Category → Miscellaneous
The Oscars were last Sunday. It was a time for us, the moviegoing public, to take to social media and cattily comment on Zac Efron’s inability to read a teleprompter …
— Caroline ♡ (@carojess99) March 3, 2014
John Travolta’s mispronunciation of the name of “Let It Go” singer Idina Menzel …
"You know what they call Idina Menzel in Paris" – John Travolta
— Josh Hara (@yoyoha) March 3, 2014
and Kim Novak’s bizarre spotlight-seeking behavior at an award show where she wasn’t even nominated …
— Sean O'Neal (@seanoneal) March 3, 2014
But what about us members of the moviegoing public who are also science nerds? Where can we go to talk about how our favorite subject permeated this year’s nominated films? Why, to the Newscripts blog, of course! This year, we break down the science portrayed in each of the Best Picture nominees, ranking them from least to most amount of scientific material tackled. And if you think we missed some crucial science in the movies, sound off in our comments section. Also, be warned, spoilers are sprinkled throughout this post, so if you’re planning to catch up on these nominees sometime in the future, proceed with caution. Now, without further ado, the nominees are ...
9. “12 Years a Slave”
Synopsis: Freeman Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is sold into slavery and spends 12 years toiling in the fields of the antebellum South. Director Steve McQueen uses excruciatingly long takes to force his audience to confront the violence of the U.S.’s dark past. By not cutting away from such cruelty, the film captivates in its brutal honesty. This really is the best picture of 2013.
Is there science? Not really. By virtue of being a period piece, “12 Years a Slave” comes closest to touching the subject of science when it reminds its audience of the technological advances our current society enjoys over pre-Civil War America; one such reminder occurs when Northup struggles to write a letter home to his family using ink he made from crushed berries. But outside of such reminders of our advancements in technology, the film doesn’t offer much scientific fodder.
8. “American Hustle”
Synopsis: A team of professional swindlers (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) are forced to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation in a sting operation on corrupt politicians. Cowriter and director David O. Russell packs the movie with enough flashy costumes, big hair, and loud music to almost distract you from the fact that the movie’s glut of dialogue diminishes its coherence. Almost.
Is there science? Like “12 Years a Slave,” the science in “American Hustle” largely stems from the fact that the movie is a period piece, and no scene in the movie references science more overtly than the scene in which Bale’s bored housewife, played by Jennifer Lawrence, places an aluminum container with tinfoil in a microwave that was given as a gift to Bale’s character by Camden, N.J., mayor Carmine Polito. After the microwave bursts in flames, Lawrence berates her husband for bringing a “science oven” into their home that she believes “takes all the nutrition out of our food.” Surprisingly, concern over the nutritional content of microwaved food is something that we’re still debating today, although such worries are unfounded. Another point of contention with this scene in the movie? Apparently, metal can’t catch fire in a microwave. (Warning: Video contains not-safe-for-work language.)
Cleantech start-up Liquid Light is hitting the road to market its catalytic technology that takes in CO2 to make chemicals. C&EN science reporter Mitch Jacoby included the company in his July 1 feature about methods to use electrochemistry to convert CO2 to valuable products.
Earlier this week, the company announced that it now has a lab scale prototype and is targeting production of ethylene glycol (MEG – with the M for “mono”). MEG is commonly known to consumers as antifreeze, but the bulk of it is used as an intermediate chemical in the production of polyester and PET resins. Shell Chemicals is a leader in MEG production with its own OMEGA catalytic process.
C&EN spoke with Liquid Light’s CEO Kyle Teamey while he was at the airport. Teamey is calling on potential licensees who may be interested in investing in the firm’s next step: a larger, real-world installation to further demonstrate the technology. The firm currently has backing from VantagePoint Capital Partners, BP Ventures, Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, and Osage University Partners.
The following is a lightly edited Q&A.
CC: What sources and types of CO2 streams are you targeting?
KT: The idea is to use industrial point sources of CO2, ideally one that is located in an existing chemical production area, petrochemical plant, or refinery site. In terms of cost structure, we assume the cost that is associated with using conventional carbon capture technology. Estimates from those technology providers have led us to assume $80 per ton, though it can range wildly between $5-150. We want pipeline grade CO2, relatively pure but not completely squeaky clean.
Still, we have a stable catalyst for making a lot of different chemicals, there are chemicals that can be made with very impure CO2, that includes SOx, NOx, oxygen, CO, and mercury. We’re not going to hook the thing up to a coal fire power plant, but there are opportunities out there.
CC: What would be the source of hydrogen?
