Newsmakers

Science  25 Apr 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5875, pp. 431
  1. IN PRINT

    CREDITS: COURTESY OF ALAN ROSAN; JOON MO KANG

    MISSING SEX? Carbon atoms can't have five bonds, chemist Alan Rosan thought as he pondered an illustration accompanying a New York Times review of a book about sex research. So Rosan, a professor at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, e-mailed a dart to the paper wondering if the error represented the molecule's wanton desire “to form new, revealing bonding relationships” unheard of “in our more staid and prudish chemistry.”

    But the joke was on him. The illustration actually spelled the word “sex,” pointed out an editor's note accompanying Rosan's letter and a similar complaint from a chemistry graduate student.

    Rosan confesses to his mistake. “I tell my students all the time about the difference between looking and seeing. … In this case, I was guilty of not seeing,” says Rosan. However, he still thinks that the illustrator could have made the point without breaking the rules of chemistry.

  2. AWARDS

    LET'S TRY IT. Alexander Varshavsky has thought of a new way to kill cancer cells, winning $1 million from a new prize that encourages people to share untested ideas in cancer research.

    Tumor cells often lose sections of DNA and pass the deletion to their daughter cells. Healthy tissues, however, still have the DNA. Varshavsky, a molecular biologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, wants to introduce a vector—a small piece of engineered DNA—throughout a patient's body. The vector would code for a toxin to kill cancer cells and for proteins that detect whether a cell contains the deletions. The vector would selfdestruct in healthy cells without the deletions.

    “I would be very surprised if this strategy ever works all the way to the bedside … in the shape that I suggested,” Varshavsky says, noting that the technical details are likely to evolve during actual implementation. Although the award—created by Joel Greenblatt and Robert Goldstein of Gotham Capital—is for personal use, Varshavsky says it will bolster his research, too.

    Varshavsky's idea was chosen from more than 500 submitted. A six-member scientific panel also awarded neurosurgeon and entrepreneur Mark Carol the $250,000 Ira Sohn Conference Foundation Prize in Pediatric Oncology for insights into radiation therapy.

  3. MOVERS

    BIOWARRIOR. Amicrobiologist with vaccine industry experience will head a new Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agency aimed at helping companies combat bioterrorism. Robin Robinson, 52, will be the first director of the 1-year-old Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

    BARDA was created by Congress after companies complained about the hurdles to preparing drugs and vaccines for eligibility in BioShield, the federal biodefense procurement program (Science, 7 July 2006, p. 28). Robinson joined HHS in 2004 and has been “very successful” at leading the development and stockpiling of the first human vaccine against H5N1 influenza, says Brad Smith of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Biosecurity in Baltimore, Maryland. But BARDA's so far $100-million-a-year budget is a tiny fraction of the $3.4 billion a year that Smith estimates is needed.

  4. DEATHS

    EYE FOR DETAIL. The father of modern chaos theory, meteorologist Edward Lorenz, died 16 April in his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at age 90. Lorenz had “plain old intelligence [and] was also an extremely persistent scientist. He would not settle for anything less than perfection in his work,” says meteorologist Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Lorenz spent his 60-year career.

    CREDIT: BRUCE DALE/GETTY IMAGES

    That trait served Lorenz well in the early 1960s, when he got quite different results from two computer simulations of the weather because of an inadvertent, tiny difference in the simulated atmosphere's starting condition. A decade later, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the publisher of Science), he gave a talk with a title that quickly entered popular culture: “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” Chaos and the atmosphere's exquisite sensitivity to initial conditions permeate meteorology today, from setting the limits of prediction to making the most of the computer's predictive powers.

  5. A LIFE IN SCIENCE

    CREDIT: MIT

    UNABASHED. Theoretical physicist John Wheeler, who died on 13 April at age 96, was insatiably curious and not afraid to look foolish, says William Unruh, a theorist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Unruh recalls how Wheeler spent a year in unsuccessful pursuit of the idea that the uncertainties of quantum mechanics might be related to Gödel's incompleteness theorem, which says that, given a set of mathematically consistent axioms, there are true statements that can never be proved so. “He was like a little boy. He would jump into the stream and turn over the rocks, even if he got his pants wet,” says Unruh. That unselfconsciousness extended to Wheeler's personal life, Unruh adds. Wheeler loved the water but never learned to swim. So he would simply array himself in floats and go for a daily dip.

    In a career spanning 7 decades, Wheeler helped explain nuclear fission, established general relativity as an essential part of astrophysics and cosmology, and pioneered the study of quantum gravity. A list of students reads like a who's who in gravitational theory.

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