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lJSome astrophysicists think that a gamma .. ray burst from a magnetar may have caused

a mass extinction in the past Locating magnetars could one day be a maHer of survival. "

ANTHROPOLOGY

The brightest, clearest x-rays ever are on the way, and they'll help catch cancer earlier.

How sdenttsts have uncovered our past using Scientists transform regular adult cells into

everything from fossils to DNA testing. lifesaving, controversy-free stem cells.

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED,OOM I I

Bull's-Eye

1".6

A lizard that drinks with its feet, a lab-on-a-chip, seal scientists, and China's coal industry-all in this issue's gallery of amazing Images.

Science Update

1".15

A full-figured pharaoh, Komodo-dragon fighting tactics, new underwater observatories, a key to the first fiowers, and a 40O-year-old toothpick.

AskUs

p.23

Why are there seven days in a week? Are jellyfish drinkable? Why doesn't the moon have an atmosphere 7 Where do rockets end up?

World of Science

1".78

Cats that love to swim, the land of the midnight sun, the smallest country, and other fascinating nuggets of scientific knowledge.

Letters

Trivia Countdown Brain Trainers

'1".4 p.82 p.88

SCIENCE. UPDATE p.21

:2 SCIENCEILlUSTRATEO.CQM JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009

Letters~

Gone Batty

I loved yow' story on bats ["Creatures of the Night," November/December]. The photography of those interesting animals was really neat. But

I find it hard to believe that the bumblebee bat weighs only 0.07 ounce. That is $0 incredibly small for a mammal with a six-inch wingspan.

Dave Stover Littleton, Colo.

EOS,: We agree that it's hard 1:0 believe, but according to experts at the EDGE

of Existence program (EDGE stands for "Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered"), a conservation program of the Zoological Society of London, the tiny bat species Craseonycteris thonglongyo! does indeed weigh about two grams, or 0.07 ounce.

Little Thoughts

1n "Highs & Lows" ["World of Science," Nov.Dec.], you state that pygmy marmosets are the smallest primates. Primatologists will be surprised to learn this, since Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, we.ighing little more than one ounce

though, we're both wrong. The world's smallest primate is actually the pygmy mouse lemur (Miuoc.ebus myoxinus). The pygmy marmoset ls the world's smallest monkey,

Electrifying Discussion

My whole family enjoys Science musiTated. The story "Why Does Lightning Zigzag?n["Ask Us," September/October] started a lengthy conversation with my lO-year-old daughter and inspired us to learn more about weather. How great is that?

Brian Bochicchio via e-mail

Crooked Conedors?

In "Peru '5 Lost Civiliza tion" [Sept.! Oct.], you wrote that it was fortunate that many valuable Sican artifacts eventually found their way to private collections and museums. But without collectors and curators, there would be no looters. It is not fortunate that many of the Sican's cherished items, stripped of all the contextual meaning all archaeological study would have provided, ended up in private collections and museums-it is a disgrace.

Doreen McLaughlin Monument, Colo.

Correction

In "Peru's lostCivilizotion"[SeptJOct.l we mrsspelled the name oflhe country ofColombia. We regret the error,

and measuring only 3.5 inches long, is curren tly considered the smallest primate in the world.

Allen Crooker via e-mail

EOS: Good csrchl According to Colleen McCann, curator of mammals at the Bronx Zoo,

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Inan a.ttempt to fill the gaps in our knowledge of climate change, scientists have enlisted some improbable lab assistants: elephant seals. In the course oftheir winter hunting, the seals migr.ate to areas that research vessels and other equipment can't reach easily, like under Antarctic sea ice. To obtain informa,tion from preViously inaccessible regions, researchers from the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre in Tasmania, Australia, attached radio transmitters to the heads of 58 seals. During the winters of 2004 and 2005, the sensors collected data on the salinity and temperature of the seawater under the southern icecap, which scientists will now correlate with gs taken from other oceanographic research sources to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how

I warming affects the Antarctic. When the seals shed their fur in the .spring, the transmitters came off with it.

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Pharaoh's Feminine Figure Explained

lJitOj:tj4.jNif, The Egyptian pharaoh Akhenatorrs voluptuous body shape and elongated head and neck, recorded in ancient depictions of the male ruler, have long perplexed historians. But now Irwin Braverman, a professor of dermatology and a n expert On visual diagnosis at the Yale Universi ty School of Medicine, is offering a theory on the characteristics, which are not found in representations of other pharaohs:

Akhenaton may have suffered From two genetic disorders that affect body shape.

Akhenaton, who ruled from 1353

to 1336 B.c.. is shown in paintings and statues as having prominent breasts and buttocks-indications. Braverman says, of a hormone disorder. An overproduction of the enzyme arornatase. which is instrumental in the body's production of the hormone estrogen, is the I ikely culprit. In

males, the disorder results in the development of feminine traits by puberty. Depictions that show Ak henatons prepu bescent daugh ters with breasts support the genetic hormone-disorder theory.

Another genetic disease, cranlosvnosto- 5i~, which can result in the joints in the skull fusing too early, could have caused the pharaoh's elongated head and neck. Egyptologists sometimes refer to the shape, Which was com mon among 1 Sth-dynasty royalty, as "royal head!' lllustra lions of Akhenatons daughters also show the elongated head, as do mum mies of h is progeny. One such descendant: chLld-king Tutankharnen, who some believe may have been Akhenaton's son. Akhenatons mummy has yet to be found, bu 1 Braverman hopes that DNA analysis of mummies of the pharaoh's descendants may one day confirm his theory

Paintings and statues of Akhenaton suggest thot he suffered from genetic diseases. A CT scan of the.skuJI of King rut £inset}, who may have been his son, shows the same abnormal head shope.

A brave cleaner goby eats parasites from the mouth of a grouper.

Menacing Fish No Match forTiny Gobies

I;j t., (.xtli More than 130 fish species feed off parasites living on other fish. Most of these so-called deanerfish service herbivores. Caribbean gobies are a rare exception. In 2007, scientists at the Un iversity of East Anglia in England found that Caribbean qobles actua Ity show a preference for predators over herbivores. "They initiate more interactions with predators, and they don't make them wait as long;' researcher I sabelle Cotes says. In fact, gobi.es treat sharp-toothed meat eaters, like groupers, as if they're completely harmless, swimming right into their mouths.

Why predator fish don't feast on the morsels rerna ins a mystery, but the gobies' psychology is becoming clearer, According to researchers, they may take care of predators first because they fear their presence will frig,hten other fish away,

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SC1ENCEILLUSTRATED.COMI15

Bloom and Bust

fMm~,., Sixty-foot-tall palm trees in Madagascar have recently caught the attention of scientists, Last year, researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, reported that the trees belong to a previ-

ously undescribed genus, Taillna. That's big news among plant lovers, since there are only 200 known palm genera in the world.

This tree has an unusual, I,ife cycle. After about 50 years, it produces hundreds of small flowers. Just months after this first flowering, which ensures reproduction, the tree dies. Scientists say the massive bloom possibly depletes the palm's nutrient reserves .

........... "'" Frenm arehaeelegl~t.s working In Syria have unoovered the oldest known wall art in, the world. The

11 ,OOO-year-old painting of colo red rectang les covers a slx-by-six-foot area on the adobe wall ofa house. The pattern has a 150 been seen in other art in the reg ion.

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A new sensor deteds the intensity of peppers using an electrochemicaf reaction.

Measuring Chili-Pepper Heat

h;i#i4itii;ij SCientists at the University of Oxford have come up with a new way to gauge the intensity of chilis-and it doesn't require taste testers.

Peppers are measured on the Scoville scale, which is based on the num ber of dilu tions it takes for trained testers to no longer detect any heat But a new technique called adsorptive stripping voltarnmerry measures the concentration of capsaicinoids-the chemicals responsible for peppers' heatelectrochemically. A multiwalled carbon-nanotube-based sensor absorbs large amoun IS of COl psaicinoids on its surface. An electrode then detects the current produced when The capsaicin is oxidized in a chemical reaction, and the result is converted to a nu mber on the SCOVille scale.

A Better Way to Board? ~: :: ~ ~: ~ ~ : sometlme~ the most annoy

Method 1

MATHEMATICS

ing part of a flight is just getting on it. The aisles tend to get blocked by people loading their bags into the overhead compartments, and

it can feel like forever before you finally get to your seat, Now one frustrated flyer is turning to particle physics to find a better now.

Jason Steffen, a physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, claims tha t the Monte Ca 110 algori rhrn, used to explal n how atoms in a molecule arrange themselves, can also make boarding an aircraft smoother. Steffen took into consideration the lime it takes to stow luggage. something he says isn't always accounted for In other models. His calculations revealed tha t the tastes t systems allowed as many passengers as possible to have an empty row between themselves and the passenger boarding right after them.

In the fastest method, passengers line up in a prescribed order that depends on seat localion. The passenger si ttl ng in the rearmost window seat on the right side would be the first

to board, followed by every other window-sear

181 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009

Two .AlternateBoa.rding Methods Mathernancal models show that the speediest boordlng plans employ a system of alternating rows and sides, Starting at the back of the plane. A complicated window seats-first plan [left] wins the race, followed by a simpler and more practical everyother-TOW model.

Method 2

passenger on the same side. Boarding would then alternate sides until everyone was seated. The complicated queuing system makes this method impractical. It can, however, be used as a bar by which other boarding techniques are measured. The most frequently used systemboarding from the rear first- is one seventh as fast as Steffen's fastest method.The next qu ickest method divides passengers into four qrou ps. with every other row on one side of the plane boarding in the first wave, followed by every other row from the OIlier side. and so on.

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Strange Underwater Treasure

tM~@i(ljNii'l This must be the world's most valuable toothpick. Thirty-til ree mi IE's off the coast of Key West, Florida, the treasure-hunting firm Blue Water Ventures has discovered an unusua I gold artifact a combination toothpick and earwax scoop. The tool, which may be worth more than

S 1 00,000, was salvaged from the wreck of the Santa Margarita, a Spanish qalleonthat went down in 1622 en route to Havana. The company previously

Combination toothpick {feft] and ear cfe·aner [right}

brought up treasure from the ship worth more than S 12 million, including 30 feet of gold chain and a lead box containing 16,000 pearls.

According to Dan Porter, the captain of the search vessel that found the toothpick, the grooming device was a common item used by Spanish aristocracy in the 17th century. Archaeologists believe that

the tool depicts a siren, a woman-bird hybrid in Greek mythology.

~DI SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009

The amount the temperature increased inJust 50 years near the endofthelastic£I age, 11,500years ago, according to an international team of scientists studying ice-core samples in Greenland.

I

....... ~ ....... ' Sdentists have used geckos'

dingy ~t as a model for synthetic adhesives since 2003. Now researchers atthe Genrgia Institute ofTechnology and oth er institutinn shave develope d a material that is not on] y three tlmes as strong as previous prototypes but can be easily lifted from surfaces if pulled ina specific d i rection- rna king it rno re userfri endly than ea rl ier ad hes ives.

The 1 2 observatofl~lch should all be up iIJld running by 2011, will cons~many eJeme:ntQ. Drilling rigs will take: sediment samples, rneasurinq instruments will monitor Water content a nd robotic Veh1dE's will roa m the area.

Did This Lizard Eat Flowers?

lii@llh'iiljNM The recent dlscovery in Japan of a 1 30-million-year-old lizard fos$il may push back the date when flowering plants are believed to have emerged on Earth. The fossil, the oldest herbivorousllzard ever found, had surn srnall teeth thatlt prab-

ably could not eat fibrous leaves common to nonflowering plants. I nstead it may have dined on anglo.perms" or flowering plait!;, which have softer leaves and buds til an other plants.The oldest known angiosperm Is-a 125-millior1-Ye<lr-old fossil from Chilla, but the lizard discovery indicates that even older flowerlnq plants might have existed In .lapen. The case, however, is not dosed. According to SU5Jn Evans, a professor of vertebrate morphology and paleontology at University College London,

the lzard may have sUrvived on 50Ft shoots of ancient trees like cycads and ginkgos.

tM"I!.riil., Parts of the Grand Canyon are 50 mlfion years older than previously thought, say researchers from the Califomtalnstitute ofTechnology. Recent radiometric dating shows that some areas of the canyon, like the Upper Granite Gorge, may be more than SSm illion years old.

The geological history of the region is turning out to be a great deal more complex than was known, The Grand Canyon was created when geological Forces lifted the regiion up and the Colorado River bega n to cu t down through the rocks, But not all the deep gorges were formed at the same time, and researchers now believe that eastern sections of the canyon formed 55 million years aqo and then later connected to younger sections that evolved separately.

Other new research from the UniV!':rsityof New Mexico indicates that the canyon is actually 1 7 million years old, but critics say the dating methods were flawed.

Rewriting the Grand (anyon's

History

2009

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Why are there seven days

in a week?

Our seven-day week probably originated more than 3,000 years ago in Mesopotamia when the Babylonians first introduced a calendar that divided time into a year with months, weeks and days. Their week, like ours, was seven days long, but it's not entirely clear why they chose the num ber seven. It may be related to the phases of the moon, which tast approximately seven days, or to the seven heavenly bodies (sun, moon and five planets) known to their astronomers. Each day in the Babylonian week was named after one of these celestial bodies, with on.e day set aside for recreation.

The Babylonian week may have been the sou rce of the seven-day week presented In the Old Testament. According to the book

of Genesis, God rested on the seventh day, after crea ring the heavens and the Ea rth.

The seventh day was therefore observed as

a time for worship and rest. Some residents of ancient Rome used this biblical week, and in A.D. 321, Emperor Constantine made it official, designating the week as a seven-day period With Sunday as a day of rest. As the Western world and other cultures adopted and refined the Roman calendar, the week as we know it became the global standard.

Other systems for organ !zing time have been used throughout ancient and more recent history. For example, the ancient Egyptian week was 10 days long, and the Assyrian week only five. In 1793, the creators of the French Republican calendar abandoned weeks altogether, instead dividing months into three IO-day periods called decodes. But the Napoleonic regime discontinued the use of this calendar in 1806.

P.2S

Will eating a jellyfish quench your thirst?

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SC1ENCE1LWSTRATED.COM I ].)

This animal's reputa.tion has little to do with realltylt the giant birds really did that, they wouldn't last long amid the predators of the AfriCan savanna and desert. When a lion or a jackal approaches, these flightless bi rds typically run away from the danger-a smart choice, considering they can sprint at speeds of more than 40 mi les an hou r.

So where did the head-hidlnq myth come from 7 When ostriches are reluctant to flee-for instance, when guarding eggs or if they are unable to outrun a predator-they may flatten themselves against the ground and lie very still in hopes of not being discovered. They press their necks and heads right against the soil, and because their heads are not as dark as the rest of their body, they ca n blend in with the light-colored dirt. This may have given rise to the story that they stick their heads in the sand to hide.

JUST HOW FAR FROM THE OCEAN CAN YOU GET?

The point farthest from a coastline, known as th e confinen,wl pole of inaccessibility, is in the OZ0050tOY" Elise" Desert in northwestern China, ove.r 1,600 miles from the Yellow Sea, the nearest body of open water.

In whiplash, the head swings

back. then folWOrd. This can damage neck tissues.

There is something you can do to reduce injury, More than 800,000 whiplash disorders occur every year. and most are caused by rear-end car collisions. When

pushes your body Forward, but your head can lag behind and whip forward when you come to a sudden stop, injuring the muscles and tendons of your neck.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, your headrest is your

and rates safety features Ii ke headrests on a scale of poor to good; passengers in cars with head restraints rated "good" are 24 percent less likely to suffer whiplash than passengers in cars with poor headrests, says spokesman Russ Rader. But even the best headrest needs to be positioned to support your head during a crash. The top should be at least as h ig h as the top of your head and no more than four inches from the back of your head.

best friend. The Institute does crash-testing If you see in your rearview mirror

that you're about to be hit, you can try to prevent whiplash by bracing YOlJlselfwith your body and head positioned against your seat back and headrest, making sure that your head and body are supported.

If you realize that you are about to be rear-ended, you should brace your body and head against

the seat back and head re.stralnt.

14 I SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009

Even if they didn't have painful stingers, it still wouldn't be

a good idea. Ifs true that jellyfish consist of about 96 percent water, but that water has nearly the same salt content as what they're swimming in. So if you're lost at sea, slurping jell les won't hydrate you any better than seawater.

Jellynsh maintain the same salt-to-water ratio as the sea around them to maintain their natural buoyancy. Saltwater is more dense than freshwater, so whether inside or outside of a Jellyfish, it sinks beneath freshwater. An experiment at the University of Washington with nine species of Jellyfish showed that their buoyancy Is largely controlled by their salinity. When the jellies were moved from salty to less saay water, most sank. while the opposite move caused most to rise to the surface It took the Jellyfish one to two hours to adjust to the change in salinity and regain their normal buoyancy.

Although you can't dnnk a Jellyfish, some species make good snacks. They are often eaten in Asian countries, dried and, ironically,. Sillted before being sold

Yes, (.hampagne doe.s make a person more intoxicated more quickly than noncarbonated wines with similar alcohol content Physicians at the University of Surrey in England demoristrated this in an experiment in which 12 resea rch subjects drank a prescribed amount of champagne (based on body weight), either with or without bubbles, In 20 min utes.

In subjects who drank the bubbly beverage, blocd-akohollevel rose more quickly and was higher overall than in those whose drink had been put through a blender to remove the carbonation The doctors also found that charnpaqne with bubbles impaired performance on tests of attention and reaction times constderably more tharrdeqassed champagne did.

The resea rchers aren't 5U re how the bubblesincrease the effects of alcohol, but it's been suggested that carbonated beveraqes make the stomach empty into the small intestine more quickly, which would speed up alcohol absorption,

Bubbly champagne makes blood-alcohol level rise quickly.

WHAT'S THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN IN EUROPE?

At 15,771 feet, Mont Blanc has the disclnction of being Europe's highe.st peak. The mountain, which is located in the Alps, straddles the border bl'fwel'.n France ond Itoly. In peak falls 4,549 feet short of Alaska's Mount McKinJI'Y, .North Aml'rico's tallest mountain, and 73,264 fl'et below Asia's Mount Everest, thl' highest point on Earth.

ASKUS ANDWINA SCIENCE ILLUSTRATED T-SHIRT!

Send your question to our editors. If we answer it in an issue, we'll give you th is cool T-shirt.

E-mail your questions to:

askus@sclenceillustrated.com

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM I 15

Why are flowers

so many different colors?

A flower's color distinguishes it from surround ing green leaves, making it easy to find for polltnatorslike insects, birds and bats. Flowers are a kind of sex organ: Pollen is produced by male organs ca lied stamens and must be transferred to female organs called pistils, which contain eggs. Pollinators visiting a flower in search of nectar also pick up its pollen on their heads and bodies, transferring it from tJle stamens to the pistils as they move. When the pollen fertilizes an egg, it beg ins to grow into a seed. It is to a plant's advantage to be attractive to a speofic pollinator so that those animals will seek out a nd concentrate on it Th is keeps pollen from being spread to other plant species, where it won't do any good

Blossoms appeal to their pollinators' sensory systems using signals such as alluring odors or colors. Flowers polltnated by bats and nocturnal in sects like moths, which rely on hearing and smell more than sight, usual:ly aren't brightly colored.

I nstead they count on powerful scents to attract their pollinators. Flowers pollinated by daytime animals like birds and bees, however, rely on a range of hues. Birds see

a color spectrum similar to ours but are especially receptive to red, so flowers pollinated by birds tend to be red or orange. Bees, on the other hand, see a different spectrum, composed of yellow, blue-green, bl ue and uhravlolet. Flowers poll inated by bees tend to be those colors. and many have special markings that are visible only in ultraviolet. Like runway lights, these markings guide insects to the right place toland and find nectar-and in the process, pollinate the plant.

1&1 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUARY!FEBRUARY 2009

Earth's moon has a thin layer of gases but no atmosphere. That's because its gravitationa I fiel·d is too weak a nd its temperature too high to prevent gas molecules from escaping into space. For a planet or moon to maintain an atmosphere, the average velocity of its gas molecules must be less than one sixth of its escape velocrty=the rninirnu m velocity an object must attain to get free of the body's gravitational field.

Ea rth has a strong gravitational field and a n escape veloclty of 25,000 miles per hour, but the moon-which is rou9hly80 percent smaller than the planet it orbits-has a much weaker gravitational field and an escape velocity of only about 5300 mph. Higher temperatures on the moon, averaging about 250' F, also mean higher velocities, 50 gas molecules easily reach speeds of well over 883 mph, one sixth of the moon's escape veloetty. Therefore, gases that do gather a round the moon (mostly hydrogen and helium) are quickly swept into space.

Saturn's moon Titan has an atmosphere almost 10 times as thick as Ea rth's, which it is able to hold onto beea use of its large size and low temperature: - 290' F on its surface.

WHY DO WE HAVE EYEBROWS?

Scientists beJieve thot th ese tufts of hoir may hove developed fO keep sweat from the forehead from dripping Into our eyes.

Mostly, yes, but researchers know of two types of genetic differences in identical, or monozygotic, twins. These twins are conceived when the fertilized egg divides into two separate embryos. The twins, therefore, start with identical. DNA, but over time small differences ca n develop.

One well-known genetic anomaly in ldentkal twins has to do with what are known as epigenetic variations. Here, the DNA remains the same, but different chemical markers can attach to the genes, affecting the way they are expressed. These changes have been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer and may lead to diseases that affect only one of the twins.

in 2007, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and other institutions discovered that DNA itself can vary in some twins. Known as copy-number variations, these differences have been associated with autism, lupus and learn ing disabil i ties.

Most burn up

plunge into the oceans, and many have ended up as space litter. Satellites and other objects are often launchedinta orbit wrth huge multistage rockets. There are two types

of rocket staging: serial staging, in which a first stag.e A res and detaches when it is spent, after which a second stage takes over; and parallel staging, in which all the rockets Are at once and detach as they run out of fuel The Arst stages detach early in the launch process and fall back to Earthbut don't worry about being hit. Launches are conducted over oceans or u ninhabitedland. In American launches, the Ai r Force tracks a rocket's trajectory on radar. If it strays

from a safe course, it's detonated before it

can reach a populated area.

The later stages of the rocket may detach and be burned up in the atmosphere, or they may reach orbit along with their payload. In the past, space aqericies left spent rocket stages in orbit. But over the years, many

dead rocket stages have exploded or collided with other objects in space, creating mi'liions of haze rdous fiagments .. To combat the problem, several space programs formed the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordlnatlon Commit-

tee in 1993. Ni,SA now removes spent rocket stages from orbn using a depletion burn. Excess fuel is used to direct the stage into the atmosphere, where

it burns on a preplenned path.

Space agencies also try to keep rockets' payloads from becornlno space junk. When vehicles leave me International Space Station after delivering supplies and picking up waste, they are maneuvered into the atmosphere to burn.

