A Spectrum of Choices
In the Web page below, the writers of Science News have selected what they consider the most compelling stories of 2004. However, visitors to our Web pages at Science News Online have their own favorites. As we track the number of visitors to each Web page, we learn which articles attract the most interest.
We can also peek into the minds of the next generation of our readers by seeing which stories on the Science News for Kids site receive the most visits.
The top selections on Science News Online spanned the full range of scientific fields. The most widely viewed news article described bias in a heads-or-tail toss of a coin. The most popular feature looked into the physics underlying a new generation of yo-yos. Other top articles reported on:
- DNA differences among various breeds of purebred dogs.
- Stone Age human relatives that were surprisingly small.
- Psychology investigations of how, and how well, people recognize lies.
- A Martian chemical that hints there was once life on the Red Planet.
- A gene mutation that resulted in a superstrong toddler.
- Technologies developed to mimic ocean animals.
While Web site visitors, unless they are subscribers to Science News, can view only a small portion of each week’s magazine articles, there are some treats available only online. Last April, National Public Radio’s Car Talk guys sent almost 100,000 people to Science News Online when they mentioned our MathTrek article “Riding on Square Wheels.” Other especially popular online-only features investigated the mathematically puzzling dimensions of baseball’s home plate and considered possible effects of coffee and caffeine on diabetes.
Students visiting Science News for Kids most often turned to a feature on obesity among youngsters. They were also strongly drawn to stories on mosquitoes, violence in video games, and hurricanes. Not all their top choices centered on troubles, however. Another favorite article considered how studies of animal behavior are providing information on fair play.
—Julie Ann Miller, Editor and Ivars Peterson, Online Editor
The following review lists important science stories of 2004 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. 165 is
January–June; vol. 166 is July–December). An asterisk (*) indicates that the
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 2004
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.
- Hot stuff An Israeli site yielded the oldest evidence of the controlled use of fire in Asia or Europe, from around 750,000 years ago (May 1, 165: 276*).
- Human origins A skull found in a Romanian cave boosted the controversial theory that Neandertals interbred frequently with people (May 22, 165: 328*). Other evidence indicated minimal or no genetic contact between Neandertals and ancient people (March 20, 165: 181), and Stone Age Homo sapiens may have had better memories than Neandertals did (Sept. 18, 166: 183).
- Family ties Fossil teeth dating to more than 5 million years ago in Africa led anthropologists to conclude that early members of our evolutionary family belonged to a single, anatomically diverse genus (March 6, 165: 148).
- Mouthing off A gene mutation unique to people decreased jaw size beginning around 2.4 million years ago and heralded brain expansion in our ancestors (March 27, 165: 195).
- Evolutionary puzzle A 930,000-year-old cranium found in Africa filled in details of the anatomy of our Stone Age ancestors and stirred debate about how they evolved (July 3, 166: 5).
- Bug trail A controversial DNA analysis of lice indicated that physical contact occurred between people and Homo erectus, probably in eastern Asia between 50,000 and 25,000 years ago (Oct. 9, 166: 230).
- Good ear Ancestors of Neandertals that lived in Europe more than 350,000 years ago heard the same range of sounds that people do today, a finding that led researchers to propose ancient roots for speech (June 26, 165: 404).
- Sheltered lives Field observations demonstrated that baboons and chimpanzees regularly use caves, a behavior previously attributed, among primates, only to people and our direct ancestors (Feb. 14, 165: 101).
- Red Planet news Working overtime, NASA’s twin rovers on Mars found the best evidence yet that water once flowed on the planet (Jan. 10, 165: 22, Jan. 24, 165: 51*, Jan. 31, 165: 67, March 6, 165: 147, March 27, 165: 195, May 1, 165: 285; Oct. 16, 166: 243, Oct. 16, 166: 253). The European Space Agency’s orbiting Mars Express spacecraft found evidence for methane on the Red Planet (April 10, 165: 228*), while the mission’s lander, Beagle 2, failed to operate (Jan. 10, 165: 22, Feb. 21, 165: 125).
- Ring bearer The Cassini spacecraft slipped between two of Saturn’s icy rings and became the first craft to orbit the planet (July 10, 166: 22, Aug. 14, 166: 110). The craft then discovered two tiny moons (Aug. 21, 166: 115), recorded temperatures of the planet’s rings (Sept. 11, 166: 166), and took the first close-up images of Titan, Saturn’s smog-shrouded moon (Nov. 6, 166: 291, Nov. 13, 166: 316). Even before Cassini’s arrival at the ringed planet, it captured images of the moons Iapetus (July 31, 166: 77) and Phoebe (June 19, 165: 387) and recorded two storms merging on Saturn (April 24, 165: 269).
- Distant denizen Solar system discoveries included the most-distant object known to orbit the sun and the largest resident of the solar system to be detected since Pluto was found in 1930 (March 20, 165: 179*, April 24, 165: 262).
- Deep images Astronomers unveiled the deepest, visible-light portrait of the universe ever taken and near-infrared images of what appear to be the most-distant galaxies known (March 13, 165: 164).
- Comet sampler A NASA spacecraft snatched up dust samples from a comet, while recording the sharpest images ever taken of a comet’s icy core (Jan. 10, 165: 19*; July 3, 166: 13).
- Age-old answer Calculations of the age of the universe became more precise (July 31, 166: 69*), and indirect evidence mounted that the very first stars formed fewer than 200 million years after the Big Bang (Sept. 18, 166: 189). Meanwhile, researchers determined that the most-ancient stars directly detected are about a billion years older than previously estimated (May 22, 165: 323).
- Long ago and far away Astronomers reported finding several of the youngest and most distant galaxies known (April 24, 165: 270, May 15, 165: 309).
- Starbirth An infrared observatory’s recording of a faintly glowing body in the Milky Way may depict the earliest star glimmerings ever recorded (Nov. 13, 166: 309*), and the same telescope captured the most complete portrait so far of a star-forming region in a nearby galaxy (Jan. 31, 165: 77).
