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That Time the TSA Found a Scientist’s 3-D-Printed Mouse Penis

When Martin Cohn passed through airport security at Ronald Reagan Airport, he figured that he d probably get some questions about the 3-D-printed model of a mouse penis in his bag. The model is 15 centimeters long, made of clear translucent plastic, and indisputably phallic like the dismembered member of some monstrous, transparent, 11-foot rodent. One of Cohn s colleagues had already been questioned about it when she carried it on an outward flight from Gainesville to Washington D.C. She put it through the security scanner, and the bag got pulled. A TSA official looked inside, winked at her, and let her go. She was amused but embarrassed, so Cohn offered to take the model home on the return flight. Once again, the bag was pulled[1]. A TSA officer asked if Cohn had anything sharp or fragile inside. Yes, he said, some 3-D-printed anatomical models. They re pretty fragile. The officer pulled out two models of mouse embryos, nodded to herself, and moved on. And then, Cohn recalls, she pulled out this mouse penis by its base, like it was Excalibur.

What is this?

Do you need to know or do you want to know? said Cohn. I m curious, she replied.

It s a 3-D print-out of an adult mouse penis. A what?

A 3-D print-out of an adult mouse penis.

Oh no it isn t.

It is. The officer called over three of her colleagues and asked them to guess what it is. No one said anything, so Cohn told them. They fell apart laughing. Cohn, who s based at the University of Florida, studies genitals and urinary tracts, and how they develop in embryos. Around 1 in 250 people are born with birth defects affecting these organs, and although such changes are becoming more common, their causes are largely unclear. By studying how genitals normally develop, Cohn s hoping to understand what happens when they take a different path. And like many scientists, he is working with mice. He recently analysed a mouse s genitals with a high-resolution medical scanner. To show his colleagues how incredibly detailed the scans can be, he used them to print a scaled-up model, which he took with him to the conference in DC. And because the conference was just a two-day affair, Cohn didn t bring any checked luggage. Hence: the penis in his carry-on.

Scientists, as it happens, are full of tales like this[2] because as a group, they re likely to (a) travel frequently, and (b) carry really weird shit in their bags. In previous years, Cohn has flown with the shin bone of a giant ground sloth and a cooler full of turtle embryos. Just last month, Diane Kelly from the University of Massachusetts, who studies the evolution of animal genitals, was stopped by the TSA because she was carrying what is roughly the opposite of Cohn s item: a 3-D-printed mold of a dolphin vagina[3]. Technically it s not even my dolphin vagina mold, she says. I was carrying it for someone. Other scientists who responded to a call for stories[4] on Twitter have flown with bottles of monkey pee[5], chameleon and skate embryos[6], 5,000 year old human bones[7], remotely operated vehicles, and, well, a bunch of rocks[8]. ( I’m a geologist. I study rocks.”) Astrophysicist Brian Schimdt was once stopped by airport officials on his way to North Dakota because he was carrying his Nobel Prize[9] a half-pound gold disk that showed up as completely black on the security scanners. Uhhhh. Who gave this to you? they said. The King of Sweden, he replied. Why did he give this to you?, they probed. Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.