The Demise of an Ariane 5

When the European Space Agency launched the Jules Verne ATV (automated transfer vehicle), a resupply spacecraft, last March, they used an Ansne 5 rocket [right] .. The first stage-the booster rockets-fell back into the sea .. The second stage and the transport-module fairing (the covering that protects the ATV) burned up in the atmosphere. Once the Jules Verne

Station, it was set on a controlled course into the atmosphere, where i1 also burned.

objects were a new class of

astronomical objects: soft gamma repeaters (SGR), which are defined by their repeated gamma-raybursts,

In 1996, astrophysicist Chryssa Kouveliotou, then at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, discovered that one of the objects had an x-ray pulse that appeared to be slowing at a rate that required the kind of extremely strong magnetic field that the theoretical magnetars would produce. Not long after Kouveliotou released her findings in 1998, the existence of magnetars became widely accepted [see "The Men Who Predicted Magnetars, ~ facing page].

But what causes the mysterious gamma-ray bursts? Scientists 110W believe that the most dramatic of these bursts are caused by sudden, largescale rearrangements of a magnetar's

magnetic field. More common, Iesspowerful bursts probably result from an interaction between the magnetic field and a magnetar's oust. Unlike an ordinary gas star, a neutron star has an outer GUSt. A magnetar's supermagneticfield can deform and crack this layer, creating waves that disturb particles above the star's surface, causing a burst of gamma radiation.

Not aU rnagnetars, however, display these gamma-ray bursts. Another

type of object called anomalous x-ray pulsars (AXP)-slowly rotating neutron stars with periodic x-ray emissionsprobably also qualify as magnetars, even though they usually don't display gamma-ray bursts. Without the fast rota tion that helps cause radiation emissions in radio pulsars, the best explanation tor their x-ray pulses L~ a magnetic field of m agne tar strength,

30 .I SCIENCEILlUSTRATED.COM JANUARY!FEBRUARY 2009

Giant Origins How magnetars form, induding the mass of the progenitor stars from which

they originate, is another mystery. Although it takes a star

of at least five solar masses to result in a neutron star, magnetars probably require much larger progeni tor stars.

In 2005,. Bryan Gaensler, then at the HarvardSmithsonian Center for Astrophysics, studied the origins of a magnetar called AXP IE 1048.1-

5937, which is located approximately 9,000 light-years from Earth. Gaensler's team discovered a "bubble" near the magnetar-van area of space swept clear of hydrogen atoms and most likely created when mass from the outer layers ofthe progenitor star was blown outward during the supernova.

The team used measurements of the bubble and surrounding gas to calc curate the intensity of the stellar wind that formed the bubble. "A wind of this power is usually produced by a star that begins its life with a mass of 30 to 40 solar masses," Caensler says.

Research by Michael Muno of tile University of California a t Los Angeles

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On December 27,2004, scientists observed o colossal gamma-ray.burstfrom magnetor SGR 1806-20 [circle], It was the brightest ever detected from outside our galaxy,

----------------_

Astronomy

seems to confirm Gaensler's findings. Muno used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to examine a star dus-

ter i.n our galaxy named Westerlund

1. Because the most massive s tars in

a duster develop fastest, those that have already gone supemova probably started as the biggest of the group. And since some of the normal stars in Westerlund 1 are 40 times as large as the sun, Muno estimates that a rnagnetar he located in the cluster formed from a progenitor of at least 40 solar masses.

Gaensler, who is now at the University of Sydney, believes that only stars this massive leave magnetars in their wake, but he points out that the theory is still controversial and requires more research. Once the size ofmagnetars' progenitor stars can be determined, it will be possible to estimate the fraction of stars that become magnetars.

Counting Stars

For now, the hunt for these highly magnetic stars is in its early stages. Only abouta dozen magnetars have been located to date, most in the Milky Way and its two satellite galaxies, the Large and the Small Magellanic douds. According to Gaensler, it's unlikely that many more remain to be found in the Milky Way. He and Muno have examined archived data from both Chandra and the XMM-Newton x-ray telescope, looking for pulsars that might be candidates for magnetars, but the search uncovered none.

Donald Figer of the Rochester Institute of Technology, however, thinks that as many as 100 magnetars may exist in the Milky Way. He's mapping all the clusters in the galaxy that contain more than 1.000 stars, since the biggest dusters tend to house the most massive stars-and the most potential magnetars, Once he locates a possible magnetar nursery, Figel' will use Chandra to determine if my rnagnetars lurk there.

Whether the number turns out to be closer to 10 or to 100, magnetars represent less than a billionth of the hundreds of billions of stars in our large galaxy, making them the rarest

stars in the Milky Way and possibly the universe. But according to Robert Duncan, one of two astrophysicis ts who first predicted the existence of these superrnagnetic stars, there may be Ulany more magnetars out there that we just can't see. "After about 10, 000 years, gamma-ray bursts and other magnetic activity probably tend to tum off in magne tars , " he says. "After that time, they probably become dead or dark and difficult to detect, although their magnetic fields most likely remain quite strong for m31lY millions of years. " That means that there may be millions of magnetars in the galaxy, waiting to be found.

Why Magnetars Matter

Just how many magnetars are out there could have surprising implications here on Earth. More rnagnetars mean more gamma-ray bursts than previously estimated-a possibility with potentially dangerous conse-

quences, "A nearby blast could strip the ozone layer from Earth, ultimately leading to mass extinctions of animal lite, including humans, fl Figer says. In fact, some astrophysicists think that

a gamma-ray burst from a magnetar may have caused a mass extinction in the past. Locating magnetars could one day be a matter of survival.

Not all the reasons for studying magnetars, however, are this dire, The research also gives us insight into our world. Some scientists believe that certain key heavy elements on Earth may have formed in neutron-rich winds blown off young magnetars, for instance. On a larger scale, magnetars tell us more about supemovae-which generate the heavy elements, maintain the gas pressure of the galaxyand trigger the formation of new stars and planets. Says Gaensler, "It's important to understand the overall cycle of stellar evolution, and magnetars are a chapter in that story." ••

Christop.her Thompson, left, and Robert Duncan published their theory of mognetars ;n1992j mainstream occeptance come sixyeors later.

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCiENCEILLUSTRATED.COM I 31

Bottlenose dolphins, considered toothed whales, spend most oftheir time in small groups, called pods, of up to 15 individuals. Different pods sometimes join up as they travel.ln this undersea chaos, the dolphins communicate by calling back

and forth. Each dolphin has its own signature whistle that it develops as early as one month after birth and keeps for life. Pi mother may whistle almost continuously to her (!llf for several days after birth to help the calf learn eO identify her. They can also mimic other dolphins' sIgnature calls. Biologists See evidence of this activity on spectrograms, which show how an animal first calls out its signature and is then answered by another dolphin whistling an Identical response.

14 .I SCIENCEILlUSTRATED.COM JANUARY!FEBRUARY 2009

S 011g °ft1u:\lVhale cruised the

wate. r.5 of the. Atlantic ocean.·. around the Canary Islands,

Madeira, the Azores, and off the coast of Portugal from May to October last year. Scientists aboard the 72-foot research vessel, which is owned by

the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), were listening for

the calls of beaked whales. Among

the least understood of all mammals, beaked whales feed on or near the seafloor and can dive to depths of more than a mile, often staying underwater for an hour or more. These elusive animals, which surface only briefly before returning to deep water, range from 13 to 43 feet in length and are distinguished by a beak somewhat like that of a dolphin. At least ~O !pedes of beaked whales are known, but just a few have been studied in the wild. Some have never even been seen alive. Most have been identified only wi thin the past 100 years, and scientists suspect that still-undiscovered species may exist.

To learn more about beaked whales and their relatives, researchers aboard Song of the WlJale use underwater microphones, called hydrophones,

to eavesdrop on them. Each species and each individual makes a distinct sound, so scientists record and analyze the din to determine which species are present in an area and in what numbers. The researchers believe that the da ta from the most recent voyage may contain the first recording ever made of a Sowerby's beaked whale, a rarely sighted, little-studied species that lives in the temperate waters of the North Atlantic. They hope the information

will identify the ocean areas where the whales spend most of their time, so that these hotspots can be protected from human activities.

Song of the Whale is not the only ship that uses acoustic monitoring to study whales. What is unusual about the vessel is that it is operated and funded by a conservation organization, the Massachusetts-based IFAW, and focuses its efforts on population surveys of whale species and geographic regions that are under-studied. IFAW is the only nonprofit organization with a purpose-built research vessel and a crew

that specializes in studying cetaceans, or whales. Its researchers have been collecting data around the world for two decades. The ship carries a crew of eight, induding three marine biologists and a bioacoustics expert. The team aboard Song of the VVlwle has observed species ranging from small porpoises and nimble dolphins to giant sperm whales and slow-moving right whales. The one thing all their research efforts have in common: the use of monitoring methods that do not interfere

with the animals. J:FAW and Song of the \tVhale are dedicated to developing new;

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCiENCEILLUSTRATED.COM I 35

noninvasive research technology, and today scientists worldwide use IFAWdeveloped software and equipment to learn more about the creatures,

have therefore sometimes seemed like the only options for studying whales, In the past researchers have tagged, biopsied, and even killed whales to study everything from their diets to their migrations, But some scientists believe that less-invasive tracking=such as

lis tening.in on the sounds whales make or photographing them from afar-can replace methods that disturb or harm the animals, Researchers aboard Song of the Whale rely Oil their eyes and ears to collect infonnation about populations, migratory patterns and even the habits and rela tionships of individual. whales. To do this, they depend on high-tech equipment. The ship is crammed with

Animal~FriendIier Technology There are two main groups of whales: baleen whales, which filter tiny water borne prey such as shrimp and plankton through their brush-like teeth;

and toothed whales, which have teeth to capture larger prey .. WIllies spend most of their lives underwa ter, hidden from human view, and they may travel thousands of miles through remote

wa ters, making it difficult for researchers to follow them, Invasive procedures

3&1 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUAR¥/FEBRUAR¥ 2009

an impressive array of cameras, computers and hydrophones.

On the Song of the Vv'hnJe's voyages, researchers lower underwater microphones to listen for whales in the area, Beneath the waves, a wide range of noise booms and crackles through the sea, but it does not all come from whales: Ships' engines, military sonar, fish and other marine life all contrib ute to the racket. Software can pick out the clicks and calls of different whales and create visual displays showing the sounds' frequency over time.

Sound travels about four times

as fast in water as in air, so hearing is enhanced underwater. Whales are far more dependent on sound than on sight or smell. 111 fact, bats, which operate in the darkness of night. are the only other mammals that rely

on echolocation, the use of sound to navigate and locate things like prey and peer'S.

Whales use sound to hunt, ori-

ent themselves, communicate with other members of their species, and find mates. Baleen whales such as blue whales and North Atlantic right whales mostly moan, chirp, and sing at low frequencies below 5.000 hertz. Toothed whales like dolphins and killer whales typically utilize higher frequencies-up to 150,000 hertz.

But since humans can hear only sounds between 20 and 20,000 hertz, the scientists cannot hear the toothed whales' clicks themselves and are entirely dependent on their instruments, The blue whale's vocalizations are so low-frequency that their rumbles penetrate the ocean's waters across thousands of miles. This means

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SC1ENCEILWSTRATED.COMI 31

researchers can detect blue whales from 60 miles away and monitor their daily activities without actually seeing them.

Make Some Noise

Baleen whales and toothed whales each have a unique way of vocalizing. Only baleen whales produce the long. haunting sequences of deep sounds known as whale songs. They have a larynx. an organ at the top of the trachea. which may be involved in sound production. "Whale larynxes are unlike those of humans because they lack

Even thoqgh hunting ,right whales was banned in 1935, the population is in nisi'S today. There are only 300 to 350 lndtviduals left in the northwest Atlantic, where th!'}' share the waters near the shore With fishing and shipping vessels. Every third death among the spedes.is attributed to a collision with a ship.

But researchers may havefound a way to save the species by li.stening in on their calls. Last' May, GorneliUniversity scientists" installed 13 hydrophones ih Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay. When the hydrophones pick up a sound

r

Buoys with hydropholU!5

vocal cords and researchers are unclear about the organ's role in the songs.

