Random Samples

Science  12 Aug 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5737, pp. 1010
  1. Be Fruitful and Divide

    CREDIT: DAVID HARING/DUKE UNIVERSITY PRIMATE CENTER

    Mirza zaza is a new species of lemur. Without spotting a single new animal, researchers have identified five new species of lemurs—small nocturnal primates from the forests of Madagascar. The behavior, morphology, and genetics of the two known populations of the giant mouse lemur suggest they are in fact separate species that diverged 2 million years ago, Peter Kappeler and colleagues at the German Primate Center in Göttingen conclude in the current issue of Primate Report. Genetic analysis also revealed that the researchers' control group of lemurs, known simply as mouse lemurs, likewise contained a distinct new species. The two new species joined three new species of lepilemurs, also discovered by studying animals thought to be the same species and described on 10 August at the Congress of the European Federation of Primatology in Göttingen. Kappeler says the new classifications will help explain speciation among these rare animals.

  2. Birthday Blowout

    CREDIT: ©GOVERNMENT OF MONTSERRAT/MONTSERRAT VOLCANO OBSERVATORY; PHOTO USED BY PERMISSION OF THE DIRECTOR, MVO

    MONTSERRAT—In an ominous birthday surprise, a slumbering volcano awakened even as researchers gathered to commemorate the 10th anniversary of its first eruption in centuries. In July 1995, the Soufrière Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat exploded to life. Over the next few years, it rendered two-thirds of the island uninhabitable, forced thousands into exile, and killed 19 people. On 25 July, as nearly 100 researchers gathered here at a conference to mark the anniversary of the volcano's rebirth, the capricious peak suddenly belched roiling clouds of gray ash and gases into the azure sky.

    The volcano had snoozed for nearly 2 years, so the renewed rumblings, which began in June, have islanders on edge. “We thought we could start moving back to some of the houses we abandoned,” says John Wilson, Montserrat's minister of public works and communications. “Now I'm afraid it's going to start all over again.” However, predicting what the volcano will do is difficult, says Sue Loughlin, a geologist and director of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. And although the ash falls are annoying, she says, they are not dangerous as long as masks are worn when sweeping them up.

  3. Ministry Scorches Italian Climate Researchers

    Officials at the Italian environment ministry must like the heat. On 20 June in Rome, the ministry held a public meeting featuring climate-change skeptics who concluded that human activity plays little role in global warming. The meeting was summarized in a four-page advertisement, paid for by the ministry, in the 24 July issue of the Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana. The ad has ignited the fury of Italian climate researchers, who say they were not invited to the seminar.

    According to the ad, Paolo Togni, director of communications for the environment ministry, called for an approach to environmental issues that would recognize that human activity can benefit the environment. Togni did not respond to requests for further comment. The ad also quotes Fabio Pistella, president of the Italian research council (CNR), as saying, “The phenomena of current climate changes are almost certainly natural and not due to man.”

    The ministry is “trying to discredit the scientific community,” says Franco Miglietta, an ecologist at the Biometeor-ology Institute in Florence. More than 70 scientists have signed a statement calling for an open scientific debate on climate change. Meanwhile, the ministry is planning 15 more meetings on environmental issues and says it has bought advertising space for all of them.

  4. New Age for Stonehenge Research

    CREDIT: ENGLISH HERITAGE

    Despite centuries of investigation, the mystery of who built Stonehenge and why remains unsolved. Even a precise date for the prehistoric complex of stone circles, ditches, and burial mounds on England's Salisbury Plain has eluded researchers, although it's known that it was built between about 3000 and 1500 B.C.E. Now, archaeologists have proposed a new research framework to answer the many unresolved questions surrounding Stonehenge.

    Much of the archaeological research carried out on Stonehenge in the 19th and early 20th centuries was of poor quality, says David Miles, chief archaeologist at English Heritage, the British government's advisory body for historical sites. This month, the organization released a report that outlines gaps in current data and proposes ways to fill them. For example, laser scanners could reveal carvings hidden by weathering and lichen, says David Batchelor, an archaeologist with English Heritage.

