Friday, December 21, 2007

Marathon Save Lives

The last couple of months have featured two prominent marathoning deaths. The first happened during the October meltdown at the Chicago Marathon where extreme temperatures led to the race being shut down early and one runner died. The autoposy indicated that it wasn't the race conditions that killed him, though, but rather a pre-existing heart condition. The second was the surprising death of elite runner Ryan Shay around mile 5 of the US Olympic trials. Yet despite the press garnered by these events, running marathons is not only safe, but may actually lower the number of deaths.

There is, of course, overwhelming evidence that running has health benefits. But a new study published in the British Medical Journal indicates that not only is the chance of dying during a marathon slim, but that the number of motor vehicle fatalaties prevented by road closures drastically exceeds the number of people dying during the race.

If you don't feel like reading the journal article itself, the New York Times has a nice summary of the report.

This is good news for people like me who think that it's worth running in at-freezing temperature freezing rain to train for a marathon. Pictured here are my friend Jonathan and I after a recent run from my house. You can see the layer of ice that formed on the bill of my running hat below.

Speaking of which, here's my planned marathon schedule, which constitute the 5 races of the World Marathon Majors:

April 2008, Boston
October 2008, Chicago
April 2009, London
November 2009, New York City
September 2010, Berlin (click on the British flag at the top for English)

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fresh Pasta

The other night, 19 people ate homemade pasta at my place. I can't take much credit beyond the dough, though, because everybody else brought the rest of the food and I was barely successful at rolling and cutting the dough. I used to roll out the dough with my mom growing up, but the past two years people have had to take over for me to make the magic with the pasta maker that my sister gave me last year for Christmas. This year, Craig and Suvda did the bulk of the pasta and managed to make a huge set of noodles out of an entire recipe of dough (we made five recipes worth). Here's my mom's super-simple recipe for the dough, which makes delicious fresh pasta:

2.5 cups flour
a little salt
~3 eggs

Mix in the food processor and add ~1T of water until the mixture balls up into a ball of dough.


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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Wiener Sausage

I was just introduced by my roommate to the mathematical Wiener sausage. My first introduction came from this abstract:

We consider the Wiener sausage among Poissonian obstacles. The obstacle is called hard if Brownian motion entering the obstacle is immediately killed, and is called soft if it is killed at certain rate. It is known that Brownian motion conditioned to survive among obstacles is confined in a ball near its starting point. We show the weak law of large numbers, large deviation principle in special cases and the moment asymptotics for the volume of the corresponding Wiener sausage. One of the consequence of our results is that the trajectory of Brownian motion almost fills the confinement ball.

I had trouble believing that this could be real, but it's very real indeed. In fact, it turns out that there's a Wiener measure.

Because I have the sense of humor of a 12-year old, I was dying to learn more. A quick search of Google Scholar yielded some great titles (links provided to prove that I'm not making this up):
Read any other good scholarly articles on the Wiener sausage lately?

UHV Part 2, the Bake-Out

Last month, I wrote about how we seal flanges using copper gaskets on our Ultra-High-Vacuum (UHV) system. Just sealing a system up, however, does not get rid of all the air and hooking a standard Hoover up to it won't do the job either. In fact, just hooking up all of our more sophisticated pumps won't do the job either. They work to keep us at UHV once the low pressures are achieved, but they won't do the job just by being turned on at atmosphere. In order to get to UHV pressures after venting the system to atmosphere, we have to do what is called a "bake-out."

The reason that UHV pumps cannot evacuate the chambers to UHV pressures from atmosphere is due to the fact that lots of atmospheric molecules (water is a particularly nasty one) stick to all of the surfaces. While the pumps can evacuate the gas molecules, they will be constantly replenished by molecules desorbing from the walls of the chambers to enter the gas phase. The idea of a bake-out is simple: heat the heck out of the chambers while pumping on them to encourage almost all of the molecules to come off of the walls to get pumped out over the course of a few days.

In practice, the basics of the bake-out are shown in these pictures. Once the system is completely sealed and leak tested, the entire system is wrapped with heating tapes and we place thermocouples everywhere on the system that we want to monitor. These heating tapes are phenomenally expensive and consist of nothing more than a piece of wire in some fiberglass that you plug into the wall; whoever manufactures these things must make a killing, particularly because they burn out all the time. Once the heating tapes are in place, we wrap the entire system in several layers of aluminum foil. This helps distribute the heat from the tapes over the entire chamber since the chambers themselves are made of the very poorly thermally conducting stainless steel. The tapes are then plugged into variacs, which let us apply however much voltage we want to them (to heat whatever parts of the chamber are wrapped in them to the desired temperatures) rather than just the 120 V from the wall.

