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Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai and Jeff Huber.


Buried at sea: Everyone’s all smiles following the death of 18-foot oarfish. Credit: Catalina Island Marine Institute

Discovery of elusive oarfish terrifies Internet, but NOAA says this 18-footer is 30 feet shy of some of its cousins. [NBCNews]

How backlogged is EPA? It was only during the government shutdown that they found enough time to remove a 13-year-old soup can from an office refrigerator. [Washington Post]

Study suggests Oreos are as addictive as crack, gives new meaning to teens asking for the hard stuff. [Time]

Forensic scientists discover that 5,300-year-old mummy Ötzi the Iceman has 19 living male relatives. You just got schooled, Ancestry.com. [Yahoo!]

Planet-sized asteroid hurtling toward Earth is named 2013 TV135. No word yet on whether or not the asteroid will make a grand appearance during television’s sweeps week. [io9]

Scientists divided over whether DNA sample proves yetis are a relative of ancient polar bears. Yetis divided over whether they should just come out and let us know they’re real. [The Guardian]

Study finds that social media encourages gang violence. Whoa, whoa. So you’re telling me that websites like Facebook and Twitter, which I spend 14 hours a day on, are somehow detrimental to society? I don’t believe it. [Government Technology]

Florida man is arrested after keeping an alligator in his hot tub. Helpful article describing the arrest states, “Alligators typically are found in lakes and swamps as opposed to hot tubs.” [TCPalm]


Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.


Mr. Delaney celebrates wedding anniversary. Not pictured: Mrs. Delaney. Credit: WILX

Who says romance is dead? Man gives wife a giant mushroom as an anniversary gift. [NY Daily News]

The fact that the U.S. now has a National Pet Obesity Awareness Day (Oct. 9) is really not helping our fat American image. [NBCNews]

Are you an Internet-savvy hypochondriac looking for a new ailment to worry about? Well, look no further. “Cyberchondria” is here. [Telegraph]

Rest in Peace, Ruth Benerito. And thanks for helping to save us from hours of ironing. [New York Times]

Males of several species will do a lot for sex. Some marsupials will die for it. [National Geographic]

Why use MRI for medicine when you could use it to make a better pork pie instead? [Annals of Improbable Research]

Chincoteague, Va., fire department is forced to cancel this weekend’s wild pony roundup as a result of the government shutdown. Disappointed firefighters may resort to playing with My Little Ponies instead. [WHSV-TV3]

They tell us cheating leads to guilt. Turns out, it also leads to upbeat feelings, self-satisfaction, and even thrill. [New York Times]

Like “Breaking Bad” but wish it had more opera music? You’re in luck! [Classic FM]




Speed Dating At The NOBCChE Meeting

For some, a 40th birthday can be a harbinger of a midlife crisis. Not so for the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers, or NOBCChE (pronounced no-buh-shay). Last week, the organization held its 40th annual meeting, and just like NOBCChE’s first meeting in New Orleans in 1973, this year’s meeting in Indianapolis provided minority chemists and chemical engineers with an opportunity to present research, reconnect with old friends, and meet new ones. Even the Newscripts gang had an opportunity to mingle with some meeting attendees. Below are a sampling of the fun and interesting people that Newscripts stumbled upon in between visits to local steakhouses and rides on Formula 1 race cars.

NOBCChE Day 1 009

Windmon. Credit: Jeff Huber/C&EN (all)

Name: Nicole Windmon

Background: Fifth-year graduate student at Notre Dame University researching β-lactam mimics in an effort to facilitate antibiotic development.

Number of years attending NOBCChE meeting: First year.

Reasons for attending NOBCChE meeting: “I’m entering the job market very soon, so I’m looking to work on my résumé writing skills and my cover letter writing skills and learn how to do a good interview.”


NOBCChE Day 1 021


Name: Viraj Thanthirige

Background: Third-year graduate student from Sri Lanka who is studying gold nanoclusters at Western Michigan University.

Number of years attending NOBCChE meeting: First year.

Reasons for attending NOBCChE meeting: To present research on gold nanoclusters and volunteer at the science bowl for middle and high school students.


