Random Samples

Science  23 May 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5879, pp. 993

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    Erected in 1980 but dismantled 16 years later because of concerns about its stability, Henry Moore's sculpture Large Arch may soon be back in place in London's Kensington Gardens. The 6-meter-tall work is made of seven pieces of travertine stone connected to resemble sheep collarbones. Experts at Imperial College London, the Glasgow School of Art, and the Tate museum used laser scanning and computer modeling to find the sculpture's weak points. (The most stressed areas are shown in blue.) With the insertion of fiberglass rods and a new base of reinforced concrete, the sculpture could be safe for the ages, the team says—providing that funding can be raised for the job.


    Competitive wrestling meets molecular biology in Foldit, an online game that lets you tussle with the stuff of life, folding strings of amino acids into their correct protein structures.

    Predicting the 3D structure of proteins from amino acid chains takes supercomputers trillions of calculations. In recent years, the public has been helping via data-crunching screensaver programs. Foldit asks people to add the idle processing of their own brains.

    After teaching how different amino acids constrain folding, the game presents players with strings of amino acids. The goal is to stabilize a protein's active site by hydrogen-bonding strands and reducing its total volume—but not by too much, because bringing like-charged amino acids together results in a bristle of red alarms. The quicker you get the correct fold, the higher your score.

    “My dream is that a 12-year-old in Indonesia will turn out to be a prodigy and build a cure for HIV,” says Foldit team leader David Baker, a molecular biologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, in a press release. Arthur Olson, a molecular biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, doubts that players will perform better than automated computer programs, but he admires Foldit's educational potential, calling it “a puzzle that makes Sudoku look like tic-tac-toe.” http://www.fold.it/



    A Humvee heads up a desert road in Virtual Iraq, an emerging treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. At this month's meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Washington, D.C., psychologist Barbara Rothbaum of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, reported promising results for a technique that combines Virtual Iraq with a drug that modifies the brain's fear response. The drug, D-cycloserine, enhances the function of a receptor for the neurotransmitter glutamate—the so-called NMDA receptor—that is critical for memory extinction. Earlier research showed that it helped people reduce their fear of heights (Science, 2 April 2004, p. 34).

    In each of five sessions, soldiers take the drug and don virtual-reality goggles. Then a therapist guides them through a traumatic memory, most often an encounter with an improvised explosive device. The experience comes with sounds—people yelling, dogs barking, guns discharging, and helicopters whirring—vibrations, and even smells of burning rubber and fuel. “In general, veterans don't respond as well as civilians to drugs or therapy,” Rothbaum said, but this combination makes for a “more potent exposure.” The researchers have so far enrolled 27 vets, with 1-year follow-ups on three patients. Preliminary data, she said, indicate that two sessions with the drug achieve as much as eight without it.


    Do glasses make you look brainy? Apparently, even small children think so.


    Eye doctor Jeffrey Walline of Ohio State University in Columbus headed a study to see what children think of other children who wear glasses. Eighty children ranging in age from 6 to 10 were shown pictures of 24 pairs of children, one with and one without eyeglasses, of both sexes and varying ethnicities. They were asked questions including which member of the pair looked smarter.

    The result, published in the May issue of the journal Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, indicates that although gender has a strong influence on some impressions—boys were perceived as better athletes regardless of whether they wore glasses, for example—glasses trump other characteristics when it comes to brains. Female glasses-wearers, in particular, had a 72% likelihood of being seen as smarter than the nonbespectacled children they were paired with. Ethnicity had no effect on choices.

    There's a “well-known correlation between [high] IQ and myopia,” says behavioral geneticist Nicholas Martin of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Were the children picking up on that? Walline doubts it. “Myopia typically doesn't develop until age 8 or later,” so they wouldn't see much of it in their peers, he says. But it does seem that even when you're in first grade, “spectacles make children appear to be smarter.”