I’m Top Quark, yo!

I’m thrilled to learn that I won the first prize in the 3QuarksDaily Science Prize, for my post on Crayola-fication of the World: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains. I’m pasting below the ‘acceptance comment’ that I left at the site.

WOW! I was woken up at 4:30 am by a very excited dad telling me that I’m Top Quark. It took me a good minute to parse what on Earth he was on about.

Thank you for your selection, Sean, and to Abbas and the rest of the 3QD gang for running the show. I’m particularly thrilled to be picked by Sean, as I’ve been a fan of his writings from back in 2004. In fact Preposterous Universe was the first science blog I came across, and to a voraciously geeky physics undergrad in a liberal arts college, it hit all the right buttons. I believe it was through Sean’s blog that I came across 3QD, another favorite over the years. So it means a whole lot to me to have made it here.

I also wanted to re-iterate Sean’s comments about the necessarily subjective aspects to prizes such as these. One of my favorite posts from the semi-finalists, by Christie Wilcox, didn’t make it to the finalists round, and the list of other finalists made for a seriously top notch reading list. It’s an honor to be listed among such high caliber writing. It’s all the more impressive when you realize how much time and effort bloggers put in to this, most of which is happening at the expense of sleep and other commitments. I’m thankful to 3QD for recognizing these efforts, and to the incredible readers who nominated and voted for these posts.

Here is what my dear mother suggests that I do with the prize money: “Aatish, put it in your bank in a trust, don’t blow it up. Maybe you should buy a new car. Can you buy a new car with $1000? Buy a Volkswagen. You have to claim it within 3 months. Do not be lazy about it.”

Thanks also to Sughra for designing the trophy logo, which I’ll put up with pride. 🙂

Sean Carroll has written an excellent short essay justifying his choices, highlighting the aspects of blogging that he sought out. I’m quoting from it below, you should read it in entirety here.

There is no simple and objective standard for what makes a blog post “the best.” “Blog is software,” as Bora Zivkovic likes to remind us — blogging is a medium, not a genre. Successful blog posts can be one word or ten thousand; a personal reflection or a rigorous analysis; an original idea or an insightful commentary; a devastating take-down or an inspirational message. But within these flexible parameter, there are certain aspects of blogging that make it special, and I looked for posts that took advantage of those unique capabilities. I wanted to choose posts that would be hard to imagine finding in any other medium, but whose quality measured up to the best of journalism or science writing. One frustrating aspect of a contest like this is that the prize is given to posts, rather than to blogs — for many of the most successful blogs, their charm comes from the accumulated effect of reading many posts over a long period of time. But okay, enough with the throat-clearing.

Without further ado:

First place this year goes to Empirical Zeal, for “The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains.” With many different criteria in mind, this post by Aatish Bhatia stood out among the rest. It’s just about the perfect use of a blog. For one thing, it looks gorgeous: all those colorful images, each of which actually serves a purpose. The writing is playful and clever; once you see the mantis shrimp telling you “DEAR MORTAL, YOUR RAINBOW IS PUNY,” you’re not likely to forget it. And most of all, the science is fascinating and important. To a physicist, there is a continuum of colors; but to our eyes and brains, “rainbows have seams,” and that affects how we think about the world. A completely deserving winner. (And don’t forget that there is a Part II.)