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In Print: Pitch Drop Experiment Tests Our Patience

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


Wait for it: This pitch has an incredibly slow windup. Credit: Shane Bergin/Trinity College Dublin

They say that good things come to those who wait. This is not true for John S. Mainstone.

For 52 years, the University of Queensland, Australia, professor has been hoping to one day see a drop of pitch, which is a derivative of tar, fall to Earth. And for 52 years, Mainstone has been fruitless in his efforts. All that, however, may soon change.

As C&EN associate editor Emily Bones writes in this week’s Newscripts column, Mainstone’s pitch drop experiment–in which pitch is monitored as it slowly descends from the top of a glass funnel–will soon result in a drop of pitch actually falling. And to make sure no one, especially Mainstone, misses this magical event, the university has set up a live webcam to monitor the experiment.

Because of pitch’s viscoelasticity, which results in the material exhibiting both viscous and elastic properties, more than a decade can pass between individual drops, thus makes the impending drop especially exciting. What’s more, the impending drop could not come at better time for Mainstone, who is still attending to the salt that was rubbed into his wounds on July 11 when a replica of the pitch drop experiment at Trinity College Dublin actually captured, for the first time ever, a pitch drop on film. This event, recorded by Trinity physicist Shane Bergin and colleagues, can be seen in the video below.

“The existence of the Trinity College Dublin pitch drop experiment was certainly a great surprise to me–and apparently even to the locals in Dublin, too,” says Mainstone, who tormented himself by watching the replica’s video “over and over again” for “many hours.”

Don’t feel too bad for Mainstone, though. As he tells Newscripts, there is definitely room for improving upon Trinity’s pitch drop. “It was certainly a disappointment to me that their drop was so large that it ‘bottomed’ in the apparatus and thus led to the final rupture being generated bilaterally,” he says.

Here’s hoping that when Mainstone finally does see his pitch drop, it lives up to the expectations that he has been building up for 52 year long years.

Amusing News Aliquots


Dieting?: Orange you glad we told you to smell this? Credit: gcardinal/Wikimedia Commons

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

Craving that chocolate bar? Go smell an orange. Tempted by cookies in the office? Go smell an orange. [NPR]

Studies have shown that tall people earn more money and have a better view at rock concerts. But short people live longer, giving them more time to spend their smaller salaries and to stare at the backs of tall people at rock concerts. [Slate]

Another one from the “Who Funded This?” files: Researchers try to see if people really know what cats are meowing about. [Seriously, Science?]

Gearing up for a vacation? Why not take one of these 25 road trips for nerds? [PopSci]

Finally, a marathon-training tactic that doesn’t involve grueling exercise—or any movement at all, really. Just dream about the race in your sleep. [Guardian]

Slow animal meets fast food: Man tries to sneak his turtle onto a plane by hiding the pet inside a KFC burger. [United Press International]

How likely is a shark attack? More common ways to go: sinkholes, ocean tides, and tornadoes. Shark-free tornadoes, to boot. [Washington Post]

An emu, native to Australia, shows up on the side of a British Columbia road. Somehow, its long legs don’t entice passing cars to stop and give it a ride. [CBC]

What’s better than watching chimps at the zoo? Watching chimps on a sugar high at the zoo. [Metro]

In Print: Don’t Delete! Read This If You Want To Get Rich!

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.


Ca-ching!: Newscripts has some tips on how you can make money, money, money. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Didn’t have a chance to attend last weekend’s get-rich-quick seminar at your local mall? Never fear, Newscripts is here! Just check out last week’s column, written by C&EN Senior Editor Alex Scott, for some helpful tips on how to approach future investments.

Worried that your stock portfolio invests too heavily in fossil-fuel companies? Well, you should be, according to a new report by Carbon Tracker Initiative and the London School of Economics & Political Science that finds that more than $674 billion is spent annually on the discovery of fossil fuels. Such an investment is misguided, says the report, given that fossil-fuel consumption will inevitably have to be curtailed in order to prevent irreparable climate-change damage. This fact, however, seems to be lost on energy companies, and their investors, who continue to pump money into the discovery of new fossil fuels.

So get-rich-quick tip #1? Avoid overinvesting in fossil-fuel companies. “It seems ridiculous to me that investors have not recognized that in the future it may become socially, and politically, unacceptable to burn fossil fuels and that this risk needs to be factored into their company evaluations,” Alex says. As just one example of the risks posed by burning fossil fuels, Alex points to a study published earlier this month that found that air pollution in northern China has decreased life expectancy there by five-and-a-half years.

Alex, however, is quick to point out that investments in fossil fuels can be beneficial when combined with a commitment to sustainability. For example, plastics makers can use closed-loop manufacturing systems to turn discarded plastic into new material for their supply chains, he says.