- Heavyweight Astronomers found what may be the heaviest, biggest, and brightest star ever observed (Jan. 24, 165: 61).
- Dark doings Dark energy, the mysterious entity presumably speeding up the expansion of the universe, may be distributed uniformly throughout space (Feb. 28, 165: 132, May 22, 165: 330*).
- Dusty trails Two orbiting observatories for the first time homed in on planetary debris circling sunlike stars (Dec. 11, 166: 372).
- Space proposal President Bush unveiled a plan for a manned mission to Mars, proposing the moon as a stepping-stone (March 13, 165: 170*).
- Building Andromeda A radio telescope found the first conclusive evidence of gas clouds that could be the leftover building blocks of the Andromeda galaxy, the Milky Way’s closest large spiral neighbor (March 27, 165: 206). Andromeda continues to grow by feasting on smaller galaxies (April 3, 165: 213).
- Milky way monster Astronomers refined estimates of the mass of the supermassive black hole that lies at our galaxy’s center (April 17, 165: 254).
- Blind eye The only sharp ultraviolet eye on the universe—the Hubble-borne Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph—stopped working (Aug. 14, 166: 101).
- Letter imperfect A study found that different brain disturbances underlie impaired reading of alphabetic scripts, such as English, and non-alphabetic scripts, such as Chinese (Sept. 4, 166: 148). Intensive phonics instruction elicited a neural turnaround, as well as better reading skills, in U.S. children with dyslexia (May 8, 165: 291*).
- Moody gene One variant of a gene that affects brain chemistry exhibited an association to depression among abused children, but only if the children also lacked a positive relationship with at least one adult (Nov. 20, 166: 323).
- Brain pace Moderate amounts of regular walking boost brain function and improve attention in formerly sedentary seniors, scientists reported (Feb. 21, 165: 115*).
- Med warning British data indicated that depressed patients attempt and commit suicides at an elevated rate in the 3 months after starting to take any of four antidepressant drugs (July 24, 166: 51*).
- Therapy boosters Psychotherapy via telephone, offered in conjunction with prescribed antidepressant drugs, showed promise as a depression treatment (Aug. 28, 166: 132). A combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant-drug treatment proved beneficial for depressed teenagers (Aug. 21, 166: 116).
- Groomed DNA Experiments in rats found that mothering styles shaped how genes contributed to a pup’s lifelong responses to stressful situations (July 17, 166: 36*).
- Neural trial Researchers debated whether delayed maturation of the adolescent brain justifies exempting teenagers from the death penalty (May 8, 165: 299*).
- Mom-starved A study in rural Pakistan indicated that maternal depression strongly contributed to infants’ health problems related to malnutrition (Sept. 18, 166: 179*).
- Sleep on it Sleep showed signs of improving memories and problem solving (Jan. 24, 165: 53*). Scientists linked an inner-brain structure to the enhancement of spatial memories during sleep (Nov. 6, 166: 294).
- Ill informed A disturbing number of medical patients treated for acute conditions lack the ability to make informed decisions about their care, although their physicians don’t realize it, British investigators reported (Oct. 23, 166: 259).
- Powerful prevention A vaccine for human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer, proved effective in 94 percent of women (Nov. 20, 166: 332).
- Tropical aid The drug artesunate reduced relapse in people with malaria (Feb. 7, 165: 94) and prevented many new infections in children (Dec. 4, 166: 366).
- DNA sabotage Tests showed that many mutations that predispose some people to autoimmune diseases such as lupus, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis derail the work of a gene-regulating protein called RUNX1 (April 3, 165: 216).
- Alzheimer’s update People with mentally taxing jobs were found to be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (Aug. 21, 166: 125); a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids appeared to prevent memory loss (Sept. 4, 166: 148*); and antibodies against amyloid protein, which accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, reversed a form of the disease in mice (Aug. 7, 166: 83*). Meanwhile, researchers found that the window for preventing Alzheimer’s may close years before cognitive decline is evident (May 8, 165: 296).
- Weight loss Obese adults taking a diet drug called rimonabant lost weight and kept it off, with continued dieting, for at least 2 years (Nov. 20, 166: 325*).
- Off the shelf Merck recalled its arthritis drug rofecoxib, the COX-2 inhibitor also called Vioxx, because of heart attack and stroke risks, raising questions about the safety of comparable drugs (Oct. 30, 166: 286).
- Dealing with diabetes Islet cell transplants reversed diabetes in some patients (June 19, 165: 398), the drug exenatide stabilized and lowered blood sugar (June 26, 165: 413), and even diabetes patients with normal cholesterol lowered their heart attack and stroke risk by getting their cholesterol counts down (June 19, 165: 398). But disturbed slumber caused by sleep apnea appeared to make people more susceptible to diabetes (Sept. 25, 166: 195).
- ALS test The first potential diagnostic test for Lou Gehrig’s disease promised to enable doctors to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis earlier than has ever been possible (May 1, 165: 286).
- Pertussis peril Whooping cough rebounded in many age groups, particularly threatening unvaccinated infants (Nov. 6, 166: 292).
- SARS progress Experimental vaccines for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) showed promise in monkeys (Jan. 10, 165: 28; July 3, 166: 3*) and mice (April 10, 165: 238), and human-derived antibodies prevented SARS and mitigated infections in animals (Oct. 16, 166: 254).
- MS factor A protein called syncytin seemed to play a role in the nerve damage in multiple sclerosis (Oct. 9, 166: 237), and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs appeared to work against MS by reducing inflammation (June 12, 165: 380).
- Sweet remedy In mice, a sugar called trehalose stopped Huntington’s disease (Jan. 24, 165: 51).
- Cord blood Umbilical cord blood harvested at birth proved it could boost survival when injected into people with Hurler’s syndrome (May 8, 165: 293) and into leukemia patients who do not have matching bone marrow donors (Nov. 27, 166: 339).
