Navy researchers making like an eel and getting slimy in the water
Q. “There’s a Day for everything,” according to Dan Lewis on his “Now I Know” website. March 14 is Pi Day; August 4, Chocolate Chip Day; September 19, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, to name a few. “National Doughnut Day” apparently has two days to indulge: November 5 and the first Friday in June. Which is the official one? A. “The June date has a surprisingly storied history,” Lewis explains. During the first World War, when Salvation Army members traveled to France to support American troops there, they set up “home-away-fromhome” canteens near the military encampments, where soldiers could get their clothes mended, buy paper and stamps and have a freshly baked snack. Often, doughnuts were served because, according to “Mental Floss,” the “battle-tested helmets were perfect for frying up to seven doughnuts at a time.”
Later, in the depth of the Great Depression, the Salvation Army, looking for ways to help, held the first ever National Doughnut Day on or around Friday, June 3, 1938, selling doughnuts “both to raise money and to honor the Doughnut Lassies who went overseas.” How November 5 became connected with Doughnut Day is unclear, but as Lewis says, “it most likely had to do with the date’s proximity to Veteran’s Day,” also linking the treat to those who served in World War I. But the first Friday in June is the official date. Q. Many traits once thought to define modern birds – feathers, wishbones, hollow skeletons – actually evolved first in their dinosaur forebears. What about colorful eggshells? A. Molecular paleobiologist Jasmina Wiemann and her colleagues used an innovative spectroscopic technique to analyze well-preserved fossil eggshell fragments from 15 Cretaceous-era dinosaurs and extinct birds, reports John Pickrell in “Science” online. Measuring the distributions of two pigments that color modern eggshells, they identified many different colors and speckling patterns.
As in modern birds, the tinting probably served as camouflage, while the speckling may have helped parents distinguish their own eggs from cuckoolike nest parasites. As the researchers conclude, colored eggs evolved “deep within the dinosaur tree and long before the spectacular radiation of modern birds,” likely more than 150 million years ago. Q. “U.S. Navy want to fire slime at boats,” the article title declares. What’s the story here? A. The Navy has its sights on super-expanding slime that can stop boat propellers from turning, says David Hambling in “New Scientist” magazine. Currently, if the Navy wants to stop, say, a suspected smuggler’s boat, it fires a plastic rope at the boat’s propeller, tangling up the mechanism. But it’s hard to disentangle and isn’t environmentally friendly.
Enter Justin Jones and his colleagues at Utah State University, now at work designing synthetic slime that could stop small boats before it dissolves. Inspiration comes from the eel-like hagfish that deters predators by projecting a jet of slime that clogs the mouth and gills and swells by a factor of several thousand when it comes into contact with water. Previous work with artificial spider silk will help the lab create appropriate proteins for the slime. This won’t be easy, though, Jones says. “The devil is in the details ...”
Concludes Hambling: “As well as smugglers, a slime barrier could stop small boats aimed at larger vessels, as in the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000.”