News this Week

Science  17 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6207, pp. 284

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  1. This week's section

    See-through swimmer

    An inside view of the complex skeleton of the scalyhead sculpin fish.


    Just in time for Halloween comes this ghoulish portrait of a scalyhead sculpin fish, Artedius harringtoni, stained to highlight its skeleton (red) and cartilage (blue). The photo comes from the lab of Adam Summers, a biomechanics researcher at the University of Washington, Seattle, who studies how the skeletons of fish and other animals allow them to move, which can offer lessons for engineers and even animators. (Summers consulted on the film Finding Nemo.) The fish is among 12 images and videos chosen as winners in the third annual BioArt competition, sponsored by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland, “to share the beauty and excitement of biological research with the public,” according to the BioArt website. Other awardees include striking microscopy images of cells—immune cells engulfing a fungal invader, the neat cells resembling bundles of hair that allow a chick to hear—and a Fantastic Voyage–like tour through the branching airways in a mouse's lung. The winners will go on display at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

    Archaeologists return to Antikythera

    The Exosuit took its first spacewalk, suspended from the Hellenic Navy vessel THETIS.


    One hundred and 14 years ago, sponge divers discovered a 2000-year-old shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island Antikythera; they began to recover its sunken treasures (including the clockwork device known as the Antikythera mechanism) but were thwarted by the depth of the waters, about 60 meters. This autumn, however, armed with modern technology—specifically rebreathers, which scrub carbon dioxide from exhaled air and reintroduce oxygen—a team of international archaeologists has returned to the site. They created a 3D map of the wreck, possibly the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered, and have recovered artifacts including a 2-meter-long bronze spear and a “lagynos” ceramic table jug. They also took the state-of-the-art Exosuit—a $1.3 million Iron Man–like suit in which divers can descend to up to 305 meters—out for a test “spacewalk” (pictured).

    League of SI Superheroes, assemble!

    CREDIT: NIST (3)
    Mole, the SI unit for the amount of a substance, prepares to do battle.CREDIT: NIST

    These are no ordinary trading cards—they represent an elite group of international measurement units. The brainchild of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the league includes The Mole, Professor Second, Monsieur Kilogram, Ms. Ampere, Dr. Kelvin, Meter Man, and Candela. A video of their adventures first appeared at the USA Science & Engineering Festival this summer, but NIST has spruced it up a bit for National Metric Week (centered around the 10th day of the 10th month), lengthening it and adding voice-overs (supplied mostly by NIST employees). NIST is now working on tie-ins aimed at middle school science teachers and students, including these trading cards and other educational materials. In their pilot episode (“Desperate Measures!”), the team helps a stranded girl by building her a new cellphone ( Another crisis averted—thanks to the power of measurement!

    “It lifts the last remaining cloud from the subject.”

    Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists to The New York Times, on the release of newly declassified documents that further exonerate physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, once suspected of being a Soviet spy.

    By the numbers

    46%—Growth from 1995 to 2013 in the number of most-cited papers published in lower tier journals, according to a study at based on Google Scholar metrics.

    $150 thousand—Asking price for the domain name, currently owned by Nevada-based Blue String Ventures, which specializes in buying and reselling domain names.

    135%—Jump in methane emissions from venting and flaring of oil and gas wells on federal lands between 2008 and 2013, according to the Center for American Progress.

    Around the world


    Taiwanese research ship sinks

    Two researchers died in the sinking of a $50 million, 2700-ton Taiwanese research ship in the Taiwan Strait on 10 October. The remaining people onboard, including 25 researchers and 18 crew members, were rescued. The Ocean Researcher V, the flagship research vessel of the Taiwan Ocean Research Institute, was 1 day into an 8-day expedition to study atmospheric pollution when it decided to return to port due to deteriorating weather conditions. Taiwan's Ministry of Science and Technology is investigating; high waves and strong currents related to Typhoon Vongfang may have taken the vessel off course, where it struck a coral reef before capsizing.

    Mauna Kea, Hawaii

    Protesters disrupt TMT ceremony

    Dozens of native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians gathered at the entrance to Mauna Kea summit on 7 October to protest the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), temporarily interrupting the planned groundbreaking ceremony (Science, 10 October, p. 146). The protests came on top of years of delay due to concern over the construction of the $1.4 billion telescope on a mountain that is sacred to Hawaiians and is home to more than a dozen telescopes. When it obtains first light, scheduled for 2022, TMT will be one of the most powerful ground-based telescopes in the world, allowing scientists to unravel the history of the first stars and galaxies and study dark matter and dark energy.

