# News this Week

Science  06 Mar 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6226, pp. 1048
1. # This week's section

### Asia's cities swell as population surges

Over the past decade, East and Southeast Asia have experienced an urbanization boom unlike any the world has ever seen. From China and Japan to the Philippines and Indonesia, the urban population of 17 countries in East and Southeast Asia increased from 738 million people in 2000 to 969 million in 2010. But the rate of expansion of urban land area—2% annually, on average, over that period—did not keep up with the rate of population change, which was about 2.8% per year, according to a 4 March report in Environmental Research Letters. Instead, Asia's teeming metropolises are cramming ever more humanity within existing city limits—confounding predictions that the cities will greatly expand their footprints as migrants flood in. “The assumption from past research has been that cities of all sizes will eventually decline in density,” says author Annemarie Schneider, a geographer at University of Wisconsin, Madison. “This study reveals the opposite.” The trend may seem obvious to Asian cities straining to provide basic services for burgeoning populations. But for urban planners, the findings, Schneider says, could change “how officials plan and adapt to urbanization in the future.”

### Seeing a virus in 3D

Physicists can take pictures of tiny things from chemical nanostructures to proteins to living cells. But 3D biological particles, like viruses, have proved elusive. To take a 2D image, scientists send pulses of high-energy x-rays through the particle and record the resulting diffraction patterns. Theoretically, they could stitch together multiple 2D images, each taken at a different angle, to create a 3D picture—but they'd need to know how the particle was oriented in space when each picture was taken. Now, researchers working with the Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, have devised an algorithm that can figure out how hundreds of such diffraction patterns fit together to form a complete 3D image of a sample—a technique, they reported this week in Physical Review Letters, that can reveal both the external shape and internal structure of a single particle. They tested their technique by imaging mimivirus (shown), a rather large virus that is probably not infectious. But the algorithm should be able to handle much smaller and more dangerous viruses, including influenza, herpes, and HIV. http://scim.ag/3Dvirus

### Rise in U.S. lab animals

The number of animals used by the top U.S.-funded biomedical research institutions has risen 73% over 15 years, a “dramatic increase,” according to an analysis by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Although federal law requires that research labs report their use of cats, dogs, and nonhuman primates, smaller vertebrates—including rodents—are exempt. To get a sense of the trends, PETA obtained data from inventories submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) every 4 years. The top 25 NIH-funded institutions housed a daily average of 74,600 animals from 1997 to 2003; that leaped to an average of 128,800 a day by 2008 to 2012, a 73% increase, PETA reports in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Most of the animals were mice. This parallels a rise in the use of transgenic mice internationally, PETA says. NIH cautioned that using the inventory data to track animal numbers is “inappropriate” because the data don't show usage, but are only a “snapshot” that NIH uses to make sure institutions have adequate veterinary care. http://scim.ag/labanirise

“Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy.”

President Barack Obama, in a tribute to Nimoy, who played Star Trek's beloved Mr. Spock. Nimoy died last week at age 83.

