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In Print: Mushroom Wrapping And Sound Zapping

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 this week’s issue of C&EN.

Polystyrene, or Styrofoam, has gotten a deservedly bad rap for clogging up Earth’s arteries. But an idea thought up by Eben Bayer when he was a mechanical engineering student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute could give plastic packing peanuts a run for their money.

Credit: Ecovative

Food for thought: Delicately wrapped wine bottle or a couple of yeast and fungus products? Credit: Ecovative

As Senior Editor Alex Scott writes in this week’s Newscripts, Bayer devised a plan to use mycelium—tiny branching threads made by fungi—to hold together a natural, moldable packaging material. His firm, Ecovative Design, has a 40,000-sq-ft mycelium-growing facility that creates Styrofoam-shaped molds (that is, hollowed-out cavities, not fungi) for packaging delicate items.

Bayer insists that this mycelium packaging goes “head-to-head with plastic foam on cost, performance, appearance, and feel,” but Alex says he’d be interested in comparing the impacts of the two products on the marine environment and greenhouse gas emissions. And the Newscripts gang would be interested in comparing the reactions of kids when they open holiday presents wrapped in fungi.

“It does have an organic and irregular appearance,” Alex admits. “But I think once consumers learn about the environmental benefits of Ecovative’s material they would opt for it every time.”

Alex, for one, says he’d be pleased to get such an environmentally friendly wrapped package and would either put it in his compost bin or, if it was easy to crumble, use it as mulch on his flower beds. Such a green guy.

And if you read his original story carefully, you’ll notice Alex is also a punny guy. One pun that he self-edited out of print? That Bayer must have been a “fun guy” to have thought the idea up. Good one, Alex.

The next item in Alex’s column is also about how to make the world greener, this time using sound to amp up electrical output.

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Amusing News Aliquots

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

Winter wonderland: Actual photograph of an actual snowflake without actually using a microscope. Credit: Flickr user ChaoticMind75

It’s delicate work taking these splendid snowflake glamour shots. [chaoticmind] via [io9]

Camels are landing jobs during the holiday season. Joe Camel, however, is still smoking silently and waiting for the phone to ring. [Washington Post]

What’s worse than a robotic telemarketer? A robotic telemarketer that adamantly insists she’s a real person. Meet Samantha West. [Time]

Who says huffing organic solvents dulls the memory? Check out what Derek Lowe’s readers have to say about reagents they’ll never forget. [In the Pipeline]

The next time a coworker asks you how you’re doing, don’t tell them you’re sleepy. Tell them you’re suffering from “sleep inertia.” Then, when they ask you what that is, lift up your head and say in a haughty voice, “Oh, well, I guess somebody doesn’t read the New Yorker!” [New Yorker]

“When the picture on their 50-inch box television started flickering, Mike took off the back panel and found the guts throbbing with ants.”  Best to read this piece on Rasberry crazy ants with a can of Raid nearby. [New York Times]

NASA scientists say life may have once been present on a Mars lake. No word yet on how much alien waterfront property may have cost. [BBC]

Next time you’re stumbling out of a bar, take comfort in statistics that show people who drink alcohol regularly (and even too regularly) live longer than teetotalers. Just don’t smugly stumble to your car, because stats can’t save you from yourself. [Business Insider]

Forget bared teeth, growling, and beating of chests–male chameleons get ready for epic showdowns by quickly changing their bodies from bright color to bright color. [NBC Science]

In Print: #ButtScan And Bulletproof Suits

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.

ButtScan

Bottoms up: #ButtScan challenge gives academic job applicants a chance to win $100. Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN

It’s not every day that academics get to take off their pants for a cause.

But in this week’s Newscripts, C&EN Senior Editor Michael Torrice writes about how one daring humanities job seeker dropped his or her pants and won $100 to boot.

Rebecca Schuman, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, challenged the readers of her blog to enclose a photograph of their (clothed) rear ends in an academic job application to prove a point. She advertised the challenge on Twitter using the hashtag #ButtScan and promised $100 to the first person to actually submit a #ButtScan application.

Schuman often writes about how absurdly involved applications for humanities positions are and seriously doubts that job committees go through the hundreds of 80-plus-page applications that are sent to them.

“What happens is you meticulously and lovingly craft these 85-page dossiers. And then you pay $14 to send them. And then you get a gaping chasm of silence—literally bupkis, nothing—until April when they send you a form rejection letter,” Schuman told Michael.

Much to her dismay, she crowned a winner just 48 hours after her call to action. She had posed the challenge as a joke but paid up when a reader sent her proof of the submitted application. #winning

Bruce Wayne suit: A lightweight armor protects dapper gents from bullets and knives. Credit: Mike Paul

Bruce Wayne suit: A lightweight armor protects dapper gents from bullets and knives. Credit: Mike Paul

The second Newscripts item is for a select crowd that has both a dangerous job and a deep pocket. A Toronto tailor is offering bulletproof men’s suits for a pretty $20,000 penny.