Toothed whales rely on sequences of high-pitched clicks and whistles tor both echolocation and communication with podmates, Their phonic lips, a structure that is analagous to human nasal passages, press together when air is forced through them, vibrating the surrounding tissue. The sound waves then penetrate an oily organ in the whale's head, called the melon. where they are focused into a beam of sound.

When this beam strikes a fish, the

that could be the groan or pop of a right whale, they send the recording back to the Cornell lab for positive identification. The confirmed calls are added to a database, which can be accessed by ships in the area. The $3.5-million project was funded by Excelerate Ene.rgy as parr of an agreement permitti'ng it to construct a deepwater port north of Boston for its llquefied-natural-qas.tankers,

The tankers' crews have agreed to reduce their speed and keep a lookout for whales when the project's buoys pick upa whale call.

I

Hydrophone listening radius

seabed, a reef or another object, the sound is reflected back to the whale as an echo. Whales canthus locate prey and navigate in total darkness. But during their long, deep dives, toothed whales cannot inhale air every time they want to produce a new sound. So they collect it in a sac at the back of their head and reuse it.

Dolphins' echolocation systems are especially sophisticated. They can distinguish between objects the size of a corn kernel at a distance of 50 feet and can locate a ping-pong-ball-size object

A dead light whole, which was mangled oiter hitting Q falge ship's plopel~ ler and then cost IIp on the beach

more than a football field away. 111e river dolphins in the Ganges and Indus rivers of Asia do not have crystalline eye lenses and so are nearly blind. In the muddy rivers where they live. they navigate by echolocation alone.

Counting Whales

When the biologists on Song afthe Whale listen in on underwater vocalizations, they are eavesdropping on the whales' private lives and may stumble upon unknown aspects of their existence .. But the scientists' primary goal is to compile an accurate accounting of rare or threatened populations. This is typically accomplished by listening to the whales. but the researchers also visually track the animals. IFAW curates digi tal photos of North Atlantic and Mediterranean sperm whales and has assisted the New England Aquarium

in creating a catalog of North Atlantic right whales.

IFAW scientists are also testing ways to study sperm whales by collecting small sheets of skin=which the animals shed regularly-and feces from the water. The skin provides specimens for genetic testing. and the excrement offers dues to the animals' feeding habits.

With their listening gear and

years of experience, Song of the Wha.le researchers have carried out numerous census operations during the past 21 years in the North Atlantic and adjacent waters. For example, they have studied one of the most endangered whale species, the North Atlantic right whale population off the east coast of North America. The ship has also monitored more-populous species, such as harbor porpoises in both the Baltic Sea and the ocean off the northwest coast of Africa, "We tend to focus on species. areas or problems thatare :not receiving much other effort." says Anna Moscrop, the team manager and research director for the project

In the past few decades, there

has been a dramatic increase in the amount of man-made sound produced by ships, military sonar, oil-drilling and other human activities. Ship

noise is doubling every decade, says Christopher W. Dark. the director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University. \lVhales were able to communicate with one another across oceans before those waters became polluted by human noise. which Clark calls acoustic smog. He estimates

that the acoustic ramus within which whales can communicate has shrunk in recent years from about 1,000 miles to just 250 miles,

Noise pollution can make life difficult for the great nomads of the sea, limiting their ability to communicate

and causing them to become disoriented and occasionally to beach themselves. Bur although the noise problem can affect whales and complicate research. sometimes forcing scientists to suspend work. in an area, it is not deterring Song of the VVhale scientists. 111.ey are improving their knowledge of the whales' many sounds and can identify more and more species exclusively from their sound signatures. In the years to come, the ship's voyages will produce even more information about threatened populations and the hidden lives of whales. _

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCiENCEILLUSTRATED.COM I 39

How microscope technology

X -ray images-those familiar glowing bones against a dark background-have made diagnosing fractures easier for more than a century, But x-rays can't always pick up the finer details, and hairline breaks and soft-tissue damage can go unnoticed. Now that's about to change, thanks to a team of Swiss and Danish researchers who are giving diagnostic radiography a serious upgrade. By applying conventional microscopy technology to traditional x-ray equipment, the scientists have succeeded in creating images that reveal subtler bone and tissue injuries and, in the future, may even be able to spot budding tumors.

X-rays travel through the ail" like light waves. only with more energy. Their ability to penetrate soft tissue makes them ideal for peering into a patient's body. The radiation zips right through skin, muscle and fat but is absorbed by denser bones, casting shadows on photographic film and creating a blight yet diffuse linage.

Researcher Franz Pfeiffer of the Paul Scherrer Institute and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, in collaboration with a

improve diagnostic radiography

group of researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, says the trick to making x-rays brighter. sharper and

These hoses are difficult to distinguish from each otherusing traditional x-roy technology, but the dark-field effect makes the porous rubber hose glow.

mali' sensitive to soft tissue is a microscopy technique known as the dark-field effect. The method depends on a series

401 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUAR¥/FEBRUAR¥ 2009

of gridlike structures placed between the x-ray emitter and the photographic film or a digital detector. The second such grid, called a phase-modulating grating, blocks some of the beams that would pass straight through the sam ple and diffracts other beams 50 they sea ttel" when they hit defects or areas of a different density-known as scattering centers-in the analyzed sample. The third grating identifies the changes in the beams' direction and intensities to compose an image. In this way, only xrays scattered by defects or high-density areas in the sample reach the detector and are recorded. This means that tissue containing a lot ofair and water, both at which do not scatter x-rays, shows up entirely dark, while bones and tumors, which do scatter them, stand out against the dark background.

Putting the Technology to Work Dark-field imaging holds much promise for medicine, but it was also developed for use in the areas of quality control and security. In one experiment [see insets, left], scientists imaged two hoses-one made of rubber and the other of Teflon-using traditional

x-ray technology and the new method. With the former, the Teflon and rubber hoses were indistinguishable from each other, while with the dark-field technique the two objects appeared distinct. The reason is obvious: Unlike Teflon, which is homogeneous in structure, the .rubber hose contains many small pores that scattered the x-rays and produced a glow-

ing image. "We go beyond

that by interpreting what actually happened with x-rays that managed to penetrate through the sample," Pfieffer

says. "In that way, we get

information about the micros trucrure in particular parts of the sample."

In another example, researchers compared two seemingly unlike samplescheese and a plastic explosive. \Nhenexposed to traditional x-ray technology,

they appeared almost identi-

cal. Not so when subjected

to dark-field imaging, which was able to discern differences in density between the two materials, TIle cheese showed up on film as completely

dark, while the explosive

was bright.

The researchers are still refuting the technology but hope to make it marketable in the next two to three years. The quality-control and security industries will be the first to benefit from it, but Pfeiffer hopes to aile day apply the technology to the diagnosis of broken bones and to cr scanners

to provide better 3-D im aging. And

in the future, a further increase ill dark-field-imaging sensitivity could aid in the early detection of breast tumors. "When a tumor develops. the cells change 011 a micro-level," Pfieffer explains, This alters the dark-field signal reaching the detector, allowing doctors to catch tumors in their beginning stages. The exposure time and radiation dose are higher, but in justified cases, the additional information could be lifesaving. _

Technology

How the Dark-Field Method Works

~ ,~

Imaging from traditional x-ray mach ines has long been the industry standard in fields like security and medicine. New developments in dark-field imaging, including its use in x-ray equipment •. cou Id change that. Scientists achieved the dark-imaging effect with a few simple steps; the impressive results may be commercially available in the next few years.

X-ray

Sample

souru

Diffraction grating A

X-rays

In dark-field imaging. x-rays pass through a sample and diffract, or scaner; based on varying densities of molecules. Grating B further diffracts the rays, while grating (measures the diffraction and the intensities of the incoming rays to compose an image on the detector.

TRADITIONAL X-RAY

Phase-modulatlng grating

B

FIlm Dr digital detector

Analyzerabsorption gratlng C

Bones, like those in this chicken wing, stand out better with the.dark-field method than with ordinary x.raytechnology,

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCIENCEILWSTRATED.COMI 41

4:11 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUAR¥/FEBRUAR¥ 2009

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SC1ENCEILWSTRATED.COMI 4l

Today, it's a widely accepted

fact that humans originated in Africa. But less than a century ago, anthropologists assumed that Eurasia was the birthplace ofhumanity. And scientists held onto that mistaken belief until one man took a stand that rewrote history.

In 1923, Raymond Dart arrived at the University of the Witw"atersrand in Johannesburg to take a post as the head of its anatomy department. The 30-year-old Australian physician, an expert in neuroanatomy, was disap-

pointed to learn that the university did not own a reference collection of bones and fossils. He set out to amass one, offering his students a prize for the most interesting bones they could find, His lone female student, josephine Salmons, soon presented him with a South African fossil ilia t would lead to the discovery of a lifetime,

The fossil, a baboon cranium, sparked Dart's interest, since only two primate fossils had been found in sub-Saharan Africa until then, Salmons had found the fossil at the home of the direc-

Putting the puzzle together

Human Origins

tor of the Northern Lime Company at Taung, a mining site in South Africa, Dart asked the manager of the site to alert him to ally fossils that his miners unearthed in the future,

One Saturday in 1924, two boxes

of rocks from Taung were deposited at Dan's door, In the second box, he came across all exciting find: all endocast, the fossilized imprint of an animal brain, To his astonishment, the endocast showed a brain larger than that of a chimpanzee but smaller than those of kn own human ancestors.

1859

Charles Da rwm IlU bl is il e 5 C'Jn th e Origin of Species, wh I ch a sserts that a III Iving

organisms-inckrding

II "'1\ I J~mll. '" U nI!l

Here, the mostlrnpertant events in our mere-than 1 50-year study of anrient human history-from fossil finds to DNA testing,

44 .I SCIENCEILlUSTRATED.COM JANUARY!FEBRUARY 2009

1856

N ea n derthal fosst Is [rig ht] are fir,st dl scovsred iri the Neahder Valley in Germany,

.,a:rll"I'II''''~~'fIIIlli'I!II",1

Digging through the box, Dart located the matching limestone rode that he knew might contain the face to match the brain. His thoughts turned to Charles Darwin, who, in his 1871 book TIre Descent of Man, predicted that hUm31"lS' earliest apelike ancestors would be discovered in Africa because our closest ape cousins-chimpanzees and gorillas-lived there. Darwin's prediction had been generally discredited. After all, only two ancestral

human fossils had ever been

found in Africa and both were relatively recent, closer to modem humans than to apes. Dart wondered whether he had stumbled upon proof of Darwin's controversial theory.

Out of Africa

For the next 73 days, Dart scraped away at the matrix,

the limestone surrounding the fossilized face. Finding his ham-

mer and chisel too clumsy, D31-t turned to Ius wife's knitting needles, which he had sharpened to a point. His efforts were rewarded when the rock finally parted to reveal the face of an apelike child with a full set of baby teeth and molars beginning to appear.

Despite the primitive face, the child's skull, teeth and jaw clearly resembled those of humans, and the position of the opening at the back of the skull, where

the spinal

cord meets the brain, indicated that

it walked upright, known as bipedalism. Here, Dart realized, was an early human ancestor. In a 1925 article in the journal Nature, Dark introduced the new species, which he named Australopithews africanus., meaning "southern ape from Africa. n The fossil became known as the Taung child.

Dart's discovery set off a firestorm, The leading Etlro~ scieudsrs, who

Modem humans are not more perfect than any of the extinct hominin species that predated or existed concurrently with us.

preferred to believe that humans originated closer to home, were skeptical

of Ius find. An abundance of physical evidence, including fossils and cave paintings, seemed to point to Eurasia as the cradle of humankind, and a British fossil. known as Piltdown man was the most convincing evidence that Dart was incorrect, Charles Dawson, 311 English soldier 311d amateur antiquarian. discovered the bones in a gravel pit in Piltdown Common in Sussex

between 1910 and 191.2. Not

Cro-Magnons, a group.of European modem humans (Homo sapiens) that lived 40,000 to 10,000 ye.ars ago, are first dlscovered iIT France.

