Science  05 Oct 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5847, pp. 27


    GEMS FROM THE PAST. Working with artifacts including Egyptian mummies and Australian Aboriginal bark paintings, conservation scientist Eric Hansen spent 20 years at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles, California, figuring out ways to preserve rare objects. Now Hansen has taken over preservation research at another treasure vault: the U.S. Library of Congress, the largest library in the world.

    Hansen, a chemist and archaeologist, says one major project will be to conserve magnetic tapes that are degrading. “You lose all information because you can't run it through a machine,” he says. Bolstered by a planned doubling of the Ph.D. research staff to six, Hansen will also be trying to pin down the shelf life of CDs, DVDs, and recycled paper and find ways to strengthen millions of books weakened by age. “The challenge here is the sheer amount in the collections,” he says.


    “It took me 8 years at Harvard to figure out I'm not that stupid.”

    —Anthropologist Sven Haakanson, a member of the Alutiiq community in Alaska and one of 24 winners of this year's MacArthur fellowships. Haakanson, 40, directs the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak and works to erase the culture's self-perception that native people are “worthless.” A full list of the fellows, who will receive $500,000 each, is at


    STRIKING SILVER. An international mining company has promised to pay $10 million for a clean and cost-effective way to extract silver from its Veladero mine in Argentina. The usual method uses a cyanide solution to leach out the precious metal. But the mine's estimated 180 million ounces of silver are encrusted with silica in particles a few micrometers in diameter, and the mineral has resisted every trick tried by scientists at the Barrick Gold Corp. in Toronto. The price of silver makes it too expensive to grind the ore down to the size necessary to make traditional leaching viable. “Our in-house metallurgists can't figure it out,” says Barrick spokesperson Vincent Borg. “The best way to solve [the problem] is to reach out” to the scientific community, he says.

    Tibor Rozgonyi, a mining engineer at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, says Barrick's offer is “a good approach” because it's likely to get many different heads thinking about a difficult problem. In addition to the prize, the company has announced that it will fund development and testing of promising techniques. “We are definitely considering [submitting] a proposal,” says Rozgonyi, who has been working with colleagues on using bacteria to extract ore.


    FIGHTING DISEASE. A. Alfred Taubman, who made a fortune developing real estate, has given $22 million to the University of Michigan Health System to help found a new institute that will conduct basic research on human disease. A portion of the gift will go to five scholars at the university's medical school, each of whom will receive a research award of $200,000 per year for 3 years. Taubman's previous gifts to his alma mater add up to more than $38 million.


    NAMING RIGHTS. Shiva Balak Misra was a graduate student at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, when he discovered the 565-million-year-old fossils of soft-bodied organisms shaped like leaves and spindles. Misra published his findings in the Geological Society of America Bulletin but returned to his native village in north India in 1971 to build a school.


    Now, 40 years after the discovery, the fossils bear his name. Fractofusus misrai belongs to a class of fossils known as Ediacaran life forms: creatures that emerged about 600 million years ago and thrived until the dawn of the Cambrian 540 million years ago. “We needed a formal nomenclature, and we didn't want to forget the people associated with past discoveries,” says Guy Narbonne, a paleontologist at Queen's University in Kingston, who led the naming initiative.


    Misra says he left research to realize his dream of founding a school in Kunaura, the village where he spent his childhood. “I had to walk 10 kilometers to school until class [grade] eight,” says Misra. Five years after founding the school, however, he needed an income and became a geology professor at Kumaon University in Nainital, a town in the foothills of the Himalayas. His wife now manages the school, which has 700 students in grades 1 to 10.

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