Science News of the Year 2003

Genetic material extracted from the bones of prehistoric European Homo sapiens, or Cro-Magnons, fueled the controversial theory that people and Neandertals didn’t interbreed . S. Ricci
Planetary scientists discovered ice near the edge of Mars’ south polar cap . Melting snow may have sculpted the recently formed gullies on Mars . The presence of large amounts of the mineral olivine argued against ancient oceans or lakes on Mars . Scientists deduced that the Red Planet’s core is at least partially liquid . Mars came closer to Earth than it had in nearly 60,000 years . Fosbury et al., ESA/NASA/NOAO
Using a gravitational zoom lens, scientists found the hottest, brightest, and most crowded star-forming region yet observed . Berger/Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Lab.
The sharpest images of the sun ever taken showed surprising details of our star’s turbulent surface . Ibata et al.; NASA, J. Bell, M. Wolff
An imaging study indicated that disturbances in a network of brain regions that participate in control of attention and behavior underlie attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in kids and teens . UCLA Lab. Of Neuro Imaging
Monkeys demonstrated to scientists for the first time that a nonhuman species harbors a sense of fairness . De Waal
A new class of experimental drugs that mimic the actions of the hormone glucagon-like peptide 1 showed benefits against type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes. The drugs are based on a compound first identified in the saliva of the venomous Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum). Glucagon-like peptide 1 revs up and refurbishes insulin-making cells of the pancreas and might spawn the growth of new cells . M. Seward
Entomologists decided that stick insects might have done something once thought impossible: lost a complicated trait, their wings, in the course of evolution but recovered it millions of years later . A. Whiting
Scientists cloned a horse and a mule for the first time, and Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal, died (; ). Lazzari/Nature
From polymers and carbon nanotubes, scientists fabricated self-cleaning materials dubbed superhydrophobic because water easily rolls off them and carries away dirt (; ). Gu et al., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.

Fighting off the viruses

A couple of decades ago, if someone had asked whether you’d heard about “that new virus,” you’d have know that they were concerned about a health threat. This year, you’d have needed to ask, “Medical or computer?” On both viral fronts, 2003 was eventful. A new viral disease emerged in China, and travelers spread it around the globe. A series of novel viruses and other cyberpathogens swept the Internet and invaded computers worldwide, doing more damage than anything like them had done before.

Science News reported more progress against the biological viruses than against the computer versions, as scientists identified and characterized the virus for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), made progress on vaccines for Ebola virus and rotavirus, and developed more drugs against HIV. In fact, some computer scientists looked to biology for strategies to vanquish their foes.

Here at Science News, we’ve experienced both kinds of virus this year. One writer was recently bedridden for a week by the nasty flu that’s spreading throughout the country. And our Web site has suffered from a variety of invaders. We’re pleased to report that both the writer and the site have returned to health.

Over the past 8 years, the online version of Science News has grown in popularity. Besides making available articles from our printed magazine, it offers two unique weekly series. Janet Raloff writes about food and nutrition in “Food for Thought,” and Ivars Peterson contributes items of general mathematical interest in his “MathTrek” forays.

And now there’s even more. This year saw the launch of Science News for Kids, which is devoted to making science news accessible to young people. The site provides a weekly helping of timely articles of interest to middle school students, along with puzzles, games, science fiction ideas, hands-on activities, links to Web resources, and material for teachers and parents.

Because our Web content has become so valuable, we are for the first time including highlights of it in “Science News of the Year.” Take a look!

–Julie Ann Miller, Editor and Ivars Peterson, Online Editor

The following review lists important science stories of 2003 reported in the pages of Science News. The reference after each item gives the date and the volume and page number on which the main article on the subject appeared (vol. 163 is January–June; vol. 164 is July–December). An asterisk (*) indicates that the text of the item is available free on Science News Online. The full text of any article can be obtained free by Science News subscribers who have registered and signed in or for $2.50 from ProQuest.

Back issues are available for $3 (prepaid). Send orders to Science News, 1719 N Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20036.

Science News of the Year 2003

An asterisk (*) indicates that the text of the item is available free. The full text of any article can be obtained by Science News subscribers who have registered and signed in.

Anthropology & Archaeology

  • The discoverers of 160,000-year-old Homo sapiens skulls in Ethiopia said that their finds underscore humanity’s evolution in Africa independently of Neandertals (June 14, 163: 371*).
  • Scientists identified a hybrid gene that, in their view, contributed to the evolution of apes and people (Feb. 22, 163: 115).
  • Evidence of banana cultivation in New Guinea nearly 7,000 years ago indicated that agricultural practices spread from there to Southeast Asia (June 21, 163: 389*).
  • A DNA study suggested that people first reached the Americas fewer than 20,000 years ago (Aug. 9, 164: 84*). A skeletal comparison indicated that America’s first settlers left direct descendants who lived in Mexico as recently as 600 years ago (Sept. 6, 164: 150*).
  • Chemical analyses of 6,000-year-old pot fragments found in England indicated that the vessels once held milk, providing the earliest uncontested evidence of dairying (Feb. 1, 163: 67*).
  • After analyzing soil at a Bolivian lake, researchers concluded that silver production in the region began 1,000 years ago, long before the Incas made silver (Sept. 27, 164: 198).
  • Lumps of colorful ochre at an Israeli cave led investigators to conclude that symbolic thinking occurred at least 90,000 years ago (Nov. 1, 164: 277*). Complex thought probably arose much earlier, contended a researcher who explores Stone Age nautical abilities (Oct. 18, 164: 248*).

