Have An Energy Efficient Thanksgiving

By XiaoZhi Lim
BU News Service

Thanksgiving dinner (and football) are the biggest part of today. Americans across the country will be cooking up storms in their kitchen and there will be plenty of turkeys in ovens. In 2011, Americans spent an estimated $25 million on electricity for roasting turkey in an electric oven (not counting people who don’t use electric ovens) alone, according to a report by TXU Energy. This year, pick up a few tips to make your Thanksgiving dinner’s carbon footprint, and utilities bill, smaller.

1. Roast a small turkey

OK that may be difficult given that an average Thanksgiving dinner feeds around ten people. But hear me out. A 10 lb turkey takes about 4 hours in the oven, while a 20 lb turkey takes 6. Electric ovens consume about 2kWh of electricity when used at 350 degrees for an hour, so by cutting down 2 hours of oven cooking time, you save 4 kWh of electricity. To make enough turkey for everyone in your party, add cut up turkey (and you could add more dark or white meat according to your family’s preferences) to the pan. That way, the turkey takes less time to cook and there will be enough meat to go around.

2. Do away with stuffing the bird

Stuffed birds take around thirty minutes to an hour longer to cook than unstuffed ones. Again, reducing oven cooking time is always a good idea, and stuffing is actually safer if prepared outside of the turkey since it eliminates contamination from uncooked meat.

3. Don’t baste. Oil.

A trick provided by a fabulous interactive spread on Essential Thanksgiving by the New York Times: if you oil the turkey, you don’t have to baste it. Not basting means less work for you, and less opening of the oven doors. Each time the oven is opened, the temperature drops up to 25 degrees and the oven then has to work to bring the temperature up again, wasting energy in the process. That also means reduce peeping; use the oven light instead.

4. If you have more appliances than an oven and stove-top, use them.

Especially, the microwave. Microwaves use less than half the energy compared to an oven and usually cook for a shorter time. Some sides can be sped up or cooked entirely in a microwave, like potatoes (pricking them with a fork before putting them in a microwave) and then mashing them. Other appliances, if you have them, like a crock pot (gravy), rice-cooker that can serve as a double boiler (steamed veggies) or toaster oven (toasted bread) can be put to good use while reducing the load on the oven and stove-top.

5. Contain the heat: use a lid.

Lids reduce the time it takes for food to heat up in a pot by containing the heat and not letting it escape. This reduces the amount of time it takes for water to boil, for example. To take things up a notch, pressure cookers trap so much heat that they get the job done much faster: I’ve seen my roommate boil potatoes in her pressure cooker in 10 minutes. Here’s a recipe for 6-minute pressure cooker mashed potatoes if you have one and would like to break it out this Thanksgiving.


There are many other things that you could do to make your Thanksgiving energy efficient, such as using an icebox rather than the refrigerator for drinks (reduces the amount of time your refrigerator is open), turning down the thermostat and letting the oven heat your home and using ceramic or glass pans as they retain heat better. That said, food is energy too, and an estimated 5 million tons of food waste is generated between Thanksgiving and New Year’s in the United States, according to the World Watch Institute. So make all the work you put into today’s celebratory meal count: carve the turkey cleanly, save leftovers and distribute them among your guests, compost food scraps. And above all, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Halloween Costumes for the Scientifically Minded

By Sara Knight
BU News Service

1. The Pegomastax Africanus (“thick jaw of Africa”), or the Vampire-Porcupine-Chicken-Dinosaur

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This is an ideal costume for the archaeology aficionado. Based off paleontologist Paul Sereno’s serendipitous rediscovery of this little cat-sized terror’s fossils in a Harvard basement last year, your costume should encompass the main features of the cute little dinosaur:

– Parrot-like beak
– Giant fangs (its 3-inch skull boasted ½-inch long fangs)
– Coat of porcupine-like bristles (you can use straws cut to a point – bonus points if you can figure out a way to get them to stand-up as a reaction to threats)

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The creature, which skittered about the Lesotho region of Africa 200 million years ago, was bi-pedal and had grasping hands; to recreate the posture I recommend the standard “raptor” stance – arms tucked in, back hunched, head tilted.

2.Genetically-modified Mosquito with Scientist, a costume for couples

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

If you come with a built-in Halloween partner like a significant other or friendly roommate, you may want to look into couple’s costumes. One possibility is to nod to the increasingly trendy method of stamping out tropical disease – that of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild. The flies are engineered by British biotech company Oxitec.

The male mosquitoes (which do not bite – you can blame all your itchy aggravations on the ladies) are engineered with a tragic flaw. They pass down an altered version of the tTA gene to their offspring that effectively prevents the larva from developing into full-grown adult mosquitoes, thereby diminishing the population density of these insidious vectors for dengue fever and malaria.

To pull off this costume, one party needs the standard “scientist” accessories – a lab coat, beaker, glasses – while the other needs a good fly costume complete with wings, bubble eyes, and probiscus. Bonus points if you incorporate some indicator of genetic modification – maybe a big red “NO” cross on your crotch?

3. The Steampunk Insect, or the Issus Bug

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This little guy, scientific name Issus coleoptratus, was big news in September when a paper published in Science demonstrated it as the first example of a functional gear found in nature.

The nymph form of this plant-hopper insect has two interlocking gears at the top of their hind legs that serve as propulsion mechanisms, assisting the bug in its extreme jumping acrobatics. The adolescent Issus can reach jumping speeds of 8 mph and an acceleration rate of 400 g’s – a typical human can only tolerate up to 5 g’s.

Scanning electron micrograph image of gears. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Burrows.
Scanning electron micrograph image of gears. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Burrows.

To get this look, wear your best bug costume and attach cardboard gears to your hips.

4. The Higgs Boson, or the Hardest Halloween Costume EVER:

Scientists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert won the Nobel Prize for physics this week for their work developing the concept of the Higgs boson particle, which theoretically is responsible for providing all the matter in the Universe with mass.

The closest we can probably come to representing the Higgs boson in a Halloween costume would be to recreate the read-out from a simulated collision between two protons (picture below) touted as possible evidence of its existence:

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

To get this effect, attach LED light strands to a black turtleneck. Be ready to have to explain yourself constantly, understand esoteric physics, and most likely endure exasperated eye rolls from your fellow revelers.

VIDEO: Doggie Tree Lighting

SOUTH END — Tree lightings aren’t just for humans anymore. Deedee Sun takes us to Boston’s South End for one get-down pet party sponsored by the Animal Rescue League.