For a few days, we slowly ramp the temperature up on the system without letting the pressure get too high. The goal is to get each part of the system as hot as we can without damaging any parts of the system (in this case, our microscope, which has a heat tolerance of about 150 C) or any of the seals, which vary from 150 C to 250 C. Once we have the system nice and hot, we say that it is at "full bake." We monitor the temperature at various places in and on the system with the thermocouples that we put on the system before wrapping it, plugging our thermocouple reader into each. We let the system sit at full bake for several days while we monitor the pressure, the presence of various atmospheric gases, and the temperature. Additionally, we do several procedures such as degassing filaments (turning any filaments on in the system to hot to desorb gases from them), regenerating our non-evaporable getters, and "burping" our ion pumps. (These terms are for another future UHV post on the five different types of pumps we use.) Finally, we switch the UHV side of the system over to the ion pumps and cool everything down. When we cool the system down, we cool the core of the system down first and the extremities last because we don't want gas molecules readsorbing at the extremities before the bake-out is complete. If all has gone well, when the system reaches room temperature, the pressures inside will be classified as ultra-high-vacuum!

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

How To Love The Long Run From Runner's

I was reading RW tonight and really enjoyed this article. I laughed in the first paragraph because when I'm on vacation with my family, they have to deal with me scheduling my long runs.

How To Love The Long Run From Runner's

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

When I was home for Thanksgiving, I drove out to CCC Vineyard, run by our friend, with my longtime friends Maura and Sarah. On our way out Hwy 519 near Morehead, we were treated to some lovely Jesus paraphernalia.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ultra High Vacuum

I've written very little about what I actually do in the lab, so I'm going to try to put up a few posts that explain some of what I do. This serves 2 purposes:

1) To give some relevant information about some topics that may not have clear explanations easily found elsewhere.

2) (more importantly) So that my father can reference it multiple times when he tries to remember the acronyms related to my work.

Today's acronym: Ultra-high Vacuum (UHV). Since there's a lot that goes into UHV technology, this post will focus specifically on copper gaskets.

While the UHV part of what I do takes up a lot of my time, it's not directly related to my actual research, but we cannot do the research without the vacuum. Ultra-high vacuum is usually defined as pressures that are lower than 10-10 torr. One atmosphere of pressure is 760 torr and this is anything below 0.0000000001 torr. In simple terms, there is very little air inside the chambers in which we work and even the tiniest leak ruins our ability to be at UHV. So the question arises, how do you seal all of the separate pieces so that there are no leaks? The answer is conflat flanges and copper gaskets. The first picture shows a 2 3/4" conflat flange setup. On the right is the STM (scanning tunneling microscope...the part that is related to our research) chamber and the left is a small window built into a flange. The inner ring of the flange is what is known as a "knife edge." The knife edge is an angled part of the stainless steel with a sharp edge that will cut into the copper gasket.
The second image shows a copper gasket that fits perfectly into the knife edges on both flanges. It's just a flat copper disk that comes clean and sealed inside its own plastic pouch that we open just before we install it between the flanges. Since copper is relatively soft, the steel knife edges will bite into the copper gasket as the flanges are tightened towards each other, leaving an impermeable metal-metal seal, which prevents even single gas molecules from entering the high vacuum side.
This picture shows a larger conflat flange with the copper gasket stuck to the knife edge after being removed from the system. In this picture, you can see the ring where the knife edge on the other side bit into the copper gasket to make the seal. The consequence of this sealing mechanism is that gaskets can only be used once, so everytime a flange is opened (hopefully, you never have to open them, but that's wishful thinking), you have to put in a new copper gasket and discard the old one. This gasket doesn't show it, but often the edge outside the knife edge will be greenish where the copper oxidized on the atmospheric side of the seal, but the inside part of the knife edge will still have a pristine copper shine because it was on the UHV side and was not exposed to oxygen.
The last step is to actually tighten the flanges together, which we do by evenly tightening down a set of bolts to pull the flanges toward each other until the vacuum seal is achieved. It doesn't always work the first time and can fail if there is a tiny scratch in the knife edge or a piece of grit gets in the knife edge, leaving a small passageway for gas molecules to enter. The only way we know that has happened is by leak testing, but that's another post!
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Saturday, November 03, 2007


A few weeks ago, I started mentoring through Champaign-Urbana One to One. It's a school-based mentoring program (unlike a community based mentoring program; eg Big Brothers and Sisters), where I spend an hour a week with my student at school. So every Monday morning, I ride my bike to Urbana Middle School and meet with my 6th grade student. I'll stay with the same student year after year as well so that we can develop a long-term relationship.

