In Print: ACS Member Finds Success On ‘Jeopardy!’ And Millipedes Light Up

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.

Answer: These topics appear in this week’s print Newscripts column. Question: What are a “Jeopardy!” champion and a fluorescent millipede?


All smiles: Whitener shows off his pearly whites during his “Jeopardy!” run. Credit: Jeopardy Productions

In April 22's C&EN, associate editor Emily Bones chronicles American Chemical Society member Keith E. Whitener Jr.’s recent winning streak on television's “Jeopardy!” In the fall of last year, Whitener won the quiz show seven times, nabbing $148,597 in cash plus an additional $100,000 for being the first runner-up in last February’s Tournament of Champions.

It’s tough to hear of Whitener’s success and not assume he had an easy time on the syndicated game show. But according to Emily, the Tournament of Champions, a two-week-long competition featuring prior "Jeopardy!" winners, was particularly challenging for Whitener. She remembers Whitener telling her, “Since everyone there was at least a four-time champion, the games tended to fly by. I’m not particularly fast on the buzzer, so it was a little bit intimidating for me.”

Whitener attributes his "Jeopardy!" success to his scientific pedigree—he researched endohedral fullerenes during his time as a Yale University grad student, and he currently works as a postdoctoral researcher of graphene surface chemistry at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.—which helped him clean up in the science categories. Emily, who is a former high school chemistry teacher, however, thinks something else might have been afoot during Whitener’s impressive run.

“The other contestants probably second-guessed themselves or deferred to Whitener because he was a scientist, or as soon as they saw science was the category, they figured it was out of their league,” she says. “These were usually the prejudices I dealt with when teaching, and it’s the number one thing I worked on with my students—don’t be afraid of science; conquer it.”


Got a light?: This millipede does. Credit: Alexander Nguyen

The second part of Emily’s column explores a luminescent millipede that was recently discovered on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. Scientists are working to identify the particular compound that the millipede, Xystocheir dissecta, uses to fluoresce.

The creepy-crawly subject matter of the story initially turned Emily off, but she’s changed her mind since recently spending time with a toddler on vacation.  “Before that experience I probably would have seen [the millipede]; said, ‘Yuck’; and walked right on by,” she says. “Now, after seeing the world through a two-and-a-half-year-old’s eyes, I’d probably say, ‘Cool,’ and pick it up to get a closer look.”

But gaining a new appreciation for Earth's creatures isn't the only reason to check out this week's print column. “Need to brush up on your arthropod knowledge for your next big shot at America’s Favorite Quiz Show?” Emily asks. Then take “ ‘Glow in the Dark’ for $500.”

Author: Jeff Huber

Jeff Huber is an associate editor at C&EN. He enjoys finding peculiar news stories that make him laugh and/or tilt his head in a thoughtful manner. This hobby has served him well as a contributor to the Newscripts blog.

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