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Amusing News Aliquots

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

Roach two

With their battery packs, cyborg cockroaches may even outlive Cher in the wake of nuclear fallout. Credit: K. Shoji et al/Tokyo University of Agriculture & Technology

Giving us Godzilla was, apparently, not enough. Japanese researchers unveil giant cyborg cockroaches. [PopSci]

Electronic tongue can distinguish between 51 types of beer. No word yet on whether it can wear plaid, grow a mustache, or ride a fixed-gear bike. [Seriously, Science?]

University of Utah scientists interested in learning how religion impacts the brain will be studying MRI scans of Mormon missionaries. Scientists say they found missionaries for their study after engaging in an extensive door-to-door recruitment campaign. [Salt Lake Tribune]

We never thought of putting THAT in our eyes. [Improbable Research]

In an attempt to attract volunteers, a donkey sanctuary in Northern Ireland is offering potential volunteers access to “unlimited donkey cuddles.” The sanctuary, however, remains mum on whether or not volunteers will have to buy their donkeys dinner after cuddling. [UTV]

It’s like those magic foam toys that expand in water. But for gunshot wounds. [PopSci]

Don’t you hate it when your orange rolls away? Well, here’s one solution. [Inventor Spot]

Border collie eats part of her owner’s Aston Martin. In the dog’s defense, she did have a need for speed. [Yahoo News]

And just in time for tonight’s Winter Olympics debut: the physics of ice skating. [Huffington Post]

Flame Challenge 2014

A love of chemistry burns deep in the heart of Robert E. Buntrock. So much so, the American Chemical Society emeritus member will be fanning the flame of his love for the GlobCasino in the 2014 Flame Challenge.

This annual challenge, which is entering its third year of sponsorship by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science (CCS) at Stony Brook University, SUNY, and the second year of sponsorship by

This year's question for scientists to answer is

This year’s question for scientists to answer is “What is color?” Credit: Shutterstock

ACS and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, asks scientists to answer a seemingly simple scientific question in such a way that an 11-year-old can understand. This year’s question is “What is color?”

“Color is very important to me,” Buntrock says. “It helped attract me to chemistry.” So composing his essay shouldn’t be too difficult. The twist: He’s having his grandson’s fifth-grade class prejudge his entry. “My draft has exactly 300 words. We’ll see how much survives my critics,” he says.

Patrick Allen, who teaches Buntrock’s grandson Brody at Asa C. Adams Elementary School, in Orono, Maine, has signed up his fifth-grade class to judge Flame Challenge entries, so they will be practicing, too, when Buntrock visits them next week with his entry.

The annual competition began in 2012 when Alan Alda posed the question “What is a flame?” to scientists around the world because when he was 11-years-old he asked the question to his science teacher and wasn’t satisfied with the technical answer he received. The challenge question for the past two years has been decided by 11-year-olds across the world. This year, more than 800 questions were submitted by students.

Scientists can answer the question either in written form (no more than 300 words) or in visual or video format (less than 6 minutes), and entries are due by March 1.

In developing his entry, Buntrock has an extensive scientific background from which to draw. He is a semiretired chemist who does chemical information consulting and book reviews under the company name Buntrock Associates. He graduated with a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1962, and he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton University in 1967. Before starting his company, Buntrock worked in industry for nearly 30 years at Air Products & Chemicals and Amoco Corp. A successful researcher, he holds three patents and has almost 200 publications.

With such an accomplished science career, Buntrock can’t wait to join in the Flame Challenge excitement. “I may have so much fun,” he says, “that I’ll enter again” next year.

Amusing News Aliquots

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


PB&J: Usually carnivorous, these jellyfish were fed only peanut butter. Credit: Zelda Montoya and Barrett Christie / Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park, Dallas via NBC

Dallas aquarium creates peanut butter and jellyfish by feeding jellyfish a steady diet of peanut butter. Rhesus monkeys eagerly await a diet of peanut butter cups. [NBC]

Governor of Colorado renames state’s tallest mountains in honor of all 53 players on the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl roster. The gesture provides the NFL with yet another opportunity to not discipline players for getting high before a game. [Denver Post

Because we need more online distractions, now you can build with Legos on your computer. [Chrome]