$41.5 million—Amount dedicated last week by the National Institutes of Health to the Human Placenta Project to study the mass of tissue that sustains a developing fetus. 4.1—Average number of Oriental rat fleas—known to carry plague and typhus in the past—per New York City rat in a Journal of Medical Entomology survey. Values below 1 indicate minimal risk of epidemic disease spread. 1—Number of physicists now on the U.S. House of Representatives' science committee as of last week, when Representative Bill Foster (D–IL) joined. ## Around the world ### Brussels Push for E.U. energy bloc The European Commission announced a plan on 25 February to create a unified energy market, where “energy flows freely across borders,” according to the so-called Energy Union proposal. The plan calls for more research and innovation on energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to help transform energy systems, maintain Europe's technological leadership, and boost export prospects. This would help wean the bloc from fraught gas imports, hitting Russian President Vladimir Putin “where it hurts most,” says Guy Verhofstadt, a liberal member of the European Parliament from Belgium. But green groups have criticized the plan for putting too much emphasis on fossil fuels and nuclear energy—“yesterday's instead of tomorrow's technologies,” says Rebecca Harms, a Green member of the European Parliament from Germany. The proposal will next be discussed by the European Parliament and member states. ### Minneapolis, Minnesota Trials under scrutiny A damning report released last week on how the University of Minnesota protects volunteers in its clinical trials charged the university with inadequate review of research studies and failure to sufficiently protect the most vulnerable subjects. Examining protocols from 20 active trials and meeting minutes from the institutional review board (IRB), the reviewers found “little discussion of the risks and benefits” to volunteers, and noted that there were often no IRB members with expertise in a protocol present during its review. The report comes after years of complaints by academics inside and outside the school, who claimed the school failed to protect 27-year-old Dan Markingson, who died by suicide in 2004 while enrolled in a psychiatric drug trial. At press time, the Faculty Senate was preparing to meet with University President Eric Kaler and the authors of the report. Senior administrators say they hope to develop a plan to respond to the report within 60 days. http://scim.ag/Minntrials ### Greenwich, Connecticut New database for oldest fossils Hoping to help scientists understand the origin and evolution of life on Earth, a new repository of data about the world's oldest fossils was launched last week. The Fossil Calibration Database (http://fossilcalibrations.org/), funded by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, will offer scientists a reliable anchor point from which they can accurately date new fossils and determine when species branched off from their family tree. New fossils are discovered all the time, but until now there was no centralized list of the oldest, so many estimates of evolutionary change rely on “really outdated information,” says paleontologist Daniel Ksepka of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut. He co-led the team of more than 20 paleontologists, molecular biologists, and computer programmers behind the project. To ensure the new resource remains a gold standard, new finds will be regularly added after careful vetting by specialists. ### Argonne, Illinois Ask A Scientist shuts down One of the Internet's oldest sources of science information for the public is closing its virtual doors. Argonne National Laboratory announced last month that they will be discontinuing their Newton – Ask A Scientist program on 1 March. Argonne created the service in 1991 as a way for students and teachers to connect with scientists. Volunteer scientists have answered 20,000 questions over the years, from “Why does steel rust?” to “What happens to light in a black hole?” But the website was outdated and its use was declining, says Meridith Bruozas, Argonne's manager of educational programs and outreach. “As technology has advanced … it kind of doesn't serve its purpose anymore.” Instead, the lab has shifted to using Twitter, Facebook, reddit, and Google Hangouts to give students a way to quiz scientists. ## Newsmakers ### HIV researcher admits fraud In an unusual turn for a scientific misconduct case, a former HIV researcher at Iowa State University (ISU) has pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges. Dong-Pyou Han resigned in 2013, shortly before the federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI) found he had faked data in a rabbit study of an HIV vaccine for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant proposal. ORI barred Han from seeking grants for 3 years, but Senator Chuck Grassley (R–IA) complained that the punishment was too light for a study that cost taxpayers millions of dollars. ISU later returned$500,000 and NIH withheld a $1.4 million award. Han faces up to 10 years in prison on two felony counts of making false statements; his sentencing is set for 29 May. ### Three Q's After 42 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, including 16 years as an administrator, physicist Marc Kastner knows the value of basic research—and how to convince rich people to support it at a premier research institution. Last week he announced he was leaving to become the first president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance—a job that will give him the chance to make the case on a national scale. http://scim.ag/_Kastner Q:How will the alliance operate? A:It will not raise any money for itself. Instead, we're trying to increase gifts to universities or help create new foundations that will fund basic research. Q:Why is that so important today? A:There's been a tilt in federal funding toward things that are more applied and more translational. My task is to explain to potential donors the enormous opportunities for doing exciting things in basic science and the satisfaction they will get out of that. Q:Is it OK if the well-endowed universities simply get richer? A:Absolutely. If foundations choose to be concerned about geography, that's their business. But my experience with these foundations is that they really want to fund the best people to do the best research. And that's fine with me. 2. # To catch a wave 1. Adrian Cho* After decades of work, physicists say they are a year or two away from detecting ripples in spacetime. This patch of woodland just north of Livingston, Louisiana, population 1893, isn't the first place you'd go looking for a breakthrough in physics. Standing on a small overpass that crosses an odd arching tunnel, Joseph Giaime, a physicist at Louisiana State University (LSU), 55 kilometers west in Baton Rouge, gestures toward an expanse of spindly loblolly pine, parts of it freshly reduced to stumps and mud. “It's a working forest,” he says, “so they come in here to harvest the logs.” On a quiet late fall morning, it seems like only a logger or perhaps a hunter would ever come here. Yet it is here that physicists may fulfill perhaps the most spectacular prediction of Albert Einstein's theory of gravity, or general relativity. The tunnel runs east to west for 4 kilometers and meets a similar one running north to south in a nearby warehouselike building. The structures house the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), an ultrasensitive instrument that may soon detect ripples in space and time set off when neutron stars or black holes merge. Einstein himself predicted the existence of such gravitational waves nearly a century ago. But only now is the quest to detect them coming to a culmination. The device in Livingston and its twin in Hanford, Washington, ran from 2002 to 2010 and saw nothing. But those Initial LIGO instruments aimed only to prove that the experiment was technologically feasible, physicists say. Now, they're finishing a$205 million rebuild of the detectors, known as Advanced LIGO, which should make them 10 times more sensitive and, they say, virtually ensure a detection. “It's as close to a guarantee as one gets in life,” says Peter Saulson, a physicist at Syracuse University in New York, who works on LIGO.