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  • The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated minutes before it was scheduled to land on Feb. 1 (Feb. 8, 163: 83*). All seven of its crew members died. Tests revealed that the shuttle had been doomed since liftoff, when a piece of loose insulation punctured a hole in its left wing (May 17, 163: 308; July 12, 164: 21). NASA’s plan to return space shuttles to flight next year came under intense scrutiny (Sept. 27, 164: 203*). Researchers are working on more heat-tolerant materials and designs for vehicles that might ultimately replace the shuttle (April 5, 163: 215*).
  • Astronomers found new evidence that a mysterious substance, dubbed dark energy, is ripping the cosmos apart, causing the universe to expand at an ever-faster rate (Aug. 2, 164: 67*; Oct. 11, 164: 227*). The most precise map of galaxy clusters confirmed that most of the cosmos is in the dark, consisting of 70 percent dark energy, 25 percent dark matter, and 5 percent ordinary matter (Nov. 1, 164: 275).
  • A new portrait of the infant cosmos pinned down its age with unprecedented precision, providing new evidence that the universe began with a brief but humongous growth spurt and that the cosmos already contained a plethora of stars when it was just 200 million years old (Feb. 15, 163: 99*). Other evidence indicated that massive galaxies were in place and forming stars at a prolific rate when the universe was less than a billion years old (Jan. 25, 163: 51; March 1, 163: 139*).
  • Astronomers found a planet that’s the closest one known to its parent star, whipping around the star every 28.5 hours (May 10, 163: 301). Scientists also discovered the oldest and most distant known planet in the universe (July 12,164: 19*). A star 90 light-years from Earth harbors the closest known multiplanetary analog to our solar system (Sept. 13, 164: 174).
  • A tiny, newly discovered galaxy being shredded by the gravity of the Milky Way is our galaxy’s closest known neighbor (Nov. 15, 164: 307).
  • Thousands of alien stars are raining down on the solar neighborhood (Dec. 13, 164: 382).
  • The most detailed visible-light picture ever taken of the heavens revealed that the nearby Andromeda galaxy has had a much more violent history than our own Milky Way has had (May 10, 163: 291*).
  • Astronomers measured the mass of the most-distant black hole known (May 17, 163: 317).
  • Out of fuel, the Galileo spacecraft followed NASA’s plan and ended an 8-year tour of Jupiter and its moons on Sept. 21, when it dove into the planet’s dense atmosphere (Sept. 27, 164: 196).
  • Using radar-based observations, planetary scientists obtained the best evidence yet that Saturn’s smog-shrouded moon Titan has lakes or oceans of hydrocarbons (Oct. 4, 164: 213).
  • Belying its location in the deep freeze of the outer solar system, Neptune may undergo a change of seasons (May 24, 163: 325).
  • Astronomers reported that they had finally found the whereabouts of most of the ordinary matter in the universe (March 15, 163: 174). Other researchers rediscovered an asteroid that had been missing since 1937 (Nov. 1, 164: 277*).
  • Astronomers unveiled the first images and spectra recorded by an orbiting infrared observatory, the newly named Spitzer Space Telescope (Dec. 20, 164: 387*).
  • Although Pluto has been receding from the sun for more than a decade, its atmosphere recently doubled in size and its temperature increased by about 1C (Aug. 23, 164: 126).
  • Gamma ray bursts may be even more energetic than scientists had estimated (March 22, 163: 180). Astronomers uncovered direct evidence that gamma ray bursts are linked to the creation of supernovas (May 17, 163: 317).
  • Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies can blow out as much material as they swallow, creating high-speed winds that seed the universe with elements essential for life (April 5, 163: 214*).
  • Astronomers for the first time detected sound waves generated by a black hole (Sept. 13, 164: 163*).

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  • Scientists identified the first gene that appears to foster the development of dyslexia (Aug. 30, 164: 131*).
  • Experiments suggested that a common biological mechanism boosts memories of emotional events and blocks recall of what happened just before those events (Nov. 8, 164: 293*). Other trials showed that memories of learned skills must be stored and then restored, with the aid of a night’s sleep (Oct. 11, 164: 228*).
  • Alterations of genes implicated in producing a protective covering for brain cells were linked to psychotic symptoms in both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (Sept. 13, 164: 164).
  • A new analysis found that periodic revisions of IQ tests dramatically alter the number of students classified in U.S. schools as being mentally retarded (Oct. 25, 164: 259*). Other researchers probed the biology of intelligence (Feb. 8, 163: 92) and the environment’s effect on IQ scores (May 10, 163: 293).
  • Sleep difficulties were linked to higher-than-normal death rates from natural causes among healthy elderly people (Feb. 8, 163: 85*).
  • A three-state study indicated that welfare-to-work programs for poor mothers don’t harm the emotional health and academic skills of their children (March 8, 163: 149).
  • A financial windfall for Native American families provided evidence that poverty undermines psychological health (Oct. 18, 164: 244*). Other studies suggested that strongly materialistic values lessen people’s sense of happiness and well-being (Sept. 6, 164: 152).
  • Older people who frequently help their spouses, friends, and others showed a survival advantage over seniors who don’t (July 26, 164: 51*). Scientists also reported that a potentially dangerous change in the immune system occurs in many elderly people who care for their incapacitated spouses (July 5, 164: 5*).

