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Category → Chemistry in the News

Amusing News Aliquots

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

Credit: U.S. PTO

Credit: U.S. PTO

Watch out, Leslie hat – you’re not the only wearable device for feeding and observing birds and insects anymore. New invention lets you clip a feeder to the brim of your hat … or even anchor it to your mouth. [Improbable Research]

Kid discovers dinosaur skeleton. Paleontologists who overlooked the skeleton await timeout. [ScienceDaily]

Flaunting long legs in an attempt to hitchhike actually works! Emu found wandering around I-75 in Sarasota, Fla., is picked up by animal services. [Tampa Tribune]

Remember how your mother told you money doesn’t grow on trees? Yeah, about that… [ABS Australia]

More than a century after the whistling kettle’s invention, scientists have finally figured how it works. [Gizmodo]

When a man loves a woman … he slows down his walking pace to match hers, study finds. [News.com.au]

Chocolate: It’s the new black. [NPR]

Coming soon to the moon: Netflix, cat videos, and the eternal frustration of waiting for the Internet to load. [NPR]

Check out our new favorite tumblr: That’s Not How You Pipette. [thatsnothowyoupipette]

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]




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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‘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 →

XPRIZE Competition Poses Ocean Acidity Challenge

Today’s post is by Puneet Kollipara, intern at C&EN and an aquatic acidity aficionado.

Current ocean-chemistry monitoring instruments, such as this buoy that NOAA deployed in the Arctic Ocean, can be expensive or have limitations on their reliability. Recently NOAA partnered with XPRIZE in launching a competition that will award $2 million for the development of cheap and reliable pH sensors. Credit: NOAA

NOAA recently deployed this ocean-chemistry-monitoring buoy in the Arctic Ocean. To cut down on costs and improve reliability, NOAA has partnered with XPRIZE to launch a $2 million competition to develop cheap, reliable pH sensors. Credit: NOAA

Humans pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, but not all of it stays in the air. About one-fourth of the released carbon dioxide dissolves into the oceans, where it has been lowering the global average pH of seawater and thereby threatening aquatic ecosystems.

Unfortunately, the ocean is as complex as it is spacious, and ocean pH doesn’t change uniformly across its depth. To get the full picture, scientists need a lot of data, but current techniques for monitoring ocean pH are generally expensive, aren’t always reliable, and can’t go very deep underwater. Right now, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for instance, has 18 ocean-chemistry monitors at various locations—more than anyone else in the world—but none of these sensors takes measurements below surface waters. “As you can imagine, that does not really represent the global oceans very well,” says Christopher L. Sabine, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

A 22-month competition launched by the XPRIZE Foundation, a nonprofit aiming to spur technological innovation for society’s betterment, seeks to change that. The newly announced $2 million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE calls on innovators of all stripes, both professional and amateur, to design better pH-measurement technologies. “The idea with the XPRIZE is to develop robust, inexpensive sensors that can be deployed much more easily,” says Sabine, whose NOAA lab is partnering with XPRIZE for the competition.

Half of the $2 million prize will be awarded for the development of an affordable, reliable sensor, Sabine says. The other half will go toward a system that can accurately profile pH changes, including at great depths; such an instrument might start deep in the ocean and take real-time measurements as it’s lifted to the surface.

Continue reading →

Amusing News Aliquots

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

McGill University Masters candidate Timothy Blaise created this cover, "Bohemian Gravity," to go along with his physics thesis. Credit: Youtube/acapellascience

McGill University Masters candidate Timothy Blaise created this cover, “Bohemian Gravity,” to go along with his physics thesis. Credit: Youtube/acapellascience

Combine a physics grad student, musical talent, video know-how, and an Einstein sock puppet, and you get an awesome “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover about string theory (withvideo). [io9]

We’re going to need bigger Q-tips. Turns out whale earwax contains information about environmental contaminants. [NatGeo]

This just in from Boston: Red sports teams are more likely to win. [Seriously, Science?]

Not to be confused with terrifying snakes, there are now four new species of legless lizards to haunt your dreams. [CNN]

Did NASA just find Han Solo on Mercury? [io9]

Yahoo! has designed a 3-D printing search engine for the visually impaired–and, well, for anyone because it’s awesome (with video). [Gizmodo]

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]

Amusing News Aliquots

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

Credit: Lego

Credit: Lego

Lego introduces its first female lab scientist minifig – and she’s holding two Erlenmeyer flasks. [SciAm]

Magnifying glasses can set ants ablaze, and apparently London’s Walkie-Talkie Tower can burn carpets and melt cars. [GrindTV]

Website counts down the 10 “geekiest schools.” Are you wondering what criteria were used to make this list? Then your school probably made the list. [Her Campus]

Don’t blame your big bones, blame your gut microbes. [NPR]

Ever wonder about a mermaid’s skeletal structure? Well, wonder no more. [io9]

What to do when your nuclear missile base is invaded…by ground squirrels. [Smithsonian]

Squirrel survives gunshot, gains enough credibility to release a rap album. [WGNO]

Alaskan town mayor mauled by a dog; Mayor Stubbs is recovering at the local veterinary hospital. [Time]

Turns out the new baby panda at the National Zoo was sired by Tian Tian: The panda with sperm so nice, they named him twice. [National Zoo]

TONIGHT: Watch NASA’s LADEE moon launch from your roof, if you’re on the East Coast. If not, check it out online from your couch. [NBC]