 pages
A few months ago I finished reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein.  I was shamefully unaware that this was one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written. Previously the only other work by Heinlein I had read was A Stranger in a Strange Land. What drew my attention to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was the fact that it was recommended by Elon Musk as one of his favourite books.

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“Zero to One” by Peter Thiel

ZeroToOne_350hZero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Peter Thiel with Blake Masters
195 pgs

This is my first book review/discussion on this blog — hopefully the first of many!

Recently I became interested in Peter Thiel after watching one of the many interviews he has done in recent weeks. For those of you who don’t know, Thiel is a leading figure in the high-tech and libertarian communities. He is a co-founder and former CEO of PayPal, the first outside investor in Facebook, co-founder of Palantir Technologies, co-founder of Mithril capital, president of Clarium Capital and a managing partner at Founder’s Fund. Through his philanthropic work he has contributed substantially to the Seasteading Institute, Singularity Challenge, Singularity University, Machine Intelligence Research Institute, Methuselah Foundation, and the SENS Research Foundation. He also founded the Thiel Fellowship Program and Breakout Labs.

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Filed under books, economics, non-technical

Some corrections to Matthew Inman’s Tesla puff piece

This post is a response to Matthew Inman’s comic about Tesla entitled “Why Nikola Tesla is the Greatest Geek that Ever Lived”

I am certainly not the only person to respond to Matt Inman’s comic (see here), nor am I the only one to debunk oft-repeated claims about Tesla one encounters on the internet.(see here, here, here, here and here)

Nevertheless, I felt I should lend a few thoughts on this matter. A few weeks ago I finished reading a new biography of Tesla by Bernard Carlson. From what I can gather of the few other biographies on the market and the praise lauded on Carlson’s work, this is the first biography of him that is written by a historian, fully comprehensive, covers the science behind his inventions, and does not succumb to hagiography. It truly the definitive work on Tesla.

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Filed under non-technical, Tesla


Polyhedra have fascinated people for a long time. With their straight edges and flat faces, they appeal to human’s desires for order and perfection. Their physical manifestations are almost always a product of human thought and intellect.

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Filed under Mathematics, non-technical, research, Uncategorized