- Leukemia gains An experimental drug called tipifarnib benefited some people with acute myeloid leukemia (Jan. 10, 165: 30), and tests in mice showed that chronic myeloid leukemia that is resistant to the frontline drug imatinib (Gleevec) sometimes goes into remission when treated with a new drug, so far only called BMS354825 (July 17, 166: 38).
- Signs, strategy Researchers found that most people who will develop heart disease first show a warning sign, such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol (Jan. 31, 165: 72), and that many of those people can lessen their risk by aggressively reducing the harmful cholesterol in their blood (March 20, 165: 189).
- Cancer weakness Suppressing a protein called Myc in cancerous cells sent them into dormancy (Oct. 16, 166: 246*).
- Pregnancy protection Giving birth, particularly late in life, offered women some protection against ovarian cancer (July 31, 166: 77).
- AIDS fighter Circumcision seemed to protect some men against the AIDS virus HIV but not other sexually transmitted diseases (April 3, 165: 212).
- Antioxidant power Vitamin E helped elderly people fend off colds (Sept. 4, 166: 157).
- Novel approach Destroying healthy skin cells spurred the immune system to kill neighboring melanoma cells (Aug. 21, 166: 115*).
- Side effect Acid-blocking drugs taken for heartburn appeared to boost the risk of pneumonia (Oct. 30, 166: 277).
- Statin sanction U.S. health officials recommended greater use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs (July 24, 166: 62).
- Scan risk Data analyses indicated that adults who routinely get whole-body computerized tomography scans without medical cause are increasing their risk of dying from cancer (Sept. 4, 166: 149).
- Stretching a vaccine Tests proved that injecting a fraction of the standard dose of influenza vaccine into the skin, rather than muscle, confers immunity (Nov. 13, 166: 307*).
- Pregnancy signal Blood concentrations of two proteins that affect blood vessel growth could foretell the pregnancy complication known as preeclampsia, a study suggested (Feb. 14, 165: 100).
- Prion proof Misfolded proteins known as prions, suspected in brain deteriorations such as mad cow disease, caused disease when they were injected into the brains of genetically engineered mice (July 31, 166: 67*).
- Better marrow By excising certain immune cells from donor bone marrow, physician researchers improved the outcomes of marrow transplants for leukemia patients (Jan. 10, 165: 30).
- Malaria shots An experimental malaria vaccine provided some protection against the life-threatening disease (Nov. 6, 166: 301).
- Unlikely hero Nicotine halted the progression of severe sepsis in mice, suggesting a new approach to this lethal blood infection (Nov. 6, 166: 291*).
- Eye genetics Nearsightedness is largely hereditary, a study showed (July 10, 166: 19*).
- Internal complications Attention deficits and learning disabilities were linked to the intestinal disorder known as celiac disease (July 3, 166: 13).
- Underlying cause Research suggested that immune system cells may trigger much of the disease-provoking injury linked to obesity (Feb. 28, 165: 139).
- Headache help A drug that slows blood flow in the brain and another that’s normally used against epilepsy stopped migraines in some people (March 20, 165: 188, Feb. 28, 165: 134*).
- Troublesome poison One effect of the poison arsenic may be to permit a tumor’s supporting network of blood vessels to thrive (Jan. 24, 165: 61).
- Looks aren’t everything Liposuction failed to show that it could improve the long-term health of very obese people (June 19, 165: 388).
- Bad trip Scientists identified a protein that contributes to the high fevers that are sometimes generated by the drug ecstasy (Jan. 3, 165: 13).
- Fear factors Evidence mounted that maggots and leeches can serve as treatments for infected wounds, congested veins, and arthritic pain (Oct. 23, 166: 266).
- Piercing pain When pierced, upper-ear cartilage proved to be vulnerable to Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection (March 20, 165: 190).
- Cancer risks Studies linked constant illumination and inflammation with cancer (Aug. 28, 166: 141; Aug. 21, 166: 117).
- Oak death The microbe that causes sudden oak death turned up in a southern California nursery, and contaminated plants were unknowingly shipped across the United States (March 27, 165: 205).
- Deep impact Even creatures 2.5 miles under the Pacific’s surface showed effects of El Niño weather events (July 24, 166: 53*).
- Coral trio A coral that fluoresces orange appeared to be the first ever found with symbiotic microbes that convert nitrogen into a form that the partners can use (Aug. 14, 166: 99).
- Packing poisons Certain poison frogs proved to get their defensive toxins by eating formicine ants (May 8, 165: 291), and New Guinea birds with poison feathers appeared get their toxins from eating tiny Choresine beetles (Nov. 6, 166: 292).
- Squirrels: Ultrasound and infrared Richardson’s ground squirrels appeared to use ultrasound when calling out in response to a disturbance (July 3, 166: 14), and tests revealed that California ground squirrels broadcast an infrared signal when confronting a rattlesnake (June 26, 165: 403).
- Bird tools Burrowing owls were found to use tools: collections of dung that lure edible beetles to the birds’ burrows (Sept. 11, 166: 173).
- Big sleep Researchers found that the fat-tailed dwarf lemur, the first tropical mammal known to hibernate, exploits hot weather to save energy during its long snooze (July 24, 166: 61).
- Discard dilemma When fishing fleets threw smaller amounts of discarded fish overboard, great skuas made up for lost meals by increasing attacks on other seabirds (Feb. 21, 165: 115).
- Wind highways A study suggested that invisible freeways of winds carrying spores and vegetation bits account for the similarity of plant species on islands thousands of kilometers apart (May 22, 165: 324).
- Plant nitrogen For the first time, researchers found a green plant breaking down nitrogen-containing compounds into readily usable nitrates, a job usually done by microbes (July 3, 166: 5).
- Squid shimmer The Hawaiian bobtail squid revealed its secret for mimicking moonlight: It makes novel, flexible proteins that reflect light (Jan. 10, 165: 20).
