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Monsters caught on smartphones; sheepish photographers

by Corinna Wu
August 1, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 31

Photo of Pokémon in a flask.
Credit: Monique Wilhelm
Gotcha: A Pokémon Go character tries unsuccessfully to hide in a flask.

Labs invaded by adorable Pokémon


It’s not unusual to see people wandering the streets staring into their smartphones. But for the past month, many of those roamers haven’t been checking their messages: They’re playing the popular augmented-reality game Pokémon Go. The game was released in early July and has already been downloaded more than 30 million times. Pokémon Go forces gamers to get off the sofa and hunt for adorable virtual characters—i.e., Pokémon—that can show up almost anywhere. Part of the game’s charm is that, viewed through the smartphone’s camera, the characters seem to inhabit the real world.

Newscripts has received reports of scientists spotting Pokémon in their labs. The little monsters, which come in many different types, have popped up in front of instruments and on lab benches. One scientist tweeted a photo of a Charmander—an orange, lizardlike Pokémon with a flaming tail—impishly embracing a cabinet clearly marked “Flammable.” A turtlelike Squirtle Pokémon, which prefers a watery habitat, was caught cavorting under the safety shower.

Monique Wilhelm, laboratory manager of the chemistry and biochemistry department at the University of Michigan, Flint, says that she’s seen many students and some faculty playing the game. She thinks it might be popular in labs “because it makes it easy to pass the time while you are waiting for temperatures to equilibrate, reactions to finish, or gels to run.”

Flicking red-and-white Poké Balls at the critters on a phone’s screen captures them for a player’s collection. To stock up on the balls, players can make their way to PokéStops, usually located at recognizable landmarks. The Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia discovered that it was a PokéStop, and employees there found several interesting Pokémon skulking around the exhibits in the museum.

Though spotting a rare specimen nearby can be exciting, Newscripts encourages Pokémon Go enthusiasts to put safety first: Look both ways before chasing a quarry into the street, avoid stepping into bodies of water, and keep an eye on that experiment before pursuing that colorful creature lurking in the lab.

Google Street V-ewe?

Photo of a sheep wearing a 360° camera eating grass on a roof.
Credit: Visit Faroe Islands
Sheep’s-eye view: Eating grass and snapping pics on the Faroe Islands.

On the Faroe Islands—an archipelago located in the North Atlantic Ocean—human beings aren’t the only ones walking around with smartphones. Durita Dahl Andreassen, who works for the country’s tourist board, has embarked on a project called Sheep View 360: an effort to enlist the islands’ numerous woolly residents to photograph the landscape, à la Google Street View.

Andreassen worked with a local shepherd and an inventor to mount a 360° camera on various sheep’s backs. Charged by a small solar panel, the camera snaps one photo every minute as the sheep roam freely around the islands. A smartphone then uploads the images to the internet. Thanks to these fluffy photographers, now anyone can view the Faroe Islands’ breathtaking scenery.

Corinna Wu wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to



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