Random Samples

Science  04 Mar 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5714, pp. 1405
  1. Stonehenge for Southern Skies


    A full-scale adaptation of Stonehenge is giving Southern Hemisphere stargazers a taste of ancient astronomical know-how.

    Stonehenge Aotearoa, New Zealand's answer to the 4000-year-old stone circle on England's Salisbury Plain, is designed to illustrate how ancient cultures followed the movements of celestial bodies through the seasons. The henge, built on farmland on New Zealand's North Island, comprises a 30-meter-diameter stone circle that includes 24 pillars made of concrete and plaster joined by lintels, surrounded by six outer “heel” stones. When viewed from the center of the circle, the stones and arches mark the rising and setting positions of the sun and moon at different times of the year and of prominent stars and constellations. These include the star cluster Matariki (the Maori name for Pleiades), whose rising in June marks the start of the Maori year, and Capella, used for navigation by the Pacific Islanders who first settled New Zealand some 700 years ago.

  2. Getting Buzzed out of Depression

    A “pacemaker” for the brain? A Canadian-U.S. team has found that stimulation from electrodes placed deep in the brains of severely depressed patients has alleviated their misery when nothing else could.

    Helen Mayberg of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, says this is the first depression study of “deep brain stimulation,” which has been used with some success in Parkinson's patients.

    The researchers targeted an area called the subgenual cingulate, a part of the emotional brain that is hyperactive in depression. The six patients had failed to benefit from any therapy, including shock treatments. But all had prompt reactions to the electrodes, reporting impressions such as “disappearance of the void.”

    The scientists followed patients for 6 months after implanting low-voltage pulse generators, attached to the electrodes, under their collarbones. In four of them, the depression mostly lifted, the scientists report in the March issue of Neuron. One woman started to relapse a couple of weeks after experimenters turned off the stimulator, but she quickly cheered up when the current was turned back on.

    Mayberg says the brain area where the electrodes were inserted has “primary connections” with the frontal cortex as well as many areas in the limbic system that have been implicated in depression. Psychiatrist Husseini Manji of the National Institute of Mental Health says the technique “has a lot of potential” both for treating depression and for understanding the brain circuitry involved.

  3. He Thinks He's Human ...


    Agreeable hyena? Animals' personalities are so complex that they can be measured along the same dimensions as human ones, says a University of Texas, Austin, researcher. At the AAAS annual meeting last week, psychologist Samuel Gosling reported that animal personality ratings are stable over time and “are as predictive in dogs as in humans.”

    Psychologists score humans on five major dimensions: conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, openness, and agreeableness. After querying dog owners, Gosling created a four-factor dog inventory based on energy, affiliativeness, emotional reactivity, and competence. His team also created one for hyenas: assertiveness, excitability, human-drected agreeableness, sociability, and curiosity. Gosling, who reviewed the literature on 64 animal species including pigs and octopi, said basic personality traits are universal. For example, “openness” in humans is analogous to “curiosity” in animals. And he found that neuroticism (nervousness and fearfulness), agreeableness, and extroversion cut across all species.

    Primatologist Stephen Suomi of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development says that Gosling has gone beyond merely typing animals (“shy” or “aggressive”) and is “the first to apply principles from personality and social psychology” to individual differences. Such work, Gosling noted, can aid the hunt for biological and evolutionary bases of human personality.

  4. Seeing Stars Underground


    Munich subway riders have a monthlong chance to peer through the cosmos. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg have put up six giant posters in a Munich subway station that together—at 120 square meters—make up one of the largest astronomical images ever printed. The display is a mosaic of Hubble Space Telescope pictures, taken of an area in the southern sky about the size of the full moon, that covers about 10,000 galaxies as far as 7 billion light-years away, halfway back to the big bang. It wows commuters and astronomers alike, says Jakob Staude of the Heidelberg institute: “It's so much data, on your screen you can never see it all together.”

  5. Jobs


    Sandia gold. Physicist Thomas Brennan worked at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for 10 years before leaving to become an entrepreneur in 1996. Last month, he returned to help the lab turn more of its technologies into commercial ventures.

    As Sandia's first entrepreneur in residence— similar positions exist at other institutions— Brennan hopes to get investors excited about what Sandia scientists are doing. The goal is to boost the local economy and “get some royalties back to the lab,” he says.

    Brennan, who has helped launch companies that manufacture diode lasers and water-purification systems, says his new job builds on his former life as a Sandia researcher. “I have a lot of respect for the work that scientists are doing at the lab,” he says. “I am not just here to harvest their minds.”

  6. Jobs


    Changes at LBNL. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab has picked three new leaders to beef up its senior management and strengthen the University of California's (UC's) bid to retain management of the Department of Energy (DOE) facility. Last month, director Steven Chu announced that spectroscopist Graham Fleming (left) would take over as the lab's second in command, replacing Pier Oddone, who left in December to become director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois (Science, 3 December 2004, p. 1679). Nanoscientist Paul Alivisatos will be the new physical sciences director, and David McGraw takes over as head of operations.

    Berkeley insiders speculate that no other bids have been submitted to run the lab. (DOE officials are mum on the topic.) If UC is awarded the contract, a decision expected this spring, Fleming says the lab will launch initiatives on using solar power to generate carbon-neutral sources of chemical energy and unraveling the mystery of dark energy, the enigmatic force speeding up the expansion of the universe.

  7. Jobs


    Going local. The new director of an international tropical research consortium headquartered at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, wants to train more biologists in Latin American countries to boost conservation efforts there.

    Forest ecologist Elizabeth Losos, who this week took the helm of the $6 million Organization for Tropical Studies, says expanding the organization's educational initiatives will help “place the fate of tropical forests in the hands of those who live there.” Losos, 41, comes to the job after 11 years as head of the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Tropical Forestry Science.

    Losos also hopes to bring greater financial stability to the consortium, which in recent years has laid off workers at two of its its three field stations in Costa Rica (Science, 17 October 2003, p. 389). But the worst is definitely over, says interim (and former) director Donald Stone of Duke University.

  8. Follow-Up

    Look what they found. A German archaeologist who allegedly attempted to sell chimpanzee skulls owned by his institution (Science, 27 August 2004, p. 1237) has been found to have falsified scientific data and papers for decades. In January a panel from Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main investigating Reiner Protsch von Zeiten concluded, among other things, that Protsch couldn't operate his own carbon-dating equipment and had committed falsifications and plagiarism throughout his 30-year career. The report, part of which was made public on 17 February, also cited the university's failure to uncover the falsifications. Protsch retired in January, and a disciplinary panel is considering whether his pension should be withheld. He is also likely to face criminal charges for the improper sale of university artifacts.

  9. Awards

    No longer a secret. In the fall of 1959, electronics engineer James Plummer told his colleagues at Lockheed Aircraft that he would be incommunicado for a while because of his work on a secret nuclear project. The real secret was Plummer's new job: helping the CIA build a spy satellite. Sixteen months later, Plummer and four other engineers had designed the Corona—which peered into Soviet missile sites and nuclear submarines from 130 kilometers above Earth.

    Last week, that effort earned Plummer and his Corona colleagues—Minoru S. Araki, Francis J. Madden, Edward A. Miller, and Don H. Schoessler—the $500,000 Charles Stark Draper Prize from the National Academy of Engineering. Chemist Leland Clark Jr. was awarded the biennial $500,000 Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize for developing self-monitoring diabetes kits and devices that measure dissolved oxygen in industrial and environmental settings. And Purdue University engineers Edward Coyle, Leah Jamieson, and William Oakes shared the $500,000 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for innovation in engineering education.