Stories tagged money

Blue Morpho butterfly
Blue Morpho butterflyCourtesy Wikimedia Commons
When is cash money like a Blue Morpho butterfly? When the manufacturers of said cash money are inspired by the ultra-cool iridescent nano-qualities of said butterfly's wings to make cash money nearly-impossible to counterfeit. Three cheers for the powers of biomimicry!

So what's happening here? Blue Morpho butterfly wing (reflected light)
Blue Morpho butterfly wing (reflected light)Courtesy F. Nijhout, Duke University
The Blue Morpho is unique because its vibrant color isn't due to pigment - it's due to a very special structure of the wings that reflects light in a very specific way. If you wet the butterfly's wings, or light the wings from behind, they look completely different - no longer the shock of gorgeous blue - because the light reflects off the wing structure differently.

Since it's highly unlikely that counterfeiters are going to have, Blue Morpho butterfly wing (microribs)
Blue Morpho butterfly wing (microribs)Courtesy Shinya Yoshioka, Osaka University
or have access to, the equipment to replicate or design their own comparable nano-structures any time soon, this counts as a win for governments.

Hatch today?

by Liza on May. 19th, 2011

Well, it's May 19, the estimated hatch date for the peregrine falcon chicks in the nest box at the King power plant in Bayport. Haven't seen any chicks yet, but Belinda's made a little moat of pebbles around the eggs -- the folks on the Raptor Resource forum say that's something she always does right before hatching. Stay tuned...


Dyson hand dryer
Dyson hand dryerCourtesy Mr T in DC

How you dry your hands matters

Dyson, who makes a new type of "airblade" hand dryer, funded research which showed regular hot-air hand dryers could make your hands "germier".

When volunteers kept their hands still, the dryers reduced skin bacteria numbers by around 37 per cent compared to just after washing. But the count rose by 18 per cent when volunteers rubbed their hands under one of the machines. Paper towels proved the most efficient, halving the bacterial count even though volunteers rubbed their hands. That's because the towels actually scrape off the bacteria. Journal of Applied Microbiology

This mesage brought to you by ...

Reading this research paper made me think it was a commercial message written by the Dyson advertising department.

In Science we trust?
In Science we trust?Courtesy Jacob Lewis Bourjaily
...I bet it will have dollar bills that look like the ones pictured here in an online collection of banknotes from around the world, which feature notable scientists like Albert Einstein and Marie Curie. This collection was put together by a graduate student in theoretical physics at Princeton University named Jacob Bourjaily, who started collecting banknotes with scientists on them after seeing the website of yet another money-collecting physicist, Edward Redish. After seeing these websites, I think the United States could breathe some new life into its currency by featuring some of today's notable scientists. Any thoughts on whose face should be printed on the almighty dollar?


Mo money, mo problems
Mo money, mo problemsCourtesy Acomment

Go ahead and take a quick look in your wallet or your purse. Do you have a dollar bill in there? Well 9 chances out of 10 you also are in possession of cocaine.

Think my claim is outrageous? Think again. In a current study conducted by the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, research has shown that cocaine is present in up to 90 percent of paper money in the United States. The reports were presented at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society this month and suggest that cocaine use is still extensive and could possibly be on the rise.

Scientists tested banknotes from over 30 cities in five countries including Brazil, China, Japan, Canada and the U.S. of which the Chinese and Japanese currencies held the lowest rates of contamination (between 12 to 20 percent) while the U.S. and Canada were reaching rates from 85 to 95 percent. For the U.S., this percentage of contaminated banknotes is a 20 percent jump of contamination in comparison to a study done two years prior.

Yuegang Zuo, the sudy leader says, “I'm not sure why we've seen this apparent increase, but it could be related to the economic downturn, with stressed people turning to cocaine.”

The current study also used a new method of measurement. Previous techniques destroyed the currency, but by using a modified form of gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, a faster, simpler and more accurate measurement is obtained while maintaining the banknote. Using the GC-MS, 234 banknotes from the U.S. were analyzed and found that traces of cocaine range from .006 micrograms (several thousand times smaller than a grain of sand) to 1,240 micrograms (roughly 50 grains of sand).

But don’t get carried away, the amount of cocaine found on dollar bills is so small that there is zero chance of health or legal concerns. But if you feel the need to get rid of all of your paper money, feel free to send it my way:

Science Museum of Minnesota

(Attn: trans-2-butene)
120 W. Kellogg Blvd.

St. Paul, MN 55102


So this is how it gets snotty: I thought it would be more subtle.
So this is how it gets snotty: I thought it would be more subtle.Courtesy The Rapscallion
Buzzketeers—quick, for your own safety, de-cash yourself now! Come on!

