Acknowledge the Acknowledgement

Recently I received a manuscript draft from my project collaborator with my name on the author list. In my capacity as co-PI I was happy to glance over another manuscript for a soon to be finished project . But as I lately have been caught up with many extra work, I had no time to deeper engage with this manuscript, and asked my young collaborator that she should take me off the author list. She then reminded me of my status as co-PI in the project and my past contributions which led to the making of that very paper, thus justifying my authorship. But I had no time for the extra work on this paper and felt I should do so if I wanted to warrant co-authorship.

In the end, I asked her that she should just mention me in the Acknowledgement, together with the supervisor of a young visiting researcher from another country. This postdoc had joined my group for some months and had had the opportunity to work in the aforementioned project and also work on the paper and thus gain co-authorship. Looking at it from this perspective, I was happy that the visiting postdoc’s supervisor in the other country and I could now document our new and informal collaboration in this Acknowledgment, along with the travel grant number of the visiting postdoc.

Few days later, by coincidence, I met on our campus a colleague who had been working with a former Phd student in my group over several years on an informal project which had made it to a manuscript draft, but not yet to a publication. As I had been following and peeking over the progress of this work for such a long time, I told my colleague I was happy that the publication would now materialize, and he said we should meet altogether soon to finalize details and I then should become co-author of that paper. I replied with a “… no – that’s not necessary, I am happy to be mentioned in the Acknowledgement”, and after a short verbal struggle with my dear colleague I begged him “Acknowledge the Acknowledgement”.

Being co-author of as many high profile publications as possible is important for a career in science. This bears certainly the potential of abuse, such as a claimed authorship, where no authorship is due. This is why organizations like the National Science Foundation, the German, the Swiss and the European Science and Research Foundations and also the ACS provide rules and ethical guidelines about what constitutes an authorship for a publication.

Certainly we want to bring in ourselves in the scientific work and in the publication as much as possible. But as life has limits of various kinds, we may end up in an Acknowledgement, which unfortunately is not always valued by our employer, funding agencies, professional organisations, search committees and the like. The Acknowledgement is not really part of the performance metrics these days, except maybe for the funding project number.

Therefore, I would like to urge everybody to responsible look into a list of authors and co-authors of a publication, and also in the Acknowledgement. The contribution to a project and a publication can be important, can be material, can be even critical, and still formally not satisfy the criteria for authorship. Yet, this important your contribution should be acknowledged by your peer – up to the hierarchy – with a serious and well-deserved credit. In short, acknowledge the Acknowledgement.

Nachrichten aus der Chemie: “Keine Experimente!”

Können die Fachhochschulen den Universitäten bald den Rang ablaufen? Eventuell sogar als intellektuelle Zentren?

Das wäre eine Überraschung, denn Fachhochschulen bilden Experten aus, die sich fachspezifisch äußern, wenn sie angefragt werden.

Intellektuelle hingegen nehmen ungefragt Stellung zu gesellschaftsrelevanten Themen. Das traut man nur Universitäten zu.

Jüngst störte ein Chemieprofessor der (Fach-) Hochschule Merseburg eine Eröffnungsrede der Bundeskanzlerin nach 68er Manier lautstark und mit Transparent mit der Forderung “Keine Experimente!”.

Das gleiche Motto, mit dem Kanzler Adenauer 10 Jahre vor den Studentenrevolten die absolute Mehrheit für seine Partei eingefahren hatte.

Da die Majestätsbeleidigung in der Bundesrepublik nicht strafbewehrt ist, wurde der Professor nicht von der Polizei abgeführt, aber immerhin doch vom Saalschutz hinauseskortiert.

Damit kann die Hochschule Merseburg, die sich ansonsten auf die Vermittlung von Schlüsselqualifikationen beschränkt, nun einen richtigen Dissidenten zu ihren Fakultätsmitgliedern zählen.

Es scheint aber, dass der Hochschule noch die Kragenweite für einen solchen intellektuellen Aufstieg fehlt. Sie distanzierte sich von ihrem Professor und stellte disziplinarische Vorüberlegungen an.

Als der Schreck in Merseburg nachgelassen und der Verstand wieder eingesetzt hatte, entschied man, die Angelegenheit auf sich beruhen zu lassen.

Veröffentlicht unter

Artur Braun, “Keine Experimente!”, Korrespondenz, Nachrichten aus der Chemie (Wiley) 04/2016; 0.201 64(4):458.

Auf dem Sportplatz

This summer I’m joining my wife on her sports project, which includes running 10 km track – every day.

While I prefer doing the 10 km cross country (admitted – I have a lot of pain after that), rather than on a sports ground in endless circles, I took joy in seeing that in the evening more and more people come to the well equipped public open sports ground and do there all kinds of exercises.

I spotted one guy who arrived with his bike and drove to one remote angle and did his gymnastics and then exercised his tricks with a soccer ball. He was all by himself, no other guy involved.

40 years ago in my village in Germany – when you went to the soccer field about a mile away – you always could meet at least one people what was playing there with a soccer ball. So for sure when you went there, you could team up and play. And I know it was like that everywhere in Germany, and likely all across Europe.