In the second part of his column, Alex gives get-rich-quick tip #2: Be on the lookout for microwave-driven Internet. As Alex explains, Perseus Telecom, an e-trade information technology firm, is conducting studies regarding the feasibility of using balloons to transmit microwave signals across the Atlantic Ocean. Such signals would be able to transmit data faster than current fiber-optic infrastructure, providing stock traders with a potential advantage in their fast-paced work environments. Continue reading →

In Print: Electromagnet Embarks On Slow Ride, Takes It Easy

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.


The precious: One (electromagnetic) ring to rule the roadways. Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

New Yorkers aren’t known for sharing the road. But they really had no other choice when a 50-foot-wide electromagnet pulled out of Brookhaven National Laboratory in the wee hours of June 23 and slowly trudged along the highway.

As C&EN Associate Editor Lauren Wolf reported in last week’s Newscripts column, the electromagnet’s early-morning joyride was actually only the beginning of its journey. Over the remaining summer months, the electromagnet (which its handlers affectionately call the “ring” on account of the instrument’s shape) will travel by land and sea to arrive at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located just outside of Chicago. Once there, the ring will be united with Fermilab’s muon beam generator. What are muons, you ask? They’re a subatomic particle similar to electrons but heavier. Fermilab scientists want to study the slight movements exhibited by muons as they interact with the ring’s electromagentic field because such movements could point to the existence of previously unknown particles and forms of energy. It’s an experiment that Brookhaven actually ran years ago, but the beam the lab used wasn’t intense enough, and as a result, the findings weren’t definitive enough.

Pairing the electromagnet up with Fermilab’s much stronger muon beam generator should alleviate this problem. First thing is first though: The electromagnet has to overcome a rather difficult journey. “The ring can’t twist during transit by more than a degree or so because it might break, which would make this costly move even more costly,” notes Lauren, who adds that the move is being coordinated in part by Emmert International, a firm that specializes in the transport of hauling heavy and large objects. Lauren is quick to note, however, that the big move is a labor of love for all involved. “I’m told the ring was built at Brookhaven in the 1990s,” says Lauren. “So I imagine that some of these scientists and engineers feel parental pride for the little, er, big guy.”

If you’re feeling parental pride for the electromagnet as well, Fermilab has set up what basically amounts to an online baby monitor to track the ring. Just click here to check out a map tracking the movement of the magnet in real time. And if that’s not enough backstage access to the electromagnet’s journey, check out this video featuring interviews with some of the ring’s movers as well as footage of the electromagnet’s road trip across Long Island.

Amusing News Aliquots

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

Britain Colin Firth

Man finally confronts the guy his wife has been talking about for all these years: Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Credit: David Parry / AP Photo

Another reason to love London: A larger-than-life-size Mr. Darcy/Colin Firth emerges sexily from the Serpentine. [Time]

Another reason to love Paris: A life-size chrome T. rex looms over the Seine. [Gizmodo India]

They’re bringing the passenger pigeon back from extinction. Can’t wait to see what’s next! Woolly mammoth? Dodo? T. rex to look at its chrome skeleton in Paris? [Washington Post]

Don’t like your broccoli? Blame California. [Slate]

Nineteen-foot python breaks into an Australian thrift shop, leaving behind an impressive … scale of destruction. Wait! Where are you going? Come back! [WHTM-TV]

Speaking of scales: It’s a fish-eat-fish world out there. Turns out fish have learned that you don’t have to swim faster than a predator, you just have to swim faster than the fish next to you. Biting said fish also helps. [iO9]

Now designing high-tech toilets to get men to do what they shouldn’t need to be reminded to do—wash their hands. [NPR]

Dog traveling alone jumps aboard a bus on the way to the Staten Island Ferry. Dog has its day of sightseeing ruined by animal control. [Free Republic]

New study warns that the artificial sugar in diet sodas may hinder the body’s ability to process real sugar. But don’t worry! The American Beverage Association says everything’s okay. [NPR]

In Print: Chemist Gets High On A Unicycle

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

For most chemistry students, balance means juggling work inside the lab with life outside it. For Max Schulze, it means something else entirely. That’s because the rising senior at Colorado School of Mines is not only a chemistry major, but he’s also a world champion unicyclist.

Max Schulze

Serious air: Chemistry major Max Schulze defies gravity on his unicycle. Credit: Minesh Bacrania

In this week’s Newscripts column, Senior Correspondent Marc Reisch interviews Schulze, whose impressive balance atop a unicycle has led to top honors at multiple gatherings of the Unicycle World Championships & Convention (aka Unicon). Schulze is currently gearing up for the next Unicon, which will take place in Montreal in 2014.

