Amusing News Aliquots
Sep19

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai and Bethany Halford. Combine a physics grad student, musical talent, video know-how, and an Einstein sock puppet, and you get an awesome “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover about string theory (withvideo). [io9] We’re going to need bigger Q-tips. Turns out whale earwax contains information about environmental contaminants. [NatGeo] This just in from Boston: Red sports teams are more likely to win. [Seriously, Science?] Not to be confused with terrifying snakes, there are now four new species of legless lizards to haunt your dreams. [CNN] Did NASA just find Han Solo on Mercury? [io9] Yahoo! has designed a 3-D printing search engine for the visually impaired–and, well, for anyone because it’s awesome (with video)....

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Watch the Ig Nobel Prizes Here
Sep12

Watch the Ig Nobel Prizes Here

Break out your paper airplanes. Tonight’s the big night in Cambridge, Mass., as folks from five continents gather to claim their awards “for achievements that first make people LAUGH, and then make them THINK” at the 23rd First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. Who will win the coveted chemistry prize? What will this year’s mini-opera be about? How often will Miss Sweetie Poo, a cute but implacable eight-year-old girl, come to the stage to demand winners stop talking with the refrain, “Please stop, I’m bored.” All these questions and more will be answered tonight. And, dear readers, if you’d like to watch the broadcast live you can join the Newscripts Gang for the festivities right...

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In Print: Chemical Makeup Predicts Wealth, Mailing Poop
Sep03

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....

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Nerd Nite Globalfest
Aug21

Nerd Nite Globalfest

(OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Esoteric Minutia) This post was written by Rick Mullin, author of the blog “The Fine Line,” business reporter for C&EN, and, apparently, a nerd. I arrived early and waited outside with the first two nerds on the scene. We sipped our coffee next to the chalkboard indicating we had come to the right place: “Nerd Nite Globalfest” at the Brooklyn Lyceum. Yes, I went to Nerd Nite Globalfest. My business journalist colleagues demurred when the home office (C&EN headquarters in D.C.) inquired as to whether one of us in the Manhattan bureau might want to swing by the event for a day and see what it’s all about.  But I gave it a little more thought:  “Nerd Nite,” I said to myself. “A conclave of people so unlike me that I will have an opportunity to do some truly objective reporting.” Or … not. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Nerd Nite would be an excellent place to assess the pop culture phantasmagoria into which science would seem to be sliding all helter skelter, what with the rise of science-y sit-coms and TED Talks. And what better place than Brooklyn, N.Y., to investigate the conflation of nerd and hipster—a troubling social phenomenon that threatens to turn the definition of nerd upside down. I realized I had some strong opinions. But I kept them to myself while chatting with my two nerd companions, Cristina Romagnoli and Gunther Oakey outside the lyceum this past Saturday. Romagnoli told me how she had attended a previous Nerd Nite in Orlando, shortly before moving to Brooklyn this summer.  “I felt that I’d found my folk down in Florida,” she said. And these folk told her about the Brooklyn Globalfest, which was obviously an ideal way to get back with her people in her new hometown. “So I showed up last night and met up with the five Nerd Bosses from Orlando!” Oakey told a familiar story of grade school ostracism followed by nerd solidarity and collectivism in boarding school, after which things got even better. “Luckily, we are in the Golden Age of Nerdom, where movies and pop culture are all, sort of, glorifying nerds,” Oakey said. Inside, I met organizer Matt Wasowski, who is the “Big Boss” of Nerd Nite. He explained to me how the series evolved from a regular gathering of scientists in a bar in the Jamaica Plain area of Boston in 2003. The bartender begged these people to stop talking, or to try to organize their endless science discussions into something like a monthly meeting,...

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In Print: Pitch Drop Experiment Tests Our Patience
Aug02

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. 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...

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In Print: When Zombies Help Us Escape
Jul29

In Print: When Zombies Help Us Escape

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. Postapocalyptic films, video games, and nightmares typically involve escaping from zombies. But in the Science Museum of London’s ZombieLab exhibit, visitors were asked to help virtual zombies escape in an emergency. In turn, scientists behind the museum’s video game got to learn a little bit about human behavior in emergency evacuations. The exhibit featured many zombie-based experiments that observe human behavior, asking questions such as “Can you act rationally during a zombie apocalypse?” and “Can virtual reality create the illusion that you’re dissociated from your own body?” They even delved into moral dilemmas that arise from acting violently in self-defense. In an experiment that associate editor Andrea Widener writes about in this week’s column, 185 volunteers were asked to navigate their zombie avatars into a building and find a specific room. They were then instructed to guide their zombies to a new target outside of the building. There were two exits: the one that player had entered and another almost identical exit that was clearly visible but hadn’t been used by the player. Some players were told it was a race and some were not. The players who weren’t rushed were equally likely to guide their zombie pals out either exit, leading to an efficient evacuation. But the players who were told bigger, badder zombies were coming and to hurry up (okay, that’s some embellishment on Newscripts’ part) were more likely to race their zombies back out the door they entered, even if that meant there was a bottleneck at this door and not at the other one (as depicted in the accompanying graphic). The scientists see this as an opportunity to help out with crowd control at major venues such as sporting events, Andrea says, which she thinks is a good idea, given the results. “In real life, it’s actually much more logical that people choose the way they have been before since they don’t know what they are going to get the other way,” she says. “But sometimes they will just run by other clearly marked exits, which is dangerous in an actual emergency.” So in the event of an emergency, remember to use your brains. And in the event of a zombie apocalypse, remember to protect your brains....

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