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Amusing News Aliquots

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

Combine your favorite pastimes of gardening and shooting with Flowershell—a 12-gauge shotgun shell loaded with seeds. Lest you think this is a new invention from the Swedes, a Missouri man patented the idea in 1976. [Improbable Research]

Study finds that a region’s birth rates may be directly proportional to the success of local sports teams. Further proof that there’s nothing more romantic than watching a man receive a Gatorade bath. [ScienceDaily]

What were the baddies of J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Hobbit” really missing? Vitamin D, obviously. [AFP]

Ni hao, kitty. New evidence suggests cats were domesticated in China 5,000 years ago. [USA Today]

Researchers find that moderate drinking may improve immune system responsiveness. So step up your game, you minimal drinkers! [Mother Jones]

Worried that you might turn into your worrywart mother? Turns out it’s epigenetic. [The Atlantic]

Great, just what we need—worms engineered to live five times longer than normal. Can probably still squish them though … [iO9]

Some people are self-conscious about their cankles. This Chinese man had his hand surgically attached to his ankle—and it wasn’t just for kicks … okay, okay. No more puns. We promise. [Huffington Post]

Policeman rescues dog after it eats a pot brownie. Might we suggest a name for the dog? Bud-dy. Wait! Where are you going!? Come back! [Oregon Live]

Heirloom Chemistry Set

This Heirloom Chemistry Set has already sold out on Kickstarter. But there are plenty of other chemistry-related goodies to purchase. Credit: John Farrell Kuhns/Kickstarter

This Heirloom Chemistry Set has already sold out on Kickstarter. But there are plenty of other chemistry-related goodies to purchase. Credit: John Farrell Kuhns/Kickstarter

There’s still one week to get a budding chemist in your life a present they’ll never forget: A real chemistry set that skips cheap plastic equipment and instead features actual glassware and chemicals that can be used in real experiments. Donate to this Kickstarter campaign, and you could be the proud owner of a personalized periodic table in .jpg format ($7.00 donation); a CD-ROM that contains chemicals safety information, three books in .pdf format, and some other bonus features ($20); a kit that will start 10 fires with the enclosed chemicals and spit ($45); a set of 65 chemicals, 56 of which were listed in the 1926 edition of “Chemistry for Boys” from the classic Gilbert chemistry set ($175); or a glassware and equipment set ($225). If your budget is big enough, you could support the campaign by purchasing a fully equipped home lab: the Master Chemistry Set, including “Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments” by Robert B. Thompson ($550), or a hand-crafted Heirloom chemistry set ($900, sold out) designed by John Farrell Kuhns who owns the Parkville, Mo.-based science shop H.M.S. Beagle and is the sponsor of the Kickstarter campaign. H.M.S. Beagle is the largest science store in the midwestern U.S.

John’s initial goal was to raise $30,000, and when this blog post hit the interwebs, pledges totaled $130,450 from 440 backers.

Nine years ago, store owners John and his wife, Carol, opened the doors of H.M.S. Beagle so kids today could experience “real” science. Inspired to become a chemist by the gift of a Gilbert chemistry set that he received for Christmas in 1959, John was disappointed that chemistry sets are few and far between on store shelves now-a-days. The store provides kids (and adults) the ability to explore real science by offering professional-quality lab supplies and equipment, as well as classes, demonstrations, and workshops.

When working with chemicals, safety is always a concern. A CD-ROM with the material safety data sheet (MSDS) is included with all chemicals purchased. “As far as I know,” John says, “we’re the only ones putting QR codes directly on the chemical labels.” A quick scan of the code with a cell phone, and the MSDS appears on your smartphone. And any chemical available at H.M.S. Beagle has an MSDS available on the store’s website. Additionally, John tells Newscripts, “for some of the especially dangerous chemicals, we do put first aid information and warnings on the labels.” And if safety is still a concern, “In the cases where the sets are intended for use with young children,” John says, “we will substitute less dangerous chemicals that will be chemically equivalent for the given experiment.”

H.M.S. Beagle also sponsors a kids science club, for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. There are more than 1,000 members of the club, and kids meet on Saturdays. The most recent meeting hosted students in kindergarten through third grade, and after a presentation about insects, participants constructed fantasy insects, described the habitats in which they would be found, and created two-part scientific names for their insect. “We don’t do hands-on chemistry with the kids club,” John says. “I am hoping to raise enough money to change that by purchasing and installing eyewash and drench shower stations.”

John has been a member of the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN, since the 1960s when he was the president of the student affiliate at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, where he assisted in the editing and publishing of the department’s first lab manual for chemistry students.

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]

Aaaaaand They’re Off: The 2013 World Cell Race Results

Today’s post is by Nader Heidari, an associate editor at C&EN who loves watching cells race and paint dry.

On Nov. 22, cells raced down ultrathin channels, vying for the position of fastest cell in the 2013 World Cell Race. At speeds of up to 300 micrometers/hour, cells blew down the maze-like track, running into dead ends and occasionally getting confused and turning around. Many cell lines didn’t finish, but glory came to those who did.

This year’s victor (shown in the race video above) was MDA MB 231 s1, a human breast cancer cell line from Alexis Gautreau of the Laboratory of Enzymology & Structural Biochemistry, in France. Gautreau will receive a €400 voucher (that’s about $650) from Ibidi, one of the event’s sponsors. The winning cells weren’t the fastest, nor were they the smartest, but they prevailed because of their persistence and because they got a good head-start by entering the maze of channels more quickly than their competitors. Slow and steady wins the race!

In second place was MFH 152, a sarcoma cell line from Mohamed Jemaà in Ariane Abrieu’s lab at the Research Center for Macromolecular Biochemistry, in France. Although they were fast and accurate, these cells took too long to actually start the race, falling behind MDA MB 231, according to the race organizers.

Cell-racing fans don’t have to wait until late next year for another dose of mitochondria-pumping action: The organizers are looking to start the first “Dicty World Race,” tentatively scheduled for March 21, 2014. The stars of this show would be Dictyostelium, a type of slime mold. So keep an eye out for some pedal-to-the-flagella protist action!

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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.


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.

Continue reading →

Amusing News Aliquots

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


Know your bird: Meet Caramel, one of this year’s pardoned turkeys. Credit: White House

Some key facts about this year’s pardoned turkeys. Decide for yourself as to whether or not they really deserved to be pardoned. [White House]

The White House’s “We the Geeks” series takes on Thanksgiving cooking (video). [The White House]

More breakdown of the science of cooked turkeys: “As the turkey is cooked … the bonds within the molecules begin to break down, which causes proteins to unravel and the dense muscle meat to become more tender.” Mmmm… you had us at unraveling proteins. [RedOrbit]

Turns out that eating a bunch of food on Thanksgiving, and not just eating turkey, makes you sleepy. Weird, huh? [NBC News]

New Orleans institute has some ideas on how to incorporate insects into traditional Thanksgiving recipes. If only they had told you before you started cooking this year’s meal!  [TreeHugger]

And now for non-Thanksgiving-themed news: Know what will make you think twice about drinking tons of Coke? The fact that Coke can also be used to remove rust from bolts, blood stains from clothes, dye from hair, and paint from metal furniture.  [ThoughtPursuits]

One reason why your kindergartner is winning the argument to stay home from school: Turns out toddlers are smarter than 5-year-olds. [NPR]

… And likely smarter than nine-year-olds, given that one just got suspended for snorting Smarties. [Time]



In Print: Sriracha Sensation, Deceptive Dishware

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.


Cock of the walk: Rooster-emblazoned hot sauce garners devoted fan base. Credit: Ttony21 / Wikimedia Commons

Bam! The Newscripts column is kicking things up a notch this week with its profile of Sriracha, the spicy condiment that is turning heads and clearing sinuses all over the world.

As C&EN Associate Editor Andrea Widener explains in her column, Sriracha has a devoted fan base that loves to put the Sriracha rooster logo on everything from iPhone cases to T-shirts. Explaining the hot sauce’s popularity, Andrea says, “Sriracha is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy, but it’s not so hot that only hard-core spice lovers can enjoy it.” What’s more, Sriracha is “a little exotic, since it was first made to be eaten on Vietnamese pho soup, so that draws in the foodies.”

But it turns out not everyone is a fan of the hot sauce. Residents of Irwindale, Calif., are actually suing Sriracha manufacturer Huy Fong Foods for inducing headaches and burning eyes that they believe are caused by the company’s nearby Sriracha plant. It’s the kind of public relations nightmare that could really hurt a product’s popularity … if that product weren’t already so popular. Andrea, for one, has no plans of curbing her Sriracha consumption anytime soon. “I have a bottle at home right now, and it has made a lot of meals better,” she says. Andrea’s love of the condiment has led her to do everything from buying the snack food Sriracha peas, to making Sriracha mac and cheese, to eagerly awaiting the sale of Sriracha candy canes this holiday season. That last part might sound a little crazy, but it’s actually pretty tame compared with the lengths other Sriracha lovers will go to enjoy their favorite condiment. For instance, Andrea doesn’t plan to chug three consecutive bottles of Sriracha in the near future.

Sticking with her culinary theme, Andrea uses the second part of her column to talk about a recent study that found that the color and weight of cutlery can significantly influence a person’s perception of the food they eat. For instance, Andrea says, the study found that people, for some reason, expect food served on blue plates to be salty: a fact that can lead to disappointment if the food is not actually salty. “It makes me think I should get rid of my blue dinner plates,” Andrea jokes.

The researchers also discovered that people perceive food served with metal-colored plastic silverware as tasting worse than food served with differently colored plastic silverware. The researchers posit that this is because eaters were initially fooled by the real-looking cutlery, and when their expectations weren’t met, they expressed similar disappointment in the food they were eating.

As to whether or not her own taste buds would be fooled by such tricks, Andrea doesn’t put on airs. “I like to think I’m special, but I’m sure I would be influenced by color as much as the next person.”