Issue Date: August 21, 2017 | Web Date: August 20, 2017
Scientists bring the party and hagfish bring traffic accidents
Mindy Levine once bought a python after hiring a reptile handler for a children’s birthday party. She’s now on the other side of that interaction with her science-themed birthday-party business, Party Elements. That’s not to say she’s prompting people to buy flasks, lab coats, or even snakes, but she is inspiring them to form more intimate relationships with that which powers her parties: chemistry. Levine is an organic chemist at the University of Rhode Island with a history of coordinating volunteer science outreach events for kids high-school age and younger. She recently realized she could bring this skill set to the birthday-party biz and maybe make some money. Levine launched the company in May with the help of chemistry graduate students Benjamin Cromwell and Dana DiScenza, who’s also an MBA student and wrote Party Elements’ business plan. Party Elements provides party people plenty of hands-on chemistry entertainment, including activities like making fantastically foamy “elephant toothpaste” and a shaving-cream based slime. A typical 90-minute party starts at $200. That’s about $50 less than the reptile handler, Levine tells Newscripts. Early feedback indicates the parties are a hit. For instance, one grade-schooler said he wants to be Levine when he grows up. Stephanie Kaplan, who booked the company for her 10-year-old’s birthday, says Levine and her crew did a great job keeping partyers engaged with and excited about the science through hands-on activities, notably the slime. “The kids were all ooey and gooey, and it was amazing,” Kaplan says.
Cruisin’ for an oozin’
Speaking of ooey and gooey, a stretch of Oregon highway also fit that description for several hours this July.
A truck came to such a hard stop along a northbound stretch of U.S. Route 101 that it flung one tote of its cargo across the highway into the southbound lanes, where it struck another vehicle and caused a four-car collision. Amazingly, no one was seriously injured—except the cargo. The truck was carrying more than 3 metric tons of hagfish, seafood that’s popular in South Korea, all of which died in the incident. The tote that crossed the highway exploded onto and into the car it struck, filling the vehicle with thousands of serpentine hagfish along with the slime they secrete when they’re stressed. That’s why the creatures are also known as slime eels, though they’re not in the same scientific order as eels (as if that matters when they’ve infiltrated your car). The truck’s remaining totes also emptied their slimy contents onto the highway, albeit in a less spectacular fashion Molecularly speaking, hagfish slime is a rubbery network of intermediate filament proteins, but Oregon State Police communications officer Lt. Cari Boyd has a much more succinct description. “The consistency is like snot,” the 20-year veteran tells Newscripts. “By far, this was the oddest thing I have seen.”
Matt Davenport wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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