Science  02 May 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5876, pp. 593

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    KARL MARX PLANCK? Did Max Planck, the founder of quantum physics, share a name with the intellectual father of communism? In preparation for the celebrations surrounding the physicist's 150th birthday on 23 April, a German television reporter searching old church records for the names of Planck's godparents found more than he was looking for. The entry in the baptismal registry reads “Karl Ernst Ludwig Marx Planck, goes by Marx.”

    It's not clear whether the pastor improperly recorded the name or whether Planck later changed it to avoid confusion with the political philosopher, who was 39 and widely known when Planck was born. Lorenz Beck of the Max Planck Society's Archive in Berlin votes for the former, based on a letter from 10-year-old Planck, which he clearly signed Max. But any conclusive proof may have gone up in flames when a 1944 bombing raid destroyed Planck's house in Berlin. Bernd Wirsing, spokesperson for Germany's Max Planck Society, harbors no doubts. “It's worth a footnote for historians,” he says. “But we don't know of any document where he called himself Marx. He was always Max.”


    BIG BUCKS. A biotech company formed by Harvard University antiaging researcher David Sinclair is being acquired by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline for about $720 million. Glaxo is paying nearly double the share price, or $22.50 a share.


    Sinclair started Sirtris Pharmaceuticals to develop resveratrol, a molecule in red wine, into a drug for various age-related diseases (Science, 27 February 2004, p. 1276). The 4-year-old company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is testing a more stable version of resveratrol, dubbed SRT501, in people with diabetes and a rare mitochondrial disorder and studying small molecules that activate the same gene, SIRT1, but at a much lower concentration.

    According to SEC filings, Sinclair owns 153,000 shares in Sirtris, worth more than $3.4 million. He says he's bet “my whole reputation” on the company. “Neither my wife nor I are that focused on the money,” he says. Sirtris will be an autonomous unit within Glaxo.


    Steven Kurtz, an art professor at the University at Buffalo, New York, who in 2004 was indicted for receiving bacterial cultures by mail, was cleared by a federal judge last week. Kurtz was planning to use the microbes in an art exhibit (Science, 9 July 2004, p. 159). University of Pittsburgh geneticist Robert Ferrell, who bought the microbes and shipped them to Kurtz, was fined $500 and sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation in a ruling on the case earlier this year.

    Economist W. Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico and mathematician Yakov Sinai of Princeton University are the inaugural winners of the Lagrange Prize for research on the science of complexity. They will receive $118,000 each from Italy's CRT Foundation.


    “Religious belief is not science. Science and religious belief are surely reconcilable, but they are not the same thing.”

    —Raymund Paredes, Texas Higher Education Commissioner, explaining last week why he had turned down a certification request from the Institute for Creation Research for a Master of Science degree in science education.



    BARREN TO LUSH. Martin Fisher has won a $100,000 Award for Sustainability from the Lemelson-MIT program for inventing manual pumps to help small farmers in Africa.

    Fisher, a mechanical engineer, began work on technologies for the rural poor after a trip to Peru in 1984. His Super MoneyMaker pump draws water from as deep as 7 meters and pushes it uphill with pistons powered by stair-climber-like treadles. It can irrigate 0.8 hectares with less than a day's labor and minimal environmental impact. The sturdy metal pump, which costs about $100, typically pays for itself within 6 months, Fisher says, and can increase a farmer's profits 10-fold. More than 95,000 pumps have been sold since 1996, mainly in Kenya, Tanzania, and Mali.

    Fisher emphasizes that the key to the pump's success is that local companies produce and sell it. He runs a social entrepreneurship nonprofit, Kickstart, founded in Kenya and headquartered in San Francisco, California. He'll share part of the prize with his business partner, Nick Moon, and plow the rest into cheaper, more powerful pumps.