I've only been to mentor for two weeks now and I absolutely love it and am so excited to go every week. With how much I miss the classroom, I knew that I was going to love it. It's a completely different experience than being a classroom teacher for a lot of reasons, primarily because I have just one student and the focus is not academic. Although we've already started reading together some, the focus is not academic; it's on having a fun, positive relationship, so we spend time outside kicking the soccer ball or playing games like foosball in the "splash room" at the middle school.

If you're in the Champaign-Urbana area, you should definitely look into CU1to1, but no matter where you are, you should consider mentoring. A commitment like an hour a week means nothing to your schedule and can meet a lot to a kid (and to you too!). My experience with Teach For America helped me realize how badly students need advocates and this is one way to play a positive role for students and for society.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Trick or Treaters

In 2006, I had 159 trick or treaters come to my house. This year, we totally dominated that with 230! My favorite trick or treater was the one who repeatedly said, "My momma said don't give me gum. I can't have gum. Don't give me gum. I'll swallow it. My momma says don't give me gum." I also enjoyed the really little ones who tried to wander into the house and the kid who walked up to the screen door and yelled "Open the door!"

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Milk as a chemical reagent

I was just reading this paper from Nano Letters, and found the following sentence quite entertaining (the bolding is mine):

"Nonspecific binding of rhodamine-labeled anti-Ad 12 Knob protein attached to carbon nanotubes was prevented by blocking this reaction with 4% milk, which contains a number of unrelated, nonspecific proteins in high concentrations."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Allerton Trail Race

I ran the Allerton Trail Race this morning for the second year in a row and finished in second place overall for the second year in a row. My running buddy Harley Johnson took first place in the race. I finished the 5.5 mile race in 31:20.4 (5:42/mile pace). It was a beautiful morning and a bunch of guys from my lunchtime running group ran really well. The picture here was taken from the album of a member of the Second Wind Running Club, who puts on the race.

I love running the trails at Allerton (and need to make it out there more often), which is a park owned by the University of Illinois about 30 minutes away from campus. The race is a well-run event and has a really nice spread of baked goods after the race provided by members of the club. My one gripe about the race was the couple of places where the course was not marked at all. About 100 meters into the race the guy leading nearly led us astray rather than taking us down into the trails and then when I was leading just past the mile mark and came to an unmarked Y, I had to turn back to the guys behind me and ask if I had taken the right fork. Then as I was coming down the last hill, Harley turned back to me and threw his hands up in the air because there were cones running in two different directions through the field. At the time, I thought he was shrugging at me as if to ask, "why didn't you give me a better race than this," but it turned out he was just confused about the course.
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Friday, October 26, 2007

Carbon Based Curiosities

My friend Aaron who shares a chemistry blog with a Kentuckian (mentioned previously here), have upgraded to a new look. I've updated the link on my sidebar, but you should give the new Carbon Based Curiosities a look.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bonk Hard Racing :: Castlewood 8-Hour

I got recruited to fill in for somebody who can't make it to an adventure race that's coming up at the beginning of December in Missouri the other night while I was out. I'm really excited because I've done a couple of adventure races before and love it.

I'll be on a 4-man team and it should take us 5-8 hours to complete the mountain biking, running, canoeing, hiking, orienteering, and mystery events.

Bonk Hard Racing :: Castlewood 8-Hour

Pumpkin Carving

Several of my friends came over last night and we carved pumpkins. Here are 6 of the 7 pumpkins carved last night on my front porch. We need impartial judges to decide who wins the award of excellence. Leave a comment telling which pumpkin is your favorite.
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I was on my bike ride home the other day and somebody was taking a picture with a cell phone as I rode toward her. I was trying to figure out why she was taking my picture (aside from me looking really ridiculously good looking in my bike helmet) and then I glanced behind me. I pulled my camera out of my pocket and took some shots over my shoulder.

The first picture here is headed east the direction I was riding and shows the awesome bright red fall trees that I ride past every day on Pennsylvania Ave in Urbana. The second picture is the best of the ones that I took over my shoulder to the west as I was riding. Not bad for a blindly taken shot, eh?

I love fall, except for the fact that it means the ridiculously cold Illinois winter is on the horizon.
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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Illini Madness

Speaking of basketball season, we went to Illini madness a few weeks ago. To get in, you had to buy a $7 pink t-shirt, $2 of which went to Coaches vs. Cancer. So, in the spirit of breast cancer awareness month, we painted Assembly Hall pink.