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  • Elderly women taking estrogen and synthetic progesterone are more likely to have strokes and develop Alzheimer’s disease than are women not taking the hormones (May 31, 163: 341). However, a drug related to progesterone helps some women extend their pregnancies (June 14, 163: 371), and ultralow doses of estrogen and progesterone boost bone density in postmenopausal women without producing adverse effects (Aug. 30, 164: 133).
  • An epidemic dubbed severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, developed in China and spread around the globe. Scientists quickly identified the responsible virus, deciphered its genes, and determined how it infects cells (March 29, 163: 198; April 26, 163: 262*; Nov. 29, 164: 341*).
  • A technique that employs bone marrow cells to rebuild heart tissues showed early success (Nov. 22, 164: 323*). Mesh cylinders called stents, used to prop open coronary arteries, work better when coated with a drug that inhibits the accumulation of cells (Oct. 4, 164: 214).
  • Researchers successfully demonstrated the first preventive drug treatment against peanut allergy (March 15, 163: 163*).
  • An enzyme in the blood-clotting process appeared to explain heart attacks in some Viagra users (Jan. 18, 163: 38*).
  • A federal smallpox-vaccination campaign stumbled, in part over concerns that the vaccine’s risks might outweigh the benefit of better bioterrorism preparedness (April 5, 163: 218). Other research showed that people vaccinated decades ago may retain protection against smallpox (May 31, 163: 340).
  • Vaccines advanced. An experimental vaccine built immunity against Ebola in monkeys (Aug. 9, 164: 83*); a new tuberculosis vaccine excelled in animal tests (May 17, 163: 318); a vaccine against rotavirus advanced (Sept. 27, 164: 204); and an experimental anthrax vaccine appeared to stop the anthrax bacterium and disable its toxin at the same time (Sept. 6, 164: 147).
  • Using stem cell transplants and a compound called anti-thymocyte globulin, researchers in Paris cured 59 of 69 children of sickle-cell disease (Jan. 11, 163: 29).
  • Diabetes patients who adhered to a strict program of blood sugar control over 7 years showed long-term heart benefits (July 5, 164: 14). Researchers found that one form of an immune system gene shows up frequently in people with diabetes or certain thyroid diseases (May 3, 163: 278) and that the age at which infants first eat cereal may affect their risk of developing diabetes (Oct. 4, 164: 212).
  • Scientists tracked down disease-causing mutant genes, including those responsible for some cases of atrial fibrillation, autism and early-aging syndrome (Jan. 11, 163: 21; April 5, 163: 212; April 26, 163: 260).
  • Giving drugs to babies born to HIV-positive mothers made the infants less likely to contract the virus through breastfeeding (Oct. 25, 164: 270). Three experimental AIDS drugs performed well in early tests (Feb. 22, 163: 117*). A harmless virus that seems to keep HIV infections from progressing to AIDS appeared to occupy key molecular receptors on immune cells (March 15, 163: 173).
  • The first large test of an AIDS vaccine failed to shield an at-risk population (Feb. 22, 163: 133), and a combination of drugs that researchers anticipated would work well against HIV failed to stop the virus reliably (Oct. 4, 164: 222).
  • A thymus-tissue transplant enabled babies that were born with DiGeorge’s syndrome to develop functional immune systems (Aug. 2, 164: 69).
  • A protein that heals injured nerve cells thwarted various forms of chronic pain in animals (Oct. 18, 164: 245).
  • Having extralarge cholesterol particles in the blood may promote longevity, according to a study of very old people (Oct. 18, 164: 243).
  • Donated blood and organs should be screened to prevent transmission of West Nile virus, federal officials said (April 19, 163: 253).
  • After reviewing recent studies on the benefits and risks of treating age-related symptoms with testosterone, a medical panel expressed concern over widespread use of the unproven therapy (May 10, 163: 296*; Dec. 13, 164: 382).
  • Advances in magnetic resonance imaging profiling genes’ activities showed promise in helping physicians identify aggressive prostate tumors (Aug. 23, 164: 123*).
  • Baldness drug finasteride showed hints that it could prevent some cases of prostate cancer (June 28, 163: 403), and a potential AIDS drug slowed the growth of brain tumor cells in lab studies (Oct. 25, 164: 260*). Two cancer vaccines fashioned from proteins showed promise (Jan. 4, 163: 13; June 21, 163: 398).
  • Research confirmed that surgery to remove diseased portions of the upper lungs helps some emphysema patients breathe better (May 24, 163: 323*).
  • A placental protein was linked to preeclampsia symptoms, and the finding may improve detection and treatment of the disease (March 8, 163: 147*). Other research suggested that a natural compound called asymmetric dimethylarginine plays a role in preeclampsia (May 10, 163: 293). Also, a study showed that pregnant women taking nonprescription painkillers, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, had an elevated risk of miscarriage (Aug. 23, 164: 115*).
  • Given as a drug, a protein fragment called epidermal growth factor induced remission of ulcerative colitis (July 26, 164: 51).
  • A CT scan worked as well as colonoscopy in detecting signs of colon cancer (Dec. 6, 164: 355*).
  • The amount of calcium in the coronary arteries and the compound adiponectin both showed promise as markers of heart disease in seemingly healthy people (Sept. 13, 164: 174; Nov. 22, 164: 334). And women who lose one or more fetuses during early pregnancies proved to be about 50 percent more likely than other women to later suffer heart disease (March 8, 163: 157).
  • A new drug prevented the replication of the hepatitis C virus (Nov. 1, 164: 276), while gene therapy that induces infected liver cells to self-destruct dramatically slowed hepatitis C in mice (May 31, 163: 349).
  • The drug memantine slowed the progression of late-stage Alzheimer’s disease (April 5, 163: 211). In a lab dish, the cancer drug imatinib mesylate, also called Gleevec, reduced formation of the kinds of plaques found in Alzheimer’s patients (Nov. 1, 164: 285). Spinal-fluid concentrations of two compounds linked to Alzheimer’s showed promise as a test of whether a person has the disease (Sept. 20, 164: 179).
  • The compound ephedra provides only modest weight-loss effects and poses health risks, an analysis of research showed (April 12, 163: 237). Another study found that the weight-loss supplement Metabolife 356, which contains ephedra, can cause subtle changes in a person’s heartbeat (Nov. 22, 164: 334).
  • Bathing dopamine-making neurons with a natural protein that induces nerve-fiber growth reversed some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (April 19, 163: 245). Inhibiting the protein cyclo-oxygenase-2 also emerged as a possible way to fight Parkinson’s (May 3, 163: 285).
  • Children who snore frequently were more likely to struggle with their schoolwork than were children who rarely snore (Sept. 13, 164: 173*). Sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that often accompanies snoring, perhaps explained why President William Howard Taft frequently dozed off (Oct. 11, 164: 238).
  • People lacking a full complement of blood-filtering nephrons in their kidneys at birth were found to be at increased risk of high blood pressure (Jan. 11, 163: 19*).
  • Research mounted that fat-derived acids called ketones could help treat a variety of disorders involving abnormal cellular metabolism (Dec. 13, 164: 376).
  • Doctors are divided on whether the value of screening the torso with X rays to find symptomless disease outweighs the costs. Though the scans’ imaging of lungs turns up plenty of worrisome spots signifying possible cancers, most of those spots ultimately prove harmless. Scans focusing on the heart and administered to people at somewhat elevated risk of cardiovascular disease are generally considered beneficial (Sept. 20, 164:184*).

