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Does This Make My Antenna Look Big?

Researchers mix technology with fashion, analyze a pharaoh's skin condition, measure the smarts of Scrabble players, and more in this edition of Miller-McCune's "Cocktail Napkin."

"Imagine a vest or shirt, or even a fancy ball gown made with this technology. The antennas would be inconspicuous, and even attractive. People would want to wear them."

That's John Volakis, a professor at Ohio State University, trying to convince fashionistas that radio antennae incorporated into clothing, using plastic film and metallic thread — for cell phone, Internet, and emergency care access, much like soldiers' uniforms already have — is the next wave in fashion. This, of course, gives new meaning to the term wireless bra.

Looks That Kill
Talk about a cold case: The Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut could have been killed by her own medication. So says a pair of scientists at the University of Bonn, in Germany. Their research revealed that a vial belonging to the pharoah — who lived around 1450 B.C. — that was thought to contain perfume, turns out to have held lotion to treat a chronic skin disease. And that lotion was laced with carcinogens.

The Nov-Dec 2011

This article appears in our Nov-Dec 2011 issue under the title "Does This Make My Antenna Look Big?" To see a schedule of when more articles from this issue will appear on, please visit the
Nov-Dec 2011 magazine page.


CAT scans confirmed that the residue of a dried-up liquid in the vessel comprised a greasy mixture of palm and nutmeg oils — unlikely perfume ingredients. "I didn't think anybody would put so much grease on her face," said Helmut Wiedenfeld, one of the Egyptologists studying the pharoah's tomb. "That would make her look as greasy as a plate of ribs."

Scientists believe the substance was used to to soothe the itchiness of eczema — a condition that ran in the pharaoh's family. But the bottle contained high levels of benzopyrene — "one of the most dangerous carcinogenic substances we know," says Wiedenfeld, and the substance that makes cigarettes so dangerous.

So was the pharaoh unwittingly poisoning herself? The German researchers lean toward saying yes, because Hatshepsut died of cancer, which could have resulted from years of applying the dangerous salve. "Egyptian physicians were general practitioners and good surgeons," Wiedenfeld allowed, "but they were lousy internists."

Science Fiction, or Science?
"The drop-off in both gas availability and star formation seems to have started around the time that Dark Energy took control of the Universe."

So says Robert Braun, of Australia's national Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. His work focuses on how dwindling levels of molecular hydrogen gas have led to a decline in the formation of new stars. Because we don't have enough to worry about.

What Do We Know?
There are two ways of playing Scrabble: using words everybody knows, or stringing together obscure words that will only ever be uttered in connection with Scrabble. As in: "Qat. Triple word score!"

In this age of digital dictionaries, when strings of three-letter words beginning with high-scoring Qs and Xs are just a click away, serious Scrabblers are relying more and more on the esoteric. But now researchers at the University of Calgary have confirmed: competitive Scrabble players are smart and all, but they don't know qat.

The researchers explain that competitive players, poring over the Official Tournament and Club Word List, can process language faster and better recognize words. But Scrabble players were able to distinguish English words from gibberish 20 percent faster than nonplayers. Ian Hargreaves, the lead researcher, goes on: In the past, "the meaning of the word would have a bigger impact on a person's decision about whether or not it is a true word. ... Scrabble players don't tend to emphasize what the words mean."

Oh, qat? It's basically Yemeni tobacco, partaken of primarily in social settings and somewhat addictive. You know, kind of like Scrabble.

From the "So Many Questions" File:
A recent edition of the journal Crisis featured a paper by Antonio Preti titled "Do Animals Commit Suicide? Does It Matter?"

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