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In Print: Mosh Pit Simulator

In stereotypical high school cafeterias, the physics nerds and metal heads don’t usually mesh. But luckily for Matthew Bierbaum and Jesse L. Silverberg, there’s grad school. The two Cornell physics grad students paid their own way to heavy-metal concerts, studied concert footage from around the world, and took their mosh pit findings back to the lab.

As Associate Editor Lauren Wolf writes in this week’s Newscripts, the pair, along with professors James P. Sethna and Itai Cohen, created a mosh pit simulator and found that the moshers behaved much like an ideal gas. A paper summarizing their results is available here.

For the uninitiated, here’s an example of a mosh pit (Warning: Video contains profanity.):

And here’s an ideal-gas-like simulation of a mosh pit:

The group also studied a subset of mosh pits called circle pits — mosh pits in which people run in a circle, as the name implies (Warning: Video contains profanity.): 

And here’s their simulation:

It turns out that it’s difficult to find a video of a mosh pit without profanity, so we apologize in advance.

When Lauren heard Bierbaum speak about the team’s research at the recent American Physical Society national meeting, he noted that 95% of circle pits move in a counterclockwise direction. He joked that it doesn’t work like toilets—they checked in Australia and other parts of the world—their circle pits go counterclockwise as well. As she writes in the print Newscripts, that’s one of the reasons he thinks the direction is due to humans’ dominant handedness. Why humans behave like an ideal gas, however, is still up in the air.

Check back later this week to hear more from Lauren about her second Newscripts item — flavor-filled New Orleans cocktails at the New Orleans ACS national meeting. 

Terrence Howard Isn’t A Doctor, He Just Plays One On TV

Terrence Howard

Playing the part: Howard smiles through the pain of being an internationally famous actor. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Growing up, most boys dream of one day becoming a chemical engineer and enjoying the endless parade of fans, money, and women that comes with it. Terrence Howard wasn’t so lucky. He had to settle for Oscar-nominated Hollywood actor instead. But don’t feel too sorry for Howard because as he mentioned during a Feb. 26 appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” he actually holds a Ph.D. in applied materials and chemical engineering from South Carolina State University!

Howard turned the lemons of being left out of “Iron Man 2″ into the lemonade of earning a doctorate? It all sounds very impressive. The problem? It’s a lie. Continue reading →

Amusing News Aliquots

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

You can dance if you want to. You can leave your friends behind. Because your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance, they’re not as cool as this sea lion. [Nature World News]

Sea lions are trending: This baby sea lion was removed from a San Diego-area hotel after enjoying its patio furniture. World awaits sea loin’s angry Yelp review. [Huffington Post]

Have you got a theory or a hypothesis? Check out science’s seven most abused words. [SciAm]

Cookbooks always strive to come up with recipes that are out of this world, but Amsterdam’s “Baked” cookbook has an unfair advantage. [Huffington Post]

Japanese study finds that balding men are more likely to experience heart problems than their fully maned counterparts. So it’s not all fun and games for men losing their hair. [BBC]

A trout can survive a year without food, just by changing the size of its intestinal tract – how’s that for a diet technique? [National Geographic]

What do you do when you make the world’s lightest solid material? Why, put it on flowers, of course. [Book of Joe]

And now for an anatomy magic trick: 3-D printing an exact replica of a living (and unscathed) animal’s skeleton. [Wired]

Parents who fight in front of their kids may inadvertently hinder their children’s cognitive development. “But what about passive-aggressive texts?” curious couples wonder. [LiveScience]

If your last name were Burns, what would you study? Fires, natch. [Improbable Research]

Also, check out the London IgNobel Show live webcast, coming up shortly. [Improbable Research]

In Print: Chemistry Labs Sound Like Music

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.

Sticking with the music theme from yesterday’s Newscripts blog post, C&EN Senior Editor Linda Wang explores how chemistry instruments are turning into chemistry instrumentals in this week’s print edition of Newscripts. While Linda wasn’t able to cover the entire breadth of chemistry-inspired music currently popping up online (such as the above piece from musical act Boy in a Band), she was able to profile John LaCava.

LaCava, a musician and biology research associate at Rockefeller University who describes himself as “just a young punk from the wrong side of the tracks” who “got sucked into science while studying biotechnology at MassBay Community College” (you know, like all hoodlums), posts music he and his bandmates create using lab equipment such as centrifuges and magnetic stir bars to the website Sounds of Science. Click here to check out some of their mad beats, including Linda’s favorite, “96 Tubes.”