Th.e Descen f of Mall, by Charles Darwin, point'> to Africa·aslhe cradle of hum ankin d.

only was Piltdown man conveniently European, but it looked like what scientists expected human ancestors to look like. It had a simian jaw and teeth but a modem-human-size brain. At the time, scientists assumed that our large brain evolved before other human traits. Piltdown m311 was, therefore, considered irreconcilable with the Taung child, with its humanlike jaw and teeth but small brain.

In Europe, scientists and the press widely dismissed the Taung child and ridiculed Dart Most paleontologists believed the fossil was of a young ape, most likely a chimpanzee, Dart traveled to England in 1931 to show the fossil at scientific conferences, but he did not gain many supporters. He did not touch the fossil again for years.

An Avalanche of Evidence Dart was not the first researcher whose fossil was unfairly rejected by European scientists. In 1893, Dutch physician Eugene Dubois announced the discovery of a set of well-preserved fossils from the Indonesian island of Java. Dubois felt that the three bones-a skullcap, molar and femur-belonged to a human ancestor that walked upright. He called the species i'itl:recanthmpus trectus, or upright ape-man, and the fossil became known as Java man.

When he returned to Ern-ope, Dubois was surprised to be met with

1879

Pre h lsterk eave pa inti figs created from 15,000 to 13,000 years ago:ar€ found near Altarnira, Spain.

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCiENCEILLUSTRATED_COM I 45

1891

Java man, rhef rs t Homoerect(ls fo 55 iI ever found, ls di~(OW'red by Euge~e Dubois on the isla nd of Java in I ndcnesia b U! i 5 dismissed as an

ape or deformed modem human.

1908

Piltdown man is UI1- earthed In England, providing support to th e idea that E.u rasla was the 'pi rtll I'll ace of humankind. 10 19B, the bones are exposed as a hoax,

1911 Arthur H.olmes of Imperial College London develops radiometric dating, which paleon.to!ogistslater adopt

ED.COM JAN UARY /FEB RUARY 2009

resistance. like the Taung child. Java man's skullcap indicated a relatively small brain. The human brain, scientists said, must have reached modem proportions before the creature could have been capable of walking upright. Dubois's colleagues immediately dismissed the fossil as a large gibbon or a deformed modem human.

In 1940, Dubois died without receiving the credit he was due. Java man has since been reclassified as Homo I?rectus, the enormously successful species that thrived for 1.5 :million years starting around L 7 million years ago and that may have directly preceded Homo sapiens, or modem humans. N; the first H. erettus specimen ever found, the 900,000-year-oldJava man is among the most important human-lineage, or hominin, fossils in the world.

Fortunately for Raymond Dan, thanks to some important allies, recognition came within his lifetime. Although European scientists rejected his findings, his article .in Nature inspired a colleague, the Scottish scientist Robert Broom, to prove that Dart's fossil was indeed an early human and that our earliest ancestors hailed from Africa. At the age of 70, Broom, a respected paleontologist and curator of vertebrate fossils at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria, set out to find an

adul t AustraJopithecus in Africasomething to silence Dart's crit-

ics once and for all.

Broom found such

1924

RaymonejOart pietestogether tbe Tarmg child, the first early-hurnan ancestor found

in Africa.The 25-

m i II ion-yeat-o Id fossil is mel with ~kepticisni

in Europe.

evidence in 1936, when he began acquiring fossils from caves at SteMontein, a site just south of johannesburg, His early finds induded the skull of an adult australopithecine. After World War II, Broom found the limb bones of a different hominin species, Paranthro· pus robustus, at a nearby site. WIth the two fossils ill hand, Broom was able

to confirm that these early ancestors walked upright.

These finds infected Dart's students wi th enthusiasm, and one o.fthem

convinced him to go fossil-hunting in the 19405. In the caves at Makapans-

gat, 150 miles north otSterkfontein, Dart and his colJeagues found several australopithecines, But Dart wasn't truly vindicated until 1947, when Broom found the fantastically well-preserved skull of an adul t female A. africa111.1S at Sterkfentein. The evidence couJd no longer be denied: 11112 Taung child was

a horninin, not an ape. That same year; the British Association for the Advancement ofSdence passed a resolution stating that Broom's discoveries provided

1936

Robert Broom uncoversthe first adult australopithecine ih South Africa, lend i og authenIi.city to the Taung ch i Id fossil.

Peking man, Homo erecru5, is discovered in China and presented as the missing link between<ip,es and humans, eclipSing Dart'sTaung child.

1960

loUis Leakey finds Homo hobiN5, then the most ancient representanve of the Homo genus, in Tanzania.

JANUARY!FEBRUARY 2009 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM I 47

1978

Footprints <It Laetoll in Ta nzan la provlde-evldence of upright walking 3.5 million years ago.

"a vindication of the general view put forward by Professor Raymond Dart in his report of thefirst AustraJopithecus skull found in 1924.~

A Theory Takes Hold

By 1. 953, PiJ tdown man bad become a dear anomaly in the growing homirun fossiJ record. That year, scientists

at Oxford and [he British Museum revealed that the English fossil had, in fact, been a hoax. The culprit-whose identity remains a mystery-pieced together the fossil from a 600-year-old human cranium, an orangutan jaw and [ee th , and perhaps a chimp tooth, The bones had been chemically stained and the teeth worn down to mimic human usage. Wifu Pil tdown man out of the way, the African-origin theory gained widespread acceptance.

The final confirmation came in 1959, when British archaeologist Mary Leakey made an unexpected discovery in East Africa's Rift Valley. Out walking her dogs one morning in Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge, Leakey noticed a bone sticking out of the sand. When she

Living apes, including humans, share an extinct ancestor. Chimpanzee.s and humans emerged.separately from thotoriginaJ lineage.

1961

Radiometric dating puts Nutera rker rna n at 1]5 million yea rs old, not the estimated 600,000, pushing back· the

h uman evol utionary d oc k.

1974

Elhiopia's"LUcy,"'the most complete extinct hominin fossil yet found, proves that humans walked upright three million years ago.

1967

Human an d chi mpanzee DNA show that our lineage, split from a common ancestor five m I II ion years ago.

brushed the dirt off, she was staring into the dark eye sockets of" a nearcomplete skull of a previously un- 1000wn species, one that her husband, archaeologist Louis Leakey, later named Zinjanthmpus boisei. TIle fossil, with its huge cheekbones and sharply crested skull, was an amazing find. And like the Taung child, it had a brain smaller than that of modem humans but larger than modem apes.

In 1961, geologists at the University of California at Berkeley used a new technique called potassium-argon dating to accurately place the spe-

cies, whose scientific name had been changed to Pamnthropus boisei, in history. According to this groundbreaking method, which involves dating the rocks surrounding the specimen, the skull was 1.75 million years old-four times as old as previously thought and 750,000 years older than the accepted time frame for all of human history.

Nutcracker man, as the skull was known, was the conclusive fossil evidence that the earliest human ancestors lived in Africa, despite the fact that they didn't look like what scientists expected. Researchers streamed to East Africa in a fossil rush aimed at finding our earliest ancestors. Over the next few decades, a series of spectacular discoveries in East Africa pushed human origins deeper intothe past.

In 1974, researchers in the Afar region of Ethiopia discovered ~ Lucy," an astonishingly complete three-

1984

Eighty percent of'lurkana boy'S

l' .6-million-year-old skeleton is dlsrovered in Kenya, making it the most complete extinct homlnin skeleton ever found I~ Africa.

48 I SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009

7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Modern day

Millions of years ago

million-year-old A africantlS skeleton, Lucy could dearly walk upright and was considered our oldest ancestor

for a time. More recently, fossil finds have pushed the date of our earliest ancestor back further, to between five million and six million years ago, and in 2002, French paleontologist Michel Brunet announced the discovery of the oldest species yet, the six- to sevenmillion-year-old SahelanthropHs td1adensis. Brunet found Tournai, as the oldest horninin fossil ever found has come

to be known, in the Djurab Desert of northern Chad.

Vincent Sarich and Allan Wilson of the University of California at Berkeley were pioneers in the application of genetics to pal eo anthropology in the 19605. Their comparisons of chimpanzee and human DNA showed that the chimp lineage split from our common ancestor five million years ago. At the time, the findings caused an uproar. Anthropologists, who believed that humans and chimps diverged 15 million years ago, rejected the theory.

Recent genetic studies, however,

Beyond Fossils

In the 19605, when potassium-argon dating was developed, paleontology began to go high-tech. For the first time, fossils older than .50,000 years could be dated [see "Ending the Fossil Guessing Game," page 46]. Genetic technology also came into play that decade, and today it is revolutionizing the study of human origins.

1992-1994

The. 4.4-m i II ion-yea r-old a pelike foss i I of A rdipiflieW5 mmidu5 is found, making it the earliest known homirun,

1997

N e a ndertha I DNA i, f rst extracted from a fossi I.

2001

Iournal; a six- to seVelFmiliionyear-old fossil,·js found in Chad, making SahelanlhropliS tchadensis the oldest known human ancestor It retains this sretus to this day,

1997

The olde.st-knownstone tcols.attrlbutsd to the Oldowan people.are found in Gena, Ethiopia, and dated 10 2.6 m 11110 n ~ears a go.

An Oi'rorln tuqenena; femur [left], found inl(enya, pushes upright walking back 1.5 million years, to six million years ago.

2004

The complete human genome is published.

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM I 49

support Sarich and Wilson's early work. The complete human genome was published in 2004, and the chimp genome followed in 2005 .. That year, scientists at Arizona State University and Pennsylvania State University compared modem human mitochondrial, or maternal, DNA with chimpanzee, macaque and mouse DNA to determine the point

at which each lineage diverged from our common ancestor. "Though we will never know the exact date of the split we can estimate that date using differences in their DNA," explains Blair Hedges, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State .. These differences,

or mu tations, are assumed to occur at

a constant rate, which can be used to

estimate how much time has passed since lineages diverged. This method, called the molecular dock, indicated that the human and chimp lineages split five million to seven million

years ago, although more fossil-based research is needed to confirm that idea.

Advances in genetic testing are

also answering long-standing questions about Homo neanaerthaJensis, better known as Neanderthals. Modem humans and Neanderthals coexisted 30,QOO years ago, and many anthropologists have wondered whether

the two species ever mated. In 1997, scientists at the University of Munich in Germany extracted the first Neanderthal DNA from an upper-arm-

bone fossil found in 1856. Several

years later, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Joint Genome Institute, operated by

the University of California, partially sequenced the Neanderthal genome, which allowed scientists to look for Neanderthal-specific sequences in modem human mi tochondrial DNA. TIle results showed that Neanderthals were 99.5 percent genetically identical to modem humans. "But the Neanderthal sequences for this gene do not show any equivalent to current modem human populations," says Ludovic Orlando, an assistant professor at the Ecole Normale Sup erie ure in France, who has also worked with Neanderthal DNA. Although it's possible that Neanderthal sequences could have been weeded out of our genome over time, the research strongly suggests that the two species never mated.

Some of the most exciting molecular research in anthropology today focuses on ancient human migra-

tion. African populations possess the greatest diversity of genetic mutations, which supports fossil evidence that the human lineage began there. But what happened next? Scientists are looking at genetic mutations in isolated populations around the world to answer that question. [11 the coming years, this data, coupled with the fossil recordDart's Taung child induded-will help confirm what routes modem humans took out of Africa 100,00Q years ago .•

2005

2007

The Tatmg child skull i, reccnstructed using tecf no logy from the emerging field of vlrtua I ant h ropology.

