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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Amusing News Aliquots
Jul11

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber. Another reason to love London: A larger-than-life-size Mr. Darcy/Colin Firth emerges sexily from the Serpentine. [Time] Another reason to love Paris: A life-size chrome T. rex looms over the Seine. [Gizmodo India] They’re bringing the passenger pigeon back from extinction. Can’t wait to see what’s next! Woolly mammoth? Dodo? T. rex to look at its chrome skeleton in Paris? [Washington Post] Don’t like your broccoli? Blame California. [Slate] Nineteen-foot python breaks into an Australian thrift shop, leaving behind an impressive … scale of destruction. Wait! Where are you going? Come back! [WHTM-TV] Speaking of scales: It’s a fish-eat-fish world out there. Turns out fish have learned that you don’t have to swim faster than a predator, you just have to swim faster than the fish next to you. Biting said fish also helps. [iO9] Now designing high-tech toilets to get men to do what they shouldn’t need to be reminded to do—wash their hands. [NPR] Dog traveling alone jumps aboard a bus on the way to the Staten Island Ferry. Dog has its day of sightseeing ruined by animal control. [Free Republic] New study warns that the artificial sugar in diet sodas may hinder the body’s ability to process real sugar. But don’t worry! The American Beverage Association says everything’s okay....

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Playing With Science: Djerassi’s Latest ‘Chemistry-Centric’ Play Debuts In London
Sep28

Playing With Science: Djerassi’s Latest ‘Chemistry-Centric’ Play Debuts In London

This post was written by Alex Scott, senior editor for C&EN's business department, who is based in Europe. Smudged diagrams of chemicals on a white board, a desk overflowing with research papers and scientific journals: This might be a typical chemist’s office you’ve just walked into. Except it isn’t—it’s the set of “Insufficiency,” a whodunnit with a chemistry-centric plot and the ninth play by Carl Djerassi, the Austrian-American chemist and playwright. The play just started a four-week run in London’s Riverside Theatre and is being well-received. Djerassi, the inventor of the oral contraceptive pill, who is now 88, has set his play around the workings of a U.S. university chemistry department. The audience is a fly on the wall to the frustration and ambition of key players in the department and becomes the jury when Polish chemist Jerzy Krzyz is tried for a double murder. In “Insufficiency,” Djerassi informs the audience about the process of science, topical issues such as funding, scientific objectivity, obsession with results, subsequent pressure to publish results, and how personalities and relationships can get in the way of everything scientific. Bringing science into a play and presenting scientific concepts to the general public is an approach that Djerassi describes as his act of “intellectual smuggling.” And he does plenty of smuggling in “Insufficiency,” leading the audience through the development of a new field of science known as bubbleology. We even get to hear about the “fractal surface nature of bubbles” before the head of the chemistry department tells our Polish chemist and would-be murderer, “Enough about bubbles, I’ve got a department to run!” It’s great to see science being made accessible to a wider audience. Djerassi’s play in London this week drew hoots of laughter and much applause and, undoubtedly, a greater understanding about how scientists go about their work. It’s a play well worth seeing even if science isn’t part of your daily diet. Okay, so C&EN wasn’t one of the scientific journals that appeared on stage strewn about the chemist’s desk, and there was a weird scene toward the end of the play involving a lot of flatulence, but you can’t have everything. Following the London run of the play, there will be dramatic readings of “Insufficiency” next month at the University of Wisconsin, Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio, and at the Technical University of Berlin in December. For more details, go to...

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