Random Samples

Science  31 Oct 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5646, pp. 777

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  1. Brainy Bobble Head

    Jim Watson himself has one on his windowsill. It's the James D. Watson bobble head, now being offered free to all buyers of oligo microarrays from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York.


    The goofy doll is the creation of Cold Spring Harbor cancer researcher Rachel von Roeschlaub, owner of a science education model company. Von Roeschlaub, who plays tennis with Watson, says she bounced the idea off him and he approved the final youthful-looking product, which went on sale last week. Proceeds from sales—without microarrays it goes for $21.95—will fund Von Roeschlaub's far-flung educational ventures, which range from writing a children's book about TB to teaching Tibetan priests about DNA.

  2. Cosmic Wall

    Scientists have discovered the largest structure in the universe so far, a “Great Wall” of galaxies 1.37 billion light-years long that dwarfs the Great Wall found in 1989 by astronomers Margaret Geller and John Huchra by more than 600 million light-years.

    Ever-deepening inspection of the sky has revealed a universe similar to a colossal sponge. Galaxies cluster into filaments or walls, separated by gigantic voids and tunnels whose patterns were determined a split-second after the big bang.

    When Geller and Huchra found their Great Wall—roughly 760 million light-years long, 200 million wide, and 15 million thick—scientists doubted that gravity would have permitted such a large formation. Scientists had similar doubts about the new Great Wall that has emerged from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which is mapping 1 million galaxies over 25% of the sky from Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. In both cases, though, computer simulations revealed that they fell within theoretical limits.

    In a paper submitted to Astrophysical Journal, astrophysicists J. Richard Gott and Mario Juric of Princeton University and colleagues report that the Sloan Great Wall is 80% longer than the Geller-Huchra Great Wall. “It's a bit larger than we would have thought, but not embarrassingly so,” Gott says. More on the dimensions of the new wall will be revealed when the survey is finished by 2005.

  3. Uncorrected Opinion

    “The dire consequences of ignoring the problems described in this report cannot be understated[sic]. … NASA's founding fathers would turn in their proverbial graves at the sight of such a convoluted organization. … Voodoo science is not worth the cost. The limb of the fault tree Life Sciences is perched upon is perilously close to breaking.”

    From an internal NASA white paper by L. H. Kuznetz of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on the space agency's human life sciences research program, which was recently leaked to Keith Cowing of spaceref.com.

    In an e-mail last week to Cowing, author Kuznetz wrote that the June document was an early draft, and that his goal “was to take the devil's advocate position.”

  4. Arabs Online


    Only 1.6% of the Arab world's population—or 4.2 million people—have access to the Internet, according to the second annual Arab Human Development Report released last week. Sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the report shows that Arab countries hover near many of the world's poorest nations in terms of communication technologies, including newspapers, new books, telephones, radios, and television sets per capita.

  5. In the Courts

    A stretch? The controversial anatomist-entrepreneur Gunther von Hagens has been charged by his alma mater, the University of Heidelberg, Germany, with falsely claiming to be a faculty member there.

    The university filed a claim with a prosecuting attorney last month after German media reported that Von Hagens had listed himself as a University of Heidelberg professor on a successful application for tax breaks at a Dalian, China, business park, where he plastinates human corpses for his Body Worlds exhibits (Science, 29 August, p. 1172). Von Hagens says he knows nothing about the application, which the university claims was signed by his business representative in Dalian and approved by Chinese authorities.

  6. Money Matters

    No strings attached. Indian string theorists have been handed an unprecedented opportunity for international collaboration thanks to an anonymous $100,000 gift to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai, India.

    Although the donor is keeping a low profile, the smart money is on Caribbean-based billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. A financial planner for the extremely wealthy, Epstein rubs shoulders with celebrities and has a flair for scientific philanthropy. In February, he gave Harvard University $30 million to seed a mathematical biology program to be led by theoretical biologist Martin Nowak (Science, 28 February, p. 1311). The grant to TIFR is specifically for the institute's string theory group, whose members are more accustomed to four-figure travel awards. And it was completely unexpected. As TIFR's director, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, told The Times of India earlier this month, “I woke up one morning and found this e-mail.”

  7. Awards

    Lifetime of service. Sixteen scientists and one company have been named winners of the 2002 National Medals of Science and of Technology, the U.S. government's highest honor for scientific achievement. The awardees will be honored 6 November at the White House.

    Life science winners are molecular biologist James Darnell of Rockefeller University and geneticist Evelyn Witkin of Rutgers University; in the physical sciences, Stanford chemist John Brauman, Princeton geophysicist W. Jason Morgan, nuclear physicist Richard Garwin of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, and string theorist Edward Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. James Glimm of Stony Brook University in New York is the winner for mathematics, and acoustical engineer Leo Beranek will receive the medal for engineering.

    Individual winners of the technology medal are semiconductor engineer Calvin Carter, automotive researcher Haren Gandhi, and microelectronics pioneer Carver Mead. Other winners include Nick Holonyak, George Craford, and Russell Dupuis, who developed the light-emitting diode; two scientists now retired from Engelhard Corp., John Mooney and Carl Keith, who invented the three-way catalytic converter used in emission control; and chemical giant DuPont.

  8. Jobs

    High-powered post. S. Robert Foley, a retired admiral who once watched an atom bomb test from the cockpit of his Navy fighter jet, will now oversee the nation's two nuclear weapons research laboratories. The University of California (UC) last week named Foley as its top manager of the Los Alamos and Livermore national labs in New Mexico, as well as the Lawrence Berkeley lab in California. The work is under contract to the Department of Energy (DOE), which plans a competition for Los Alamos (Science, 9 May, p. 876).

    The arrival of Foley, who worked at DOE during the Reagan presidency and advised incoming President George W. Bush on energy issues after a stint in the defense industry, gives the university some political juice if it decides to bid for the contract. “Bob is a well-respected, serious manager with deep expertise,” says UC President Robert Dynes. Foley, 75, will earn $350,900 per year.

  9. Milestones

    Familiar names. If citations were home runs, molecular biologist Bert Vogelstein would be way ahead of Babe Ruth. Papers authored by Vogelstein, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, have picked up more citations during the past 20 years than the combined output of entire departments.

    A 1983 paper on DNA labeling in Analytical Biochemistry, which Vogelstein co-authored with Andrew Feinberg, has alone been cited more than 20,000 times. Even so, the paper ranks second behind one by Polish-born biochemist Piotr Chomczynski of the Molecular Research Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Chomczynski's 1987 paper, also published in Analytical Chemistry and co-authored with Nicoletta Sacchi of the University of Milan, Italy, reports a method for isolating RNA. It's been cited nearly 50,000 times.

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