19 April 2008

Modern research technology

My class was assigned a sort of literature review project for our nuclear fuels class. I'd been to a presentation by Argonne on fast reactors, and one of the things they mentioned was how metallic fuels would probably be superior to metal oxide fuels in a sodium-cooled reactor.

So my partner and I chose metallic fuels for our topic. Well, basically, thanks to the amazing technology that's only shown up in recent years in available consumer technology, my life and ability to communicate information was fantastically simplified.

The first step was to use Google Scholar to find some good references. So I searched for "metallic fuel" fast reactor and found a few to start with. There's an option in the preferences to show a link to import the bibliography information into BibTeX format (like so). With Michigan's library subscriptions I was able to follow the link to ScienceDirect and other sites and actually download a digital copy of the article as a PDF. [Brief aside: I just realized that PDF format is one of those redundant acronyms.] So with the copied BibTeX information, I opened up BibDesk, created a new entry that now has all of the bibliography data, and dragged in the PDF. From this, I can automatically generate a bibliography in the report and citations and so forth (which, with LaTeX using BibTeX, is a piece of cake).

In short, I was able to easily find a lot of useful references, organize them, and use them. But one of the coolest things actually made itself useful during our presentation. Someone asked a question about iodine and technetium radiotoxicity, and how fast reactors transmuted those to less harmful elements. I couldn't recall anywhere in the papers offhand, but I opened up BibDesk, entered "iodine" in the search file content field, and double-clicked on the paper that showed up. It opened the publication in Preview, and inside that it had automatically highlighted eveywhere that "iodine" appeared in the document. Then I dragged the window over to the projector screen to show the relevent plot and text. So in about 10 seconds I was able to find exactly what information he needed. Pretty sweet! And to think that 25 years ago graduate students were lucky if they didn't have to use a typewrite to write their thesis.


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