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Botany & Zoology

  • In a novel study of partnerships between species, researchers found that soybeans punish root-dwelling microbes that don’t fulfill their obligation (Oct. 4, 164: 221).
  • In a new wrinkle on how females develop mate preferences, female wolf spiders chose males whose courtship shows resembled displays they had seen when young (Nov. 1, 164: 276).
  • Bluegill sunfish provided a tidy confirmation of the prediction that a dad’s diligence in child care depends on how certain he is that the offspring are really his (April 19, 163: 246).
  • Genetics bolstered the idea that musical taste, rather than geography, split Africa’s indigobirds into multiple species (Aug. 23, 164: 116). And because a Japanese snail with a shell spiraling to the right can’t mate readily with a lefty, scientists concluded that changes in the single gene that controls shell direction created a new species (Oct. 18, 164: 243).
  • Within what had been a textbook example of a tight buddy system-fig species that supposedly each has its own pollinating wasp-some species team up with multiple partners (April 26, 163: 259).
  • For the first time, researchers found a bird species-Australia’s superb fairy-wren-in which the female often deserts the nest if her own chicks disappear and a giant imposter, a young cuckoo, takes their place (March 29, 163: 206).
  • New Caledonian crows were shown to ratchet up the sophistication of their technology by sharing design improvements-perhaps the first display of this capability outside of people (March 22, 163: 182*). Female coots appeared to tally their eggs in nests, a rare example of an animal counting in the wild (April 5, 163: 212).
  • After more than a decade of work, an international team found the main gene that separates the girls from the boys among honeybees (Aug. 30, 164: 132).
  • Spiny lobsters became the first animals without backbones to pass tests for the orienteering power called true navigation (Jan. 4, 163: 4).
  • Bird eggs can catch infections through their shells, and parent birds start incubating their eggs as soon as possible to reduce that risk (Sept. 20, 164: 189).
  • New data supported a hypothesis about a mysterious spike in neurological disease in Guam: The food chain-bacteria to plants to bats to people- magnifies the tissue concentrations of a naturally produced neurotoxin (May 17, 163: 310; Dec. 6, 164: 366).