Taking a step back into the past, Linda’s column also discusses recent research into a proposed method for preserving China’s Terra-Cotta Army Warriors. The clay sculptures that were buried with the first Chinese emperor long ago as a means of protecting him in the afterlife are at risk of deterioration caused by air pollutants and heat. To combat this problem, researchers suggest using instruments similar to air conditioners to form a protective “air curtain” around the sculptures.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea!” says Linda. “I don’t mind having the invisible curtain if it means others will be able to enjoy the relics for years to come.”

So, as Linda puts it, “if you’re interested in making music with science or using science to aid in cultural preservation, this Newscripts column may be just for you!”

GZA Drops Verse (And Science) On The Schools

We’ve spilled plenty of ink about so-called science rappers on the Newscripts blog. But let’s face it, they are all pretenders to the throne. All hail GZA of the kingdom of Wu-Tang, who with the above taste of his upcoming solo project “Dark Matter” takes his rightful place at the top of the heap.

As we wrote last year, GZA’s upcoming album, “Dark Matter,” is inspired by science. On the March 27th episode of the PBS NewsHour, GZA gave Bronx Compass High School a sneak peek at some of his new material. We also heard about Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S., a project GZA’s involved with to help students in struggling school districts learn about science through rap. B.A.T.T.L.E.S. stands for Bring Attention to Transforming Teaching, Learning & Engagement in Science. You can learn more at PBS NewsHour’s GZA story.

Still think you can dethrone the master? PBS is sponsoring a science rap contest on YouTube that anyone can enter. The winner gets a personalized video shout-out from GZA, and other prizes. Entries are due May 3rd. More details at the bottom of PBS’s page.

Here’s the full TV segment for your viewing pleasure (GZA makes his entrance at 3:30).

Harlem Shake ft. Tryptophan

Not to be confused with the real Harlem Shake dance moves of the 1980s, a Harlem Shake video meme quickly went viral last month. The gist: An individual starts to dance to electronic music producer Baauer’s song “Harlem Shake” for roughly 15 seconds before the beat pops and the video jump-cuts to a huge crowd of costumed companions who join in on the erratic dancing.

The meme began in Australia, but quickly became popular across the globe, with the University of Georgia men’s swim team, some Norwegian army troops, and even a distressed clothes dryer posting their own Harlem Shake videos.

And now, thanks to Pierre Morieux (@ChemDrawWizard), chemists have gotten in on the fun. His YouTube channel features a couple of ChemDraw video tutorials, followed by this bigger hit:

Celebrating Pi: Don’t Try This at Home

Do you remember what you did on Pi Day last Thursday (3/14)? American Chemical Society (ACS) student affiliates from Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, took the opportunity to “pi” their professors (literally) and made a short video about it:

And on a related note, if you think reading the digits in pi will take forever, check out this video of a man pronouncing the longest word in the world, which happens to be the chemical name of titin, the largest known protein. (Warning: you’ll need three and a half hours to get through this video, but as a reward, you get to watch this man’s beard grow.)

There & Back Again: A Cyclotron’s Tale

This post was written by Andrea Widener, an associate editor for C&EN’s government and policy group.

The cyclotron in its box. Credit: University of California/LBNL

The cyclotron in its box. Credit: University of California/LBNL

When Ernest O. Lawrence lent a cyclotron to the London Science Museum in 1938, he thought it would be back in eight months.

But it took 75 years for the 11-inch cyclotron, one of the first built by the future Nobel Prize winner, to return to the hills of Berkeley, Calif., where it was originally created.

The cyclotron survived a war, a bureaucratic tussle, and a security challenge before it was finally returned to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), the research institution founded by the cyclotron’s inventor.

The cyclotron's original patent.

The cyclotron’s original patent. Credit: LBNL

When it arrived last month, the 11-inch cyclotron was an instant celebrity, drawing crowds as though Lawrence himself had walked in for a photo op.

“They were coming down the hallway in a stream,” says Pamela Patterson, who serves as an unofficial historian and manager of the lab’s website. “Everyone was there. The director had his iPhone up taking pictures. It was cute.”

At the time Lawrence loaned the cyclotron to the science museum, he was still a young, ambitious researcher trying to convince others that the device was a major breakthrough. An invitation to display it in such a prestigious spot was likely an important step, Patterson explains.

But when the cyclotron was supposed to be returned in 1939, Lawrence received a letter from the museum saying officials had moved the cyclotron to a rural district for safe keeping because they feared London would be bombed during World War II. Continue reading →