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‘Breaking Bad’ Aliquots

Today’s post was written by C&EN Senior Editor Jyllian Kemsley, who, when she isn’t watching the TV show “Breaking Bad,” enjoys surfing the Web for “Breaking Bad” links and then writing about them.

The end is almost here, and the Internet is gearing up. With the series finale of “Breaking Bad” set to air this Sunday on AMC, media outlets have unleashed a barrage of retrospectives and stories about the hit TV show. What’s more, a surprising number of these tributes actually focus on the science behind the show.

Take, for instance, the above video in which Boing Boing counts down the top 11 “Breaking Bad” chemistry moments. Or, simply pick up this week’s issue of C&EN, in which I have a story about Donna Nelson, a University of Oklahoma chemistry professor who has spent the last several years volunteering as a science adviser to the television show. I connected Nelson with show producer Vince Gilligan after I first wrote about the show in 2008—something Nelson has graciously acknowledged in many interviews—and I enjoyed chatting with her as the series nears its end.

To help all of us get through the last few days before the finale, here are a few of my favorite “Breaking Bad” offerings from across the Web. If, like some of my colleagues, you didn’t get the memo early enough and are only on season two, tread carefully—I won’t promise no spoilers!

  • Wired interviewed some other “Breaking Bad” staff who help get the science right, researchers Gordon Smith and Jenn Carroll: “One day, Gordon and the writers asked me to figure out a way to knock out a surveillance camera, or—at the very least—to make a passerby invisible to the camera. As you might imagine, there aren’t many legal or convenient ways to go about this.”

  • The Washington Post went over what “Breaking Bad” gets right, and wrong, about the meth business: “Could a genius innovator like Walt really become this successful? Are charismatic businessmen like Gus Fring running front businesses to hide their meth trade? Are super labs real?” Continue reading →

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.


Look closely: Frog appears in the upper left-hand corner of a photo taken at a spacecraft launch. Credit: NASA / WFF / MARS

One giant leap for mankind, one giant–er leap for frogkind. [NBCNews]

Food firm attempts to make artificial eggs. Chickens everywhere squawk, “You try laying an egg, buddy.” [Daily Mail]

Discarded food is responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than any country, except the U.S. and China. So you better eat that food that just fell out of your mouth in disbelief. [Mother Nature Network]

Step 1: Get spider silk. Step 2: Make carbon nanotubes. Step 3: Smash them together to create ultrastrong electronics. [Txchnologist]

Study finds that the likelihood of hangovers decreases with age. Finally! The excuse you needed to take your grandmother out clubbing. [Mother Nature Network]

Sleep-deprived college students tired of chugging pumpkin spice lattes; one slightly more awake student invents bottle of caffeine to spray on the skin. [NPR]

Cool science story alert: It’s got camouflage, squid, and graphene. [Telegraph]

Aluminum bubble wrap, titanium foam, and graphene aerogels. Gizmodo rounds up this year’s must-have materials. [Gizmodo]

According to new research, bullying is more likely to occur at schools that have anti-bullying programs. Sounds like there are some principals out there that deserve a wedgie. [ScienceDaily]

In Print: Chemical Makeup Predicts Wealth, Mailing Poop

The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what went on in last week’s issue of C&EN.

Here’s a trick for appearing wealthy: Put on sunscreen.

As mentioned in last week’s Newscripts column, a team of researchers at the University of Exeter, in England, has identified nine chemicals that tend to appear more often in those of higher socioeconomic status and nine chemicals that tend to appear more often in those of lower socioeconomic status. As one of the team’s researchers, Jessica Tyrrell, explains in the above video, these 18 toxicants were identified after conducting an analysis of 10 years’ worth of data from the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey, which monitors general health in the U.S.

Through its analysis, the research team noticed that benzophenone-3, a sunscreen ingredient, appeared more often in wealthier individuals. The same was true for arsenic and mercury, which the team believes are more prevalent in the wealthy since they consume more shellfish. Lead and cadmium levels were higher in poorer individuals given their higher rates of smoking and working in heavy industry, the team posits.

