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Now a story about emojis - you know, those tiny pictures you can add to your text or tweets. And it turns out they inspire a lot of complicated emotions in scientists. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports that some new emojis being released later this year have scientists feeling both thrilled and dismayed.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Stacy Phillips works at the Open University in the United Kingdom. She's a geologist, and she likes to use emojis.
STACY PHILLIPS: I was aware of the mountain emoji, which is quite helpful for geologists. And there's a hammer and a pick that I use quite a lot.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Recently she took a look at the list of new emojis being rolled out this year by the group that controls such things, the Unicode Consortium. On the list for the first time ever was something geologists had longed for - a rock.
PHILLIPS: Kind of like, yes. But then I was, like, but wait. What type of rock is that?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: To her, it looked like a cabbage.
PHILLIPS: It was just kind of dark green, a little wrinkly, a little bumpy, which I guess is what a rock looks like to most people.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: She and other geologists have been pondering this.
PHILLIPS: One of the most popular suggestions that I got was it was a rock called serpentinite.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Or maybe it's a rock covered in moss. Anyway, the rock will look different on every device or platform. Companies create their own renderings of each emoji, but at least geologists will finally have a symbol for the iconic object of their passion. The list of soon-to-be-released emojis also includes a fly, and that is good news for someone whose Twitter profile says he is, quote, "waiting for a fly emoji." Richard Meisel is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Houston. His lab uses fruit flies, one of the most studied species on the planet. A couple years ago, he went looking for a fly emoji.
RICHARD MEISEL: It's like, when you search fly, I think a mosquito would pop up and a butterfly would pop up.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: How does that make you feel?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He says, in the grand scheme of things, the emotional blow was trivial but nonetheless real.
MEISEL: I'm happy that there's a fly now, and now I have to change my Twitter bio to reflect that.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: But in one informal poll, a lot of fly researchers said it looks like the new fly emoji won't be cute enough. Mark Peifer is a biologist at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He says the fly emojis he's seen look like big ugly house flies, not science's treasured fruit flies.
MARK PEIFER: We don't want our lovely drosophila associated with those nasty houseflies. It's just not right.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Experts have taken issue with emojis before. Sometimes the images are scientifically inaccurate, like a squid emoji released a few years ago. A key part of its anatomy, the siphon used for jet propulsion, was in the wrong place, sitting between its eyes and looking disturbingly like a nose.
SARAH MCANULTY: And I saw the problem immediately, but I was honestly just so thrilled to bits to have a squid emoji at all that I didn't complain.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Sarah McAnulty is a squid biologist at the University of Connecticut. She says the Monterey Bay Aquarium tweeted about this. It got picked up by the press. In the next rollout of emojis, it was fixed.
MCANULTY: The squid's siphon was no longer visible on the top of the squid, so that's a win for us.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: A rare win for invertebrates, given that emojis are heavily biased towards mammals. Kyle David is a biologist at Auburn University who always checks the list of new emojis.
KYLE DAVID: To see, you know, are we getting any cool new marine critters or are we just getting, you know, our fourth bear or whatever?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He says big groups from the tree of life are missing.
DAVID: Cnidaria is like a very large group. That's your jellyfish and your corals that I don't think we have anything for. Echinoderms, which are one of our closest invertebrate relative groups. That's your starfish and your sea urchins.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: The entire kingdom of fungi is represented by one mushroom emoji. And then there is the emoji called microbe. It's the only option to represent all microbes - archaea, bacteria, viruses - unless you want to go with a petri dish. Kristen Bernard is a virologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She says people in her field had been waiting for a virus emoji.
KRISTEN BERNARD: I will say that we were all a little bit disappointed.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: The microbe emoji has been described as a green splat. Bernard says virologists use it, but that doesn't mean they like it.
BERNARD: It just doesn't really look like any of the viruses any of us work on.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: She wishes that there was, oh, an icosahedral one. Lots of viruses have this many sided structure.
BERNARD: Most virologists, if we saw an icosahedral-type shape, we would go, oh, it's a virus.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: She could propose an emoji like that. The Unicode Consortium takes suggestions from the public. Melissa Thermidor works for the group that oversees blood and organ donations in the United Kingdom. Her proposal for an anatomical heart emoji just got approved, as did her emoji for lungs. Also, a worm emoji - she pushed for that one because her 3-year-old daughter is always looking for wiggly worms.
MELISSA THERMIDOR: It was just, I guess, a nice little homage to her because she loves worms and I thought, well, why not?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: That means all worm researchers will soon have an emoji of their own and whatever complex feelings come with it. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
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