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Cell & Molecular Biology

  • Invertebrates have proteins that respond to estrogen and other steroids, indicating that this hormonal system evolved earlier than previous data had indicated (Sept. 20, 164: 180).
  • Microbiologists discovered that bacteriophages, the viruses that invade bacteria, have incredible genetic diversity and abound in oceans and soils (July 12, 64: 26*).
  • Controversial studies suggested that cells in bone marrow or the blood can become a diverse array of cells, including those of the brain or liver (Jan. 25, 163: 54; March 1, 163: 131*). Cells grown from mouse embryos can transform into eggs or almost any other kind of cell (May 31, 163: 349).
  • A genetic survey indicated that about 1 in every 12 men in Asia and 1 in 200 worldwide, harbors a form of the Y chromosome tied to Genghis Khan or the men of his armies (Feb. 8, 163: 91).
  • Studies suggested that animal sperm follow temperature gradients and odors as they seek eggs (Feb. 1, 163: 69; March 29, 163: 195) and that sperm quality deteriorates as men age (April 5, 163: 222).
  • Platelets, generally considered simple clotting agents, were found to guide an animal’s complex immune responses (July 26, 164: 54).
  • A controversial study of the genetics of different lice forms indicated that people first wore clothing about 72,000 years ago (Aug. 23, 164: 118*).
  • Geneticists deciphered much of a poodle’s DNA sequence, enabling scientists to compare it with human and mouse DNA (Sept. 27, 164: 197*).
  • While genetic studies revealed that the sense of smell declined in primates as they evolved better color vision, scientists continued to debate whether primates originally depended on that vision for spotting red leaves or ripe fruit against a leafy green background (Oct. 11, 164: 234).
  • Scientists showed that it’s possible to regrow the sound-sensitive cells within the mammalian inner ear (June 7, 163: 355*).
  • Scientists proposed that an electric field inside an embryo tells it whether to place internal organs to the left or right (Sept. 20, 164: 187).
  • The discovery of the gene mutations that produce black cats prompted discussion of whether the widespread mutations once protected felines from an infection (March 8, 163: 147*).

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Microscopic crystals of aragonite located in the inner ears of zebrafish control balance and hearing. During development, special proteins guide the assembly of these crystals, called otoliths. When researchers dampened the activity of a gene that codes for one of these proteins, the otoliths switched from smooth round (top) to star-shaped (right) aragonite crystals. Silencing the gene entirely yielded chunky calcite crystals (bottom). Fish with modified otoliths became disorientated and swam in circles (Nov. 8, 164: 301).
J. Berger

  • Using DNA as a scaffold, researchers devised a way of creating carbon-nanotube transistors that self-assemble in a test tube–a feat that paves the way for more-complex circuits made from these nanocomponents (Nov. 22, 164: 324).
  • To serve as a scaffolding for the formation of new bone, a polymer material was adorned with proteins that stimulate bone regeneration and others that lead to the dismantling of the scaffolding as new bone tissue grows (April 26, 163: 261*).
  • Bacteria and yeast cells were genetically engineered to incorporate an unnatural amino acid into their proteins, an advance that may lead to new drugs and shed light on the origin of the genetic code (Jan. 25, 163: 53; Aug. 16, 164: 102).
  • Modeling the sticking properties of a gecko’s sole, researchers created an adhesive material that consists of arrays of microscopic plastic pegs (June 7, 163: 356*).
  • A gold plate centered on the shaft of a multiwalled carbon nanotube rotated when a voltage was applied, yielding a molecular-scale motor only 300 nanometers long (July 26, 164: 54).
  • A biodegradable polymer microchip implanted under the skin could store and deliver multiple doses of medications at programmed intervals, eliminating the need for pills and injections (Oct. 25, 164: 260*).
  • In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, analytical chemists raced to develop portable sensors capable of detecting the barest whiff of a chemical or biological weapon (June 7, 163: 362).
  • In pursuit of cheaper materials for permanently storing vast amounts of digital data, researchers fabricated a memory device out of electrically conducting plastic (Nov. 15, 164: 309).
  • Experiments showed that paraffin wax might someday replace solid fuel in shuttle booster rockets, possibly becoming the cheapest, safest, and most environmentally friendly rocket fuel (March 22, 163: 187*).
  • A synthetic–and potentially more effective–version of the protein erythropoietin for treating anemia generated more red blood cells and lasted longer in the bloodstream than its natural counterpart does (Feb. 15, 163: 109).
  • Fibers made from carbon nanotubes mixed with an industrial polymer were 20 times as tough as steel wire and 17 times as tough as the Kevlar used in bulletproof vests (June 14, 163: 372*).

