sealPurdue Science Briefs

April 1997

Meteorite study shows glimpse of Red Planet's ancestry

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- While the controversy continues over whether a Martian meteorite bears evidence of ancient life on Mars, a Purdue University scientist says the rocky fragments can tell us something about the early life of the planet itself.

Michael Lipschutz, professor of chemistry who has analyzed trace elements in 11 of the 12 known Martian meteorites, says the samples contain a different mix of volatile elements than do rock samples from Earth, indicating that the Red Planet was created from a different nebular womb.

"It looks like the cloud of gas and dust from which Mars was born contained more volatile elements such as thallium, bismuth and cadmium than did the cloud from which Earth was formed," Lipschutz says.

Prior studies of the oxygen isotopes in the Martian meteorites indicated that they all came from the same planet. But other studies, using nonvolatile chemical markers, had revealed differences in their composition, indicating that the samples had encountered different experiences as the planet formed and evolved.

"Our study is the first to show that the characteristics revealed by the nonvolatile elements are also present in the volatile elements," Lipschutz says. "That is to say that these meteorites share some common characteristics, but due to differences in their composition, they belong to the three separate categories that are commonly used to distinguish these meteorites."

He presented his findings March 18 at the 28th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston.

Lipschutz, who has studied the solar system and meteorites for more than 30 years, based his findings on studies of 15 trace elements in 11 of the 12 meteorites identified as originating from the planet Mars. He will complete studies of the 12th meteorite this spring.

His studies of the Martian meteorites focused on the volatile trace elements, the chemical elements that were most likely to condense last as the planet solidified from a cloud of dust and gas.

Trace elements and ultratrace elements -- especially volatile ones found in parts per million or parts per billion -- can yield important information about a meteorite because the composition levels are so low that even the smallest change induced by a physical or chemical transformation is magnified into a relatively large change.

In addition, the samples from Mars show that the planet has experienced at least two fractionation events -- events that separate the volatile trace elements from the non-volatile elements, Lipschutz says.

"The amazing thing is that whatever chemical fractionation events Mars experienced, all of the elements -- volatile or not -- were able to remain and record the events," he says. "This is unlike the situation in other extraterrestrial bodies where late heating, caused for example by the shock of an impact, can vaporize the volatile elements and destroy evidence of past events. In the case of some of the meteorites from the moon, chemical elements were introduced by events such as volcanism, which also clouded the historical record."

CONTACT: Lipschutz, (765) 494-5326, e-mail

Purdue Bug Bowl not for the faint-of-stomach

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of a family at the 1996 Bug Bowl is available. It's called Bug Bowl '96. For b-roll from the 1996 event, contact Grady Jones (765) 494-2079; e-mail,

Download Photo Here
Photo caption below

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Although they don't show up on the Food Pyramid, insects as entrees will be a featured attraction at Purdue University's annual Bug Bowl, April 18-20. That's where the vendors rattle off a menu that includes chocolate chirpy chip cookies, mealworm chow mein and a trail mix called "caterpillar crunch."

A snack that once crawled may not sound enticing, but bug cravings draw more than 10,000 people to Bug Bowl every year. A three-day celebration of insects, Bug Bowl includes everything from a cricket spitting contest to an insect petting zoo. Other events include a Big Bug Bakeoff, a human caterpillar race, an insect petting zoo, insect crafts, a butterfly exhibit and, the crowd favorite, cockroach racing at "Roach Hill Downs." New this year will be a parade of Volkswagen Beetles decorated as bugs.

"The Bug Bowl is the biggest outreach event in the School of Agriculture. People come from all over the state. The news channels all cover the Bug Bowl, and we've even been on CNN," says Kathy Heinsohn, a graduate student in Purdue's entomology department. "People are very intrigued by insects, by the alien characteristics bugs have."

Her involvement with Bug Bowl began in the spring of 1992 when she helped plan the event. "Bug Bowl is a fun approach to insects with an educational aspect. It is also a great way for entomologists to interact with many different people," she says.

Each year she demonstrates ways to cook favorite foods with insects, teaching people about insects and nutrition. She also asks audience members to step up and participate in a blind taste test of spice cakes, one with meal worms and one without.

Started as a cockroach race in 1990 as a way to stir up campus interest in entomology, Bug Bowl went public by accident. Tom Turpin, professor of entomology and Bug Bowl founder, says he never intended for the public to find out about it.

During a 1990 interview about corn research with a radio reporter, Turpin was interrupted by his secretary who walked in with the Bug Bowl cockroaches. Turpin says, "The fellow went back to WASK and the word was out. Purdue was having a cockroach race." The following Saturday, 1,500 people showed up.