The chimpanzee genome ls publlshsd, A comparison with the human genome shows that we shared a common ancestor as re.cently as1ive million to seven rnlllton years ago.

2005

POlassium-argon dating of volcanic rock reveals that the oldest H. sapiens fossil ever found is a 195,OOD-year-old Ethiopian skull.

2006

Aoa.lysis of a 3.3-milllOI"l-year-old skeleton, known

as the Dikika chilcl,found in Ethiopia, sugg.ests. tharalthough they could walk uprighr, early hom In ins relied heavily on arboreal I ocornotlon ... -sw'in ging from trees.

2008

Scientists and artlsts, sponsored .EJy the N ationa I Geog raphic Foundation, create the firs! rep] iea of a N eanderth ai, using fossll a ntI DNA ev,i de nee.

50 I SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009

Idee yet of humanity's migration from Africa. Homo sapiens arose In Africa around 200,000 years ago. HeI1!~ what scientists believe may have happened heXt.

• No genelk ,rooml ~f ~(,(u PilliO!1ln netween, Indl(1l!lng IhOi th. populano n eim er mi'l'"l,d back [0 Air;", or dleO ouL

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM I 51

New Zealand researchers create solar cells that are far less expensive than those currently availableand can function in cloudy weather

Mimicking nature's own. SOlar'p. ower plants=-the chloroplasts in green leaves=scientists have created a vital addition to

a type of solar cell that has the potential to make solar energy far more accessible to the consumer. A team led by Wayne Campbell of Massey University in New Zealand has made organic dyes that can efficiently and inexpensively transform sunlight into electricity without employing the unsustainable resources used in conventional solar panels .. The dyes in these

new cells are based on the biological pigment porphyrin, a compound that, among other things, is a component of chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color and transforms light energy into chemical energy.

Chemist Wayne Campbe.ll has deve.loped dyes, including synthetic chlorophyll, that have the potent;olto make sotar cells less expensive and more environmentally sound.

They were heavy and inefficient Peale performance occurred only when the sun was directly overhead. And it took [TOm three and a half to seven years for consurners to recoup their purchase and installation costs in

energy-bill savings.

Enter Michael Graetzel of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in lausanne, and the innovative Graetzel cell, which he developed in the early 1990s .. This dyesensitized solar cell could be produced for a fraction

of the price of siliconbased cells, while possibly generating electricity at greater efficiency. The key innovation in Graetzel cells

is the separation of the tasks of harvesting light and carrying a charge. Traditional solar

Flexible Power

Until a few years ago, most photovoltaic cells, the devices that transform

light into electricity and that make up solar panels, were made of large quantities of expensive raw materials, such as ultrapure crystalline silicon.

panels require one material, silicon, to perform both functions. In the Graetzel cell, different materials are used for each. Dye molecules-in early Graetze1 cells, dyes that contain the

52 I SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANLJARY /FEBRLJARY 2009

3'fhe electron flows through the external circuit and bark to the cathode electrode.

r---- 4 The iodide complex transports the electron back to the positively cnarged dye.

When the sun's rays hit a Graetzel cell, electrons flow from one electrode to another, producihg all electric current. Here's how the process works:

Current

1 A dye molecule captures a pl1oton, which excites an electron In the molecule to a higher energy level than those found in titanium dioxide (no

2 The electron transfers to the lower-energy 110, and then channels to the anode, thus -------.j leaving the dye ina positively charged slate.

metal ruthenium-harvest the photons in sunlight. generating electrons, while nanopartides of titanium dioxide

ferry the electrons to an electrode and through a circui r,

The dye creates a medium that facilitates transport of the Charged particle. Here's how it works. When the dye molecule captures a photon, an electron is excited to a high energy level. 111e electron then jumps to the titanium dioxide

and, finally, to a transparent electrode made from a compound called indium tin oxide. To complete the circuit, the

electron flows through the

cathode electrode and is picked

up by a third chemical-an iodide-based reduction-

cells do, making them more sensitive to photons. Thanks to their greater sensitivity to sunlight, dye-based solar cells can work well under cloudy conditions.

become widely used, demand would outstrip the supply of ruthenium very quickly." So he developed a new kind of dye, based on porphyrin-the same class of compound that harves ts light in plant chloroplasts and transports oxygen in the blood of mammals= that is mOTe efficient and doesn't use ruthenium. At the moment, the cell is

still qui te fragile, but if the researchers are able to overcome the physical-stability issues,

porphyrin-based cells could become front-runners in the solar-power industry. Dyesol, an Australian company that specializes in solar energy; is working in cooperation with steel and glass companies to apply the dye-solar-cell technology to roofing tiles, wall panels and windowpanes.

Dyesol expects the cells, in some incarnation, to be available within the year. "The cells' main application, in their current form, would befor tinted windows that also generate electricity," Campbell says. He addsthat if a cheaper plastic version is developed, the product could be used anywhere affordable, easily accessible electricity was neededa

Windows Go Solar

There are several reasons why dyebased solar cells have not yet become a realistic alternative to silicon-based

Thanks to their greater sensitivity to sunlight, dyebased cells can work well under cloudy conditions.

ones, but campbell's recent development, in which the dye takes irs cues from photosynthetic plants, could change that.

One stumbling block has been the stability of the dyes used in traditional Graetzel cells. Most dye molecules tend to break down very rapidly in the presence of sunlight. Additionally, the ruthenium metal used in the traditional dyes is expensive, According to Campbell, "If these cells wer-e to

oxidation complex-that carries it to the positively charged dye. After the dye returns to its neutral state, the process is repeated ..

These cells are not just cheaper

to produce; they also function when the sky is overcast. Traditional silicon solar cells will work efficiently only in direct sunlight. Dye-based cells, though, require less energy to excite the necessary electrons than silicon

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM I 53

One Problem with Early Tel.escopes

When light passes through a lens wlthouta well-defined focal point, it refracts intoa spectrum of colors. In refractor telescopes, objects will appearto be surrounded by a. rainbow, an effect called chromatlc aberration.

In 1611, GaJifeo's optical tool was chri~tened the telescopio, after the Greek word5 tele meaning "far" and skopos,"watcher."

VIsible light

61 u e foca I poi nt

1668 A New Way to Gather Light

I saar Newton fiually found a way to correct chromatic aberration. In 1668, he replaced the objective lens with a mirror that reflected light instead of refracting it, so that all the wavelengths stayed together. His invention was called a reflector telescope. Unfortunately, this fix

failed to solve the problem ofspheri cal aberration, thesource of Galilee's blurry images. The aberration is caused by the inability of a spherical object-in this case, the mirror-to direct all rays of light to the same focal point, John Hadley, an English mathematician, discovered a solution

The Leviathan, which was dismantfed.in the early 1900s, was reconstructed at Birr Castle in Ireland between 1996 and 1998.

Red focal point

lens

in 1721 by using bowl-shaped mirrors. Parabolic mirrors reflect all rays toward the same point, produc ing a dear, focused image.

The size of reflector telescopes seemed to grow with their popu larity. 101845, Irish astronomer William Parsons, the third Barl of Rosse, built a record-breaking 54- foot-tall, four-ton telescope. With a 72"inch-vvide mirror, the scope was aptly called the leviathan. Though impressive in size; the.Leviarhan was not ideal. It was cumbersome and hard to maneuver. Neverthe less, Lord Rosse used the Leviathan to spot the spiral objects that we know today as galaxies. It retained its status as the world's largest telescope until 1917.

In 1845, .L.ordRos.se drew the spiral arms of the Whirlpool Galaxy, which is a,bout 30 million light-yeats from Earth.

6'1 I SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANLJARY /FEBRLJARY 2009

maref''s villagers make their home, They must relocate their houses inland or start all over somewhere else,

Nowhere is global warming hav ing as obvious an impact as in the Arctic, and people living in Alaska, northern Canada, northern Scandinavia and Siberia have front-row seats, Some experts say that temperatures

in these regions have men by 30 to

5 OF over the past 30 years, And the temperature in [he Arctic has warmed at twice the global average rate in the past century, according to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCc) report, Permafrost is ground that maintains a rerfiperature _ below freezing for at least two years,

In some areas, thatfrozen layer is thawing, causing roads to collapse, runways to crack, and homes to sink, split apart, or even fall in to the sea, But inside that icy ground is a threat more dangerous than crumbling infrastructure: massive amounts of greenhouse gases that, ifte1eased into the atmosphere, have the potential to quickly intensify climate change. ~

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM I 6]

Understanding the Thaw

The soil, rock and sediment that make up permafrost are divided into lWO layers. The top, known as the active layer, runs slightly less than one foot to several feet deep and thaws every summer. The bottom layer remains solid year-round. Thickening of an area's active layer indicates that the frozen ground beneath it is melting.

Continuous permafrost dominates the northern stretches of the Arctic, where temperatures are coldest. South of this area, permafrost breaks up into patches that make up the discontinuous zone, Places with even less permafrost comprise two more ZOl1e.5, called sporadic and isolated. Far north, where the permafrost is continuous, the lower layer is stable, extending hundreds and even thousands offeet down-2,400 feet in some parts of northern Alaska and as much as 5,000 feet in northern Siberia. Bur in the more southern, discontinuous reaches of the permafrost zone, the frozen layer is only a foot to several feet thick, malting it susceptible

to warming temperatures.

Permafrost contains carbon, accumulated fromthe decomposition

of plants and animals over tens of thousands of years .. Last September, researchers at the University ofFIorida estimated that more than 1,800 billion tons of carbon are stored in northern permafrost-etwice the amount in the atmosphere today. In its frozen state, organic matter decays very slowly. But as the temperature rises and permafrost melts, the material breaks down rapidly; releasing carbon into the atmosphere,

When organic matter degrades

in dry air, carbon dioxide is emitted. And in wet sailor underwater, where there is little or no molecular oxy-

gen, anaerobic bacteria break down the or-ganic materials and give off methane. Both CO2 and methane are greenhouse gases. As they are released inro the atmosphere from permafrost, scientists predict that a disastrous cycle will emerge: The gases will trap hot air, raising the air temperature and

melting the permafrost, releasing more carbon and further heating the planet.

According to a measure used by the IPCC called Global Wanning Potential, methane will be responsible for producing 25 rimes as much heat as CO2 over the course of this century. But "there

is going to be a significant impact whether carbon is released as CO2 or as methane," says Edward Schuur, an eCO-

I n canada scientists ecemly found

t

soil on the tundra can crack from the

..

When permafrost thaws, trees growing

on its surface-like these block spruce in Fairbanks, Alaska-can no longer stay upright. Alaskans sometimes refer to these fallen giants as "drunken trees."

system ecologist and lead author of the University of Florida study. Although methane's molecular structure allows it to trap heat better than CO2, it is released more slowly into the atmosphere and dissipates at a faster rate.

Based on their current computer climate models, scientists can't yet pinpoint just how much carbon will

be added to the atmosphere as a result of thawing permafrost. That depends on complex factors like the degree and speed of the thaw and changes that could offset permafrost emissions, such as an increase in CO2 absorption from new vegetation.

But scientists do know that the

thaw and the release is happening much. taster than previously predicted. According to new research by Katey Walter, an aquatic ecologist at the University of Alaska, naturally occurring permafrost-thaw lakes in Siberia are already bubbling out nearly four million tons of methane a year-five times as much as predicted. As temperatures rise, the lakes are growing faster. Between 1974 and 2000, the number and size of the lakes increased by almost 15 percent and methane emissions shot up by almost 60 percent.

