Random Samples

Science  27 May 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5726, pp. 1253

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  1. Boardwalk? No, Wellcome Trust


    A new game promises to be a big hit in the world's genomics laboratories. A play on Monopoly, HapMapopoly replaces real estate with sequencing centers and railroads with journals. (Science stands in for Pennsylvania Railroad.)

    Inspired by the haplotype mapping project that is cataloging human genetic variation, the game calls for players to collect and sequence the DNA necessary to finish building the HapMap as they travel around the board. Grants are awarded as players pass Go, and sequencing centers and granting agencies are up for sale. At $400,000, The Wellcome Trust, which supports large-scale sequencing in the United Kingdom, is a prime location: Rent there is $50,000 a visit. Poor data, dead laptop batteries, and contaminated experiments dictated by “Chance” cards lead to lost turns and fines.

    HapMapopoly was created by Morris Foster, a medical anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, and introduced this month at a genome meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Thomas Hudson of McGill University in Montreal and other attendees spent an evening at a local bar chuckling as they read the game cards. “I am planning to play it with my kids,” says Hudson.

  2. Swaddling a Glacier


    Ski resorts near glaciers are sweating over global warming, as shrinkage of these rivers of ice threatens the operators' pocketbooks.

    The latest stopgap measure is worthy of the artist Christo: In the Swiss Alps, an operator of a cable car that ferries skiers up to the Gurschen glacier has covered 3000 square meters of the glacier with a huge sheet of fleecelike material. The glacier's melting top end has sunk about 20 meters over the last 15 years, and so each year the resort has had to build a ramp of snow to it from the cable-car stop. The $25,000 blanket would reflect sunlight to keep the ramp from melting each summer and preserve the patch of glacier underneath.

    Glaciologist Wilfried Haeberli of the University of Zurich says that although glaciers have been melting for the past century, they usually erode at the bottom. But now, as temperatures rise and snow lines climb, tops of glaciers are melting too. Losing ski runs is not the only problem: With perma-frost melting under cable-car stations, resort owners are injecting concrete into the ground to shore up the foundations.

  3. Iron Age Shoe

    Reed compares footwear through the ages. CREDIT: EXETER ARCHAEOLOGY

    A 2500-year-old leather shoe has been discovered at a gravel quarry at Burles-combe, some 40 km northeast of Exeter in England. Its recovery is “unique,” says Stephen Reed, project leader at Exeter Archaeology, the team leading the research. He believes the find to be “the first recognizable leather artifact—rather than scraps of leather—from this period in the U.K.”

    The artifact measures 30 cm, marking the likely owner as male. The stitches and lace holes are still visible. The shoe was found in a hollowed-out tree trunk that formed the entrance to a well above a spring. It was discovered when the trunk was sent for examination to the Wiltshire Conservation Centre laboratory in Salisbury. The shoe was well preserved by the anaerobic conditions in the trunk, says Reed. Scientists at the center hope to discover the origin of the leather, whether it had been tanned for preservation, and the shoe's shape and style.

  4. Pioneers


    Simulated step. Hall Train may have dropped out of high school, but the 48-year-old Canadian inventor is applying his artistic and mechanical talents to help paleontologists explain and conduct their research.

    Train has built numerous models of dinosaurs, from a cable-controlled Tyrannosaurus rex head used in TV documentaries to a massive, 8-meter-long robotic Triceratops at Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Florida. Earlier this month, the latest of Train's creations—one he describes as his “masterpiece”—debuted in New York City at the American Museum of Natural History. The museum's new dinosaur exhibit features his 2-meter model of a T. rex skeleton that walks in place. Train spent 6 months in his Toronto studio building the mechanism; the little toes alone required 50 moving parts each.

    The model's eerily realistic walk is “a powerful tool for explaining locomotion,” says John Hutchinson, a paleontologist at the Royal Veterinary College in North Mymms, U.K. Hutchinson suspects that the model may even reveal some new aspects of how joints function. Train is currently helping researchers at Stanford build a remote-controlled pterosaur that can fly.

  5. Face Offs

    Jabbing the old guard. Richard Horton, the prickly editor of The Lancet, showed again last week that he enjoys a good fight—even if he has to start it himself. In the 21 May issue of the journal, he delivers a scorching editorial attack on the Royal Society (RS) of London, the world's oldest scientific club. Beginning with the question, “What is the Royal Society for?,” Horton writes that it has become “a lazy institution, resting on its historical laurels” and “little more than a shrill and superficial cheerleader for British science.” As far as medicine is concerned, he adds, its “marbled cupboards are largely bare.” He recommends a housecleaning.

    The riposte came quickly in a statement released by RS Executive Secretary Stephen Cox. It decries the “personal campaign that Richard Horton … has been conducting against the Royal Society.” The editorial is “wholly inaccurate,” says Cox, who cites other examples of Horton's errors including “the recent embarrassment … in which [The Lancet] had to publish a partial retraction” of a paper that linked childhood vaccination with autism. The contretemps is unlikely to end with this exchange.

  6. Awards

    Stellar mentors. A blind graduate student taught computer scientist Richard Ladner that the intensely graphical content of science and engineering was completely inaccessible to the blind. So Ladner, a professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, launched a project to automate the conversion of two-dimensional graphics into embossed images comprehensible by touch. The research is part of a broader effort by Ladner to help students with disabilities pursue graduate studies.

    Last week, that effort earned him a 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. Eight other academics received the $10,000 prize: Lenore Blum of Carnegie Mellon University; Barbara Burke of California State Polytechnic University; Charlena Grimes of Washington State University; Jeffrey Russell of the University of Wisconsin; Herb Schroeder of the University of Alaska; John Warner of the University of Massachusetts; Steven Watkins of Louisiana State University and A&M College; and Elizabeth Yanik of Emporia State University in Kansas. Five institutions also were honored at the Washington, D.C., ceremony.

  7. Nonprofit World


    Learning curve. After more than 20 victories on the U.S. professional golf tour, including the 2004 Master's Tournament, Phil Mickelson is swinging for a new target: getting children excited about math and science.

    Mickelson and his wife Amy have teamed up with ExxonMobil to train elementary school teachers in math and science instruction. In July, the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy will enroll 200 teachers from across the country for a 5-day workshop on innovative teaching methods aimed at creating a sense of inquiry and problem-solving ability in students. The program, to be held at an ExxonMobil site in Fairfax, Virginia, may become an annual feature depending on its success this year. For more information, see www.exxonmobil.com/corporate/Sponsorships/sponsor_home.asp.