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Earth Science

Analyses of minerals called zircons in Utah sandstones suggested that much of the material in several thick layers originated in the Appalachians (Aug. 30, 164: 131).
M. Brandon

  • Chemical analyses of Earth’s lower atmosphere showed that the overall concentration of bromine, a component of some potent ozone-destroying chemicals, has dropped by 5 percent since peaking in 1998 (Aug. 23, 164: 118).
  • Over the past 90 years, rising water temperatures in Africa’s Lake Tanganyika have led to dramatic losses of productivity among the microorganisms that form the base of the lake’s food chain (June 28, 163: 404*).
  • In Mali, hot swaths of ground punctuated by smoking, potholelike features are evidence not of volcanic activity but of a layer of peat that is burning 2 feet below the desert surface (July 12, 164: 22).
  • A new analysis of historical flood records from central Europe suggested that widespread inundations in that region have been on the wane for the past century or so (Sept. 13, 164: 166).
  • A decrease in precipitation over the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii in recent years has left the ocean there saltier and has diminished its capacity to soak up carbon dioxide (Aug. 16, 164: 101).
  • Northern pine forests may exude nitrogen oxides-gases that contribute to smog and acid rain-in quantities that rival those produced by industry and traffic worldwide (March 15, 163: 166*).
  • Scientists suggested that the network of seismometers that covers the Los Angeles area could be adapted to warn of earthquakes in the seconds before their vibes arrive (May 3, 163: 276*).
  • An undersea survey along a midocean ridge beneath the Arctic ice pack unveiled an unexpected abundance of hydrothermal activity (Jan. 18, 163: 37).
  • A new computer model suggested that Earth’s thin atmosphere is an unexpectedly good shield against small asteroids (July 19, 164: 36).
  • A geophysicist suggested that scientists could explore Earth’s inner structure by sending a grapefruit-size probe to the planet’s core inside a crust-boring mass of molten iron (May 17, 163: 307*).
  • Global gravity maps compiled from data gathered by the twin GRACE satellites in preliminary tests have rendered old maps obsolete (Jan. 4, 163: 6*).
  • The flow of five of the six large glaciers that once fed into Antarctica’s Larsen A ice shelf has sped up significantly since that floating ice mass collapsed and drifted away in January 1995 (March 8, 163: 149).
  • The fires that swept through Indonesian rain forests late in 1997 seemed to have laid waste to some of the region’s marine ecosystems (Sept. 6, 164: 158).
  • Increasing fresh water discharges into the Arctic Ocean could disrupt patterns of deepwater ocean circulation that affect climate (Jan. 11, 163: 29).
  • Satellites that happened to be in the right places at the right time confirmed that proton auroral spots high in the atmosphere result from solar wind gushing through a rupture in Earth’s magnetic field and showed that the breach lasts for hours (June 14, 163: 381; Dec. 13, 164: 372).
  • Field studies showed that dust devils can produce a small magnetic field that changes magnitude between 3 and 30 times per second (Feb. 8, 163: 94).
  • Land-use changes associated with planting crops in southern Florida may have slightly increased the risk of the freezes that farmers hoped to avoid when they originally moved there (Nov. 8, 164: 292).

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Environment & Ecology

U.S. scientists are looking for means to contain invasive environmental threats, including tiny greenhouse frogs, nonnative garden plants, and Asian termites (Jan. 4, 163: 11*; April 12, 163: 232*; Nov. 29, 164: 344*).
R. Cauldwell

  • New low-cost, at-home treatments for microbe-contaminated drinking water could save millions of lives in developing countries (March 1, 163: 136; June 28, 163: 403*).
  • Studies of outwardly healthy people showed harmful effects from their regularly breathing hazy air (Aug. 2, 164: 72*).
  • Countries must reduce or eliminate the production and use of 16 persistent pollutants, under a United Nations treaty that went into effect (Nov. 8, 164: 301).
  • Even low concentrations of lead in a girl’s body may delay her reproductive maturation (June 28, 163: 408).
  • After studies linked a ubiquitous family of flame retardants to toxic effects in animals (Oct. 25, 164: 266*; Oct. 25, 164: 269), the U.S. manufacturer of one of the chemicals volunteered to phase out its production next year (Nov. 1, 164: 275*; Nov. 8, 164: 294).
  • A pollutant shed by nonstick coatings and surfactants was shown to kill birds and rats and impair development in rodents (June 7, 163: 355; Aug. 30, 164: 142).
  • Certain pollutants can foster the localized fallout of mercury, a toxic heavy metal (Feb. 1, 163: 72*).
  • In less than a generation, modern industrial-scale fishing can exhaust the edible bounty of a plot of ocean (July 26, 164: 59*).
  • The primary chemical in some plastics caused female mice to produce eggs with abnormal numbers of chromosomes (April 5, 163: 213).
  • Scientists linked reduced fertility in men with exposure to chemicals called phthalates, but not the phthalates anticipated to cause problems (May 31, 163: 339*).
  • Oxygen deprivation altered sex hormones in carp and it might underlie declines in some other fresh-water fish and amphibians (March 1, 163: 132).
  • Yields from small farms in India and industrial fields in Arizona showed the bright side of genetically engineered cotton (Feb. 8, 163: 85*).
  • Women who had worked at least a few nights a month for many years appeared to face an increased risk of colorectal cancer (July 5, 164: 13).
  • Tests of genes that might escape from sunflowers engineered to resist white mold found little probable impact on wild plants, but similar tests with sunflowers that make Bt pesticide predicted a significant impact (Oct. 11, 164: 232*).
  • Trace amounts of the chemicals used to battle bacteria in kitchens and bathrooms may kill off algae in streams, with potentially far-reaching consequences, studies found (March 29, 163: 196*).

