Science  01 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5398, pp. 7

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  1. COOL IMAGES: Parting the Waters

    Lake Tahoe's rugged floor is laid bare in this image, part of a computer animation made from sonar data collected by a U.S. Geological Survey boat last August. High-resolution sonar got much more efficient in the 1990s, spurring geophysicists to map the bathymetry of lakes, continental shelves, and oceans. By improving existing maps—often made decades ago—they hope to see the details of features such as earthquake-spawning faults and the underwater peaks and valleys that create pathways for pollutants.

    This National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration page offers loads of cool bathymetry images, as well as maps of gravity fields, crustal age, and sediment thickness. Follow the links to zoom through the contours of the Great Lakes, reach gorgeous seafloor maps (computed from sonar and satellite altimetry data), or download a spinning relief map of the globe.


    Over the volcano. Wondering whether Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano is about to blow? Get a quick fix on activity at 11 volcanoes in the Americas at this site, which posts infrared images from two GOES satellites every 15 minutes.

    Ethical choice. Those studying the ethical quandaries enveloping cloning and stem cell research, for instance, may want to peruse BIOETHICSLINE, a database of 60,000 references that became available for free this fall.

    Fact or fiction? Curious about why the moon looks bigger on the horizon, where “six degrees of separation” comes from, or whether engineers really use chicken cannons to test aircraft engines? Then try this site that debunks modern-day myths.

  3. NET NEWS: Biomedical Gabfest a Rousing Success

    Scientific conclaves in cyberspace appear to have a rosy future, judging from the success of what was probably the largest one ever. Held last month for 10 days on a Web server at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, the Fifth Internet World Congress for Biomedical Sciences (or INABIS '98) brought together over 1800 authors from 51 countries—none of whom had to pay a registration fee or buy a plane ticket.

    The all-text affair included a welcome party, plenary lectures, and 44 symposia and poster sessions, each with an e-mail discussion group. The meeting followed four previous annual INABIS conferences, but this year's was far more international. “The striking thing was the willingness, even the hunger of people in a lot of countries to participate”—especially scientists “not in mainstream places” eager to share their work, says conference president Henry Szechtman, a neuroscientist at McMaster. As an example, he cited a poster session on medicine organized by a Canadian, an American, and a Cuban that included a Spanish paper on Turner's syndrome (the condition of having a single X chromosome) and a Kuwaiti paper on trace metal detection.

    Szechtman acknowledged some glitches, especially the “complete nightmare” of uploading images in sometimes incompatible formats. But participants seemed to be patient with the growing pains of this new kind of conference and gave it high marks for round-the-clock access, no problems with simultaneous talks, and a format that allowed in-depth questions. “I learned enormously more than is possible at a conventional meeting,” says pharmacologist Richard Kostrzewa of East Tennessee State University, a section organizer. And unlike conventional meetings, researchers can still drop by long after INABIS '98 is over—just go to

  4. SITE VISIT: Web Gives Embryology Texts Room to Grow

    “They'll have to rewrite the textbooks,” goes the saying whenever a breakthrough overturns prevailing wisdom. That adage may be on the way out—if the Web continues to transform teaching the way that two sites are changing the rules for college developmental biology classes.

    A desire to bring important new papers to students' attention was one incentive for creating Zygote, says Scott Gilbert, a Swarthmore College professor who uses the site to complement his textbook. Written mostly by Gilbert and his students, Zygote is more like a “museum exhibit” than a book, he says: Dozens of one-sentence descriptions lead to summaries from a paragraph to several pages long. Ranging from a 1995 interview with geneticist Salmone Gluecksohn-Waelsch (complete with video clip) to a write-up on limb bud initiation, the site also draws researchers who want to keep up on new studies, Gilbert says.

    If Zygote offers tasty hors d'oeuvres, then a full-course meal is served up by the Virtual Embryo, nurtured by Leon Browder of the University of Calgary in Canada. Browder says he no longer requires that his students buy a textbook, because his site covers the basics from spermatogenesis to apoptosis. These modules are loaded with outside links, including Web tutorials at other universities on everything from chicks to frogs. Virtual Embryo also offers links for researchers, including journals, sites on model organisms, and molecular biology databases.

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