It was kind of fun to go to the event once, but I doubt I'll go again. It's really not that exciting, but it was good to experience. Plus, I now have a sweet pink Illini basketball t-shirt, which I actually wore to the lab today.
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Illinois Football

I have student season tickets to Illinois football and went to the game against Michigan last Saturday. It was a really exciting game, which we unfortunately ended up losing. We made some huge mistakes that cost us the game, what with roughing the kicker on a punt, blatant pass interference, and a dropped fair catch that resulted in a turnover.

It's hard to justify buying single game tickets when they're $24 for students and the season tickets are $60 (6 games). Plus you get extra points towards your seating priority for basketball season (we have much better seats for basketball this year than our 3rd from the top row last year)! The football season tickets come in the form of vouchers which you trade in on game week for seats, so you can sit with whoever you want to that week. I go with a group of chemistry grad students, some of whom are pictured with me here.

The last picture shows "Block I," which is part of the student section that does a halftime show holding up colored cards to make various symbols and write things out. Since our quarterback's name is "Juice Williams" part of the routine always involves a glass filled with juice that then slowly unfills as everyone chants "chug chug chug!"

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I'm now a Wikipedia author

Yesterday evening, I made my first contribution to Wikipedia, a major overhaul to the article on Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (which was a fairly minimal article before I contributed). We had to write a Wikipedia article on a surface science technique for my Surface Physics course. In December, I'll be posting an article on some topic within surface thermodynamics.

Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Owen's Wedding

Last weekend, I went to North Carolina for the wedding of my good college friend, Owen. It was one of the most fun weddings I've been do and the food was unbelievable. Here's a link to my pictures.


Owen's Wedding

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Cave Run Storytelling Festival

This past weekend, I made a quick trip back to Morehead for the 9th annual Cave Run Storytelling Festival. It was a beautiful weekend and, as always, the storytelling was amazing. Here's a picture of the venue at the beach area in the Twin Knobs Recreation area at Cave Run Lake. I was the emcee for 4 of the tellers during the Saturday afternoon session. One of my favorite tellers, Donald Davis, was at the festival, but I came away with another new teller to add to the list of the favorites: Kevin Kling.

Mark your calendar for next year's festival; it's always the last weekend in September.
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Saturday, September 01, 2007

More Fame!

I don't know how long it will last, but check out where I'm "featured" watching my brother last year. You can see my dad's hat, me, my brother's girlfriend's forehead, and my mom. Go 'Cats!
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Friday, August 31, 2007

My 15 Minutes of Fame

I was recently featured in the Sep/Oct, 2007 issue of In Chemistry magazine, which is a publication of the American Chemical Society for undergraduates. The article was on taking time off before graduate school and it talks briefly about my experience with Teach For America. I'm on page 15.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

On Becoming a Professional Athlete

On Saturday, I raced the 12th Annual Mahomet 5K. There was $100 of prize money for the winner and the race hadn't been won in under 17 minutes in several years, so I figured that I would try my luck. Of course, every time that I think that I can just show up and win a race, someone else even faster does the same thing, so I couldn't count on it being a sure thing.

I saw lots of fast-looking guys warming up--some of whom I know are fast--but as luck would have it, all the guys that I was worried about entered the half marathon instead of the 5K, which carried a $200 prize. I haven't been doing high enough volume training recently to feel confident racing a half, so I stuck with the shorter race. I didn't recognize anyone on the start line--and in a rare occurence in a 5K, people didn't even crowd the front line--and when the gun went off, nobody even attempted to go with me.

The first mile started downhill and despite the promises to myself that I would start out easy given the chance, I went through the mile in 4:54. Realizing how far ahead of everyone I was, I dropped the pace back to a nice, relaxed 5:50 for the remainder and cruised in to the finish at 17:16 a full minute ahead of the second place runner. Here I am pictured with my $100 check and first place plaque. Now that I've accepted a purse, I believe that makes me a professional athlete (at least in the eyes of the NCAA, for whom I don't have eligibility left anyway).

