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May 14, 2007
Volume 85, Number 20
p. 64

The Awards Edition

In March, C&EN ran an article about the recipients of 2006 Royal Society of Chemistry Honorary Fellowships (C&EN, March 12, page 46). The list is rife with the sort of professional titles and distinctions one would expect: chemistry professor, Nobel Laureate, chef—wait a minute—CHEF? Indeed, one of the award winners is Heston Blumenthal, owner and head chef of the Fat Duck restaurant in Berkshire, England. Now, Newscripts is not so naive—we recognize the connection between food and chemistry. We're just intrigued, and we're always a little hungry.

The Fat Duck has earned three Michelin stars and was recognized as the "Best Restaurant in the World" by Restaurant Magazine in 2005. Very impressive, but where's the science? According to the Fat Duck website, Blumenthal "has been described as a culinary alchemist," researching "the molecular compounds of dishes to enable a greater understanding of taste and flavor." He has used techniques such as flavor encapsulation to create concoctions including bacon-and-egg and crab ice creams.

Honor Roll: Chef Blumenthal, String Theory, "Numb3rs."

In addition to this award, the self-taught Blumenthal earned an honorary doctor of science degree in 2006 from Reading University, in England, in recognition of his scientific approach to food and his long relationship with the university's School of Food Biosciences.

Didn't you hear? When it comes to the most elementary stuff of the universe, particles are so five minutes ago. Strings are where it's at. That's why physicists are so into STRING THEORY these days, though it seems to take a universe's lifetime for them to explain it. Not to worry, Discover magazine has introduced a video contest called "String Theory in Two Minutes or Less" to concisely explain this concept to the rest of us.

Sit back down, armchair theorists. You can no longer register for the contest, but you can view the eight finalists' videos online at and vote for your favorite to receive the Viewers' Choice Award. Columbia University physicist Brian Greene, author of "The Elegant Universe," will choose the official winner.

It's all pretty simple, really. String theory is a theory of, well, everything. There are four known fundamental natural forces: gravity, electromagnetism, and weak and strong nuclear forces. Just one teeny problem: When you try to explain gravity by using the standard model of quantum mechanics that explains all the other forces, the math goes awry. Enter the strings: If matter is modeled as one-dimensional strings instead of zero-dimensional points, then all four forces can be described with one set of equations. Piece of cake, right?

The finalists contain such varied entries as "Einstein's Unfinished Symphony," by students at California State University, Channel Islands; the abstract "String Ducky," by Sandy Chase, a science TV producer in New York City; and "The Problem With Math," produced by the Watson family of Montclair, Va.

Sometimes television can be worth watching. Exhibit A: the television crime drama "NUMB3RS," which is the recipient of a 2007 National Science Board group Public Service Award. The show and its creators are being honored for "contributions toward increasing scientific and mathematical literacy on a broad scale." They will receive the award on May 14 at the State Department, in Washington, D.C.

"Numb3rs" follows two brothers, one an FBI agent and the other a genius mathematician who assists his brother in solving crimes in Los Angeles. Disciplines that have been employed in the series include probability theory, game theory, and astrophysics. Ah, TV and math—throw in some popcorn, and you've got a typical Friday night in for the Newscripts gang.

The drama has also inspired the creation of educational tools that explore math and science topics covered in the show. One Web-based program, "We All Use Math Everyday" (, is produced by Texas Instruments in conjunction with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Newscripts checked out the site and has this to report: We need to retake Algebra II.

This week's column was written by Kimberly Dunham. Please send comments and suggestions to