    English Heritage has not put a time frame or price tag on the proposed research and hopes individual researchers and organizations will drum up the funding. Archaeologists may never know why Stonehenge was erected, as its builders left no written and few pictorial records of their motives, says Batchelor: “It's always going to be a bit of a mystery.”

  5. Jobs

    The show goes on.CREDIT: NAE

    Legendary computer pioneer Alan Kay is one of 14,500 employees just let go by Hewlett-Packard (HP) in a downsizing move that will terminate four research and development projects. But the pink slip isn't going to interrupt his research, Kay says.

    An early architect of personal computing who created the first laptop and helped design early versions of overlapping screen windows and the Internet, Kay joined HP Labs in 2002 to lead its Advanced Software Research team in developing new software platforms based on open source code. Many of his early innovations were originally designed to reinvent computers as child-friendly, interactive educational environments, and Kay says he plans to continue that work through his California-based nonprofit organization, Viewpoints Research Institute. “We've had our agenda in place for the last 35 years,” Kay says. “[Viewpoints is] a way of maintaining continuity.”

    HP spokesperson Dave Berman says despite the cuts, the company is still committed to innovative research in areas including printing and imaging, IT and nanotechnology, and quantum computing.

  6. In The Courts

    Delayed dividend.CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON

    An engineer at the University of Texas (UT), Arlington, and his former graduate student are finally getting their reward for inventing a technology that enables users of hand-held electronic devices to type words quickly. Under a $1.8 million settlement in a patent-infringement lawsuit filed by the university against the Canadian manufacturer of Blackberry devices, UT's George Kondraske (left) and Adnan Shennib, now president and CEO of the Center for Medical Device Innovations in Dublin, California, will split roughly $550,000 between them. UT Arlington will receive a $550,000 unrestricted research grant. The rest of the money from last month's settlement will go toward lawyer fees and other expenses, says UT spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn.

    Kondraske and Shennib's invention allows electronic devices to deduce whole words if just a portion of the word is entered—for example, by converting “univ” to “university.” This spring, 18 years after the invention, UT filed suit against more than 40 companies it charged were using the tech-nology without paying licensing fees. Blackberry maker Research in Motion in Waterloo, Ontario, is the first to settle, although the company maintains that its own technology was developed “completely independently.” In exchange for its payment, Research in Motion gets licensing rights to UT's patented tech-nology. “The reward … comes with a sense of professional satisfaction,” says Kondraske.

  7. Explorers

    CREDIT: MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY

    Then and now. Archaeology students at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing didn't have to travel to exotic lands this summer for their field studies: They excavated the site where the university's first dormitory burned down in a fire 129 years ago. Besides unearthing artifacts of student life from a bygone era, including a water pitcher, a toothbrush, and clay pipe stems, the diggers confirmed archival records indicating that the accident had been caused by a fire left burning in the basement of the three-storied building by maintenance workers. “It was fascinating to discover pieces of the past lying just below our feet,” says MSU anthropologist Jodie O'Gorman, one of the faculty members who led the project.

  8. Pioneers

    A shot at the moon.CREDIT: AP

    Telecom inventor Sam Pitroda, who transformed India's telephone system 2 decades ago with exchanges rugged enough for rural India, now has a new mission. As chair of India's new Knowledge Commission, which the government launched last week, Pitroda aims to help India emerge as a hub for innovation and knowledge generation.

    Under his leadership, the eight-member panel will chart out policy initiatives to foster excellence in India's educational institutions and public-funded research laboratories, which many analysts say are in dire need of reform. This is the second time that Pitroda, currently chair of the U.K.-based company WorldTel, has been charged with a national initiative; in the 1980s, after a successful career in American industry, he returned to India to set up the Center for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), which designed and built rural telephone exchanges. The C-DOT technology now supports more than 20 million telephone lines across India. “This new assignment is clearly a tougher challenge,” says Pitroda, an electrical engineer who holds nearly 50 telecommunication patents.

    The government wants the commission to come up with bold proposals to infuse creativity into Indian universities and research centers and reverse what Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described as “falling standards.” Pitroda promises that the commission's first action plan, due in October, will contain some radical ideas. “In India, you have to aim at the moon to touch the roof,” he says.