Detecting those ripples would open a new window on the cosmos. But it won't come easy. Each tunnel contains a pair of mirrors that form an “optical cavity,” within which infrared light bounces back and forth. To look for the stretching of space, physicists will compare the cavities' lengths. But they'll have to sense that motion through the din of other vibrations. Glancing at the pavement on the overpass, Giaime says that the ground constantly jiggles by about a millionth of a meter, shaken by seismic waves, the rumble of nearby trains, and other things. LIGO physicists have to shield the mirrors from such vibrations so that they can see the cavities stretch or shorten by distances 10 trillion times smaller—just a billionth the width of an atom.

IN 1915, Einstein explained that gravity arises when mass and energy warp space and time, or spacetime. A year later, he predicted that massive objects undergoing the right kind of oscillating motion should emit ripples in spacetime—gravitational waves that zip along at light speed.

For decades that prediction remained controversial, in part because the mathematics of general relativity is so complicated. Einstein himself at first made a technical error, says Rainer Weiss, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. “Einstein had it right,” he says, “but then he [messed] up.” Some theorists argued that the waves were a mathematical artifact and shouldn't actually exist. In 1936, Einstein himself briefly took that mistaken position.

Even if the waves were real, detecting them seemed impossible, Weiss says. At a time when scientists knew nothing of the cosmos's gravitational powerhouses—neutron stars and black holes—the only obvious source of waves was a pair of stars orbiting each other. Calculations showed that they would produce a signal too faint to be detected.

By the 1950s, theorists were speculating about neutron stars and black holes, and they finally agreed that the waves should exist. In 1969, Joseph Weber, a physicist at the University of Maryland, College Park, even claimed to have discovered them. His setup included two massive aluminum cylinders 1.5 meters long and 0.6 meters wide, one of them in Illinois. A gravitational wave would stretch a bar and cause it to vibrate like a tuning fork, and electrical sensors would then detect the stretching. Weber saw signs of waves pinging the bars together. But other experimenters couldn't reproduce Weber's published results, and theorists argued that his claimed signals were implausibly strong.

Still, Weber's efforts triggered the development of LIGO. In 1969, Weiss, a laser expert, had been assigned to teach general relativity. “I knew bugger all about it,” he says. In particular, he couldn't understand Weber's method. So he devised his own optical method, identifying the relevant sources of noise. “I worked it out for myself, and I gave it to the students as a homework problem,” he says.

Weiss's idea, which he published in 1972 in an internal MIT publication, was slow to catch on. “It was obvious to me that this was pie in the sky and it would never work,” recalls Kip Thorne, a theorist at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. Thorne recorded his skepticism in Gravitation, the massive textbook that he co-wrote and published in 1973. “I had an exercise that said ‘Show that this technology will never work to detect gravitational waves,’” Thorne says.

### Video

Take an aerial tour of LIGO at http://scim.ag/aerialLIGO.