From Popular Science to Research Project – Part 1

Some of our loyal readers have asked which projects would run in a Science Garage. This post is dedicated to them.

The short answer is that I don’t know which projects will run in the Garages.  Ideas will come from the participants and will be discussed by the Garage Science community.

However, coming up with a cool, doable, research project isn’t easy. It’s hard if you are a practising scientist, and even harder if you aren’t. After all, you learn about the cutting edge from scientific literature, which takes years of training to get immersed in. However, popular science can provide a shortcut right to the cutting edge.

Start with your favorite news website. Mine happens to be Slashdot, where I read this story, about scientists comparing the effects of skin cream on synthetic and real skin. Next, follow the link to the full story. Still interested in the topic? Great!

The next step will separate you from the majority of readers: finding the scientific paper. The journal (Journal of Applied Polymer Science) and the issue (June 5), are mentioned in the story, and there is even a link. Follow the link and find the right issue, then find the paper. Titles can get technical, so search for authors instead (Bhushan and Tang in this case). This will get you to the abstract. The abstract is the equivalent of the news story in the scientific literature; it is the way Bhushan and Tang chose to present their research to other scientists.

An abstract, however, is not enough. Click the link to “view full article”. Unfortunately, it has restricted access. You have a few options:

  • Ask someone with institutional access to send you a copy. Usually any scientist or student would do.
  • Look for a version of the paper in a free-access, pre-print archive, such as arXiv.org. In this case I couldn’t find one, but sometimes you get lucky. Remember to search by authors, as titles change in the publication process.
  • Look for a copy of the journal at a local university library.
  • Complain that research carried out in a state university has restricted access, then give up.

In the next part we’ll discuss what happens when we finally get access to the article.

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