Anthropologist Donald Johanson has flown with probably the most precious and the most famous of these cargos: the bones of the Lucy[10] the Australopithecus, who Johanson himself discovered. In a memoir[11], he recalls having to show her bones to a customs official in Paris. The man was an anthropology buff, and when Johanson told him that the fossils were from Ethiopia, he said, You mean Lucy? A large crowd gathered and watched as Lucy s bones were displayed, one by one, on the Customs counter. I got my first inkling of the enormous pull that Lucy would generate from then on, everywhere she went. Several people have stories about more animate luggage. Jonathan Klassen from the University of Connecticut[12] studies leafcutter ants, and the permits that allow him to collect wild colonies stipulate that he must hand-carry them onto planes. Inevitably, some poor security officer gets a duffle bag full of 10,000 ants and gets really confused, he says. Indeed, many animals have to be hand-carried onto planes because they don t fare well in the cold of cargo holds, (and often can t be shipped for similar reasons). That s certainly the case for the amblypygids docile relatives of spiders with utterly nightmarish appearances that Alexander Vaughan once tried to carry onto a domestic flight. My strategy was to pretend that everything I was doing was perfectly normal, he tells me. Others were more upfront about their unorthodox cargo. Ondine Cleaver from UT Southwestern Medical Center once tried carrying tupperware containers full of frogs from New York to Austin. At security, she realized that she couldn t possibly subject the animals to harmful doses of X-rays, so she explained the contents of her bag to a TSA agent. She totally freaked out, but had to peek in the container, says Cleaver. We opened it just a slit, and there were 12-14 eyes staring at her. She screamed. She did this 3 times. A few other agents came by to see, and none could deal with the container being opened more than a bit. But they had to make sure there was nothing nefarious inside, so we went through cycles of opening the container, screaming, closing it laughing, and again. They eventually let her through.

Many scientists have had tougher experiences because their equipment looks suspicious[13]. The bio-logging collars that[14] Luca Borger uses to track cattle in the Alps look a lot like explosive belts. And the Petterson D500x bat detector[15], which Daniella Rabaiotti uses to record bat calls, is a big, black box with blinking lights on the front. She had one in her backpack on a flight going into Houston. The security people said, Take your laptop out, and I did that. But they don t really say, Take your bat detector out, and I forgot about it. When the scanner went off, she had to explain her research to a suspicious and stand-offish TSA official, who wasn t clear how anyone could manage to record bat calls, let alone why anyone would want to do that. So Rabaiotti showed him some sonograms, pulled out her laptop, and played him some calls all while other passengers were going about their more mundane checks. By the end of it, he said: Oh, I never knew bats were so interesting, she says. Many of the stories I heard had similar endings. The TSA once stopped Michael Polito, an Antarctic researcher from Louisiana State University, because his bag contained 50 vials of white powder. When he explained that the powder was freeze-dried Antarctic fur seal milk, he got a mixed reaction. Some officers just wanted to just wave me on, he says. Others wanted me to stay and answer their questions, like: How do you milk a fur seal? I was almost late for my flight.

Airport security lines, it turns out, are a fantastic venue for scientists to try their hand at outreach. Various scientists are said to have claimed that you don t really understand something if you can t explain it to your grandmother, a barmaid, a six-year-old, and other such sexist or ageist variants. But how about this: can you successfully explain it to an TSA official someone who not only might have no background in science, but also strongly suspects that you might be a national security threat? Can you justify your research in the face of questions like What are you doing? or Why are you doing it? or Why are you taking that onto a plane? Cohn did pretty well to the four assembled TSA agents who started quizzing him about his mouse penis. They noticed that the translucent object had a white tube inside it, and asked if it was a bone. It was indeed the baculum. I explained to them that most other mammals have a bone in the penis and humans have lost them, says Cohn. I do outreach at the drop of a hat, and I m ready to teach a bit of evolution to the TSA if they re interested. And they were freaking out. Eventually, Cohn asked if he was free to go.

You are, said the agent who first looked inside his bag. And then: I gotta go on break, my mind is blown.


  1. ^ the bag was pulled (
  2. ^ full of tales like this (
  3. ^ 3-D-printed mold of a dolphin vagina (
  4. ^ a call for stories (
  5. ^ monkey pee (
  6. ^ chameleon and skate embryos (
  7. ^ 5,000 year old human bones (
  8. ^ bunch of rocks (
  9. ^ because he was carrying his Nobel Prize (
  10. ^ Lucy (
  11. ^ In a memoir (
  12. ^ University of Connecticut (
  13. ^ suspicious (
  14. ^ The bio-logging collars that (
  15. ^ D500x bat detector (

Charleston hospitals tout secure systems, but are warned to be wary of ransomware