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Food Science & Nutrition

Many herbal-product makers aren’t maintaining quality control, prompting the Food and Drug Administration to propose rules that mandate good manufacturing practices for the industry (June 7, 163: 359*).

  • A nip of alcohol can be therapeutic, but usually not until middle age (March 8, 163: 155; March 8, 163: 157).
  • People consuming large amounts of vitamin A in foods or supplements appeared more likely to suffer hip fractures than were people who ingested more-modest amounts of the vitamin (Jan. 25, 163: 52*).
  • Chronic stress might drive people to consume comfort foods because excess abdominal fat can soothe the brain (Sept. 13, 164: 165*).
  • As little as one serving of fish per month offered some protection against the most common form of stroke (Jan. 18, 163: 46).
  • A compound from soybeans that have been damaged or stressed interfered with estrogen activity, suggesting new breast-cancer drugs (Nov. 8, 164: 302).
  • As Canadian health officials investigated a domestic case of mad cow disease, researchers were working on the next generation of defenses against the brain disease in animals and people (May 31, 163: 340*).
  • In animal tests, an herbal extract called black cohash that some women use to relieve symptoms of menopause increased the likelihood that breast cancer cells would spread (July 26, 164: 62).
  • A study found it unlikely that people develop cancer from eating foods containing acrylamide, a building block of many plastics (Feb. 8, 163: 84).

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Mathematics & Computers

  • A Russian mathematician offered a proof of the Poincaré conjecture, a question about the shapes of three-dimensional spaces, but it remained unclear whether the proof is solid (April 26, 163: 259; June 14, 163: 378*).
  • A mathematical analysis suggested that the current U.S. Supreme Court of nine judges behaves as if it were made up of 4.68 “ideal” justices who always make their decisions independently (June 28, 163: 405*).
  • A large-scale study of e-mail users supported the notion that one person on the planet can reach any other person through a chain of about six social ties (Aug. 16, 164: 103*).
  • The debate over the shape of space took some new twists with the mathematical analysis of satellite snapshots of the universe’s temperature waves (Nov. 8, 164: 296).
  • Researchers geared up to engineer cells with computer programs hardwired into DNA (April 26, 163: 267*).
  • An alternative approach to quantum computing took advantage of space-time knots and braids (Feb. 22, 163: 124*).
  • A mathematician proposed a new approach to resolving a long-standing question about infinite sets of numbers (Aug. 30, 164: 139).
  • Economists explored the use of betting markets as tools for predicting the consequences of policy decisions by a government, a corporation, or another institution (Oct. 18, 164: 251*).
  • New software and hardware for implementing attentive systems showed promise in improving human-computer interactions (May 3, 163: 279*).

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Imagine guinea pigs the size of a bison. Scientists did just that when they analyzed the fossilized remains of the world’s largest known rodents, which browsed on the riverbanks of Venezuela about 8 million years ago. The front and rear limbs of a nearly complete skeleton suggest that the 740-kilogram creature rested on its haunches and manipulated food with its front paws (Sept. 20, 164: 179*).
P. Sloan

  • Sediment samples from New Zealand and Siberia yielded bits of DNA from dozens of animals and plants. Some 400,000-year-old snippets were traced to a specific plant species (April 19, 163: 244*).
  • Analyses of genetic material from fossils of large, flightless birds called moas suggested that three types of the extinct creatures may not have been separate species after all (Aug. 9, 164: 84).
  • The wide brims that some ancient trilobites grew over their eyes strongly suggested that at least some species of the aquatic creatures were active during the daytime nearly 400 million years ago (Oct. 4, 164: 221).
  • Analyses of the gnaw marks on bones of Majungatholus atopus, a carnivorous dinosaur, indicated that the creatures routinely fed on members of their own species (April 5, 163: 211*).
  • Researchers extracted DNA from cells preserved in the desiccated dung of an extinct ground sloth. Analysis of the genetic material may identify the creature as a new species (July 12, 164: 19).
  • A look inside a piece of 130-million-year-old amber revealed a thin filament of spider silk with sticky droplets that look just like those produced by modern spiders (Aug. 30, 164: 141).
  • A tiny fossil collected about 500 kilometers from the South Pole indicates that Antarctica was once home to a type of fly that scientists previously thought had never inhabited the now-icy, almost insectfree continent (May 10, 163: 292*).

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Scientists probing the origins of superfluidity, or frictionfree flow, found that an accumulation of just seven atoms of liquid helium appears sufficient to trigger that exotic state (Oct. 25, 164: 262).