The Heat Is On

Just how much warmer will ir get? Computer climate models project that temperatures in the Arctic will increase by 3.6"to 16" by the year 2100, according to the !PCC report. But for now,

Researcher /Catey Waltu sets m_f!!thane locked in ice ablaze. Methane bubblf!!5 up from a thaw lake [Inset}.

the consequences of global warming are most obvious in the discontinuous zone, Here. where frozen ground is thinnest, annual average temperatures approach 32·,

Consider, for example, the changes taking place in Fairbanks, Alaska, a city wi th a population of around 34,500 just south of the Arctic Circle. The average annual temperature range is typically between 23' and 28' here but will probably increase by as much as 4' by 2050, according to a Wodd Wildlife Federation report from last April, Depending on how climate-change scenarios play out by the end of the century, Fairbanks, which is already feeling the effects of the permafrost thaw, could see a 12· increase in temp era lure.

In Manitoba, Canada, temperatures have risen by 2,30 since 1970, In some areas, the southern limit of the permafrost zone is retreating north

at a startling rate of one foot per year. Phil Carnill, an ecologis tat Carleton College, who is monitoring the effects of the thaw in Manitoba, estimates that if warming continues at present rates,

all the permafrost in the five sires he studies will melt by 2100. The amount of carbon that will be released into the atmosphere remains to be seen ..

Melting Permafrost, Shifting Landscape

Warmer climates with less frozen ground are changing Earth's northern landscape. The shape of these changes depends 011 the physical makeup of the region. Some peatlands and low-lying tundra can turn swampy, whereas upland tundra areas and forests with good drainage often dry up after a melt. Exceptions certainly exist, and more observational studies are necessary to predict how permafrost thaw will affect the saturation of different areas.

Important data corne from the subArctic pea Hands of northern Sweden, where permafrost measurements and aerial photographs have recorded ground thaw and resulting vegetation

66 I SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANLJARY /FEBRLJARY 2009

changes since 1970 at the Stordalen mires, a boggy area more than 800 miles north of Stockholm. Melting permafrost has resulted in much wetter conditions, and some water-loving plants are replacing those that thrive in a dryer environment.

Different plants take in and release varied amounts of gases over their life cycle. Although the vegetation that has appeared in Stordalen has increased carbon absorption there by 13 percent since 1970, methane emissions from decomposing plants, which have been exposed by melting permafrost, still outpace that carbon uptake, according to work by Torben R. Christensen, a biogeochemist at Lund University in Sweden, His calculations show that methane output at the Stordalen mires rose by 22 percent over the past 30 years, Studies suggest that Stordalen's plight is similar to warming trends throughout northern Sweden and parts of Alaska and Canada,

In some ar-eas of the Arctic tundra~ which is typically barren or sparsely covered with low-lying vegetation like moss and lichens-trees and especially shrubs, which spread quickly, have begun to invade as the ground softens. This so-called shrubification is chang" ing the landscape, with unknown consequences. These plants will take in COl from the atmosphere, but they'll also release it as they die and decay,

In areas once covered by snow and ice, which reflect heat from sunlight, encroaching plant life has altered the albedo, or reflectiveness, of [he region. Plants absorb sunlight for photosynthesis, This traps heat dose to the ground, which further increases air temperature and melts permafrost, in rum releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

An Uncertain Future

How much permafrost will thaw between now and 2100, and what will be the result? Using the IPCC climate forecasts, David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado predicts that between 60 percent and 90 percent of the top 10 teet of Arctic permafrost could completely

thaw in the next 100 years. But different modeling sys terns produce different results, and Lawrence's figures are at the high end of the range.

The Arctic landscape-with its varieties of vegetation and topography-is notoriously hard to model.

Unknown factors. such as future temperature and snowfall trends, increase the margin

of error. Higher temperatures

can increase precipitation in

the fonn of snow. Ironically; extra snow cover may insulate permafrost from cold air ill the winter, contributing to the thaw. Conversely, new moss growth in wanner, wetter areas

could protect permafrost layers

from melting under the sun's rays in

the summer, but it's unclear whether

or not this will be enough to counteract continued global warming, "In particular, methane emissions from permafrost regions remain a wild card i.n the global

climate system," Christensen says. "We urgently need more studies to reduce the uncertainties."

A report published last September offers hope that the melt may not

be as drastic as some suggest. "While

In areas once covered by snow and ice, which reflect heat from sunlight, encroaching plant life has altered the reflection effect ..

working in Canada's central Yukon Territory, Duane Froese, an earth- and atmospheric-sciences professor at the University of Alberta, found 740,000- year-old volcanic ash on top of a formation called an ice wedge in a layer of

permafrost [see "Underground Icicles," page 641. The ice must be older than the ash above it, meaning it predates Earth's last major warming period - [he interglacial era that occurred 120,000 years ago-by hundreds of thousands

of years. The implication: EVen severe global warming may not melt every frozen region on Earth.

With such preliminary and sometimes contradictory information, it's hard to predict the rate of permafrost thaw.

"The challenge is to incorporate the key processes into our ecosystem and carbon-climate

models," Lawrence says. Better modeling systems are in the works in several research centers around the world, and the results should appear in the next LPCC report in 2013 or 2014. In the meantime, residents of towns like Shishmaref will

have to seek firmer ground .•

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and Parkinson's disease. And researchers at Harvard Universityare creating pancreatic cells that may counteract the effects of diabetes,

Controversial Science

To appreciate this advance and what it means for the future of medicine, consider the bumpy road leading up to it. Researchers first discovered the power of embryonic stem cells in 1981 while studying mice. It didn't take long for them to realize that such fast-growing, mutable and immortal cells could be the key to regenerating damaged tissue. Faulty kidney? No problem. Grow some stem cells, coax them to differentiate into kidney cells, inject them into the patient, and voila: instant cure. Unfortunately; procuring embryonic stem cells tailored for individual patients hasn't been as easy as that,

The conventional method ofharvesting embryonic stem cells is a controversial process. Step one is to take a DNA sample from a patient and insert it into a donor egg emptied of its own DNA. Researchers then apply chemicals and electrical shocks to the egg to stimulate it to divide and form a hol-

Kyoto University researchers have shown that skin cefls from mice can .be transformed into p.luripotent cells similar.to embryonic stem cells. The scientists marked these ceffs with a green fluorescent protein and.inserted them into mouse embryonic fibroblasts. The green specks on some of the newborn mice show that the cells are behaving as stem cells.

low ball of cells known as a bias to cys t, a precursor to an embryo. The next step is to harvest stem cells lining the blastocyst, grow them in a lab flask, and prod them into fanning different tissue types, just as they would in the human body.

It's an elegant technique except for

one thing: It kills the embryo, and as

a result, many political and religious groups advocate against it In 200i, President George W. Bush limited federal funding to 71 already-established embryonic-stern-cell lines, a move that has severely hampered stem-cell research in the U.S. Most of these exist-

1 . Resea reh ers remove a skin cell, called a fibroblast; from a sample of ski n taken tram an adult human.

2. A vi rus is 9 enetically manipulated to equip trwith three or four genes that tall reprogram a cell's development

6. In the future,

sc ie ntlsts hope th eY can insert the new heart cells into a petlenfs h ea rt, where "hey can replace dead tissue.

3. In a petri dish, the virus infects the skill cell and inserts the new genes into the cell's DNA,

4. The skin cell Ira nsform s into

a pluripotent stem cell, an immature cell with the potential to develop into any type of cell in the body.

S.Chemical compounds called growth fa ctors are added, and the stem cells change into specialized cell types, such as heart-muscle cells.

lANl,JARY/FEBRUARY2009 SCIENCEILWSTRATED.COM I 71

n SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUARYjFEBRUARY20a9

ing lines are contaminated or otherwise unsuitable for research - in tact. scientists determined only 12 of the Lines to be usable, leaving individual states and private funding to pick up the slack where federal funding falls short.

As an alternative, some researchers have turned to adul t stem cells harvested from teeth or bone m3UOW. But even though such cells can be coaxed to grow, they lad: the plasticity of embryonic stem cells and can differentiate into only a limited number of celltypes, A more promising rack

is to genetically reengineer adult stem cells, just as the Kyoto and Wisconsin researchers are doing, but there are challenges to be met.

The big problem is how to get new genes into old cells. Scientists first began by using the retrovirus, a type of virus that inserts its genes into a host cell's DNA. Although retroviruses are excellent at ferrying genes, they can destroy a cell in the process and sometimes tum it cancerous. But scientists are starting to figure out ways around these pitfalls. Molecular biologist Konrad Hochedlinger and his colleagues at Harvard University recently discovered a way to insert genes using another kind of virus, called an adena-

In one area of medicine, stern-celftherapy is already routine: Doctors have successfully extracted blood stem cells from donors' bone marrow [above1 and used the celts to treat patients with leukemia and lymphatic cancer. To prevent tissue rejection, the blood and tissue types for both donor and patient must be the same.

jointly by researchers at IBM and the Genome Institute of Singapore. Small snippets of RNA, called microRNA, t:arget the molecule intermediaries that cause cells to differentiate. By quelling the actions of these compounds, the microRNAs goose tile adult cells to revert to tile pluripotent state. The IBM scientists were able to predict which microRNAs

sterns cells do. Questions remain: Will the cells live as long as their embryonic counterparts? Will they have the same therapeutic potential?

Early results are promising. Not only can adult stern cells rnorph into other tissue types, evidence suggests that some of the compounds used to make them transform can possibly

kick-start the body's own tissuereplacement mechanisms, But there are some red flags. For instance, the adult stem cells

treated with. retroviruses have

virus, without disrupting existing genes or causing cancer. And now Yamanaka's group in

Kyoto has hit upon something even be tter: doing the job with circular pieces of ON A called plasmids and eliminating

viruses altogether.

But even without using viruses, turning old cells young again still poses cancer risks, The c-Myc gene, one of those

used by the Kyoto group, is a known oncogene, meaning that it can cause cancer ifactivated at the wrong time. The Kyoto group and others have induced pluripotency without using c-Myc, although these cells failed to transform i.n the same numbers or as quicldy as those enhanced with it.

Another promising method, which eliminates the need to insert new genes into cells altogether, was developed

Questions remain: Will the cells live as long as

their embryonic counterparts?

Will they have the same therapeutic potential?

Early results are promising.

different gene-expression patterns than those of embryonic stern cells, an indication that the viruses may have disrupted the cells' genomes,

Much work must be done to fully understand the ramifications of reengineered adult stem cells before scientists and doctors

were likely to induce the reversion, while the scientists in Singapore constructed the microRNAs and used them to control cell differentiation. It remains to be seen if the method will be more than a laboratory curiosity.

usher them into clinical testing. Science needs better gene-delivery methodsor a way to generate pluripotency using chemicals=-to ensure that healthy DNA stays that way. It also needs better ways to increase the yield of transformed cells. But these goals appear to be firmly within reach, and experts predict a blight future for stemcelltherapies, _

The Road Ahead

Of course, all of this research will mean nothing if rejuvenated adult stem cells behave differently than embryonic

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2.009 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM I 73

ergy output: 7 watts

The Bionic Energy Harvester can produce enough power from a one-minute walk to juice a ce.lIphone for 30 minutes. The generator fred] sits on your knee and gathers ene.rgytowQ.rd the end

of your step, when yourleg

begins to brake.

The next big thing in alternative energy: your body. Wasted energy from your movements may not be enough to power your house, but it will be charg ing your cellphone and more within the next decade

The 1 .. 1U. man body contains enormous quantities of energy. In

tact, the average adult has as much energy stored in fat as a one-ton battery. That energy fuels our everyday activities, but what if those actions could in turn run the electronic devices we rely on? Today, innovators around the world are banking on our potential to do just that.

Movement produces kinetic energy, which can be converted into power. In the past, devices that turned human kinetic energy into electricity; such as hand-cranked radios, computers and flashlights, involved a person's full participation. But a growing field is tapping into our energy without our even noticing it.

