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1 Small Step for a Squid, 1 Giant Leap for Biological Specimens

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In September, the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C. opened the Sant Ocean Hall. The hall, restored during the largest renovation in the museum's history, is home to 12 exhibits featuring to 674 specimens and models.

squid.jpgPerhaps the most important specimens in the hall are two giant squid. The 24-foot, 330-pound female is the most intact giant squid specimen on display anywhere in the world. She, and a smaller male, were caught by a group of deep-sea fishermen off the coast of northern Spain in 1995 and loaned to the NMNH by Coordinadora para el Estudio y la Protección de las Especies Marinas, a Spanish marine preservation organization.

The organization was keeping the squid in 400 gallons of formalin, a preservative fluid that is considered hazardous cargo and can only be transported commercially in quantities of 16 gallons or less. To get the squid stateside, the museum called the Navy, who accepted the task (dubbed "Operation Calamari") and brought the squid home in a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane (pictured).

The Pickle of Pickling

In hindsight, getting the squid to the museum may have been the easy part. Preserving them posed an even bigger challenge.

There are some 1.5 billion biological specimens stored in institutions around the world (NMNH has about 124 million). "Wet" specimens, those that need to be stored in a preservative fluid, are usually (though not always) first fixed in a fixative solution, most commonly formaldehyde, which prevents the breakdown of proteins by forming chemical bonds and coagulating the contents of the specimen's cells into insoluble substances.

After fixing, a specimen is placed in a preservative fluid, which stabilizes it, prevents cell destruction and acts as its permanent home. The most common preservative fluids are alcohol (usually either ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol), used since the 17th century, and formalin, a solution of formaldehyde diluted in water with some methyl alcohol added to prevent the formaldehyde from forming a solid mass, which was introduced in the 19th century.

Both of these preservatives present problems. Alcohol dehydrates specimens and leaches color from them, causing them to turn brown and then dirty white. Alcohol is also flammable; when Philadelphia's Mütter Museum was collecting specimens, one of the first donors insisted that his collection of fluid-preserved human organs needed be housed in a fireproof building. Formalin is better suited to preserve some specimens because of its fixative properties; it permeates a specimen's tissue and prevents it from decomposing. It's also less flammable than alcohol, but has a strong, unpleasant odor, is toxic and has been linked to certain types of cancer in animal tests.

Neither alcohol nor formalin retains specimens' true textures, and both preservatives allow specimens to move around in their containers, which can lead to breakages.

If you've seen more than a handful of fluid-preserved biological specimens, you know that some look much better than others. Somewhere, someone was doing something that preserved the specimen in excellent condition. Why don't all museums duplicate that technique for their collections? Unfortunately, in fluid preservation, most technique is the result of trial and error and records are rarely kept.

Where No Squid Has Gone Before

In addition to these challenges, Washington, D.C.'s fire marshal has significantly reduced the amount of flammable fluids that are allowed to be kept in public buildings since 9/11. The museum was authorized to use only 10 gallons of alcohol in the entire Sant Ocean Hall, while the female squid alone needed 1,200 gallons of fluid.

Formalin and alcohol were out, so the museum turned to Novec 7100 engineered fluid, developed by 3M, the diversified technology company. Novec, developed in the mid-1990s for cleaning electronics, isn't a preservative fluid, but a storage medium that forms a protective chemical envelope around specimens that have already been fixed in formalin. Novec is nonflammable, nontoxic and ozone-friendly. Its low water solubility keeps it from getting cloudy over time, and it doesn't drain color from specimens.

Novec has its share of problems, though. It evaporates easily, so specially designed jars with an extra-tight seal need to be used to contain specimens and the containers can't sit under lights that produce a lot of heat. Novec is also about 1.5 times denser than water, which means unrestrained specimens float to the top of their container, get exposed to air and decompose. Museum staff had to be careful to keep the squid submerged while also minimizing damage from any restraints they used. The squid are held down by a restraining bracket and reinforced with a metal screen, while broad transparent straps hold down the tentacles and distribute tension across them.