In the wake of a cyberattack that struck organizations across the globe, Charleston hospital officials are confident of their readiness for a ransomware strike. Yet systems can’t be too careful, an expert in cybersecurity said. Hackers used software stolen from the National Security Agency to spread WannaCry, which locks a computer’s data and holds it hostage until the user pays a ransom. Over 230,000 computers were affected in 150 countries, according to Phishlabs[1], a cybersecurity company based in Charleston. Among those affected was the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Non-emergency visits were canceled and staff was instructed to switch to using paper records. Hospitals are particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks. They are large systems that depend on sensitive patient information to operate. Local hospital leaders were clear they are prepared for a ransomware attack like WannaCry, but Joseph Opacki, Phishlabs’ vice president of threat research, warned systems to be constantly prepared for an attack.

“A lot of people were caught off guard by WannaCry, even though the vulnerabilities were known months ago,” he said.

It is still not known how WannaCry initially infected computers. Opacki said a phishing scheme, where computer users click on a fraudulent email, has largely been ruled out. Organizations were put at risk after a hack into an old version of Windows was leaked from the NSA.

Keith Neuman, vice president and chief information officer for Roper St. Francis, said no such vulnerability exists at the hospital system. He was confident Roper St. Francis would be prepared for a ransomware attack.

“Their data is safe with us,” he said. “We take all necessary steps to keep it that way.”

Neuman said his team responded quickly to the May 12 attack. Reminders were sent to staff to not open suspicious emails or provide any personal information. Neuman said he has been working with local and national law enforcement, as well. No hospital system in the area including Roper St. Francis, the Medical University of South Carolina, Trident Health and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center reported any impact from WannaCry. Each systems’ officials said they were sure their systems are secure. The VA took immediate emergency measures to guard against a ransomware attack, Meredith Hagen, a public affairs specialist at the VA, said in a prepared statement. The VA blocked all email attachments with a “.zip” extension and restricted access to email websites like Gmail and Yahoo from VA computers.

Communications were sent to employees at Trident Health and MUSC following the attacks, too. Trident has a detailed recovery procedure in place in the event of an attack, said Rod Whiting, spokesman for Trident Health. The MUSC community was advised to upgrade their home computers with updated securities. Matt Klein, chief information security officer for MUSC, said the system is under attack daily, just like other health care and higher education organizations. Attackers test the hospital system’s security constantly, Klein said in a prepared statement.

Opacki said large, spread-out systems often struggle to implement security policy across their organizations. NHS was vulnerable because the system was still using Windows XP, an operating system that is two generations behind and no longer supported by Windows. A patch to fix the potential hack was released when the vulnerability was discovered, but it hadn’t been implemented across the board. Yet Opacki said he has seen the health care industry make strides in information security, especially in the last two years. It is a slow process for an industry that worked with paper records for decades.

“We’re talking about an older structure that’s trying to join the digital age,” he said. Opacki said backing up patient information, patching software and communicating with individual employees will reduce the risk a hospital system has of being vulnerable to a ransomware attack. Hospitals should lay these foundations to protect themselves. But he said it’s only a matter of time between the next, more advanced ransomware attack.

“You’re never fully secure,” he said.


  1. ^ according to Phishlabs (

Rapper, hundreds others, carrying fire from Jesus’ tomb across America

Rapper, Hundreds Others, Carrying Fire From Jesus' Tomb Across America

Father David Randolph of Christ the Saviour Antiochian Orthodox Church in Anderson looks at the Holy Fire candle in the church. Father Randolph said the flame was originally from Israel and transported to New York, then to Anderson.(Photo: Ken Ruinard/Independent Mail)

Across America, hundreds of Christian Orthodox churches have candles that are burning with a flame that originated in the spot venerated as the tomb of Jesus a flame that is being carried in cars in a religious relay by people like South Florida-based rapper Jamey Bennett. It s the first time the flame, known as the Holy Fire, has spread in churches across America after a millennium of that tradition in Eurasia. Bennett, one half of a hip-hop duo called Royal Ruckus, is among those who is ferrying the flame in his car as he drives around on tour in the Southeast and Midwest. He has candles sitting in sand-filled buckets as well as in his cup-holder.