RAT MAP. Researchers sequenced the full genome of the rat, a development that will be a boon for lab research and will improve understanding of the species’ evolution (April 3, 165: 211).
- Double take For the first time, cloned human embryos survived long enough to yield stem cells, potential seeds for tissues tailored to a patient’s genetic identity (Feb. 14, 165: 99*). Researchers later replicated the experiment in monkeys, providing a model for studying cloning in people (Dec. 11, 166: 371).
- Fat chance A study revealed that adiponectin, a hormone produced by fat cells, prompts the brain to boost the body’s metabolic rate (April 17, 165: 245*).
- Sunny solution A lotion containing certain snippets of DNA reduced skin cancer in mice exposed to ultraviolet light (March 6, 165: 147*).
- Fatal flu Scientists announced that variations in a single gene might have dramatically increased the virulence of the 1918 Spanish flu (Oct. 23, 166: 269).
- Cancer flip-flop A class of genes known as conditional suppressors was found to switch between halting and promoting cancer (Sept. 4, 166: 149).
- Two mommies By fusing two egg cells, researchers created a mouse with no father (May 22, 165: 333).
- Aping DNA An examination yielded surprisingly large differences between the genetic material of humans and their closest evolutionary relatives, chimps, with the two differing in about 68,000 stretches of DNA just on chromosome 22 (June 12, 165: 382).
- Size matters Worms with longer telomeres, caplike DNA structures on the tips of chromosomes, lived longer than their counterparts (May 29, 165: 349).
- Buzz off A sweat-sensing protein on the surface of olfactory cells enables female mosquitoes to target human skin, a study revealed (Jan. 24, 165: 62).
- Unhealthy change Bacteria that form films proved to diversify into several different types, making infections caused by these organisms harder to treat (Nov. 20, 166: 324).
- Waste not A class of proteins seemed to trigger muscle atrophy, a finding that could lead to new treatments for muscle wasting (May 8, 165: 292).
- First merger New research suggested that two ancient, rudimentary organisms merged to create the first complex cell (Oct. 2, 166: 222).
- Scrambled dogma A study in mice provided evidence that the ovaries of even mature rodents retain a population of cells that can spawn new eggs (March 13, 165: 163).
By harnessing the self-assembling properties of DNA, researchers coerced a single strand of the genetic material to assume the shape of an octahedron (Feb. 14, 165: 99).
- Tiny trouble The soccer ball–shaped carbon molecules known as buckyballs—nanoscale structures that could form the basis of future electronic devices and medicines—were shown to be toxic to fish (April 3, 165: 211*) and human cells. Various chemical coatings on the buckyballs can switch off the toxicity (Oct. 2, 166: 211*).
- Injectable medibots Miniature computers made of DNA, so small that trillions of them can fit into a drop of water, detected specific cancer genes and released a drug to block the genes’ activities (May 1, 165: 275*).
- Spinach power Inspired by the efficiency with which plants convert sunlight into sugar, engineers devised a solar cell that uses photosynthetic-protein complexes from spinach to convert sunlight into electricity (June 5, 165: 355).
- Crystal fate The precise arrangement of molecules within the crystal structure of a drug can determine its efficacy or shelf life, so researchers sought new strategies to control the growth of different crystal forms that could save drug companies millions of dollars (Aug. 21, 166: 122*).
- Nitrogen tricks A new way of cleaving the triple bond in molecular nitrogen to make ammonia could improve a 90-year-old process for making fertilizers (Feb. 7, 165: 83*). Another new bond-breaking technique instead produced a polymeric form of nitrogen, a long-sought energy-storage material (July 17, 166: 36*).
- Flexible displays Findings promised that polymer transistors could make displays that look and feel just like paper (Jan. 31, 165: 67*), while transparent transistors could make displays embedded in car windshields (Nov. 27, 166: 339*).
- Spinning gold High-strength conducting fibers spun from carbon nanotubes (June 5, 165: 363)—in particular, ultralong nanotubes—could lead to long-distance power transmission cables that never sag, lightweight aircraft materials, and fabrics with built-in electronics, studies suggested (Sept. 18, 166: 180).
- Miniature 3-D printing Using a printing technique that emulates the way spiders spin silk, scientists made complex polymer microstructures with features small enough to be part of photonic crystals or scaffolds for tissue engineering (March 27, 165: 196).
- Minimotor Paddle-shape rotors made from individual molecules mounted on a gold surface in an electric field could form the basis of new kinds of sensors or laser-protection coatings on soldiers’ goggles (March 20, 165: 180).
- Solar hydrogen With the prospect of a hydrogen economy looming ever larger, scientists were designing a host of new materials that use solar energy to split water and make clean-burning hydrogen fuel (Oct. 30, 166: 282).
- Electronics detox Growing environmental concern over the disposal of cell phones, computers, and other devices containing hazardous materials, prompted work toward a new, leadfree piezoceramic that could replace toxic components in many electronic gadgets (Nov. 6, 166: 293*).
- Savvy sieve A cylinder made of densely packed carbon nanotubes functioned as a filtering membrane that could be used for processing crude oil and decontaminating drinking water (Aug. 14, 166: 102*).
- Chemical ringer Scientists created a molecular version of the legendary symbol known as the Borromean rings by interlocking 12 specially designed molecular chains (May 29, 165: 342*).
- RNA factory Fragments of RNA took up palladium atoms from a solution and spontaneously organized the atoms into uniform, hexagonal nanoparticles—a process that could be used for creating new materials for fuel cells and quantum computers (April 17, 165: 246).
MARINE GADGETS. With a bit of genetic and chemical engineering, materials scientists were transforming diatoms—unicellular algae with jewel-like glass shells—into miniature devices for electronic and optical applications (July 17, 166: 42).
Microbes may have etched microscopic, carbon-lined tubes found in lava that erupted onto the ocean floor about 3.5 billion years ago (April 24, 165: 260).
