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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 (

Barriers to HIV testing in rural Wisconsin

As a teenager in the 80s, the fear of catching HIV was on everyone’s mind. Imagine my surprise when, asking a young woman with an STI if she had ever been screened for HIV, she replied, Is that even a thing? Yes, unfortunately that is a thing.

Wisconsin s Department of Health Services[1] reports an estimated 8,150 people are living with HIV in Wisconsin. One-in-5[2] of those infected don t even know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early diagnosis helps prevent the spread of the disease and reduces costs associated with treatment and health care. Unfortunately, there are many social and economic barriers[3] to HIV testing in rural areas. Social barriers include the negative stigma and lack of anonymity in small communities, making a person less likely to seek HIV testing. Inadequate HIV education leads to a lack of awareness about how prevalent the disease is and that it can be transmitted through sexual contact as well as by sharing needles while injecting drugs.

A person who is newly diagnosed with HIV in rural areas is not likely to have the same supportive resources easy access to free HIV and STI screening and condoms[4] at school or at a free clinic down the block as would be found in a funded urban community. The perceived stigma of disease may lead to a potentially infected person hesitating to disclose their illness to family and friends. Economic barriers reach beyond poverty lack of health insurance and transportation issues. Factors contributing to inconsistent HIV testing include limited resources in rural areas with low populations and prevalence of HIV. This makes smaller communities ineligible for much of the HIV-related funding which would typically be used for education and outreach. Some rural HIV clinics have a single employee responsible for testing and case management for a multi-county region, limiting their ability for outreach. Rising health care costs make paying for HIV testing difficult for many people, particularly those who are uninsured. According to the CDC[5], the average annual cost of HIV care per person is about $23,000. Medicaid spending on HIV continues to increase along with the costs of care. In 2011, Medicaid spent more than $31 million[6] caring for people with HIV in Wisconsin. Undiagnosed and untreated, HIV virus continues to spread throughout the state.

HIV being only an urban problem is a misconception. Any community experiencing drug addiction, poverty and limited health care resources is at risk for HIV going unnoticed in their population. The 2015 rural outbreak in Indiana[7] should serve as a warning about the need for public health education and engagement even in the smallest community. According to USA Today, there were 153 confirmed cases of HIV in the town of Austin, population 4,200. The drug-fueled outbreak catapulted the town to a higher incidence of HIV than any country in sub-Saharan Africa, CDC Director Tom Frieden told USA Today. Early diagnosis through HIV testing[8] is one of the most important strategies for controlling the spread of the disease. The CDC[9] recommends anyone who has ever had high risk behaviors such as unprotected sexual contact, an STI and those who inject drugs should be screened routinely for HIV. This is not standard practice in many rural health care settings. This is reflected in low-testing rates in some rural areas. It is easy to have a false sense of security hearing there are no new cases of HIV in a region when relatively few high-risk people are being tested. Until health policies include routine HIV screening along with STI screening, people can protect themselves by asking their doctor for an HIV test and learn how to avoid the risk of transmission in the future.

HIV prevention[10] funding streams currently focused on large urban populations need to include their rural neighbors. Building the capacity of small health departments by increasing communicable disease funding would add a much-needed resource to rural areas by improving public education and HIV prevention for everyone.

Kathleen Ronchi is a public health officer with the Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services.


  1. ^ Wisconsin s Department of Health Services (
  2. ^ One-in-5 (
  3. ^ barriers (
  4. ^ condoms (
  5. ^ CDC (
  6. ^ $31 million (
  7. ^ Indiana (
  8. ^ HIV testing (
  9. ^ CDC (
  10. ^ prevention (

Hacker, Robert A. –

OREGON – Robert A. “Bob” Hacker, age 81, of Oregon, passed away on Thursday, May 18, 2017, at Agrace HospiceCare in Fitchburg. Robert was born on Nov. 30, 1935, in Marxville, Wis., the son of Herman and Eleanore (Brockman) Hacker. He graduated from Middleton High School and served in the U.S. Army. Robert worked as a Memorial Library security officer for the State of Wisconsin. He was a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Oregon. Robert enjoyed vacationing with his family, traveling and taking trips to Branson. He loved fishing, sporting events-wrestling and UW Hockey, reading, crossword puzzles, and listening to old country music, but treasured most being with family, especially his grandchildren. Robert is survived by his son, Brian (Mary) Hacker; grandchildren, Morgan Hacker and Bryant Hacker; sister, Evelyn “Evie” Ulrich; and numerous other relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents; and sister, Eunice Hacker.

Funeral services will be held at ST. JOHN’S LUTHERAN CHURCH, 625 E. Netherwood St., Oregon, at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 22, 2017, with the Rev. Paul Markquart presiding. Burial will be at St. John’s Cemetery, Town of Dane. Visitation will be held at the church from 9 a.m. until the time of the service on Monday.

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Memorials may be made to St. John’s Lutheran Church. Online condolences may be made at[1].

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