In Print: Sriracha Sensation, Deceptive Dishware
Nov18

In Print: Sriracha Sensation, Deceptive Dishware

The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what’s going on this week’s issue of C&EN. Bam! The Newscripts column is kicking things up a notch this week with its profile of Sriracha, the spicy condiment that is turning heads and clearing sinuses all over the world. As C&EN Associate Editor Andrea Widener explains in her column, Sriracha has a devoted fan base that loves to put the Sriracha rooster logo on everything from iPhone cases to T-shirts. Explaining the hot sauce’s popularity, Andrea says, “Sriracha is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy, but it’s not so hot that only hard-core spice lovers can enjoy it.” What’s more, Sriracha is “a little exotic, since it was first made to be eaten on Vietnamese pho soup, so that draws in the foodies.” But it turns out not everyone is a fan of the hot sauce. Residents of Irwindale, Calif., are actually suing Sriracha manufacturer Huy Fong Foods for inducing headaches and burning eyes that they believe are caused by the company’s nearby Sriracha plant. It’s the kind of public relations nightmare that could really hurt a product’s popularity … if that product weren’t already so popular. Andrea, for one, has no plans of curbing her Sriracha consumption anytime soon. “I have a bottle at home right now, and it has made a lot of meals better,” she says. Andrea’s love of the condiment has led her to do everything from buying the snack food Sriracha peas, to making Sriracha mac and cheese, to eagerly awaiting the sale of Sriracha candy canes this holiday season. That last part might sound a little crazy, but it’s actually pretty tame compared with the lengths other Sriracha lovers will go to enjoy their favorite condiment. For instance, Andrea doesn’t plan to chug three consecutive bottles of Sriracha in the near future. Sticking with her culinary theme, Andrea uses the second part of her column to talk about a recent study that found that the color and weight of cutlery can significantly influence a person’s perception of the food they eat. For instance, Andrea says, the study found that people, for some reason, expect food served on blue plates to be salty: a fact that can lead to disappointment if the food is not actually salty. “It makes me think I should get rid of my blue dinner plates,” Andrea jokes. The researchers also discovered that people perceive food served with metal-colored plastic silverware as tasting worse than food served with differently colored plastic silverware. The researchers posit that this is because eaters were...

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Turning A Hollywood Set Into A Laboratory
Oct28

Turning A Hollywood Set Into A Laboratory

Much has been made of the meticulously chosen props that decorate the set of AMC’s “Mad Men.” To bring the 1960s world of Don Draper to life—and to make it believable—set designers have gone above and beyond. The phones and typewriters in the office are vintage, genuine magazines from the era sit on tables, and real expense reports for characters cover the desks. Many of these details are never caught on camera, but the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, insists on them being there to lend “Mad Men” authenticity. I don’t think the same amount of ink has been put to paper describing the set design of CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory.” (Although the show has made a certain chemistry shower curtain quite popular.) But I would contend that bringing to life the apartments, offices, and laboratories of a group of geeky scientists who work at Caltech isn’t an easy job either. Sure, it’s not on the same scale as decorating a 1960s advertising agency, but it still requires some skill to illustrate for the public what academic life looks like. I recently stumbled upon a scientist in California who has, on occasion, lent a helping hand to make the labs of “Big Bang” realistic. Tommaso Baldacchini works for Newport Corp., a well-known international lasers and optics company that has a facility near Burbank. His “Big Break” with “Big Bang” came when the show introduced the character Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist played by Mayim Bialik. The show wanted to shoot Amy in her lab dissecting brains, and the props manager needed some plausible-looking microscopes to sit in the background. Baldacchini, whose specialty at Newport is two-photon nonlinear optical microscopy, got the call. “When the show started, the producers needed a way to fill the labs with scientific instruments,” Baldacchini says. “So they asked their science adviser [David Saltzberg of UCLA] to suggest a local company that could provide parts—and he mentioned Newport.” Naturally, Baldacchini’s favorite “Big Bang” episode so far has been one called “The Alien Parasite Hypothesis,” in which Amy and her loveable but narcissistic boyfriend, Sheldon Cooper, sit in front of a microscope set up by Baldacchini (see photo here). “She even refers to it as a two-photon microscope,” Baldacchini says, although he admits it doesn’t look exactly the way one would look in a real lab. I stumbled into contact with Baldacchini while tracking down the origin of a journal cover I spotted in the background of a “Big Bang” episode (that story’s here). The poster hangs on the wall in Sheldon’s office, and it’s a reasonable facsimile of the Journal of Physical Chemistry A, one...

