Random Samples

Science  21 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5981, pp. 957

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  1. Three Q's


    Last month, materials scientist Gretchen Kalonji of the University of California, Santa Cruz, was picked to head the Natural Sciences Sector of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Kalonji has taught in France, Germany, China, and Japan and has worked on international strategy development for the University of California. Her term starts in July.

    Q:How did you become fluent in two African languages, Swahili and Lingala?

    From the ages of 7 to 23, I was outside the United States. Both my parents were journalists, and we lived in India, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Kenya. So I come to the international stuff kind of naturally. … I lived in Kenya for 6 years starting as a teenager, and my ex- and late husband was Congolese, which explains the Lingala.

    Q:What ideas do you have for the job?

    It's a little bit premature to say, but I will … [try to] leverage other strengths within UNESCO. One of their jewels is the network of World Heritage sites, [which could be] utilized to a greater degree by having teams of faculty and students work together on projects sited there.

    Q:Where is there room for improvement?

    Our greatest source of unleashed, insufficiently tapped capacity is the creativity of our youth around the world. … Most of their time in educational institutions is spent sitting and learning facts. … Having the students engage more directly in science and engineering research projects that are linked to the common needs in our society … could have an enormous impact.

  2. Sacred Roads


    Dozens of Easter Island's famous heads and torsos, or moai, lie toppled alongside 32 kilometers of roadbeds leading from a quarry to spots around the island. Many researchers have assumed that the Polynesian islanders abandoned these moai in transit as their society began collapsing about 500 years ago. But now archaeologists Sue Hamilton of University College London and Colin Richards of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom say the moai's positions are no accident and that the roads had an important ceremonial purpose perhaps as early as 800 years ago.

    The researchers used a geophysical technique to search for subsurface rock features near seven recumbent statues along an ancient road leading to the island's Rano Raraku volcanic crater, where the quarry was located. Beneath six roads, the team discerned stone platforms, each just large enough to hold an upright multiton statue—suggesting the moai's placement was deliberate. The team also noticed that the statues get closer together as the roads approach the volcano.

    That pattern fits with Polynesian mythology, which viewed volcanoes as sacred portals to the underworld, Hamilton says. The closely arranged moai “are sort of signaling increasing importance as you are going into a sacred space.”

    The idea “makes perfectly good sense,” says Terry Hunt, an archaeologist at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. But he points out that the roads were also practical, transporting the island's 400 giant stones—“a major engineering feat that we can still marvel at.”

  3. Prehistoric Makeover

    Neandertal-genome researcher Richard Green, MEanderthalized.


    Care to feel closer to your extinct relatives? The Smithsonian Institution's MEanderthal app for iPhones and Android devices melds your mug shot with features of Homo neanderthalensis, modern humans' closest kin—or, if you prefer, the more distant H. heidelbergensis or H. floresiensis. In the first case, expect to gain a big nose and a puffier face, says Robert Costello, an outreach manager with the Smithsonian. Neandertals needed large sinus cavities to cope with the colder climate in Europe and Asia 28,000 to 200,000 years ago.

  4. Memorable Mom


    A mother sea lion's unruly belch may not sound sweet, but to her pups it's unforgettable, a new study says.

    Researchers recorded pup-attraction calls of six female Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea) returning to their young after a day of hunting. About 2 years later, they played the recordings back to the pups, now 3.5-year-olds. Despite having been weaned at about 1.5 years, the adolescents responded more strongly to their mothers' belches than to those of unknown females. They looked at, called to, and in some cases even approached the speaker, the researchers reported online on 6 May in Animal Cognition.

    Elephants and some fur seals are the only other mammals known to have such long-term memories of the voices of other individuals. “In colonial animals, it helps to remember who someone is, since that memory forms the basis for so many social interactions,” says Benjamin Pitcher, an ethologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and the study's lead author. For instance, a nursing pup that can't recognize its mother's voice among the colony's hundreds of calling females may starve, Pitcher says, as females rarely feed pups other than their own.

    The study is “rare and noteworthy … and should encourage others to examine long-term recognition in mammals after separation” from their mothers, says Alan McElligott, a zoologist at Queen Mary, University of London.