Schulze “seems to have developed an outstanding sense of balance both on the unicycle and off it. That’s something we can all admire,” says Marc, who admits to having had very little knowledge of unicycling prior to his conversation with Schulze. “Like most folks, I have a fondness for motorized four-wheeled vehicles because they are very convenient to get me from point A to point B,” Marc deadpans. “I’m also capable of navigating motorless two-wheeled vehicles. But I have resisted riding one-wheeled vehicles for fear of falling flat on my face.”

Despite a lack of familiarity with unicycling, Marc nevertheless found himself very impressed by Schulze. One of the things Marc found most admirable was the time Schulze has spent visiting grade schools near his hometown of Los Alamos, N.M., “to show youngsters what they might achieve with practice and commitment.” Marc says that during these visits, Schulze will often have elementary school teachers lie down on the ground in a row and then proceed to jump over them them while riding his unicycle. “Now isn’t that every youngster’s desire in life: to pass over his or her teachers?” Marc laughs.

Check out some of Schulze’s hair-raising tricks in the following video. Newscripts readers, don’t try this at home!

Continue reading →

Unlocking Life’s Code … With a Museum Exhibit

Today’s Newscripts post was written by C&EN intern and genomics fiend Puneet Kollipara.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Human Genome Project’s completion—when scientists successfully sequenced nearly all the base pairs of human DNA. It’s also the 60th anniversary of James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. What better way to commemorate those milestones than with a museum exhibition devoted to genomics?

Photo Jun 13, 10 30 36 AM

VIPs browse “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code,” which seeks to educate the public on genomics and its societal implications, following a reception honoring the exhibit’s launch. Credit: Puneet Kollipara

That’s exactly what the Smithsonian Institution and the National Institutes of Health have done in a new partnership. Last week they opened “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” to educate the public on the science of genomics and its societal implications. A website accompanying the exhibit provides additional educational resources. The 4,400-sq-ft exhibit runs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C., through September 2014, after which it will travel to other museums around the country.

The exhibit’s architects faced a number of challenges when dreaming up the installation. For starters, translating such a large, hard-to-visualize scientific field into a story that a general audience can understand was no easy task, says Vence Bonham, a researcher with NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). To aid in communicating the concepts, the exhibit features a number of high-resolution screens that play videos or animated graphics explaining key concepts in genetics and genomics.

The exhibit also emphasizes the use of activities to teach complicated subjects; for example, an interactive puzzle teaches visitors about how genomics could improve medicine by having them use genetic information to find the best drug for a disease. Another display asks visitors’ opinions of controversial issues in genomics, such as whether people are obligated to participate in genomic research.

Other activities within the exhibit are just plain cool: One lets you build a necklace that has a vial containing a visible sample of your own DNA — a way to remind you that nearly all your cells contain the code of life. To make the DNA visible, visitors take a sample of their cheek cells and place them into a detergent- and alcohol-containing solution that breaks down cell membranes and causes the genetic material to clump together.

Another more unique challenge during the creation of “Genomics” was the ever-changing nature of the scientific field: Just as genomics is continually evolving, so too must the exhibit. To address this challenge, the designers made the exhibit flexible enough that individual elements can be swapped or edited easily, says NHGRI Director Eric Green. The exhibit architects don’t just expect to have to make changes — in a way they welcome them, because new discoveries will likely benefit society. Continue reading →

In Print: Prince Harry Turns into a Doll and Other Misleading Headlines


Read all about it: Misleading headlines can even plague presidential elections. Credit: Byron Rollins/AP/Wikipedia

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

There’s an unfortunate trend that seems to be becoming increasingly popular in today’s science news world. The recipe goes like this: Take one misleading headline, add an introductory sentence that takes liberties with the subject matter it’s covering, and stir in one gullible blogosphere, and before you know it, you have a distorted science news story that appears to be popping up everywhere.

That’s the controversy that C&EN Senior Editor Carmen Drahl took on in last week’s Newscripts column. Carmen stumbled upon a press release purporting to have found a way to analyze human health through the measurement of genetic material. She called bullocks on the claim, and the journal responsible for the press release apologized.

According to Carmen, this incident is nothing new. She says National Geographic blogger Ed Yong and many others have been leading a battle against misleading public relations for years. She also remembers stumbling across two particularly dubious “news stories” herself. One centered on the ENCODE (ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements) Project. As Carmen remembers, the project’s attempts to catalog the pieces that make up the genome led to press releases that claimed so-called junk DNA served a life function, which in turn led to a barrage of articles both deriding the articles as hype and asking for clarification on what constitutes as “junk.”

Continue reading →