Random Samples

Science  22 Jul 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5734, pp. 554

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  1. Music of the Clouds


    Technological wizardry will transform the changing shapes of clouds into live music, in a new version of the “cloud harp” to be unveiled in Montreal, Canada, next year.

    An earlier version of the cloud harp, installed last year in Pittsburgh and Montreal, received a lot of attention, says its creator, architect Nicolas Reeves of the University of Quebec. In that version, clouds triggered prerecorded sounds. The new instrument, “Nomadic Cloud Harp,” will be more advanced, translating the shapes of clouds directly into sound as they pass over.

    A cloud harp works “like a giant CD player turned upside down,” Reeves says. In a CD player, a laser beam reads and converts holes on the surface of a disc into music; the new cloud harp will shoot a big laser beam up 8000 meters to read cloud surfaces. A computer program converts the shapes into an acoustic wave, which is then amplified by the harp. “The sound is modulated by the height and density of the clouds,” with higher clouds creating a higher pitch. Denser clouds make for louder music, Reeves explains. He hopes the harp—made of wood and standing 3.5 meters tall—will look “like a precious musical instrument.” He says listeners may be able to tune in to it at http://www.cloudharp.org/ by September.

  2. TV and Schoolwork Don't Mix

    The longer children spend in front of the television, the less likely they are to get through college. So concludes the first long-term study to investigate the educational impacts of childhood viewing habits.

    Researchers led by Robert Hancox of Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand, have followed almost 1000 5-year-old New Zealanders to the age of 26. Those who completed university averaged about 50 minutes less time in front of the tele-vision per weekday between the ages of 5 and 15 than did high school dropouts, according to parental and self reports.

    Decades of research on whether childhood TV viewing affects educational performance have produced conflicting results. The authors acknowledge that their data do not prove causality. However, they say the association between TV viewing and lower achievement persisted even after controlling for the children's IQs, behavioral problems, and socioeconomic status.

    The study, published in the July Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, is based on one of the best longitudinal samples in the world, says Anita Thapar, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. So it may be sensible to cut back children's TV viewing “even if the mechanisms … are not well understood.”

    The study has been criticized for failing to take into account the content of programs watched. Co-author Barry Milne of University College London counters that “the type of TV that kids do watch doesn't seem to do them any good.”

  3. Pacific Progress


    The U.S. share of scientific publications has steadily decreased as Asian contributions have steadily risen over the past 15 years, according to the July-August issue of Science Watch, published by the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. U.S. scientists still lead by a wide margin in the impact of their papers, as measured by citation analysis.

  4. Europe's Immigration Problem

    Boring tunnel is a gold mine for ecologists. CREDIT: M. VON DER LIPPE/TU BERLIN

    Europe is being colonized by non-native plant species that are using the highway system to get around, according to researchers from Technical University Berlin, who have done the first systematic study showing the extent of the phenomenon.

    A team led by ecologist Moritz von der Lippe set up collection traps for seeds in highway tunnels leading into and out of the city. They found a surprising diversity of seeds, including non-European species such as Australian goosefoot, which presumably arrived with imported sheep wool, and South American gooseberry, probably coming from berries crushed on the tires or beds of trucks. Their study, announced in a 14 July press release, is currently under review for publication.

    “This is one more example of how human transportation is homogenizing the distribution of species across the landscape,” says Bernd Blossey, director of the program on invasive plants at Cornell University. Although some invasion-wary countries such as New Zealand require the tires of imported used cars to be cleaned on arrival, Europe has no such laws. Von der Lippe notes that one concern the survey raises is that the American locust trees planted along German highways may be sending their seeds out far and wide, displacing native species.

  5. Jobs


    Marine ecologist Anson Hines is the new director of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland. He succeeds Ross Simon, who is retiring after 8 years at the helm.

    Hines has spent 26 years in SERC's Fish and Invertebrate Ecology Lab studying topics from sea otters and kelp forest ecology to long-term changes in the Chesapeake Bay. The center's 17 senior scientists and 180 researchers focus on coastal ecology.

    As assistant director for the past 17 years, Hines also has worked on a program to conserve 1200 hectares of the Rhode River watershed and shoreline. As director, he plans to step up efforts to make the center's “research results accessible to policymakers and environmental resource managers to improve stewardship of the coastal environment.”


    A microelectronics engineer who has spent a quarter-century on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge has been named its provost.

    Venezuelan-born L. Rafael Reif is a former director of MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratories and current chair of the department of computer science and electrical engineering. As provost, he will oversee academic and research programs as well as Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, a defense research facility.

    Reif, 54, replaces Robert Brown, who has been named president of Boston University (Science, 17 June, p. 1739).

    Nerve center. CREDIT: MIKE AMERY

    The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) has asked a former congressional staffer to help raise its profile in Washington.

    Michael Amery, a lawyer who worked for former Senator Rod Grams (R-MN) before joining AAN's headquarters in St. Paul 5 years ago, has moved back to Wash-ington to run the academy's new D.C. office.

    Amery will push for more funding for research on neurological disorders and provide a stronger voice for the academy's concerns about Medicare reimbursement and medical malpractice reform. The academy has 16,000 U.S. members.

  6. Awards

    Mainstream recognition. CREDIT: COSMOS PRIZE EXPO '90 FOUNDATION

    It took decades for fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly to win broad support for his predictions that overfishing could lead to a collapse of fisheries worldwide. This week, one of the world's biggest fishing nations joined the bandwagon, with Japan's Expo '90 Foundation awarding Pauly its $350,000 Cosmos Prize.

    The 59-year-old Pauly, director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, has focused on the sustainable management of marine resources (Science, 19 April 2002, p. 458). An outspoken critic of modern fishing practices, he once suggested that future generations might be reduced to eating jellyfish.

    “I think it's very important that a major Japanese prize would go to someone who has worked fearlessly on the problem of overfishing,” says Nancy Knowlton, a marine biologist at the University of California, San Diego, and a member of the screening committee.

  7. Data Point

    Farewell to arms. CREDIT: LANL

    Uncertainty about pensions has triggered a surge of retirements this year at the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), say lab officials. Anticipating that the upcoming management competition would be unsettling (Science, 27 May, p. 1244), DOE and LANL laid out clear options for pensions, extended the University of California's current contract by 8 months, and promised employees a window in which to claim their UC benefits after the new contract is in place. But those measures failed to prevent the percentage of retirements from climbing to 5.4%—nearly double the average rate of 2.8% over the past 5 years.