Newsmakers

Science  01 Sep 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5791, pp. 1233
  1. PIONEERS

    LET THE FEAST BEGIN.

    Thanks to Khalid Shaukat, Muslims in North America will no longer have to wait until the last moment to know when to begin Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of the month-long Ramadan fast.

    CREDIT: MATT HOUSTON/AP PHOTO

    The holiday starts the morning after a new moon (approximately 23 October this year), and for 1400 years, Muslims have used moon sightings to determine that date and others in the Islamic calendar. But that practice has sparked disputes and made precise planning impossible. So for the past 20 years, Shaukat, 63 and a research engineer at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Silver Spring, Maryland, has used astronomical calculations to predict the dates when it should be possible to sight the new moon after sundown from somewhere on the earth. Now, a committee of Islamic jurists has adopted Shaukat's calculations as the basis for its calendar. Shaukat says he hopes “to make people understand that this is nothing new and is not against the jurisprudence of Qu'ran and Hadith.”

    Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America thinks that the prophet Mohammed would have approved of this technical adjustment. “If it had been possible to do such exact calculations,” Syeed says, “the Prophet would have said, ‘You don't have to look for the new moon—just calculate it.'”

  2. TWO CULTURES

    ATOMIC VOICE.

    Nobelist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge is a bonafide scientific star. But last week, the 55-year-old particle physicist experienced the tremulousness of a novice as the hero of the opera Atom & Eve.

    CREDIT: DONNA COVENEY/MIT

    Wilczek had initially agreed to play the piano in the opera, to be performed in Alpbach, Austria, as part of the 2006 Alpbach Technology Conference. But instead of singing “some little ditty in the chorus,” Wilczek wound up cast in the title role. “I kind of got leveraged into it,” he laughs.

    The opera portrays the story of Atom, a young oxygen atom, and Eve, a beautiful young chemist. The lovelorn couple is separated by Eve's microscope and their massive size difference. Science brings them together in the endwith laser beams that make a “single gigantic atom” out of many atoms.

    Despite months of practice, Wilczek admitted that he was “a little anxious” about his 25 August performance. Science went to press before any reviews were in.

  3. MISCONDUCT

    VERBATIM. Call it a Himalayan-sized case of plagiarism. After reading an article on ocular cancer in the December 2003 issue of the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, retinal cell biologist Gail Seigel compared it to her 2002 review paper in the Digital Journal of Ophthalmology. They were virtually identical, right down to the opening quote from an early 20th century ophthalmologist and the images of ocular melanoma.

    “I was just in shock,” recalls Seigel, a professor at the Ross Eye Institute at the University of Buffalo in New York, who immediately notified the editors of both journals. In June, the Indian journal retracted the article, and its editor, Barun K. Nayak, wrote in the journal that the four authors of the article had been banned from appearing in the journal again “till further notice.”

    Three of them apologized to Seigel in an e-mail message, noting that the complaint “was a great surprise to us.” The fourth and primary author, Sunil Chaturvedi, could not be located by Science. All four are identified as working at the Himalayan Institute of Medical Sciences in Uttaranchal, India.

  4. MOVERS

    A SECOND CHANCE.

    The disgraced stem cell scientist Woo Suk Hwang is back at work, but not on anything involving human embryonic stem cells.

    CREDIT: AHN YOUNG-JOON/AP PHOTO

    Hwang, who was fired from Seoul National University's (SNU's) Veterinary College in December 2005, is awaiting trial on fraud and embezzlement charges. On 19 August, the Science Ministry officially confirmed that Hwang has opened a private laboratory in Guro. According to his colleagues, the cloner and his team of 20-some scientists moved into their new laboratory in late July and are “just getting started.” The research team includes 15 graduate students in addition to four research assistants who used to work with Hwang.

    The laboratory is part of the newly established Suam Bioengineering Research Institute, which is funded with $2.6 million from the Suam Scholarship Foundation. The institute's mission statement, presented to the Science Ministry, says Hwang and his team will study animal cloning, animal stem cells, research on production of animal organs, and biological textile products.

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