Newsmakers

Science  30 May 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5880, pp. 1141
  1. IN THE NEWS

    CREDITS: ALESSANDRO DI MEO/EPA/CORBIS; (INSET) WEBB CHAPPELL

    SPRING IN HIS STEP? Biomechanist Hugh Herr was intrigued by a study showing that the prosthetic legs used by sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who last week won a fight to compete for a spot in this summer's Olympic games, used 25% less energy to run at the same speed as legged athletes. “I thought, wow, it would be amazing if this were true,” says the Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher. “It is my goal as a technologist to design prosthetics that outperform human limbs.” So he agreed to help Pistorius's lawyers review the study's claims as part of their plea to an international sports body.

    The study, by kinesiologist Gert-Peter Brüggemann of the German Sport University in Cologne, showed that Pistorius, a South African who races in J-shaped Cheetah Flex-Foot prostheses, used less oxygen than able-bodied athletes in a 400-meter sprint. But such a short run is mainly powered by anaerobic metabolism. Herr and others redid the energy calculations based on new measurements of the athlete's oxygen consumption during the aerobic portion of a longer run and found it to be within the normal range for able-bodied athletes. Also, although Pistorius's prostheses were more efficient than human ankles at storing and releasing energy, the researchers successfully argued that this was not sufficient evidence of an advantage.

    Herr hopes to do a study of a number of amputees who use the Flex-Foot.

  2. NONPROFIT WORLD

    BIGGER CANVAS. Francis Eberle has been named the new executive director of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Eberle comes to the job after 11 years as head of the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, where he helped the state get $25 million in new funds for math and science education in the state's schools.

    CREDIT: NSTA

    In his new role, Eberle plans to focus on efforts to scale up successful science-education projects in various places across the country. “There's excellence in pockets,” he says. He hopes NSTA will help the U.S. Congress see how to transfer the ideas behind these local successes to a national scale. “You have to think about the system, not specific projects,” he says. But NSTA can't transform education alone: Eberle wants his organization to promote a sense of responsibility among all scientists to speak highly of science education and to help prepare science teachers for their jobs.

    Eberle succeeds Gerry Wheeler, who is stepping down this summer after a 13-year stint.

  3. THEY SAID IT

    “You have essentially become a figurehead.”

    —Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson at a 20 May hearing on input from the White House in recent EPA decisions to regulate carbon dioxide emissions and determine a health standard for smog.

  4. PIONEERS

    A VIRTUAL SOCIETY. The fact that millions of people are already connected through Facebook didn't stop Ijad Madisch from dreaming up a networking site tailored to life scientists and social scientists. So last week, Researchgate.net debuted with more than 1000 users.

    Madisch, 27, an M.D. and Ph.D. virologist, says he and some friends came up with the idea when he moved from his native Germany for a research traineeship at Harvard Medical School in Boston. He found that collaborating with colleagues in Germany was awkward because e-mail wasn't an efficient way to share updated protocols and drafts of papers. Meanwhile, sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn were taking off. “I thought, ‘This adapted to the requirements of researchers would be of big benefit to every researcher in the world,’ “says Madisch, who is now working full-time as ResearchGATE Corp.'s CEO.

    Like Facebook, Researchgate.net lets users post their profiles and link up with contacts. But they can also include information such as publications and research skills. Tools for collaborating, such as virtual conferencing, are coming soon. Madisch's team admits that the big challenge will be making the site profitable— mainly with tailored ads and job postings—without driving away advertising-averse scientists.

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