Novec's use in the squid exhibit is an ongoing experiment. For all their flaws, we know alcohol and formalin preserve specimens for a long time. No one knows how the squid will look in 20 or 30 years. Even while they're on display, the museum is taking samples of the squid's tissue and the storage fluid to see if the tissue is going through changes in cellular structure and if any compounds are leaching from the squid into the fluid. The museum is also breaking with preservation tradition by keeping meticulous records, starting with the squid's initial fixative injection in Spain and keeping pace with the tests they perform. The museum has said that every organization that donated specimens for the Sant Ocean Hall is eager to get plenty of data on Novec; if the squid are as intact a few decades down the line as they are now, Novec may become the fluid of choice for preservation. Here's lookin' at you, squid.

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30 Memorable Quotes from Carrie Fisher
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Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

Just days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight en route to Los Angeles, beloved actress, author, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60 on December 27, 2016. Though she’ll always be most closely associated with her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Fisher’s life was like something out of its own Hollywood movie. Born in Beverly Hills on this day in 1956, Fisher was born into show business royalty as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds.

In addition to her work in front of the camera, Fisher built up an impressive resume behind the scenes, too, most notably as a writer; in addition to several memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels, including Wishful Drinking, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful, Postcards from the Edge, and The Princess Diarist (which was released last month), she was also an in-demand script doctor who counted Sister Act, Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer among her credits.

Though she struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness, Fisher always maintained a sense of humor—as evidenced by the 30 memorable quotes below.

ON GROWING UP IN HOLLYWOOD

“I am truly a product of Hollywood in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.”

“I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish.”

“At a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That's my word for it.”

ON AGING

“As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don't.”

ON INSTANT GRATIFICATION

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

ON THE LEGACY OF STAR WARS

“People are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to be that big of a hit. Yes, we all knew. The only one who didn't know was George.”

“Leia follows me like a vague smell.”

“I signed my likeness away. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks.”

“People see me and they squeal like tropical birds or seals stranded on the beach.”

“You're not really famous until you’re a Pez dispenser.”

ON THE FLEETING NATURE OF SUCCESS

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”

ON DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

“I'm very sane about how crazy I am.”

ON RESENTMENT

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

ON LOVE

“Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

“I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience, and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.”

“I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”

ON EMOTIONS

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”

ON RELATIONSHIPS

“I envy people who have the capacity to sit with another human being and find them endlessly interesting, I would rather watch TV. Of course this becomes eventually known to the other person.”

ON HOLLYWOOD

“Acting engenders and harbors qualities that are best left way behind in adolescence.”

“You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood, because everybody does the fake closeness so well.”

“It's a man's world and show business is a man's meal, with women generously sprinkled through it like overqualified spice.”

ON FEAR

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

ON LIFE

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.”

“No motive is pure. No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”

“If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

“I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.”

“My life is like a lone, forgotten Q-Tip in the second-to-last drawer.”

ON DEATH

“You know what's funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You'd think we could remember finding out we weren't immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing at airports and I think, 'Aww. They've just been told.'”

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Get This Weekend's Best Amazon Deals Now
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As a recurring feature, our team combs the Web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, October 21.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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iphone Cable, Pecosso Lightning Cable : 3 Pack (10ft/6ft/3ft) Lightning to USB Fast Charging Cable, Nylon Braided Sync Cord Combination for iPhone 7/7plus/6s/6s plus/6/5s/iPad/iPod/Beats Pill - Black for $6.49 (list price $11.10)

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Energizer AA Batteries, Double A Battery Max Alkaline (24 Count) E91BP-24 for $13.99 (list price $28.61)

KITCHEN

ThermoPro TP03A Digital Food Cooking Thermometer Instant Read Meat Thermometer for Kitchen BBQ Grill Smoker for $11.99 (list price $29.99)

