Science  26 Nov 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5701, pp. 1449

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  1. EXHIBITS: The Galileo Files

    The Galileo Project from science historians at Rice University in Houston, Texas, lets you follow the life and work of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), who made the telescope into a serious observing instrument and became a scientific martyr. From a brief biography, visitors can explore pages on Galileo's scientific accomplishments and inventions. For example, after boosting the magnifying power of existing telescopes, he discovered four moons orbiting Jupiter and observed the phases of Venus. But his work contradicted the Catholic Church's view that the solar system revolved around Earth. A chronology details Galileo's conflict with the Inquisition, which kept him under house arrest for the last decade of his life.

    Adding context to these events are backgrounders on contemporaries, such as Johannes Kepler, who showed that the planets' orbits are elliptical, and the virtuoso Danish observer Tycho Brahe. Another site highlight is translations of 124 letters from Galileo's eldest daughter Maria Celeste, who became a nun.

  2. DATABASE: Where the Bones Are

    Images of Tyrannosaurus rex might be everywhere, from TV shows to lunch boxes, but its bones have turned up at only a few locales around western North America. At the Paleobiology Database, visitors can find out where researchers have collected particular species or tackle broader questions about patterns in the fossil record.

    The 5-year-old site, headed by paleontologist John Alroy of the University of California, Santa Barbara, lets you scan Alroy's and other experts' records of more than 43,000 fossil collections, dating back to more than 540 million years ago. Searching for a species returns a roster of collecting locales. Click on a particular one for a detailed profile that includes lists of other remains discovered there, descriptions of the strata, evaluations of how well the fossils had held up, and other information. You can also map the finds. Researchers can use the data to ask “big-picture questions” about the history of life—for example, tallying the diversity of ferns since the demise of the dinosaurs.

  3. RESOURCES: Jewels of the Americas

    Cichlids—the fish group that includes oscars, angelfish, and Jack Dempseys—are the aquatic equivalents of Darwin's finches. The handsome creatures have hooked the interest of evolutionists and ecologists because of their dazzling diversity of shapes, behaviors, and feeding habits, which include nibbling the fins and scales of other fish. This guide from ichthyologist Sven Kullander of the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm summarizes the South American cichlids, which constitute about one-quarter of the world's 1600 or so species. The site profiles more than 30 genera, offering physical descriptions, keys for sorting species, geographical distributions, and notes on nomenclature. Some species warrant their own pages. Unlike most fishes, cichlids are conscientious parents. This Cichlasoma dimerus, which lives in areas from Bolivia to Argentina, stands guard over a swarm of hatchlings.

  4. NET NEWS: Computing for Humanity

    If you haven't already donated your desktop computer's downtime to searching for new drug candidates or signs of alien life, here's your chance. A new site launched by IBM and partners is recruiting volunteers to help crunch research problems. The goal is to aid society, for example, by studying diseases or predicting natural disasters.

    Participants will download software that lets their PC analyze chunks of a problem when the machine is idling, as was first done in 1999 by SETI@Home, which combs through radio signals from space for possible messages. Yoked together, the computers will add up to a giant supercomputer. The World Community Grid will begin with the Human Proteome Folding Project run by the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Washington, which aims to determine the shapes of human proteins. IBM is also soliciting proposals for five or six other projects a year.