A gripe about the pace car: Somebody apparently wanted to show off his fancy old car from the 60's and drove it as the pace car for the 5K. The fumes from that thing were nearly unbearable! Just before the 2 mile mark, I caught up with the back of the half marathon pack that had started ten minutes before me and we had to cut across them to stay on the 5K course. The pace car had to wait for a break in the runners to get through and I ran up next to the car and yelled in "Stay behind me; your fumes are killing me!" For the rest of the race, the pace car drove behind me, but it didn't matter because the course was so well marked. Even the guy in second place over a minute back told me that he could smell the fumes. After the race, the driver of the car apologized to me...while sitting on his bike that he could have paced with. I guess the elites in marathons have had to deal with this kind of thing for a long time, but I can't see any reason why pace cars today in major races aren't hybrids, which would run on electric at running speeds.
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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Blood Donation

I gave blood for the first time today! I've wanted to give blood for a long time, but never really seeked it out and when the opportunity arose, couldn't for some reason or another (usually that I was in season for track or something). I was ineligible for a year after coming back from China, but I've been back over 12 months now, so my friend Mark and I went and gave blood for the first time at the Illini Union. Note the sweet Illini colored bandage (and the bulging bicep!). I also scored a free Illinois Football shirt out of the deal.

Of other important note in this photograph; the office in my house is no longer purple! Markita and I went to town last week with some Kilz "Poppy Seed" paint and brightened the place right up.
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Monday, August 13, 2007

Pictures from Portugal and Spain!

I trimmed our 564 photos down to 272. Note in the captions that Rossio, Baixa, Alfalma, Graca, and Bairro Alto are all names for parts of Lisbon. Click on the picture below to view the entire album.

Portugal and Spain

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Portugal and Spain

Markita and I made an impromptu trip to Portugal and Spain starting on the 28th of July. We were supposed to come back on the 3rd of August, but since we were flying standby, we ended up getting stranded for 4 days in Lisbon. Our delay caused us to miss an important wedding (I'm so sorry, Ben and Elizabeth!), but the rest of the trip was fabulous. Here's a picture from the Castelo De Sao Jorge at the top of the Alfalma/Gracca area overlooking the Baixa area of Lisbon. I'll post much more and put up lots of pictures when I get the chance.
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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Illinois Bans Smoking in Public Places -

I learned in the 5th grade that when a bill passes Congress and goes to the President's desk, he has ten days to take action on it or it automatically becomes a law. I began to question my 5th grade (or whatever grade it actually was) civics memory recently because several months ago the Illinois legislature passed a statewide smoking ban, but the newspaper for months referred to it as a piece of legislation that the governor is expected to sign. I did my research, however, and confirmed that 10 days is the case with the US President, but in Illinois, the legislature has 30 days to give the passed bill to the governor after which point he has 60 days to take action on it before it becomes state law.

I was pleased that the statewide smoking ban passed, though, because of the ridiculousness here in Champaign-Urbana. Both cities passed smoking bans that went into effect this January. In May, just days after Illinois passed the statewide ban, the city of Champaign (although not Urbana) repealed their smoking ban despite knowing that they would be trumped by state law in just 7 months. Maybe they thought the governor, who has alienated just about everybody from both parties, wouldn't sign it in the infinite amount of time this state gives him. Yesterday, however, the governor signed the ban into law:

Illinois Bans Smoking in Public Places -

Thursday, July 12, 2007

USATF Championships and my Broken Camera

A few weeks ago, I went to the USATF Outdoor Track and Field National Championships in Indianapolis with my friend Jake. We sat on the second row and saw some amazing races, some pictures of which can be seen here. Unfortunately, I dropped my Canon Powershot S50 and broke the LCD. Reading around on the Internet, I discovered that it would be much cheaper to try to repair the camera myself, rather than sending it off for repair. I called Canon's New Jersey Parts center and ordered a new LCD for $49 including tax and shipping, which arrived within a couple of days. Then, I used this great website and in under an hour, had a fully-functional camera again.

Trek Bike Helmet

One of the pieces of the ZipTite (the part that helps hold the helmet snugly to your head) on my Trek Sonic bike helmet recently broke. I emailed Customer Service from Trek's webiste and asked if there was any way that I could find a replacement for the part. Not only did they email me back unbelievably quickly, but once they identified the exact part that they needed from a few emails back and forth, they asked for my address and are sending me the replacement part for free. I've had the helmet for 2.5 years and they are sending me the part no questions asked. I was really impressed.

Pictured here is my beautiful bike helmet on a ride on the Rio Grande in Brownsville (Mexico in the background) taken last spring.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Who doesn't need one of these?

This product is hilarious. But even funnier is the video.

Unclutterer: Unitasker Wednesday: The Towel-matic paper towel dispenser


My garden is thriving right now and I picked the first of my zucchini this morning while I was watering. Here's a picture of my monstrous vegetable. Delicious!
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