NETWATCH: From Gene to Green
It took a century to go from Mendel's plant-breeding experiments to the genetic code. The Molecular Genetics Explorer can help biology students make the same intellectual journey by connecting changes in an organism's DNA to alterations in its appearance.
The free virtual lab comes from Brian White and Ethan Bolker of the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Students begin by setting up plant crosses and gene mutations to decipher the inheritance of color in fictional flowers. They then move to the protein level, tinkering with amino acid sequences to see how changes alter a protein's shape and the flower color it produces. The final exercises let users determine the consequences of manipulating DNA.
Rocky Flats Reborn
After a decade of cleanup work by the U.S. Department of Energy at a cost of $7 billion, 1600 hectares of the Rocky Flats nuclear production site outside Denver, Colorado, will become a wildlife refuge boasting deer, elk, and prairie dogs, the government announced on 12 July. The site has been closed since 1989 after being used for almost 40 years by the government to build plutonium triggers for its nuclear weapons, in the process generating 12 tons of waste plutonium. The Environmental Protection Agency says Rocky Flats is now squeaky-clean, but LeRoy Moore of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, in Boulder, Colorado, says people could absorb plutonium that has migrated into the newly opened areas.
Art and Science: Memory Lane Bell
Laboratories engineer Billy Klüver and contemporary art giant Robert Rauschenberg launched a decades-long partnership between artistic and scientific types in 1966 with 9 Evenings: Theater & Engineering, a series of performance art pieces in New York City. This month, the National Academies in Washington, D.C., showed the first of a new series of documentaries on the novel happenings.
The film relives the first of the 1966 shows. Called Open Score, it included a tennis match in which radio transceivers in the rackets caused a gong to sound and lights to go out every time a ball was hit, until the court was in total darkness. The film also highlights some of the technical challenges for the Bell researchers involved, including obtaining an infrared camera for a ghostly dance in the darkness.
Retired Bell Laboratories technician Harold Hodges calls the work he and his colleagues did for 9 Evenings “more tinkering” than science. But the events led to the establishment of Experiments in Art and Technology, a worldwide collaboration that continued for decades, at its height claiming 4000 artist and engineer members. One was former Bell Laboratories electrical engineer Per Biorn, who says, “For some of us like me, it was like opening up a window to a whole new world.”
Natural History in Berlin
The world's tallest dinosaur skeleton—13.27 meters from toe to head—is again causing visitors to crane their necks in the entry hall of Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde. Reopened after a 2-year renovation, the museum's new main exhibit, called Evolution in Action, draws from a collection of more than 30 million specimens. Located in the former East Berlin, the museum had not seen major renovations since a bomb destroyed one wing at the end of World War II (Science, 2 July 2004, p. 35). The dinosaurs have been remounted with outstretched tails, reflecting new calculations about their real-life postures, and each bone can now be removed separately for further study. Museum scientists will be more visible, giving regular tours and talks about their research.
Evolution looks to be a hit in Berlin: Record crowds at the grand opening last week forced a temporary shutdown of the nearby subway station. And Germany's Federal Minister of Education and Research, Annette Schavan, announced her support for a funding boost, raising hopes that the museum will no longer have to scrape along on handouts from the chronically broke city.