There’s a flu pandemic brewing, and y’all are just sitting there, lining your pockets with little green rags that carry as much disease as monetary value. So, please, for health’s sake, empty your wallets of cash, stuff those plague bills into manila envelopes, and send them to JGordon, The Science Museum of Minnesota, The Western Hemisphere (I don’t remember the exact address here, but I’m sure the postal service can figure out the details). I’m willing to sacrifice my health—for you—and disinfect your cash money. None of that money will be returned (please, I’m not made of postage), but I’m sure that the knowledge that you have done your part to slow the pandemic is compensation enough.

(This message goes doubly for the younger, or “lil,” Buzzketeers out there. I understand that you have less money, but your immature immune systems are particularly vulnerable to viral infection. Trust me on this one, and send those piggybanks my way.)

Do you not believe me? I think I’ve proven my scientific reliability time and time again… but here, a real link to a real story: cash is a pretty good way to transmit the influenza virus.

See, according to researchers at the Central Laboratory of Virology in Switzerland, a lonely lil’ flu virus on a fresh and clean piece of paper money can only live for about an hour. Unfortunately, viruses are rarely lonely, and our cash money is not very clean. So the researchers observed how long a virus could live on cash when it was mixed with a little nasal mucus (we’ll call it “snot”).

Under a cozy little film of mucus, the flu viruses were much hardier. Some strains of influenza lived as long as 17 days on the bill. And while the scientists didn’t test the exact strain of swine flu that we’re dealing with now, they did see how long other varieties of the H1N1 virus would last. H1N1 influenza remained viable (it could still infect someone) on the cash for up to 10 days.

It turns out that about 94 percent of dollar bills may carry pathogens (germs, viruses, etc). So let me shoulder this burden of worry, and let’s see that cash.

On to part 2 of this post…

Researchers at Northwestern University and Indiana University are also using money to study the spread of disease, but in a totally different way. It’s a little more complicated, and a little cooler.

Even if cash is totally clean, and doesn’t act as a vector for passing the flu, a cash transaction represents a face-to-face exchange between multiple people, the sort of encounter that could result in the flu virus being passed on.

And, hey, look: a project designed to follow the journey of individual dollar bills across the country.

The Northwestern and Indiana scientists took data from this bill-tracing project (called Where’s George?, and combined it with information on air traffic and commuter traffic patterns for the country to make a mathematical model of how people move and interact in the US. They then added information about the H1N1 swine flu into the system—the locations of confirmed cases, rates of infection, the time it takes to become contagious… that sort of thing. With all the variables taken into consideration, the model becomes incredibly complex—so complex that it takes a supercomputer about ten hours to make all the calculations, and come up with a forecast of where future infections will be, and how many of them we might expect.

But the model seems to work. Both universities, working independently, came up with strikingly similar models, and when predictions from the models were compared to real-life figures they matched up pretty well.

So far the models’ estimates have been slightly lower than actual infections, but they predict that there will be about 2,000 cases of the swine flu in the United States by the end of May, with most of those occurring in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Houston. The researchers didn’t run any predictions beyond about a month, however. The flu, they say, as well as public response to it, are so unpredictable that using the models to look too far ahead doesn’t work. (The flu could mutate into something more virulent, or the government could do something drastic to control its spread, or, you know, we could get invaded by space aliens.)

(Liza, by the way, talked about these models a little last week.)

How about that? Money follows us around, viruses follow us around, viruses follow money around, and we trade all of it.

Here’s the link to Northwestern’s flu model

Here’s the link to Indiana’s model.

Lincoln learning: One of the new penny backs will show the young Abe Lincoln studying while splitting rails in Indiana.
Lincoln learning: One of the new penny backs will show the young Abe Lincoln studying while splitting rails in Indiana.Courtesy U.S. Mint
The Buzz has buzzed in the past with talk about pennies – their usefullness and efficiency in being part of monetary system. It looks like they'll be around for at least another year as the U.S. Mint has released sketches showing the redesigns of the back of the penny that will commemorate the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. And here's the link the U.S. Mint website that will give you close-ups of the new penny backs.


Pepie comes out on days like this: Anything to get away from that clam, you know?
Pepie comes out on days like this: Anything to get away from that clam, you know?Courtesy _kristin_
Or die trying, kiddos.

No, seriously, don’t die trying. We need you, Buzzketeers. I need you!

But get a load of this: There’s a fifty thousand dollar reward out for undisputable evidence of “Pepie,” Lake Pepin’s very own aquatic monster. Think of all the stuff you could do with fifty thousand dollars! Like, you could give twenty five thousand to me, JGordon, and then spend the rest on penny candy! If penny candy existed anymore. Or, you could give twenty five thousand to me, and spend the rest on a twenty thousand dollar car and a five thousand dollar suit. Or, you could give twenty five thousand dollars to me, and then invest the rest in a low-risk mutual fund, and pay for your kids to go to college!

Those are about all the ideas I’ve got.