Miusco 5 Piece Silicone Cooking Utensil Set with Natural Acacia Hard Wood Handle for $20.99 (list price $49.99)

Utopia Kitchen Premium Class Stainless-Steel 12 Knife Set with Acrylic Stand for $35.69 (list price $299.99)

[20 Pack] 3 Compartment Meal Prep Containers BPA Free Portion Control Bento Boxes (39 Oz.) for $17.99 (list price $39.99)

Rubbermaid LunchBox Sandwich Kit, Food Storage Container, Green for $6.79 (list price $39.00)

Spiral Slicer Spiralizer Complete Bundle - Vegetable Spiralizer and Cutter - Zucchini Pasta Noodle Spaghetti Maker for $14.84 (list price $39.99)

Pre Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet (12.5 inch) by Utopia Kitchen for $30.99 (list price $99.99)

Cuisinart CTG-00-3MS Set of 3 Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainers for $19.90 (list price $22.00)

Vremi 5 Piece Cheese Grater Set with Container - Microplane Zester Parmesan Cheese Shredder Vegetable Slicer Cheese Graters - Fine and Coarse Metal Hand Cheese Grater Adjustable Hard Cheese Slicer for $8.99 (list price $34.99)

ROCKSHEAT Pizza Stone Made of Cordierite for Pizza & Bread Baking Grilling. Perfect for Oven or Grill. Innovative Unique Double - faced Built - in 4 Handles Design (Rectangular 12"x15"x0.63") for $23.99 (list price $60.00)

Home-it Stainless Steel Bread Box for kitchen, bread bin, bread storage Bread holder 16.5x10x8 for $19.99 (list price $49.99)

Set of 9 Grey Beverage Chilling Stones [Chill Rocks] Whiskey Stones for Whiskey and other Beverages - in Gift Box with Velvet Carrying Pouch - Made of 100% Pure Soapstone - by Quiseen for $7.95 (list price $18.99)

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TasteLife 105 GSM Deep Pocket Bed Sheet Set Brushed Hypoallergenic Microfiber 1800 Bedding Sheets Wrinkle, Fade, Stain Resistant - 4 Piece(White,Queen) for $14.90 (list price $119.90)

Zober Premium Quality Space Saving Velvet Hangers Strong and Durable Hold Up To 10 Lbs - 360 Degree Chrome Swivel Hook - Ultra Thin Non Slip Suit Hangers, Black - 50 pack for $22.95 (list price $39.99)

Cr Sleep Ventilated Memory Foam Bed Pillow with AirCell Technology, Standard, 1-Pack for $25.49 (list price $89.99)

StorageManiac Foldable Pop-Up Mesh Laundry Hamper with Reinforced Carry Handles, 2-Pack for $16.99 (list price $39.99)

Monkey Hook Picture Hanger Home and Office Pack, 30 pc set for $11.24 (list price $19.75)

Syntus Himalayan Salt Lamp Natural Crystal Salt Light Glow Hand Carved Night Lights Wall light with UL Listed Plug for Lighting, Decoration and Air Purifying for $12.99 (list price $21.99)

LED String Lights 33 ft with 100 LEDs, TaoTronics Waterproof Decorative Lights for Bedroom, Patio, Parties ( Copper Wire Lights, Warm White ) for $14.49 (list price $29.99)

Whitmor Supreme Wide Stacking Shelf, Chrome for $15.35 (list price $32.02)

Hoover FH50251PC Power Scrub Elite Pet Carpet Cleaner for $169.99 (list price $189.00)

HEALTH AND BEAUTY

Activated Charcoal Natural Teeth Whitening Powder by Pro Teeth Whitening Co® | High Quality Grey Charcoal (non abrasive and proven safe for enamel) From Coconut Shells | Manufactured in England for $12.99 (list price $29.99)

TheraFlow Dual Foot Massager Roller (Large) - Relieve Plantar Fasciitis, Heel, Foot Arch Pain & Stress - Foot Chart & Instructions Included - Acupressure/ Reflexology Tool - Perfect Gift for $16.95 (list price $49.99)

