Traveling for Bytesize Science: Animals, machines and a little bit of history

I’m back from a long week of travels filming for Bytesize Science. If you haven’t yet, check out the video series online at! There will soon be videos by me up there =) And here’s a photo of the team:

Bytesize Science team in our studio. Clockwise from top left-hand corner: Elaine Seward,  me,  Sean Parsons,  Kirk Zamieroski, Janali Thompson, Adam Dylewski. Photo taken by Sean Parsons (10-second timer)
Bytesize Science team in our studio. Clockwise from top left-hand corner: Elaine Seward, me, Sean Parsons, Kirk Zamieroski, Janali Thompson, Adam Dylewski. Photo taken by Sean Parsons (10-second timer)

On hindsight, we more or less chose a terrible week to run that gig because everywhere in the Northeast was just so, so, so hot. It was like being back in Singapore, except I really don’t appreciate the heat with a ton of equipment on my shoulders. But I learned many, many cool things from this Great East Coast Science Excursion filming trip! Here are some of my favorites, in chronological order.

At MIT, Markus Buehler explained to us that in building strong and resilient materials, one doesn’t need complex chemistry but rather complex structure. A strong and resilient material doesn’t have to be made of fancy atoms and molecules glued together with fancy bonds. Instead, if we take a simple building block, say a Lego piece, but stick them together in a complex arrangement, that can produce a strong material as well.
This was my favorite day of the week: Animal Day! We spent the day filming at the New England Aquarium, and one of the most important lessons that I learned was lobsters can be that big (see picture below.) And that was just a moult, that lobster continued to grow bigger after shedding that!
NE Aquarium researcher Michael Tlusty (not pictured) holds up the claw from a lobster moult to Kirk Zamieroski’s neck.
A baby lobster that NE Aquarium researcher Michael Tlusty put in my hand. When held, the lobster initially stiffens (that’s what it’s doing in the picture) so that anything trying to eat it will have a real hard time. Taken by Kirk Zamieroski.

I also learned that many sea turtles get hit by boats which sometimes causes their shells to crack and sometimes their intestines come out and the boats that struck the sea turtles normally don’t realize that the turtles were struck and so sometimes the sea turtles don’t get found and rescued until they’re almost dead, floating on the surface of the sea. But luckily, the sea turtle that was struck on Tuesday was brought to the Aquarium for surgery. I hope it’s fine now. Also, New England has sea turtles, around Cape Cod, during the summer, so watch out for them!

Machine day! We went to Sylvia Ceyer’s lab at MIT where they showed us their machines. Seriously, Terminator-looking machines. A little bit more impressive than the Jaegers in Pacific Rim (I love the movie’s soundtrack.) There, I learned that gold can be a lubricant, so if you’re working with a machine that cannot use liquid lubricant, you can use screws that are plated with gold. Pretty damned cool.
In New York City, we were introduced to Columbia’s Havemeyer Hall and its history. A large part of the Manhattan Project, Havemeyer Hall is a National Historic Chemical Landmark and we spent some time on the sixth floor where the experiments for the Manhattan Project were carried out. Now, there are no labs on the sixth floor, just faculty offices.
At Princeton, we went around the NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) facility in the new Frick chemistry building. NMR is a very useful tool, to say the least, in chemistry research today and while I had quite some experience with it, I learned that actually, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is NMRI (nuclear magnetic resonance imaging) because it uses the same principles as NMR, but the first word, “nuclear” was dropped because many people are afraid of that word. I will elaborate on that fear in a later post.
So, I had quite the week, and am now very physically tired, very mentally well-learned and very loaded with work to do for my internship. I’m quite excited for the videos that I’m going to produce in my last six weeks with Bytesize! Watch this space (and for them!

Many thanks to Bytesize for the opportunity to experience a week-long filming gig on the road. =)