Random Samples

Science  23 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5781, pp. 1723
  1. NO DIAL FOR DOLLARS

    CREDIT: BRIAN MCMORROW

    Oxford University has turned down an unspecified share of a $1.6 million bequest because it doesn't want to move a sundial.

    John Simmons, a Slavonic scholar at Oxford's All Souls College, died at 90 last year. A sundial aficionado, he had a thing about the one at the college designed by famed architect and scientist Christopher Wren, also an All Souls fellow. The sundial was installed in front of the college's chapel in 1658, but in the 1870s, it was moved to a different position in the quadrangle: the wall of the college's Codrington Library. Simmons for decades argued that this was a terrible mistake that upset the symmetry of the quadrangle. So he specified in his will that part of his estate would go to All Souls only if the sundial were restored to its original position.

    The warden of All Souls, John Davis, said last week that the college was declining the bequest because the stipulations were too “onerous.” No one was available to explain what that meant. But the university will not be losing out altogether: Ronald Milne of Oxford's famous Bodleian Library said in a statement that that library appears to stand next in line if All Souls rejects the bequest.

  2. A SMALL POLAR FOOTPRINT

    CREDIT: INTERNATIONAL POLAR FOUNDATION

    Belgium plans to join the Antarctic scientific elite with a new polar research station, designed to be the most environment-friendly one ever built. The $8 million facility, dubbed Princess Elisabeth, will be constructed mostly of traditional materials such as wood, iron, and granite, and nontoxic, recyclable, high-tech materials.

    To be built on a granite ridge near the Sør Rondane mountain range, the new base will house up to 20 people and use wind and solar energy to meet 98% of its energy needs. Half the wastewater will be recycled. Project manager Johan Berte says that figure could go up to 90% if guests can tolerate the idea.

    Belgium's last Antarctic base was a short-lived one built in 1958 on the occasion of the International Geophysical Year, which led to the signing of the Antarctic Treaty. Construction of the new base will mark the 2007–08 International Polar Year.

    “We would like to think that we are going to create a new culture” of nonintrusive research, says Berte. John Shears of the British Antarctic Survey says, “From what I have seen of the proposals, this station is at the forefront of environmental protection in Antarctica.” He adds that it's important “not to exacerbate the problems, such as climate change, that we are investigating.”

  3. PACIFIC PRESERVE

    CREDIT: THE OCEAN CONSERVANCY

    President George W. Bush last week designated the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument. That makes it the world's largest marine reserve, surpassing Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Fishing is to be phased out there, and even tourists will need permits for diving and photography.

  4. BACK TO THE FUTURE

    CREDIT: RAFAEL NŨÑEZ/UC SAN DIEGO

    An Aymara man gestures back over his shoulder as he uses an expression referring to “next year.”

    Every language has metaphors that express time in terms of space; in English, for instance, one looks forward to next week or back to last year.

    But in Aymara, spoken by about 2 million indigenous people in the Andean highlands of Bolivia, Peru, and Chile, it's the other way around. The word nayra can refer both to objects that are physically in front of the speaker and to events in the past. Nayra mara, for example, means “last year,” explains Rafael Núñez, a cognitive scientist at the University of California (UC), San Diego. Qhipa means back or behind, so qhipa mara indicates “next year.”

    This time concept extends to gestures as well as words. Speakers point backward or wave over their shoulders when talking about a future event and extend their hands forward to indicate the past—reaching farther out for events that happened long ago. Núñez and UC Berkeley linguist Eve Sweetser present their analysis of 20 hours of videotaped talk with 30 Aymara volunteers in the current issue of Cognitive Science.

    “The Aymara seem to equate time with sources of knowledge,” says David McNeill, a linguist at the University of Chicago in Illinois. To the Aymara, the forward direction is the source of the known: what's seen by the eyes, and what's happened in the past. Behind, where they can't see, lies the future.