In the years after 2000, I noticed this is not anymore the case. Boys are not playing soccer anymore outside. They have other interests.

So, I felt back in good times when someone showed up on the soccer field with a ball just like that last week.

I also noticed three guys together on track, one of which was heavy overweight, whereas the two others were fit. All in their mid 20s. It seemed like the two fit ones were coaching the overweight one to make sure he was doing his tracks round without interruption. And they succeeded with it. Later I found they must have been doing also boxing because they had the equipment – at least the two fit ones. Seems the overweight one had two very good friends taking care of him and his exercises.

Guessing from their language, they might have come from Brazil … .

Did you have a lab at home ?

During my times in the U.S. – I used to live there for more than six years – I met and worked with countless people from Asia. Very kind people from China, Korea, few Japanese. At some point I wondered whether they had owned a lab at their home when they were kids.

I asked my parents for my first chemistry kit from Kosmos at the age of 11 or 12, I think. Chemie2000. The following year I got the Kosmos C1, and later Kosmos C2. In between I purchased Kosmos’ electronics kits and also one of their computer kits, plus a very tiny bio kit with nauplius crabs (Pl. nauplii). At the pharmacy store in the neighbour village I was a well known customer, and the owner sold me stuff which I believe, nowadays, he was not really allowed to sell me, even back then in liberal times.

Also I visited my neighbours quite often. They were radio amateurs and fixed and build all kinds of electronics. Radios, TVs, stereo HiFi stuff. I remember them playing Supermax’ Camillo. They also had a computer ** in the mid 70s ! ** which had a magnetic tape cassette as storage medium.  None of them had college training, but the two brothers were geniuses and made their money with electronics. They shared with me a lot of hardware and brain ware. I owe them a lot.

I had my lab at my parents’ attic.

So, did my colleagues have a lab? Somehow I have the prejudice that my colleagues from Asia did not have a lab at home. Would be great if I got some info from people from Asia who had their own lab when they were kids. In recent years I asked some of my colleagues from Asia that I still work together with, and it seems they do not have this culture of playing as boys (or girls) around with science stuff. Times may have changed. I’m curious.

So, last month I was in the Netherlands at a conference on biosolar cells. Near the famous life science city of Wageningen. The City of Life Sciences. It was sort of a program meeting where foreigners were invited as external experts and speakers and so on. I was very impressed. I liked the conference a lot. There was a great spirit all around.

On my last day I was in the conference hotel in the Cafe and doing my stuff with my laptops over a beer. Some of the colleagues from the conference were sitting together on a neighbouring table and becoming loud over some educational issues. They were all professors. From NL, UK, USA, Finland. I could not avoid noticing their topic, ad then turned to them and asked them “Please, tell me, who of you had a lab at home when you were a kid? Raise your hand!” 3 out of 4 (the male people) raised their hands and confirmed they had had their own labs at home as kids. Well, this was a nice surprise. Only the female participant said she had not had a lab a home. Well anyway it was good to see that these colleagues in majority had started out in science as young kids.

(just few days ago I learnt by sheer coincidence that a high profile collaborator of mine, one of the better Chemists in Switzerland, got a chemistry kit as kid from his parents…)

I am not going to be sexist here. I had a girl in my research group two years ago, a Physiklaborantin apprentice, and at some time I asked her “do you know how to work with a soldering tool?“. And she replied yes, she knew how to do soldering. She had learnt it prior to her formal college training at home, she said. I was impressed and happy to see that people still at tho digital age do some practical stuff at home.

So, to get back to Asia. I know very well that parents from Asia value academic education a lot and invest a lot of money and other efforts for the education of their children. More so than I am used to see in Europe.

Would be interesting to know if there are some cultural patterns about how raising kids in Asia, Europe, United States in terms of formal education.

Doing class work and curriculum is not the same like doing your own way and try to find things out by yourself.

The pleasure of finding things out was my driving force in doing all this science and tech stuff. It was not imposed by my parents or other people. Later I was reminded that Richard P. Feynman seemed to have grown up similar. He, too, said he had operated a lab at home when he was a young kid in Long Island …

Global language


Today I was pointed to a landmark in South Korea, heavy stones, monoliths piled up like in Stonehenge, Great Britain. The Korean word for that is “dol” and means basically rock or stone. The German word for big stones which are arranged in a tumb, grave stones, are called “Dolmen”. The “Dolomiten” is the alpine mountains in the northern Italy part in Tyrol.

I am struck by the similarity of the Korean word “dol” for stone and its European counter parts which sound similar. There many such similarities in Asian and European languages.

Last year on my way from Arizona to New Mexico I chose to pass Sedona and the Coconino area. Above Oak Creek Canyon there was a resting place at the highway with scenic view. And a group of native americans, “indians” were trying to sell their jewellery there. At the lower end of the row of salesmen and tribesmen was one single man who had a much darker skin and looked way different from the other tribes people. He was selling T-shirts and tried to lure me into a conversation – and eventually in a deal. It seemed he was quite literate about languages and anthropology and the spread of language. He knew that Lithuanian language bears similarities with the Indian sanskrit and  lectured me over this.