- Cool harvest Frost flowers, the delicate crystals that sometimes grow atop fresh sea ice, were revealed as a substantial source of ozone-destroying bromine in the lower atmosphere near the North and South poles (Sept. 11, 166: 163).
- Weather wise A revised version of a climate-prediction model promised to foresee the onset of the climate-altering phenomenon known as El Niño as much as 2 years in advance (April 17, 165: 243).
- Catch a wave A new theoretical model that describes a tsunami’s interaction with winds may explain enigmatic observations associated with the waves and could lead to a technique for spotting them long before they hit shore (Feb. 21, 165: 116*).
- Air apparent Chemical analyses of South African sediments suggest that oxygen was present in small quantities about 2.32 billion years ago, which is at least 100 million years earlier than expected (Jan. 24, 165: 61).
- Sea change Almost half the carbon dioxide produced by human activity in the past 2 centuries is now dissolved in the oceans, which suggested chemical changes that, if unchecked, could threaten some marine ecosystems (July 17, 166: 35).
- Icy shivers New analyses of old seismic data discerned ground motions spawned by a previously unrecognized type of earthquake—one created by brief surges of massive glaciers (Jan. 3, 165: 14).
- It’s a gas The chemical reactions taking place just above a northern Michigan forest indicated that trees there and elsewhere may be emitting highly reactive gaseous substances that scientists haven’t yet identified or directly detected (May 1, 165: 277).
- Disaster source Computer models demonstrated that a newly discovered fault zone beneath the Atlantic Ocean could have released most of the seismic energy from the three earthquakes that destroyed Lisbon, Portugal, on the morning of Nov. 1, 1755 (Jan. 3, 165: 14).
- Ancient taint Analyses of sediment and water taken from an arctic lake indicated that a nearby whaling community that was abandoned more than 400 years ago left a mark on the lake’s ecosystem that persists today (Feb. 14, 165: 110).
- Deep squeeze Although known fossil fuel reserves reside in Earth’s crust, a new study suggested that hydrocarbons might also be present in the mantle at depths of 100 kilometers or more (Sept. 25, 166: 198).
- Slippery when wet New computer simulations hinted that hydroplaning may be responsible for the unexpectedly large distances traversed by some undersea avalanches (Jan. 24, 165: 54*).
- Underwater pavement Explorations of the seafloor in the southern Gulf of Mexico revealed lavalike flows of asphalt that are home to a thriving ecosystem of microbes, mussels, tubeworms, and crabs (May 15, 165: 307).
- Not so fast Increased precipitation in parts of the Midwest may reduce the temperature increases expected to occur there in the next few decades as a result of global warming, an analysis suggested (Oct. 16, 166: 253).
- Warmth below Oceanographic data gathered across the North Pacific in 1985 and again in 1999 indicated that the deepest waters there have been heating up (March 13, 165: 173).
- Tests say no The notion that a warmer climate in arctic regions will lead to enhanced carbon sequestration in tundra ecosystems wasn’t supported by field data (Oct. 9, 166: 238).
- Need a lift? A report asserted that, with technology commonly used in oil fields, engineers could inject seawater into sandy strata beneath Venice, Italy, to reverse the ground subsidence that plagues the city (Oct. 30, 166: 277).
- Humming along The slow, widespread, and nearly constant vibrations of Earth’s crust may stem from severe weather over some of the world’s oceans, a study showed (Oct. 2, 166: 212*).
- Blueberry Hills Analyses of small iron oxide nodules found within certain sandstones of the southwestern United States promised to shed light on how similar spherules may have formed on Mars (June 19, 165: 388).
- Past blasts A technique that searches satellite images for signs of subtle ground motions perceived subsidence over underground nuclear-test sites, sometimes picking up tests that occurred decades ago (Jan. 3, 165: 5).
- Quick bite Tests of rock samples from two river gorges along the Atlantic seaboard suggested that the largest parts of those chasms were carved during a geologically short period at the height of the last ice age (July 24, 166: 52).
Computer simulations suggest that large groups of power-generating windmills could increase wind speed, temperature, and evaporation at ground level, thereby influencing a region’s climate (Oct. 16, 166: 246*).
An international treaty aimed to slow the waning of diversity in agricultural crops and preserve important genes (Sept. 11, 166: 170*). A U.S. gene bank accelerated its accumulation of frozen livestock semen for possible use in research and breeding programs (Nov. 13, 166: 314).
- Time to tack Two panels urged the U.S. government to overhaul policies on commercial fishing, marine ecosystems, and coastal and inland waters (April 24, 165: 259). A worldwide analysis found that more money is spent to prop up failing fisheries than it would probably cost to operate fisheries-preserving marine parks (June 26, 165: 414).
- Dead in the water As coastal dead zones expanded globally, scientists sought to rein in the oxygen-depleting effect of nitrates from inland runoff (June 5, 165: 360*, June 12, 165: 378*; Nov. 13, 166: 309*).
- Trouble breathing Growing up in an air-polluted community proved to harm a child’s lung development roughly as much as having a mother who smokes (Sept. 11, 166: 163*). Researchers also linked air pollution to circulatory system damage that leads to heart disease (Dec. 4, 166: 365, Dec. 11, 166: 372).
- Bad traffic Spending time in traffic dramatically increases a person’s short-term risk of heart attack, a study found (Nov. 13, 166: 316), and diesel fumes suppressed immunity in rodents (March 13, 165: 174).
- Buzzy bees Coffee farmers learned that preserving nearby wooded areas that shelter plant-pollinating bees may be a smart financial move (Aug. 21, 166: 125), Studies also suggested that global warming may spread tropical diseases into temperate zones and feed an epidemic of asthma (July 3, 166: 10) and that people and creatures in both arctic and tropical regions face challenges, such as falling crop yields (May 29, 165: 339; July 10, 166: 29).
- Grand slam Expected increases in global temperature could eradicate from one-sixth to one-half of the plant and animal species across large areas of the globe, a new analysis suggested (Jan. 24, 165: 62).
