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Repellent Research, Fan Plugs Huckleberries, Moths May Help to Fight Terror, Weekend Effect Revisited, Are Réaumurs Collectibles?

August 30, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 35


Repellent research

Edgar E. Renfrew of Flemington, Pa., saw a job posting for a "Volatile/Semi-volatile Organic Chemist" (C&EN, March 1, page 64) that reminded him of a headline he saw "back when the world was young." At the time he shared a lab with the late Carl M. Smith. Renfrew writes that one day "Smitty was reading a list of newly issued articles and handed it to me, indicating one, 'Foul Repellent Research.' Said he, 'I guess these guys regard their work less highly than we do ours.' "

The article, it turned out, "referred to the seeking of goops to paint on ship bottoms to discourage adherent growths such as barnacles and seaweeds."


Fan plugs huckleberries

Evan E. Filby of Idaho Falls, Idaho, was drawn to the statement that "some people claim that the huckleberry has superior flavor" to the blueberry, but that a disadvantage of the huckleberry is having "to go out in the woods and gather your own" (C&EN, July 5, page 72).

These words, Filby says, brought to mind three points: Huckleberries have "way better" flavor than blueberries; when you go in the woods to gather huckleberries, be on the lookout for bears--they, too, like the berries; and horticulturist Dan Barney at the University of Idaho is studying wild huckleberries, hoping to develop a viable commercial version.

Barney has already published a manual--"Growing Western Huckleberries"--but according to Barney, the techniques are "experimental and very risky." Barney says also that he gets a lot of calls from people curious about commercial possibilities. Filby adds that "with prices going as high as $30 a gallon, that's perfectly understandable."


Moths may help to fight terror

The feedback section of the July 24 New Scientist had noted earlier that "showing how relevant your research is to the fight against terrorism might be one way of securing a grant." Now, New Scientist has found an abstract that says, "By examining the brain activity of moths, researchers have found that the behaviour of these insects isn't ruled entirely by instinct." Instead, moths apparently can "learn which odours mean food."

The scientists involved, New Scientist reports, "hope to develop methods for using trained moths to detect odours of interest for the defence industry and law enforcement--such as odours given off by biological and chemical weapons."


Weekend effect revisited

Thomas Weber of Washington, D.C., "read with interest" the story about weekends in California becoming smoggier (C&EN, July 26, page 56). Weber writes that more than 20 years ago, he and his colleagues, Tom Graedel and Leonelda Farrow, published an article on the Sunday effect, which showed that pollution as measured by ozone increased on Sundays over five counties in New Jersey.

When the sun went down, however, and the air mass was over the Boston area, Weber writes, the ozone was dumped back into the atmosphere because the reactions were reversible. Some years later, he says, Greg McCray, then at Carnegie Mellon University, showed similar results in a simulation of the Los Angeles Basin.


Are Réaumurs collectibles?

Mention of the Réaumur thermometer (C&EN, July 26, page 56) made Herbert Carlson of Nevada City, Calif., wonder whether these thermometers have any value as collectibles. Carlson says he has two mercury floatable Réaumurs, each 30 cm long, made by a chap named Knudsen in Copenhagen. One of them spans –10° to 80°; the other, –20° to 80°. He found the thermometers in his old family home in southern Sweden in 1983.

Carlson says his grandparents were well-do-do farmers. "What could they have used floating thermometers for?" he muses. "Making cheese or illegal schnapps--a lot of [the latter] was made in the 1800s by farmers--from potatoes, I suppose."


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