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Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) Laboratory Cool. Fuel.

Taking Land-Grant for granted

“What’s Land-grant?”

“What do you mean ‘What’s Land-grant’? You’re sitting in one.”

We were preparing to start our weekly lab meeting when the entire meeting was derailed by that innocent question. As usual, I looked around the table to allow someone else to answer, nothing. So I asked who in the room knew what a Land-Grant Institution was. Nothing. So I asked who knew what Morrill Hall on campus was named after? Nothing. I’m starting to hyperventilate. I’ve got the best students in the College in my lab. Sometimes I kid myself though. So the next week I asked a Junior … » More …

Mentoring and The Sage at the Top of the Mountain

Me to Sage: “The university is a cancer patient.”

Without hesitation, Sage to me: “And you’re the cancer.”

Me: suddenly realizes this was part of the plan all along.

The classic tale of the sage, or old wise man, on top of the mountain was written by a sage, just not one on top of a mountain.

Why create such a tale? Why send people off alone on such an arduous journey in search of enlightenment? Because most expect to be enlightened by an authority. Authoritarians are always on top of something somewhere (See Yertle the Turtle). It’s what … » More …

Social Thermodynamics: The beginning of the end

My four year old son Max from three feet away looked directly into my eyes, then down to my mouth, then back to my eyes.

“Daddy, why aren’t you talking?”

Right in the middle of playing, my mind drifted to this book, and I was staring out the window.

The intent of his question was more along the lines of: Where did you go? We were connected and playing. What happened?

Children are generally born with an innate ability to read and mirror facial emotions. I couldn’t have taught him to do that if I wanted to. … » More …

Social Thermodynamics: Good Cop, Bad Cop

(Bad Cop standing over suspect): “Look, we know your friend ran off with the cash, and you helped him. Let’s make this real simple: WHERE IS HE?”

(Suspect, calmly): “I don’t know where he is.”

(Bad Cop): “You know I could throw on an impeding an investigation charge — another 5 years!? One last time: WHERE IS HE?”

(Suspect): “I’m not saying anything.”

(Bad Cop): “You fucked up. I’m not sure I can help you after this. I’m going to get the paperwork for the next charge.” (bad cop leaves)

(Minutes later Good … » More …

Social Thermodynamics: The Collapse of Anti-Empathy Movements

“Then again, from below, in the great heavy stack,
Came a groan from that plain little turtle named Mack.
“Your Majesty, please… I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.
We turtles can’t stand it. Our shells will all crack!
Besides, we need food. We are starving!” groaned Mack.

“You hush up your mouth!” howled the mighty King Yertle.
“You’ve no right to talk to the … » More …

Social Thermodynamics: The size of the party next door

Staring off into the darkness of my bedroom at midnight, all I can here is the “thump, thump, thump” of the party next door.

Rather than stir me to call the cops though, for some reason this one is taking me back…

I was a freshman in college. The senior quarterback on the football team was eating alone in the lunchroom.

I dropped my tray in front of him and asked him what the #1 piece of wisdom he had for a new freshman to the team.

“Do you party?” he asked.

“Not … » More …

Social Thermodynamics: Gibbs and the Energy for Change

It was late January of my first Wisconsin winter. I had started my Ph.D. studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about half a year ago. I had just failed the qualifying exam — a tortuous two day event with a cumulative 6 hours of written exams covering a wide range of topics to determine qualification to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. I had been told that I should seriously consider a job in industry. My dreams of combining what came natural to me in teaching with the fun of research had shattered.

I don’t know why, but when I was walking by the mail … » More …

Social Thermodynamics: Hate and Terrorism

Ok, get ready for the haymaker right swing.

Jab. Jab. Jab. Here it comes!

Duck. Come back with a quick right.

What just happened?

Holy shit. I knocked him down!


It was my freshman year of college. To ‘toughen up’ the offensive lineman on the football team, we had mandatory boxing matches in one of the racquetball courts. We had head gear. A coach facilitated. All of the defensive lineman loved to watch. Somehow I, the underweight freshman, got paired to box with a Senior from Southern … » More …

Social Thermodynamics: Empathy for Autism Spectrum Disorders

I heard a loud BANG!

The lights flickered.

I heard a scream. “OH MY GOD NO!!!! JAKE HELP!”

I ran upstairs into the kitchen and immediately smelled smoke.

I looked around. My mom was holding my sister down in a chair.

On the other side of the kitchen a black circle surrounded an outlet with a burnt fork lying in front of it.

My sister, two years younger than me and in the 7th grade, had just tried to hurt herself, badly.

Somehow, despite my social issues, I was always the … » More …

Social Thermodynamics: The Phase Change that led to ‘Kind of Blue’

Shit. Screwed up the note.

Try the other pattern.

Another sour note. SHIT.

I’m not going to pull it off. That’s it. I’ve had enough of this…

(insert sound of record player screeching to a halt)

It was zero hour Jazz band during my senior year in high school. It was 7:10 am. If you’re not familiar with jazz, it’s meant to be played after 9 pm. Jazz is uniquely performance-based in value v-Memes — once you’ve mastered the scales, rhythm, and your instrument, you’re suppose to improvise. Seriously. You have the freedom to solo … » More …