As you might imagine ErrantScience cartoons end up printed out and posted in lots of strange places beyond social media. One of the things we absolutely love is getting photos of our cartoons stuck to walls, fridges, equipment and even chairs. Feedback is always a tricky thing to capture but seeing our work in people’s lives is very gratifying.

But even though we’re very used to seeing our work out in the world it was a surprise at the end of 2022 to see our work hurtling in an incalculable number of pieces all over the New Mexico desert.

To explain, we have to go back a little to March 2021.

Just to put you in the right mindset COVID vaccines were starting to roll out, Texas was suffering terrible blackouts, the excellent movie Moxie! had just been released, and ErrantScience put out a cartoon called “A Good Day In The Lab”.

Now I have a sum total of around 17 years of experience in the lab and still have all my original limbs. But there has been more than one occasion where retaining my original limbs didn’t seem very likely, occasionally due to my own stupidity but also just because science is all about exploring new ideas and some of those new ideas you discover are explosive.

So I drew the cartoon because I wanted to capture the sometimes explosive nature of science from the perspective of a scientist that never really wanted it to explode (I mostly wanted molecules to stick to each other in slightly better ways than they were sticking to each other already). “A good day in the lab is a day where nothing explodes” is a lovely positive message about non-exploding science… which Sasha Egan took as a personal challenge.

Sasha is a Research Explosives Engineer II at the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC) which is part of New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. As you might gather from his job title, for Sasha a day where nothing explodes is a very concerning day. Basically, if someone somewhere wants something blown up in a complex and strange way Sasha’s job is to go about seeing how to make that happen. Given some of the projects Sasha has worked on you’d be surprised just how many people want things blown up in complex and strange ways.

Back in 2021 Sasha saw our cartoon and was immediately struck with a compulsion to follow my instructions in my footnote to the letter and apply their own brand of research to my cartoon. Specifically detonography.

Detonography is a form of explosive engraving which uses the energy of the detonation to oblate an acceptor material in a very precise way. The imprints form due to something called the Munroe effect (or von Foerster effect) which is where using shaped charges or mask you can shape the pattern of an explosive. Now EMRTC are kind of amazing at doing this technique. Since the mid 80s they’ve been working with artist Evelyn Rosenberg to produce more and more complex patterns and shapes and thanks to Sasha and their colleagues have the process down to an art.

So on the 9th of September at the EMRTC testing site Sasha and the EMRTC testing crew set up 6 metal plates on 6 plinths of sand. On top, Sasha laid linocuts of our amazing cartoon and then sheets of military grade demolition explosive called Primasheet (apparently you can get explosives in rolls of rubberised sheets), retreated to a safe distance annnnd…

ErrantScience cartoons go boom!

The results were frankly amazing and best shown by this gallery of photos taken by Sasha.

So the original comic (or a lino version of it) may be exploded all over the desert but it’s left behind some amazing detonographic plates of our explosive cartoon. I am willing to bet that those hefty plates long outlast the other copies of the comic both digital and paper. Sasha has explosively ensured that my inaccurate cartoon will be preserved long after ErrantScience is closed and I’ve drawn my last comic.

Note to self: be careful what you challenge scientists to do in cartoons.

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1 Comment

Sasha · 27 January 2023 at 02:07

This is a fantastic write up, everyone says so! I think that it needs to be emphasized that everything that we do at EMRTC takes loads of support, everyone involved has a critical skill. The ordnance techs for this job were Troy and Woody. The entire field crew at West Valley was involved. Two student engineers, Donno and Stephen, helped put it together. The students in the Fab Lab on campus cut the layer masks, overseen by Michael. The original seed idea was conceived by our explosive chemist, Tom, and a fellow engineer, Mel, who also found us the funding to get it done. The phenomenal “challenge accepted” video was produced by Hayley, who deserves full marks for her creative artistry.
Now for laughs you should give them the backstory of how we tracked you down… That was an absolute classic!

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