- Trash cover-up Covering solid waste with compost instead of soil reduced methane emissions from landfills (Sept. 11, 166: 173).
- Plastic puzzle Researchers proposed that childhood contact with chemicals called phthalates leads to allergies and asthma (July 24, 66: 52) and that exposure to these chemicals in the womb subtly feminize boys’ genital regions (Nov. 13, 166: 318). However, newborns exposed to plastic medical devices containing the chemicals showed only subtle abnormalities (May 1, 165: 276).
- To the last drop Contaminants are measurable, at least at low concentrations, in virtually all of America’s fresh water, a national study found (May 22, 165: 325).
- Breathless Cooking, cleaning, driving, and other everyday activities were found to kick up lots of hazardous, breathable particles (Jan. 3, 165: 4*, April 10, 165: 238).
- Heavy water Waterborne uranium mimicked the activity of estrogen, a female sex hormone, in animals (Nov. 13, 166: 318).
- Killer carcasses Exposure to veterinary drug residues in livestock carcasses apparently caused a recent crash in vulture populations in Pakistan (Jan. 31, 165: 69*).
- Surf and turf Testosterone excreted by livestock was deemed a possible explanation for hormonal changes in fish downstream of cattle feedlots (Jan. 10, 165: 29).
- Poisoned wombs A study showed that the pesticide DDT can foster miscarriages early in pregnancy (Nov. 13, 166: 318).
DIABETES BUSTERS. Coffee, wine, and cinnamon were among dietary items that appear to restore some of the body’s responsiveness to insulin. Green tea also seems to possess antidiabetic constituents, although the chromium in black pepper and certain dietary supplements proved even more potent at restoring blood sugar control. Yet, caffeine in coffee can actually boost blood sugar (May 1, 165: 282*).
- D’lightful Benefits linked to vitamin D were extended to anticancer effects, muscle preservation, diabetes prevention, and mitigation of autoimmune diseases (Jan. 31, 165: 77; Oct. 9, 166: 232*, Oct. 16, 166: 248*).
- Carb controversy Although low-carbohydrate diets helped people shed pounds, some scientists argued that the protein-heavy regimens are dangerous for people not under a doctor’s care (July 17, 166: 40*).
- Baby bonus The recent fortification of grain-based foods with folic acid led to a 25 percent drop in the rate of potentially life-threatening birth defects in the United States (May 29, 165: 349).
- Hangover cure A cactus extract consumed hours before drinking alcohol appeared to suppress some side effects of heavy drinking (July 3, 166: 4*).
- Dieting’s downside Researchers found that weight loss releases into the bloodstream toxic chemicals that may slow the body’s metabolism (July 17, 166: 35), and that certain dietary fats magnify polychlorinated biphenyls’ effects in a way that sets the stage for heart disease (Oct. 16, 166: 245).
- Joint protection Yogurt containing certain types of live bacteria could be a treatment for or preventive measure against arthritis, a study suggested (Aug. 14, 166: 100).
- Not so sweet Regularly downing sweet drinks or sugar substitutes may foster overeating by throwing off a person’s ability to judge a snack’s caloric impact (July 10, 166: 29).
- Truly green A broad range of compounds that detoxify dioxin showed up in tests of green tea (June 12, 165: 382).
- About gout Nutrition research supported the ancient notion that a diet rich in meat contributes to a form of arthritis common in men, whereas milk counters it (March 13, 165: 165*).
- Coffee conundrum Very high or, to a lesser extent, low daily consumption of coffee was linked to heart risk in middle-aged men (Oct. 2, 166: 222).
- Hypothesis corked Animal studies suggested that if wine protects against heart disease, it’s not because of the antioxidants present in the drink (Jan. 31, 165: 68).
The mathematics used to describe diffusion was applied to generate maps based on population data (Aug. 28, 166: 136*).
- Biased toss-up Coin tossing is inherently biased, with the coin more likely to land on the face that it started on, according to experiments and statistical analyses (Feb. 28, 165: 131*).
- Primal progress Mathematicians proved that the population of prime numbers includes an infinite collection of arithmetic progressions (April 24, 165: 260).
- Glimpsing genius By studying a puzzle that Archimedes pondered 2,200 years ago, mathematicians obtained new insights into an intriguing geometric structure (May 15, 165: 314*).
- Theorem sale An eBay auction offered math enthusiasts the rare opportunity of linking their names with one of the most famous mathematicians of the 20th century (June 12, 165: 376*).
- Odd balls It’s easier to pack spheres in some dimensions than it is in others, mathematicians discovered (Oct. 2, 166: 219*).
- Generous players Game theory provided insights into how cooperation and other self-sacrificing behaviors fit into natural selection (July 24, 166: 58).
- Con artist Statistical techniques showed promise for detecting forgeries and group efforts in the realm of painting (Nov. 27, 166: 340).
BIG GULP? The fossilized neck bones of a 230-million-year-old sea creature showed features suggesting that the animal’s snakelike throat could flare open and create suction that pulled in prey (Sept. 25, 166: 195*).
- Growth spurt Detailed analyses of tyrannosaur fossils suggested that the creatures experienced an extended growth spurt during adolescence and lived to an age of about 30 (Aug. 14, 166: 99*).
- Ancient buzzing Excavations in Germany yielded the first known fossils of hummingbirds from the Old World and by far the oldest such fossils unearthed anywhere (May 8, 165: 292*).
- Dino dwarf Fossils unearthed at a German quarry hinted that members of a dinosaur species that lived in the region about 152 million years ago evolved to be abnormally small because of the constraints of their island ecosystem (Nov. 13, 166: 308).
- Caught in the act A 505-million-year-old fossil provided hard proof that ancient arthropods shed their exoskeletons during growth, just as their modern relatives do (May 15, 165: 318).
- Building blocks Fossils discovered in northeastern Newfoundland revealed that some of Earth’s earliest large organisms had modular body plans in which the main architectural element was a branching, frondlike structure (July 31, 166: 78).
