Do you have your list of things you are interested in?

One of the things my creativity course emphasizes is paying attention to other people and what they are thinking about, or what they might think about various ideas. One person that is worth paying attention to is Cin-Ty Lee. He is one of the most creative people I know. We used to teach birds together, taking lots of field trips. His blog is one of the best, brilliant, erratic, fascinating. His latest post has a list of questions that he is interested in.  Here is a piece of it.

“1. It is time to revisit the origin of the calc-alkaline and tholeiitic differentiation trends, the two most important differentiation trends in the rocky parts of the solar system.  Is it due to redox effects, differences in water, crustal contamination, amphibole fractionation, magnetite fractionation (and redox), melt-rock reaction, or all of the above.  Surprisingly, there’s no consensus, even after almost 100 years of study on this.

2.  What are melt inclusions, really?  Do they really represent primary or primitive melts and therefore tell us about the conditions of their source regions?  Or do they instead represent local, boundary layer liquids on the micron to mm lengthscales, in which case, they may tell us more about the physics of magma chamber dynamics.

3. Deep Sulfur Cycle. Where does the S in volcanoes actually come from?  The mantle?  Subducted crust?  Crustal contamination? 

4.  Whole-Earth Carbon cycling.  What is the redox state of C being subducted?  Is it, in net, different from that coming out of volcanoes?  Whatever the answer, the implications are big.

5.  Ore deposits. Enough said.  I should start doing something useful in my career for once.

6.  Origin of O2 in the atmosphere. Ok, this is a funny one.  Clearly it’s a fashionable question, but there’s still lots of debate.  Recently, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the role of the deep Earth, such as changes in redox state of mantle, the average pressures of magma differentiation or eruption, etc.. My shameless bias is that this not where the answer lies.  I have some thoughts, but you’ll probably think I’m stupid if I describe them here, so, for now, I’ll keep my dumb thoughts to myself.

7. Origin of intraplate magmas?  Hmmm… why does western USA look like east Asia? Plume? Or something more familiar…definitely someone should look at this.”

I am no geologist, but these look like amazing questions, that would almost make me become a geologist. He goes on to talk about keeping such lists, then keeping track of what happens to the questions. Some get answered, some cease to enthrall, perhaps because they are unsolvable with current technology, perhaps because of nothing in particular, perhaps because of difficult personalities involved with them, perhaps because something else came along. The point is to think about the big questions that interest you. It is key that they interest you. Otherwise what is the point?

One of these days I’ll share my questions. Some are about biology, some about teaching, some about how to live your life in a new town.

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Managing an academic career, New ideas and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Do you have your list of things you are interested in?

  1. Liz Haswell says:

    I’m dying to see YOUR questions, Joan!
    Mine are more like
    1. Who do you have to know to get a grant renewed around here?
    2. What in the world is wrong with reviewer #3?
    3. Who refills the candy on Betty’s desk when she’s gone?

  2. Hi Liz,
    Here are some answers to your questions:
    1. Science is unfair, and knowing people sometimes helps. But I think it is one of the fairest things out there. Believe in yourself, pretend it is fair, and if you do the best possible science, always pointing out very carefully its importance and feasibility, you will thrive. Don’t worry about the small minds, the confused minds, the evil minds. They are only a distraction from the real job.
    2. You will never know what is wrong with reviewer #3. It is sobering to reflect that we have all been reviewer #3, because we reviewed too quickly, because we did not understand the field, because we were mean. The trick is not to be mean, to take some time, and to realize that if the author did not herself take the time to be clear and put the work in context, it is ok to be reviewer #3. I should write a whole blog on reviewer #3. We have some humdingers in our file.
    3. Yes, Betty’s dish needs more chocolate. Erin sits there sometimes. I bet Judy would take charge of this if you let her know. In fact, I will. You need more chocolate, I can tell!

  3. 3. Chocolate arrives at 7:30 AM. More will be put just for you in Faculty Lounge (yes we have a faculty lounge).

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