Random Samples

Science  03 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5936, pp. 15

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  1. Ancient Granaries

    Excavation reveals notched stones from granary (inset).


    Before the agricultural revolution some 10,000 years ago could really take off, people had to find a way to store their produce. Archaeologists working in Jordan now say they have found the remains of several granaries built nearly 1000 years before cereals were first domesticated.

    A team led by archaeologists Ian Kuijt of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and Bill Finlayson of the Council for British Research in the Levant in Amman, Jordan, has uncovered at least 10 stone and mud-brick structures that were probably used both as houses and as food-processing centers at the site of Dhra' just east of the Dead Sea, which was occupied about 11,300 years ago. Interspersed among these buildings were at least four circular structures, about 3 meters in diameter, which were probably granaries. Inside the best-preserved one are notched stones, which the archaeologists hypothesize supported wooden beams forming a raised floor to protect the grains. The granaries apparently stored wild barley, the team reported last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The team argues that storing wild grains was an essential precursor to key features of the farming revolution: domestication of cereals and the growth of large communities. Dorian Fuller, an archaeologist at University College London, agrees with the authors, adding that because farmers were already cultivating wild plants when these granaries were built, hunter-gatherers were probably not engaging in large-scale storage, as some archaeologists assume.

  2. Master of Nanotechnology


    Chad Mirkin, a chemist and director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has won this year's $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, known as the “Oscar for Inventors.”

    Mirkin, 45, has created a host of nano-diagnostic devices, including the Verigene ID System, which combines nanoparticles and DNA to detect proteins marking a range of illnesses including infectious diseases, cancer, heart disease, and genetic disorders. He's also developed a high-resolution printing mechanism called Dip-Pen Nanolithography that replicates molecules from cells and viruses so their functions can be examined.

    Mirkin says he plans to invest part of his winnings in his new company, AuraSense, which will seek new ways to apply nanotechnology to therapeutics—in particular, raising levels of HDL, the “good” cholesterol, to prevent heart disease. He has already founded two other companies, Nanosphere and NanoInk.

  3. Look Out for Flashers


    “The fireflies, twinkling among leaves, make the stars wonder.”

    —Rabindranath Tagore

    Consider the firefly. That's what Boston's Museum of Science wants everyone to do. “People are always asking ‘Is the firefly population declining?'” says Sara Lewis, an evolutionary ecologist at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. So the museum set up a Firefly Watch, now beginning its second summer, which invites people to report firefly sightings in their backyards (www.mos.org/fireflywatch). So far, there are reports from about 1300 locations, most in the United States but some from as far afield as India.

    Fireflies don't provide any noteworthy ecosystem services, but they may be sensors for environmental degradation by light and toxins because they attract mates by flashing and spend most of their lives as larvae in the ground living off earthworms and the like.

    Fireflies are hard to count, Lewis admits. But other data are easier to gather: Different species light up in several colors and in a variety of different patterns, from single signals to clumps of multiple ones to continuous flashing.

  4. Plum Internship

    Get in on the ground floor in the hunt for the Higgs boson! CERN is looking for a young media whiz to make the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) look great in the fall when it finally starts up “the most complex scientific project ever conceived by mankind.” The European physics lab is inviting applicants to submit a video or multimedia project, lasting up to 5 minutes, about ATLAS, one of LHC's four big particle detectors. It can be “fiction or documentary,” and applicants are free to pluck material from videos and photographs supplied on the CERN Web site. The deadline is 31 July.

    The winner will spend 3 months on a multimedia project documenting the first collisions in the 25-meter-tall, 45-meter-long ATLAS device.