Random Samples

Science  12 Jun 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5933, pp. 1371
  1. Back to the Woods

    Baby Elikya and her mom are going bush.


    This month, conservationists will make the first attempt to reintroduce bonobos, the most endangered of Africa's great apes, into the wild. Seventeen animals will be moved from their sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.) to a 20,000-hectare forested preserve in the northwestern part of the country near the Congo River. Known for settling group conflicts with sex rather than violence, bonobos are found today only in the D.R.C., where a mere 10,000 may remain in the wild. Belgian conservationist Claudine André started the 30-hectare Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the D.R.C. 15 years ago. “This is a strategically designed release,” says the reintroduction project's scientific adviser, primatologist Brian Hare of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The apes will be closely monitored and supplied with food if necessary. André has hired local villagers to guard the animals from bushmeat hunters. If all goes well, more of the sanctuary's 62 bonobos, some of whom were abused as pets or mutilated for witchcraft ceremonies, will one day move back to the woods.

  2. Cold Spring Harbor Chilly to Tweets

    Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York state is revamping its meeting rules to bind scientists by the same restrictions that apply to reporters.

    Journalists at CSHL meetings must agree not to write anything without the permission of the speaker. But during a meeting last month, several scientists—including Daniel MacArthur of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, U.K., and Francis Collins, former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland—reportedly posted comments about talks in Twitter “tweets” and on Web pages.

    A Web-based news service, GenomeWeb, complained. Now the lab is cracking down. Meetings organizer David Stewart says he is revising the meeting registration form so that all participants, reporters or otherwise, will agree to get prior permission for any Internet postings.

  3. Relief in Zero G

    Floating test for pee machine.


    As if cramped quarters and freeze-dried ice cream weren't enough, astronauts face the unpleasant necessity of urinating in near-zero gravity. Apollo crews solved this problem with condomlike devices. Current models consist of a vacuum-cleaner-like hose with attachable funnels for males and females—now more sophisticated, but still sometimes uncomfortable and messy.

    So 10 engineering students from the University of California, San Diego, have teamed up with thermal and fluids engineer Eugene Ungar of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to develop something better. In January, they were accepted into NASA's Microgravity University, a program that gives undergraduates the chance to conduct experiments on board a plane that performs parabolic maneuvers to simulate ultralow gravity. By April, the students were in the air testing their “pee machine,” a contraption that pushes a column of water through a simulated urethra into an acrylic box where they can track the flow dynamics with high-speed cameras.

    “We're really going to hit hard with designing and testing different methods for collecting urine in the coming years,” says Timothy Havard, student leader of the project. One promising design, he says, is a receptacle filled with a honeycomb network that harnesses surface tension and the velocity of the fluid to capture the urine with minimal splash-back.

  4. Blow It Like Bach

    The long-forgotten lituus was recreated with the help of fluid dynamics modeling.


    Scottish physicists have helped a Swiss conservatory recreate the mysterious lituus, a horn used in the time of Johann Sebastian Bach.

    Bach wrote a part for the lituus in his cantata “O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht.” Musicians at Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland, wanted to perform the cantata with a real lituus. But they had no idea what the instrument looked like—only the range of notes it played and its likely sound characteristics. So they turned to fluid dynamicists Murray Campbell and Alistair Braden of the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. Braden has designed a computer program that models the acoustic properties of wind instruments. The hardest problem, he says, was generating “realistic instrument shapes.”

    The resulting design is a horn made of light wood some 2.5 meters long. Played with no holes or valves, it has a roughly three-octave range and makes a “haunting” sound, says Braden who explains that the length is necessary for the quality of the higher notes. The conservatory has been giving “experimental performances” with two copies of the horn based on Braden's design and is now investigating how a curved version would sound. “Scientists are seldom able to contribute so directly to art,” says Braden. “It's like making a new paintbrush and seeing it in the hands of a master painter.”