KT: Customers would be able to use the lowest cost hydrogen available on market, like from dereforming of methane, or unconventional ones like water electrolysis. Ultimately we want to provide technology for customers to reach whatever goals they have – they could even set up at a remote site to use CO2.
CC: How did you come to lead this effort at Liquid Light?
KT: I was an entrepreneur in residence with a venture capital fund – I came in with the intent on starting this company. I’m more like a utility infielder than a pinch hitter.
CC: Who are you speaking with now to advance the technology, and what kind of reception are you getting as a tech start-up?
KT:There is still a lot of interest from the petrochemical industry in new carbon feedstocks. Particularly something, in the case of CO2, that is low cost. With a captive industrial point source, there is no price volatility of that input.
You can configure the process in such a way that you significantly reduce the carbon footprint of manufacturer, to help hit economic and environmental goals simultaneously. Most manufacturers look at this from an economic standpoint.We have a lot of people excited about the MEG process, other groups are interested in other chemicals aside from MEG. That’s why I’m at the airport this morning.
CC: How big is your lab prototype and what scale are you ultimately targeting?
KT: It’s coffee-table sized. The prototype weighs a lot. Ultimately we would go to world-scale size for the product we are making. With the electrochemical technology, you scale up by stacking. You can make smaller amounts of specialty chemicals or build out for larger market chemicals like MEG.
CC: What is it like to be involved at a start-up at this point in the process?
KT: The opportunity to bring a new chemical feedstock online is lots of fun – there is a lot of excitement. It is still a relatively early-stage company, but from a job perspective, I’ve found nothing is more satisfying than taking something from a concept to a reality. It has been really exciting to watch these things move into beaker scale a few years ago and then to lab scale. And now I can’t wait to get to the next scale.
Slowly but surely, though, beta testers in Google’s Explorers program have been making a case for the sophisticated eyewear by demonstrating its unique—sometimes scientific–capabilities. Physics teacher Andrew Vanden Heuvel famously shared his visit to the Large Hadron Collider, in Switzerland, with his students via Glass. Ohio surgeon Christopher Kaeding gave medical students a live, bird’s eye view of a knee operation he conducted while wearing the device.
And now, a research team led by Aydogan Ozcan of the University of California, Los Angeles, is using Google Glass to help diagnose and track disease. The engineers designed an app for the wearable computer that images and reads rapid diagnostic tests such as pregnancy pee sticks. It also links the results to a scannable QR code, stores them, and tags them geographically.
“The new technology could enhance the tracking of dangerous diseases and improve response time in disaster-relief areas or quarantine zones where conventional medical tools are not available or feasible,” Ozcan says.
Among the first to be selected by Google as Explorers, Ozcan and his team demonstrated the capabilities of their new app by using it to read a few types of home HIV and prostate cancer tests—ones that require an oral swab or a drop of blood to work. They recently published their efforts in ACS Nano (2014, DOI: 10.1021/nn500614k). Continue reading →
Silly samplings from this week’s science news, lovingly compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.
Sriracha science. That’s hot! [ACS Reactions/YouTube]
A North Korea zoo welcomes a pack of Yorkshire terriers to its list of attractions. The zoo says to stay tuned for even more exciting additions, including an ant, a pineapple wearing sunglasses, and mold growing on a block of cheese. [Sky]
Scientists don’t need celebrities like Kimye and Brangelina to hook up in order to to smash a couple of names together. Behold, the newly created particle “Dropleton,” a quantum droplet. [NBCNews]
Tired of making real molecules? Want to finally write that great novel? Well, use the elements in this Periodic Table of Storytelling to create “simple story molecules.” [Design Through Storytelling]
Finally, a genetic reason certain kids (and adults) poo-poo meals with cilantro, brussel sprouts, and kale. Now where’s the gene for not wanting to do the dishes? [iO9]
Female cat in France is being called a hero after saving 11 people from a burning building. The cat may have thwarted a house fire, but she has only stoked the fire in Pepé Le Pew’s heart for French felines even more. [Mother Nature Network]
Turns out the chickens laying the organic eggs are eating pricey imported food. They should probably just start laying golden eggs with those kinds of hoity-toity demands. [NPR]
More cat-fire news! Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have uncovered 500-year-old German manuscripts illustrating how to use a “rocket-cat” to set an enemy’s castle ablaze. Pentagon officials call it the purrrrr-fect way to launch a drone strike in the 16th century. [Philly.com]
They say, “one of the few pieces of art that can expand your mind and give you type 2 diabetes at the same time.” We say, “Sweet!” [Wired]
Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech in Indonesia early this week warning about failure to act against climate change attracted a lot of media attention.
Several news outlets, while covering Kerry’s remarks, stated that Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China. Both the New York Times and NPR’s News Hour reported this startling claim. It was not part of the Secretary’s statement.