“We know that humans have low-level exposures to lots of chemicals, hence we have chemical cocktails in our bodies,” Tyrrell tells Newscripts. “Efforts need to be made to have a greater understanding of the health effects of these chemicals so that policymakers can make informed decisions about which chemicals need to be more tightly controlled.”

Moving from England to Spain, the second part of last week’s Newscripts column visits the town of Brunete, where a rather unorthodox approach was taken to encourage dog owners to pick up after their pets: The town mailed left-behind poop back to dog owners.

According to a New York Times article published last month, Brunete mayor Borja Gutiérrez came up with this idea after enlisting the help of a marketing firm to battle his town’s poop problem. The firm proposed having volunteers stake out popular dog centers. Volunteers could then nonchalantly approach negligent dog owners, pet their pooches, and ask for their animals’ breed and name. After waiting for an offending dog and its owner to leave, volunteers would scoop the poop and then head over to city hall to look up the offending dog’s registration information. Before long, a box of the left-behind poop was delivered to the door of the responsible party.

Here’s a video describing the process. At its beginning, be on the lookout for the remote-controlled poop figurines that initially roamed around Brunete in an effort to educate dog owners about their responsibility to pick up after their pets. Unfortunately, the figurines elicited more laughs than civic action, and they were soon discontinued.

As the video says, 147 packages were ultimately delivered to offending dog owners over the course of two weeks earlier this year. Gutiérrez says that the effort has resulted in a dramatic improvement to the cleanliness of his town’s parks and sidewalks.

To figure out if a similar program would work stateside, Newscripts contacted Ali Ryan, manager of the Portland Parks & Recreation Dog Off-Leash Program, which supports dogs and their owners in the Oregon city. “Here in Portland, we mostly rely on what we call ‘petiquette’ to encourage dog owners to do their duties regarding doody,” says Ryan, who laughs off the idea of mailing poop back to negligent dog owners. Instead, starting this month, Ryan’s city will begin issuing fines of up to $150 for scoop/leash law violations while also rolling out a citywide petiquette education campaign. “Our goal with all our many education and enforcement efforts is compliance with leash and scoop laws,” she says. “Ideally, folks [will be] alerted to the impacts of their behavior and stop doing it–no citation needed.”

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.

Breaking Bad legos

“Breaking Bad” gets the Lego treatment. Credit: Citizen Brick

Hey process chemists, any comment on the accuracy of this Lego “Breaking Bad” meth lab? [ArsTechnica]

Just what you need after a long, stressful, tiring day: A shower head that berates you for taking too long in the shower. [NPR]

English newspaper wonders if a newborn foal looks like David Bowie. Newscripts wonders if English newspaper knows what news is. [Brentwood Gazette]

Someone was certainly thinking of the Newscripts gang when they came up with the Periodic Table of Alcohol. [Shortlist]

The more scientifically accurate “Finding Nemo” story: Nemo’s widower dad would’ve turned into a female fish so that Nemo—born an undifferentiated hermaphrodite—could grow into a male fish and eventually mate with her. How’s that for a happy ending? [Slate]

W. “Mittens” Bloomfield the cat reviews cat food and savors “the experience as one might a firm scratching behind the ears.” [Cat Critic]

Often stuck in the past, museum curator applauded for discovering something new. And it’s cute and fuzzy to boot. [Guardian]

Who knew all you need to make cool-looking art was balloons, paint, and a high-speed camera? [Wired]

How to build your own centrifuge in an hour with a Dremel power tool and a 3-D printer. [PopSci]

Giant cabbage cut down in its prime by fame-seeking chefs. [Mirror]


Behind the Story: Urine Rides Wave Of Media Attention

A funny thing happened after Newscripts’ Lauren Wolf wrote a post promoting peeing in the ocean late last month: The article, much like the urine it discussed, slowly spread through the waters of the Internet, garnering attention from everyone from Gizmodo to Jezebel. In the video above, fellow GlobCasino blogger Carmen Drahl asks Lauren what it’s like to be known as a “urine evangelist,” whether there’s any truth to dyes detecting urine in pools, and why Lauren’s husband would still rather not pee in the ocean.

This conversation is the second videocast that Carmen and Lauren have produced. Definitely check out their discussion about the history of the National Organic Symposium, if you haven’t already.