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Amusing News Aliquots

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

One-click class: Now you can 3-D print your own 18th-century Italian side chair from teh Smithsonian's vault. Credit: Courtesy of Smithsonian Digitization Program Office via Slate

One-click class: Now you can 3-D print your own 18th-century Italian side chair from teh Smithsonian’s vault. Credit: Courtesy of Smithsonian Digitization Program Office via Slate

Smithsonian releases 3-D printable files of some of its artifacts, including Amelia Earhart’s flight suit, a 1903 Wright Flyer, and an ornately carved late 18th-century Italian Pergolesi side chair. We’re holding out to print Archie Bunker’s arm chair though. [Slate]

Fourteen-year-old Yorkshire terrier just signed up for health insurance using a state exchange. Hopefully this doesn’t translate into higher premiums for younger Yorkshire terriers. [Opposing Views]

And how bad can health care in this country really be if a blind dog in Philadelphia can get its own seeing-eye dog?  [Mother Nature Works]

GoldieBlox riffs off of Beastie Boys’ gender-stereotyped song “Girls” to advertise their new engineering toys for girls with a massive Rube Goldberg machine. [LA Times]

Gentrification is for the birds. Literally. Wild turkeys are flocking to cities where they are “fouling yards with droppings, devouring gardens, waking up residents with raucous predawn mating sessions, and utterly disregarding dogs and other supposed deterrents.” [AP]

The chemistry of cookie-making. Mmm, cookies. [Gizmodo]

Guys, are you feeling self-conscious about the size of your nose? It’s not your fault. It’s evolution’s! [ScienceDaily]

Buzzfeed’s not the only one with color-coded maps about geographical language differences. Chemistry blogger takes on question, “What do you call introductory organic chemistry?” [Chemjobber]

And last but not least, check out this year’s winner of the Dance Your Ph.D. contest. To the naysayers out there, this is more evidence that sex always wins. [Science]

In Print: Racing Cells, Baby Dinos

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

Microscopic organisms, start your engines! The second World Cell Race is upon us. Doping and steroids in the form of genetic modifications and unusual cell types are welcome in this competition to create the fastest and smartest cellular contestant.

Cell walls: Time-lapse photos show the (relatively) fast progress of a cell through the maze. Credit: Daniel Irima

Cell walls: Composite time-lapse photo shows the (relatively) fast progress of a cell through the maze. Credit: Daniel Irimia

As C&EN associate editor Nader Heidari writes in this week’s print column, this year’s World Cell Race will be held on Nov. 22 at the BioMEMS Resource Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston (watch the live broadcast here). The cited purpose of the race is to inspire discussion about how cell motility plays a role in health and disease. The Newscripts gang also wouldn’t be surprised if cell biologists were champing at the bit to enter a (relatively) high-speed racing contest.

Unlike the inaugural World Cell Race in 2011 that featured a linear track, this year’s race will force champion-hopefuls to navigate a maze-like course. Creating “smart” cells that don’t just Roomba their way into a dead end will add another dimension of design complexity. Nader says the organizers haven’t entirely revealed just how these souped-up cells are expected to make wise decisions on their paths to victory, but he’s putting his money on stem cells. “They’re pretty fast,” Nader says. “Some went up to 5ish µm a minute! This next contest will have molds, however, so we’ll see how they compare, even though they’ll need special tracks because of their size.”

The second part of Nader’s Newscripts discusses a keen-eyed teen who was first to spot a fossil on his high school’s trip to Utah’s Grand Staircaise-Escalante National Monument in 2009.

While traipsing through rock formations on an exploratory trip led by paleontologist Andrew A. Farke, high schooler Kevin Terris peeked under a stone and ended up discovering the smallest and most complete fossil of the dinosaur Parasaurolophus yet. Farke’s research group has been investigating the fossil and has recently published a paper about the baby dino, whom they’ve endearingly nicknamed “Joe.”

And Nader tells the Newscripts gang that the researchers think it’s unlikely they’ll discover anything quite like it again: “Joe’s find is a ridiculously rare glimpse into childhood development of these dinos. It’s crazy to find a relatively complete baby dino fossil, mostly because they tend to be bite-sized morsels for predators and have softer bones that wouldn’t fossilize as well.” Nader adds that the paleontology team “had a very tiny geological window to find and preserve the fossil as well. Farke doesn’t think he’ll ever find another such fossil in his lifetime.”

For now, dino enthusiasts can check out all the news about Joe at dinosaurjoe.org. But if Dr. Farke or any other paleontologists want some help finding more bones, there will always be more kiddos ready to go on a fossil hunt.

