News this Week

Science  29 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6200, pp. 986

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  1. This week's section

    A space parasol unfurls

    A sunshield like this will protect the telescope (not pictured).


    The most sensitive space observatory ever planned will need powerful protection from the sun. The instruments on the James Webb Space Telescope must be kept at or below −233°C in order to detect infrared radiation from distant sources. The solution is a nearly 20-meter-long parasol made from five polymer membranes that will reflect all but a millionth of the sun's heat. A test unit was successfully unfurled for the first time in mid-July in Redondo Beach, California, and is now being disassembled and inspected. The telescope, a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency, is targeted for a 2018 launch.

    “We owe wine country in part to earthquakes.”

    Ross Stein, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey. The terrain of Napa Valley, California, was shaped by faults. A 6.0 temblor struck there on 24 August.

    Ice buckets make a splash in research fundraising


    What do rap star Eminem, actor Tom Cruise, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) President L. Rafael Reif have in common? All have been swept up in the social media explosion known as the Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people, famous and unknown, drench themselves in ice water to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and money for research and patient care. Since going viral in July, the challenge has raised $88.5 million for the national ALS Association, which typically devotes about 25% of its revenue to research grants. The unexpected response has generated a debate among some about the appropriateness of public relations gimmicks to drive charitable donations for funding science. The chatter, however, didn't prevent Reif, an engineer, from enlisting MIT students to design a contraption rigged to dump a bucket of icy water on his head. Reif (left) had been called out by Harvard University President Drew Faust, who also took the challenge last week, surrounded by Harvard stem cell scientists working on ALS.

    By the numbers

    9780—Kilometers of illegal off-road tracks near the Arizona border with Mexico, according to a study in Land Degradation & Development. Smugglers' vehicles could harm the threatened flat-tailed horned lizard.

    8:30 a.m.—Earliest time that middle and high school should begin, according to a new policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Sleep-wake cycles shift up to 2 hours later during puberty.

    Around the world


    Iranian science minister ousted

    An effort to breathe new life into Iranian universities is at a crossroads after the nation's parliament last week ousted science minister Reza Faraji-Dana. “His downfall is a sad day for science in Iran,” says a scientist at the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran who asked to remain anonymous because of the uncertain political climate. Strengthening the higher education system has been a priority for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Faraji-Dana, an electrical engineer, had worked to create conditions for a freer atmosphere on Iranian campuses, an effort that apparently alienated the conservative parliament. One of his accomplishments during his 9 months as minister, says the Sharif researcher, was to implement a more open and transparent mechanism for appointing university chancellors based on talent rather than political persuasion.


    China blocks studies of GMOs

    Corn drying in Shandong province, China.


    China's Ministry of Agriculture decided not to renew biosafety certificates that allowed research groups to grow two strains of genetically modified (GM) rice and one variety of GM corn. The permits, granted with much fanfare in 2009, expired on 17 August. Whether this represents a change in policy regarding agricultural biotechnology is not clear. Public opposition to GM crops has grown in the intervening 5 years. But the government is still supporting work on corn carrying a gene from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium that enhances pest resistance. One researcher told Science that GM corn faces less opposition because it is primarily used for animal feed.

    Pape, Latvia

    Biggest bat catcher unveiled

    German and Latvian biologists took a giant first step toward understanding the mysteries of bat migration last week, setting up a 15-meter-high funnel-shaped net to waylay flying mammals traveling across Europe. With this first-of-its-kind net, they expect to catch up to 1000 animals a night for tagging and releasing, United Press International reported on 18 August. Researchers hope that by setting up the net along a narrow, bat-rich strip of land between the Baltic Sea and a neighboring lake, they will be able to gather an unprecedented amount of data about the animals' flight paths, hibernation areas, and metabolism.


    Three Q's


    This month, math and science teacher Amanda Curtis, 34, became the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate from her home state. The novice member of Montana's part-time state legislature stepped onto the national stage when the expected nominee, interim Senator John Walsh, dropped out after charges of plagiarism in his master's thesis.

    Q:What's harder, teaching or lawmaking?

    A:I'd say teaching. There's no more pressure than to say, “You get these kids for 56 minutes a day, if they show up at all, and you're required to meet these standards. Of course, you also need to catch them up from the past 3 years' work. And we don't really like you very much.”

    Q:Did you always like math?

    A:No, I really struggled in high school. And the first college course I took was a remedial math course. [But at Montana Tech] a professor laid out the beautiful picture that is calculus, and all of a sudden I understood it. It just clicked for me.

    Q:Does that help you as a teacher?

    A:I tell my students, if I can do it, you can do it. That's been my message about math, and that's my message about politics.