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Education

Nanoscientist Grows Giant Pumpkin, Crabs In Costume

by Bethany Halford
October 27, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 43

 

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Credit: Tom Keenan
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Lieber! Harvard nanoscientist stands with his 1,870-lb pumpkin.
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Credit: Tom Keenan
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Lieber! Harvard nanoscientist stands with his 1,870-lb pumpkin.

Harvard University chemistry professor Charles M. Lieber is no stranger to the pages of this magazine. His research in nanoscience often shows up in the news and science sections, and he’s made plenty of appearances in the awards section, too. But to get the attention of the Newscripts gang, Lieber had to do something really big: grow a 1,870-lb pumpkin.

The colossal cucurbit set the record as the largest ever grown in the state of Massachusetts, and it took home first prize earlier this month at Frerichs Farm’s annual giant pumpkin weigh-off in Warren, R.I.

“I was actually kind of disappointed,” Lieber tells Newscripts. He says that he was really hoping to grow a pumpkin that weighed more than 2,000 lb.

Lieber got into growing giant pumpkins about seven years ago when his father gave him a book on the subject. “The book had a seed in it, and just for fun I tried it,” he says. At first he wasn’t terribly successful, Lieber admits, but his competitive streak wouldn’t let him give up. Now he and his teenage daughter grow a pumpkin or two every year. “This is something I do on the side for stress release,” he says.

If there are any chemistry secrets to achieving a Sasquatch squash, Lieber wouldn’t divulge them. But he says scientific know-how, such as soil biology and seed genetics, is important. “I try to be scientific,” Lieber says, “but it’s very difficult to do controlled experiments if you’re only growing one or two plants in your backyard.”

Thinking of dressing up your pet for Halloween? The hottest critter to don a costume this year is the humble hermit crab. Hermit crabs usually scavenge their sheltering shells from creatures that have shuffled off their mortal coils, leaving a shell behind. Hermit crabs often take snail shells, but they’ve been known to use rocks or bits of wood or plastic in a pinch.

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Credit: © 2014 Aki Inomata
Crab in the city: This crustacean finds a home amid New York City’s skyscrapers.
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Credit: © 2014 Aki Inomata
Crab in the city: This crustacean finds a home amid New York City’s skyscrapers.

Thanks to Japanese artist Aki Inomata, these crustaceans are sporting shells that look like a Thai temple, the windmills of the Dutch town Zaanse Schans, and New York City’s skyscrapers.

“This work was inspired by the fact that the land of the former French Embassy in Japan had been French until October 2009.” Japan has ownership for 50 years, and then it will be returned to France, Inomata explains.

This property exchange reminded Inomata of the way hermit crabs exchange shelters. “The hermit crabs in my piece, which exchange shelters representing cities of the world, seem to be crossing over national borders,” she says.

Getting the hermit crabs to participate in her project wasn’t easy, Inomata admits. They rejected her initial spherical shelters. So Inomata studied the hermit crabs’ preferred snail-shell dwellings using CT scans and then used three-dimensional printing to replicate the shell’s inner and outer shapes combined with her metropolitan visions. The crabs found the tweaked designs to be quite comfortable, slipping into the crustacean couture and striking a gamely pose.

Bethany Halford wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

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Comments
Hugo (October 28, 2014 3:47 AM)
In Switzerland recently a farmer harvested a pumpkin (without GE) which weighted more than 1000 kg.

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