It turns out there are snakes in the air. “Yeah,” say nonplussed travelers. “They’re called price-gouging airline executives.” [Discovery]

The latest in army technology? Chewing gum for better dental health. Take note, Violet Beauregarde. [Army Times/USA Today]

Snowy owl gets lost in Washington, D.C., hit by bus, rushed to zoo for care. Witch at Hogwarts still awaiting her mail. [NPR] 

Research shows that sit-down restaurants often serve meals with higher fat and calorie content than fast-food restaurants. So stop complaining the next time your boyfriend takes you to Taco Bell instead of a four-star restaurant, ladies. [Yahoo]

In allergy study, 88% of kids allergic to peanuts could tolerate eating the equivalent of five peanuts after treatment regimen. So, what about the 12%? [Popular Science]

Flatulent German cows start fire. Cows blame a long night of drinking heifer weizen. [Reuters]

Amusing News Aliquots

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

Credit: Photo by Lary Reeves

Credit: Lary Reeves

Spiders are capable of building statues of themselves. Which is cool, but let’s all admit that it’s a little narcissistic as well. [Wired]

Scientists show that people can detect levels of fat in food just by smell. Everyone who has ever smelled a juicy hamburger agrees. [Science Daily]

Remember those strawberry-scented fireworks that lit up London on New Year’s? Here’s a profile of their creators. [Wired]

Study finds that more than 50% of singles have difficulty discerning whether they’re on a date or not. So the next time you see a couple hanging out, think to yourself, “There’s a good chance one of those two people has no idea what’s going on.” [Time]

MIT students learn about heavy metal. And no, we’re not talking about the elements. We’re talking about the music. Lesson #1: “Always end with an explosion.” [Slice of MIT]

Japan’s space agency, JAXA, plans to trawl for space debris with a huge electrodynamic net. George Clooney fans cry that it’s too little too late.  [New Scientist]

Mystery of sloths’ tri-weekly poop pilgrimage may be more symbiotic than once thought. [National Geographic]

And when the sloths do come down to poop, someone may be combing their fur for drugs. [PLoS One]

Pot cultivator says classical music helps his crop grow better. Given that the cultivator managed a $500,000-a-year operation, the claim is certainly nothing to … Bach at. Wait, where are you going? Come back! [Fairfax New Zealand]

Amusing News Aliquots

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


The purrr-fect book. Credit: prideandprejudiceandkitties.com

Finally, a book that explores the proper etiquette for spitting up a hair ball in public: “Pride and Prejudice and Kitties.” [Mother Nature Network]

More feline news: Looks like U.S. prisons are too posh. After all, cats looking for a comfortable home are now breaking into them. [Glens Falls Post-Star]

Think your graduate work was tough? At least you didn’t have to attach a camera to an alligator’s back. [Seriously, Science?]

Study suggests MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” might be driving down teen pregnancies. Next up, “Teens Who Don’t Do Their Homework”? [USA Today]

While the Newscripts gang was bundled up and hiding from the polar vortex, this Canadian fellow created a colored ice fort. [BoingBoing]

Did we all just assume that the flying V formation gave birds an aerodynamics push? Turns out it was just scientifically shown for the first time. [NPR]

Police arrest man for insobriety after his parrot tells police that he is drunk. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the man. He thought he had a parrot for a pet, but it turns out his pet was really a rat. [United Press International]

In the real-life Japanese version of “Good Will Hunting,” the university janitor creates a gorgeous, unsolvable maze in his spare time. [Viralnova]

Skip the plug-in night-lights, now you can buy bioluminescent house plants for all your nighttime low-light needs. [Popular Science]

When those pesky moral dilemma tests are presented in virtual reality–complete with carnage and screams–turns out people get more emotionally riled, but also more utilitarian. Sorry, best friend. [Time]



Amusing News Aliquots

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

Dragon dreams: Seven-year-old girl writes (and draws) to scientists asking for a dragon. Credit: Jezebel

Dragon dreams: Seven-year-old girl writes (and draws) to scientists asking for a dragon. Credit: Jezebel

Dear Scientists, a 7-year-old Australian girl named Sophie would like a dragon. Can we get on this, please? [Jezebel]