- Early flight? Renewed studies of a fossil ignored in a museum drawer for decades suggested that winged insects might have evolved as early as 400 million years ago (Feb. 14, 165: 100).
- Rare bits Examinations of black chunks of material extracted from 420-million-year-old rocks found along the England-Wales border suggested that they’re remnants of the earliest known wildfire (May 22, 165: 334).
- Travelers’ tales The timing of ancient migrations of snakehead fish from the Indian subcontinent into Europe, Asia, and Africa reflects temperature and humidity changes in those locations (May 29, 165: 341).
- Buried treasures Despite a dramatic surge in dinosaur discoveries in recent years, paleontologists estimated that almost three-quarters of dinosaur genera remain undiscovered (Nov. 20, 166: 334).
- Survivor New fossil finds indicated that the Irish elk, previously thought to have died out at the end of the last ice age, persisted in some spots for several millennia more (Nov. 6, 166: 301).
A well-preserved, 121-million-year-old fossilized bird embryo revealed features that suggest the species’ young could move about and feed themselves soon after they hatched (Oct. 23, 166: 261).
Researchers made major strides toward building powerful computers and communications systems based on quantum mechanics (March 27, 165: 206, July 17, 166: 46, Nov. 13, 166: 316). These advances included teleporting quantum states between ions (June 19, 165: 387*).
- It’s elemental Two new elements, numbers 115 and 113, turned up when researchers bombarded the synthetic radioactive metal americium with millions of calcium atoms (Feb. 7, 165: 84).
- Solidly super Supersolidity—a solid state in which matter flows like a liquid and does so without friction—was detected in ultracold helium-4 (Jan. 17, 165: 35).
- Minuscule magnet Using a technique akin to magnetic resonance imaging, scientists sensed a single electron’s magnetism, possibly benefiting microscopy, electronics, and quantum physics (July 17, 166: 37).
- Einstein’s OK, so far A test of one aspect of general relativity confirmed Albert Einstein’s predictions (Nov. 27, 166: 348), while another more-sensitive measurement of the same effect by satellite-borne instruments finally began taking data after a 40-year preparation (May 15, 165: 316; Sept. 25, 166: 206).
Antimatter eraser Studies of subatomic
B mesons at U.S. and Japanese particle accelerators revealed a new matter-antimatter disparity in the laws of physics that’s also a clue to why there’s so little antimatter in the universe today (Aug. 21, 166: 126).
- Spin out The discovery that highly energized quarks may spin in the opposite direction from the neutrons and protons they inhabit challenged the prevailing model of quark behavior (Jan. 3, 165: 3*).
- Wacky water As evidence mounts that water and some other liquids exist in two liquid forms when supercooled (Jan. 24, 165: 58), scientists may have for the first time created water’s remarkably dense form (April 10, 165: 227).
- B-r-r-r-r Deeply chilled, magnetically manipulated atoms of a type known as fermions formed a new state of matter that shows promise as a bench-top model of some of the most extraordinary and hard-to-study substances in the universe (Sept. 18, 166: 186*).
- Up the downsize Scientists made a key advance in laser-powered electron acceleration that may lead to the shrinkage of today’s stadium-scale electron accelerators to mere room-size devices (Oct. 2, 166: 212).
- Quarkaholics The unprecedented precision of recent computer calculations indicated that physicists may have crossed a major threshold in using quark theory to predict certain experimental results (Aug. 7, 166: 90*).
- Tiny timepiece Taking a major step toward atomic clocks the size of sugar cubes, physicists demonstrated a frequency-comparing core for such devices that’s as small as a rice grain (Sept. 4, 166: 150).
- Fierce bubbles New experimental findings bolstered a controversial claim that atomic nuclei can fuse in imploding bubbles within ultrasound-agitated acetone (March 6, 165: 149).
- Bites of data In experiments and simulations potentially important to both materials science and math, somewhat flattened spheres—M&M candies are an example—snuggled surprisingly close to each other (Feb. 14, 165: 102*, June 19, 165: 397).
- Who ordered those? Sightings of perplexing quark-containing particles—an oddly decaying meson and an unusual five-quark entity or pentaquark—may have exposed flaws in theorists’ models of the quark realm (April 24, 165: 270; June 26, 165: 403).
- Needling crystals Newfound mechanisms that cause intricate branching of needle-like polymer crystals, revealed in computer simulations, suggested novel ways to tailor properties of materials (Sept. 11, 166: 164).
A new form of carbon—freestanding films as thin as one atom but that don’t curl—offered great practical promise (Oct. 23, 166: 259*).
SPACE RACE. A small, rocket-powered plane dubbed SpaceShipOne soared to the edge of the atmosphere twice. The flights debuted cheap, nongovernmental technology for manned space shots, netted a $10 million technology prize for the plane’s developers and inspired new space-tourism ventures (July 17, 166: 46; Oct. 9, 166: 228).
- Shinier silicon Aiming for practical light-manipulating circuits on ordinary silicon, researchers built a high-speed silicon microgadget that encodes digital data as fluctuations in the intensity of a laser-beam (March 6, 165:157). Other engineers made the first silicon laser (Oct. 30, 166: 275).
- Fastest jet yet An experimental aircraft powered by a scramjet engine shattered velocity records for airplanes (April 3, 165: 213*).
- Flawless A new method for growing crystals of silicon carbide—an electronic material potentially more versatile than silicon itself—wiped out defects that have long stalled the compound’s wider use (Aug. 28, 166: 131).
- Got gene? Scientists created fast, compact new devices for identifying genes in blood, among them a screening lab shrunk to index-card size (May 15, 165: 318) and even tinier, nanowire DNA sensors (Jan. 3, 165: 6).
- Sun stopper A novel, semiconductor-based window coating controlled interior temperatures by automatically blocking incoming thermal radiation from the sun while still letting light through (Aug. 21, 166: 118*).
