‘Popular Science’ Worst Jobs List
For most people, a day at the office does not include collecting dung or cutting open whale guts, but for some scientists, tedious and often grotesque tasks are just part of the daily grind. Popular Science features some of these unusual jobs in its April issue, on newsstands now, in its 10 Worst Jobs in Science list, which seeks to "show how brave and intrepid you have to be to really do real science," says deputy editor Jacob Ward.
10 WORST JOBS IN SCIENCE...
Armpit detective: Researchers at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and at Florida International University study human odors, mainly from the underarm, to try to "isolate the compounds that give us our unique aroma."
Feces piper: Some hospitals perform controversial "fecal transplants," which involve feeding fecal matter through a tube from a healthy person into a person infected with the C. difficile bacteria to fight the bacteria.
Sneeze modeler: Most people turn away when they hear a sneeze, but University of California-Berkeley researcher Mark Nicas studies where on someone's face spit lands when someone coughs or sneezes, hoping to find the areas of the body most susceptible to the flu virus entering it.
Dung curator: Jim Mead and his Quarternary Paleontology team at Northern Arizona University "host the largest collection of excrement in the world," which they collect from archaeological digs, zoos and the National Park Service to study DNA, plant matter in the dung, and climate information.
Doomsday fact-checker: After the release of the movie "2012," which is the year that the Maya calendar - and supposedly the world - are supposed to end, archaeologists such as Anthony Aveni of Colgate University respond to hundreds of e-mails from "sleepless, apocalypse-obsessed teenagers" to debunk this myth formed by popular culture.
Oceanic-snot diver: Scientists from Italy's Polytechnic University of Marche go diving in the Adriatic Sea to collect samples of "gelatinous masses of dead plankton and decaying cell material" that look like large loogies and smell of seafood and decomposing eggs.
Tissue reaper: Tissue technologists basically recycle body parts of the dead at hospitals and funeral homes, removing skin for skin grafts and arm and leg bones, which are sometimes ground into paste to fill holes in bones during surgeries.
Bad-dance observer: Peter Lovatt, a professional dancer and a faculty member in cognitive psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in England, observes people dancing and onlookers' reactions to discover the evolutionary and social motivations behind dancing.
Bean counter: Purdue University agronomist Andrew Robinson and his research team counted the reproductive nodes of 10 plants from each of the 72 plots of soybeans planted near West Lafayette, Ind., to study which months are most productive to plant soybeans.
Whale slasher: Michelle Berman of Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and crew cut open the carcasses of whales and dolphins that wash up on shore to study what is killing them. Researchers often have to stand knee-deep in blood and slice through fatty whale oils, which can stick to hair and skin for years.
... AND THE BEST JOB?
Multispecies baby tickler: Marina Davila-Ross, a neuroscientist at the University of Portsmouth in England, tickled human babies and baby chimps, bonobos, gorillas and siamangs, a gibbon from Southeast Asia, to determine if laughter in these animals and in humans means the same thing.