Airdate: Sep 15, 2009
Scientist: Dr. Christopher Viney
KSC Biomimicry - Collecting Mucus
Everything you ever wanted to know about how to collect giraffe drool and hippopotamus sweat, but were afraid to ask.
CV: "I don't have any giraffe drool at the moment. The material I collected in Scotland, I wasn't going to try to bring it through customs when I immigrated to the USA."
What's that you've got in your suitcase, son? Giraffe drool? Right. Well, that's just one of the many challenges scientists face every day. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Christopher Viney is an engineer at the University of California, Merced, and he's come up with some clever ways to collect animal drool, mucus, and sweat. Well, it turns out that giraffe mucus has lubricating properties which rival the best manmade oils. We caught up with professor Viney at the San Diego Zoo, where he explains the process of collecting giraffe mucus.
CV: "Start with a tall glass jar, and then you put some fruit at the bottom of the jar and let the giraffe stick its tongue down into that jar. Giraffe tongues are 18 inches long for an adult, so they can-they can lick their own ears, in fact, if you can imagine that. They reach down into the jar and scoop up the fruit that you've put in there, and they drool all over the jar in the process. And you collect the drool, and a good microscopist can tell the drool apart from the bits of apple, and so we know what we're working with when we've collected it."
Other animals are trickier. Hippopotamus sweat is a natural insect repellant, sunscreen and antiseptic, but collecting it can be a bit dicey.
CV: "Well, how do you gather hippo sweat? Very, very carefully. They kill more people in the wild in Africa than any other dangerous animal. What we've done in the past was just simply let the hippo into a clean enclosure, let it sweat on the ground, let it back outside again, close the gate, and then pipette the sweat, which had dripped onto the clean floor. And then go and study it."
Christopher Viney is one of the participants in the Kids' Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for third to sixth graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. A new season launches October first at kidsciencechallenge.com.
I'm Jim Metzner.