Random Samples

Science  21 Jan 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5708, pp. 349

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  1. Scientists' Personalities


    The results of the “first-ever psychological profile of life science researchers” indicate that most of them tend to be assertive (“leader”) and data-oriented (“organizer”). Many are highly creative (“explorer”), but few belong in the “enthusiast” category, which seems to be a catchall for unambitious team players. Based on the usual polarities personality tests favor— that is, with many items revealing whether you are a logical versus intuitive thinker—the survey used a series of questions cooked up by the Science Advisory Board, a virtual community of biomedical researchers. (Take the test at scienceboard.net/s/s151/?u=99156290&p=3933EEC0)

  2. Unloading Biosphere

    The Texas-based company that owns Bio-sphere 2 intends to sell the glass-enclosed facility designed to simulate Earth's environment. According to Martin Bowen, vice president of Decisions Investments Corp. (DIC), “we are seeking a right buyer who can keep the project going for the long term.”

    Built in the 1980s by Texas billionaire Edward Bass, Biosphere 2, located in Oracle, Arizona, was supposed to replicate in a closed environment various ecosystems found on Earth. Problems such as oxygen leaks frustrated those plans even after Columbia University took over managing the project in 1996. The school decided to walk away in 2003.

    DIC won't reveal its asking price for the facility but says it is open to a joint venture. This spring the company and the National Academy of Sciences are hosting a meeting in Washington, D.C., with experts from the government and academia to discuss the future of the 1.27-hectare technological marvel. “We don't know what uses Biosphere 2 can have in the future,” says Bowen. “That is something we want to explore.”

  3. Ring Around a Moon?


    This is the closest picture ever taken of Saturn's moon Iapetus—a composite of images caught on New Year's Eve by the Huygens-Cassini mission to Saturn and its big moon Titan. It reveals for the first time a striking feature: a 20-kilometer-wide ridge, rising as high as 13 kilometers, that appears to girdle the planet almost exactly along its equator. It could be a mountain belt or it could be a crack through which subsurface material has welled up, according to NASA officials. But no one has an explanation for its regularity.

    Iapetus, 1436 kilometers in diameter, holds other mysteries. Almost half the moon is a heavily cratered region called Cassini Regio that is covered with dark material that scientists haven't been able to identify—it could have erupted out of the moon's interior, but it also might be debris from impact events on other, dark satellites. Because the darkness gets spottier at the poles, the new image supports the notion that it's from fallout.

  4. Gambling as Addiction


    A new study lends support to what many experts believe—that compulsive gambling is like drug addiction.

    Gamblers and drug addicts describe similar cravings and highs. To see if each group's brains have similar abnormalities, a team led by Christian Büchel, a neurologist at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany, used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brains of 12 compulsive slot machine players and 12 controls while both groups engaged in a simple gamble: choosing one of two face-down playing cards. They gained or lost a euro depending on whether the card was red or black.

    Büchel's team found that winners showed increased blood flow to the ventral striatum, a key part of the brain's reward system that involves the neurotransmitter dopamine. But the gamblers exhibited significantly less blood flow than did the controls, indicating a more sluggish reward system, the researchers report online 9 January in Nature Neuroscience.

    The result fits with the notion that gamblers compensate for deficiencies in their brain reward systems by overdoing and getting hooked. Addiction researcher Eric Nestler, a psychiatrist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, says this looks like the “tolerance” to reward seen in drug addicts that leads to the need for increasingly higher doses. But he says it would be useful to determine whether gamblers also experience “sensitization”—which involves greater responses to rewarding effects of the drug and which “may be the more critical feature” in addiction.

  5. Awards


    Japan Prizes. Masatoshi Takeichi, director of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, and Erkki Ruoslahti of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, California, will split this year's Japan Prize for cell bio-logy. Makoto Nagao, president of Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technology in Tokyo, will receive the Information and Media Technology prize.

    Takeichi (left inset) and Ruoslahti (right inset) made fundamental contributions toward elucidating the molecular mechanisms of cell adhesion, which could lead to new therapies for treating malignant tumors. Nagao (center left) is honored for his contributions to natural language processing, which paved the way for advances in machine translation of languages. Each prize is worth $475,000, an amount Takeichi and Ruoslahti will share.

  6. Jobs


    Adios. Two years after being fired as head of Spain's premier agency for basic research, theoretical physicist Rolf Tarrach has become rector of the University of Luxembourg.

    Tarrach says his decision to join the 2-year-old institution was driven in part by his frustration with the Spanish bureaucracy, which he says stifles innovative research. “I never had sufficient freedom” to reform the archaic structures of the Spanish Higher Research Council, says Tarrach, who was fired from the agency in January 2003 after the government was criticized for its handling of the Prestige oil spill (Science, 31 January 2003, p. 637).

    Tarrach hopes things will be different at the University of Luxembourg, a government-owned institution that he says is run like a private corporation. That should provide “more flexibility and ease” to execute new ideas, he says. Tarrach will be on unpaid leave from the University of Barcelona until the end of his 5-year term.

    Change at AAMC. One of the top jobs in medical research and education policy will open up next year when nephrologist Jordan Cohen steps down as president of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Cohen, who has led AAMC since 1994, completes his current term in June 2006.

  7. Pioneers


    Support group. Meeting other women at scientific conferences helped Maria Klawe get through graduate school in the male-dominated field of mathematics. Now, as dean of Princeton's engineering school, Klawe hopes that an exchange program starting in the spring of 2006 with the all-women's Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, will serve as a similar confidence booster for Princeton co-eds.

    The initiative is part of a broader effort to increase the number of women in science and engineering at Princeton. Klawe hopes that some of Smith's undergraduates will want to go to engineering graduate school at Princeton after completing the semester-long exchange.

    “When you meet lots and lots of people like you,” she says, “it makes you feel that you are not weird.”

  8. Celebrating History

    Vietnam's friend. Few people in France know his name. But French microbiologist Alexandre Yersin, who discovered the plague bacterium, is still revered in Vietnam, where he was sent by Louis Pasteur in 1891 and where he remained until his death in 1943. A new documentary film about Yersin's life that premiered this month in Paris depicts his devotion to public health and the simple life he led in the fishing village of Nha Trang. Those values make Yersin a “hero” and a “great humanitarian,” says director Alain Tyr.