Anyway, find a spot on the cryptocouch, and prepare yourself for the legend of “Pepie.” Supposedly Lake Pepin locals have been reporting sightings of a large, mysterious aquatic creature for over a hundred years—ever since 1871. An early artist’s impression of the creature depicts it with a “hypnotic red eye, and a demon-like head,” with more recent sightings generally describing your classic series of humps and head sea serpent thing. Boaters claim to have been received the attention of the beast as well, telling stories of loud knocks on the hull, followed by “violent back and forth swings of the boat.”

According to Larry Nielson, Lake Pepin’s tourism bureau spokesman, the Dakota people who once lived on the shores of Lake Pepin refused to paddle across the lake in fragile birch bark canoes, preferring more solid dugouts as protection from the creature.

Lake Pepin, lying between Minnesota and Wisconsin, is both fed and drained by the Mississippi River, and just happens to be nearly identical in size to Scotland’s Loch Ness (~22 miles long by 2 miles wide), leading some to wonder if the creatures might be related, sort of like how I might be related to any other person who lives in a tiny room heaped with dirty laundry. Considering how Lake Pepin is less than a tenth of the depth of the loch (63 feet compared to 750 feet), it could be that Pepie is Nessie’s (relatively) hydrophobic cousin.

To claim your (our) fifty grand, you’ll need a biological sample, or a clear photograph of the creature with a Lake Pepin landmark in the frame for verification. It has been stressed, however, that Pepie must not be harmed by your evidence gathering, or else the deal’s off.

You can submit evidence, stories, or comments to the Find Pepie website at [email protected]. Or you can send them to me, here at Science Buzz—just think of me as your monster hunting agent.

A couple of side notes:

You’ll recall a certain Buzz story in which we learned of another reward for monster evidence, a reward which boosted both sightings and interest in the area. At least Lake Pepin is a little closer.

Also, Lake Pepin is actually said to have a two creatures, the second being…wait for it…a giant clam. Eh… Supposedly “Clara the Clam” is the mother of all Lake Pepin’s freshwater mussels. Not the most, um, exciting creature, but it could be that she wants revenge for all the clam children she lost to the mother of pearl industry. That’s the direction I’d take it, anyway; I think Clara was invented before people realized that marketing should be, you know, interesting.


There's a great article ("Penny dreadful: they're horrid and useless. Why do pennies persist?") in the 3/31/08 issue of The New Yorker.

Pennies: Billions of coins, most of them pennies, are unaccounted for. Maybe D.B. Cooper has them all...
Pennies: Billions of coins, most of them pennies, are unaccounted for. Maybe D.B. Cooper has them all...Courtesy smackfu

I read it, and immediately thought of the Science Buzz penny poll. So, readers, here are a few more fascinating facts to add to the pile:

  • A penny minted before 1982 is 95% copper. At recent prices, that's $0.025' worth.
  • Newer pennies are 97.5% zinc, but since zinc has soared in value, too, producing a penny costs about $0.017.
  • If it takes any longer than 6.15 seconds, breaking stride to pick up a penny off the ground pays less than the federal minimum wage.
  • The US Mint took more than two years to manufacture its first million coins; the Philadelphia Mint makes that many every 45 minutes or so.
  • A typical Mint bag full of pennies contains only about four thousand dollars' worth, yet you'd need a forklift to move it to the back of your getaway vehicle.
  • "The average life span of American pocket change is thirty years. During the past thirty years, the US Mint has produced something like a half trillion coins, most of them cents, yet the Mint estimates that only about three hundred billion coins are currently in circulation. This estimate is probably high, since it includes coins that haven't budged from their coffee cans in years. Even so, the missing change is worth billions. Where is it? Except in rare cases, old coins, unlike old banknotes, aren't withdrawn from circulation by the Federal Reserve. People simply mislay them, eventually, in one way or another, and in most cases they disappear as permanently as if they had been dropped into the sea. Pocket change leaks from the economy the way air leaks from a balloon, and most of what leaks is pennies."

Lest you think I'm a strong advocate of eliminating pennies, let me add that a nickel now costs almost $0.10 to manufacture. But making a dollar coin costs only about $0.20.

In fact,

"In 2006, the Mint cleared $750 million on revenues of $2.3 billion, so it's in no immediate danger of violating its obligation not to spend more on manufacturing coins than it receives, from the Federal Reserve and other coin consumers, for manufacturing them."

You're wondering, "Who are those other coin consumers?" (I know I was...)

"Last year, the Mint sold some $872 million's worth of non-circulating coins and medals to collectors and to people who like to keep savings in precious metals."

Dying for more odd facts about currency? Read the article. (It goes on to suggest why we might consider giving up not only pennies and nickels, but also dimes and maybe even $1 bills.)

A recent study shows that the happiest people are those who spend money—on other people. People who hoard their money or spend it on themselves reported lower levels of happiness.