Amusing News Aliquots
Mar14

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week's science news, compiled by Lauren Wolf. Today’s Pi Day! Celebrate by, um, tossing hotdogs down a hallway. [WikiHow] Harvard is making robot bees. Sigh. Hasn’t ANYONE watched “2001: A Space Odyssey,” or “iRobot”? Sure, robobees are super cool, but this isn’t going to end well. [iO9] DNA from fish (herring) sperm is a flame retardant, study shows. Hmmm … that’s going to be an interesting production/extraction process. [Wired] Smart people like curly fries. Straight men often do Internet searches for “Being confused after waking up from naps.” This, according to a study of Facebook by Cambridge University researchers. [NBC Bay Area] We thought that to bend the spoon with your mind, you have to realize that there is no spoon. What do we know? This guy says it has something to do with respiration. [Improbable Research] Pass the Juicy Fruit: People chewing gum focus longer on a task than those who aren’t. [iO9]...

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Profile: Alfredo M. Ayala Jr., Disney Imagineer
Mar30

Profile: Alfredo M. Ayala Jr., Disney Imagineer

Posted on behalf of Carmen Drahl Alfredo M. Ayala Jr. majored in chemistry in college, but these days he dabbles in a very special kind of alchemy. He's been with Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development for over 15 years, where his job is to create new illusions and experiences for Disney park guests. And as he explained Sunday at the ACS national meeting in Anaheim, it was organic chemistry that got his foot in the door. Ayala said he fell in love with science as a boy when he saw "Antimatter", an animated look at the atomic world by Carlos Gutierrez, a UCLA film major turned chemistry major and organic chemistry professor. As it so happened, Gutierrez became Ayala's mentor when the young Ayala came to Cal State L.A., through Gutierrez's program for engaging junior high and high school students interested in biomedical sciences. At Cal State L.A., Ayala followed his interests in chemistry and in computers, taking engineering coursework in addition to chemistry. He was an undergraduate researcher in Gutierrez's organic chemistry lab when he applied for an internship with the Disney company. Disney asked its prospective interns to write a paragraph about why they wanted the gig. But instead of just gushing about how cool it would be to work with the company, Ayala took a different tack. He knew Imagineers were looking to reformulate the skin material for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, which at the time contained chromium, a non-chlorine scavenger, as a heat stabilizer. By not having a chlorine scavenger, hydrochloric acid was being produced in reactions with water, which in turn corroded parts that would need to be replaced periodically. Ayala sent Disney three proposals for alternative skin formulas, based on some chemistry he had done forming precursors to analogs of 18-crown-6 ethers in the Gutierrez group. In this 1995 Tet. Lett. paper the group begins with some tin-containing acetals and forms two different crown ether precursors depending on whether they add 1,2-dibromoethane or 2-chloroethanol. “Note we were scavenging chlorine and bromine- this is how I got the idea,” Ayala says. His ingenuity on the application paid off in the form of an interview. "That was what got me in," he says. He's been with Disney ever since. "You'd be surprised how much chemistry goes on at Disney," Ayala says. Building one Disney attraction takes experts in 140 disciplines, from mechanical engineering to art. And chemistry challenges are everywhere at the parks, Ayala says. Research in materials science for skin and other applications is an active area. "The skin formulation I worked on as an intern is obsolete," he says. An...

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