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‘Breaking Bad’ Aliquots

Today’s post was written by C&EN Senior Editor Jyllian Kemsley, who, when she isn’t watching the TV show “Breaking Bad,” enjoys surfing the Web for “Breaking Bad” links and then writing about them. The end is almost here, and the Internet is gearing up. With the series finale of “Breaking Bad” set to air this Sunday on AMC, media outlets have unleashed a barrage of retrospectives and stories about the hit TV show. What’s more, a surprising number of these tributes actually focus on the science behind the show. Take, for instance, the above video in which Boing Boing counts down the top 11 “Breaking Bad” chemistry moments. Or, simply pick up this week’s issue of C&EN, in which I have a story about Donna Nelson, a University of Oklahoma chemistry professor who has spent the last several years volunteering as a science adviser to the television show. I connected Nelson with show producer Vince Gilligan after I first wrote about the show in 2008—something Nelson has graciously acknowledged in many interviews—and I enjoyed chatting with her as the series nears its end. To help all of us get through the last few days before the finale, here are a few of my favorite “Breaking Bad” offerings from across the Web. If, like some of my colleagues, you didn’t get the memo early enough and are only on season two, tread carefully—I won’t promise no spoilers! Wired interviewed some other “Breaking Bad” staff who help get the science right, researchers Gordon Smith and Jenn Carroll: “One day, Gordon and the writers asked me to figure out a way to knock out a surveillance camera, or—at the very least—to make a passerby invisible to the camera. As you might imagine, there aren’t many legal or convenient ways to go about this.” The Washington Post went over what “Breaking Bad” gets right, and wrong, about the meth business: “Could a genius innovator like Walt really become this successful? Are charismatic businessmen like Gus Fring running front businesses to hide their meth trade? Are super labs real?” “Today” talked “Breaking Bad” science and Walter White psychology with the show’s co-executive producer Peter Gould: “We went online and found this way of making a battery using pennies,” Gould said. “We actually built one in the writers’ room. It created a mild amount of current, and was sort of our proof of concept. Every once in a while, there would be a science experiment right there in the writers’ room. It turned out to be kind of a big mess.” At Slate, physician Haider Javed Warraich called “Breaking Bad” “TV’s best medical drama, ever“:...

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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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Amusing News Aliquots
Sep13

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber. One giant leap for mankind, one giant–er leap for frogkind. [NBCNews] Food firm attempts to make artificial eggs. Chickens everywhere squawk, “You try laying an egg, buddy.” [Daily Mail] Discarded food is responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than any country, except the U.S. and China. So you better eat that food that just fell out of your mouth in disbelief. [Mother Nature Network] Step 1: Get spider silk. Step 2: Make carbon nanotubes. Step 3: Smash them together to create ultrastrong electronics. [Txchnologist] Study finds that the likelihood of hangovers decreases with age. Finally! The excuse you needed to take your grandmother out clubbing. [Mother Nature Network] Sleep-deprived college students tired of chugging pumpkin spice lattes; one slightly more awake student invents bottle of caffeine to spray on the skin. [NPR] Cool science story alert: It’s got camouflage, squid, and graphene. [Telegraph] Aluminum bubble wrap, titanium foam, and graphene aerogels. Gizmodo rounds up this year’s must-have materials. [Gizmodo] According to new research, bullying is more likely to occur at schools that have anti-bullying programs. Sounds like there are some principals out there that deserve a wedgie....

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90 Obscure Reasons to Celebrate
Sep09

90 Obscure Reasons to Celebrate

While C&EN celebrates 90 years, the Newscripts column (or News-Scripts, as it was originally known) is also marking an anniversary that’s an integer of 10. The column debuted on July 10, 1943. For seven decades the Newscripts gang has been on the lookout for news that, as Newscripts Grand Master Ken Reese put it, “favors the chemical over the nonchemical, the scientific over the nonscientific, the grotesque over the normal.” Mostly we spend a paragraph or two on these, but occasionally just a sentence will do. And so there is the Department of Obscure Information. DOOI’s sentence-long factoids have been steadily supplying Newscripts readers with cocktail party fodder even before Reese took the reigns of the column in 1967. To mark C&EN’s 90th anniversary, we thought we’d give you 90 of these gems that have appeared over the years. Each day this week, we’ll add 19 18 new items to this space. Here’s Monday’s batch: 1) An old Arkansas cure for boils was to swallow buckshot every morning for nine days. (December 21, 1953) 2) The per capita consumption of coffee in the U.S. is 10 or 12 times as great as that of other English-speaking countries. In England, on the other hand, the per capita consumption of tea is 10 times as great as that of even China. (October 21, 1957) 3) In the 1967 “World Almanac,” the ACS Priestley Medal is listed right under the Pillsbury Baking Contest. (November 25, 1968) 4) The specific gravity of a tomato appears to be an indication of its ripeness. (December 9, 1968) 5) The second U.S. citizen to receive a Nobel Prize was charged with 129 infractions of the rules at the U.S. Naval Academy. (July 21, 1969) 6) An inch of rain falling evenly on 1 acre of ground is equivalent to about 27,205 gallons of water. (July 21, 1969) 7) American Oil’s No. 3 flare at Texas City, Tex., was reignited recently by a flaming arrow. (March 23, 1970) 8) Texas A&M will install an Astro Turf football field with an underground sprinkling system. (April 6, 1970) 9) The address of Reliable Chemical Co. is 10 Mothball Terrace, Passaic, N.J. (April 13, 1970) 10) The world’s largest one-piece molded polycarbonate part is an 11-pound snowmobile hood. (May 18, 1970) 11) The national average home electric rate in January 1969 was $18.03 for 1,000 kwh. (June 1, 1970) 12) The infrared heat detectors in the boa constrictors head are accurate to within 0.001 °C. (June 8, 1970) 13) The American Waterways Operators, Inc., has published a 108-page book entitled “Big Load Afloat.” (June 15, 1970) 14) The gopher’s incisors...

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