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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.

References

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

Suspect nicknamed ‘Mordokwan’ allegedly sought $55M for art stolen from Massachusetts museum

You could own Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galiliee and Vermeer’s The Concert, Craigslist user Mordokwan claimed in an online advertisement. However, his post is now being tied to an alleged scheme to bilk the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of millions for the legendary paintings, which were stolen from the museum in 1990 in what is considered one of the largest art thefts in history. According to security guards keeping watch that night, two white males dressed in Boston police uniforms gain entrance to the museum, claiming they were responding to a reported disturbance. More than a dozen works of art valued at $500 million were stolen.

The museum put out a $5 million reward for the 13 paintings after they were stolen. Authorities say the man behind Mordokwan is 47-year-old Todd Andrew Desper, of Beckley, West Virginia. He was arrested Monday and charged with wire fraud and attempted wire fraud. He will appear in federal court in West Virginia on Tuesday before being transported to Boston to face additional charges. Desper allegedly acted under the Mordokwan pseudonym to solicit buyers for the two pieces of artwork. Desper posted on Craigslist in a number of foreign cities, such as Venice and London, directing interested buyers to create an encrypted email account to barter with him, authorities said.

Authorities were tipped off to Desper’s scheme by individuals seeking to recover the art, as well as collectors seeking the museum’s $5 million reward. Under the perview of federal authorities, the security director for the Gardner Museum started sending encrypted emails to Desper in an attempt to discover whether or not he actually had either of the paintings. Desper allegedly instructed the director to send over a cashier’s check for $5 million to a location in West Virginia. Afterwards, he’d have the Storm on the Sea of Galilee delivered to the museum, hidden behind another painting.

The plan might have worked, if Desper actually owned Rembrandt’s legendary painting. However, an investigation ultimately revealed that Desper had no access to, nor any information about, either painting. It was all a scheme to defraud collectors of millions for the elusive works, authorities said. He faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if proved guilty. He will appear in federal court in Boston on June 9.

Personnel file for May 21

Rickey Chance, DO, has joined Memorial Physician Clinics at 1759 Medical Park Drive, Biloxi, in the practice of family medicine. He received his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and completed his internship and residency at University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson. He has been in practice since the early 1990s and is board certified in family medicine.

Ingalls Shipbuilding division has named Charley Diaz corporate director of customer affairs for small surface combatants and U.S. Coast Guard programs. Diaz is a retired captain and four-time cutter commanding officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. Prior to joining Huntington Ingalls Industries, Diaz was chief of staff for the Coast Guard Pacific Area, where he led an interdisciplinary staff in managing the Pacific cutter fleet, including several National Security Cutters built by Ingalls. Most recently, he was CEO of Diaz LLC, a maritime consultant. He earned a bachelor s degree from the Coast Guard Academy and a master of public administration from Harvard University s Kennedy School.

Rogena Woods Mitchell, a member and past president of the Kiwanis Club of Pascagoula, is a recipient of the George F. Hixson Fellowship Award. She is the 17th member to receive the award in the club s 72-year history. She is a marketing executive at Orion Engineering in Pascagoula. She oversees the Key Clubs at Pascagoula, Gautier, Moss Point and Resurrection high schools and Bring Up Grades programs, and is lieutenant governor for the Louisiana-Mississippi-West Tennessee District, Division 14 of Kiwanis International.

Nicolas Bazan, M.D., Ph.D., has joined the board of directors of the National Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute being built at Tradition in South Mississippi. Born in Argentina, he is the founding director of the Neuroscience Center of Excellence at the Louisiana State University Health Services Center, School of Medicine in New Orleans. He trained at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Cari Fowler, a certified research administrator, has been named Cleveland Clinic s program administrator at the National Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute under construction at Tradition. She held several key positions at University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson and her latest assignment was director of Sponsored Programs.

Bartolome Burguera, M.D., Ph.D., an obesity and diabetes specialist at Cleveland Clinic, has been named executive medical director of the National Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute at Tradition. He joined Cleveland Clinic in 2013 as a staff physician in the Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism and director of obesity programs. He will continue to lead Cleveland Clinic s obesity programs and teach at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University.

Lisa McKay, a shareholder with the law firm of Currie Johnson & Myers, P.A., is serving as 2017 president of the Mississippi Defense Lawyers Association, a statewide association of more than 600 attorneys who practice primarily in the defense of civil litigation. Currie Johnson & Myers has law offices in Jackson and Biloxi.