- Biopropellers Engineers fitted boats and underwater vehicles with flippers and fins that gave the watercraft maneuverability and power resembling that of marine animals such as penguins and whales (Sept. 4, 166: 154*).
- On a roll Researchers unveiled new lab-on-a-chip technologies for controlling liquid microdroplets, including surfaces that switch from liquid attracting to liquid repelling (April 24, 165: 270; Aug. 7, 166: 84*) and droplet coatings of magnetic dust (Nov. 20, 166: 323).
- Lighthearted transistors Some very fast transistors emit useful amounts of light (Jan. 10, 165: 21), scientists found. Then, they altered one to generate a laser beam (Nov. 20, 166: 324*).
- Cold comfort A bit of iron in a refrigerant made of gadolinium, germanium, and silicon dramatically boosted the efficiency of magnetic refrigerators, pushing that potentially silent and reliable cooling approach closer to practicality (June 26, 165: 405*).
- Clean-up crew In a new approach to converting toxic contaminants to less-harmful substances, researchers ran a microbe-based fuel cell in reverse, pumping electric current into microorganisms rather than extracting electricity from them (Sept. 4, 166: 147).
Science News Online
- Babying fat Studies explored why so many children are plump by the time they start school—and then get even fatter as they mature (When It’s No Longer Baby Fat).
- Tuna max Two federal agencies advised consumers to limit consumption of fish, especially canned albacore tuna, over concerns about mercury contamination (Fishy Advice—Which Tuna Is Best for You?).
- Anemic thinking Iron deficiency proved to subtly compromise an individual’s simultaneous performance of challenging tasks (Ironing Out Some Mental Limitations).
- Caffeine concern In people with type 2 diabetes—the most common form—caffeine ingestion significantly impaired the body’s control of blood sugar and insulin after a meal (Got Diabetes? Try Ditching Caffeine).
- Bogged down Wetlands advocates experimented with “farms” that harness marshes and ponds to remove plant nutrients coming from upstream polluters (Marsh Farming for Profit and the Common Good).
- Calcium booster Yogurts and other foods doctored with unusual, fiberlike sugars improved people’s absorption of dietary calcium (Calcium Superchargers).
- Fattening vitamin? The active form of vitamin D promoted weight gain by sending calories into storage, but only when people weren’t getting enough calcium in their diets (Is Vitamin D Fattening?).
- Tough to accept Premium-priced, certified Angus beef isn’t always tender because, new genetic tests suggested, many of the animals yielding such meat aren’t really Anguses (What’s the Beef?).
- Fat conundrum A study found that older women who regularly ate the most saturated fat had the smallest amount of artery-clogging plaque (Saturated Fat Shows Unexpected Benefit).
- Mix carefully Guggul extract, a common dietary supplement for heart health and obesity, may impair the efficacy of many prescription drugs, a new study indicated (A Guggul Prescription for Drug Interactions).
- Stud finder New gene banks were enabling researchers to analyze the genetic inheritance of bulls and better decide which daughters of those animals would yield prodigious quantities of milk (Learning from Studs).
- Breath spice Cinnamon oil killed germs responsible for the rotten-egg smell in bad breath (Cinnamon Cleans the Breath).
- Limited labels Two reports found that tables printed on food packages don’t supply the nutrition information that people really need (Putting Labels on Nutrients).
- Risky randomness Applied to a wide range of financial data, a measure of randomness known as approximate entropy showed promise in flagging abrupt market shifts away from stability (Randomness, Risk, and Financial Markets).
- Speedy logs New, simple formulas provided a way of computing the digits of the logarithmic constant, e, amazingly quickly (Hunting e).
- Net links A researcher developed a method for visualizing complex networks and recognizing significant patterns amid the clutter (Mapping Scientific Frontiers).
- Priming upward A computer search turned up the 41st Mersenne prime. It’s a 7,235,733-digit behemoth that now holds the record as the largest known prime number (Priming Upward).
- Tricky rankings An analysis of a mathematical formula used to determine which teams will play for the college football championship uncovered serious flaws in the equation (College Football, Rankings, and Wandering Monkeys).
- Progressive primes A computer search revealed an arithmetic progression consisting of 23 primes, the longest such sequence yet found (More Progressive Primes).
- Cruise control Using concepts from statistical mechanics, a physicist specified the potential benefits of adaptive cruise control for smoothing traffic flow (Cruise Control and Traffic Flow).
- Floating bodies A mathematician extended an analysis of floating bodies originally developed by Archimedes and provided novel insights into the stability of icebergs and tall buildings (Floating Bodies).
- Extreme tides A new analysis of gravitational tidal effects suggested that extreme instabilities could disrupt or limit the growth of planets in the process of forming (Extreme Tides).
- Extra time Statistical analyses showed that the students who benefit most from being given extra time to complete the math half of the SAT are those who are most adept at math (Extra Time, Math, and the SAT).
- Iced foot Calling a timeout before an attempted field-goal kick near the end of a football game appears to be an effective defensive strategy (The Iced Foot Effect).
The Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn to start exploring the planet and its rings and moons (http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/
Space tourism By completing two manned space flights within 2 weeks, a privately funded team won the $10 million Ansari X Prize (http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/
Desert search A robot rover practiced looking for alien life by trekking across the world’s driest desert (http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/
Einstein’s skateboard Kids vying to be the top young scientist of the year tackled challenges inspired by the work of Albert Einstein (http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/
Extreme depth A replacement for the submersible Alvin, which has been operating since 1964, promised to open up new areas of the ocean for exploration (http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/
Edge planet The discovery of a strange, planetlike object beyond Pluto added to the puzzle of how the solar system formed (http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/
Water shortage Parts of the southwestern United States were in the worst drought in at least 500 years (http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/
- Olympic heat Athletes competing in the Olympic Games relied on training and new technology to cope with high temperatures in Athens (http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/articles/20040630/Feature1.asp).
Scientists are analyzing dog DNA to learn more about the origin, behavior, and diseases of the popular pets (http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/