  • New finds forced theorists to reexamine models of interaction among fundamental particles called quarks. Previously found only in twos or threes, quarks turned up in possible four- and five-particle groupings at several accelerator laboratories (July 5, 164: 3*; Oct. 18, 164: 245*; Dec. 13, 164: 381). New evidence also turned up for unexpectedly light quark combinations (May 24, 163: 333).
  • Physicists induced clouds of trapped, ultracold molecules to form Bose-Einstein condensates. This state of matter, in which all particles are in the same quantum state, had been achieved only with atoms (Nov. 22, 164: 324*).
  • An analysis of particle collisions inside an accelerator strengthened indications that those impacts briefly recreated a fiery soup of matter that permeated the universe just after the Big Bang and then condensed into the bulk of subatomic particles known today (June 21, 163: 387*).
  • Landmark particle-accelerator experiments provided physicists with long-sought data needed to better understand up and down quarks, the building blocks of ordinary matter (April 12, 163: 227*).
  • Sandwiched between mirrors and stimulated by intense light, a single, ultracold cesium atom let loose its own infrared laser beam, which was the most orderly beam of laser light ever produced (Sept. 20, 164: 181*).
  • After 60 years of anticipation, experimenters finally created an inverse Doppler effect, an increase in the frequency of an electromagnetic wave, rather than the usually observed decrease in frequency, from a receding source (Dec. 6, 164: 358).
  • Using electrical signals to manipulate a magnetic property of electrons known as spin, researchers took a major step toward a new type of spin-based electronics and, possibly, toward computers that exploit the strangeness of quantum mechanics to do calculations (Feb. 22, 163: 118).
  • The first measurements of how people’s bodies scatter sound waves indicated that, acoustically, a human body resembles an elongated chicken egg (Nov. 15, 164: 308*).
  • Recognizing that cracks stretch rather than propagate in some rubbery solids, researchers developed a new theory of failure resistance for stretchy materials such as skin and adhesives (April 26, 163: 261).
  • A technique that triggers specific vibrations in individual molecules enabled scientists to sever selected bonds in those particles and to make some molecules slide along a surface or pop free of it (May 31, 163: 339).
  • By dramatically slowing laser pulses in a room-temperature ruby, researchers brightened prospects that slow-moving or even stopped light may attain practical use in optical communications or other applications (April 19, 163: 252).

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Titanium silicon carbide, a little-studied ceramic, was found to spring back fully from intense compression rather than to shatter, as most ceramics do (March 1, 163: 141).
P. Lyons, Moorestown, N.J.

  • New types of liquid-based pixels that can rapidly change color may ultimately serve as building blocks for full-color video images on flexible electronic paper (Sept. 27, 164: 195*).
  • Refinements to a polymer-imprinting technique enabled researchers to create little plastic lasers, which may be a step toward dirt cheap laser-based sensors and communications gadgets (July 26, 164: 53*).
  • The advent of unconventional lenses that first garble images to ultimately make them better for computer processing has led to finer-focused images than traditional lenses can offer and to extraordinarily efficient new ways to extract information, such as enemy troop movements, from optical data (March 29, 163: 200*).
  • Theory-based calculations replaced trial and error in the development of titanium-based alloys that have many qualities far superior to those of previously known alloys (April 19, 163: 243*).
  • In a potential boon to automated management of crowded highway networks, a new method of tracking trucks with in-road sensors turned out to be an exceptionally fast way to detect the onset of traffic jams (March 8, 163: 150*).
  • A simple method of interleaving ultrathin layers of positively and negatively charged materials yielded novel coatings for uses ranging from food preservation to energy production (Aug. 9, 164: 91*).

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Food for Thought

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  • A computer search turned up the 40th Mersenne prime. It’s a 6,320,430-digit behemoth that now holds the record as the largest known prime number (Megaprime Champion).
  • Researchers provided new mathematical insight into why certain random-number generators give wrong results in some computational experiments and simulations (The Bias of Random-Number Generators).
  • The Goldbach conjecture–every even number larger than 2 is the sum of two prime numbers–has been verified up to 6 x 1016 (Goldbach Computations).
  • A new, simple equation generates a wide variety of appealing and biologically relevant geometric shapes (A Geometric Superformula).
  • In votes involving three or more candidates, many election procedures can produce the same result when voter preferences are reversed (Election Reversals).

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Science News for Kids

  • Changeable ink and battery-powered paper could eventually make textbooks lighter and bring video newspapers into daily use (
  • Learning how fast dinosaurs grew may help clarify their link with birds (
  • A gecko’s remarkable grip on walls and ceilings suggests new types of sticky materials (
  • Computer technology that puts kids in a cartoon classroom may help children with attention disorders learn to pay attention (
  • Animals that can count or find quick routes to a goal have taught scientists a thing or two about handling numbers (
  • Poisonous snakes appear to control the amount of venom that they inject into their victims (
  • Dust raining down from space and Earth’s atmosphere provides information about weather patterns, pollution, and the origin of the universe (

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Science News of the Year 2002

More Stories from Science News on Science & Society