Consider, for example, a health

dub. With every step you take on a treadmill and wi th Every bicep curl, you tum surplus calories into motion that could drive a generator and produce electricity. The energy from one person's workout may not be much, but 100 people could contribute significantly to a facility's power needs.

That's the idea behind the Green Microgym in Portland, Oregon, where machines like stationary bikes harvest energy during Workouts. Pedaling

turns a generator, producing electricity that helps to power the building.

For now. body energy supplies only a small fraction of the gym's needs, but the amount should increase as more machines are adapted .. "By being extremely energy-efficient and combining

human power, solar and someday wind, I believe we'll ..;;c:e===5:.. be able to be net-zero

for electricity sometime this year," says. the gym's owner, Adam Boesel. His

bikes, by the way, aren't the first to put pedal power to work. In some parts of the world, cyclists have been pOWering safety lights for years with devices called bicycle dynamos, which use a generator to create alternating current with every turn of the Wheels,

Dance dubs are also getting in on the action. In the Netherlands, Rotterdam'S new Club WATT has a floor

that harnesses the energy created

by the dancers' steps. Designed by a Dutch company calledthe Sustainable Dance Club, the "floor is based on the piezoelectric effect, in which certain materials produce an electric current when compressed or bent. (The most

common example is a cigarette lighter, in which a hammer causes a spark to be emitted when it strikes a piezoelectric crystal.] As clubgoers dance, the "floor is compressed by less than half an inch. It makes contact with the piezoelectric material under it and generates anywhere from two to 20 watts of electricity, depending on the impact of the patrons' feet. For !lOW, it's just enough to power LED lights in the floor, but in the future, more output is expected from newer technology. In London, Surya, another new ceo-nightclub. uses the same principle for its dance floor, which the owne.rs hope will one day generate 60 percent of the club's electricity.

Gadg@t Power

Beyond body-powered gyms and dance dubs, ideas are also in the works to provide electricity for more ordinary, useful things. Researchers are creating ways to power small mobile devices like cellphones, MP3 players and Laptops when there is no access to conventional energy sources.

Max Donelan of the Locomotion Laboratory at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, in collaboration with American and Canadian researchers, is developing an electromagnetic generator fitted to a standard knee brace. The prototype, which Donelan unveiled last February, turns a oneminute walk into enough current for a half-hour cellphone conversation.

TIle knee generator uses sophisticated electronics to ensure that it grabs only excess energy A computer measures the angle of the knee during every step to determine when to engage and disengage the generator, In the course of an ordinary stride, we use muscle energy both to accelerate the leg forward in an arc and then to brake irs downward motion, The generator kicks in only during the swing phase of a footstep when the muscles are already braking, so it doesn't take power away from your step and slow

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2.009 SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM I 75

you down. The electricity then flows through a wire to charge or power a battery or device.

At more than three pounds, the generator, called the Bionic Energy Harvester, is cumbersome. But thanks to lighter gears and a framework made of lightweight materials such as carbon fiber, the latest model, which is expected in the next year or so, should

weigh closer to one pound. A microcomputer will replace a standalone computer that is wired to the unit in the current prototype.

Such a device has many possible uses. TIle Canadian military is partially funding Donelan's research because soldiers carry as many as 30 pounds

of batteries for communications and navigation equipment-a load that

76 I SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009

could be significantly lightened by an alternative energy source. PUblic-safety workers such as firefighters and police could also use the technology to power handheld equipment during emergencies. In the future, artificial limbs that require batteries may instead be designed with Donelan's technology, And next-generation devices could run gadgets like cellphones, global positioning systems, il'ods and digital cameras. This could be particularly useful for hikers and mountain climbers, who spend much of their time away from power sources.

Other generators in development use the same electromagnetic principle as the Bionic Energy Harvester. For instance, Larry Rome of the University of Pennsylvania has created the lightning Pack, a backpack that captures energy from the natural up-and-down movement of your hips. As you walk, a bag bounces on a spring, which connects through gears to an electrical generator. Wires carry the electricity to your batteries or gadgets. The output is impressive: 20 watts, enough for nearly all portable devices, Rome says. But

the bag is impractical for most people because it needs to weigh 80 pounds to generate 20 watts. (The heavier the load, the more mass that oscillates up and down, and the greater the kinetic energy potentiaL) 111e U.S. Marine COIpS, however, is interested and has commissioned a pack for soldiers.

Multitasking Clothing

A far cry from an 80-pound backpack, energy harvesters

the size of a thread are being developed by Zhong Lin Wang and two colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Techno 1- ogy. These mini-generators

can be woven into 'l-shirts or other clothing and will collect energy from the body's smallest movements, piping electricity

to mobile devices.

Wang's generators use piezoelectricity on a small scale. For the prototype, he grew zinc-oxide crystals on yamlike Kevlar fibers. The crystals jut out on nanowires like thousands of small bristles and, when rubbed against each other, they bend and create electricity. In the prototype, two centimeter-long fibers produced 16 picowatts, or 16

trillionths ofa watt. It's a minuscule amount of electricity, but the output grows as more fibers are added. The researchers predict mat clothing with these fibers could generate up to 80 milliwatts of electricity per 11 square feet of fabric, which is almost enough to power a cellphone or other mobile electronic device.

Mini .. generators woven into clothing will collect energy from the body's smallest movements.

Before we see garments that geneI" ate electricity-which could happen

in about five years-Wang and his colleagues must overcome several challenges, The biggest problem is

that these nanofibers can't get wet. A lining that zips out when laundering the garment could be the solution, and Wang is also exploring the possibility of waterproof nanofibers,

His next goal is to make the fibers more efficient, To this end, he is experimenting with different kinds of polymers and seeking better methods of combining the materials and collecting the electric charge, But even if the nanofibers don't become much more efficient, they might still be able to power gadgets entirely by body move-

ment. Electronic devices continue to get smaller, requiring less power, and higher-capacity batteries will store the energy that is accumulated over a longer period of time- bringing us that much closer to an era when our movements are no longer wasted.

Soon, we might not even have to consciously move to create power. Wang is working on a polymer film that would surround his power-generating fibers and allow them to be implanted into our bodies. There they would harvest kinetic energy from the steady dilation and contraction of blood vessels, providing a source of electricity for pacemakers, insulin pumps and other medical devices-malting for a truly powerful breakthrough .•

Nature's Curiosities

Water-Loving Cats

(ats are famous for their aversion to water, But the fishing cat, a wild species round across Asia and Indonesia, doesn't mind getting wet In fact, these spotted, stocky felines, wh ich are about twice as large as typic a I house cats, prefer to be dose to the water, making their homes near rivers, srrea rns and marshes.

As their name indicates, the cats fish for their meals, sftting by the water and tapping their paws to create ripples on the su rface that resemble insect movements to lure their prey Fishing cats use their webbed front paws to scoop small grub, induding fish, frogs and snails, out of the water, but they wi,!,1 also di,ve right in to grab large fish and birds in their jaws. Once in

the water, the cats can wade, swim at the surface, or even glide underwater. Their short, flat tai,ls serve as rudders

Unfortunately, habitat loss and overfishing have decreased these cats' numbers by possibly SO percent over the past three generations. Last October, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature cha nged their status to "endangered" from the less-severe "vulnerable"

18 I SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009

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World of Science

Elementa I Secrets

222-f-- AlOm](weighl

Radon

Tricky Number

• Radon is one ofthe seven noble gases, whic.h scientists once thought could not iorm compounds. It's now known that these goses con indeed combine with other elements. For example, radon and fluorine can combine to form radon difluoride.

~~~:~7:'~~ 1,458

four natura/numbers (positive integers) in which the sum

of its digits multiplied by the reverse of that sum equals the origInal number.

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19, and 19x 91 = 1,729),81 (its sum is 9, and 9 x 9=81) and t.

• The element is highly radioactive ond occurs naturally when uranium found in soil, water and rocks decoys.

• Acco.rding to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to radon is the leading couse of/ung cancer among nonsmokers ond the second most common c.ouse of/ung cancer overalf.

Prmons 86

Rn

KNOW •••

THE COMMON SWIFT, found in areas of Europe, Asia and Africa, rarely lands-It can eat and even mate while flying,

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Trivia Countdown

Earn more points by using fewer dues to answer each question.

3 points

1 points

i ntem ation.1 ilgrtMlm e n~ in 1864.

Tod;lY the treatiel consist offour agreements ~Il d th res proto co ls.

SWiss hUIIl'anitilrian Henri Dun~nt, founder of the Red Cross, initiated the first agre€rnent.

They protecrsold i!:l"; who ·ar€ sick or wounded on

Iii nd or sea or who all:' taken prisoner d uri ng w~rtime ..

.sw lss city where they originated.

Although this drink

WilS fi rst distill ed in the 14th century, it beci! m e popular in the U.S. alrer World War II.

Tr:ild rtiona lIy made from potatoes, varieties 01 this spirltore made from cereal gro ins, 5ugarGl n e an d ~yb€a ns,

Ifs a main i~gr€diehl It is dear, odorless and

in many (O(ktaill, lndud- has a neutral taste,

lng Bloody Marys and

Screwdrivers.

It, na me m eaas "little war~ r" i n Russia n and it is wr1tten 600KG:

B ri!ish chemists Will lam Its atomic number is 10, I f you send an electtic Its name is derived The word ls rnm-
R~msay an d Mortjs and il isa-noble gill. ill rrem through a glass from the G reek word mon Iy used tQ deseri he
W. T r"veIS na med this tu lie filled with II, the Wr""new: brightly eolered eletl[i{
elem e nt in 1898, shortly gilS glows bright era n ge. <;ig ITS, but th e element
after discov~[ing krypton. f> actually a nly used in
orange ones,
PrumJs dulds, its II bee rs la rqe, ha rd, green Its nuts co me ,j n two The nutmeat is used lIS sweet nuts can be
scientific nil me, is native fruit with a n oval seed types: sweet and biner: to mak.em a [zipan ilnd eaten raw,. bla ndied
to southW€stem Asia, but fh at is covered with a nougat. o rrea sled, a nd they
tod~y mcst of these trees tough shell. are often i ngredlellts in
a It fo u nd in Co lifo rnia. baked goods and candy.
It orfginated in 333 According to legend, 'ir It!, sa Id that AlllXil nder It ts now a meta phor for The Phrygi~n. who
BL i~ the kingdom Wil s used to secu re the the Great ehopped it a t!icky p mbl emreq u if· ~rsl lied it was n a m ed
of Ph ryg la in present- yoke. of a ch arla~ an d in two w,i th his SWO rd ing a bold solution. Gordias.
day Turkey. only the Mure ruler of instead of u ntyingit
A5ia toU ld un do it Your score· 24-30 Good show, Sherlock 9-16 Good enough, Paris

· 17 -23 Not bad, Watson 0-8 Hit the books, Homer!

Answers appear on page 87

8:1 I SCtENCEtLLUSTRATED.COM JANUARY !FEBRUARY 2009

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JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 SCIENCEILWSTRATED,COMI 87

Which domino from the bottom row should be placed at the .right of the top row to best fit the pattern?

A garden path is two yards wide

and has a hedge at both sides. The path spirals in toward the center of the garden. Follow the path from the beginning to the center. I gnore the thickness of the hedg.e, and assume you walk in the center of the path. What distance will you walk?

A

B

c

o

E

Which figure below-A., B, C, 0 or Eshould replace the top hexagon at right?

In how many ways can four different positive whole numbers be placed in the empty squares so that the total is 131

Wh lch letter, when filled into the blank triangle, completes the pattern?

88 I SCIENCEILLUSTRATED.COM JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009

10 yards

'" "C

...

!U >o ....

..__,_ Find all two-digit odd numbers that are multiples of 3, where the product of the dig its does not exceed 8.

There are 16 colored balls at the top of this funnel. On average, how many balls will end up in each of the five tubes when the balls are released?

Answers appear on page 87

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