Melon Mines, Bear Scare, Dog Days | June 20, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 25 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 25 | p. 48 | Newscripts
Issue Date: June 20, 2011

Melon Mines, Bear Scare, Dog Days

Department: Newscripts
Keywords: guide dogs, exploding watermelons, bear-scaring device
Watermelons: Growing so fast that they burst.
Credit: Shutterstock
Watermelons: Growing so fast that they burst.
Credit: Shutterstock

The official first day of summer is finally here, and the Newscripts gang has been hankering for a hunk of juicy watermelon. But we recently learned that trying to speed up the delivery of summer’s signature fruit is not without its hazards.

Farmers in eastern China recently had to dodge flying pips and fleshy fruit shrapnel during an outbreak of exploding watermelons. The culprit? A combination of impatience and the chemical forchlorfenuron. The plant growth accelerator, which is used on grapes and kiwi in the U.S., appears to have been applied too late in the season and during a rainy period in China. The results: fibrous watermelons with white seeds that burst like “land mines,” according to a Chinese Central Television (CCTV) report.

“On May 7, I came out and counted 80 [bursting watermelons], but by the afternoon, it was 100,” farmer Liu Mingsuo told CCTV. “Two days later, I didn’t bother to count anymore.” In all, 20 farmers and 115 acres of melons were affected. But the bad news for melon lovers has been a boon for pigs and fish—they’re feasting on the pulpy remains of the fruit-gone-boom.

Frightening inflatable: Drawing from patent shows how a bear-scaring device works.
Credit: U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
Frightening inflatable: Drawing from patent shows how a bear-scaring device works.
Credit: U.S. Patent & Trademark Office

In other news of things that go boom, thanks to Marc Abrahams’ June 6 “Improbable Research” column in the Guardian newspaper, we recently learned of a proposed device for scaring bears, moose, and mountain lions that might cross your path during a wilderness hike.

In 2003, Adam Bell and Anthony Saunders applied for a patent for the so-called Pop-Up Device for Deterring an Attacking Animal Such as a Bear (U.S. Patent Application No. 10/634,719). It features an inflatable figure designed to pop up from a knapsack, piece of clothing, or the hilt of a walking stick to scare belligerent bears. Noises, smoke, projectiles, or a musky odor could be added to convince the bears that this is not an inflatable doll to be messed with.

In describing the action of the device, Bell and Saunders note, “The figure should be fully inflated within less than 1 minute, or within less than 30 seconds, or preferably within less than 10 seconds, or most preferably within less than 5 seconds.”

Furthermore, they say, the device is “detachable and may be left in place, between the human and the bear as the human retreats.” Sadly, the patent appears to have been abandoned.

Although it’s not the dog days of summer yet, the chemistry department at the University of Richmond has been having dog days for the past five months—as they help raise a puppy for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The dog, named Dell, goes home each night with chemistry faculty members Carol Parish and Marty Zeldin, but he spends his days among the students. “We spend time teaching him basic commands and socializing him to new and different environments,” Parish says.

It turns out that a chemistry department is a great place to raise a guide dog, Parish tells Newscripts. Dell encounters many different types of people and has to learn to handle all sorts of distractions. Parish notes that because she’s a theoretician, lab safety isn’t an issue, and students know to steer the pup clear of harm’s way.

Dell is now eight months old and will stay with the department for at least another eight months before he heads off to harness training with Guiding Eyes. “If he makes the grade,” Parish says, “he’ll eventually become a service dog to a visually impaired person.”

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