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In Print: Science Should Be Seen And Not Smelt

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.

Cameo: Star Trek's USS Enterprise was filmed partially in LLNL’s National Ignition Facility. Credit: Paramount Pictures

Cameo: Star Trek’s USS Enterprise was filmed partially in LLNL’s National Ignition Facility. Credit: Paramount Pictures

Let’s be honest, there’s probably sizable overlap in the Trekkie and science nerd populations. Which is why it makes so much sense that this summer’s “Star Trek Into Darkness” teamed up with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to create realistic starships on the silver screen. The film crew transformed parts of LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) to create the engine room of Captain Kirk’s USS Enterprise and parts of the Federation’s USS Vengeance, explains Senior Editor Jyllian Kemsley in last week’s print column.

Jyllian toured NIF in 2009 to report on the facility opening, and this summer, she watched “Star Trek Into Darkness” in theaters. “This summer, I deliberately chose to see the Star Trek movie before I talked to LLNL about it. Four years after touring the facility, I was curious whether I could identify it in the movie,” she says. “It was an interesting experience, because I was sitting there watching the movie, getting into the plot but trying to remain conscious of the movie scenery, when they got to the first USS Enterprise engine room scene and there was NIF’s reaction chamber! You can see it in the ‘Final Approach’ photo in my 2009 story. NIF’s Valerie Roberts told me that her experience watching the movie was similar.”

Roberts, who describes her job as the “chief operating officer” of NIF, found her experience during filming “really neat.” After hearing Roberts’ account of the film crew’s work, Jyllian found it interesting that the two teams were alike in how they carry out projects: “For two seemingly very disparate organizations—a national lab and a movie crew—they actually sound pretty similar in how they execute projects. Both do detailed plans and schedules, and the teams are very structured in that each person has a specific role to play.”

Interested in taking a Trekkie/science nerd pilgrimage to see the lab? Jyllian says LLNL offers public tours that include NIF.

Outhouse: Birds hang out on the cliffs above La Jolla Cove, "painting" the rocks white. Credit: Flickr/PrettyKateMachine

Outhouse: Birds hang out on the cliffs above La Jolla Cove, “painting” the rocks white. Credit: Flickr/PrettyKateMachine

If travel plans to a scenic coastal spot sound more appealing, perhaps try the Golden State. California’s La Jolla Cave is known for its picturesque beaches, prime snorkeling locale, and, lately, sh*tty aroma. And that’s because the rocks are covered in poop.

A couple of years ago, the city of San Diego banned people from walking on the cove, leaving it wide open for birds to hang out and inevitably poop there. Reports of the stench eventually reached the office of Mayor Bob Filner, who deemed the bird doo a public health hazard.

That’s when scientists from Blue Eagle Distribution swooped in with a concoction to solve the problem with a bacterial solution. The foamy solution contains five species of Bacillus bacteria, which happily eat up the waste, along with a coconut-palm-based surfactant and a biodegradable acrylic polymer thickener.

For those concerned with adding bacteria to the ecosystem, Jyllian says the Blue Eagle scientists applied the solution as a foam rather than a liquid to minimize runoff and the crew avoided working during rainy days. As for a potential bacteria explosion, Jyllian says, “I assume that once their food supply (the poop) runs out, they die off—if not entirely, at least to background levels. Let’s remember that our environment is full of bacteria!”

By all accounts, the bacteria worked wonders on the stench, and Blue Eagle uses bacterial methods to clean up waste from restaurants, sewage, and dumpsters. Similarly, Jyllian wrote a couple of years ago about how wastewater treatment plants were experimenting with microbial biofilms to purify drinking water. So go, little bacteria, go–clean our water and our waste.

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