Science  20 Apr 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5823, pp. 349

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    CRIME BUSTERS. Last spring, computer scientist Michael Black gave the 16 undergraduate and graduate students in his computer vision class at Brown University a real-life problem to work on: an unsolved murder. Their research helped narrow the search for a suspect, and on 19 April, Black and his class received a commendation from the Henrico County, Virginia, police. Although the culprit is still at large, Black's class extracted useful information about the crime from blurry and distorted video taken by two surveillance cameras.

    “I've never had a class this motivated,” says Black, who learned about the case from a colleague the Henrico police had contacted for help. The class used a variety of methods to clean up the video, which shows the victim getting into the suspect's car outside a convenience store. Black says the students developed algorithms “that went beyond the current state of the art” for determining the real-life dimensions of objects in the scene. Their analysis suggested that the car was a Toyota Camry, vintage 1992 to 1994, and that the driver was on the short side, about 170 centimeters.

    “We have a suspect now,” says Investigator Andrew Stromberg of the Henrico County police. “He's wanted for another crime, and we're trying to catch him and ask him where he was that night.”


    HECK OF A FIELD TRIP. A French sociologist returned to Paris on 13 April after having been held in Iran for more than 2 months for allegedly entering a forbidden military zone. Stéphane Dudoignon, an expert on Central Asia and Islam at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, was arrested on 30 January after taking pictures of a religious procession in Sistan-Baluchestan, a province bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan that's home to a sizable Sunni minority and has been the scene of recent antigovernment violence.

    Dudoignon was released shortly after his arrest and was not charged, but Iranian authorities held his passport. He lived with his Iranian wife's family in Tehran until the government sent him home.

    Dudoignon said in an interview in Le Figaro a week before his return that his research on Iran's Sunni community may be over. “The next time you want to come to Iran,” he said an Iranian official told him, “it will be to see your in-laws—and nothing else.”


    BANISHING THE COLLEGE. Computer scientist John Koza of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, a pioneer of “genetic programming,” made his mark in the wider world by inventing the scratch-off lottery ticket. Last week, Maryland became the first state to endorse Koza's latest idea: overriding the electoral college that chooses U.S. presidents.


    Koza first took an interest in elections in 1966 as a grad student, selling a board game based on the electoral college. That system, which aggregates the popular vote into state-based “electoral votes” and awards each state bloc to the candidate who wins the most votes in that state, can elect a president who may not have won the most votes in the nation. In 2000, Al Gore became the fourth presidential candidate to win the popular vote but lose the election.

    In 2004, Koza—who views the current system as unfair—teamed up with the non-profit FairVote to lobby state legislatures to allocate their electoral votes to the national winner of the popular vote. The scheme would go into effect only if enough states sign on, at which point the electoral college would become meaningless. Last week, Maryland's governor signed a law adopting the proposal, which is under consideration in 40 other states. Koza is optimistic that the movement will now take off: “The biggest single question we've gotten has been who else has done this.”



    EASTWARD BOUND. In its bid to become a major research hub, Singapore has nabbed yet another high-profile Western scientist. Earlier this month, Swedish biochemist Bertil Andersson gave up the post of chief executive of the European Science Foundation (ESF) to become provost at Nanyang Technological University. Andersson, 58, who has served as rector of Linköping University in Sweden and as chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, says he wanted to “be part of the scientific explosion happening in Asia.” He found Nanyang, which has 25,000 students and one of the largest engineering schools in the world, appealing because of its growing investment in facilities and Singapore's rising R&D budget.

    As provost, a new position one rung beneath the president, Andersson will be in charge of all academic programs. “But my main mission is to build up top-level research efforts,” he says. Andersson's successor at ESF is John Marks, who has served as ESF's director of science and strategy since 2004.