While there are probably more immediate concerns when it comes to the security nanny state the U.S. erected after 2001, such as the continuing erosion of civil liberties (especially when the servant learns to love the lash), this recent article about Boston’s Logan Airport security reminds me that there’s been another casualty of our security paranoia:
State police say nitrates detected in a piece of checked luggage at Boston’s Logan International Airport were traced to a sample of mud brought back from a river in Hong Kong.
Two gates at the American Airlines terminal were closed as a precaution on Tuesday afternoon after the nitrates were detected. The gates were reopened about an hour later after it was determined there was no danger.
State police said the mud sample was brought to Boston by a doctoral student at Hong Kong University who was participating in a research program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
When I was a graduate student and post-doc-this was in the pre-September 11th era-I used to collect soil samples whenever I went some place interesting. I had colleagues who did the same: many Bacillus biologists used to do this, and had extensive collections of soil samples. Bacillus is a spore-forming bacterium, so the spores can survive in soil-even if it’s in a jar on your lab shelf. I also had colleagues who studied Drosophila (the flies which are a model system in biology), and would collect strains while traveling. Several of the classic laboratory lines of Drosophila were gathered exactly this way.
But I can’t even imagine getting these through airport security, without either being opened (and letting all the flies out…) or getting nuked.
Like I said, there are much greater losses in terms of our civil liberties, but this sucks too.