Science  16 Jan 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5912, pp. 317


    ROAD TRIP. Plant geneticist Paul Porter of the University of Minnesota is taking his class on the road. For the next 4 months, the 52-year-old triathlete will be bicycling 11,300 kilometers across Africa and teaching agroecology to 34 undergraduate and graduate students. The students in Minneapolis will watch lectures via satellite as Porter explores local food production in 10 countries. Porter is joining a group of 50 riders on holiday, but he'll be working. Porter will also be blogging at


    ENGINEERING GLORY. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) doled out $1.5 million last week, divided equally among three prestigious prizes. Retired chemical engineer Elmer Gaden of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, snagged NAE's biannual Russ Prize for pioneering efforts to mass-produce penicillin and other drugs; he learned how to calibrate the oxygen needed for yeast to grow in giant fermentation tanks, a lesson quickly transferred to the penicillin mold. Robert Dennard of IBM received the academy's annual Draper Prize, for significant societal impact, for his invention of dynamic random-access memory, the most common type of working memory used by computers. Finally, Tom Byers and Tina Seelig, both of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, received the Gordon Prize in education for teaching entrepreneurship to engineering students.


    BUY THE BOOK. Every graduate student accumulates a few textbooks, but Jaideep Singh, who is studying physics at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, has collected 350 physics texts. His collection, which includes a textbook written by his father, retired theorist Surjit Singh, got him named one of the country's top collegiate collectors by Fine Books & Collections magazine. “I didn't start thinking of myself as a collector until I had a couple hundred books,” says Singh, who began seeking useful books as an undergraduate at the California Institute of Technology. “It just sort of happened.”

    The books provide an unusual perspective on the history of physics, Singh notes. Early texts on quantum mechanics were almost apologetic in describing the theory's weird principles, and advances in radar and related technologies during World War II appear to have prompted texts on electricity and magnetism to include radiation and antenna theory, Singh says.


    “He's driven by a deep interest in science and physics,” says Gordon Cates Jr., Singh's graduate adviser. The library has also been a boon to Cates, who says that “on more than one occasion” he's borrowed a book from Singh.

  4. FOUR Q'S

    After 13 years as executive director of the American Mathematical Society, John Ewing is moving from Providence, Rhode Island, to New York City to run Math for America. The 5-year-old nonprofit strives to boost math education in U.S. high schools by enticing talented new teachers into the classroom and keeping them there. The new job is a blast from the past for Ewing: He briefly taught middle school math in Attleboro, Massachusetts, while a grad student 40 years ago.


    Q: What makes Math for America different from other math-education efforts?

    After 3 years, roughly 40% of the teachers of mathematics [in U.S. schools] are gone. … You can't sustain a profession if you have that kind of attrition. … What Math for America does is concentrate on that one part of the problem. … At the moment, it's bringing through something like 40 to 50 new teachers a year. Our hope is to double that number in the next couple of years.

    Q: What are the prospects for improving high school math teaching?

    I think the prospects are pretty good. … The money you invest in a teacher, … when you spread that money out over the thousands of students [taught during his or her career], it's actually very cheap.

    Q: What can professional mathematicians do for school mathematics?

    Be interested. … The biggest thing that's missing in secondary education … is that teachers often are not inspired about mathematics. And what research mathematicians can do [is] tell them about the beauty, the power, and what's going on [in the field].

    Q: What was high school math like for you?

    I had the greatest teacher; … his name was Mr. Latino. He was funny; he told terrible jokes; he came strutting into the classroom; he would sometimes make fun of students. But he loved mathematics.

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