If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.


Global Health


Evolving emoji and dissolving devotion

by Megha Satyanarayana
March 5, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 8


Give this emoji a shot

An image of the new syringe emoji.
Credit: Shutterstock
Inoculation imagery: The syringe emoji, once filled with blood, is going clear.

Attention, emoji fans: the syringe emoji is changing. Once filled with blood, this symbol of medicine is now clear for many Apple users, and it soon will be for Android users too. For many, the clear barrel will represent a vaccine. Keith Broni, the deputy emoji officer of Emojipedia, says emoji change all the time, sometimes in response to cultural shifts. And no bigger cultural shift has happened in the past few months than the release of COVID-19 vaccines.

Emoji are a way to communicate complexity in a simple way (C&EN even has Chemoji that can add chemical flair to texts and emails). The blood-filled syringe emoji was originally meant to symbolize blood donation in Japan. Its evolution to a clear barrel this year is no surprise, Broni says. Emojipedia’s analysis of how the original syringe has been used on Twitter showed that by December 2020, the syringe appeared quite often with words like vaccine, COVID, and Pfizer. Before, he says, it was often associated with tattoos and sometimes drug use.

The clear barrel “makes the design more appropriate for the vaccine discussion,” Broni tells Newscripts.

And the change likely will spur a discussion, much like in 2016, when Apple changed its pistol emoji to a water gun. Broni says the move was likely political. The gun emoji change was controversial, but other companies that use emoji soon followed. He expects that the same will happen with the syringe.

But will the emoji convince people to get the vaccine? He’s not sure. It will likely be used by people who already feel positively about vaccines, he says. Here at Newscripts, we’ll give his assessment a heavy check mark emoji.


Your breakup, predicted

An image of a broken heart.
Credit: Shutterstock
Heavy heart: The language people use online changes when they are going through a breakup.

There is a language to love, poets say. And apparently, there is also a language to breaking up. Psychologists in Texas have found that when people start using more introspective and problem-solving language online, it’s a key predictor that their relationships are in trouble.

Breakups are often accompanied by depression and negative thoughts, says Sarah Seraj, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who led the study (Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2021, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2017154118). By studying how language use changes over the weeks and months of a dying relationship, perhaps researchers can spot people who will struggle to get over their breakups. Or, Seraj says, maybe someone can develop an app that tracks word use, prompting people at a certain threshold to seek help before a breakup tears them up.

“When people go through a breakup, they are emotionally distressed. Typically, it’s a really stressful life event,” Seraj tells Newscripts. “It can seem like it’s really hopeless.”

To study breakups, Seraj and her colleagues turned to Reddit, an online platform that allows people to write under pseudonyms. The team studied posts in channels—called subreddits—from 6,803 people from up to 1 year before and after their breakups. The posts were in a breakup subreddit and other, unrelated subreddits. The researchers compared language use over time in each person’s posts.

Before the breakups, people’s language was more analytical, Seraj says. There was less introspection and use of words like I or me. But over time, as people’s relationships changed and they migrated to the breakup subreddit, the use of personal pronouns increased. Emotion-processing words like undecided and not sure went up. This pattern occurred not just on the breakup page, Seraj says, but all over Reddit.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. In the first weeks after a breakup, some of the most-used words in the subreddit were hard and hurt. But a few months later, that language included more mentions of happy and better. Sure, as singer Neil Sedaka says, “breaking up is hard to do.” But the Newscripts gang suggests you channel your inner Gloria Gaynor: you will survive.

Please send comments and suggestions to


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.