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For Love Of Squid

Imagine being a deep-sea fisherman off the coast of northern Spain. You pull up your net and find yourself staring into the very large eye of a giant squid. So what do you do?

You get the U.S. Air Force to fly it to the National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C. (You weren’t going to use it for bait, were you?) The Air Force nicknamed the mission “Operation Calamari.” They delivered two squid to D.C.–a 36-foot long, 330-lb female; and a 20-foot long, 100-lb male.

Thursday night, two C&EN reporters were treated to a preview of the preserved squid, which will be on display as part of the new Sant Ocean Hall, opening Sept. 27. Carmen Drahl (pictured) and I learned how 3M worked with museum experts to find a safe preservative that would display the cephalopods in all their tentacle-y glory.

Old-school squid preservers used formalin, not favored today due to its negative health effects, or ethyl alcohol, which is flammable and can degrade the specimen. Luckily, 3M learned of the museum’s quest for a better solution, and offered up Novec 7100 engineered fluid.

Novec has several qualities that make it fit the bill–it is nonflammable, low in toxicity, and gentle on the environment. The fluid is a hydrofluoroether with a low surface tension, and it is usually put to work cleaning very precise instruments, such as medical devices. It works well for museums, too, because it envelopes the specimens without penetrating the tissue.

The tour included a lovely dinner. Guess what they served?


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  • Aug 6th 200809:08
    by Kellyn

    I think you earned your free dinner with this fun little piece!

  • Aug 6th 200815:08
    by Harvey Leifert

    Actually, the fact that Novec 7100 does not penetrate tissue is a mixed blessing. It required the museum staff to sterilize the squids with alcohol, in decreasing concentrations, to kill any bacteria within them, prior to placing them in Novec. Otherwise, they could eventually rot from within. Alcohol and formalin, since they penetrate tissues, do not present this risk (although they have other shortcomings). Museum staff say they don’t know what the state of these specimens might be in 20-30 years, so they consider Novec to be an experiment.

    And, by the way, Kellyn, the dinner was not free! We each paid $20. The wine was free, though.

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    Nov 3rd 200814:11
    by More On “Seeking An Eternal Solution” at C&ENtral Science

    [...] few months back, Melody Voith posted about our sneak peek at the Smithsonian’s new squid display. I’ve since interviewed two [...]

  • Aug 20th 200917:08

    This website and the articles are fascinating. Years ago, I toured the Museum and found it fascinating.

    Thank you.

    Naples, Florida

  • Dec 13th 200922:12
    by Joe Flynn

    I am a docent at NMNH and visitors always ask, “Is that water in the squid tank?”
    Many are familiar with the brownish-yellow appearance of formalin.
    They’re surprised by the clarity of Novec and its’ safety benefits.

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