I may be the only rapper, at least in America, who is on tour with a flame from Jesus tomb, Bennett said in a phone call from Nashville, where candles bearing the flames rested for the night on a friend s dining room table.

The fire has made its way to Anderson and Greenville Orthodox churches and to churches in every state. This year is believed to be the first time the fire has made it to America, and even if it has been secreted here before, it has never spread to multiple churches like it has this year, said Father Lawrence Farley, an author who writes a blog for the Orthodox Church in America and leads a church in British Columbia, Canada. His church received the flame Saturday.

Rapper, Hundreds Others, Carrying Fire From Jesus' Tomb Across America

Jamey Bennett with the Holy Fire he is carrying on tour with his group, Royal Ruckus. (Photo: Contributed)

The fire originates in what the faithful believe is an annual miracle that is well known to Orthodox Christians but not to many outside the church, said Bill Stathakis, an Anderson man who went to Jerusalem this year in April to witness the birth of the flame.

Rapper, Hundreds Others, Carrying Fire From Jesus' Tomb Across America

Father David Randolph of Christ the Saviour Antiochian Orthodox Church in Anderson stands by a window near the Holy Fire candle inside the church. Father Randolph said the flame was originally from Israel and transported to New York, then to Anderson. (Photo: Ken Ruinard/Independent Mail)

Each year the Patriarch of Jerusalem goes into the Tomb of Jesus with candles, after having been searched for anything that could light a candle and stripped down to almost nothing. He says prayers before the candles, which believers say spontaneously ignite. He emerges and shares the light with others.

Rapper, Hundreds Others, Carrying Fire From Jesus' Tomb Across America

Bill Stathakis, of Anderson, carries in April a bundle of candles lit from a candle that had shortly before emerged from the Tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem. (Photo: Contributed)

Stathakis said he was in awe of receiving the flame when a security guard began yelling at him, Go, go, go. He thought he had done something wrong but was actually being told to go bring the flame to an old section of Jerusalem where others were waiting to take it.

The flame he carried lasted for less than a half hour before it came close to burning his hand. He had no idea he d be able to see this year s Holy Fire again at his home churches of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Greenville and Christ the Saviour Antiochian Orthodox Church in Anderson. The flame this year made the leap to America aboard a private plane that took off from Moscow, with embers in a mining lantern, and landed in New York where it went to two churches that spread the fire to others, according to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The fire has spread from those two throughout the country.

The fire came to South Carolina from Charlotte, said Hannah Hunt, who drove from there to Greenville, Atlanta and Tallahassee, Florida. She drove it in a sports car, with her husband and son, who was graduating from Florida State University.

We had the AC vents pointed up and had beeswax, which is pure, but still puts out carbon monoxide, Hunt said. So we had to open the windows every hour. And gas station stops were interesting. Bennett picked up the fire in Greenville from Anderson s Pelegia Miller who got it from Hunt, and he has been to Ohio and Nashville and other cities. He plans to bring it at last to his home church in South Florida.

Rapper, Hundreds Others, Carrying Fire From Jesus' Tomb Across America

The Holy Fire, carried from candles by Pelegia Miller from North Carolina to Christ the Saviour Antiochian Orthodox Church in Anderson, was part of a Holy Fire sharing journey from Israel and to New York, then to Anderson. (Photo: Courtesy of Pelegia Miller)

He keeps candles in his cup holders and has singed his arm hair a few times when he puts in it park. There s also a small lantern in Bennett s front seat floorboard, nestled in a 5-gallon bucket filled with dirt and more candles in another bucket in the back seat. Turn on the air conditioning just a bit too high and the lantern, as well as the cup holder ones, could get snuffed.

It wouldn t be a crisis of faith to lose the flame. As a practical matter, there are so many others that it would be easily replaced. And as a spiritual matter the faith isn t contained in a glass candle holder or a flickering flame, said Father David Randolph, of the Anderson Orthodox church. He said the flame, and Jesus tomb, bear special meaning to him but it is all in service of a bigger faith. Randolph has been inside the tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, about six years ago on a trip with two dozen Protestant preachers.