Prius owner turns his car into a generator during a power outage, now doubly smug. [UPI]

Not to be outdone, developers create portable battery that can charge a smartphone and jump start a car. [Popular Science]

Dolphins ingest pufferfish toxin and get so totally high, dude. [io9]

It was only a matter of time: Chemists publish an analysis of the chemistry in “Breaking Bad.” [Annals of Improbable Research]

Lion Whisperer brings along a GoPro camera so everyone can see what it looks like to hug a lion … from the safety and comfort of our own homes. [Huffington Post]

Beach worms could one day mend a broken heart. No, not your loneliness–like, seal up an actual tear in your heart muscles. [NPR]

Attention chemists skilled at assembling words or creating pictures: Only a few weeks left to get your entry ready for Chemistry World’s Science Communication Competition. [Chemistry World]

Vitamin D, Divider Of Good And Evil? We Don’t Think So

At the end of 2013, two researchers in the U.K. published a report suggesting a reason why good typically triumphs over evil in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy: vitamin D. Virtuous characters typically get a lot of sunlight, and villainous ones keep to the shadows, where ultraviolet light can’t help their skin produce the “sunshine vitamin,” the scientists argue. They back up their claim by evaluating characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” (the second installation of which is still kicking butt in theaters).
Although we admire these nerdy researchers’ efforts, we in the Newscripts gang were skeptical. So we once again turned to our resident Tolkien expert, Ty Finocchiaro. The following are his thoughts on the vitamin D-evil connection. He’s not buying it:

To think that a few hours of sunlight and a proper breakfast meant the difference between the Dark Lord Sauron’s victory and defeat at the close of the 3rd age is fairly preposterous. But that’s just what a curious paper entitled “The Hobbit – An Unexpected Deficiency” by Joseph and Nicholas Hopkinson hints at. While the article is a fine initial effort, I’d like to take a bit of time to point out a few inconsistencies and oddities in its methods and results as well as shed a bit of light on further discussion topics.

The study chose to concentrate on dietary vitamin D intake along with average sun exposure levels of the main races and a few dramatis personae from ”The Hobbit.” Seven were picked to represent the side of Good and four the side of Evil (see Table 1). The authors assigned a “Vitamin D Score” from 0 to 4 for each race or character.

Reproduced from (Med. J. Aust. 2013; 199 (11): 805-806).

Reproduced from (Med. J. Aust. 2013; 199 (11): 805-806).

Right off the bat I take issue with a few glaring omissions on the side of Evil. For one thing, where are the Wargs? The canine beasts are a huge part of “The Hobbit.” They hunt lead dwarf Thorin and the rest of his company after their time beneath the Misty Mountains and are a major player in the Battle of Five Armies. To leave them out of the study is quite suspect. They do not fear sunlight like the bulk of Evil’s minions nor live in total darkness. As such they will provide a noticable boost to Evil’s Vitamin D average.

On the other side of the coin, I’d be remiss not to add the Giant Spiders of Mirkwood to the Evil roster. They are quite numerous in the region and would likely have been present in some form when the White Council came for the Necromancer in Dol Guldor. These creatures detest light however, so they’ll drag the score down a bit. But, fair’s fair. This new list is a better representation of the Evil forces found in The Hobbit. Now it’s time to adjust some of the numbers that I believe to be inaccurate (see Table 2).
Hobbit chart 2

Good’s Vitamin D scores were pretty spot-on and only minor adjustments are needed. Dwarves are a bit more tied to their underground environs than the numbers suggest. There’s a reason not many people have ever seen a dwarf female. Dwarves prefer to remain with good solid stone above their heads and inhabit the twilight realms of mountain depths for most of their lives. So they dropped from a score of 3 to a 2.

Eagles were set at a score of 3. I bumped this up to a 4 as they pretty much live in the clouds and can range for miles to find the best meal possible.

Evil needed some serious retooling because I felt the numbers were more than a bit skewed. As mentioned earlier, giant spiders get no sun. However they definitely have deep stores of food strung up in their tangled webs. They eat just fine, so I went with a score of 1. Wargs can travel long distances to get a decent meal much like the eagles and are tolerant of life under the sun. I score them at 3.

