We all know airport security is a pain—you’ve got to take off your shoes, empty your pockets, and, if you’re a scientist, try to explain to the scary-looking security officer that the bag of suspicious white powder in your carry-on is, in fact, powdered limestone, not an illegal substance.
Scientists taking home rock samples or field gadgets have it tougher at the airport these days. Here are 14 examples of scientists getting stopped at airport security because of a strange science-related item in their luggage.
1. Because She’s Holding a Thermal Detonator Reactor!
In the olden days I had to take a PCR machine through security at a time. The one we had at the time was called a “Thermal Reactor”. That went down well.
— Cathy Abbott (@CathyAbbottLab) January 9, 2018
2. Gneiss Chert
Forgot I had a GIANT amethyst in my carry on. Agent asked if I had a rock in my bag. I said no…he pulled out the amethyst and looked at me and just started laughing. I was wearing a ‘geology rocks’ t-shirt… https://t.co/gWiOJHpuGE
— Morgan Haldeman (@georedhead) January 9, 2018
3. Seriously, Officer, It’s Oregano
Ooh, me! Dried plant samples my advisor swore the customs officials “wouldn’t care about”… I think I’m on some kind of U.S. blacklist now, because my suitcase gets torn apart Every. Single. Time.
— Dr. Erin Zimmerman January 9, 2018
4. What’s in the Bag?
Three rock hand samples in my luggage caused looks of concern by two security officials at Chibougamau airport in Quebec; once they started digging and realized what they were, the 2 guys just laughed and waved me through
— Steve Beyer (@conan_troutmann) January 9, 2018
5. But at Least You Packed Your Own Bag, Right?
Rocks. Rocks I’ve hidden all over in my luggage. Not just my rocks either. My advisor’s rocks too.>
— Caitlin Ahrens (@AhrensScience) January 9, 2018
6. Yeah, Yeah, Science Equipment. But What’s with the Yam?
I seem to get snagged all the time. Seismometer in Mexico City, histology slides in NY, large, uh, yam in Canada.
— Ashley W Poust (@AshPoust) January 9, 2018
7. Ten Every Day? This Deserves More Explanation…
Had a Gamma Ray spectrometer. TSA opens up the carrying case, asks: “What’s this?”. I say “Gamma Ray spectrometer, it’s an instrument that measures…” …waves me through! I ask: “You get many of these?” Answers: “Oh yeah, 10 a day”…!
— Tim Demko (@rock_jockey) January 9, 2018
8. What, Don’t You Mail Rocks?
Surprisingly hasn’t happened to me yet but have shocked my fair share of post office employees by being asked about the contents of the parcel I’m sending and replying ‘rocks’ with total seriousness! ⛏
— Kirsten Dutton (@KirstenDutton) January 9, 2018
9. Is There a Geologist in the House?
I was with a friend who had a 1L bottle of magnetite sand and a rock hammer in her carry-on trying to go through security in the Manila airport. I’ve never seen security officers jump away from the X-ray machine!! I instantly called out, “we’re geologists!” #crazygeologists
— Leslie Almberg (@VOLCANOTEACHER) January 8, 2018
10. It’s Not What You Think, I Swear
Oh yes. My favorite flash drive has caused my pack to be completely emptied at security twice now.
Jen O’Keefe (@PalyJen) January 8, 2018
11. To Paraphrase Monty Python, Every Rock Is Sacred
Leh Airport in Ladakh, India
Security: Ma’am, are there…rocks in your suitcase?
Security: Are they sacred rocks?
Me: *in my head* They’re sacred to me… https://t.co/FGfGUNMb6Y
— Nuzhat Tabassum (@ThenSheAppears) January 8, 2018
12. When I Said, “See for Yourself,” I Didn’t Mean Actual C4
That time TSA thought the white and mushy #clay is plastic explosives, and the quick swipe test returned a “positive” for explosives, too = instant attention! https://t.co/xWARdUfLj5
— Mathias Köster (@thelostgeo) January 8, 2018
13. Oh, Sure, It’s Powdered “Limestone” from Afghanistan
A squeaky bum moment taking home samples of high-purity limestone from Afghanistan. Small bags of white powder! There were a few questions!
— Richard Shaw (@Rashaw_Rocks) January 8, 2018
14. That’s Not a Knife…
Maseru airport, sitting in cafe after check in “excuse me ma’am, do you have knives in your checked bag?”. TBF, the putty knife that slices neatly through sediments may have looked a little off, but it was my *checked* bag!
— Robyn Inglis (@rhinglis) January 8, 2018
—JoAnna Wendel (@JoAnnaScience), Staff Writer
Wendel, J. (2018), When your weird science gets stopped at airport security, Eos, 99, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO091227. Published on 01 February 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.