Response was so great that the following year the organizers made Bug Bowl a formal event with more activities, expanding it to three days.

"Even if you don't plan to become an entomologist, you're bound to have fun and to learn something," Turpin says. "We hope that everyone comes out of the Bug Bowl a little more knowledgeable about insects."

Bug Bowl is free and open to the public. This year it begins at 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 18, with the Big Bug Bake-Off. The full slate of activities then takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 19, and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 20. The entomology department has dedicated a Web page to the event at with more information on events and times.

CONTACTS: Turpin; (765) 494- 4568; e-mail,
Heinsohn, (765) 494-8646; e-mail,

Rube contestants tinker with computers, CD players

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Video and photographs of past contests are available. An ISDN line is available for radio interviews. Journalists will not be allowed on the stage with the machines during the competition, but they are welcome on stage before and after the contest. Purdue will provide video and photo pool coverage and direct audio and video feeds. Video b-roll, photos and a news release will be available the afternoon of the event. Satellite assistance is available. For more information, contact Amanda Siegfried, News Service, (765) 494-4709; e-mail,

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- It's a technophobe's worst nightmare -- a machine that actually makes a computer MORE difficult to operate.

But that's what students from seven universities are building -- on purpose -- for the ninth annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at 11:30 a.m. April 5 in Purdue University's Elliott Hall of Music. (NOTE: The date has been changed from March 29.)

Each year, students from across the country are challenged to build complicated and often humorous machines to accomplish a very simple task -- put a stamp on an envelope, screw in a light bulb, fry an egg -- in 20 or more steps. This year, students are building contraptions to load a CD into a computer and run a program, or into a CD player and play music.

The contest is free and open to the public.

Goldberg was a cartoonist who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks.

Teams signed up to compete, in addition to Purdue, are: Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y. ; Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, Mich. ; Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Miss. ; the University of Texas-Austin ; the University of Toledo ; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison .

Machines will be judged on the creative use of materials and use of related themes. Each machine must run, be reset and run again in nine minutes. Points are taken off for human intervention after the machine starts or for exceeding the time limit.

The winning team will receive a cash prize and the five-foot-tall traveling Rube Goldberg trophy. The second- and third-place teams also receive cash and trophies. A "People's Choice" award will be given to the team whose machine gets the most votes from audience members.

The contest is organized by student members of the Purdue chapter of Theta Tau, a professional engineering fraternity, with support from Rube Goldberg Inc. The fraternity maintains a World Wide Web page at <>. Purdue News Service also maintains information for the public and journalists at <>

The contest at Purdue started in 1949 and ran until 1955. It was revived by Theta Tau in 1983 to celebrate National Engineers' Week. The first National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest was held at Purdue in 1989.

CONTACT: Daniel Colpi, contest chairman, (765) 743-8135; e-mail,

Scientists paved the way for Earth Day

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- "Flower children" and "tree huggers" get a lot of the credit for starting our modern environmental movement. However, a Purdue University sociologist says scientists were promoting concern for the environment long before the first Earth Day in 1970.

"As early as 1961, scientists joined together in a call for increased research on environmental problems," says Harry Potter, associate professor of sociology. "Throughout the 1960s, a substantial number of scientists from several disciplines recognized the potential threats of air, water and land pollution."

Marine biologist Rachel Carson wrote the popular book "Silent Spring" in 1962 about the dangers of DDT and other pesticides and chemicals. "She was certainly not alone among the scientific ranks in expressing concerns about the environment, although her book has received more popular attention than the others," Potter says.

He also points to scientific reports throughout the 1960s such as "100 Problems in Environmental Health," published in 1961 and "Restoring the Quality of our Environment," a 1965 report from the Pollution Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee.

"Increasing public concern starting late in the 1960s may have been an intended outcome of these reports," Potter says. "There's actually limited evidence of public concern for the environment prior to April 22, 1970."

Potter says many sociologists consider the first Earth Day, with its broad demonstration of national concern for the environment, as the start of the environmental movement.

"Major environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club and National Audubon Society, can take some of the credit for raising public opinion on the matter," he says. "However, scientists should also be acknowledged for having the foresight to promote study and research of environmental problems, before they were popular concerns."

CONTACT: Potter, (765), 494-4712; e-mail:

Compiled by Susan Gaidos, (765) 494-2081; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Photo caption:
David Fisher and Liz Grauerholz of West Lafayette share daughter Lara's amazement at the size of a New Guinea stick insect at Purdue's sixth annual Bug Bowl in 1996. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Bug Bowl '96
Download here.

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