Now for a large oversight. Smaug scoring a zero? Really? C’mon. The dragon very likely hibernates for long periods of time to conserve energy and has no aversion to light. Smaug is essentially the ultimate predator in an area with no equal among his kind during this Age. So he eats what he wishes and goes where he likes – whenever he desires. Smaug does not want for anything except perhaps some decent conversation. Solid score of 3. Continue reading →

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news.

Credit: Canadian Tire

Credit: Canadian Tire

This pickup truck carved from ice is one cool ride. [Daily Mail]

What’s the difference between smelling like jet fuel and smelling like new jet fuel? One carbon, apparently. Check out this table of organic compounds and their smells to see what compounds attract sperm and what compounds smell like a combination of goat and citrus. [James Kennedy/Monash University]

Scientists in Japan make small objects levitate and dance (with video!). What I really want to see though, is this technology transferred to the dance floor. [io9]

Fluorescent pigs? Could make for an interesting “Babe” sequel. [Stuff]

For Britain to get a high speed railway, 6,000 goats will have to die. Baa, say the goats, to obscure vellum laws. [Annals of Improbable Research]

And because it’s winter and snowing where I am, here is Derek Lowe’s cold weather chicken noodle soup—with grated hardboiled eggs! [In the Pipeline]

Top 10 Chemistry Videos Of 2013

Although it’s our mission at Chemical & Engineering News to describe in words the wonders of chemistry, sometimes words just don’t do justice to the dynamics of a particular reaction or funky new material. Sometimes our prose just doesn’t capture a scientist’s excitement for research (or the time he spent playing the theme song to Super Mario Bros. with a chromatography column in the lab).

It’s those times when we turn to video.

Following are some of the Newscripts gang’s favorite clips of 2013. They’ve been collected from our blog and from our YouTube channel. Some we even homed in on and plucked from the roiling sea of inappropriate pop stars, prancercisers, and talkative foxes on the Interwebz last year.

And we did it all for you, dear readers. So pour something delicious into that mug that looks like a beaker, kick back next to your science fireplace … and enjoy!

Number 10: Alright, so this video isn’t technically chemistry—that’s why we’re ranking it last. But when a theoretical physicist uses the melody to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to sing about string theory, we’re gonna take note. Did we mention the Einstein sock puppet?

Number 9: Unless you lived under a rock in 2013, you probably heard about a little show called “Breaking Bad.” In this clip, Donna Nelson, science advisor to the show and chemistry professor, discusses some memorable chemical moments from the series. (Alright, alright, we admit this video made the countdown not only because it’s awesome but also because we like hearing Nelson talk about C&EN.)

Number 8: Last year, the folks across the pond at the Periodic Table of Videos filmed a number of chemical reactions with a high-speed camera to learn more about reaction dynamics. This video, about a reaction called “the barking dog,” is their most recent—and one of our faves. It’s got historic footage of explosives lecturer Colonel BD Shaw and current footage of Martyn “The Professor” Poliakoff. Need we say more?

Number 7: Yo, yo, yo! These dope 7th graders made a hot “rap battle” video last year that details the historic tensions between Rosalind Franklin and the notorious DNA duo, Watson & Crick. Word … to their mothers, for having such creative kids.

Number 6: You couldn’t open your news feed in 2013 without finding at least 10 concurrent stories about 3-D printing. One stood out for us, though: Researchers at the University of Oxford printed eye-popping, foldable structures out of liquid droplets. Continue reading →

Merry Christmas From Newscripts!

C&ENtreeStraight-on View_DSC_8885 As Chemistry World reminded us this year, the holidays aren’t really the holidays unless you’re basking in the glow of a chemistree. Lucky for us, Newscripts has two this holiday season! The chemistree to the left was built at Caltech by Douglas L. Smith, a legacy content producer at the school, who shared his picture with Newscripts. The image certainly warmed our hearts: Chemical Christmas trees are a tradition here at Newscripts.

And on the right is a Christmas tree made up of C&EN covers. The decoration comes courtesy of our magazine’s printer, Brown Printing.

Newscripts is about to open the gifts underneath our C&EN tree, but before we do, we want to wish you and yours a happy and healthy new year! Thanks for a great 2013.

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