    Albuquerque, New Mexico

    Z machine moves toward fusion

    Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, using the lab's colossal electric pulse generator, or Z machine, to heat and squeeze hydrogen, say they have detected significant numbers of neutrons—byproducts of fusion reactions—coming from the experiment. Reporting in Physical Review Letters last week, they detected about 2 trillion neutrons coming from each shot. The result shows that a substantial number of reactions is taking place—100 times as many as the team achieved a year ago—but they will need 10,000 times as many to produce as much energy as needed to heat and contain the plasma.


    Scientists protest Europe cuts

    In an open letter published 8 October, nine prominent science policy advocates from Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have aired their grievances with what they called “the systematic destruction of national R&D infrastructures,” “drastic” budget and hiring cuts at research institutions and universities, and an increasing emphasis on applied research. Signed by nearly 5000 scientists, the open letter is part of a broader movement that includes a 3-week cycling tour around France and a series of meetings at major Italian universities. The protest is expected to culminate later this month with a march in Paris, a protest in Madrid, and a press conference in Rome.

    Mexico City

    Antivenom patent case settled

    Rattlesnake bite victims in the United States may soon have their choice of antivenoms. The London-based pharmaceutical company BTG announced 10 October that it had reached a settlement with Instituto Bioclon that will allow the Mexican company to sell its pit viper antivenom Anavip in the United States, pending Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. In October 2013, BTG had filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission claiming that Anavip infringed on BTG's patent for Crofab, which remains the only FDA-approved treatment for pit viper bites (Science, 3 January, p. 16). Many antivenom experts disagreed, citing differences in the companies' formulas. Under the settlement, Anavip could be available in the United States beginning in 2018. BTG retains its patent and will receive royalties on sales of Anavip until exclusivity expires in 2028.

    Boulder, Colorado

    Record-high Antarctic sea ice

    The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced last week that the sea ice surrounding Antarctica reached its maximum extent in 2014 on 22 September, at more than 20 million square kilometers. That was also a record since satellite measurements began in the late 1970s. Scientists have suggested that changes in prevailing winds and in ocean wave magnitudes might be responsible for the growth of Antarctic sea ice in some parts of the Southern Ocean, even as Arctic sea ice rapidly shrinks. NSIDC notes that this year's record might be related to changing wind patterns as well as melting of the continental ice sheet. The cold, fresh meltwater forms an extra-chilly layer on the ocean surface around the continent, favoring sea ice growth.

    Bethesda, Maryland

    Big awards to mine big data

    To tame the torrent of data churning out of biology labs, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced on 9 October $32 million in awards in 2014 to develop ways to analyze and use large biological data sets. The awards will fund 11 centers focused on developing tools for everything from modeling cell signaling in cancer to integrating data from mobile sensors worn by volunteers in health studies. Others will support brain data-collection efforts, including the ENIGMA project, which aims to unearth the genetic roots of psychiatric disorders. The awards will help maximize “the utility of the mammoth data sets that are emerging at an accelerated pace,” said NIH Director Francis Collins in a call with reporters.


    Three Q's


    Australia's leading research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), has taken some heavy hits since the election of a conservative government in September 2013. The agency lost 5.4% of its budget (AU$111.4 million), up to 420 jobs will go by June 2015, and eight research facilities will be shuttered. Newly appointed CEO Larry Marshall, an Australian physicist and Silicon Valley entrepreneur, faces a big challenge when he takes over next January from outgoing CEO Megan Clark—including reassuring skeptical staff that CSIRO won't become an industry-driven think thank.

    Q:What's at the top of your to-do list?

    A:Meeting everybody. I want them to get to know me, and I want to spend serious time at each major site.

    Q:The government is keen to build stronger links between CSIRO and industry. Where will you begin?

    A:Customer engagement. Opening the doors of CSIRO, obviously carefully because it's a national treasure house of intellectual property, but we're going to have to do that in some areas like information technology.

    Q:Where does fundamental research sit in the innovation process?

    A:They're inextricably linked. It's impossible to tell where fundamental research will lead. You have to trust the scientists.