Good lectures make good students, and vice versa

I received a few days ago an email from the vice-rector of the University of Innsbruck. This email said “Ihre Lehrveranstaltungen […] zu den besten 20 % gehört haben” which means, according to my understanding, that the lecture I gave earlier this year made it to the top 20% of lectures given in the entire university this year according to the ratings from students.

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Posted by Benjamin in Lab Notes, 0 comments

Quality Control of Pollen Data at a Glance

I am currently augmenting the pollen data from two sites I studied during my PhD research, thanks to a grant from the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Studies. The one I’m dealing with at the moment is a small peat bog at a locality called Saglias, near the village of Ardez in the Grisons, Switzerland.

I usually seek for high quality and reliability of palynological data. Depending on the context, I try to identify about 1000 pollen grains per sample, or 500 tree pollen grains, and look at the taxa accumulation curve. These two indices are easily accessible in real-time counting thanks to PolyCounter, the software I’m using.

Now, some samples clearly want to drive analysts crazy. Most often they contain very few pollen grains. A typical reason for this is a poor pollen preservation. It can be useful to have a closer look at them and see if there is something one can do to improve the situation. I’m doing this by looking at a few other parameters. Again, PolyCounter is your best friend. That’s easy to import the count data and metadata (such as the number of marker spiked added) into R and compute variables to address key questions:

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Posted by Benjamin in Lab Notes, Software, 0 comments

How to produce a stacked plot of radiocarbon date density probabilities

Since introduced by the middle of 20th century, radiocarbon dating has been used in a large variety of disciplines. In palaeoecology, it has allowed for a major improvement in dating past phenomena. The ground principle is fairly simple: the isotope 14 of carbon (14C) is radioactive and decays following one criterion, namely the half-life. The half-life means the time necessary for the original quantity to reduce to half. For 14C, it is about 5730 years!

Living organisms, just like you, accumulate carbon in their tissues all life long. This includes a certain proportion of radioactive carbon as well, but don’t be afraid, you don’t bare any risk 🙂 This proportion is kept similar to the atmospheric level of radioactive carbon, but by the death of an organism, it is not renewed anymore and starts to decay. Half of it, every 5730 years. Therefore, if you can measure how much of radiocarbon is left in a sample today and how much of non-radioactive carbon it contains, you can use its half-life, do the reverse maths and deduce the date of this (sad) event.

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Posted by Benjamin in Lab Notes, Software, 0 comments

End procrastination

Recently I wrote about the difficulties I had in the last months to get to the bottom of things. Coincidentally, I’ve read an article about a small software designed to help getting this done: Pomotroid. The very first use of Pomotroid have been so successful that I happily tweeted about it (see at the very end).

Pomotroid is based on the Pomodoro Method. The name comes from the tomato-shaped timer that Francesco Cirillo used in the 80s to manage his working time; pomodoro being the Italian word for tomato. The method is fairly simple: work for 25 minutes on a task, then have a 5 minutes break. That’s one pomodoro. After four pomodori, take a longer break (usually 15 minutes), then repeat.

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File format and reproducibility

Science is more about limiting doubts than creating certainties. To limit doubt, the reproduction of the same experiment should lead to draw the same conclusions, again and again. This is called the reproducibility, and it is a big deal in science. Actually, this is what makes scientific findings valid. This topic has received an increasing attention in the last years:

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The transition achievement

It’s been nearly a year that I haven’t written anything here. The power of procrastination is terrible. Well, it is not only procrastination. Or procrastination with excuse. I use a todo app to keep tracks of my tasks, and I’ve been keeping on postponing this Write-something-on-my-blog-todo as I couldn’t quickly see a nice topic to write about. Let’s be honest, I probably haven’t tried that hard neither.

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Hello, world!

Hi there! Testing Twitter integration 🙂

Edit: it works!

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R Made Easy

Last Thursday I gave an informal introduction to R at the Institute of Botany in Innsbruck. Despite R’s non-user-friendly reputation, the R Made Easy lecture attracted 25 people: Master students, PhD students post-docs, and a few regular employees. During four hours, the basic functionalities of R, and the most recent data handling and visualisation methods (ie, tidyverse) were covered.

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Posted by Benjamin in Teaching, 0 comments