Random Samples

Science  23 Apr 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5670, pp. 514

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  1. Schoolboy Plank?


    Spanish archaeologists working at the Egyptian necropolis of Dra Abu el-Naga in Luxor have uncovered a highly unusual piece of artwork: a full-frontal portrait of a pharaoh. The find, announced this month in Madrid by José Manuel Galán of the government's Philology Institute, is exceptional because ancient Egyptian artists almost always portrayed people in profile.

    The artifact, discovered last year, is composed of 14 palmwood fragments that scientists have reassembled into a 50- by 31-centimeter plaque. Galán is leading a project in southern Egypt to restore the tomb of Djehuty, a scribe from the XVIII Dynasty in the early 16th century B.C.E. The scientists aren't sure of the purpose of the plaque, which was buried near the tomb, but they say it represents a pharaoh—probably either Thutmose III or his stepmother Hatshepsut—because he or she is wearing a regal cloth headpiece known as a “nemes.” The tablet could have been a scholarly tool: Pharaoh is portrayed twice, apparently drawn first by a teacher, then copied by a student. Galán believes the image, crisscrossed by a red grid, may have been a sketch for a statue.

    Egyptologist Geoffrey Metz of Uppsala University's Museum Gustavianum in Sweden says that although ancient Egyptians portrayed deities head-on, humans were “rarely depicted en face on a two-dimensional field. … This image of a king is unique.” The plank will be put on exhibit in the Luxor Museum.

  2. Lean, Hungry, and Healthy

    It's been shown in mice, fish, and yeast; now a study of long-term calorie restriction in humans suggests that if you really want to live longer, eat less.

    Few people are willing to cut back drastically on their calorie intake for years on end. But researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, managed to locate 18 (15 of them men), aged 25 to 82, who have spent an average of 6 years following nutritionally balanced diets recommended by the Calorie Restriction Society. The scientists compared them with 18 people who ate a “typical Western diet.” On average, the subjects consumed 1700 calories a day, compared with at least 2100 for the controls, says lead investigator Luigi Fontana, who also works for the Italian institute of health.

    Dr. Atkins notwithstanding, the subjects lost a lot of weight while consuming 46% of their calories as complex carbohydrates. Their levels of “bad” cholesterol and blood lipids and their diabetes risk markers went way down. Blood pressures dropped to childhood levels. The subjects' bodies were 9% fat—compared with 24% for controls and, surprisingly, 12% for “people who run 50 miles a week,” says Fontana. And none of the dieters had plaque on their carotid arteries, the researchers report in the 19 April online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    William Harlan, a nutrition expert and clinical trials adviser to the National Institute of Mental Health, calls the study “provocative.” He points out that the subjects are self-selected; nonetheless, “the differences that are present are striking. … More studies like this would provide us a better idea of what a truly healthful diet would look like.”

  3. Four Years Young


    Yoda, a mutant dwarf that a University of Michigan scientist claims is the world's oldest laboratory mouse, contemplates the competition—a plastic version of another popular model for research on aging, the fruit fly. The murine antiquity, who turned 4 years old last week or roughly 136 in human terms, quietly celebrated the day with his longtime companion Princess Leia. (He needs the larger female to keep him from freezing to death.) “Yoda is only the second mouse I know to have made it to his fourth birthday without the rigors of a severe calorie-restricted diet,” says aging researcher Richard Miller.

  4. Corpulence Code Red

    “As we look to the future and where childhood obesity will be in 20 years … it is every bit as threatening to us as is the terrorist threat we face today. It is the threat from within.”

    —Vice Admiral Richard Carmona, U.S. surgeon general

    in a press release announcing the Time-ABC News “Summit on Obesity” to be presented in Williamsburg, Virginia, 2 to 4 June by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

  5. Web Inventor Wins Tech Nobel


    Celebrated computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee has won the first $1.2 million Millennium Technology Prize from the Finnish Technology Award Foundation for pioneering the development of the World Wide Web.

    In 1990 Berners-Lee, currently a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, created the first server, browser, and protocols central to the operation of the Web while working at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

    “The Web is encouraging new types of social networks, supporting transparency and democracy, and opening up novel avenues for information management and business development,” says Pekka Tarjanne, chair of the selection committee. The biennial award is funded by eight Finnish organizations and aimed at honoring technological breakthroughs that enhance the quality of life.

  6. Awards


    Beyond chatrooms. British educator Celia Hoyles is the inaugural winner of the Hans Freudenthal Medal from the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction. The prize, named after a 20th century German-born mathematician who championed math education, recognizes Hoyles's use of information technology for teaching mathematics.

    A professor at the University of London's Institute of Education, Hoyles co-directs the WebLabs project, in which 10- to 14-year-old students across Europe collaboratively explore topics such as infinity, randomness, and the physics of motion via the World Wide Web.

    “We must exploit technology's potential for ‘real’ learning and not simply superficial engagement,” Hoyles says.

  7. Jobs


    Amiable watchdog. After more than a year as acting director, Bernard Schwetz (left) has been named head of the U.S. Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), which oversees human subjects research funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.

    A veterinarian and toxicologist who used to work at the Food and Drug Administration, Schwetz wants clinical researchers to regard the 40-person office as an ally, not an enemy, in the government's attempt to enforce ethical standards. “He has pretty much kept the OHRP out of the headlines since he took over,” says David Korn of the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, D.C., praising Schwetz for his integrity and collegiality. But if a university were to break the rules, he says, Schwetz would “come down hard with both feet.”

    Calling all women. The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) is looking for a new executive director now that Catherine Didion has announced plans to leave this summer after 14 years at the helm.

    “It's been a great run, and I'm still committed to the issues, but any organization needs change,” says Didion. AWIS President Elizabeth Ivey says the 33-year-old Washington, D.C.-based association is looking for someone with a mix of scientific and management skills: “We're in good shape financially, but there's always room to grow.”

  8. Explorers


    Trekking the tundra. Four years after setting out from Norway's North Cape, French nuclear physicist Gilles Elkaïm is close to completing his trek along the Eurasian rim of the Arctic Ocean. Aided by the European Space Agency's Earth observation satellites, Elkaïm has traversed nearly 12,000 kilometers of dangerous icy terrain on foot, skis, and sled. He and his 12 sled dogs are expected to reach their final destination—the Bering Strait—later this spring.