Is it a New Laboratory Discovery or an April Fools’ Joke?


Since today is April Fools’ Day, we’re going to play a game that’s inspired by some of the hard-to-believe news coming from laboratory researchers around the world. We’re taking a little inspiration from last week’s article about the Ted conference in Vancouver, You may recall the theme was Truth… and Dare. Today the theme of our game is “New Discovery… or April Fools’ Prank?” Can you guess which of the stories below are new laboratory discoveries and which ones are April Fools’ pranks? Let’s begin!  




A)     1,000 Year Old Recipe Controls MSRA Infections: New Discovery or April Fools’ Prank?

First up is an improbable story coming out of the UK. You must certainly have heard of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, better known by its acronym MSRA. This drug-resistant infection is on the rise, particularly at healthcare institutions. Laboratory scientists are open to any potential approach to control MSRA infections, including a recently translated medical recipe from a ninth-century Anglo-Saxon manuscript. Dr. Christina Lee of the University of Nottingham translated a recipe for an ‘eye salve’, found in Bald’s Leechbook, a very early medical textbook. The concoction — made of onion, garlic, cow stomach and wine — sounds more like a witch’s brew than a medical cure. Yet scientists found that it wiped out more than 90% of MSRA bacteria in a scientific

True or April Fools’ Prank?  


B)     Boeing Patents “Star Wars” Force Field: New Discovery or April Fools’ Prank?

Science-fiction technology has long inspired inventors to create real-world discoveries. Many devices we use today were once considered far out fantasies, like Dick Tracy’s television watch or the Star Trek hand-held communicator. But what about giant force fields that repel weapons, like in the Star Wars films? Recently, it’s come to light that Boeing has patented its own version of an electromagnetic force field. While it doesn’t stop projectiles — at least not yet — it does claim to minimize the effects of shock-waves from explosions, which can be just as deadly on the battlefield.

True or April Fools’ Prank?  


C)    Shellfish Teeth are Stronger than Kevlar: New Discovery or April Fools’ Prank?

When we think of strong materials, Kevlar comes to mind. Or perhaps some kind of carbon nanotube super material. But what do you think the strongest biological material is? Most of us might think that the thread from spider webs is the strongest natural material. But researchers have discovered that the teeth on limpets, the shellfish that cling to the surface of tidal rocks, are actually stronger than both Kevlar and spider silk. Designed to scrape food and carve out holes in rocks, these specialized limpet teeth are a true composite material made of very tiny fibers of mineral and protein. Material scientists are excited to create new man-made materials that mimic these design principles.

True or April Fools’ Prank?  


D)    Tracking Pollution and Recovering Precious Metals in Sewage: New Discoveries or April Fools’ Prank?

Here’s a two-part question. First, environmental scientists were looking for an inexpensive and practical way to identify sewage effluent entering our waterways. It turns out that in many cases this pollution problem is not due to intentional illegal dumping; instead, there are many cases where sanitary sewers are connected with rainwater sewer systems in error. University of Sheffield environmental engineers discovered a simple way to identify which waterways are compromised by sewage effluent by placing feminine hygiene tampons in the water for several days. The tampons are then removed and examined with a black light; if they glow in the dark it indicates sewage pollution is in the water.

True or April Fools’ Prank? Second, researchers at the 249th national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Denver this past month announced that there’s so much gold and rare earth metals (like Palladium and Vanadium) found in American sewage systems that it would be worth “mining” these sewage systems to extract these precious metals.

True or April Fools’ Prank?  


E)    Food Safety Innovations for Consumers: New Discoveries or April Fools’ Prank?

Here is another two part question. Industrial product designer Solveiga Pakstaite has invented an ingenious packaging system that can help consumers determine if their packaged food items are safe to eat or should be discarded. Ms. Pakstaite’s invention is a gelatin-based pocket called the Bump Mark that’s built into a separate corner of the food packaging. As time goes by, the gelatin mixture in the sealed pocket will grow, creating bumps. If the food is not refrigerated, this will happen sooner. Because the amount of gelatin is calibrated to match the food in the main container, consumers can touch the Bump Mark to determine if the food inside the main package is still fresh enough to eat or not.

True or April Fools’ Prank? What about foods that are not sold in traditional packaging, like fish or fresh cuts of meat? What can you do? ARS Labs claims to have invented an artificial electronic nose, called the Foodsniffer, which can sniff your food for you. But wait… there’s more! The food sniffer is Bluetooth enabled, so it can send your smells directly to your smart phone, giving you a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ report on whether your food is good enough to eat. True or April Fools’ Prank?  


F)    CEO Tests Furniture by Landing Helicopter on Workbenches: New Discovery or April Fools’ Prank?

For our final question, we offer up something that happened at Formaspace. Our CEO Jeff Turk wanted to demonstrate that our laboratory workbenches are really strong. How strong? How about strong enough to land a helicopter onto two standard workbenches here at our facility in Austin, Texas? True or April Fools’ Prank?  


The Answers

A) True. Learn more about the 1,000-year old onion and garlic remedy that controls MSRA bacterial infections from this BBC report. B) True. Tech site SlashGear reports on Boeing’s new blast-inhibiting force field patent. C) True. The BBC reports on a paper by Asa H. Barber, Dun Lu and Nicola M. Pugno published in the Royal Society Interface. D) Both True. NBC reports on glow-in-the-dark tampons used to identify river pollution. Researcher Kathleen Smith presented her research on retrieving precious metals (press release) at the 249th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting & Exposition in Denver. E) Both True. To learn about the Bump packaging invention, read The Guardian article. For the smartphone system, visit the FOODSniffer app website. F) True. Formaspace CEO Jeff Turk is also a pilot and he successfully landed a helicopter on two Formaspace workbenches. We don’t normally test our furniture this way but it proves a point — Formaspace furniture is strong! Watch the video.  

Hey! Wait a minute! All the stories are true! you say.

Yes, and that’s our little April Fools’ Day prank. We hoped you enjoyed it.  


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