Science  25 Jul 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5888, pp. 471

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    MINUS THE SCOTCH. A University of California (UC), Davis, English professor who studies literature about the environment went totally green for his talk at this year's annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. Instead of flying to Edinburgh, U.K., for the 10 to 13 July conference, Timothy Morton mailed in a DVD of his lecture and took questions from the audience via videoconference after it was shown.

    “New technology gives us a chance to save energy and save money and reimagine in a good way what a conference could be,” says Morton, who's pressing UC administrators to create a technological infrastructure—à la the online community Second Life—to support virtual conferencing.

    Morton thinks the discussion after his video speech on the implications of nature writing for cognitive science suffered not at all from his being thousands of miles away from the audience. But he did miss swapping gossip with colleagues during the meeting. And for the record, he says he would have done the same thing had the conference been in the French Riviera.


    “A sick patient does not represent a biochemistry problem, an anatomy problem, a genetics problem, or an immunology problem.”

    —Jules Dienstag, dean for medical education at Harvard Medical School, making the case for reforming the premed curriculum to focus it more narrowly on human biology and clinically relevant subjects, in an essay in last week's New England Journal of Medicine.


    James Briscoe of the United Kingdom's National Institute for Medical Research has been awarded the European Molecular Biology Organization's Gold Medal for his research on the molecular basis of neuronal development in the spinal cord.


    German neuroscientist Tobias Bonhoeffer has declined an offer to become the first president of the Institute of Science and Technology Austria. In a 21 July statement, the institute said that Bonhoeffer told the heads of the search committee and the institute's governing board that personal reasons and “a desire to continue his research in his current position” led him to this “difficult decision.” Bonhoeffer, now at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, declined comment. The institute will reopen its search and hopes to have a new president in place by autumn 2009.

    A Three Q's with Bonhoeffer in last week's Newsmakers page (Science, 18 July, p. 323) failed to note that he had not yet made a decision.


    LIVING OFF THE SUN. Henry Kelly is coming up on an expensive ritual he has to carry out every 8 years: replacing the $1000 batteries in his solar-powered country home near Culpeper, Virginia. Since building the house 25 years ago, the physicist, who heads the Federation of American Scientists, has learned firsthand the joys and annoyances of living off an array of solar panels, at least on weekends. “It feels great to know that your word processing, for example, has been powered by the sun,” says Kelly, who's advocated for the expansion of alternative energy and energy-efficiency technology.


    But his experience has also shown him the technical limitations of solar technology as well as some frustrating aspects of the off-the-grid lifestyle. The only viable storage technology available remains the lead nickel batteries he originally installed. The power needed to run the drinking water pump “tends to kill the charge” in the batteries, which means dry pipes at night, and the system hums so loudly that he had to build it a special shed. His family has also become more conscious of conserving energy there—“you are very aware of not plugging in hairdryers, turning lights off,” he says—although his 24-year-old daughter usually drains the battery during New Year's Eve parties.