Random Samples

Science  29 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6004, pp. 567

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  1. Ugly Betty


      If you missed it this year, mark your 2011 calendars early: 20 October is Hagfish Day.

      Hagfish (Myxinidae) are jawless, boneless, scaleless, and, as their name suggests, “really terribly gross,” says Ruth Musgrave, director of WhaleTimes.org, a Web site that connects schoolchildren with deep-sea researchers and gives them information about marine science.

      “In general, science programs highlight the cute, … but an ecosystem needs everything,” says Musgrave, a freelance children's writer and former marine science educator. So in 2009, WhaleTimes.org launched Hagfish Day to encourage kids to “look at everybody in the food web”—even the ugly ones.

      The vileness of hagfish is more than skin deep. They ooze slime, which they use to smother prey and evade predators. “A 19- or 20-inch hagfish can fill a 2-gallon bucket with slime in minutes,” says Musgrave. Their diet includes dead or dying fish, which a hagfish enters through the gills, mouth, or anus and eats from the inside out, leaving just the skin. “They're a wonderful scavenger of the deep,” she says.

      Repugnant chic is in: Several museums, including the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, are hosting “Animal Grossology” displays connected to a popular book series. Online, meanwhile, slime recipes, a hagfish haiku contest, and an undersea “Ugly Beauty Contest” can be found at www.whaletimes.org/HagfishDay.htm.

    1. Up Against the Wall



        Just about all serious marathon runners have experienced it. In the last half of a marathon, usually at about mile 21, their energy suddenly plummets. Their legs slow down, and it's almost impossible to make them go faster. Nutritionists blame carbohydrate loss: When the supply runs out, runners “hit the wall.”

        Now a model published this month in PLoS Computational Biology tells runners when they'll hit the wall, helping them to plan their carb-loading or refueling strategies accordingly. Benjamin Rapoport, a dual M.D.-Ph.D. student at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the idea began 5 years ago, when a class conflicted with his running in the Boston Marathon. His professor let him skip, provided he give a talk on the physiology of endurance running afterward. The talk became an annual tradition, and now he's quantified his ideas.

        Rapoport's model looks at multiple factors, such as a runner's desired pace, muscle mass, and aerobic capacity, the amount of oxygen the body can deliver to its muscles. “It's a real tour de force,” says physiologist Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, although he adds it is hard to account for all individual differences.

        Which is better, chowing down days before or grabbing some sugar during the race? “Both,” says sports nutritionist Edward Coyle of the University of Texas, Austin. “The carb loading will raise the glycogen levels in your muscles, and taking in carbs during the race will keep your blood glucose levels up.” And now Rapoport even has an app for that: Athletes will soon be able to calculate their thresholds at http://endurancecalculator.com/.

      1. They Said It

          Clones “are for researchers, not butchers.”

          —John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, at a press conference covered by The Wall Street Journal. On 19 October, the commission issued a report proposing a European Union–wide ban on cloning farm animals for food production and selling clones' milk or meat.

        1. Light's Sonic Boom

            Super K Sonic Booooum




            Visitors to this month's Manchester Science Festival in the United Kingdom are experiencing an artist's take on what it's like inside a cutting-edge physics experiment.

            In Super K Sonic Booooum 2 Gold, an exhibit by Nelly Ben Hayoun, festival attendees are rowed through a 23-meter-long watery tunnel lined with golden balloons as blue lights and booming sounds go off around them. The installation was inspired by Japan's Super Kamioka Nucleon Decay Experiment (Super-Kamiokande), in which subatomic particles called neutrinos smash into a tank of water, producing charged particles that, because they travel faster than light does in water, create a bluish glow called Cherenkov radiation. This optical equivalent of a sonic boom is detected by thousands of photomultiplier tubes—represented by the balloons in Ben Hayoun's exhibit.

            Ben Hayoun designed the exhibit in collaboration with several scientists working at the Japan facility, including some who act as tour guides on the rowboats. She says she hopes to “give amateurs access to expert domain” by “creating an experience” and “making things interesting and tangible.” That experience is “faithful to the experiments, except the size!” says former Super-Kamiokande physicist Marieke Navin, now at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Visitors will just have to extrapolate to imagine the real thing, which is 40 meters in diameter and sits 1000 meters underground.