Amusing News Aliquots

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

This pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) touches down on land to forage for insects, other small invertebrates, and small mammals./Photo courtesy J. Scott Altenbach via Slate

 

This Halloween, let’s take a moment to celebrate bats. They’re “merciless predators, loyal neighbors, tender mothers, and generous lovers with strange and intimidating tongues … at least one bat species possesses a penis of great and terrifying adaptation.” [Slate]

Some people have bug-searching a little easier. One entomologist (typical!) finds a new tick to research … up his nose. [LiveScience]

Not freaky enough? Here’s what happens when a tick bites you. [Not Exactly Rocket Science]

Babies can recognize lullabies they heard while in the womb. Good thing they can’t speak right after birth, otherwise they’d tell you how sick they are of hearing the same songs over and over again. [ScienceDaily]

Gadget lets your iPhone smell like coffee, flowers, or even steak and potatoes. Only a matter of time before you can smell candy while playing Candy Crush–not just on Halloween. [NPR]

Candy Master Eric Milliken makes monster portraits using Halloween candy, including this "Black Cat." Credit: Eric Millikin/Detroit Free Press

Candy Master Eric Milliken makes “Black Cat” and other portraits using Halloween candy. Credit: Eric Millikin/Detroit Free Press

 

Man makes portraits of Halloween characters out of candy bags, inadvertently depriving us all of candy. [Detroit Free Press]

World’s largest chicken nugget was born this week, the proud child of a 500-gal deep fryer and 2.5 lb of breading. [Huffington Post]

Woman ticketed for driving while wearing Google Glass. Even the cool nerds can’t win. [SiliconBeat]

Here’s something to freak you out: Tarantula hairs in your eyes. [Seriously, Science?]

But perhaps the scariest of all: North Dakota woman threatens to not give fat trick-or-treating kids candy but instead a letter about obesity. What a witch. [LA Times]

 

 

Amusing News Aliquots

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

Credit: Nick Brandt

Who knew horrific death could look so grotesquely beautiful? Credit: Nick Brandt

Alkaline Lake Natron, in Tanzania, calcifies critters that find their way to its depths, inspires creepy photographs. [New Scientist]

3D-printed guns are so Monday. Today’s hot new 3D-printed must-have is a custom toothbrush that cleans your chompers in just six seconds. [io9]

Scientists pinpoint the precise neurons that control a mouse’s desire to eat. Frugal labs can now celebrate reduced pellet food costs. [ScienceNews]

Destructive earthquake strong enough to produce an island off the coast of Pakistan. [NBCNews]

Firefighters in Tampa use oxygen masks on cats rescued from a house fire. No word yet on whether or not the cats’ insurance agent will be as accommodating. [WTSP 10 News]

 

Drop everything … at the cool dropping things tower in Germany. [Gizmodo]

See nothing … at the invisible skyscraper to be built in South Korea. [Daily Mail]

Alton Brown, everyone’s favorite science foodie, takes readers on a tour of the Beyond Meat factory. [Wired]

Fans of red wine have another reason to celebrate, as if they needed one. [Science Daily]

More Lego lady scientists may be on the way. [Inhabitat]

And some fun science GIFs, just ’cause. [Buzzfeed]

In Print: Nature’s Call, Nature’s Mimic

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.

When you’ve gotta go, it doesn’t matter if you’re thousands of feet above the earth. In 1961, Alan B. Shepard Jr. became the first American to fly into space … and likely became the first American to pee his pants in a space suit (unverified).

Zero-gravity relief: The International Space Station's Zvezda Service Module is home to this space toilet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Zero-gravity relief: The International Space Station’s Zvezda Service Module is outfitted with this space toilet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As Senior Correspondent Steve Ritter writes in last week’s print column, NASA’s space program was light-years ahead of its onboard facilities program. Because the first spaceflight was so short–only 15 minutes–NASA engineers put the pee problem on the back burner, only to regret that decision when launch delays left Shepard in the suit for more than eight hours. (To learn about the more-detailed discussion that went on, Steve points us to the movie “The Right Stuff” about the first NASA astronauts. Without having watched it, the Newscripts gang really hopes that Shepard said, “Houston, we have a problem.”)

Steve says that researchers were developing catheter-based and other devices for the Air Force for high-altitude and long-range airplane flights. But, understandably, these were uncomfortable and often leaked. After learning the hard way during Shepard’s flight, NASA planned something new for their second spaceflight. Later in 1961, Gus Grissom went to space wearing two pairs of rubber pants that he got to take a leak between. On the third flight, John H. Glenn Jr. was the first in the U.S. space program to use a urine collection device (UCD).

Now, astronauts in the International Space Station have vacuum-like toilets that work in zero gravity. What about when they’re in their space suits during takeoff, landing, and space walks? The space shuttle program in the 1980s replaced these UCD storage bags with “absorbent technologies” suitable for men and women, writes Steve. So, giant diapers, Newscripts guesses. The Washington Post reports that they’re called maximum absorbent garments, or MAGs, which sounds slightly more dignified.

Toilet troubles aside, Steve is undeterred. “I have always dreamed of being a space cowboy,” he says. “The best part would be seeing if the moon really is made out of cheese or if the little green men on Mars have been hiding from us. The worst part is a fear of running out of air to breathe.”

Steve has had adventures a little closer to home, however. His next Newscripts item discusses ball lightning, which people only have a one in 1,000 chance of seeing in their lifetimes. Steve’s a lucky winner, he recounts:

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