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Category → Chemistry in the News

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 and Jeff Huber.


You got the right one, baby? Naw haw: Tourists prefer a facsimile of the Hong Kong skyline to the real thing. Credit: Alex Hofford/EPA/Landov

Tourists can take their picture in front of a poster of the famous Hong Kong skyline if it’s too smoggy to see the real one. Next step? Set up posters in your living room and get great travel photos without leaving the house. [NPR]

Study finds that savers are more attractive than spenders. No wonder Uncle Sam hasn’t looked good in years. [StarTribune]

Scientists create a mini “human brains” in the lab. They are “incapable of thought” (says who?), but at least they might be good ammo in our impending war on zombies [BBC].

Wild turkey pees on a cop car. Perhaps it had had too much Wild Turkey? [WTSP]

Study shows babies learn to recognize words in the womb. Expanded prohibitive list for pregnancy: alcohol, sushi, rap concerts, R-rated movies, expletives after stubbed toes … [ScienceNOW]

Alligators have been spotted in a Minnesota lake, offering a nice distraction from the Vikings’ preseason performance. [KARE 11]

After euthanizing an octopus, detaching its arms, and inflicting pain, scientists get two results: evidence that octopuses’ legs may have a mind of their own and an EU ban on experiments that cause unnecessary pain or distress to octopuses. [io9]

Hornets enter 10K race and immediately set the competition … abuzz. Wait! Where are you going? Come back! [BBC]

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]


Amusing News Aliquots

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

Credit: Stuart Laycock (via The Telegraph)

Credit: Stuart Laycock (via The Telegraph)

Maps to help navigate a cocktail party: Map of the Only 22 Countries in the World Britain Has Not Invaded (shown); Map of the Number of Researchers per Million Inhabitants Around the World; Map of Where 29,000 Rubber Duckies Made Landfall After Falling off a Cargo Ship in the Middle of the Pacific Ocean. [Twisted Sifter]

Studies find that drivers of BMWs are often rude and inconsiderate. It’s the kind of sweeping generalization that could really hurt BMW drivers’ feelings … you know, if they had feelings. [Yahoo! Autos]

Florida is considering using drones to launch search-and-destroy missions on mosquito breeding grounds. But without the buzz of mosquitoes, what will we have to blame our bad hearing on? wonder Florida residents. [SmartPlanet]

Researchers program a robot to love, but then are somehow shocked when he becomes violently obsessed with a young female intern. [TNF] Update: Or this story is a hoax. [Reality Pod] (Thanks Chemjobber!)

NASA has mapped all known “potentially hazardous asteroids.” Good news: No asteroids seem poised to hit Earth in the next 100 years. Bad news: Asteroids were deemed “hazardous” only if they were greater than 460 feet wide. [Space.com]

Breaking Bad cupcakes: Because cupcakes are addictive but they won’t ruin your life. [Sweet Things]

Cat helps authorities solve murder. It was nearly a purr-fect crime. [National Journal]

Watchdog group finds that apparatuses for restraining pets in automobiles do very little to prevent injury or death. That’s a good finding, watchdog group. Who’s a good watchdog group? Who’s a good watchdog group? [USA Today]

Amusing News Aliquots

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

mona lisa

Disappointingly large: Researchers “painted” the Mona Lisa on a substrate surface about one-third the width of a human hair (~30 µm). Credit: Courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology

Researchers create the world’s smallest version of the “Mona Lisa,” which is great since most people who see the actual “Mona Lisa” usually leave wishing that the painting was much, much smaller. [ScienceDaily]

Why invest in sunscreen when you can gorge yourself on chocolate instead? [Seriously, Science?]

Feeling lonely and far from home (208 million miles, to be not-so-exact), NASA’s Curiosity rover sings “Happy Birthday” to itself, one year after landing on Mars (with video). [Washington Post]

Writer explores why people are afraid of clowns, inadvertently giving people who aren’t afraid of clowns plenty of reasons to freak out. [NPR]

The Newscripts gang loves strong brews. And now we can turn our spent coffee grounds into alcohol. Thanks, science! [ScienceNow]

Newspaper reports on a tortoise that ran away from home. In other words, it literally was a slow news day. [Crawley News]

D0lphins don’t need Facebook to remember their friends from 20 years ago, challenging elephants as the reigning animal of choice in memory idioms (with video). [iO9]

This frog may not be getting any ants, but we hear he’s killing it in Candy Crush Saga (with video). [Annals of Improbable Research]

World-class swimmers blame poor performance on the water, broadening the pool of excuses for failures everywhere. [Telegraph]


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]

Amusing News Aliquots

Credit: Guardian

Credit: Guardian

No, I’m not feeling you up with my eyes, I’m looking at the ad on your leg! Thighs: the final advertising frontier. [Guardian]

Mad scientists at it again. This time they’ve made—gasp—durian wine. [The Daily Meal]

Invisibility cloaks are finally here (sort of). Put the patch on, and mosquitoes have no idea you’re there. [iO9]

Bummer for nanotech coating enthusiasts – NeverWet turns out to be a dud. [Slate]

Hippos can do a “bellow wave” down a river at 120 mph. Humans can do a stadium wave at about 27 mph. Honeybees take the cake, though–watch them do a spiraling shimmer wave when hornets approach. [NPR]

It’s the Fish & Wildlife Service’s job to protect owls. That’s why it’s recommending that owls be killed. [Nature World News]

Black bear sneaks into the back of a Rocky Mountain bar. Bear’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor is … bear-y disappointed [with video!]. [Fox31 Denver]

Man arrested for dropping skunk off in a public restroom. But how else was the animal supposed to get to its job as a bathroom attendant?? [WYMT TV]

Humans hunted WHAT to extinction? CNN newsman makes a hilarious blooper. [YouTube via BoingBoing]