And that’s a good thing, because it appears to be quite wrong. According to data released in October 2013 from the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change, Indonesia’s contribution of greenhouse gas is more comparable to that of Italy than to the U.S. or China.
Even when including land-use changes, a stringent measure that significantly increases Indonesia’s output, the archipelago emits fewer tons of GHG than the U.S., China, Russia, Brazil, India, Japan, Germany, Canada, UK, Mexico, and Australia.
So where does the “third-largest” factoid come from, then? From what I can tell, this was an estimate made by the UN back in 2005, shortly after the country ratified the Kyoto protocol. It is not clear how accurate that figure ever was. It’s true that Indonesia is still ranked fairly high considering that it is not a developed country, but in its defense, it is the fourth most populous nation on earth.
Another contributing factor to this claim is likely the many reports about deforestation and other actions in the country to convert land to agricultural uses, such as for palm oil plantations. These land use changes do make a huge contribution to emissions. Concerns about land conversion have driven demand for certified sustainable palm oil.
Still, if we’re going to call out specific countries for their overly-large contributions to climate change, let’s at least get our facts straight.
Silly samplings from this week’s science news, lovingly compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.
Cows make more milk when listening to R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.” We thought they’d be more into the band’s hit “Stand.” [Grist]
The cold of this year’s winter has killed off more stink bugs than usual, which is unfortunate because we now all have one less animal to blame our farts on this spring. [Washington Post]
Foiling Generation Y’s plan to replace actual human emotion with emoticons, study shows that our brains don’t process emoticons the same way we process human faces. [NBC]
That said, dogs and humans share similar neural processing of voices and emotions, leading parents to wonder if they have more in common with their pets than with their texting tweens. [Wired]
The next time you’re tempted to go to bed early at a scientific meeting rather than stay out drinking with your fellow conferees, remember that’s how Peter Higgs lost out on his first opportunity to win the Nobel Prize. [BBC]
This remote-control Nerf-firing robot could be fun at the next office party. [Gizmodo]
Most e-cigarettes let people smoke indoors, but the Supersmoker Bluetooth now lets people answer their phones between puffs. [Gizmodo]
Pet octopuses demand constant attention, expensive food, and tremendous amounts of upkeep. But those aren’t the only reasons to get one! [Mother Nature Network]
Study suggests that cats are more likely to bite depressed people. So the next time a cat bites you, don’t blame it, blame your ineffective antidepressants instead. [Popular Science]
Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.
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]
This dispatch from the American Cleaning Institute show is a guest post by Mike McCoy. Thanks Mike!
John Monks is moving to Montana.
That’s one of several changes precipitated by an impending round of funding for Rivertop Renewables, a biobased chemicals company headquartered in Missoula, Mont.
Monks has been Rivertop’s vice president of business development since May 2013. He came to the startup following stints at two larger industrial biotech firms, Genencor and DSM.
Monks and his wife now live in the Chicago area, but the pending infusion of venture capital will put Rivertop on solid financial footing, he says, and prepare it for life as a going commercial operation. Monks needs to be in Missoula to help make it happen.
Rivertop produces chemicals from biomass. What separates it from the firms Monks used to work for is that the conversion is carried out not by fermentation but via a chemical synthesis, in this case a carbohydrate oxidation developed by Donald E. Kiely, a University of Montana emeritus chemistry professor.
Glucaric acid made from glucose is Rivertop’s first product. Monks was at the American Cleaning Institute’s annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., last week to promote the chemical as a raw material for the detergents industry.
Rivertop says glucaric acid is a chelating agent that works almost as well as sodium tripolyphosphate did in laundry detergents and automatic dishwasher detergents. Phosphates were legislated out of U.S. laundry detergents decades ago and out of dishwasher detergents in 2010.
Detergent makers have come up with phosphate replacements, but they tend to be expensive or otherwise flawed. Monks says manufacturers are receptive to the idea of an efficacious and cost-effective alternative.
At present, Rivertop’s glucaric acid is being toll-produced by DTI, a contract manufacturer in Danville, Va., that can turn out about 8 million lb of the chemical per year. Although Monks won’t disclose more about the financing until it is completely nailed down in the next month or two, he does say the additional cash will allow output to increase further. Moreover, it should set Rivertop on a path to build its own commercial-scale glucaric acid facility, likely in cooperation with a partner.
Another thing the cash will do is allow Rivertop to double its workforce in Missoula from the present staff of 18. Monks is looking forward to his move to Montana, but he acknowledges that the location might not appeal to everyone. “Flying in and out of Missoula isn’t the easiest thing to do,” he says.