He spent five minutes, alone in the darkness, meditating on Jesus death and life.

I had the realization that he was in this tomb for me, Randolph said. Miller, one of the members of his church, heard about the Holy Fire in a Facebook group that connects churches and people who wish to get, and to transport the fire.

The Holy Fire had never traveled across the United States before, Miller said. It was too incredible to miss. The fire carries layers of meaning, said Father Marcus Burch of St. John of the Ladder Orthodox Church in Greenville.

He said the Holy Fire inside his church is on an alter for worshipers to see and to bring to their own homes if they choose. There are elements of the ancient world in today s candles, reaching back into a time when Jesus words about light were more directly linked to fire than today s time, when light can be easily separated from fire.

Christ is the light of the world, fire is such a rich symbol on so many levels, Burch said. In older times, the gospel was passed from person to person, spoken from one to the next, he said.

Rapper, Hundreds Others, Carrying Fire From Jesus' Tomb Across America

The Holy Fire candle at Christ the Saviour Antiochian Orthodox Church in Anderson inside the church. Father Randolph said the flame was originally from Israel and transported to New York, then to Anderson. (Photo: Ken Ruinard/Independent Mail)

The spread of the Holy Fire this year is a similar reminder that people are still spreading the word of God, touching one candle to another and sending the flame in a new direction, Burch said. Hunt, who spread the fire to Greenville and Atlanta before Florida, said it was a leap of faith.

We went to a lot of trouble to take it to people we didn t know, she said. In our faith we talk about the love of God as a river of fire. And each person received it just as the love of God is always there to be received. She said it was an amazing feeling that came with a spur-of-the-moment decision to take the fire with her on her trip to Florida.

Farley, the pastor in Canada, said there are certainly skeptics of the miracle of the Holy Fire. He said there may be ways to spontaneously light a candle, as shown in videos that attempt to debunk the Holy Fire, but those videos cannot replicate other parts of the fire including the people who dip their beards in the fire without lighting their faces on fire. For 15 minutes or so after the fire emerges from the tomb, Farley said, people can be seen on video touching the flame and touching it to their beards with no damage.

But in time, the flame becomes just as warm as one ignited from a lighter, he said. Randolph, from Anderson, said it is a miracle.

It s like faith itself, and love, he said. I can tell you what love looks like but until you experience it, you may not know. Bennett, still on the tour he has since renamed the Holy Fire Tour, said the flame gives him an unexplainable feeling of warmth, a warmth that is distinct from the heat of a candle.

He hasn t used the candles in his performances and while his partner has created a beat with religious chants, he hasn t found the right moment or words to pay tribute to the fire.

It needs to be genuine, Bennett said. He s taking advantage of being on the road for his tour as a chance to spread the flame to churches and the faithful as he passes, and if the right respectful lyrics come to him, he ll turn it into a project, but he s in no rush.

Rapper, Hundreds Others, Carrying Fire From Jesus' Tomb Across America

The Holy Fire, carried from candles in a bucket by Pelegia Miller from North Carolina to Christ the Saviour Antiochian Orthodox Church in Anderson, was part of a Holy Fire sharing journey from Israel and to New York, then to Anderson. (Photo: Courtesy of Pelegia Miller)

Bennett sees himself as a rapper who is Orthodox rather than an Orthodox rapper. And as an Orthodox man, being able to handle the fire is a miracle.

It s hard to say if the depth of meaning to me is personal or if it s the miracle of the flames, he said. Even if you didn t believe in the miracle, and I do believe in the miracle, it is something special to have a flame carried from the tomb of Christ all across America. I literally have a fire from the tomb with me. He said carrying that fire from the tomb is both absurd and incredible.

The message of Christ in the gospel has been called foolish, but for those who believe, it is quite special and miraculous, Bennett said. It tells us Jesus is risen and that is a reality.

Follow Mike Ellis on Twitter @MikeEllis_AIM

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