Apple Cider Vinegar - Pills for Weight Loss - Includes: Vitamin B6, Spirulina, Lecithin & Kelp - Helps Support Detox, Digestion & Circulation, 350 mg, 90 Capsules for $18.92 (list price $28.59)

B.I.G. Natural Pre Shave Oil, 60 ml for $12.95 (list price $25.00)

Pure Body Naturals Essential Oils Gift Set, Lavender/Tea Tree/Eucalyptus/Lemongrass/Orange/Peppermint, 6 count - 10 ml for $14.95 (list price $17.95)

Colgate Max Fresh Wisp Disposable Travel Toothbrush, Peppermint - 24 Count for $4.99 (list price $7.99)

Nano Towel Makeup Remover Face Cloth. Remove Cosmetics FAST and Chemical Free. Wipes Away Facial Dirt and Oil Like An Eraser. Great for Sensitive Skin, Acne, Exfoliating, Mascara, etc. 7 x 16" for $14.97 (list price $29.99)

CCS Blackhead Remover Pimple Extractor with Instructions for Acne Comedone Whitehead Blemish Zit Removal Tool Kit for $6.97 (list price $49.97)

Oneleaf 2PCS Professional Pedicure Rasp Foot File Cracked Skin Corns Callus Remover for Extra Smooth and Beauty Foot for $9.99 (list price $19.99)

OUTDOORS, GARDEN, AND SPORTS

Wilson Championship Extra Duty Tennis Ball (4-Pack), Yellow for $15.16 (list price $20.18)

Anker Ultra-Bright Tactical Flashlight with 1300 Lumens, Rechargeable(26650 Battery Included), IP67 Water-Resistant, Bolder LC130 LED with 5 Light Modes For Camping, Security, Emergency Use for $45.99 (list price $112.00)

Enkeeo Foldable Fishing Net Triangular Landing Net with Aluminum Pole and Nylon Mesh, 14.6" Wide for $19.99 (list price $39.99)

G4Free 12x25 Compact Binoculars(BAK4,Green Lens),Large Eyepiece Super High-Powered Field Surveillance Binoculars for $24.99 (list price $39.99)

Stansport Canteen, 4-Quart for $7.97 (list price $10.49)

HEIMDALL Safety Whistle with lanyard (2 pack) for Boating Camping Hiking Hunting Emergency Survival Rescue Signaling for $8.95 (list price $10.99)

Veegul Stylish Doctor Style Canvas School Backpack Functional Travel Bag for Men Women Semizipper Pocket x Black VG for $39.99 (list price $74.50)

Enkeeo Foam Roller 13” × 6” EVA with Grid Design Muscle Rollers for Deep Tissue Myofascial Release, Sports Massage and Recovery, Trigger Point Therapy, Pilates & Yoga, Black for $16.99 (list price $29.99)

TOOLS

Pumie Toilet Bowl Ring Remover #TBR-6 for $9.15 (list price $14.33)

Gorilla 7700104 Super Glue Gel, 20g for $5.97 (list price $14.89)

Worthington 336737 WT2301 Trigger Start Propane Torch for $16.97 (list price $19.99)

Bosch T4021 Screwdriver Bit Set, Blue, 21-Piece for $8.17 (list price $14.99)

DEWALT DW1361 Titanium Pilot Point Drill Bit Set, 21-Piece for $19.99 (list price $25.99)

Tire Inflator, 3-in-1 Inflation Gun, with Gun, Locking Chuck and 2-inch Gauge, ¼” NPT and Flexible Hose (Campbell Hausfeld MP600000AV) for $9.94 (list price $13.49)

Stanley 84-056 3-Piece Bi-Material Pliers Set for $13.18 (list price $18.29)

Stanley 55-525 15-inch Super Wonder Bar Pry Bar for $9.89 (list price $13.29)

Picture Hanging Kit Asst for $9.99 (list price $12.99)

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