Newsmakers

Science  21 Nov 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5905, pp. 1171
  1. PATHWAYS INTO SCIENCE

    TURNING AROUND. Craig Ulrich was studying biology at the University of Washington, Seattle, in 2004 when he shot a friend after a night of partying. Instead of graduating from college and going to medical school, he spent 4 years in a state prison after being convicted of manslaughter. But now Ulrich has his life back on track, thanks in part to his interest in science.

    While serving his time, Ulrich studied how to improve the efficiency of the prison's composting system. The corrections center now generates half as much food waste and produces 5000 kg of organic fertilizer a year for its gardens.

    CREDIT: COURTESY OF C. ULRICH

    His work caught the attention of Nalini Nadkarni, an ecologist at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, who had worked with other inmates to investigate sustainable cultivation of certain mosses harvested illegally for use in flower arrangements. Earlier this year, the pair published a paper in Environment, Development and Sustainability on the advantages of enlisting inmates in research, and in August, Ulrich gave a talk at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America. “I walked in a prisoner and walked out a scientist,” he told his audience. Ulrich is now a graduate student in biochemistry at the University of Nevada, Reno.

  2. ON CAMPUS

    A HARD STAND. A biochemistry professor at the University of California, Irvine, has been disciplined for refusing to undergo state-mandated training on sexual harassment. Alexander McPherson, who says participating in such training would cast aspersions on his character, can no longer supervise the two researchers in his lab—both men. The university is enforcing a 2004 California law that requires all state employees in managerial positions at large businesses to receive the training—typically a 2-hour session—once every 2 years. McPherson thinks the mandatory attendance is ineffective and impinges on academic freedom. “Once you gain tenure, you're supposed to be protected against various sorts of social, political, and even scientific pressures,” he says.

    CREDIT: GARY ROBBINS, THE REGISTER

    The matter is far from settled. Last week, McPherson skipped another training session, a move that he says could cost him his job. University officials would not say what action, if any, they plan to take next.

  3. IN BRIEF

    Ronald Daniels, a Canadian-born legal scholar who is provost of the University of Pennsylvania, will become the next president of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He succeeds William Brody, who is taking the helm of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, in March 2009 (Science, 24 October, p. 511). Daniels worked as dean of the University of Toronto before moving to the University of Pennsylvania in 2005.

  4. IN BRIEF

    A postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, was arrested last week for attempting to poison a labmate by adding chemicals to her drinking water. Benchun Liu, who works in the urology department, told the labmate—technician Mei Cao—that he intended to kill her. She drank the water but was unharmed. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Liu told police that he had been “stressed out” lately.

  5. THREE Q'S

    CREDITS: MATT FLETCHER, LAPITA VOYAGE; (INSET); DURHAM UNIVERSITY

    Last week, a group of adventurers and scientists set off from the Philippines in two traditional Polynesian catamarans on a 6-month, 6000-km voyage to trace the migrations of the ancient Lapita people, possible ancestors of several Pacific Islander groups. Keith Dobney, 48, a noted animal-domestication expert at Durham University in the United Kingdom, plans to join them en route to the outer Solomon Islands.

    Q: Is this a serious research trip or a publicity stunt?

    It is clearly both. The organizers are famous boat builders and designers, although the trip will probably not be a faithful reconstruction of Lapita dispersals. Yet, they wanted scientists aboard to do real research.

    Q: What do you hope to learn?

    During our many island stops, my Durham colleague Greger Larson and I will be collecting feather and hair samples from chickens, pigs, and dogs for genetic analysis. They represent the original ancestors of animals from the mainland and will tell us a lot about the dispersal and domestication of these species.

    Q: Have you ever gone on a long voyage by boat?

    Never in my entire life. I'm absolutely petrified!

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