Random Samples

Science  24 Sep 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5692, pp. 1900
  1. Fireworks by a Dying Star

    CREDIT: NASA/ESA/HEIC/HUBBLE HERITAGE TEAM (STSCI/AURA)

    Want to see what our sun may look like in about 5 billion years? Here's a preview provided by the Hubble Space Telescope. Known as the Cat's Eye, it's a planetary nebula—an ordinary star that puffs its outer layers of gas into space when it runs out of nuclear fuel.

    The surprisingly sharp “rings” around the dying star are spherical shells of dust that were ejected every 1500 years or so when the star—now collapsing into a compact white dwarf—was an unstable red giant. Intrigued observers are watching how the star's current violent winds are colliding with earlier, relatively gentle stellar breezes, creating a complex set of shock waves within the Cat's Eye. “Stellar winds are not as simple or smooth as we once thought,” says astronomer Sun Kwok of Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan. “This is an excellent laboratory for supersonic dynamics.”

  2. Too Close for Comfort?

    CREDIT: FANNY BOCQUENTIN/JOURNAL OF HUMAN EVOLUTION

    Projectile point (arrow) in vertebra. Is war the price we pay for civilization? Anthropologists and archaeologists have long suspected a link between the rise of social tensions and the transition from hunting and gathering to a settled existence. Yet evidence has been lacking. The best- studied early sedentary peoples, the Natufians—who settled in present-day Israel about 14,500 years ago—were thought to have been fairly peaceful.

    Now a new study of 17 Natufian skeletons, excavated in 1931 at Kebara Cave on Mount Carmel, has turned up evidence that Natufians were killing one another. In the July-August issue of the Journal of Human Evolution, archaeologists Fanny Bocquentin of the University of Bordeaux, France, and Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University report finding a projectile point embedded in a thoracic vertebra from a mature male, as well as injuries to the skulls of two others. From the position of the crescent-shaped point, the scientists conclude that the assailant struck frontally from a low angle, perforating either the victim's left lung or his heart and aorta—suggesting that there was indeed “social tension at the beginning of sedentism.”

    The finding is “clear evidence for interpersonal conflict,” agrees archaeologist Ian Kuijt of Notre Dame University in Indiana. But he warns that it doesn't necessarily mean war: It could just have been the bloody end of a domestic spat.

  3. Med School Ethics Report

    Medical schools have been beefing up their research ethics, but they still fall short in some areas, says the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

    In 2001, a task force of AAMC—which represents 125 U.S. schools—issued new conflict-of-interest guidelines following the 1999 death of a gene-therapy patient in a study in which an investigator had a financial interest (Science, 11 January 2002, p. 246). A new survey finds that nearly two-thirds of 103 responding schools have revised their policies since 2001, and 95% now have conflict standards covering all clinical studies. Some 86% now say study subjects should be informed if an investigator has a significant financial interest. And 76% have standing conflict-of-interest committees.

    But only 61% have adopted the AAMC recommendation that researchers with a significant financial interest in a study be barred from participating absent a “compelling” argument. Only 59% review financial conflicts before a study gets ethics board approval. And 38% ban payments to investigators for obtaining certain research results. Says AAMC lawyer Susan Ehringhaus, “We have more work to do.”

  4. Scatological Solution

    CREDIT: EAST JAPAN RAILWAY CO.

    Spreading a mist of fear. There have never been any lions in the mountains of Japan's Iwate Prefecture. But fear of the big cats evidently runs deep: A railroad company has found it can keep wild animals off its tracks by spraying diluted lion feces along the right of way.

    East Japan Railway Co. was plagued with accidents involving deer, raccoon dogs, and other wild animals along some lines. Officials had heard reports of lion feces scaring deer and other tree bark-nibbling animals out of commercial forests. So they got a supply of lion dung from Morioka Zoological Park, diluted it in water, and periodically sprayed it along a particularly hazardous 2-kilometer stretch of tracks. During the 6-month test not a single animal was hit.

    The railroad company now wants to find a less pungent form of the potion to distribute near where people live. Kazuei Matsubara, an assistant professor of agriculture at Iwate University, is seeking to identify the relevant components so a nonoffensive product could be synthesized, for uses including keeping northern Japan's pesky black bears away from residential areas.

  5. Science on the Ramp

    CREDIT: D. NORMILE

    Japanese scientists are getting a chance to have elements of their research paraded on high-fashion catwalks, thanks to Tokyo-based designer Eri Matsui.

    Matsui, who draws inspiration from scientific concepts and scientists, has collaborated with researchers to create unusual patterns for her fabrics. The folds of brain tissue inspired the ruffles on one of her party dresses. Another creation, a wedding dress, has layered hemlines that get progressively shorter following the Fibonacci mathematical series. One of her designs displays a colorful pattern of nerves, developed in collaboration with Hiroyuki Kamiguchi, a neuroscientist specializing in cell biology, at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Tokyo.

    “She asked me for detailed information on the shape and movement of neurons and made sure she portrayed them accurately in the design,” says Kamiguchi. He says that although the project didn't get him interested in fashion, it gave him a chance to explain “what neuroscience is about to ordinary people.”

    Matsui says she follows her own curiosity in choosing scientific themes. Of late, she has been pondering concepts such as the nature of time and the big bang. “Expressing those ideas in fashion might be really strange,” she says with a laugh.

  6. Jobs

    New Roslin head. Harry Griffin has been named director of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, U.K., succeeding John Clark, who died in August.

    The 56-year-old biochemist joined Roslin in 1978 and has served as a senior manager for the past decade.

    CREDIT: SAM OGDEN

    Goodbye, administration. Yeast geneticist Susan Lindquist is stepping down in November after 3 years as director of the Whitehead Institute and returning to research.

    The demands of managing made it too difficult for Lindquist, 55, to continue pursuing her research, says an official, adding that “there were elements of development and fundraising which were not factored in” when Lindquist took the job. The Whitehead underwent significant changes during Lindquist's tenure, particularly in separating from the genome center led by Eric Lander. That center is now part of the Broad Institute.

    CREDIT: NIMH

    New brainpower. The McGovern Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has recruited a senior National Institutes of Health official to run the 4-year-old neuroscience lab. Robert Desimone, scientific director of intramural programs at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, will succeed founding director and Nobelist Phillip Sharp, who is returning to research.

    “He's exactly what we need,” says Sharp about the institute, made possible by a $350 million gift. A building for 45 researchers, to be completed next year, is expected to give the scattered institute more focus. Desimone says his goal is to squeeze “real benefits to human health and welfare” from basic research in the field.

  7. Awards

    CREDIT: HERMAN WOUTERS

    Medical education prize. Dutch psychologist Henk Schmidt has published works on an array of topics—from computer anxiety to how well people remember street names from their childhood neighborhood. But it's his groundbreaking research on how to train doctors that has won Schmidt a new $60,000 award from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

    The triennial prize was founded by Gunnar Höglund, a retired medical education expert from Karolinska, and his wife, microbiologist Anna-Stina Malmborg. Schmidt, age 56, a clinical researcher at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, receives the honor for having pioneered an approach called problem-based learning and writing “many very exciting papers” on how doctors learn and reason, says Karolinska's Kirsti Lonka, who chaired the award committee.

Log in to view full text

Via your Institution

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution