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SPECIAL DOUBLE ISSUE THE SCIENCE WE DONT SEE

INVISIBLE
PLANET
PLUS Electric Hamsters, Light-Powered Rockets,
Unknown Immigrants, Solar Energys Second Coming,
and Can DNA Save Health Care?
Science, Technology, and The Future
IN SEARCH OF
THE MISSING
SOLAR SYSTEM
DELIRIUM
DINOSAUR
FOOTPRINTS
ALCHEMY
MATHEMATICS
OF TERROR
ALIEN CHATTER
MEDICINES
BLIND SPOT
VIRTUAL WARFARE
THE FIRE UNDERFOOT
DO WIMPS RULE
THE UNIVERSE?
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JULY/AUGUST 2010
THE

PLANET
Some of the tools that
render the invisible
visible: Xenon100 dark
matter detector, PCR
amplication of DNA,
wide-angle camera
mounted on an F-18,
quantitative analysis
software, Philosophers
Stone, Allen Tele-
scope Array, Tin Man
chemical sensor, rapid
genome sequencer.
Below, their stories.
FEATURES
INVISIBLE PLANETOIDS 34
Every part of the solar system is full of stuff
planets, comets, asteroidsexcept for one lonely
zone between Mercury and the sun. Will new
searches nally reveal something hiding there?
BY PHI L PLAI T
MATHEMATICS OF TERROR 38
Quantitative analysis can explain the movements
of stock markets and the patterns of weather
events. Recent studies suggest the techniques can
even decode the mind of a terrorist.
BY ANDREW CURRY
DISCOVER INTERVIEW:
ELENA APRILE 44
The Columbia University physicist unveils her latest,
greatest scheme for hunting WIMPsthe unseen
particles that may dominate the universe.
BY FRED GUTERL
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN 46
When illegal immigrants cross into the United
States, a distressing number of them vanish into the
Sonoran Desert. Anthropologist Lori Baker is using
DNA forensics to give them back their identities.
BY JANE BOSVELD
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATT NAGER
Above: Western
Hemisphere lights.
ON THE
COVER
Photograph by
Joshua Scott.
DISCOVER
ON THE WEB
Videos, breaking
news, and
morethe latest
is online at
discovermagazine.com
DV0710TOC2A_WC 1 5/14/10 10:26:46 PM
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THE STREETLIGHT EFFECT 54
Scientic inquiry is beset by errors, contradictions, and false con-
clusions. The author says he knows why. BY DAVI D H. FREEDMAN
DISCOVER INTERVIEW: RICHARD A. CLARKE 58
Americas former counterterrorism czar discusses the nations vulner-
ability to cyber attack, laying out how to prepare for a future in which
virtual wars could be fought by computer. BY ROBERT KEATI NG
EARTH ON FIRE 60
All over the world, burning coal beds are belching toxic fumes,
spewing greenhouse gases, and proving nearly impossible
to extinguish. BY KRI STI N OHLSON
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS 66
Fossilized tracks provide an eloquent record of what dinosaurs
were like when they were living, breathing, stomping animals.
An extraordinary trove in Utah offers up its secrets. BY AMY BARTH
DISCOVER INTERVIEW: LEROY HOOD 72
A key player in the Human Genome Project predicts a total
transformation of medicine, fueled by our rapidly deepening under-
standing of how DNA works. BY PAMELA WEI NTRAUB
ISAAC NEWTON AND
THE PHILOSOPHERS STONE 74
Alchemy gets a makeover: Far from being the work of superstitious
fools, it was an essential step toward modern science, endorsed
by two of historys greatest geniuses. BY JANE BOSVELD
CALL WAITING 84
For 50 years, scientists have scanned the cosmos for signs
of intelligent alien life. After a half-century of failure, they are
amazinglymore optimistic than ever. BY MI CHAEL LEMONI CK
DEPARTMENTS
MAIL 3
CONTRIBUTORS 6
EDITORS NOTE 8
DATA 10
Solar power gets a reboot; biologys master
on-off switch; garbage collection on the high
seas; light-powered rockets; your microbial
ngerprint; slicing Saturns rings; and more.
HOT SCIENCE 24
The best new books and movies, plus Cleopatras
palace and a dose of extra-dry British wit.
THE BRAIN 28
A look at what happens inside the head during
and after a brain injury. BY CARL ZI MMER
VITAL SIGNS 32
An older womans sudden delirium exposes a
family secret. BY ANNA REI SMAN
20 THINGS
YOU DIDNT KNOW ABOUT
NANOTECHNOLOGY 96
Electric hamsters, super computers, and
eco-dust. BY REBECCA COFFEY
PAGE 34
PAGE
38
PAGE 44
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Mail
Killer Robots
As a Vietnam draftee, I had mixed feelings
while reading about the use of robots in
war [The Terminators, May, page 36].
Tactically it seems like a great idea: It
keeps our soldiers out of harms way.
Strategically, however, it is a scary thought
for exactly the same reason. If our lead-
ers know there is no threat to our sons
and daughters, they will be more inclined
to enter a war. They are already protected
from public outcry by our volunteer army.
Carl Bruckman
Denver, CO
I am terried of humanitys developing and
using robots that can harm humans. Soft-
ware manufacturers cant release bug-free
word processors; heaven help us if we let
them develop kill-decision software. Isaac
Asimov had it right in the 1940s with his
Three Laws of Robotics: A robot may not
injure a human being or, through inaction,
allow a human being to come to harm; a
robot must obey any orders given to it by
human beings, except where such orders
would conict with the First Law; and a
robot must protect its own existence as
long as such protection does not conict
with the First or Second Law. These rules
were hardwired into the positronic brains
of robots at manufacturing time. Give me
Asimov or Ill have no robots!
David Sigetich
Toronto, Ontario
Reading about autonomous warfare
machines brings to mind a possible use of
similar technology that would benet us
civilians: smart stoplights. How close are
we to having affordable, camera-based
trafc controllers that make decisions
based on the actual facts on the ground,
rather than simple pressure-plate detec-
tors or idiot timing devices? Couldnt they
save society a tremendous amount of
time and gasoline? Scott Green
Elkins, WV
Diabetes Detective Work
Terry Wilkins ideas about the type 1
diabetes epidemic [Childs Plague,
May, page 50] are interesting but beg two
unresolved and , on the surface, unrelated
questions. First, the clusters of type 1
cases make it difcult not to raise the
question of a common-source exposure
(remember John Snows pump and chol-
era in 1854). Second, the suggestions of
high body mass index (BMI) causing
diabetes may have the cart before the
horse. Would it not be more intriguing to
consider a common chemical or biologi-
cal exposure that damages the insulin
production process, in turn causing a
surge in weight? How else to explain
the gradual return, after birth, to normal
height/weight growth patterns of babies
born to diabetic mothers?
H. Spencer Turner, M.D.
Fernandina Beach, FL
You omitted an essential piece of informa-
tion that could explain the exponential rise
in diabetes cases. As you mention, in the
1890s the death rate of children due to dia-
betes was roughly equal to the rate of new
cases. Therefore, juvenile diabetes suffer-
ers never made it to childbearing age, and
any genetic defects related to the disease
were not passed on to offspring. Now, with
the miracle of modern medicine, diabetics
are living full lives. Unfortunately, until we
identify and modify the genes responsible
for the attack on insulin-secreting cells, it
seems that the disease will follow the pat-
tern of a new genetic trait introduced into
a population. Kem Kough
Oasis, NV
How to Return to the Moon
I take strong exception to the claim in
Theres Hydrogen in Those Hills [May,
page 61] that propellants account for the
vast majority of the cost of existing rockets.
Almost all the recurring cost of launch-
ing a payload comes from the expended
hardware. Thus, the key to low-cost space
transportation does not lie in technol-
ogy breakthroughs to reduce propellant
requirements but in designing fully reus-
able launch vehicles. By developing launch
systems that dont waste any hardware,
we can send astronauts to the moon and
Mars at a small fraction of what NASA
wanted to spend on Constellation.
Dick Morris
Lynnwood, WA
Hydrogen and the Hindenburg
Item 8 of Mays 20 Things You Didnt
Know About Water [page 80] perpetu-
ates the tired folklore that an explosion in
hydrogen-lled lifting cells destroyed
the Hindenburg. Research by the Zeppelin
Co. and Addison Bain proves that static
charges sparked a re on the outer skin,
which was coated with a mixture of metal-
lic aluminum and iron oxide (essentially
the same thing that fuels our orbiters
solid fuel boosters). No one doubts that
the hydrogen, once it got loose in the
atmosphere, contributed to the inferno, but
the Hindenburg would have succumbed
regardless. Samuel O. Lindeman
Muskogee, OK
Guillaume de Syon, historian and author
of Zeppelin! Germany and the Airship,
19001939, responds:
While the Hindenburgs fabric was
slightly different from that of other airships
and may have been more conductive,
it likely did not lead to the re. The best
reconstructions suggest the cause was a
combination of accumulating hydrogen
from a ripped ballonet inside the hull, static
electricity built up from a nearby storm
(which may have been exacerbated by the
dope on the fabric), and sheer bad luck.
Send e-mail to editorial@discovermagazine.com.
Address letters to DISCOVER, 90 Fifth Avenue,
New York, NY 10011. Include your full name,
address, and daytime phone number.
JULY/AUGUST 2010 | 3
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Hints: 1. It occupies a conned space for about 65 days. 2. It often has companions. 3. The adult
version is something you would commonly nd around the house. For the answer, see the September
issue or visit discovermagazine.com/web/whatisthis. Last months answer: page 20.
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MICHAEL LEMONICK wrote Call Waiting
(page 84) in response to the 50th anni-
versary of SETI (Search for Extraterres-
trial Intelligence) research. Although that
effort has yet to yield a single alien signal,
Lemonick was amazed to nd that the sci-
entists involved with the quest are more
excited than ever. One key source for
the piece was astronomer Seth Shostak,
a senior scientist at the SETI Institute, who
spoke at length about the serious thinking
behind his seemingly quixotic research.
Lemonick describes Shostak as kind
of the Robin Williams of astronomy, with
quick quips and leaps of imagination.
Lemonick is a senior staff writer at Cli-
mate Central, a nonprot group working to
bridge the gap between climate scientists
and the public. He also teaches journalism
at Princeton University. Previously, he was
a science writer at Time magazine for 21
years and was once an executive editor
at DISCOVER. Lemonick is currently writ-
ing a book about the imminent discovery
of Earth-like planets around distant stars.
The photograph on this page was taken
by his wife, Eileen Hohmuth-Lemonick,
and includes their daughter, Hannah,
who is now 22. She fell out of the tuba
right after the camera ashed, but I caught
her, Lemonick says.
KRISTIN OHLSON was visiting southern
Ohio when she heard about a local coal
mine that had been burning for 120 years,
ever since striking miners loaded a wagon
full of timbers, set it on re, and pushed it
into the mine. Ohlson became captivated
by the subject and visited two other burn-
ing mines for Earth on Fire (page 60).
One of them was in Kentucky, where she
saw smoke curling from the ground and
minerals encrusting nearby leaves. The
other mine re, in Centralia, Pennsylvania,
is probably Americas most notorious. It
was winter, and there was smoke belching
up from the ground and freezing on the
grass, she says. In addition to science,
Ohlsons writing interests include travel,
food, and culture. She has written for The
New York Times, Food & Wine, American
Archaeology, and Smithsonian.com. Her
memoir, Stalking the Divine, about getting
to know a group of cloistered nuns, won
the American Society of Journalists and
Authors Best Nonfiction Book Award in
2004. Her nonction book Kabul Beauty
School, coauthored with Deborah Rodri-
guez , was a New York Times best seller.
MATT NAGER knows rsthand the harsh,
long desert path that some illegal immi-
grants face when attempting to enter the
United States from Mexico. He took pho-
tographs for Gone but Not Forgotten
(page 46), which documents the process
of identifying the remains of those who do
not survive the nearly 100-mile journey.
Its tough out there. Its not a place you
want to be crossing, but I dont really see
anything changing, Nager says. In the
intense heat of Arizonas Sonoran Desert,
bodies quickly decompose, leaving little
Contributors
more than bones.
The limited informa-
tion makes identifi-
cation difficult, but
forensics expert Lori
Baker of Baylor Uni-
versity is using DNA
testing to help fami-
lies find their miss-
ing relatives. For this
story, Nager met with
Baker, border-con-
trol ofcers, medical
examiners, relatives
of lost immigrants, and activist groups that
provide water for those making the cross-
ing. In his career he has traveled all over
the world, including Bolivia, where he pho-
tographed local coca traditions, and Italy,
where he is documenting the rise of cancer
in Naples due to what he describes as the
Maas environmental neglect. To see more
of his work, visit www.mattnager.com.
JANE BOSVELD was intently watching The
Teaching Companys history of science
DVDs when she wondered: Why were
famed scientists like Isaac Newton and
Robert Boyle toying with something as
absurd as alchemy?
Bosveld, a senior edi-
tor at DISCOVER at
the time, learned that
the scientists hoped
to create the legend-
ary Phi l osophers
Stonea substance
that could turn lead
into gold. For Isaac
Newton and the Phi-
l osophers Stone
(page 74), she got in
touch with Lawrence
Principe, a chemist and science historian at
Johns Hopkins University who worked on
the DVDs, and his colleague William New-
man. The two have managed to decode
cryptic recipes left by Newton and Boyle
and replicated a number of their alchemy
experimentsbut so far, no Philosophers
Stone. These alchemists werent the wack-
adoos people think they were. Alchemy was
a progression toward modern chemistry,
says Bosveld, who also wrote Gone but
Not Forgotten (page 46) for this issue. Bos-
veld is a contributing editor at DISCOVER
and a freelance writer based in New York.
AMY BARTH
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tauz eosvztc xestu ontsou
uatt uaeze
6 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
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Editors Note
B
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S
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O
ast April, right
around the time we started putting
together this special issue of
DISCOVER, Mercury was making an
unusually prominent appearance
in the evening sky. I had never
gotten a good look at the elusive
innermost planet, so I waited for clear
weather and scanned for my target. I
failed: too much twilight glare, too
much New York skyline blocking the
western horizon.
L
I take some solace from the legend
that Copernicusthe clever fellow who
gured out the true conguration of the
whole solar systemnever saw Mercury
either. And I get a deeper satisfaction from
knowing that I was participating in an
old and noble process of seeking out the
invisible. As Phil Plait describes on page
34, astronomers have spent 399 years
searching for a planet or asteroid belt
circling even closer to the sun than Mer-
cury. Despite 399 years of staring at blank
elds, they keep going. The universe is
full of things that elude our limited human
senses, and the only way we ever will nd
them (and, by extension, learn more about
our place in that universe) is to press on,
failures be damned.
There is not just one kind of invisible
that science pursues; there are three
distinct varieties, represented by the three
interviews in this months issue. There are
the invisible things that hail from beyond
our worldlike dark matter (being sought
by physicist Elena Aprile; see page 44) and
like those sun-hugging asteroids. There are
the invisible things embedded in our every-
day lives, like the diseases written into our
DNA (geneticist Leroy Hood talks about his
quest to nd them, page 72). And there are
the invisibles that we create ourselves, like
Internet connections and all the information
that ows through them, both good and
evil (security guru Richard Clarke focuses
on the dark side of cyberspace, page 58).
The rst two types of invisibility pursuits
demonstrate some of the most noble
aspects of human inquiry. They express
a faith that we humans can overcome the
limitations of our senses and discover
greater truths than our eyes alone can
reveal. I use the word faith deliberately,
for there is something transcendent in this
act. It is kin to what Albert Einstein called
the cosmic religious feeling: The indi-
vidual feels the futility of human desires
and aims and the sublimity and marvelous
order which reveal themselves both in
nature and in the world of thought.
The third type of invisibility search
provides a different perspective, one that
is attained by looking inward rather than
outward. It nds meaning even in these
frailties that Einstein dismissed as the futil-
ity of human desires and aims. It applies
mathematics to terrorist attacks and uncov-
ers better ways to maintain the peace (page
38). It uses DNA forensics to restore identity
to immigrants who die alone in the desert
(page 46). It even deconstructs itself by
examining the very methods and limitations
of scientic research (page 54).
What I nd especially exciting about
all of these explorations is their cumula-
tive nature, as each generation is able to
push the boundary of the invisible another
step farther out. Soon we will know if dark
matter exists, or if genetic medicine can
succeed. And every day we self-aware
apes are getting just a little closer to
understanding (and, perhaps, mastering)
our inherent humanity.
COREY S. POWELL
8 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710EDNOTE1A_WC 8 5/14/10 10:20:29 PM
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Data
10 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710DATA1_3A_WC 10 5/14/10 1:17:58 AM
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PREPARE
FOR
LANDING
THE MOMENT: Engineers hook
up the data acquisition system
before a test of the landing radar
that will guide the next Mars
rover, Curiosity, to the surface
of the Red Planet in the summer
of 2012. This past spring, the
radar (attached to the nose of
the helicopter) went through
two months of ight tests over
desert terrain in Southern
California at different altitudes
and angles intended to simulate
trajectories under consideration
for the Mars landing. Preliminary
results indicate that the radar is
performing as expected.
THE SHOT: Photograph by
Spencer Lowell using a Canon
EOS-1Ds Mark III and 1635 mm
lens, f/5, 1/125 sec.
JULY/AUGUST 2010 | 11
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THE MOMENT: A preserved
ship sturgeon sits in the local
history museum of Aralsk,
Kazakhstan. In the decades
since 1960, the nearby Aral
Sea, where the sh once
lived, has shrunk to a quarter
of its original size because
of the diversion of rivers for
irrigation. This species is now
locally extinct and is critically
endangered worldwide. But
the Aral Sea itself may be
recovering: A dam built in 2005
has brought rising water levels
to its northern part.
THE SHOT: Photograph by
Carolyn Drake with a Mamiya
RZ67 Pro II camera, 65 mm
lens, ISO 160.
STURGEON
GENERAL
Data
12 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
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you want
Fully searchable content
Zoom in on photos and illustrations
Bookmark your favorite pages
Share stories through e-mail
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Data Big Picture
Everybody loves the idea of photovoltaic solar
cells: endless clean electricity generated directly
from sunlight. The problem lies in the messy
reality of making the technology work well. For
instance, says Boston College physicist Michael
J. Naughton, the cells two functionscaptur-
ing light and making energypull the optimum
design for a solar panel in opposite directions.
Photo wants it thick, Naughton says, but
voltaic wants it thin. So Naughton and other
like-minded scientists are rethinking the fun-
damental elements of solar cells. They aim to
rewrite the rule book and nally make solar energy
cost-competitive with coal and natural gas.
The limitations of current-generation solar
cells are painfully clear. Although experimen-
tal cells have reached efciencies greater than
40 percent, most silicon-based commercial
designs struggle to get past about 20 percent.
The lower the efciency, the more cells it takes
to generate a given amount of electricity. That
in turn makes photovoltaics bulky and expen-
sive. As a result, the United States had just 800
megawatts of grid-connected solar photovol-
taic power in 2008, and solar accounted for
less than a tenth of one percent of all energy
consumed in the country.
Naughton is trying to boost efficiency by
tackling the thick-thin dilemma. The thicker a
solar cell, he explains, the more light it can cap-
ture. But when it comes to generating electricity,
thin is best: Electrons must travel farther in a
thick cell, so fewer reach the photovoltaic layer
where they create usable electricity. Naughtons
approach is to add an array of extremely ne
wires that stand up vertically on the at plane of
SOLAR POWER
GETS BRIGHTER
P
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Engineers are pushing the
physics of photovoltaic cells
with one overriding goal: to
make electricity from sunlight
cheaper than coal power.
a solar cell, like a miniature bed of nails, to catch
additional rays . Although they are just a few
microns tall, the wiresmade of a metal, often
silver, and coated in a thin layer of photovoltaic
amorphous siliconcan substantially boost ef-
ciency. Solar cells with this construction could
soak up about 10 percent more light without
requiring a thicker panel. Groups at Caltech and
the University of California at Berkeley are work-
ing on similar kinds of wire-enhanced cells.
Another roadblock hindering solar cells is that
much of the light they collect is wasted as heat
and not converted to electricity. When sunshine
strikes a solar cell, some of the electrons in the
cell take on energy but quickly lose most of it
as thermal energy rather than breaking loose to
become part of an electric current. Naughton
and colleagues are at work making improve-
ments here, too. They are trying to tap these
so-called hot electrons before their energy dis-
sipates. They hope that a layer of small semi-
conductor crystals called quantum dots may be
able to extract the high-energy electrons before
they cool, potentially doubling solar cell efcien-
cy. Naughtons group has already successfully
extracted hot electrons in a superthin silicon at
panel and next plans to combine that approach
with the wire array architecture.
Physicist David Carroll of Wake Forest Univer-
sity takes a different approach to the challenge
of capturing more sun. Existing at panels, he
notes, work best only under direct sunlight; the
low-angle rays of the early-morning and late-
afternoon sun are mostly reected away and
lost. So Carroll and his team are developing
solar cells that can grab light from many angles
BuzzWords
AMORPHOUS
Lacking a regular
internal arrange-
ment of atoms.
(In contrast, a
crystalline solid has
a repeating pattern
of internal atomic
structure.)
HOT ELECTRON
An electron in a
solar cell bear-
ing more energy
than can typically
be extracted as
electricity.
QUANTUM DOT
A cluster of atoms
so small that its
electronic proper-
ties are governed
by the laws of
quantum physics.
BAND GAP
The energy thresh-
old required to
excite an electron
in a semiconductor,
allowing it to carry
electrical energy.

14 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710DATA2_6A_WC 14 5/14/10 1:44:02 AM
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Its not the advice youd expect.
Learning a new language
seems formidable, as we
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in school. Yet infants begin at
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table language jamboree, children gure out language purely from the
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ings fuse to words. Words string into structures. And language erupts.
Three characteristics of the childs language-learning
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DV71013.indd 1 5/11/10 12:32:38 PM
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Data Big Picture
Arrays of
nanowires,
seen here in
an electron
micrograph, can
be added to
the surface of
solar cells
so they absorb
more light.
G
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throughout the day. Their creation, called the
FiberCell, is constructed from bundles of glass-
cored bers sprayed with an inexpensive pro-
prietary polymer that captures photons even
from oblique angles and converts them into
electricity. Many bundles can be joined together
to create a exible mesh, and the device basi-
cally doesnt care about the angle at which light
strikes, Carroll says.
Such solar cells could be ideal for home
rooftops, where the sun usually hits at odd
angles, Carroll argues. And rather than relying
on expensive photovoltaic materials like copper
indium gallium selenide, FiberCell could work
well with much cheaper polymer-based cells .
Carroll says that his system can double the ef-
ciency of conventional panels, and he will soon
send out a sample FiberCell for independent
performance testing.
The thick-thin paradox and indirect sunlight
are not the only limitations holding back pho-
tovoltaic cells. Berkeley physicist Jan Seidel
is tackling another, the so-called band gap
problem. In this case, the stumbling block is
that the semiconductor materials in solar cells,
such as silicon, become conductive and gener-
ate energy only in response to photons at cer-
tain energy levels. Since the electrons in these
semiconductors cannot generate more energy
than they initially absorb, cells are limited in how
much voltage they can produce. Seidel and his
colleagues recently found that an inexpensive
material called bismuth ferrite can produce high
voltages that break through the band gap limit.
He has not yet incorporated the material into a
working solar cell, but his initial experimental
results look promising. Some hurdles remain
before bismuth ferrite will be ready for prime
time, though: Powerthe rate of energy out-
putrelies not only on voltage but also on cur-
rent. So far, the amount of current that Seidel
can coax from bismuth ferrite remains too small
for practical applications , but he and his col-
leagues are working to improve it.
Some proponents of solar power think the
ultimate solution lies in a radical change of
directionliterally getting photovoltaics off the
ground. In space, where there is no shade or
night or cloud cover, solar installations could
provide nonstop power at the best possible
efciency. The challenges here dwarf those of
ground-based solar power: Getting huge solar
panels into orbit could be technically difcult
and costly, and engineers will need to devise a
safe, efcient way to beam the energy back to
a receiving station on Earth. But the potential
payoff is also enormous, and Japans space
agency, JAXA, has just announced a $21 bil-
lion plan to get giant commercial solar panels
with an area of more than a square mile into
space by the 2030s. The agency aims to launch
a smaller, experimental solar satellite within the
next decade.
Private companies are gearing up to grab
solar in space as well. In December, the state
of California approved a deal in which utility
giant Pacic Gas and Electric would purchase
200 megawatts of power from a space-based
system that will be deployed by Solaren Corpo-
ration by 2016. ANDREW MOSEMAN
16 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710DATA2_6A_WC 16 5/14/10 1:44:05 AM
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Data
cueu|snv sea
CLEANUP TIME ON THE HIGH SEAS
Although the Laysan albatross chicks
of Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge
live in the central Pacic, more than 1,000
miles from human civilization, their stom-
achs look like miniature garbage dumps,
full of bottle caps, toothbrushes, ciga-
rette lighterseven golf balls. A recent
survey of the marine debris plaguing the
island, home to the largest albatross col-
ony in the world, is helping researchers
understand the sources of this far-ung
pollution. It is also pointing to simple
ways to reduce the problem.
A 2009 pilot study examined the
types, sources, and amounts of beach
debris on Midway Atoll. Preliminary
results show that of all the items col-
lected and identied from beach sites,
57 percent came from land sources and
43 percent were shing-related gear and
debris. The most common objects were
beverage bottle caps and spacer tubes
used in the oyster industry. John Klavit-
ter, deputy refuge manager with the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, estimates that
albatross chicks collectively consumed
more than four tons of plastic at Midway
last year. Independent marine debris
researcher Seba Sheavly, who coordinat-
ed the study, hopes that news of these
ndings might spur small but important
changes in consumer behavior. If people
just became aware of the need to recycle
bottle caps along with bottles, that would
help tremendously, she says.
The problem of pollution on the high
seas extends far beyond Midway. In
response, the nonprot Project Kaisei,
based in San Francisco, will launch an
expedition this summer to the extensive
oating garbage patch that collects in
the center of a giant loop of currents
known as the North Pacic Gyre. There,
retted shing vessels will pick up trash
in a coordinated cleanup effort. They
will also experiment with collection
techniques, gathering floating debris
with nets and bringing it back to shore
for recycling or conversion into fuel.
The long-term solution is to stop the
ow of plastic into the ocean, project
cofounder Mary Crowley says. But for
now we are working with shermen who
have the boats, the equipment, and the
knowledge to do ocean cleanups.
I SABELLE GROC
euv|nouueu sea
The unaltered
stomach
contents
of a young
albatross on
Midway Atoll.
Acetylationthe addition of a small clump
of atoms called an acetyl groupmay be
the most important body process you have
never heard of: It activates and deactivates
proteins, thereby regulating access to our
DNA and helping control gene expression.
The latest research suggests that this pro-
tein tagging is even more inuential than
scientists had previously believed. If so,
learning to manipulate it could yield power-
ful new approaches to treating disease.
In one study, biochemist Kun-Liang
Guan of the University of California at San
Diego and colleagues examined proteins in
human liver tissue. They found that more
than a thousand of the proteins, including
virtually every enzyme associated with
metabolism, were acetylated . The discov-
ery implies that acetylation helps regulate
how the body gets its energy. Metabolic
problems contribute to conditions such as
diabetes, cancer, and obesity. We hope
that by using acetylation, we can prevent
and cure disease, Guan says.
Meanwhile, biochemist Chunaram
Choudhary of the University of Copenha-
gen looked at human cancer cells and
identied 1,750 acetylated proteins, 240
of which also turned up in Guans results.
Choudhary says that deliberately turning
proteins on or off through acetylation may
be a simple and efcient approach that
offers a good chance of treating some of
the worst human diseases. BO ZHANG
THE BODYS
MASTER SWITCH
Estimated number of
nuclear weapon storage
sites worldwide, accord-
ing to the International
Panel on Fissile Materials.
Russia has the most, with
48; the United States is
second, with 15 domestic
and 6 foreign sites. The
total number of nuclear
weapons worldwide is
approximately 20,350,
with about half of those
operational.

a \ J c n c u\ J t c q u o
Nuclear
Weapons
Number of operational warheads in the U.S.
nuclear stockpile, according to the Pentagon. That
gure is down from a peak of 31,225 weapons in
1967. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated
in 2009 that Russia has 4,830 operational war-
heads; the Soviet arsenal topped out at around
45,000 weapons in 1986. The new Strategic Arms
Reduction Treaty would limit both countries to
1,550 operational warheads each.
5113
DV0710DATA2_6A_WC 18 5/14/10 1:44:11 AM
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The Good News
The Bad News
w Australian scientists report that iron-rich
whale poop fertilizes plankton, helping to
keep CO
2
out of the atmosphere.
w Hurting? Get your hands on some
cash: Psychologists report that handling
money diminishes the perception of
physical pain. Even just counting someone
elses bills will do the trick.
w Carnegie Mellon researchers report that
messages on Twitter capture public senti-
ment almost as accurately as traditional polls.
Tweet analysis could substitute for phone polls.
w Scientic expertise can provoke a back-
lash: Participants in a University of Maryland
experiment were more likely to express
belief in ESP if they were told that most
scientists thought it was bunk.
w Turning your head sideways on a speeding
roller coaster can cause ear injury, doctors in
Detroit say. Facing forward is the safest bet.
w Australian eco-warriors: Check a eld guide
before killing that amphibian. Citizens are
eager to wipe out invasive cane toads, but
misidentify the species about one time in ve.
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Approximate
percentage of the
mass of a uranium
atom converted
to energy during
nuclear ssion.
The amount of
matter converted to
energy in the atomic
bomb dropped on
Hiroshima was about
700 milligrams, less
than one-third the
mass of a U.S. dime.
Pounds of weapons-grade
uranium required to build a
nuclear weapon. The global
stockpile of highly enriched
uranium stands at around
1,600 tons, enough for more
than 60,000 nuclear weapons.
Another 60,000 could be
constructed from the 500
tons of separated plutonium
estimated to exist in
stockpiles around the world.
0.1
6.3x10
13
Estimated energy, in joules, released
from the Hiroshima bomb, the equivalent
of 15,000 tons of TNT. At low altitudes,
about half the energy of such a bomb is
released in the air blast, 35 percent as
heat and 15 percent as nuclear radiation.
The reball resulting from the Hiroshima
explosion was 50 percent hotter than the
surface of the sun.
YOUR BACTERIAL
FINGERPRINT
Forensic investigators may get another
technique for their tool kit. Much like nger-
prints and DNA, the ecosystems of bacteria
that live on our skinand get left behind
on everything we touchare unique and
descriptive, meaning that they could pro-
vide a new way to establish identity.
Efforts to characterize bacterial popu-
lations on human skin have turned up a
surprising level of variation from person to
person. Once you look at these microbes
at the species level, we are all pretty much
distinct, says Noah Fierer, a microbial
ecologist at the University of Colorado at
Boulder. To test whether skin-associated
bacteria could be tapped for forensic use,
Fierer and his colleagues swabbed the n-
gertips of three people and their comput-
er keyboards and then sequenced short
stretches of the bacterial DNA. They found
that they could match the genetic material
on a keyboard to that on an individuals
skin. Better yet, Fierer and others have
shown that resampling a person after a few
months turns up a very similar set of bac-
teria, indicating that the denizens of our
skin are largely permanent residents.
Bacteria-based forensics is not ready
for the courtroom yet, Fierer says. Further
testing will be required to determine the
techniques accuracy rate. To better under-
stand the differences among individuals,
he is exploring how the communities on
our skin are shaped by diet, environment,
and family. If those factors yield predict-
able bacterial patterns, they could provide
additional useful information for investiga-
tors about a subjects location or habits,
although interpreting such data will prob-
ably be tricky, Fierer says. MEGAN TALKI NGTON
s|oLosv sea
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Connections like this one could open up new worlds for paralyzed individuals.
ueunosc|euce sea
HOW TO PLUG IN A BRAIN
For tens of thousands of people
suffering from paralysis or neurode-
generative disease, a direct connec-
tion to a computer could soon restore
speech and even mobility. Neurologist
Leigh Hochberg of the VA Medical
Center in Providence, Rhode Island, is
leading the second clinical trial of a
brain-computer link called BrainGate.
The system uses a sensor implanted
into the motor cortex. Previous studies
have shown that BrainGate can allow
paralyzed people to perform simple
tasks such as moving a computer
cursor. The current trial will evaluate
its safety outside the lab. Two people
are already testing BrainGate at home,
using the device to manipulate objects
on a computer, and Hochberg hopes to
recruit 13 more participants.
Although implants can be placed
right next to the relevant neurons
POCKET POWER
While some engineers are dragging solar
energy into the big time (see page 14), others
are getting small: They have hit upon a novel
phenomenon that creates an electric current
in nanotubes, hollow microscopic structures
made of carbon atoms. With further develop-
ment, the effect could spawn an efcient,
portable new power source.
MIT chemical engineer Michael Strano
led the team that discovered how to coax
electricity from the tubes. The researchers
coat the nanotubes with a fuel called trinitra-
mine and ignite it with a laser or an electric
spark. As the fuel burns it creates a wave of
intense heat that races down the tube, pulling
electrons along with it and generating an
electric current. In a prototype device, this
effectcalled a thermopower waveis 100
times as powerful as a lithium-ion battery of
the same weight.
Whereas conventional batteries leak
energy between uses, Strano says that a
thermopower battery should in principle hold
its charge indenitely. After use, recharging
might be possible by adding fuel, perhaps in
liquid form. Additionally, the nanotubes con-
sist only of carbon, so a thermopower battery
would not contain any toxic heavy metals.
Before such batteries can become a real-
ity, Strano needs to nd a safe, reliable way
to ignite the reaction and gure out how to
reduce the amount of energy that comes out
as heat or light rather than electricity. We
need to capture photons and prevent heat
transfer to make this technology as efcient
as possible, he says. SETH NEWMAN
euensv sea

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tnsr
uaeuztc
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This image depicts the magnetic eld
lines between two bar magnets. Earth
has a eld of its own that protects
us from charged particles from
the sun. It channels some of these
particles toward the poles, where they
can collide with air molecules and
release energy in the form of light,
producing brightly colored auroras.
in the brain, they have drawbacks.
Implants can iname the surround-
ing tissue, and scarring can disrupt
the connection between neurons and
electrodes. A sensor developed by
University of Pennsylvania neurolo-
gist Brian Litt could address those
problems. It consists of electrodes
embedded in a exible plastic mesh
that molds to the brains surface
(but it does not penetrate the gray
matter). Litt and his colleagues were
able to record neural signals from
cats brains for a few weeks without
causing inammation. Neuroscientist
Gerwin Schalk of the New York State
Department of Health has found that
test sensors placed on the outside of
human brains pick up signals that can
identify spoken or imagined words.
The surface is a sweet spot, he says.
AMBER ANGELLE
20 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710DATA2_6A_WC 20 5/14/10 1:44:17 AM
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Look at a typical rocket and youll see
a whole lot of fuel with a little payload
tacked on top. That inefciency is a big
part of why it costs about $10,000 per
pound to get a satellite into orbit. It is also
why a group of researchers are investi-
gating a radical alternative that could loft
objects into space far more cheaply
using lasers instead of chemicals.
Recently declassied work by
aerospace engineer Franklin Mead Jr.
of the Air Force Research Laboratory
and physicist Eric Davis of the Institute
for Advanced Studies at Austin, Texas,
describes this lightcraft propulsion.
Their technique aims a high-powered
laser beam upward at a small, low-mass
craft. During takeoff, the laser causes air
at the base of the craft to explode into
a jet of hot plasma, generating thrust.
Beyond the reach of Earths atmosphere,
the laser continues to point at the crafts
underside, heating a propellant material
(such as plastic-based Delrin) that lines
its bottom. Mead has experimented
with small-scale models to prove the
feasibility of light propulsion, and Davis
LAUNCHING ON A BEAM OF LIGHT

has investigated how to get the most out
of the lasers energy. The two research-
ers claim that their design could get
satellites into low Earth orbit for around
$1,400 per pound. Not carrying the
whole energy source on board reduces
the cost to a fraction of what were used
to paying, Davis says.
Although no lightcraft has yet made it
into space, one prototypedesigned by
Leik Myrabo, an engineering physicist
at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
successfully ew 233 feet into the air
under laser power. Myrabo says he
could increase that height thirtyfold
or more just by upgrading to a wider and
more powerful laser beam. But reaching
orbit will require megawatt lasers; so
far, the best commercial lasers used in
experiments have less than one-tenth that
power. Military lasers could probably
cut it, but they are difcult to access for
civilian research. Myrabo is now col-
laborating with the Brazilian Air Force on
efforts to boost laser power in tests at
the Institute for Advanced Studies in
So Jos dos Campos, Brazil . NI CK ZAUTRA
Chemical rockets
devote a lot of space to
fuel. Laser propulsion
could reduce that bulk.
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DV0710DATA2_6A_WC 21 5/14/10 1:44:23 AM
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Data
Much like the ancient holiday of Saturnalia, when Roman
masters swapped roles with servants, the recent buzz surround-
ing Saturn has mainly focused not on the giant planet but on its
satellites. And with good reason: The largest of those moons,
3,200-mile-wide Titan, has an atmosphere that may be similar
to that of our own planet in its younger days, and Enceladus, a
300-mile-wide ball, has a geologically active surface. Another
Saturnian satellite, two-faced Iapetus, puzzles astronomers with
one bright hemisphere and one that is as black as coal. But
recent images from the Cassini spacecraft, whose mission has
just been extended to 2017, are putting Saturn itself back in the
spotlight, giving us new information about the planets power-
ful weather patterns and the structure of its glorious rings. The
major rings are designated A, B, and C (running inward from
the outermost ring). LAURIE RICH SALERNO
S AT URN
STORMY WEATHER
Clouds of ammonia
and ice in Saturns
atmosphere produce
huge electrical storms
that rage for weeks
or months. Early in its
mission, Cassini started
to detect lightning on
Saturn using its radio
instruments, but recently
the probe released the
rst-ever movie of
lightning on another
planet, showing a 190-
mile-long ash from a
10-month storm in 2009.
INVISIBLE RING
The Cassini Divisiona
dark swath between
Saturns broad A and B
ringslooks empty, but
it is actually a separate
ring, just one with fewer
particles. NASAs Voyager
discovered this hidden
material, and the Cassini
probe shows previously
unseen ringlets and gaps
within it. The cause of
some of those gaps is
not evident; in January,
a group of astronomers
proposed that they result
from the gravitational pull
of particles in the giant,
nearby B ring.
YOUTHFUL COMPANIONS
Saturns rings consist of water-ice particles
typically ranging in size from a few inches to
many feet that continually gather into clumps
and drift apart again. The particles incredible
brightness makes some astronomers suspect
that the rings are much younger than the planet:
If they were old, they would have been darkened
by accumulated carbon from meteoroid impacts.
In 2017 the Cassini probe will plunge between the
planet and its innermost ring , which should reveal
much about the rings age and composition.
MIND THE GAPS
Moons cause most of the gaps between Saturns rings. Like a boulder in a riverbed, a
moons gravitational pull creates a wake in the surrounding ow of ring material. In 2006
Cassini discovered football-eld-size wakes caused by previously undetected moonlets
orbiting within the A ring. This image is from Saturns late 2009 equinox, when the rings
were tilted edge-on to the sun, giving them an unusually dark appearance.
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22 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710DATA3_1A_WC 22 5/14/10 1:42:14 AM
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Make Sense of Black Holes
Black holes. They are one of the most exotic, mind-boggling,
and profound subjects in astrophysics. Not only are they at the
heart of some of the most intriguing phenomena in the cosmos,
theyre the gateway to fundamental and cutting-edge concepts
like general relativity and wormholes.
Nearly everyone has heard of black holes, but few people out-
side of complex scientifc felds understand their true nature and
their implications for our universe. Black Holes Explained f-
nally makes this awe-inspiring cosmological subject accessible,
with 12 lavishly illustrated lectures delivered by distinguished
astronomer and award-winning Professor Alex Filippenko. As
he presents the actual science behind these amazing objects,
youll make sense of Einstein rings, photon spheres, event ho-
rizons, and other concepts central to the study of black holes.
Like its subject matter, this course is intriguing, eye-opening,
and essential to your knowledge of how the universe works.
This course is one of The Great Courses

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the liberal arts have made more than 300 college-level courses
that are available now on our website.


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to Black Holes
2. The Violent Deaths of
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National Science Foundation
At the National Science Foundation, Green is forward
motion, the progression of technology, and a revitalization of
how we power our lives.
is transformation comes to life in our agencys new Green
Revolution video series. ese videos show how researchers use
tomorrows science and engineering innovations to make our
world cleaner and more e cient.
Learn how engineers in Massachusetts redene transportation
and its place in the community.
Discover how microbiologists in Pennsylvania use dirty water to
generate electricity.
www.nsf.gov/green_revolution
e National Science Foundation (NSF) is
an independent federal agency that supports
fundamental research and education.
DV0710NSFAD1A_WC 27 5/14/10 12:37:12 AM
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y
T O Y S
OWI T3
If you are tired of buying batteries,
perhaps its time to play with the power
of the sun. OWIs new T3 transforms
into three different toysa standing
robot, a tank, and a vehicle called the
Scorpionall of which are propelled by
solar electricity. A photovoltaic panel,
about one inch square, feeds energy to a
gearbox that turns gears to operate the
vehicles. No batteries required.
Be advised, though, that with its
many small plastic parts and some DIY
wiring, the T3 takes time and patience to
assemble. And, of course, its perfor-
mance suffers if the clouds roll in.
OWI also recently debuted a photo-
voltaic model solar system, complete
with tiny planets orbiting the sun. It even
comes with a set of acrylic paints, just in
case you are not satised with the color
nature provided. A.M.
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Stand Back: Were Going to Try Science
LOOK AROUND YOU
Open your math textbooks to
chapter 3.1415926 and enjoy
the subtle but distinctly British
humor in this straight-faced
send-up of classic classroom
lm strips. Originally a BBC pro-
duction, Look Around You ew
under the radar during its initial
run on BBC America in 2004, but
its 10-minute bursts of absurdity
returned to the States via Adult
Swim in 2009. In this rst Ameri-
can DVD release of the show, you
will discover the secrets of sulfur,
math, iron, and more. Step into
a laboratory where scientists
toss out their instruments after
a single use, where a tissue will
block magnetic elds, and where
drinking a sulfur and champagne
mixture called sulphagne lets
you shoot deadly lasers from
your eyes. But please, dont try
these experiments at home.
Release date: July 20.
ANDREW MOSEMAN
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B O O K S
THE POWERS THAT BE
BY SCOTT L. MONTGOMERY
(UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS)
Worldwide demand for energy
continues to soar, driven by the
emerging industrial economies of
China and India. This exhaustive yet
accessible look at the global energy
supply weighs the future of fossil
fuels and carefully considers the
alternatives. Colliding social, politi-
cal, and environmental concerns
make comprehensive solutions to
our power predicament difcult, but
Montgomery, a geologist, is certain
of one thing: We are all in this
together, and notions of achieving
genuine energy independence are
pure horse pucky.
FOUR FISH
BY PAUL GREENBERG (PENGUIN PRESS)
Salmon, bass, cod, and tuna
through this troubled quartet of
dinner-table mainstays, journalist
Greenberg skillfully tells the tale of
how the worlds sheries got to be
in such a precarious state. Today
nearly all the salmon on grocery
shelves is farmed, and the popula-
tion of the wild variety is four to
ve times lower than it was before
the Industrial Revolution. But
Greenberg is no downtrodden pes-
simist. He highlights ways to save
these four sh, such as making
cod shermen more like herd-
ers managing particular swaths of
water where they have an incentive
not to drive the population too low.
Fish, Greenberg argues, require
absolutely no input from us in order
to continue, other than restraint.
BLIND DESCENT
BY JAMES M. TABOR (RANDOM HOUSE)
Self-styled supercavers endure
grueling physical challenges and
the constant threat of death to
explore our planets dark, wet
labyrinths. Vivid descriptions of
geological marvels add color to this
account of two elite spelunkers
American Bill Stone and his rival,
Ukrainian Alexander Klimchouk
competing to nd the deepest cave
in the world. But it is the astonish-
ing nerve and obsession of the men
and their teams that drive the story,
which ends in 2004 with a decisive
victory for one of them.
THE ARTIFICIAL APE
BY TIMOTHY TAYLOR
(PALGRAVE MACMILLAN)
We humans, despite our weak
muscles, fragile bones, and infan-
tile helplessness, came to rule
the earth. How? Archaeologist and
evolutionary scientist Taylor argues
that biology alone is not enough to
explain it. When our ape ancestors
rst fashioned tools, technology
took over as the driving force in
human evolution, propelling us to
success. Without our artifacts, Tay-
lor writes, we are utterly hopeless.
Yet with them, we are the planets
dominant force. ELI SE MARTON & A.M.
26 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710HOTSCI2A_WC 26 5/12/10 10:16:54 PM
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The Brain by Carl Zimmer
A blow to the head can change the neural architecture of the
brain from elastic to brittle, with devastating consequences.
E
very spring the National Football League conducts that
most cherished of American rituals, the college draft. A couple
of months before the event, prospective players show off their
abilities in an athletic audition known as the combine. Last winters
combine was different from that of previous years, though. Along
with the traditional 40-yard dashes and bench presses, the latest
crop of aspirants also had to log time in front of a computer, try-
ing to solve a series of brainteasers. In one test, Xs and Os were
sprinkled across the computer screen as the athletes took a test
that measured how well they could remember the position of each
letter. In another, words like red and blue appeared on the screen in
different colors. The football players had to press a key as quickly
as possible if the word matched its color.
These teasers are not intended to help coaches make their draft
picks. They are for the benet of the players themselvesor, to
be more precise, for the benet of the players gray matter. Under
pressure from Congress, the N.F.L. is taking steps to do a better
job of protecting its players from brain damage. The little computer
challenges that the draft candidates had to solve measure some
of the brains most crucial functions, such as its ability to hold
several pieces of information at once. Given the nature of foot-
ball, it is extremely likely that a number of this years draft picks
will someday suffer a head injury on the eld. After that happens,
N.F.L. doctors will give them the same tests again. By comparing
the new results with the baseline scores recorded just before the
draft, the doctors will get a clearer sense of how badly the football
players have damaged their brains and what degree of caution to
take during recovery.
The N.F.L.s sudden interest in neuroscience is just the latest
sign that we, as a society, are nally taking brain injuries more seri-
ously. Its about time. Neurologists estimate that every year more
than a million people suffer brain injuries in
the United States alonenot just from foot-
ball mishaps, but also from car crashes, falls
down stairs, and many other kinds of acci-
dents. And that gure is probably a serious
underestimate, because many brain injuries
go undiagnosed. It is easy to believe that if
you feel ne after a fall, then you must truly
be ne, but even so-called mild brain inju-
ries can have devastating consequences.
Peoples personalities may shift so they can
no longer hold down their job or maintain
their marriage. Sometimes mild brain inju-
ries even lead to dementia.
This hidden epidemic of brain injury is not
only tragic but also strange and mysterious.
Brains dont fail in obvious ways, as bones
do when they snap or skin does when it
rips. Scientists are only now starting to dis-
cover the subtle damage that occurs when
the brain is injured: It gets disturbed down
to its individual molecules.
The brain oats in a sealed chamber of
ce re brospinal uid, like a sponge in a jar of water. If you quickly sit
down in a chair, you accelerate your brain. The force you generate
can cause it to swirl around and shift its shape inside the brain-
case. The brain is constantly twisting, stretching, and squashing
within your head. Given the delicacy of the organa living brain
has the consistency of custardit is amazing that we manage to
get to the end of each day without suffering severe damage.
Douglas Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair
at the University of Pennsylvania, has been running experiments
for the past decade to understand how we are able to survive such
regular assaults. Smith builds miniature brains by growing live rat
neurons on a stretchable membrane attached to a custom-built
metal plate. Roughly the size of a postage stamp, the plate is
lined with microscopic grooves crossing a exible strip of silicone
that runs across the middle. As the neurons grow on each side,
they sprout long branches, called axons, which creep down the
grooves to make contact with neurons growing on the other side
in order to transmit electric signals between them.
Once the axons have matured, Smith and his colleagues shoot
the metal plates with carefully controlled puffs of air. They direct the
puffs at the silicone strip, which stretches in response. In the
process, the air delivers a sudden force to the axons as well.
Smith and his colleagues then observe the axons to see how they
handle the assault.
It turns out that axons are remarkably elastic. They can stretch
out slowly to twice their ordinary length and then pull back again
without any harm. Axons are stretchy due in part to their exible
internal skeleton. Instead of rigid bones, axons are built around
structural elements, mostly bundles of laments called microtu-
bules. When an axon stretches, these microtubules can slide past
Motor vehicle
crashes cause
nearly 300,000
traumatic brain
injuries in the
United States
each year.
28 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
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DISCOVER PRESENTS
ORIGINS
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Io IImc!css qucsIIons. A !ongago
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Who came before us? How did we get here? Where do we come from?
ON NEWSSTANDS JUNE 29
DV0710SIPAD1A_WC 29 5/14/10 10:24:09 PM
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BLOGS.DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
RECENTLY ON
THE LOOM
The X-Womans
Finger Bone
Does a 40,000-
year-old pinkie bone come
from an entirely new species
of early hominid? Carl Zimmer
stirs the debate.
RECENTLY ON
BAD
ASTRONOMY
The Milky Way
Erupts
With Cold Dust
Phil Plait marvels at dazzling
new infrared images from
the orbital Planck telescope
that reveal the dusty gran-
deur of our galaxy.
RECENTLY ON
COSMIC
VARIANCE
Violating
Parity With
Quarks and Gluons
When the particle collider at
Brookhaven Lab smashed
together gold nuclei, the
resultant quark-gluon plasma
displayed some odd proper-
ties. Sean Carroll explains.
RECENTLY ON
THE
INTERSECTION
Evolution of
The Intersection
Sheril Kirshenbaum
announces her move to
Austin, Texasand the blogs
new focus on the science
and policy of energy.
C HE C K OUT
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DISCOVER Welcomes Three New Blogs
We are delighted to announce that our blog collective is growing. Meet our three new additions:
PHOTO GALLERY
Tide and Wave Power Gets a Big Debut
Meet the four machines that could make
Scotland the Saudi Arabia of marine energy.
discovermagazine.com/web/marine-energy
PHOTO GALLERY
The Hubble You Dont Know
The Hubble Space Telescope has captured
what are now some of the most famous
images in astronomy. But youve seen those
over and over. Here we present a selection
of the Hubbles slightly less famousbut still
gorgeouscontributions.
discovermagazine.com/web/hubble
WEB EXCLUSIVE
The Rugby Match at the Bottom of the World
What do the scientists and staff at Antarcticas research stations do to relax on a Sunday afternoon?
Play a erce game of rugby on the frozen ocean, of course.
discovermagazine.com/web/rugby
SLIDE SHOW
How New York City Could
Hold Back the Tides
Climate change is expected to raise sea levels, making
low-lying coastal cities vulnerable to the sloshing waves.
Luckily, New York City architects are already thinking
about how to protect the metropolis.
discovermagazine.com/web/newyorksealevel
Not Exactly Rocket Science,
by Ed Yong, takes a lively look
at the biggest biology news of
the day, balancing infectious
enthusiasm with seasoned
skepticism.
blogs.discovermagazine.com/
notrocketscience
Gene Expression, by Razib
Khan, brings clear-eyed and
sharp-minded analysis to
topics ranging from genetics
to behavioral economics.
blogs.discovermagazine.com/
gnxp
Visual Science, by DISCOVER
magazine photo director
Rebecca Horne, showcases
compelling scientic
photography and art.
blogs.discovermagazine.com/
visualscience
DV0710WEBTOC1A_WC 26 5/5/10 8:32:06 PM
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one another. If the movement is gradual,
the microtubules will immediately slide
back into place after the stretching stops,
with no harm done.
If Smith delivers a quick, sharp puff of air,
however, something else entirely happens.
Instead of recoiling smoothly, the axon
develops kinks. Over the next 40 minutes,
the axon gradually returns to its regular
shape, but after an hour a series of swell-
ings appears. Each swelling may be up to
50 times as wide as the normal diameter of
the axon. Eventually the axon falls apart.
These kinks form, Smith believes, when
microtubules are stretched so rapidly that
they snap. The broken laments can no
longer slide neatly back over one another
and instead bunch up, causing the kinks.
Normally, enzymes inside neurons are
constantly taking apart microtubules and
building new ones with the recycled parts.
But now the enzymes attack the broken
ends of the microtubules, causing the inter-
nal structure of the axon to dissolve. With
the microtubules turning to mush, the axon
begins to relax and lose its kinks. The axons
look fairly normal, but they are catastrophi-
cally damaged.
Microtubules do more than give neurons
their structure. They also serve as a kind
of cellular railway network. Proteins travel
from one end of a neuron to the other by
moving along microtubules. If microtu-
bules break, the result is much like what
happens when a railroad track is dam-
aged. The proteins pile up, and these traf-
c jams produce the swellings in the axons
that Smith sees in his experiments. The
swellings get so big that they eventually
rupture , tearing the axon apart and spew-
ing out damaged proteins.
Smiths ndings could shed light on a
common but puzzling brain trauma known
as diffuse axonal injury. This happens when
people experience sudden accelerations to
the brainfrom a bombs shock waves, for
example, or from whiplash in a car crash.
Very often the acceleration causes people
to lose consciousness. In serious cases it
can lead to trouble with cognitive tasks,
such as deciding whether the word red is
actually printed in red. When pathologists
perform autopsies on people with diffuse
axonal injury, they see severed axons with
swollen tips, just like what Smith sees in
his experiments.
Smiths research also suggests that
even mild shocks to the brain can cause
serious harm. If he hit his axons with gentle
puffs of air, they didnt swell and break.
Nevertheless, there was a major change in
their molecular structure. Axons create the
electric current that allows them to send
signals by drawing in negatively charged
sodium atoms. A moderate stretch to an
axon, Smith recently found, causes the
sodium channels to malfunction. In order
to keep the current owing, the trauma-
tized axons start to build more channels.
Smith suspects that such a mended axon
may be able to go on working, but only
in a very frail state. Another stretcheven
a moderate onecan cause the axon to
go haywire. Its additional sodium chan-
nels now malfunction, and the axon tries
to compensate by creating even more
channels. But these channels are now
so defective that they start letting in posi-
tively charged calcium atoms. The calcium
atoms activate enzymes that destroy the
gates that slow the ow of sodium through
the channels, so now even more sodium
rushes inand then more calcium, in a
runaway feedback loop. The axon dies
like a shorted-out circuit.
This slower type of axon death may
happen when someone suffers mild but
repeated brain injuries, exactly the kind that
football players experience as they crash
into each other in game after game. Cogni-
tive tests like the ones at this years N.F.L.
combine can pinpoint the mental troubles
that come with dysfunctional or dying
axons. There is precious little research to
indicate how long a football player should
be sidelined in order to let his brain recover,
though, and Smiths experiments dont
offer much comfort. Preliminary brain stud-
ies show that axons are still vulnerable even
months after an initial stretch.
Once a person does sustain a brain inju-
ry, there is not a lot doctors can do. They
can open a hole in the skull if pressure in
the brain gets too high. But they have no
drugs to treat the actual damage. Some
30 compounds have made it into phase 3
trials in humans, only to fail.
The latest research could point scien-
tists to more effective treatments. Smith,
for example, recently found that the anti-
cancer drug taxol can stabilize the micro-
tubules in neurons, protecting them from
catastrophic disassembly after a sharp
shock. Now that we know the damage to
the brain happens at the molecular level,
we may find a cure for the injured brain
waiting there as well.
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DV0710BRAIN2A_WC 31 5/11/10 9:20:09 PM
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Vital Signs by Anna Reisman
An older woman suffering from delirium
teaches a doctor to challenge rst impressions.
Y
our admission is Evelyn Warwick, little old lady in distress.
The emergency room resident motioned toward a curtained
area at the far end of the ward. Completely delirious.
Got it, I said. At the time I was a medical resident at a New
York City public hospital, supervising an intern and a medical stu-
dent. I knew that delirium, an acute confusional state, could result
from just about any type of acute illness, or it could be a side effect
of medication. And yet, I explained to my team, you could often
guess the cause simply from the type of patient.
We all agreed about Mrs. Warwicks probable diagnosis. An
elderly woman with delirium at a public city hospital was likely
to be a nursing home patient with pneumonia or a urinary tract
infection. She might be dehydrated, or maybe shed had a stroke
or a heart attack.
When I pulled back the curtain, I did a double take. Evelyn War-
wick was a handsome woman with a neat gray bob like an elemen-
tary school principal, not a typical city hospital patient. Her pink
pajamas glowed against the starched white sheets. Mr. Warwick,
a silver-haired man in a tweed jacket, stroked her forehead with
a damp cloth.
I introduced myself and the team and asked how she was
feeling. She opened her watery blue eyes and stared far into the
distance. I dont know where I am! she murmured in a clipped
British accent. I woke up and my head exploded. She looked
around the room in a panic and started to weep. Where am I?
Whats all this?
Her husband patted her hand. We were on the QE2, darling.
Four days at sea since we left Southampton. We docked in New
York yesterday, remember? You woke up in the hotel. You were
so upset. Mrs. Warwick closed her eyes and sighed.
At 3 in the morning, she bolted up and woke me in a fright, her
husband continued. She didnt know where she was.
She had no medical history of note and took only a daily vitamin.
She didnt drink, Mr. Warwick told us, no more than a glass of white
wine with dinner. Except for a mild fever and a slightly rapid heart
rate, her physical exam was normal. Her blood and urine tests, so
far, were unremarkable: she wasnt anemic, her electrolytes were
ne, and she wasnt dehydrated. An electrocardiogram showed no
evidence of a heart attack. Shed had a normal chest X-ray, and a
CT scan of her brain hadnt shown any sign of a stroke or tumor.
The initial results of her spinal tap were normal too.
I laid my hand on hers, which was warm and sweaty and jittery,
and asked her if she had felt any different in the last few days. Her
eyes popped open and darted back and forth. I dont know, I
dont know where I am! she said, her face creased with worry.
Youre at a hospital, I reminded her. Were going to help you
feel better, I promise.
Mr. Warwick scratched his head. She did say she felt a little
under the weather. Nothing out of the ordinary. He watched his
wife turn her head from side to side and ask again where she was.
Last night we had a late dinner at the hotel, he told me. She
had some broth, a little salad, half a glass of wine. She didnt have
much appetite, a bit of a headache. Didnt think much of it, after
such a long journey.
So far, her symptoms and test results hadnt given up any clues.
I left the room, hoisted a few textbooks over to the doctors station,
and started to read. Wed ruled out the most common causes of
delirium, but I wanted to make sure I wasnt missing anything.
Then I came upon a syndrome Id never heard of before:
transient global amnesia. TGA, I read, usually occurs in older
people and often produces a brief period of anterograde amnesia,
the inability to form new memories. Patients often ask about the
date and place again and again, and they sometimes experience
headache and nausea. Even though TGA is rareeach year, it
affects up to 32 per 100,000 people over age 50and is typically
brought on by strenuous activity, I realized it might explain Mrs.
Warwicks symptoms. Maybe the long voyage had been too much
for a 65-year-old woman. If this really was TGA, she should be
better within 24 hours.
I paged my intern and student and we went to get a snack from
the vending machines. I told them about TGA and they agreed
that the diagnosis made sense. But when we got back to the ER,
a nurse waved us over urgently. I just paged you, she said. Mrs.
Warwicks temperature spiked to 103 and shes hallucinating, very
agitated. I dont know where the husband is.
We rushed back to the bedside. So much for transient glob-
al amnesia. Mrs. Warwick was thrashing around on the bed as
though possessed. Sweat poured down her face, and her blood
pressure had skyrocketed. She just pulled out her IV, the nurse
explained. She needs restraints, OK?
Fine. My heart thudded in my ears. I couldnt think. Mrs. War-
wick cursed and hollered gibberish as the nurse wrapped restraints
around her wrists and tied them to the bedrails.
Someone was tapping my shoulder. Shouldnt we give her
some benzos? Jeff, the medical student, was asking. I took a
deep breath and refocused. I explained that in most cases of
delirium, benzodiazepinesantianxiety medicines that include
diazepam (Valium)can actually worsen symptoms. Instead, I
asked the nurse to give her haloperidol (Haldol), an antipsychotic
that can safely calm a delirious patient.
The Haldol wouldnt take effect for at least 30 minutes. I feared
that Mrs. Warwick would go into cardiac arrest or have an arrhyth-
mia or a stroke or be overwhelmed by infection, and I didnt know
what else to do. We were going nowhere with our diagnoses while
my patient was plummeting downhill.
Leah, the intern, interrupted my frantic thoughts. I keep think-
ing this looks like DT, she said. Though I know it cant be
DT is an abbreviation for delirium tremens, a life-threatening state
that affects 5 percent of people withdrawing from alcohol. People
with DT are disoriented, sweaty, and febrile, and they sometimes
hallucinate. Dangerous cardiac arrhythmias and respiratory failure
can lead to death. A century ago, 37 percent of people with DT
died; nowadays, due to better treatment, it is about 5 percent.
32 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710VITAL2B1,2_WC 32 5/14/10 12:55:08 AM
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You cant have DT with one glass of wine a day, I said, my
mind furiously trying to piece things together.
Mr. Warwick walked back in at that moment. He was shocked
to nd his wife tied to the bed, wailing. He demanded to know
what was going on. I gulped and hoped what I was about to say
wouldnt offend him. I know you said your wife didnt drink much,
but she looks like she might be withdrawing from alcohol. Is it pos-
sible that she drinks more than you told us?
He stared at me, his face blank, and I started to apologize. But
then he lifted a hand. Truth is, she drinks a lot. Tears formed in
his eyes. Much more in the last three years, since she retired. She
drinks when Im at work. She thinks its a secret. I thought shed
stop on the cruise, since wed be together all the time. I didnt
know stopping could make her so ill.
Now things were starting to make sense. So she was drink-
ing a lot, and then on the cruise she was having only one drink
a day, for the last four days. I was thinking out loud. She felt
poorly because she was starting to go into alcohol withdrawal.
And now shes in delirium tremens.
I turned to my team and the nurse. We need to get benzos on
boardnow.
The nurse hurried off, and the medical student looked confused.
But you said they were dangerous in delirium.
I explained that in alcohol withdrawal syndromes, benzodiaz-
epines can be lifesaving. Neurons in the brain strive to maintain a
balance (homeostasis) between sedation and excitement. There
are two main types of neurotransmitters involved. GABA is inhibi-
tory and causes sedation; glutamate, its opposite, is excitatory.
Specic receptors on the neurons detect GABA (the GABA recep-
tor) and glutamate (the NMDA receptor). Alcohol is sensed through
the GABA receptor. Like GABA, it enhances sedation. In a chronic
drinker, the presence of all that sedating alcohol in the body means
that the neurons dont need so many GABA receptors. They cut
down on those and create more excitatory NMDA receptors.
When a chronic drinker abruptly stops drinking, the balance is
thrown off. With fewer inhibiting GABA receptors and more excit-
atory NMDA/glutamate receptors, the neurons become overstim-
ulated. In mild alcohol withdrawal, a person will become jittery,
anxious, and irritable; in DT, the persons system will go haywire.
Benzodiazepines, like alcohol, work at the GABA receptor and
induce a sedated and safer state. The benzodiazepines can then
be tapered off gradually while the brain resets its balance.
When Mrs. Warwick left the hospital ve days later, she was back
to normal, minus any plans to drink alcohol ever again. Scared
straight, the medical student remarked after the Warwicks headed
back to England. That would be great, I told him, but I knew she
would probably drink again if she didnt seek help.
The key to preventing DT in any hospitalized patient with a
drinking problem is giving benzodiazepines as soon as possible.
But doing so depends on our ability to recognize a patient at risk.
Too often we overlook the diagnosis in people who dont look
like alcoholicsespecially older women, up to 8 percent of whom
have an alcohol problem.
Sometimes a missed drink, whether missed by the drinker or by
the doctor, can be a matter of life and death.
Anna Reisman is an internist in West Haven, Connecticut. The
cases described in Vital Signs are real, but names and certain details
have been changed. V
E
E
R
Mrs. Warwick was
thrashing around on the
bed as though
possessed. Sweat poured
down her face, and
her blood pressure had
skyrocketed. She
just pulled out her IV, the
nurse explained.
She needs restraints.
JULY/AUGUST 2010 | 33
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Mercury marches across the
sun in this time-lapse photo
taken during the planets
2003 transit. If anything
orbits the sun more closely
than Mercury does, it is too
small to see this way.
Invsible
Astronomers are ramping up
their 400-year search for planets,
asteroids, rubbleanything
in the solar systems last remaining
swath of empty real estate.
B Y P H I L P L A I T
DV0710PLANETOIDS4A_WC 34 5/7/10 8:30:52 PM
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The solar system is a crowded place.
Everywhere we look theres something zipping past: a
handful of planets, a million asteroids, a trillion comets,
countless bits of uff and dust. With a big enough tele-
scope and adequate time and patience, there is almost
nowhere you can x your eyes without seeing something.
Almost nowhere.
There is one puzzling region in our solar system that
appears to be empty, even though it should easily be
able to support thousands of objects in stable orbits. It
is not far away; situated inside Mercurys orbit, it is much
closer to Earth than Jupiter ever gets. It is not poorly lit;
the nearby sun blazes with erce intensity. Nor is it a par-
ticularly small region, measuring millions of miles across.
And yet no resident planet, asteroid, or what-have-you
has been seen there.
A few determined astronomersincluding Alan Stern,
until recently the associate administrator for NASAs Sci-
ence Mission Directoratebelieve the emptiness may be
an illusion. Objects that formed in that inner zone during
the early days of the solar system could still survive there
billions of years later. Comets or asteroids shifted by the
planets gravity could wander into this area, only to nd
themselves permanently entrapped by the suns intense
pull. New images of Mercury show it to have been mer-
cilessly pummeled by small objects, implying that the
space between it and the sun once was, and potentially
still is, occupied by as-yet-unseen bodies. Above all, every
single other stable zone in the solar system is occupied.
Why should there be one glaring exception?
As it turns out, trying to get a census of this area is
tougher than you might think. Every effort has come up
short. But our lack of nding anything there is not for
lack of looking.
The search for a planet interior to Mercury is 400 years
old, almost as old as the telescope itself. In 1611, less
than two years after Galileo began examining the skies,
German astronomer Christoph Scheiner spotted some-
thing silhouetted against the bright disk of the sun. He
thought he might have found the seventh planet (Uranus
and Neptune had not yet been discovered), but it was
later shown to have been a sunspot. Many more mis-
taken observations followed.
In the 1850s the quest for an intra-Mercurial planet
got a major boost when the French mathematician
Urbain Le Verrier announced that Mercury appeared
to be affected by just such a body. His detailed calcula-
tions indicated that the planets orbit slowly but steadily
drifts. The only explanation conceivable at the time was
that Mercury was being perturbed by the gravity of a
smaller object orbiting even closer to the sun.
Many astronomers took up the hunt using the limited
JULY/AUGUST 2010 | 35
DV0710PLANETOIDS4A_WC 35 5/7/10 8:30:59 PM
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telescopes of the day. They even gave the putative new
planet a name: Vulcan, after the Roman god of re, t-
ting for a world whose surface temperature would be hot
enough to melt lead and zinc.
As the decades advanced, telescopes got bigger and
better able to spot small, faint objects. By the turn of
the 20th century, any planet or planetoid inside Mercu-
rys orbiteven a small one just a few hundred miles
acrossshould have been sighted. Trying to observe
near the sun is difcult, but a planet is not exactly an
easy thing to hide. Astronomers conviction that Vulcan
existed began to weaken.
Then Albert Einstein seemingly put an end to the idea
of Vulcan once and for all. To analyze Mercurys orbit,
Le Verrier had relied on Isaac Newtons formulation of
the laws of gravity. Brilliant though he was, Le Verrier
didnt know that gravity actually follows ever-so-slightly
different rules. These rules wouldnt be grasped for many
decades, until Einstein formulated his general theory of
relativity in 1915. The theory had implications for the way
Mercury moves around the sun and, sure enough, Ein-
stein calculated that relativity alone neatly explained the
slow change of its orbit, without the need for an intra-
Mercurial planet.
Story over? Not quite.
The knowledge that objects of some kind could com-
fortably carve out a life between Mercury and the sun was
enough to keep some astronomers wondering. Perhaps
the problem was that people had been thinking too big.
Instead of a planet Vulcan, maybe it made more sense
to look for a whole bunch of Vulcanettes. Or, as scien-
tists have since named the members of this hypothetical
population of asteroid-like objects, vulcanoids.
To refocus the search, the most likely location of these
objects had to be pinpointed. A big planet would have
been relatively obvious, but perhaps smaller bodies could
hide in the glare of the sun. Any object that strayed too
close to the solar furnace would vaporize over the lifetime
of the solar system, like a marshmallow held too close to
a campre. On the other hand, any object whose orbit
took it too close to Mercury would be affected by that
planets gravity. Over several million years, Mercurys pull
could boost such a body out of the hot zone or even steal
enough energy from it to plunge it into the sun.
These limitations define a ring of space that starts
about 6.5 million miles from the sun and extends out to
just under 20 million milesan area comprising about
1 quadrillion square miles. An object orbiting in that
Goldilocks region could survive billions of years. But sitting
securely in that stable zone between Mercury and the sun
is not quite enough to guarantee a decent life span for a
vulcanoid. There is also the matter of size.
Vulcanoids have a lower size limit, because very small
things (think grains of dust) would be swept clean out
of the innermost solar system by the wind of subatomic
particles blowing off the suns surface. Even light itself
exerts pressure, and anything smaller than a few hundred
yards across would be long gone from the inner solar
system by now. There is an upper size limit as well. The
bigger the object, the brighter it would appear from Earth.
Anything beeer than about 40 miles across would have
been found by now. Astronomers dont see such things,
so they must not be there.
By the middle to late 20th century, these upper and
lower bounds for both size and location were well dened.
A new generation of astronomers could get serious about
the search for vulcanoidsa search that has now heated
up all over again.
The difculty in hunting for vulcanoids, if they exist at
all, is that they orbit so close to the sun. From our van-
tage point 93 million miles out, a vulcanoid would never
wander more than 12 degrees from the sun in the sky, so
it would be swallowed up by the glare. The only hope of
nding one would be to observe it just after sunset or just
before sunrise, when the sun is slightly below the horizon
and the hypothetical vulcanoid is slightly above.
That is a very thin slice of time, mere minutes long,
Above: Mercurys
battered surface
suggests that it
was pelted by
small objects
that once orbited
between it and
the sun. Right:
Shaded area
indicates the
region where
some of those
bodies, known as
vulcanoids, could
still be hiding.
N
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Vulcanoid
zone
Mercury
Venus
Sun
36 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710PLANETOIDS4A_WC 36 5/7/10 8:31:02 PM
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making any search extremely challenging. And the sky
is bright enough at that moment to easily wash out the
feeble light from the target. (Observations during total
solar eclipses fare no better, for the same reason.) Look-
ing near the horizon means peering out through miles
of Earths turbulent, hazy, and sometimes polluted
atmosphere, which would blur and dim the vulcanoids
appearance even more.
Searching for vulcanoids is a Herculean task, but one
that a few scientists have gladly taken on. Stern, now at
the Southwest Research Institute, and his collaborator Dan
Durdaboth friends and colleagues of minehave been
peering carefully at the hot desert between the sun and
Mercury for more than a decade. I didnt think it would be
a 10- or 12-year quest, Stern says wryly. But were going
to chase them down to the ground. Were going to nd
them or eliminate the possibility that theyre there.
Recognizing the difculties imposed by atmospheric
interference, Stern and Durda took the search in a new
direction: up above most of Earths atmosphere. They
built a special camera and in 2002 ew with it on an F-18
ghter jet at 49,000 feet, where the sky is much clearer.
It was a valiant effort, but unfortunately at that height the
sky is still too bright to nd vulcanoidseven at twilight,
when they tried.
Earth-orbiting spacecraft might seem the next obvious
vantage point. However, even from 300 miles above the
surface of our planet, the search would still be nearly
impossible. In a space shuttle orbiting at ve miles per
second, for example, the period between sunset and
the time any vulcanoids would dip below the rim of the
Earth can be measured in seconds. Putting a dedicated
spacecraft in orbit would be prohibitively expensive, as
well. And so this approach was abandoned.
Space probes beyond Earth orbit, designed for other
uses, have been tasked with the vulcanoid search. The
Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a NASA spacecraft
launched in February to monitor the suns magnetic activ-
ity, should be able to spot any objects at the upper end of
the size range. It has taken a preliminary look but found
nothing, Stern says, narrowing the search to smaller bod-
ies. Messenger, another NASA craft that will settle into
orbit around Mercury in March 2011, has been scanning
for vulcanoids too. So has the Solar Terrestrial Relations
Observatory, or Stereo, a pair of satellites tagging along
with Earth in its orbit around the sunone just ahead of
our planet, one just behind. Designed in part to examine
the space around the sun for the effects of massive solar
eruptions, Stereo is a good platform from which to search
for the brighter end of the potential vulcanoid population.
Stern, Durda, and a few colleagues have calculated that
the twin satellites would be able to detect vulcanoids as
small as 1.5 to 4 miles in diameter, but they havent found
any so far. These results are disappointing, Durda says,
but we havent given up hope yet.
The best hope may now rest on a new method of
reaching the limits of our atmosphere. If airplanes are
too low and satellites move too quickly to make an
effective search tool, then how about a compromise?
Enter suborbital rocket ights.
In the next few years, Virgin Galactic and other private
companies will begin carrying passengers aboard small
vehicles upward of 60 miles above Earth. Paying custom-
ers will see the arc of our planets rim and black skies and
will experience three minutes of free fall before returning
to the ground. Such a ight is nearly perfect for vulcanoid
hunting. The dark skies at that height should allow even
faint vulcanoids to be spotted. The three-minute window
of opportunity may seem short, but it is long enough for a
sensitive camera to nd potential vulcanoids down to 0.6
mile in diametermuch better than Stereo, Messenger,
or SDO can do. And the price tag of $200,000 per ticket
is a bargain compared with the alternatives.
Stern and Durda certainly think so. They have tickets to
ride, and they plan on using these ights to carry a spe-
cially designed camera to the edge of space. In a single
ight their instrument should be able to observe up to a
third of the volume of space where vulcanoids may exist,
substantially increasing the odds of nding some of these
objects. If they do nd any vulcanoids, the astronomers
will also be able to characterize this long-sought popula-
tion: How many are there? How close to the sun do they
orbit? What is their distribution in size?
There is another intriguing question lingering in all this:
After coming up empty time and again, why do astrono-
mers like Stern and Durda continue the search for vul-
canoids? Many of their colleagues consider the whole
project a bit quixotic. Nobody wants to study something
that doesnt exist, Stern admits.
But the solar system has surprised us before. Astrono-
mers thought the space between Mars and Jupiter was
empty until Giuseppe Piazzi spotted Ceres, the rst aster-
oid discovery, in 1801. Now it is estimated that there are
millions of rocks orbiting there. Icy comets orbiting beyond
Neptune were pure speculation until the rst of these Kui-
per belt objects turned up in the 1990sand there may be
millions of them, too. Both discoveries revealed a lot about
how planetary systems form and evolve.
Also, astronomers are eternally curious. Absence
of evidence, as Carl Sagan noted, is not evidence of
absence. But even the nding of nothing in this cosmic
desert would provide clues about the solar systems
behavior. If it turns out that one (and only one) orbital
niche of the solar system is completely empty, that dis-
covery would be important. Maybe the sun inuences
this region in ways we havent conceived. Perhaps it is
harder to achieve stable orbits inside Mercury or more
difcult to move objects there than originally thought.
Such information could tell us a lot about possible plan-
ets around other stars as well.
There is also the simple thrill of pushing boundaries.
I love a frontier, Stern says. The idea that we could
discover the remnants of an asteroid belt interior to Mer-
curys orbit is scientically seductive: a whole new class
of objects in the solar system.
And if he and Durda do nd them? Im dying to name
one of them Spock.
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Seemingly random attacks
contain an unexpected
regularity: the same numerical
pattern seen in Wall Street
booms and busts.
By Andrew Curry
Illustrations by Tavis Coburn
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ince the 1960s, the mountains of southern Colombia have been home to a war
between the government and a leftist guerrilla movement known as the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The conict has simmered for decades. Sometimes
it ares up in battles with government forces, a terror bombing, or a particularly high-
prole kidnapping. Sometimes it fades into the background as cease-res or negotiations
quiet the hostilities. FARC has been ghting for so long that the war has become almost
like background noise, says Neil Johnson, a University of Miami physicist who travels
to Colombia every year to visit his wifes family. Even locals have become numb to the
conict. Theres this war going on, but I didnt think too much of it. You hear numbers
S
of dead every day, like football results, Johnson says. It
took me 10 years to realize that maybe there was impor-
tant information hidden in those numbers.
Johnson, who specializes in the study of complexity,
is one of a new breed of physicists turning their analyti-
cal acumen away from subatomic particles and toward a
bewildering array of more immediate human problems,
from trafc management to urban planning. It turns out
that subatomic particles and people are not that different,
he explains. The properties of individual electrons have
been known for many years, but when they get together
as a group they do bizarre thingsmuch like stock trad-
ers, who have more in common with quarks and gluons
than you might think. So profound is the connection that
quants (quantitative analysts, often with backgrounds in
physics or engineering) have ocked to Wall Street, cre-
ating elaborate models based on the way markets have
moved in the past. ArXiv, a clearinghouse
for physics research papers, includes an
entire section on quantitative nance.
Still, it was not until a chance 2001
meeting in Bogot with Mike Spagat, an
economist at Royal Holloway College,
University of London, that Johnson con-
sidered modeling something as human as
warfare. Spagat had a Colombian Ph.D.
student named Jorge Restrepo who was
gathering data on attacks and death
tolls, provided by the nonprot Center for
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swing, he and his collaborators had an obvious second test.
In 2005, using data gleaned from sources like the Iraq Body
Count project and iCasualties, a Web site that tracks U.S.
military deaths, they crunched the numbers on the size and
frequency of attacks by Iraqi insurgents. Not only did the
data t a power curve, but the shape of that curve was nearly
identical to the one describing the Colombian conict.
Around that time, a Santa Fe Institute computer scientist
named Aaron Clauset was applying the same approach
to what seemed like a distinctly different problem. Rather
than looking at specic guerrilla movements, Clauset was
examining total deaths caused by global terrorist attacks
since 1968. When he plotted nearly 30,000 incidents on
a graph, they formed a curve to the power of 2.38. (The
power number is negative because it reects a decrease
rather than an increase in the number of events as death
tolls rise.) With its characteristic downward slope, the
curve was eerily similar to those generated by Johnson
and Spagat for Colombia and Iraq.
To rule out coincidence, Johnson, Spagat, and University
of Oxford physicist Sean Gourley gathered data on nine oth-
er insurgencies. One after another, the curves clicked into
place: Perus Shining Path guerrilla movement: a curve with
a power of 2.4. The Indonesian campaign against rebels
in East Timor from 1996 to 2001: 2.5. The Palestinian sec-
ond intifada: 2.55. Fighting against Afghanistans Taliban
from 2001 to 2005: 2.44. By contrast, traditional conicts
in which two armies squared off against each other (such
as the Spanish and American civil wars) yielded graphs
that looked a lot more like bell curves than power curves.
Although the politics, religion, funding, motives, and strate-
gies of the insurgencies varied, the power trends did not.
In an age of biological weapons and dirty nukes, the
implications are chilling. Although truly massive power-law
eventslike the Great Depression or killer stormsare
drastically less common than smaller disruptions, they still
occur. In the normal distribution of a bell curve, you never
get such extremes, but the pattern underlying the power
curve enables a few rare events of extraordinary magnitude.
One might use the math to argue that the 9/11 attack that
killed more than 2,700 people in New York City was bound
to happen. And there is ample reason to believe that an
even bigger one is on the way, sooner or later .
For Johnson, a Cambridge- and Harvard-educated phys-
icist who has studied stock markets and other apparently
Investigation and Popular Education, so he could look for
patterns in the conict. Johnson hoped the numbers could
tell them something about how the individual particlesin
this case, insurgents rather than electronsfunctioned
when put together in large groups.
Soon the new team had a database that included more
than 20,000 separate incidents from two and a half decades
of FARC attacks. Johnson and Spagat expected that the
success of the attacks, measured in the number of people
killed, would cluster around a certain gure: There would
be a few small attacks and a few large ones as outliers on
either end, but most attacks would pile up in the middle.
Visually, that distribution forms a bell curve, a shape that
represents everything from height (some very short peo-
ple, some very tall, most American men about 5'10") to
rolls of the dice (the occasional 2 or 12, but a lot of 5s, 6s,
and 7s). Bell curves are called normal distribution curves
because this is how we expect the world to work much of
the time. But the Colombia graph looked completely differ-
ent. When the researchers plotted the number of attacks
along the y, or vertical, axis and people killed along the x,
or horizontal, axis, the result was a line that plunged down
and then levelled off. At the top were lots of tiny attacks;
at the bottom were a handful of huge ones.
That pattern, known as a power law curve, is an extremely
common one in math. It describes a progression in which the
value of a variable (in this case, the number of casualties) is
always ramped up or down by the same exponent, or power,
as in: two to the power of two (2 x 2) equals four, three to the
power of two (3 x 3) equals nine, four to the power of two
(4 x 4) equals 16, and so on. If the
height of Americans were distribut-
ed according to a power law curve
rather than a bell curve, there would
be 180 million people 7 inches tall,
60,000 people towering at 8'11",
and a solitary giant as tall as the
Empire State Building. Although
power laws clearly do not apply to
human height, they show up often
in everyday situations, from income
distribution (billions of people living
on a few dollars a day, a handful
of multibillionaires) to the weather
(lots of small storms, just a few
hurricane Katrinas).
In Colombias case, decades of
news reports conrmed that the
number of attacks formed a line
that sloped down from left to right.
In general, an attack that causes
10 deaths is 316 times as likely as
one that kills 100. The larger the
event, the rarer it is.
At rst the pattern seemed too
clear and simple to be true. Imme-
diately I thought, We need to look
at another war, Johnson says.
With the U.S. invasion of Iraq in full
One might use the math
to argue that the 9/11 attack
was bound to happen. And there
is reason to believe that an even
bigger one is on the way.
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I
unpredictable systems, the power law was familiar territory. Whether in New
York, Tokyo, or London, markets tend to follow the same boom-bust cycles,
with little daily upticks and downticks punctuated every few decades by a
big crash or boom. Markets move every day, but some days they move a
lot, Johnson says. There are different people, different stocks, but that just
seems to be the way people get together and trade.
f physics-based models can predict the behavior of stock mar-
kets, Johnson reasoned, why couldnt they foresee the behavior of insurgents
so that attacks could be prevented? Prediction is the holy grail everyone is
in pursuit of, says Brian Tivnan, a modeling expert at a U.S. Department of
Defensefunded think tank called the Mitre Corp. Tivnan brought Johnsons
work to the attention of Pentagon ofcials. We were very encouraged to see
physicists and mathematicians looking at the data from an apolitical, analytic
perspective, he says.
But if they were going to develop a predictive model, Johnson and his team
would have to gure out what it was about the behavior of insurgents and ter-
rational actors, have access to all the information,
and make the right decisions, Clauset says. A
physicists natural approach is to assume people
are like particles, and their behavior the result of
constraints beyond their control.
Basing their computer models on programs
written to predict all sorts of uctuating phe-
nomena , from traffic flow to stock prices,
John sons team tried to create equations that
reected the behavior of the individual insur-
gents seen in the data. The equations that came
closest involved a soup of conflict groups
of varying strengths, in a constant process of
coalescing and dissolving, Spagat says.
Johnson likens the insurgent groups in his
computer model to a pane of glass that shat-
ters into smaller and smaller splinters with each
hit. The bigger shards are capable of delivering
the deepest, nastiest cuts, but they are also the
easiest to target. The smallest slivers of glass,
on the other hand, might deliver the casualty
equivalent of a pinprick, but there are so many
of them, and they are so hard to spot, that the
total amount of damage they cause stays high.
If the model is correct, then insurgents con-
duct asymmetrical warfare, battling a larger
and better-equipped enemy with a loose network
of ghters lacking central command. However
obvious this seems today, it was a concept that
escaped American military planners when the
fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan began nearly
a decade ago. The insurgents kept the most
powerful military the world has ever seen at bay
for four years, says John Robb, a former Spe-
cial Operations pilot and author of Brave New
War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of
Globalization. Youre not going to defeat them
by killing groups or killing people. You have to
change the entire dynamic. Its a tough lesson
for a lot of military folks to absorb. Indeed, the
harder the U.S. forces hit, the more the insur-
gency shattered into near-invisible shards. By the
time Johnsons paper was published in Nature
last year, the military had learned, through bitter
experience, the futility of ghting insurgents with
traditional tactics. (The military has never pub-
lished on the issue, but Johnson says that strate-
gists have recently heard about his ideas.)
The splintered, disorganized nature of insur-
gencies became still clearer when Johnson and
his colleagues looked at the timing of attacks.
The numbers in Iraq, Colombia, Peru, and
Afghanistan followed similar patterns, with sud-
den bursts of activity, then quiet periods, Spagat
says. If it were random, you would have far few-
er busy days and far fewer quiet days than are
captured in the data. Without a centralized com-
mand to issue orders, there must be something
else behind the clustered timing of attacks.
rorists that made their bloody ngerprints so similar all around the world. They
started by tossing the traditional take on insurgencies out the window.
Conventional counterinsurgency thinking tries to get into the heads of reb-
els by understanding their motivations and methods. Political scientists and
sociologists studying the conicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have emphasized
tribal afliations, nationalism, religion, social networks, and other cultural con-
cerns. Using lessons learned (or perhaps mislearned ) in Vietnam, meanwhile,
Pentagon planners approached these conicts as if they were facing smaller
armies with worse equipment, hoping that if they could knock out the enemys
leadership they would decapitate and demoralize the insurgency.
But these assumptions were off. Guerrilla ghters in Vietnam, like U.S. troops,
answered to a central command; insurgents in Iraq did not. And from a phys-
ics point of view, getting inside an insurgents head was irrelevant. In politi-
cal science literature, human rationality is primary. They assume groups are
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You want to be the only person
making an attack on a given day.
If there are more than a few,
your story gets lost in the system.
Spagat and Johnson argue that the missing element is the
role played by media and other sources of information. For an
insurgent group, a successful strike is not one that does the
most damage, but one that draws the most attention. Media
and publicity are the oxygen of terrorism, says anthropologist
Scott Atran, an expert on terrorism at the National Center for
Scientic Research in Paris. Without them, it would die.
Spagat likens the relationship between the dozens of groups
in Iraq and the media to drivers at rush hour. Much as drivers try
to outguess other drivers to pick the least-traveled route home,
the data suggest that terrorists and insurgents aim to stage their
attacks when they will have the medias undivided attention.
Instead of competition for road space, theres competition for
media space, he says. You want to be the only person making
an attack on a given day. If there are more than a few attacks on
a given day, your story tends to get lost in the system.
But since there is no one to coordinate attacks, the resulting
patterns are bursty, a term used to describe many real-world
events that unfold in short, intense ts. Think of the trafc jams
that seem to come out of nowhere and disappear just as
quickly. They are the product of thousands of drivers with incom-
plete information trying to outguess thousands of other drivers
trying to pick the best route home. Sometimes enough people
will guess wrong and spend two hours sitting on the freeway.
As fascinating as their mathematical patterns are,
Johnson and Spagat remain far from their goal: anticipating
attacks and being able to stop them. Atran says the research-
ers ndings bear out what he has seen during his eldwork
on the psychology of suicide bombers and the importance of
media attention. But that level of understanding is not good
enough. In the end, the math may not explain it all, he contends.
Insurgencies are sui generis; each takes place within its own
social, cultural, and political milieu. Trying to create a unied
model is a fools errand. I dont think there is enough cultural
awareness of what moves people to do what they do.
Cultural context is not something Johnson pays much
attention to. Accustomed to analyzing particles, which are
not known for their reasoning capabilities or complex inner
lives, physicists tend to ignore the why and go straight to the
how. All those questions of why show a lack of understand-
ing, Johnson insists. Whatever the reasons are, this is how
they operate. He has explained this to British and American
military ofcers, Iraqi ofcials, and even security ofcials at the
London Olympics. Insurgents may be doing it for all sorts of
reasons, but the mechanics are what matters.
That kind of talk makes many counterinsurgency analysts
bristle. Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New Ameri-
can Security who led a platoon of Army Rangers in Iraq and
Afghanistan, says that quantitative analysis is a useful tool,
but only when it is sensitive to the complexities of real-life
situations and is coupled with the expertise of someone well
versed in the specic political and religious contexts at hand,
as well as in military strategy. Im turned off by the condence
with which these scholars presented their model, he says. A
little more humility might have been in order.
The complaint has definite resonance in the wake of the
recent nancial crisis, which saw Wall Street quants creating
ostensibly rational models that drove the nancial markets to
the brink of disaster. While academic physicists like Johnson
try to account for the behavior of the traders in their models, the
standard quant approach is based on markets moving at ran-
dom. It is an approach that Johnson is eager to distance himself
from. If you account for human collective behavior, you get
results that are different from the standard quant models, he
says. We started looking at nancial models precisely because
we thought crashes were not properly taken into account. From
a distance the difference can seem academic; to most people, a
computer model is a computer model. Johnson admits he has
had as little luck selling his power law approach to rms on Wall
Street as to traditionalists in the military.
Former Special Operations pilot Robb, an advocate of the
mathematical approach, says the cool reaction to the quan-
titative analysis of terrorism is par for the course. During the
Vietnam War, soldiers blamed the number crunchersthose
informing decisions in the Pentagon based on body counts and
kill ratiosfor the wars bad turn. As a result, a lot of people
think counterinsurgency is very qualitative, very mushy, and
should stay that way. Its almost a mystical thing, Robb says.
Nothing weve done suggests we can predict there will
be an attack in, say, the next two weeks, Spagat freely
concedes. Rather, a physics-inspired insurgency model
can help guide more general decisions. If the data show
that attacks happen in a bursty pattern, it makes sense
to have emergency medical teams able to react to several
attacks at once. And the data offer a rough guide to how big
those attacks might be, based on how theyve looked in the
past. Moreover, he says, if the model is right about modern
insurgencies being a constantly shifting collection of small,
unconnected groups, it would be a useful tool for military
planners trying to nd the most effective tactics. Notable
military research groups such as Mitre and the Pentagons
IED Defeat Organization have met with Johnson and Spagat
to talk about their work. During the course of such meet-
ings, Johnson must counter the ingrained notion that human
behavior is uniquely complex and unpredictable.
Never before have researchers had ready access to
decades worth of social data that could be analyzed, and
never before has it been so easy to nd patterns amid the
complex streams of numbers. As the world learned after the
Wall Street crash, nding patterns is not the same as under-
standing which ones are meaningful and acting on them in a
responsible way. But given the rush of numbers, the analyti-
cal approach of physicists and economistson Wall Street
and now in warwill inevitably keep spreading, Clauset says,
We are entering an era in which social sciences have access
to a wealth of data beyond their wildest dreams.
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THE DARK HUNTER
THE DISCOVER INTERVIEW
ELENA APRILE
Physicist Elena Aprile is
certain that dark matter exists.
She just hasnt found it yet.
BY FRED GUTERL PHOTOGRAPH BY DORON GILD
Dark matter sounds like some phys-
icists tall tale: Theres this invisible
matter, see, and it has this powerful
gravitational effect on galaxies. Thats
why we know it exists. In fact, it out-
weighs ordinary matter by about ve
to one. Problem is, dark matter doesnt
reect or absorb light, so we cant see
it. Oh, and it rarely interacts with con-
ventional atoms, so we cant feel it,
either. However, we know it makes up
a huge part of the universe, so we keep
looking for it.
As mind-bending (and perhaps logic-
challenging) as these ideas may seem,
a lot of physicists are searching for
this elusive matter. Elena Aprile is one
of the leading lights in this dark busi-
ness. She heads a prominent dark mat-
ter experiment called Xenon, which is
based 5,000 feet underground in Italys
Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso,
one of the worlds largest subterra-
nean physics labs. Aprile, who is also
a codirector of Columbia Universitys
Astrophysics Lab, started the project
in 2007 with a detector called Xenon10.
Since then she has upgraded to the more
sensitive Xenon100. I feel proud to have
one of the best instruments in the eld
for detecting dark matter, Aprile says
of Xenon100. But the huge questions
remain: What is dark matter, and how
close are scientists to nding it? Aprile
recently updated DISCOVER on how
things are going in her search for the
missing majority of the universe.
Seriouslywhat is dark matter?
The best answer is that we have no idea. We
know dark matter is there. Weve known it
for more than 70 years. There was a 1933
paper by the Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky
showing that visible matter is only a small
fraction of the universe. Just 18 percent of
the matter in the universe is composed
of the stuff we know. The remaining 82 per-
cent is what we call dark matter. Other dis-
coveries in astronomy have since reinforced
this view that something is missing. We
know dark matter is there, but only from its
gravitational effects. For example, the pres-
ence of dark matter helps explain why our
galaxy is stable. The Milky Way is a disk that
rotates like a merry-go-round. The question
is, what keeps it from ying apart? Gravity, of
course, but there is not enough visible mat-
ter in the galaxy to account for the amount
of gravity needed to hold it together. Thats
why we know that there must be other mat-
ter there that we cant see.
What is dark matter composed of?
We think its made of a type of particle that
doesnt like to interact with normal matter
[protons, neutrons, and other types of par-
ticles] very often. And its very heavy, very
massive. Perhaps as heavy as an entire lead
atom or even heavier. Its probably a relic
particle from the Big Bang, a member of a
family of particles that weve named weakly
interacting massive particles, or WIMPs.
How do we know dark matter consists
of some new kind of particle?
Actually, we might be on the wrong track in
thinking that dark matter is composed of a
fundamentally new type of particle. Thats
why we call it the WIMP miracle. The so-
called standard model of particle physics,
which lays out the way physicists think the
universe works, has deciencies. A lot of
things, a lot of data, dont t. We have the-
ories, such as supersymmetry and extra
dimensions, that have been put forward
to explain the things that are missing from
the standard model or that dont t with the
data we get. Some of the particles pre-
dicted by those theories are natural can-
didates to be dark matter because they
have all the right characteristics. A particle
called the neu tralino, for instance, is a type
of WIMP thats a perfect candidate for dark
matter in part because it doesnt interact
with other particles much, and that would
explain why nobody has yet detected it.
If WIMPS dont interact much with
other particles, how can you nd them?
The way we go about this search is to wait
for a particle of dark matter to come into
contact with our device, which is basi-
cally a pot of liquid xenon [an element
that is used, in gas form, in the very bright
headlights of many new cars] sandwiched
between two detectors. We use xenon
because it is one of the heaviest elements
meaning that each atom contains a
lot of protons and neutronsand that
increases the odds that dark matter will
interact with it. Whenever that happens,
whenever a WIMP gets stuck in there, the
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xenon displays some remarkable proper-
ties. There will be a ash or scintillation of
ultraviolet light. You cant see it with the
naked eye, so to detect this light, we have
178 extremely sensitive one-pixel cam-
eras, called photomultipliers, above and
below the liquid-xenon-filled detector.
We also look for an ionization signal: If a
dark matter particle rubs against a xenon
atom, there will be electrons liberated and
a charge produced. Those electrons drift
upward through the liquid xenon to a posi-
tively charged anode [electric terminal],
which produces a second flash of light
that the cameras will detect.
That signal would tell you that a WIMP
has nally made contact?
Well, we can extract a wealth of information
from those two signals, including the speed
of the particle, the location of the interac-
tion, and the type of particle it wasan
electron, a neutron, or dark matter. The
more gently the particle touches the xenon,
the more likely that its a WIMP.
But you havent denitely found one yet?
No. I mean, it constantly happens that you
look at something and say, Hey, whats
this? and you think it could be dark matter.
But we have always found an explanation
for these events. Still, its important
to consider the possibility that we
might actually be looking right in the
eye of dark matter.
How close are we to nding
dark matter? Have others had
hits, or possible hits?
There was news in December that
another group of researchers, the
Cryogenic Dark Matter Search
(CDMS), had detected dark matter in
a mine in Minnesota, but they saw a
very weak signal. They recorded two
events that they cannot fully explain
as background noise. One of the
events is very close to the threshold
of noise. Its not a detection; the col-
laboration itself doesnt call it that.
Its the hint of a detection. There was
initially a lot of excitement, but that
has died down.
As for our group, we have collect-
ed data for several months now with
Xenon100 and will continue through
the summer. This powerful detector
has the lowest background noise
ever measured for any dark matter
detector, and it is the largest-scale
detector in operation. If the signal
CDMS found was truly from dark
matter, well easily be able to conrm
it this year. At the same time, particle
physicists are looking for dark mat-
ter with the Large Hadron Collider in
Geneva. Were hoping they can tell
us more about these particles in the
next few years.
What is it like to search for some-
thing that you may never nd?
It feels very exciting and almost like
a duty. The fact that we dont know
if we will discover dark matter does
not take away the necessity to try. The Ital-
ian particle physicist Carlo Rubbia, who
was my doctoral thesis adviser at the Uni-
versity of Geneva, recently quoted Galileo
at a conference on dark matter: Provando
et riprovandoTry and try again. This is
the basis of experimental science. We
must try and try again to find the truth.
If we stop because there is no guarantee that
we will nd anything, then we would never
nd anything again. In fact, in terms of dark
matter, not nding anything is extremely
important because it will make us nd new
roads to explore. We must keep searching
for it with the best tools we have.
At Columbia Universitys Nevis Laboratories in Irvington, New York, Elena Aprile sits in front of a new
liquid-xenon-lled detector that is key to her search for dark matter.
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Gone But Not
Forgotten
A partial skeleton of a presumed border crosser, photographed at the
Pima County Medical Examiners ofce in Tucson, Arizona, was dis-
covered in 2009 by a horseback rider in the nearby Avra Valley. Experts
say this man probably died at least a year before his remains were found.
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Each year, hundreds of immigrants
lose their lives while slipping across the
border into Arizonas Sonoran Desert.
DNA forensics is recovering the identities
and stories of the dead.
BY JANE BOSVELD
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATT NAGER
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Above: A lone
pair of shoes
were found on
a migrant trail
just north of the
border. Immigrants
often remove their
soles to avoid
detection by the
border patrol.
Right: Forensic
anthropologist
Lori Baker studies
the skull of a
presumed teenage
boy who may later
be identied by
analysis of the
DNA in his bones.
Far right: A border
fence ends near
a checkpoint in
Sasabe, Arizona.
Tightened
control has
driven migrants
to attempt the
dangerous trek
through the desert.
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he great Sonoran Desert stretches
from deep in Mexico to the middle of
Arizona, a dun landscape dotted with
20-foot-tall saguaro cacti and scrag-
gly sagebrush. With its mind-blurring
heat, this is not a place where you
want to be left behindbut people
are all the time. Ranchers, county
sheriffs, and the government patrols
that guard the United StatesMexico
border nd them with grim regularity,
the bodies of illegal immigrants who
slipped across the border but did
not survive the journey on the other
side. Remains not found for weeks or
months may amount to a few decay-
ing bones. Sometimes an animal
drags the body off, or a person strips
down under the onslaught of the heat,
leaving behind nothing more than a
pair of worn shoes and a faded shirt.
More than 200 bodies a year turn
up in the Sonoran, a number that has
increased over the past decade as
immigrants avoid urban areas and
attempt to reach the United States
by more remote routes, often through
Arizona. After crossing the border,
they sometimes walk 70 miles or
more to reach a safe point of entry,
often traveling without water and
in temperatures that can reach 110
degrees Fahrenheit.
Authorities suspect that the bod-
ies turning up inside our borders are
migrants from Mexico or Central
America. Their guides, popularly
known as coyotes, may have aban-
doned them in the desert if they fell
behind or got sick. Its hard to know
what happened, says Lori Baker, a
molecular anthropologist at Baylor
University in Waco, Texas, and one
of the leading experts in identifying
the remains. Some coyotes just
take their fees, which can be $1,500
or more, and then leave the people in
the desert. Sometimes theyre dead
before they even get to the border.
For Baker, the granddaughter of
a migrant worker, the issue is not
whether Americas immigration laws
should be tighter or looser; the issue
is how to respond to the tragedy
and loss. I cant imagine anyones
begrudging a family an explanation of
what happened to their loved one,
she says. How do you say, Sorry, I
dont want you to nd out what hap-
pened to your 15-year-old son.
Eight years ago, Baker realized
she had the background to help. As
a graduate student, she had begun
analyzing and sequencing genes in
1995. Later, as a postdoc at the Uni-
versity of Tennessee, she developed
a new method for extracting DNA from
hair. Her primary goal was to study the
movement of ancient peoples across
the Americas, but she also consulted
for the Truth and Reconciliation Com-
mission, formed to investigate the dis-
appearances and other political atroci-
ties that shook Peru during the 1980s
and 1990s. Baker was part of a team
teaching prosecutors how to handle
evidence. I was there with quite a
few international forensic scientists,
and we were talking one evening
about what was going on in our home
countries, she recalls. I said we had
immigrants trying to enter illegally, and
quite a number died along our south-
ern border, but it was very hard to iden-
tify them or send the remains back to
their families. Everyone in the room
volunteered to come to the United
States to help.
After that 2002 trip, Baker, by then
working at Baylor, decided to get
involved. She tapped her colleagues
expertise and, with Erich Bakera
Baylor bioinformatics expert who is
also her husbandlaunched Reunit-
ing Families, a foundation that identi-
es migrant remains found inside the
southern U.S. border. There was an
enormous backlog. In 2002, when
Baker set up shop, the system in place
was so porous that identities were
never attached to some 44 percent of
the remains.
Bakers group took a two-pronged
approach: setting up a database to
improve the ow of information, and
bringing modern DNA forensics to
bear. On the informatics end, Reunit-
T
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Right: A 43-year-
old migrant lies
unconscious near
Green Valley,
Arizona. Found
by a local ranch
hand, he was
presumed dead
but recovered
after receiving
water and medical
care. Far right:
Prior to 2004,
unidentied
bodies were
placed in graves
like this one in
Pima County.
Below: Body
bags containing
remains from
the desert await
identication in
Arizona.
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ing Families worked with the Mexican
government and some of its consulate
ofces to integrate missing-persons
reports from several databases into a
single system . The migrants who die in
the Sonoran frequently come from poor
families who may not have access
to the Internet or even a telephone,
Baker says, but they do usually contact
authorities. By collating the specics
of height, distinguishing features like
tattoos, and a description of a missing
persons clothing, investigators often
can make a tentative ID soon after a
body is found. But only through den-
tal and medical X-rays, nger prints, or
DNA can they be certain.
Bruce Anderson, a forensic anthro-
pologist at the Pima County Medical
Examiners ofce, was already on the
joband getting overwhelmed by the
steady ow of bodies and clothing and
boneswhen Reuniting Families was
formed. His ofce was handling medi-
cal and dental records and ngerprints,
but DNA analysis would add a crucial
missing piece. After Baker got started,
Anderson quickly reached out.
Today, as soon as Anderson sends
Baker a bone, she begins the ardu-
ous process of extracting DNA. First a
sample is puried under a sterile hood
to eliminate contaminants, especially
foreign DNA. Then Baker takes 250
milligrams of the bone (about 0.01
ounce), grinds it into a powder, and
uses silica to separate all the other
biomolecules from the pure DNA.
With her up-to-date equipment,
Baker is usually able to isolate nucle-
ar DNA, the genetic material inher-
ited from both mother and father and
unique to each individual. But about
10 percent of samples are so degrad-
ed that all she can recover is mito-
chondrial DNA, which is more abun-
dant but less specic. Passed down
through the mother alone, mitochon-
drial DNA cannot distinguish an indi-
vidual, though it can identify someone
as part of a group. When Anderson
has a bone sample from someone he
thinks he can identify but wants to
know for sure, he asks the consulate
to send saliva or blood samples from
that persons family for Baker to ana-
lyze. But even after all that effort, half
of the hundreds of cases Baker works
on each year end without resolution.
To improve the odds of recovering
an identity, Baker has looked to other
techniques. One of them involves
using her skills as a forensic anthro-
pologist to make a genetic map of
Mexico so that even heavily degraded
genetic remains can be compared with
regional populations to get an idea of
where they came from. In a comple-
mentary project, forensic anthropol-
ogist Kate Spradley of Texas State
University is digitizing the shapes
of skulls of the dead to get a better
grasp of which regions correspond
to which specic shapes. Investiga-
tors tend to lump most remains into
the broad umbrella group of His-
panic, but Baker says that in fact,
skulls from Mexico, Guatemala, and
Peru are all different.
When combined in a database,
this kind of information is shedding
light on the living as well as the dead.
Baker has found that an overwhelming
94 percent of the recovered remains
belong to indigenous people for whom
Spanish is a second language. Indig-
enous Amerindians may be more likely
to head north because they often live
in relative poverty in their native coun-
tries, she says; they also may experi-
ence prejudice because of their darker
skin. These are the direct descendants
of the people who settled the Ameri-
cas after the last Ice Agethe same
people Baker sometimes studies in
her work with ancient bones.
Id rather do DNA extractions on a
17,000-year-old bone because theres
no emotional attachment, Baker
comments. Not long after establish-
ing Reuniting Families, she considered
dropping her effort to name the bor-
der dead. Then came the case of Rosa
Cano in June 2003. A single mother,
she had set out to find work in the
States. When weeks went by without
a word, her mother (also named Rosa)
contacted authorities, who put her in
touch with Baker. It turned out that
DNA from the bones Anderson sent
to Baker matched a DNA sample from
the family. I had just found out I was
pregnant with my first child,Baker
remembers, and trying to imagine this
mother nding out that her own child
had died? It broke my heart.
Months later, Bakers friends visited
Cano on Bakers behalf. Rosa went
running up to them, she says. She
thought my friend was me and started
hugging her, saying, Thank you, doc-
tera. Thank you, doctera. The woman
sent Baker a traditional Mayan dress
that she had made by hand. Rosa said
that knowing what happened to her
daughter made the loss easier to deal
with. The hope eats you alive every
day, she told Bakers friend. Baker
decided to carry on.
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ike so many others dealing with
poverty, the younger Rosa Cano
accepted the risks. It used to be
that mostly men in their twenties
and early thirties were crossing the
border to work. They would come
for six months or a year and then
go home for a while, Baker says.
Now its so difficult that entire
familiesthe grandparents, even
infantsmake the trip. And if one
family member makes it across
the border, then others are likely
to follow.
Anderson recalls the story of one
family from El Salvador. The mother,
Sonia, and father, Santos, crossed
the border and found work. The
mother saved money and then sent
for her children, arranging for trusted
friends to travel with them and hiring
a coyote as a guide. But during the
blistering walk through the desert,
her daughter, Josseline, fell ill and
could not keep up. The coyote said
the group had to go ahead or miss
its ride, leaving Josseline behind
to wait for a patrol. There was no
patrol, and Josseline was never
heard from again.
When Josselines brother arrived
without her, the family contacted
ofcials. Ultimately a search volun-
teer spotted a pair of bright green
tennis shoes, much like those Jos-
seline was said to have worn, just
a few feet away from the body of a
teenage girl. With the help of DNA
testing, Anderson was able to con-
rm the match. The searchers were
far too late to save Josselines life,
but at least science was able to
recover her name.
ADDI TI ONAL REPORTI NG BY AMY BARTH
Krystal Poulin, a
medical assistant
at the Pima County
Medical Examiners
ofce, prepares
the corpse of a
presumed migrant
for an autopsy.
As often happens
in the desert, this
body was found
without any ID.
L
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The
Streetlight
Effect
Researchers
tend to look for
answers where
the looking is
good, rather
than where
the answers
are likely to
be hiding.
The result: a
lot of dubious
science.
B Y D A V I D H .
F R E E D M A N
A
bolt of excitement ran
through the eld of cardiology
in the early 1980s when anti-
arrhythmia drugs burst onto
the scene. Researchers knew
that heart-attack victims with steady
heartbeats had the best odds of
survival, so a medication that could
tamp down irregularities seemed
like a no-brainer. The drugs became
the standard of care for heart-attack
patients and were soon smooth-
ing out heartbeats in intensive care
wards across the United States.
But in the early 1990s, cardiolo-
gists realized that the drugs were
also doing something else: killing
about 56,000 heart-attack patients
a year. Yes, hearts were beating
more regularly on the drugs than
off, but their owners were, on
average, one-third as likely to pull
through. Cardiologists had been so
focused on immediately measur-
able arrhythmias that they had
overlooked the longer-term but far
more important variable of death.
The fundamental error here is
summed up in an old joke scientists
love to tell. Late at night, a police
ofcer nds a drunk man crawling
around on his hands and knees
under a streetlight. The drunk man
tells the ofcer hes looking for
his wallet. When the ofcer asks if
hes sure this is where he dropped
the wallet, the man replies that he
thinks he more likely dropped it
across the street. Then why are you
looking over here? the befuddled
ofcer asks. Because the lights
better here, explains the drunk man.
That fellow is in good company.
Many, and possibly most, scientists
spend their careers looking for
answers where the light is better
rather than where the truth is more
likely to lie. They dont always have
much choice. It is often extremely
difcult or even impossible to
cleanly measure what is really
important, so scientists instead
cleanly measure what they can,
hoping it turns out to be relevant.
After all, we expect scientists to
quantify their observations pre-
cisely. As Lord Kelvin put it more
than a century ago, When you can
measure what you are speaking
about, and express it in numbers,
you know something about it.
There is just one little problem.
While these surrogate measure-
ments yield clean numbers, they
frequently throw off the results,
sometimes dramatically so. This
streetlight effect, as I call it in my
new book, Wrong (Little, Brown),
turns up in every eld of sci-
ence, lling research journals with
experiments and studies that directly
contradict previously published
work. It is a tradition that was already
well established back in 1915 when
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an important experiment led by a rather prominent young
physicist named Albert Einstein was published. To dis-
cover the ratio of magnetic forces to gyroscopic forces
on an electron, Einstein had to infer what the electrons in
an iron bar were up to based on a minuscule rotation their
activity caused the bar to make. His answer was off by a
factor of two, as corrected by more careful, but similarly
inferential, experiments three years later. (What a loser!)
Physicists have a good excuse for huddling under
the streetlight when they are pushing at the limits of
human understanding. But the effect also vexes medi-
cal research, where you might think great patient data
is there for the tabulating. The story of the anti-arrhyth-
mia drugs only hints at the extent of the problem. In 2005,
John Ioannidis of the University of Ioannina in Greece
examined the 45 most prominent studies published
since 1990 in the top medical journals and found that
about one-third of them were ultimately refuted. If one
were to look at all medical studies, it would be more
like two-thirds, he says. And for some kinds of leading-
edge studies, like those linking a disease to a specic
gene, wrongness infects 90 percent or more.
We should fully expect scientic theories to frequently
butt heads and to wind up being disproved sometimes
as researchers grope their way toward the truth. That
is the scientic process: Generate ideas, test them,
discard the imsy, repeat. In fact, testing ideas is sup-
posed to be the core competence of most scientists.
But if tests of the exact same idea routinely generate
differing, even opposite, results, then what are we
humble nonscientists supposed to believe?
I
have spent the past three years examining why
expert pronouncements so often turn out to be
exaggerated, misleading, or at-out wrong. There
are several very good reasons why that happens,
and one of them is that scientists are not as good
at making trustworthy measurements as we give them
credit for. Its not that they are mostly incompetents
and cheats. Well, some of them are: In several con-
dential surveys spanning different elds, anywhere
from 10 to 50 percent of scientists have confessed to
perpetrating or being aware of some sort of research
misbehavior. And numerous studies have highlighted
remarkably lax supervision of research assistants and
technicians. A bigger obstacle to reliable research,
though, is that scientists often simply cannot get at the
things they need to measure.
Examples of how the streetlight effect sends studies
off track are ubiquitous. In many cases it is painfully
obvious that scientists are stuck with surrogate mea-
sures in place of what they really want to quantify. After
decades of dueling studies about whether it was an
asteroid or volcanic eruptions that did in the dinosaurs,
it is apparent that the mineral-deposit evidence is
indirect and open to interpretation, even if the scien-
tists advancing the various claims sound pretty sure of
themselves. Astronomers enlist surrogate measures all
the time, since there is no way to stick thermometers in
stars or to unreel tape measures to other galaxies. Like-
wise, economists cannot track the individual behaviors
of billions of consumers and investors, so they rely on
economic indicators and extracts of data.
How reliable are the results? In 1992 a now-classic
study by researchers at Harvard and the National Bureau
of Economic Research examined papers from a range of
economics journals and determined that approximately
none of them had conclusively proved anything one way
or the other. Given that dismal assessmentand given
the great inuence of economists on nancial institutions
and regulationits a wonder the global economic infra-
structure is not in far worse shape. (Of course, scientic
ndings that point out the problems with scientic nd-
ings are fair game for reanalysis too.)
B
y far the most familiar and vexing consequences
of the streetlight effect show up in those ever-
shifting medical ndings. Take this straight-
forward and critical question: Can vitamin D
supplements lower the risk of breast, colon, and
other cancers? Yes, by as much as 75 percent, several
well-publicized studies have concluded over the past
decade. No, not at all, several other equally well-
publicized studies have concluded. In 2008 alone,
around 380 published research articles addressed
the link between vitamin D and cancer in one way or
another. The ocean of data on the topic is vast, swell-
ing, and teeming with sharp contradictions.
One likely confounding factor is the different ways in
which the studies assessed the intake of vitamin D.
In fact, some of the studies did not measure intake
at all. Researchers simply looked at levels of the
vitamin in subjects blood without tracking whether
supplements affected those levels, assuming that
both articially and naturally high levels have the
same effect on cancer risk. In some cases research-
ers looked at blood levels of the vitamin only after a
cancer had been diagnosed, instead of measuring the
levels before and after. In other cases scientists asked
subjects how many vitamin D pills they took but did
not look at blood levels. The investigators in at least
one widely reported study did not look at vitamin D
blood levels or supplement intake at all. They merely
estimated blood levels based on the sunniness of the
subjects geographical locations, since sunlight spurs
the body to produce vitamin D.
The point is not that the scientists running these
studies screwed up. They were probably doing the best
they could with the data they had. We would certainly
be a lot more likely to get a straight answer if someone
would carefully track pill intake, blood levels, and cancer
outcomes in a large population for many years. But such
large, clean studies can take years of planning, fund-
raising, and lining up patients, plus a decade or more to
execute. That is why we rst get bombarded by years of
weaker studies plagued by the streetlight effect. It sure
would be nice if someone would point that out to us
when one of those studies makes headlines.
WE SHOULD
EXPECT
THEORIES TO
BUTT HEADS
AS
RESEARCHERS
GROPE THEIR
WAY TOWARD
THE TRUTH.
BUT IF TESTS
OF THE
EXACT SAME
IDEA
ROUTINELY
GENERATE
DIFFERING,
EVEN
OPPOSITE,
RESULTS,
WHAT ARE WE
SUPPOSED
TO BELIEVE?
E
T
H
A
N

W
E
L
T
Y
/
A
U
R
O
R
A

P
H
O
T
O
S
56 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
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Maybe while we are waiting for that to happen we
should pop vitamin D pills just in case, as physicians
now commonly recommend. Chances are, that is good
adviceunless, of course, the wisdom on vitamin D
ends up following the same path as the consensus on
aspirin. That consensus long insisted that most people
with risk factors for heart disease ought to take a low
dose of aspirin every day. But now the prevailing view
maintains that unless you have a worrisome history of
heart problems, an aspirin regimen is about as likely to
hurt you as help you. Oops.
It can take decades to determine whether a drug
actually extends lives. That is why researchers more
often rely on faster-developing indicators of (apparently)
improved health: tumor shrinkage in cancer, lowered
blood-sugar levels in diabetes, reduced brain plaque in
Alzheimers, lowered bad cholesterol or elevated good
cholesterol in heart disease. Asthma studies alone have
looked at nearly 500 different measures of well-being.
The results? We get heavily hyped drugs like Avastin,
which shrank tumors without adding signicant time to
cancer patients lives (and increased the incidence of
heart failure and blood clots to boot); Avandia, which
lowered blood sugar in diabetics but raised the average
risk of heart attack by 43 percent; torcetrapib, which
raised both good cholesterol and death rates; and Fluri-
zan, which reduced brain plaque but failed to slow the
cognitive ravages of Alzheimers disease before trials
were nally halted in 2008.
The streetlight effect can also derail study results
if scientists do not look at the right subjects. Patient
recruitment is an enormous problem in many medical
studies, and researchers often end up paying for the
participation of students, poor people, drug abusers,
the homeless, illegal immigrants, and others who may
not adequately represent the population in terms of
health or lifestyle. Studies in the 1990s appeared to
prove that hormone replacement therapy reduced the
risk of heart disease by 50 percent. Then in 2002 a
large study seemed to prove that the therapy increased
the risk of heart disease by 29 percent. It turns out
that a womans age affects her response to hormone
replacement therapy, and the discrepancy arose
because the rst study looked at somewhat younger
women than did the second. The data in both studies
were credible; they just did not apply to all women.
Yet another problem is that much of what scientists
think they know about human health comes from ani-
mal studies. Unfortunately, three-quarters of the drugs
that prove safe and effective in animals end up failing
in early human trials, sometimes spectacularly. In 2006
the experimental leukemia drug TGN1412 was given to
six volunteer human patients. All six of them quickly fell
seriously ill with multiple organ trauma, even though the
stuff had worked well on rabbits and monkeys at doses
up to 500 times as large.
Mice in particular let researchers extract all sorts of
exceptionally clean measurements without complaint.
Yet it is a well-documented fact that mouse research
often translates poorly to human results. Yes, using mice
in early drug studies can spare human test subjects
from harm, which most people would argue justies the
frequently misleading ndings. But mice are also used
all the time to obtain easy measurements in harmless
lifestyle and behavioral studies. The proposition remains
dubious even if the mice are genetically engineered
to be more like humans in some way. How seriously
do you want to take the advice of a much-hyped 2008
Boston University study declaring that weight lifting can
burn more fat than cardio exercise, when the conclu-
sions were based entirely on sedentary mice genetically
engineered to have bizarrely large muscles?
Contrary to the proclamations of many scientists,
unreliable medical study results do not disappear with
large, randomized controlled trials, in which subjects
are randomly assigned to a treatment or placebo
group. Such trials are more reliable in some ways, but
they do not necessarily address the streetlight effect,
and they are frequently refuted by other, similar trials.
Whatever your take on the healing power of prayer,
you have to scratch your head over this: In 1999 a
large, randomized controlled trial proved that heart
surgery patients are more likely to survive if someone
they have never met secretly prays for themand then,
seven years later, another randomized trial found that
secret prayer very slightly raises the odds that a patient
will suffer complications.
T
he streetlight effect is just one way that research
measurements go wrong, and measurement
mess-ups are just one of several ways that stud-
ies go wrong. Bad measurements are not even
the biggest source of wrongness in scientic
studies. That honor would have to go to publication
biasjournals tendency to eagerly publish the small
percentage of studies that produce exciting, surpris-
ing, breakthrough results. Of course, the most likely
explanation for why one team of researchers comes
up with surprising results while several other teams get
less-publishable, boring results is that the one team
screwed up somewhere. The pernicious effect of this
phenomenon on the trustworthiness of study results
has been documented at length in scientic journals
themselves in several elds. But thats another story.
How are we supposed to cope with all this wrong-
ness? Well, a good start would be to remain skeptical
about the great majority of what you nd in research
journals and pretty much all of the fascinating, news-
making ndings you read about in the mainstream
media, which tends to magnify the problems. (Except
you can trust DISCOVER, naturally. And believe me,
there is no way this article is wrong, either. After all,
everything in it is backed by scientic studies.)
Maybe we should just keep in mind what that
Einstein fellowyou know, the one who messed up
that electron experimenthad to say on the subject:
If we knew what we were doing, it wouldnt be called
research, would it?
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On a September night in 2007, a swarm
of Israeli jets swooped across Syrian
airspace and destroyed a nuclear facil-
ity under construction. Despite Syrias
sophisticated radar, their approach went
unnoticed. The Israelis had hacked the
Syrian equipment so all it showed was
vast, empty sky. It is technology that
cuts all ways: In the United States, hack-
ers have breached the Pentagon, while
spies from China have gained access to
1,300 computers in embassies around the
globe. Richard A. Clarke, a counterterror-
ism czar to three administrations and the
rst special adviser to the president on
cyber security, calls the Internet a cyber
battlefield. In his recent book, Cyber
War, he discusses the vulnerability of the
electrical grid, banking systems, air-travel
networks, and national defense. Clarke
recently visited the DISCOVER ofces to
discuss this emerging type of warfare.
You say the threat of cyber war begins
with computer manufacturing. How so?
Take any piece of computer hardwareyour
laptop, your desktop, a router in the network.
It has probably been assembled in one coun-
try, but the components have probably been
made in two dozen: Taiwan, India, China, the
United States, Germany. And the software
has probably been written by thousands of
people in many countries. You cant have
high security when there are that many peo-
ple involved. Its so easy to slip a trap door
into 50 million lines of code for a piece of
software. Its so easy to have a microscopic
element on a motherboard that allows peo-
ple to get in without authorization.
How could this sort of invasion happen?
In cyber war or cyber espionage, the per-
son whos doing it can achieve access in
dozens of different ways. Once they are
in your computer or your local area network,
they can see everything that goes on, they
can copy information and exfiltrate that
information, they can issue commands. If
theyve accessed a network thats control-
ling something, such as an electrical power
grid or a railroad system, they can cause
things to happen not in cyberspace but
in physical space. They can control a rail
switch or a valve on a pipeline.
How are we responding to the threat?
Last October the United States created a
unit just like Strategic Command or Cen-
tral Command; this ones called Cyber
Command. Under Cyber Command is a
Navy unit called the 10th Fleet that has
no ships and an Air Force unit, the 24th
Air Force, that has no planes. These units
are designed to ght both offensively and
defensively in cyberspace.
Has the United States ever experienced
a serious case of cyber espionage?
The United States and several of its allies
are building a new, fth-generation ghter
plane, the F-35 Lightning II, cutting-edge
technology. Theres good reason to believe
that a foreign government, probably China,
hacked into the manufacturing company for
The Internet is full of security loopholes,
which spies and hackers already know
only too well. How can we prepare for
the new world of virtual combat?
BY ROBERT KEATING PHOTOGRAPH BY NATHANIEL WELCH
the aircraft and downloaded all the plans.
So for this plane that hasnt even flown
yet, a potential enemy knows its strengths
and weaknesses. The really scary part is, if
they got in, do you think they just copied
information? Or do you think perhaps they
inserted something in the software? Imagine
the future where a U.S. F-35 is ying into
combat and another nation sends up a
much less capable airplane, but that other
airplane can send out a signal that opens
up a trapdoor in the software thats running
the F-35 and causes it to crash. Airplanes
these days, whether its the F-35 or the
787, theyre all software. The plane is just
one big computer network with all sorts of
things being run by software applications.

What do we need to do to keep the
country secure from digital attack?
The United States is pretty good at offense;
the government can probably hack its way
into most anything. But we dont have a good
defense. Right now the U.S. government is
defending only itself, and thats largely the
military defending the military. The Obama
administrations attitude seems to be that
if youre a bank or a railroad or a pipeline
company or a power company, you should
defend yourself. Imagine in the 1960s if
our government had said to U.S. Steel in
Pittsburgh or General Motors in Detroit,
The Soviet Union has a lot of bombers
and those bombers could reach Pittsburgh
or Detroit, so you, private company GM,
private company U.S. Steel, should go out
and buy some air-defense missiles.
THE CYBER WARRIOR
THE DISCOVER INTERVIEW
RICHARD A. CLARKE
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What are the private companies
saying in response?
They want it both ways. They want to
minimize government involvement; they
certainly dont want the government tell-
ing them how to structure their information
technology systems. But at the same time,
when you tell them the government of China
could be hacking into their company, they
say, Well, why isnt the federal government
stopping that? I pay my taxes. In the end,
theres going to have to be a federal role
larger than there is now. The fact that we
have virtually no defense right now, thats
largely a matter of policynot so much of
technologyand it would seem to be a
rather obvious wrong choice, I think.
It sounds like were the big, tough
boxer with a glass jaw.
The line that I like to use is People who live
in glass houses shouldnt throw attack
code. We should be taking the
lead in arms control.
The ght against cyber attacks
is a form of arms control?
I think if you do limits on cyber war,
thats arms control. I worked in arms
control for over 20 years. I did bio-
logical, nuclear, and conventional
arms control. I know how hard it is. I
negotiated a lot of agreements, and
cyber war would be very difcult to
negotiate. But some of those arms
control agreements may actually
have stopped nuclear war. So lets
not throw up our hands and say,
We cant do it in cyberspace with
cyber war. Instead, lets get the
arms control experts and the cyber
experts together and see what we
can do to reduce the chances of a
damaging cyber war.
What is the biggest threat:
national governments, terror
groups, or individual hackers?
Individual hackers can make a lot of
trouble, but they cant bring down
a power grid. They cant do the
really destabilizing infrastructure
attacks that were worrying about.
Criminal gangs are getting better at
it, and were seeing cyber criminal
gangs doing things that in the past
only nations could do. So that is a
worry. But for the most part our
concern is cyber war directed
nation to nation, because in addi-
tion to having lots of technology at
your ngertips, nation-states have
intelligence agencies. And intel-
ligence agencies can provide the
collateral information to gure out
how to do an attack. Sometimes
you need physical involvement,
social engineering, information
gathering before you do an attack.
What will it take for us to acknowledge
the true magnitude of the threat?
When Russia cyber-attacked Estonia in
2007 and then a year later attacked Georgia,
people said, Thats the wake-up call. When
the Chinese attacks on Google occurred
last year , people said, Oh, thats the wake-
up call. I think people would have to know
that some great discomfort or some great
violence had occurred because of deliber-
ate malicious activity in a network.
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Earth
On
Fre
Thousands of
hidden res smolder
and rage through
the worlds coal deposits,
quietly releasing
gases that can ruin
health, devastate
communities, and
heat the planet.
B Y K R I S T I N O H L S O N
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Thick smoke
streams out of
the earth and a
rotten-egg smell
lls the air at the
Wuda coal elds
in Chinas Inner
Mongolia region,
October 2008.
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N
ot far from Hazard, Kentucky, in the shadow of Lost
Mountain, a woman named Ruth Mullins saw smoke
rising off the slope. I knew it wasnt no woods on re,
because of the smellthe rotten-egg stench of sulfurshe
said. Her suspicions were soon conrmed: Lost Mountains
coal mine, abandoned for 40 years, was burning. Kentucky names coal
res for the people who rst report them, so the re, which has contin-
ued to smolder and occasionally ame since it was identied in 2007, is
known ofcially as the Ruth Mullins re. Weve never met the woman
and we dont know where she lives, but her name now appears in scien-
tic publications that are read all over the world, says Jennifer OKeefe,
a geologist at Kentuckys Morehead State University. Shes got her
little bit of immortality. OKeefe is part of a team that has been visit-
ing the Ruth Mullins re over the past three years, studying its behavior
and quantifying the gases that plume from nine known openings in the
ground. Last January she and a colleague, University of Kentucky
geologist James Hower, brought some students to the coal re for new
measurements. They parked off Highway 80, a road that cuts a swath
along the side of Lost Mountain, and unloaded gear in a stingingly cold
wind as speeding trucks whipped ice along the asphalt. Trudging up the
snow-covered mountain, the scientists
shivered along the at shelf of land cir-
cling its midsection, the remains of con-
tour mining in the 1950s. While smoke
from the burning mine had been hard to
spot from the road, here it billowed from
small vents where portals to the mine
had collapsed.
Approaching the site, all except Hower
(who stayed farther back) donned pink
respirators. A student equipped with a
GPS device tried to detect the outline of
the underground re by looking for areas
where the snow was thinner or melted
away entirely. Two other students and
OKeefe settled at a vent, measuring
the temperature at the opening and the
velocity of the gases (including carbon
monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen
sulde, methane, and oxygen) that were
owing out.
Jen, do we have any tar or miner-
als up there? Hower called to OKeefe,
who shook her head. He made his way
care fully over some fallen trees, possibly
killed by the coal re cooking their roots,
to another vent and climbed closer,
sliding a little in the snowmelt and mud
made warm by the mines hot breath.
Here there was plenty of tar and min-
erals: Black goo two-toned the leaves
on the ground, and minerals that had
precipitated out of the gases encrusted
the tree roots dangling over the vents. To
identify the potentially dozens of hydro-
carbon gases roiling beneath, he stuck
a tube deep inside each vent, collecting
emissions in a steel canister for later
analysis in a laboratory at the Univer-
sity of California at Irvine.
Hower also retrieved a weathered
contraption perched at the entrance
to one of the vents. Cobbled together
from galvanized-steel stovepipes and
heat-resistant tape, this assemblage,
nicknamed the Tin Man, had been
taking measurements for 22 days.
Three layers of filters impregnated
with activated carbon captured mer-
cury emissions, and a pair of instru-
ments recorded temperature and
carbon monoxide every 10 seconds
for three days. Another set of devices
monitored the same parameters
every minute for the entire duration.
Through these measurements, the
team will gain a better understanding
of the long-term variation in the res
temperature and emissions.
This was the second Tin Man. The
rst, deployed during a 2009 study,
showed that the carbon monoxide
level at Ruth Mullins dropped dra-
matically once a day and then shot
back up again. These mine fires
seem to have a regular breathing
cycle, Hower says.
C
oal res are as ancient and
as widely distributed as coal
itself. People have reported
res in coal beds close to the earths
surface for thousands of yearsin
fact, Australias Burning Mountain,
once thought to be a volcano, sits
atop a coal seam that has been on
re for some six millennia. But ever
since the Industrial Revolution, the
number of coal res has grown dra-
matically. There are now thousands
of such fires around the world, in
every countryfrom France to South
Africa to Borneo to Chinawhere
mining exposes coal deposits.
These res are an insidious, persis-
tent, and often nearly invisible threat
to local health and to the natural and
built environment. Added to that,
there is now a growing realization that
all these coal res together may con-
tribute signicantly to climate change,
a risk that has inspired the United
States Geological Survey (USGS) to
measure emissions of greenhouse
gases and other pollutants from
coal res around the United States,
starting with three in the Powder
River Basin of Wyoming. The USGS
effort, including scientists from
organizations around the country,
was convened to employ new tools
and expertise to measure green-
house gases from coal res, which
have not been included in previous
national and worldwide surveys.
What is the overall contribution of
these coal res to global warming?
asks Glenn Stracher, a geologist at
East Georgia College whose work
inspired the USGS effort. Thats an
important question that no one has
answered, and thats why this team
of scientists has gotten together to
work on a quantitative analysis.
Most Americans are unaware of
these long-burning coal fires, with
the possible exception of the mine
fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania. In
1962 residents of this small mining
town burned trash in an abandoned
strip mine used as a dump near the
Odd Fellows Cemetery, not realizing
that the mine had not been properly
sealed. The trash was reduced to
smoldering piles, which firefight-
ers later extinguishedor so they
thought. But the fire continued to
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burn, and a month later bulldozers
arrived for a more concerted effort to
put it out. The citizens then discov-
ered that the dump contained a 15-
foot-long opening that connected to
a maze of underground mine tunnels.
These passages allowed the re to
spread to the coal seam underneath
the town and expand along four
fronts, eventually affecting a surface
area about two miles long and three-
quarters of a mile wide.
Since then, around $4 million has
been spent to put the Centralia re
out, to no avail. It continues to burn
today, moving through a vast network
of abandoned mines that are still lit-
tered and lined with coal. No one
knows how extensive these empty
spaces are, and the effort to quell
the blaze has come to an end. Its
too expensive to tackle, and were
not sure we can do it anyway, says
Alfred Whitehouse, chief of the Rec-
lamation Support Division of the fed-
eral Ofce of Surface Mining.
The town of Centralia is almost
completely deserted today. After
some residents passed out from car-
bon monoxide inhalation and another
fell into the earth in 1981, when the
ground suddenly collapsedas the
coal burns away, the ground above it
often subsides into the resulting cavity
Pennsylvania received $42 million
from Congress to relocate Centralias
residents. Folks accepted the buyout
one by one, and their homes were
demolished to discourage squatters.
(Nine holdouts are still ghting evic-
tion today.) The town now looks like
a giant vacant parking lot. A few inter-
sections still sport stop signs, which
spray painters have modied to read
Dont STOP believing. Aside from
the eerie emptiness, signs of the re
below are subtle. On a day in January,
dead grasses bristle with ice along the
edges of long cracks in the earth, and
wisps of gas drift here and there. An
area the size of a small house recently
sank about three feet, and a bright
green band of vegetation ourishes in
the steaming, broken earth around it.
When Stracher first visited Cen-
tralia in 1991, the town looked even
more like a disaster zone. Stracher
had just finished his postdoctoral
training in metamorphic petrology;
as a new professor at Bloomsburg
University of Pennsylvania, he went
to Centralia on a geology field trip.
He was horrified by the sinkholes
encased in sulfur and other precipi-
tated minerals, the huge cracks in
now-abandoned Highway 61 near
town, the thick fumes rising from a
ravine called Death Valley, and the
sulfur-laden trees around the ravine.
The towns Catholic church was still
standing then. Stracher posed for a
photograph next to a mournful sign
outside the church that read, Centra-
lia: Coal mine re is our future.
The re had been burning so long
by then, he recalls. I wondered what
long-term effect it was having on the
atmosphere and groundwater, even
on people who didnt live there.
At that point, Stracher did not know
very much about coal, but he had a
strong background in chemical ther-
modynamics. He decided to study the
behavior of the sulfur coming out of
Centralias burning coal. In 1995 he
reported that some of the sulfur crys-
tallized and stayed on the ground,
potentially tainting the local water,
and some of it oated away as a gas,
polluting the air. Nine years later, he
and a former student published an
article in the International Journal
of Coal Geology titled Coal Fires
Burning Out of Control Around the
World: Thermodynamic Recipe for
Environmental Catastrophe. Over
the next few years, Stracher was
asked to put together symposia,
one for the American Association
for the Advancement of Science and
another for the Geological Society of
America. By that time, coal res had
become his life work.
After that rst trip, Stracher quickly
learned that Centralia was not Ameri-
cas oldest or biggest coal re. It was
not even Pennsylvanias oldest or
biggest coal re. At last count, the
United States had 112 documented
underground res like Centralia and
Ruth Mullins, along with many more
In Centralia,
Pennsylvania,
clouds of smoke
and toxins from a
48-year-old coal
mine re waft
past empty elds
and abandoned
homes. G
L
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N
N

B
.

S
T
R
A
C
H
E
R
.

P
R
E
V
I
O
U
S

P
A
G
E
S
:

T
I
M

J
O
H
N
S
O
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/
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yet to be counted. In addition to the
underground res, there are also 93
known surface coal fires, some of
them in huge waste piles created
during the process of coal mining.
Stracher mentions a 100-foot-high
burning gob pile (containing pieces
of coal mixed with mudstone) near
Birmingham, Alabama. The pile
caught fire 20 years ago and was
apparently extinguished at the time.
But it reignited in 2006, emitting large
amounts of smoke and toxic gases
that caused respiratory complaints;
the number of coal fires in eastern
Borneo might be as high as 3,000.
Today he thinks even that estimate
was far too low. The real number is
so astronomical that no one would
believe it, he says. The published
numbers are about one percent of
what could actually be there.
Most of the coal fires in Borneo
start when local farmers and planta-
tion owners burn brush to clear land
for planting, accidentally igniting a
coal seam just under the surface.
Fires in both abandoned mines and
waste piles sometimes start because
of a nearby blaze, but they can also
ignite through spontaneous combus-
tion: Certain minerals in the coal, such
as suldes and pyrites, can oxidize
and in the process generate enough
heat to cause a re.
G
iven the implications for
safety, health, and climate,
the paltry attention paid to
coal res puzzles and angers many.
Most of our efforts are unfunded or
funded with a shoestring budget,
says Anupma Prakash, a geologist
at the University of Alaska with a
career-long interest in coal fires.
She, Stracher, and Ellina Sokol of the
Institute of Geology and Mineralogy,
Siberian Branch of the Russian Acad-
emy of Sciences, are coeditors of
Elseviers four-volume Coal and Peat
Fires: A Global Perspective, the rst
volume of which will be published
this year. Even other scientists can
nd the issue obscure. People ask
me why they should worry about coal
res and want me to give them some
numbers and hard facts, but the reli-
able quantitative data are not there at
the moment, Prakash admits.
The USGS team wants to plug that
gap, deploying ground sensors to tally
the surface carbon dioxide emissions
from a coal re and then comparing
the measurements with those from
aerial surveys of the same re using
an infrared camera. By calculating
the amount of burning coal needed
to produce the hot spots picked up
by the infrared, scientists can deter-
mine the amount of carbon dioxide
such a fire should release. If both
methods yield comparable measure-
ments, the researchers will know they
are closing in on solid data.
Last year the team spent three
days clambering around the Powder
River Basin, measuring gases from
29 vents at three fires. This alone
would have given an incomplete
assessment of emissions, because
coal res also release gases through
the soil. So USGS geochemist Mark
Engle built an accumulation cham-
ber that measured gases coming
out of the ground along a 119-point
grid. He found that even in places
where burning coal was so deep in
the ground that there was no visual
evidence on the surface, there were
still significant amounts of carbon
dioxide rising up. In fact, nearly as
much CO
2
entered the atmosphere
through the soil as from the vents.
The gas diffused out of the soil is
not real obvious, Engle says. The
ground is not necessarily hot, and
you cant trust the vegetation to tell
you whats going on.
While the ground crew worked dur-
ing the day, the airborne crew took
off before sunrise; a cold, dark night
provides the best contrast between
the coal fires and the surrounding
land. In the nal analysis, the ground-
based and airborne assessments of
carbon dioxide agreed within one
order of magnitude, close enough for
the project to be considered a suc-
cess. By showing that remote sens-
ing not only can find coal fires but
can accurately assess the amount
of carbon dioxide and other gases
being emitted, the USGS team has
introduced an easier way of assign-
ing solid numbers to the greenhouse
gases emanating from coal fires
around the world .
The team has yet to release its nal
numbers from the Wyoming study, but
Hower and OKeefes earlier studies
of the Ruth Mullins re provide some
sense of scale. Although the carbon
contribution from each re may seem
modest, their prevalence and longev-
ity add up. They might not put out as
much as a coal-burning power plant,
OKeefe says, but they have usually
been burning a lot longer and will
keep burning a lot longer.
Coal res also release a broader
palette of noxious pollutants. When
coal is burned in a power plant, oper-
the effort to extinguish it for good
was just completed last March. Other
surface res occur where coal seams
that sit close to the earths crust are
ignited by lightning strikes, forest res,
or brushres. The coal-rich American
West has a long history of such res
in fact, the Powder River, whose basin
in northeast Wyoming and southeast
Montana is the source of about 40
percent of Americas coal, was so
named because the area smelled like
burning gunpowder.
But Americas problem with coal
res is small compared with that of
the rest of the world, where untold
thousands of coal resno one can
come up with a number judged to
be even remotely accurateburn
unchecked. Eastern India has the
densest concentration of coal fires
in the world. Sixty-eight of them burn
within a 174-square-mile region in the
Jharia Coaleld in the state of Jhar-
kand, some right next to areas where
mining families live.
In China, estimates of the amount
of coal consumed or made inaccessi-
ble by uncontrolled res runs as high
as 200 million metric tons per year, 10
percent of the countrys total coal pro-
duction. Indonesia, a major exporter
of coal to the Pacic Rim, has many
thousands of coal res. Whitehouse
spent several years there ghting the
burn. In a 2004 paper, he stated that
The coal smolders and releases
a wide range of nasty compounds.
Testing at Centralia has revealed
45 chemicals, including toxins like
benzene, toluene, and xylene.
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ators make sure the re gets plenty of
oxygen so that it burns hot enough to
produce the most possible energy and
the fewest by-products. Coal burning
in an abandoned mine typically gets
far less oxygen. As a result, the coal
smolders and releases a wide range of
nasty, partially oxidized compounds.
Testing at Centralia has revealed 45
organic and inorganic chemicals,
including toxins like benzene, toluene,
and xylene. Fifty-six compounds have
been identied in the gases from one
of Chinas coal res.
As the gases come to the sur-
face, they react with rocks along the
way and the chemistry is constantly
changing, Stracher says. Its very
complex. Well get a sample ana-
lyzed, and the chemist will say there
are 40 to 60 compounds in it, and
we have no idea what chemical reac-
tions produced these compounds.
Depending on variables of chem-
istry, population, and ecology, health
effects may be profound. According
to OKeefe, the Ruth Mullins fire
presents a respiratory health hazard
to the Route 80 area of Kentucky,
while the states Laura Campbell re
threatens the water supply. The gob
fire in Alabama was the cause of
traffic accidents. The Jharia Coal-
field fire in India is responsible for
cases of asthma, chronic bronchitis,
and lung and skin cancer. One study
suggests that coal res in the United
States may spit out as much as 11.5
metric tons of mercury annually,
nearly a quarter as much as all the
nations coal-red power plants. And
unlike power plant emissions, coal
re emissions cannot be regulated
or controlled.
M
any of the worst coal res
are in remote areas or in
poor regions where ruined
communities and impaired public
health have not commanded much
attention. Even in Centralia, the
groundwater potentially tainted by
the towns long-burning coal re has
never been tested. But with a grow-
ing recognition that coal-re emis-
sions may threaten the planet as a
whole, scientists and others hope
more resources will be deployed to
put the insidious fires outa task
that is much harder than it sounds.
Extinguishing a re requires cool-
ing the coal and isolating it from both
the heat and the oxygen that feeds
combustion. Surface fires are the
easiest to put out, with firefighters
creating moats or breaks to keep the
re from spreading and then smoth-
ering it in a nonammable material,
most often clay. Slightly deeper res
can sometimes be quenched by dig-
ging out the burning coalin Indo-
nesia, Whitehouses crews did this
by handand then burying the entire
area. But res that rage deep under-
ground, fed by oxygen coming from
cracks in the earth, are extremely
difcult to deal with. Most solutions
involve pumping some combination
of mud or y ash combined with an
inert gas or water, but the mixture
does not always flow thoroughly
enough to cover the burning coal,
and it can crack when dried, allow-
ing oxygen to get back in.
Stracher believes that one of the
most promising approaches has been
developed by a veteran Texas fire-
ghter named Mark Cummins. Back
in the 1980s Cummins developed an
improved system to produce re-ght-
ing foam, and he has a long history
of working with the material. In 2003
he used his nitrogen foam (made by
condensing a laundry-detergent-like
material) to act as a blanket, separating
re from the oxygen that fed it to help
extinguish a blaze in West Virginias
Pinnacle Mine. Since then, Cummins
has developed a foam that is loaded
with microbes. After he puts out a
fire with his original nitrogen foam,
his plan is to shoot this second foam
into the mine, where the microbes will
consume oxygen and replace it with
carbon dioxide. At that point, you
couldnt burn that mine if you set off a
bomb down there, he says.
Up to now, interest in such expen-
sive, little-tried approaches has
been low. But Hower hopes that
an expanded understanding of the
environmental impact of these res
will change things. He notes that the
Ruth Mullins re is migrating slowly
toward nearby Highway 80. If a coal
seam burns through the road, asphalt
could crack open and sink, swallow-
ing people and cars and unleashing
a hellish scenario that might nally
make people pay attention to what is
going on beneath their feet.
Scientists trek up
Lost Mountain
to explore the
underground Ruth
Mullins coal re in
Bulan, Kentucky.
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Eighty-four-year-old Sheldon Johnson never imagined that once he began digging, it would be so
difcult to stop. In February 2000, he climbed into his trackhoe and drove up to a 40-foot hill on his
small farm in southern Utah. The rusty sandstone mound did not match the level of the adjacent new
city road, and the retired optometrist simply wanted to level it. Johnson busily went to work hauling
out 15-foot-long rectangular slabs of the red rock. Then the trackhoe ipped one of the slabs over,
and Johnson saw them: pristinely preserved dinosaur footprints. It was unmistakable. I could see
knuckles, claws, scales, and three big toes. No one hardly believed me at rst, he says.
GIA
The
dinosaurs
are long
gone, but
their tracks
remain,
telling
strange tales
of where the
creatures
went and
how they
lived.
O F
NTS
by
Amy Barth
Two titanosaurs
walked side by
side across this
former lake bed
in Bolivia 68
million years ago.
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Johnson immediately began turning over
more layers of sandstone, breathlessly
checking their underbellies for tracks. To
his delight, nearly every one had some of
the monstrous prints. He called around to
state ofces and universities, and within
a matter of weeks hundreds of curious
spectatorschildren, government offi-
cials, paleontologistsbegan ocking to
the farm. Over the next few years, thou-
sands of tracks were unearthed at the loca-
tion now known as the St. George Dinosaur
Discovery Site at Johnson Farm. Johnson
had stumbled onto one of the worlds most
important dinosaur trackways.
Once dismissed by most paleontologists
as mere curiosities, trackways are increas-
ingly being recognized as vital pieces of
evidence that record otherwise unknow-
able details of daily life millions of years
ago. Fossil bones are wonderful for under-
standing anatomy, but they are inherently
static. Footprints and other impressions,
on the other hand, are snapshots of a crea-
ture in action. When you hold a bone of an
extinct animal, youre holding a remain,
says University of Manchester paleontolo-
gist Phillip Manning. Trackways are from
when the animal is still breathing.
Martin Lockley, a University of Colora-
do paleontologist, has spent nearly three
decades analyzing ancient prints. Tracks
are very dynamic, he says. They show
things like speed, individual behavior,
social behavior, and animals starting to run.
Theyre a quick way to get a lot of infor-
mation. A track site representing several
types of dinosaurs can reveal which major
groups cohabited, indicate the proportion
of juveniles to adults, and offer a general
census of the populations in the area.
So to Lockley it is not the tangible bones
but the intangible footprints that contain the
real stories. Only trackwaysthe negative
spaces that the animals left behindcan
tell how the dinosaurs hunted, dined, and
interacted during the Mesozoic.
A DAY I N THE LI FE
One day some 198 million years ago, a
dilophosaurus or similar dinosaura half-
ton carnivorous lizard at least six feet tall
and around 20 feet longsquatted in the
mud by the side of Lake Dixie, a large
Jurassic freshwater body in what is now
southwestern Utah. (Since there are no
fossils to match to the tracks, paleontolo-
gists can identify the creature only approx-
imately, based on its anatomy.) Perhaps
the fearsome beast surveyed the land as
it sat. Maybe it was searching for its next
meal. What we do know is its precise pos-
ture and movements. It sank its powerful
haunches and small-clawed hands into the
muck. Then it shufed its feet and dragged
its tail as it stepped forward into the arid
Jurassic heat.
This scene is preserved at the St. George
Dinosaur Discovery Site museum, less than
100 yards from where Johnson made his
initial nd. Soon after the dinosaur passed
through, the water level in the lake rose and
sediments quickly washed in, filling the
tracks and preserving them in sandstone.
The resulting traces of a crouching meat-
eating dinosaur, found in 2004, are the only
ones in the world that show clear hand
impressions. The rarity of such markings
indicates that the animals rarely sat down.
But when they did, you can see their pos-
ture, says Andrew Milner, head paleontolo-
A 26.5-ton
sandstone
slab bearing
dinosaur
prints is lifted
from Utahs
Dinosaur
Discovery
Site (above).
The site
also contains
dinosaur
swim tracks
(right).
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gist at the Dinosaur Discovery Site. Mod-
ern birds like emus, or even little perching
birds, fold the legs up underneath the body.
These theropod dinosaursbipedal and
carnivorousdid exactly the same thing.
The similarity in the poses supports the
popular theory that birds evolved from meat-
eating dinosaurs. The traces at St. George
also tell how these dinosaurs grasped their
prey. In dinosaur reconstructions that often
persist in museums today, the hands of
meat-eating dinosaurs are turned down in
front of the body. When you look at the
bones of these animals, you see theyd have
to totally dislocate their shoulders in order
to get their hands in that kind of position,
Milner says. These impressions show the
animals were able to grab their prey and hold
on while biting at it. The prints thus provide
a glimpse of these early theropod dinosaurs
as they ate their meals. The evidence also
suggests that the birdlike arrangement of
bones in the dinosaurs arms evolved more
than 75 million years before the oldest evi-
dence of that in the fossil record.
Those big, carnivorous dinos were not the
only creatures roaming Lake Dixies clay-
rich shores. The same sediment that lled
the dinosaurs footprints created a snap-
shot of an entire ecosystem that was teem-
ing with life. Tadpole nest impressions rest
beside tracks of tiny amphibians stretching
out in their muddy niche. Fish ns, beetles,
branches, and even raindrops left their mark
as well. And there was more than just one
set of dinosaur footprintsa lot more.
DI NOSAUR SOCI ETY
Thousands of claw marks, some of them
preserved down to skin impressions of the
cuticle, reveal that hundreds of dinosaurs
swam parallel to the early Jurassic shore
of Lake Dixie. It is difficult to tell how far
apart in time different prints were made,
but there are ways. So far Milner and his
team have found 25 layers of silt, each con-
taining tracks from a different time period.
Some of these tracks are separated by as
much as two million years. But in the soft
clay depression marking Lake Dixie, Milner
determined that the swim tracks were made
rapidly, within hours of each other. Fine sand
quickly washed into the scratch marks and
filled them, preserving the impressions
before the lake current had a chance to
wash them away. Not only could the dino-
saurs swim, but they did it as part of a social
outing: They were swimming in groups.
Many types of dinosaurs created such
tracks as they plunged through the water.
In deeper areas of the lake, a set of smaller
coelophysid dinosaursknown for their
long, thin necks and tailskicked their feet
so they buoyed upward, their toes striking
the muddy bottom, according to a 2006
paper by Milner. Impressions also reveal
that a larger Dilophosaurus-like dino-
saur, presumably accustomed to wading
in shallow waters, lost its grip along the
lakes edge . We can see the metatarsals,
the lower part of the foot, and how the foot
came to rest on the bottom. The animal
had ipped sideways. More than 100 par-
allel scratch lines made by the animals
scales follow the same direction as the toe
pads. It was slipping, Milner says.
Dinosaur swim tracks have been con-
troversial in the past; a swimming animal
may touch down on a lake oor while fully
or partially afloat, leaving irregular foot
and stride patterns that make it difcult
to say which animal made the markings.
But Lake Dixies exceptionally preserved
tracks unambiguously reveal skin and the
cuticles of claw tips along with the scale
scratches. The creatures swimming here
were undeniably theropod dinosaurs,
Milner notes, and the tracks provide rare
insight into how these fearsome reptiles
behaved when they hit the water.
Most likely the theropods came to Lake
Dixie to eat. The big surprise is what was
on the menu. There are very few prints of
plant-eating dinosaurs in the lake bed, Mil-
ner says, so abandon Jurassic Park-like
images of savage hunters chasing down
giant, plodding prey. Carnivores most like-
ly took a dip in the warm waters for one
key purpose: to sh. Thousands of fossil-
ized semionotid sh (ray-nned sh extinct
since the Cretaceous) have been found in
the area; their hard, enamel-coated scales
would account for the wear found on dino-
saur teeth recovered nearby. Diving, kick-
ing up sand, and bouncing off the lakes
bottom, meat-eating dinosaurs of all sizes
splashed around in the balmy waters of
Lake Dixie, angling for a sushi dinner.
Other dinosaur track sites contain their
own remarkable hints about dinosaur life-
styles. In southern Bolivia, just outside the
countrys capital, Sucre, sites encompass
more than 5,000 footprints representing
465 different dinosaurs from the late Creta-
ceous, near the end of the age of dinosaurs.
On one hill at a site called Humaca, 11 juve-
nile sauropods (relatives of the enormous
dino commonly known as a brontosaurus)
appear to be moving in tandem. Their foot-
print trails veer in unison, implying that the
animals turned together as a herd, some-
what like modern elephants or migrating
geese. That regular spacing is analogous
to birds flying in formation. They had a
sense of space between them. These large
animals were gregarious, Lockley says.
Nearby, footprints crisscross a wall at
a Bolivian limestone quarry known as Cal
Orcko. Some 68 million years ago, herds
of titanosaurs (more sauropods) apparently
ocked to a prehistoric lake in this area in
search of food and freshwater. Today, geo-
logic movements have tilted those tracks
into a rock face angled at a precarious 70
degrees. One set of footprints stretches
200 feet up the wall. Lockley and Christian
Meyer, a Swiss paleontologist who led the
mapping of this region from 1998 to 2003,
hung from ropes to document the imprints
exquisitely preserved here. Their fear was
that a sudden earthquake, or just the grad-
ual seeping of rain into rock layers at the
quarry, would destroy the precious forma- S
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SIMULATING TRACKWAYS
Fossil footprints are found all
over the planet, but guring out
who took those steps requires
careful detective work. So Simon
Jackson, a paleontologist working
with researchers at the University of
Shefeld , recently ran a simulation
showing how prints are distorted
and preserved in dry, moist, and very
wet sandy surfaces. In the image
below, a model dinosaur foot was
stamped in watery sand. As the foot
pulled out, sediment walls closed
up, narrowing the print. Sometimes
you get what looks like a twisted
toe, or webbed footing. Its not there
in the actual foot, its the nature of
the sediment, says Martin Whyte,
a paleontologist who collaborated
on the study. Prints formed in clay
(like those at the Dinosaur Discovery
Site) are preserved best, while those
in drier sand often appear enlarged,
giving the illusion of a bigger animal
with shorter strides . Once youve
sorted out the sediment, you can
better interpret the actual foot and
what that tells you about the animal
that made it, Whyte says. A.B.
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tion. Safeguarding the entire wall would
cost millions of dollars.
Lockley and Meyer did their best with
their limited funds, attempting to protect
the face with clay, plastic, and even Gore-
Tex-like webbing; nevertheless, a major
section of Cal Orcko collapsed in Febru-
ary, taking with it at least 200 footprints
made by two titanosaurs, beasts that may
have measured 40 feet long. Still, the park
remains one of the worlds largest dinosaur
trackway sites.
ORI GI N OF THE SPECI ES
Some 50 million years before titanosaurs
stomped through southern Bolivia, deli-
cate roadrunner-like birds darted among
the Cretaceous dinosaurs in what is now
Chinas Shandong province. These ani-
mals, too, left their prints behind. Fossil
bones dont clearly show whether modern-
type birds uttered about during the Cre-
taceous , but the treads in Shandong do ,
painting an improbable scene: Animals
much like todays roadrunners were in fact
scampering beside two-legged, plant-
eating dinosaurs. According to the fossil
record of bones, roadrunners didnt appear
until very recently, in the last million years
during the Ice Age. These footprints are
100 million years old, says Lockley, who
wrote a study on the nd, which is a telling
example of how prints can ll in major gaps
in the evolutionary record.
Footprints in southern Germany, for
example, may extend the entire dinosaur
lineage back four to ve million years. The
tracks were formed 240 to 245 million
years ago by a cat-size reptile called Roto-
dactylus, known from its footprints alone;
no bone evidence of dinosaurs dates this
far back, says paleontologist Hartmut
Haubold of Martin Luther University in
Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. Rotodactylus
is believed to be a dinosaur or a surviv-
ing dinosaur ancestor that lived just after
dinos and crocodilians split into separate
branches. The German trackways there-
fore offer a unique look at how the earli-
est dinosaurs differed from their rivals and
evolved into the creatures that dominated
the planet for the next 175 million years.
Like Rotodactylus, the earliest mem-
bers of the dinosaur lineage were small,
with fragile, chickenlike bones that rarely
lasted long enough to form fossils. With
so few skeletal remains, paleontologists
are increasingly turning to trackways to
close major gaps in that early chapter in
dinosaur history. The lack of corroborating
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fossils makes it hard to be positive that
Rotodactylus was an early member of the
dinosaur line (and not, say, a closely relat-
ed archosaur), but if Haubold is correct,
dinosaurs emerged earlier and took longer
to dominate than scientists believed.
Footprints dont preserve a lot of anato-
my, but sometimes they lead to substantial
revisions of a groups evolutionary history,
says Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at
the American Museum of Natural History in
New York City. An extreme example of such
revision came this past January, when the
cover of Nature featured footprints discov-
ered in the Holy Cross Mountains in south-
ern Poland. Those prints were made by the
earliest tetrapod (four-legged) land verte-
brate ever found. Nearly 400 million years
old, they are 18 million years more ancient
than the oldest known tetrapod bones. The
nd is forcing scientists to reassess their
thinking about when and how shlike crea-
tures made the transition onto land.
Brusatte and Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki,
the Warsaw University paleontologist who
led the research, are examining several
dinosaur track sites scattered in central
and southern Poland. Some of these sites
formed during the Triassic era, when dino-
saurs rst emerged. Large clay pits there
preserved a vast accumulation of foot-
prints from dinosaurs and their near rela-
tives, yielding a nearly unbroken record of
this ecosystemeverything from insects to
branches to vertebratescovering 75 mil-
lion years. The tracks at these sites could
possibly extend the dinosaurs evolutionary
line millions of years further, to an age even
before Rotodactylus. Brusatte and Niedz-
wiedzki plan to return to the sites this sum-
mer to take a census of the footprints.
The ultimate goal is to see when these
early dinosaurs took off. We want to know
whether they were very rare, when they
became more common, and how big they
were, Brusatte says. Bones can tell you
that, but a single organism leaves millions
of footprints and only one skeleton.
A half-ton
dilophosaurus
(above) or
similar crea-
ture probably
made this
exquisitely
preserved
theropod
footprint
(right) recov-
ered at Utahs
Dinosaur
Discovery
Site.
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In 1985 Leroy Hood was one of the high-
prole molecular biologists called to a
power summit in Santa Cruz, California.
The goal of the meeting was to deter-
mine whether an institute should be
established there to sequence the entire
human genomea costly and complex
undertaking. The idea had its skeptics,
but Hood viewed the effort as crucial
to creating information-based medicine
and, ultimately, treating disease at the
genetic level. His view prevailed, and
the project famously completed its full
map of the human genome in 2003.
With this vast wealth of information in
hand, Hood is pushing a new approach
to medicine that he calls P4predictive,
personalized, preventive, and partici-
patory. The foundation of P4 medicine
is the idea that in the near future we will
have the tools to reduce enormously
complex data from 300 million Ameri-
cans to simple hypotheses about health
and disease for each individual, he says.
So far the payoff for treating genetic
disease has been scant. But a flurry of
recent breakthroughs has made Hood,
now president of the Institute for Systems
Biology in Seattle, hopeful that his elegant
new techniques for mining the genome
and studying its interplay with the envi-
ronment will soon transform medicine.
You have said that medicine
is at the edge of an information
revolution. Can you explain?
In less than a decade, each of us will be
surrounded by a virtual cloud of billions of
points of medical data. Genome sequenc-
ing will cost only a few hundred dollars,
so that will become a part of the medi-
cal record of each individual. A fraction of
a drop of blood will be used to measure
2,500 blood proteins that assess the pos-
sibility of disease in each of your 50 major
organs. Medicine will be personalized
and preventive: Your genome might pre-
dict that you have an 80 percent chance
of breast cancer by the time you are 50,
but if you take a preventive drug starting
when you are 40, the chance will drop to
2 percent. We will have the computational
tools to connect all this information so we
can gain enormous insights into health and
disease and fashion an unbelievably pre-
dictive medicine of the future.
What prompted you to push for the
Human Genome Project 25 years ago?
I realized we couldnt understand complex-
ity one gene or one protein at a time; we
needed a parts list of every human gene
and the protein it coded for. My group at
Caltech [where Hood worked at the time]
had developed the enabling technology to
analyze the genome, an automated DNA
sequencer that uses fluorescent dyes to
color-code the four different basesthe
As, Cs, Ts, and Gsthat make up a strand
of DNA. Its like having a pearl necklace
with four different-colored beads on it. If
you could snip them off one at a time and
determine their colors, you could order
the beads on the necklace. By ordering
First he made a machine that can
read DNA at lightning speed. Now
Leroy Hood wants to reach into the
genome to revolutionize medicine.
BY PAMELA WEINTRAUB PHOTOGRAPH BY JOS MANDOJANA
the beads, we determine the DNA sequence
for a given gene.
How else have you helped
advance the genomics revolution?
Two of our faculty members at the Univer-
sity of Washington [another of Hoods pre-
vious homes] invented the rst key meth-
ods for proteomics, the study of proteins
found in a cell, an organ, or an individual
organism. We developed a high-speed
cell sorter to separate different types
of cells. We also helped develop DNA
arrays chips containing short sequences
of DNA that match up with parts of genes.
For any given cell or tissue sample, these
arrays can probe for the genes essential
for understanding the underlying state of
wellness or disease.
In 2000 you left academia to found
the not-for-prot Institute for Systems
Biology. Why?
The Human Genome Project gave us a
parts list of genes and their proteins, but
we still needed to understand them in the
context of the entire biological system.
This includes the networks that connect
the genes and proteins, organizing them
into cells, tissues, organs, individuals,
and populations. At each of these levels,
the environment impinges on the signal
coming from the DNA and changes it. The
grand fallacy back then was that genomics
could give us the answer to everything. It
can give some insights, but unless you put
them together with other levels of infor-
THE GENE HEALER
THE DISCOVER INTERVIEW
LEROY HOOD
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mation, you cant understand whats going
on. That integration is systems biology.

This year, your team and another at
Baylor College of Medicine published
landmark studies linking a specic gene
with a specic disease by sequencing
the genomes of an entire family in which
that disease occurs. What did you do?
Past studies looked at large popula-
tions of unrelated individuals and came
up with long lists of genes that could be
categorized as behaving in unusual ways
in a particular disease. But there were so
many DNA sequencing errors imposed by
the equipment, it was difcult to determine
which gene caused the disease. A year ago
we started thinking, why dont we select a
single family with an interesting disease
and see whether studying a smaller group
of related individuals makes it possible
to identify the genes involved in that dis-
ease. In the family we chose, the mother
and father were healthy, but the two chil-
dren each had two single-gene diseases:
ciliary dyskinesia, in which the defective
gene was known, and Millers syndrome, a
craniofacial defect for which the causative
gene was unknown. Our analysis located
the gene causing Millers syndrome. This is
important because it shows that we can nd
the genetic cause of diseases even com-
mon diseases involving many mutationsif
we sequence family genomes.

Why did looking at a single family
yield information that you could not get
from earlier studies of large groups?
With a single family, we can use the princi-
ples of Mendelian genetics to correct more
than 70 percent of the DNA sequencing
errors caused by the equipment and the
chemistry. How? If you know the mothers
genome and the fathers genome and you
see that the children have some genes that
neither parent has, then you know that dif-
ference is either a mutation or a processing
error. When we did this correction, we were
nally able to study models of genetic dis-
ease. Its that simple. We live and learn.

Will you now use family genome
sequencing to study other, more com-
mon and complex diseases?
Weve already picked another single-gene
trait, Huntingtons disease. After that, we
plan to study Alzheimers, which is really a
whole series of diseases. Before we can
nd the genes involved, we have to stratify
Alzheimers patients into distinct types. So
far weve identied about 100 blood pro-
teins specic to the brain. Each of those
proteins represents the operation of the
brain network that synthesized it. If a brain
is normal, each of those proteins will have
one level of expression. But if the brain is
diseased, a subset of those proteins will
have their concentration changed. Each
form of Alzheimers disease should perturb
different brain networks and so inuence
the concentration of different proteins that
can be measured in the blood.
How will your P4 concept change the
overall shape of health care?
The systems approach will take medicine
from a focus on disease to a predictive,
personalized, preventive, and participatory
mode that focuses on wellness. That shift
will reverse ever-escalating medical costs
to the point where I think we can export
P4 medicine to the undeveloped world
and will make possible a democratization
of health care that was absolutely incon-
ceivable even ve years ago.
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Isaac Newton
and the
Philosophers
Stone
For centuries some of the worlds greatest
geniuses struggled in secret to turn base metals
into gold. In a sense they succeeded:
In their restless quest, they unlocked some
of natures greatest secrets.
By Jane Bosveld Photographs by Adam Krause
Alchemists
glasses, similar
to the ones
Newton used,
were re-created
at Indiana
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Lawrence Principe was sorting through a collection of old chemistry books at the
Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia when he stumbled upon a forgotten manuscript
handwritten by Sir Isaac Newton. Any Newton manuscript is of interest, but this one was worth its
weight in gold, literallyas Principe, a chemist and historian of science at Johns Hopkins University,
recognized immediately. Holding the yellowed manuscript in his hands and studying the scribbled
words, he understood that he was looking at one of the best-kept secrets in the history of science.
Today revered as the father of modern physics and the inventor of calculus, Newton was describing
a recipe for the Philosophers Stone,
a legendary substance that reputedly
could turn base metals like iron and
lead into gold. Newtons dabblings in
alchemy are well known, but his belief
that he had found the closely guarded
blueprint for the Philosophers Stone
was astonishing indeed.
Newton was not the only intellec-
tual heavyweight from his era trying
to make gold. The recipe for the Phi-
losophers Stone had come from his
older contemporary, the famed British
chemist Robert Boyle. As it turns out,
Boyle was a devotee of alchemy too.
If two of the greatest scientists who
ever lived were dedicated alchemists,
then alchemy needs a makeover, a
big one, contend Principe and his col-
league William Newman, a historian of
science at Indiana University. Back in
the day, the two argue, alchemy was
not the misguided pseudoscience that
most people think it was. Rather, it was
a valuable and necessary phase in the
development of modern chemistry.
Among alchemys signature accom-
plishments: creating new alloys;
manufacturing acids and pigments;
inventing apparatus for distillation, the
process used in making perfumes and
whiskeys; conceiving of atoms centu-
ries before modern atomic theory; and
providing a template for the scientic
method by running controlled experi-
ments again and again.
Aiming to restore alchemy to its
rightful status, Principe and Newman
who came to the eld separately
but joined forces after meeting at a
conference in 1989went through
medieval alchemical texts, letters,
and laboratory notebooks lled with
odd symbols and coded language.
Then they did something unheard-of
in recent times: They made replicas
of the laboratory glassware used by
15th-, 16th-, and 17th-century alche-
mists and re-created their experi-
ments rsthand.
There were reasons that alche-
mists thought they could make gold,
Newman says. They had theories
about the nature of metals that made
them believe they could manipulate
their structure. They also conducted
experiments that they believed proved
minerals could be made to grow. In
an age when there were no micro-
scopes to penetrate living cells and
no understanding of the nature of
atoms and molecules, the alchemists
were not misguided so much as mis-
informed, doing their best to make
sense of a world they could not see.
That they understood as much as
they did is the real marvel: In pursu-
ing what today seems like little more
than witchcraft, the alchemists were
Alchemy by
Jan Stradanus,
painted in 1570.
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C
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DV71016.indd 1 5/11/10 12:33:17 PM
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in fact laying the foundation for modern
experimental science.
Newman did not know much about alche-
my as an undergraduate at the University of
North Carolina at Greensboro in the mid-
1970s. His passion at the time was literature.
When he started to study the poets William
Blake and William Butler Yeats, he did what
young academics always do: He checked
out their sources. To his surprise, he found
that both poets had drawn inspiration from
alchemy. Newman noted that Blake was
born in 1757 and that Yeats died in 1939:
They reected a creative interest in alche-
my that spanned the late 18th to the early
20th centuryexactly the rational period
of the Enlightenment and of modern sci-
enceat the same time that most histo-
rians were branding alchemy delusional.
What was going on? he wondered.
Newman decided to look more closely
at the alchemists who had influenced
Blake and Yeats. These included a shad-
owy 13th-century gure known as Geber,
whose magnum opus was called The Sum
of Perfection. Not a modest title, right?
Newman says, laughing. Some historians
had identified Geber as the translated
name of an eighth-century Islamic alche-
mist, but Newmans research turned up
evidence supporting a different interpre-
tation : Geber was actually the alias of Paul
of Taranto, an obscure Franciscan monk
from southern Italy. To alchemists toiling
and tinkering in the laboratory, Geber was
an infallible master; his book was regarded
as the bible of alchemy. Thats how much
inuence he had, Newman says.
Whoever Geber was, Newman was
struck by the range of ideas in his book,
which contains everything from details
about rening metals to a description of the
essential behaviors of matter. It was clear
that medieval alchemists were struggling
with fundamental questions that would later
become central to chemistry and physics.
For instance, Geber believed that all matter
was composed of invisible particles called
corpuscles and that these corpuscles could
be manipulated even though they could not
be directly observed. He wrote about all
sorts of material transformations (what we
would now call chemical reactions) in terms
of microparticles and pores, using con-
cepts and terminology that foreshadowed
the thinking that would emerge during the
Scientic Revolution three centuries later.
The way to manipulate corpuscles, Geber
instructed, was to follow nature wherever
possible. In other words, alchemists had to
discern and then mimic natural processes.
Their idea of natural processes was much
different from ours, however. Most alche-
mists believed metals were not elements as
we think of them today, Newman says, but
rather compounds of sulfur and mercury or
sometimes mercury, sulfur, and salt. Sulfur
was what made metal hard, they theorized;
mercury made it more uid. In that frame-
work, iron was composed primarily of sulfur.
Gold, which was malleable and softer, con-
sisted mostly of mercury. Though the alche-
mists missed the mark, their conception was
not too far from an understanding of pure
metals as distinct from alloys and ores.
Misunderstanding which materials were
elemental and which were composites led
the alchemists to believe they could create
gold from lead or other base metals if only
they got the formula right. And the essential
ingredient that would make it all happen?
The elusive Philosophers Stone. Alchemists
before Geber had used all sorts of ingredi-
ents derived from plants and animals in an
attempt to make the Stone. Some had even
experimented with human blood. According
to Newman, one of the earliest promoters
of science through experimentation, the
13th-century philosopher Roger Bacon,
argued that creating the Philosophers
Stone required blood because each person
was thought to be a microcosm of the whole
world. Therefore, human blood contained at
least a little of everything in nature.
Geber, who tried to create gold by remov-
ing sulfur and adding mercury, pooh-poohed
this idea in The Sum of Perfection. Using
organic materials as blood, fat, saliva, and
so forth was irrational, he wrote, since
Nature herself does not make the met-
als beneath the earth from human blood.
Gebers way of thinking became the new
standard for medieval alchemists as they
started distilling mercury and combining it
with different metals in an effort to make the
Philosophers Stone.
As Newman read old alchemical texts,
he discovered that by the late 15th and
early 16th centuries (the time of da Vinci
and the beginning of the Renaissance),
alchemists had rened not just mercury but
also their core ideas about matter. Newman
links this shift in alchemical thinking to the
wondrous new stories that miners of silver
and copper ore in central Europe were then
telling, of giant trunks of minerals branching
out into limblike veins deep underground.
The mineral nds were realdeposits of
metallic silver truly can spread out in rock
in shapes that resemble huge, intricate
treesbut the interpretation was not: The
apparent similarity between these deposits
and trees inspired the notion that minerals
might develop and change like living things.
Renaissance alchemists now theorized that
base metals (the ones earlier alchemists
thought were made mostly of sulfur) were
imperfectly developed, or immature, forms
of gold. In other words, Newman says,
gold was the perfectly ripe fruit into which
subterranean base metals would eventually
grow if left long enough within the earth.
Following this line of thought, alche-
mists believed that gold became inert and
stopped growing once it was removed
from the earth, just as a ower dies after
being plucked from a plant. There should
be a way, then, to bring mined gold back to
life. Reanimating gold, the reasoning went,
would be easier than adjusting the formula
of base metals by adding and removing
sulfur and mercury. Thus began the Renais-
sance equivalent of the great California
gold rush. Well-trained, intellectual alche-
mists sold the prospect of making gold to
rich patrons, and less well-educated alche-
mists with day jobs tinkered the night away
trying to make gold in makeshift kitchen
laboratories. According to Newman, the
17th century was the age of gold, both
searching for it and making it.
In his ongoing investigation into this
remarkable era, Newman became intrigued
by one of the most inuential of the 17th-
century alchemistsanother mysterious
gure, a man named Eirenaeus Philalethes,
who was said to live in colonial America. His
real identity was cloaked in secrecy, but his
alchemical writings were read throughout
Europe. Detective work by Newman proved
that Philalethes did not really exist. Another
Alchemists believed
that gold became
inert once it was
removed from the
earth. There had
to be a way to bring it
back to life.
78 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710ALCHEMY6B4_WC 78 5/17/10 4:03:08 PM
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ADVERTISEMENT
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DV71017.indd 1 5/11/10 12:33:46 PM
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respected American alchemist, George
Starkey, had created him out of thin air to
boost his career. In the European alchemy
circles Starkey inhabited, he could boast
that he was the only one who had met the
great Philalethes. Better yet, Starkey con-
ded to Robert Boyle, Philalethes had told
him part of the top-secret process for mak-
ing the Philosophers Stone. In 1651 Boyle
took the bait and asked Starkey to teach him
chemistry so he could make the Stone him-
self. (Boyle, considered the father of mod-
ern chemistry, knew almost nothing about it
until he studied under Starkey, according to
Newman .) A Boyle notebook uncovered by
Principe in the mid-1990s describes how a
wandering alchemist seemingly transformed
lead into gold before his eyes. The powder
that was employd in the operations was
not weighd, Boyle wrote. I cannot tell
precisely how many parts of lead were trans-
muted by it, but I remember the Gold weighd
much above half an ounce. Whatever Boyle
actually saw, it was enough to convince him
that making gold was possible.
describing the volatility of gold, he found
a treasure trove of writings on alchemy by
Boyle. One of those manuscripts included a
description of an absolutely real substance
then called Philosophical Mercurya liquid
form of mercury that could dissolve gold
slowly, a pivotal stage in gold making.
Today Principe suspects that Philosophi-
cal Mercury was the prized ingredient that
Isaac Newton had sought from Boyle for
yearsa crucial component for making the
Philosophers Stone. But like most alche-
mists, Boyle kept the details of his alchemi-
cal work hidden; he even withheld a part of
the recipe for making red earth, which he
believed was the direct precursor to the Phi-
losophers Stone. Red earth was thought
to be about as close to the Philosophers
Stone as you could get, Principe explains.
It was said to change lead into gold, but
a lot less efciently than the Philosophers
Stone itself. It was assumed that if you could
create red earth, it would be relatively sim-
ple to get to the Philosophers Stone from
there. The age of scientic transparency
Historian of science
William Newman
demonstrates a replica
of Newtons alchemy
furnace outside his
Indiana garage.
Like Newmans, Principes immersion in
the labyrinthine world of alchemy began
in college, in his case in the early 1980s,
after he read The Twelve Keys, an allegori-
cal work written in the 15th century by an
inuential alchemist and supposed Bene-
dictine monk, Basil Valentine. In his work,
Valentine included an illustration that,
Principe suspected, depicted a method
for rendering goldnormally one of the
most stable elementsvolatile.
Looking around for other documents
80 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710ALCHEMY6B5_WC 80 5/17/10 11:02:36 AM
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was still a good century or two away.
Newton was even more secretive than
Boyle, disguising his alchemical investiga-
tions (he wrote more than a million unpub-
lished words on the subject) with codes,
obscure symbols for chemicals, and col-
orful metaphors. His notes contain cryptic
references to Green Lion, Neptunes Tri-
dent, and the Scepter of Jove. Newman
has not yet gured out what substances
any of these terms refer to.
To really understand what Newton was
seeing in his laboratory, Newman realized in
2002, he needed to repeat some of the old
alchemical experiments himself. He started
by building replicas of alchemical furnaces
and glassware, including distilling appa-
ratus, with the help of Indiana Universitys
chemistry department. One key alchemical
experiment was called the Tree of Diana, a
magical-looking demonstration that metals
could grow like vegetation. Newman learned
that the Tree of Diana really works. If you
immerse a solid amalgam of silver and mer-
cury in nitric acid with dissolved silver and
mercury, you produce tiny, twiglike branches
of solid silver , he says. Today this process
is regarded as a simple matter of chemistry.
But to Newton, the Tree of Diana was evi-
dence that metals could be made to grow
and, therefore, possessed a sort of life.
The image of the growing metallic tree
can be found in another type of experiment,
one that Starkey, Boyle, and very likely
Newton all conducted: the attempt to syn-
thesize the Philosophers Stone. Principe,
who had studied the alchemical work of all
three men, came to the same conclusion
as Newman and decided that he, too, had
to replicate the long-abandoned alchemi-
cal experiments rsthand. He culled recipes
from alchemists like Starkey and, after a
lengthy process involving various materials
and numerous distillations, obtained Phil-
osophical Mercury, just as Boyle had 350
years earlier . Principe mixed the Philosophi-
cal Mercury with gold, sealed it in a glass
egg, and watched. Just as Starkey and
other alchemists reported, strange things
started to happen inside the egg. The mix-
ture began to bubble, rising like leavened
dough, Principe says. Then it turned pasty
and liquid and, after several days of heating,
transformed into what he likens to a den-
dritic fractal: another metallic tree, like the
trees the miners saw underground, only this
one was made of gold and mercury.
Principes tree, like all the trees any
alchemist managed to create, did not actu-
ally grow any gold, of course; the gold that
came out was no greater than the amount
that he put in. But the experiments proved
something that Principe had long sus-
pected. Alchemists were not just tinkering
blindly. In fact, they produced what he calls
a solid body of repeated and repeatable
observations of laboratory results. In their
tightly controlled experiments they made
metals bubble, change colors, and grow
sparkling laments, and they did it over and
over again, establishing, in a crude way, the
foundations of scientic experimentation. In
the process they were learning fundamen-
tal principles of chemistry: breaking down
ores, dissolving metals with acids, and pre-
cipitating metals out of solution.
Ever since he found that singular Newton
manuscript, Principe has wondered what
was going on in the mind of one of historys
most brilliant scientists. How close did New-
ton and Boyle think they had come to mak-
ing gold? Did they believe that with just a few
more tweaks, their experiments would even-
tually work? Principe says yes, they prob-
ably did. Why, otherwise, would the highly
apolitical Boyle have lobbied the Houses of
Parliament to overturn a law forbidding gold
making? He was a very scrupulous man,
and before he went about doing transmu-
tation, he wanted to make sure it wasnt
against the law, Principe says.
Further evidence of their seriousness
emerged after Boyles death in 1691. In
life, Boyle had guarded his recipe for red
earth as if it were the most precious thing
in the world. But upon his death, his exec-
utor, the philosopher John Locke, also an
alchemist, was more generous, sending
Newton the recipe along with a sample
that Boyle had made before his death.
No one knows what Newton did with
the red earth. Principe notes that Newton
suffered a mental breakdown a year after
Boyles death and wonders if that episode
might have been brought on by mercury
poisoning. After all, the rst steps in mak-
ing red earth require repeatedly heating and
cooling mercury. Shortly after he would
have gotten copies of this recipe, he was
distilling mercury, Principe says. But New-
man thinks that Newtons breakdown is just
as likely to be related to Lockes trying to set
him up with a well-to-do widow. Newton
had a sort of pathological fear of females,
and around that time Locke was pressur-
ing him to date. That may be what pushed
him over the edge, he notes. (Newton is
believed to have died a virgin, according to
historian Gale Christianson.)
No matter how skillfully the two giants
of 17th-century science manipulated the
red earth and set their sights on the Phi-
losophers Stone, they would have failed to
make gold. We know now that such a trans-
formation requires not a chemical reaction
but a nuclear one, far beyond the reach of
the technology of the time. By the early
18th century, alchemists had given up on
their quest for gold. Theyd gured out that
in a practical way their attempts to make
the Philosophers Stone never worked,
Newman says. That does not mean that their
other work was abandoned, however. As
Newman says, The goals of 18th-century
chemistrynamely, to understand the mate-
rial composition of things through analysis
and synthesis and to make useful products
such as pharmaceuticals, pigments, porce-
lain, and various rened chemicalswere
largely inherited from the 16th- and 17th-
century alchemists.
Without the pioneering alchemists, none
of that would have been possible. They
were the masters of premodern chemical
technology, Newman says. As the true
power and limitations of chemistry came
into focus, interest in the Philosophers
Stone simply faded away, much as the
belief in the classical Four Elements had
faded away centuries before. Almost over-
night, the perception of alchemy became
conated with an unforgiving view of the
protoscientic world as one populated by
mystics and superstitious fools.
As for Isaac Newtons prized sample
of red earth from John Locke, it was very
likely thrown out after Newton died in
1727. Unless someone kept it. Imagine a
little packet of Philosophers Stone stuck
between the pages of a book from New-
tons library. If it is out there, for the sake of
alchemy and science, lets hope Newman
and Principe are the ones who nd it.
Alchemists made
metals bubble,
change colors, and
grow sparkling
laments.
82 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710ALCHEMY6A_WC 82 5/14/10 1:06:46 AM
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Imagine examining artifacts in the Smithsonian
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the $100 Union.
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For the uninitiated, the name SETI Institute may conjure up sleek glass
buildings, mammoth radio dishes, and creased-brow researchers rushing
about waving enigmatic printouts. After all, SETIthe Search for Extrater-
restrial Intelligenceis one of the most far-reaching and controversial proj-
ects in science. The idea that the universe might contain civilizations other
than our own probably helped get Giordano Bruno burned at the stake in
1600. It sparked a famous 19th-century newspaper hoax in which astrono-
mers were said to have found a society of man-bats on the moon. It
motivated Percival Lowells writings about canals on Mars at the turn of the
last century, and it inspired Orson Welless infamous War of the Worlds
radio broadcast in 1938, which sent hundreds of thousands of listeners into
a panic over a ctional Martian invasion they thought was real.
As the culmination of that grand history, the SETI Institute deserves an
equally grand location, but the reality is quite a bit more modest. The insti-
tute occupies a single oor in an ofce park across the street from a resi-
dential district in suburban Mountain View, California, not far from a printing
company and a shop called Fun House Theatrical Costumes. This is the
biggest such operation in the world, says Seth Shostak, a senior scientist
with the institute, and there are just 10 or 12 of us here doing SETI. Its not
legions of lab-coated scientists with clipboards. I wish it were.
At rst blush, the organizations results might seem equally disap-
pointing. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the rst modern SETI
search: It was in April 1960 that astronomer Frank Drake pointed a radio
telescope at the nearby star Tau Ceti and began listening for the telltale
ping of an alien communication. Instead he just heard static, and in the
half-century since, the silence has been complete.
Call
Waiting
B Y M I C H A E L L E M O N I C K
For 50 years a devoted group of scientists has
been listening for signals from intelligent aliens.
Despite all the dead air, the true believers say the
odds of success are now better than ever.
DV0710SETI5A_WC 84 5/11/10 9:22:46 PM
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The Allen Telescope Array
in Hat Creek, California,
has been listening for signals
from ET since 2007.
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So is Shostak discouraged by all the dead air? Heck no, he says,
not missing a beat. Despite ve decades of null results and chronic
underfunding, he and his colleagues are more upbeat than ever. He
ticks off some reasons: Dramatic improvements in technology are
speeding up the search. Recent star surveys indicate that planetary
systemsvery likely including many Earth-like planetsare common
throughout the Milky Way and the rest of the universe. And the latest
explorations of our own planet demonstrate that life can exist in a
much wider range of environments than anyone previously thought.
As a result, many SETI scientists regard the last 50 years as just
a learning process. Imagine, says Jill Tarter, director of the Cen-
ter for SETI Research at the SETI Institute and one of the stalwarts
in the eld, that you didnt know whether there were any sh in
Earths oceans. So you go out and dip a single eight-ounce glass
in the water. You might nd one. But if the glass came up empty, I
dont think your rst response would be There are no sh.
SETI searchers have known from the beginning that success would
be a long shot. A discriminating search for signals deserves a con-
siderable effort, wrote Cornell physicists Giuseppe Cocconi and
Philip Morrison in a 1959 Nature paper titled Searching for Interstel-
lar Communications, the rst formally argued rationale for SETI. The
probability of success is difcult to estimate; but if we never search,
the chance of success is zero. Cocconi and Morrison argued that the
best way to communicate across interstellar space would be by radio
because it is practical to transmit and receive and can easily pass
through Earths (and presumably the alien planets) atmosphere.
Drake was a young radio astronomer at the time, working at
the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West
Virginia. When the Nature paper came out, he was already work-
ing on a detector he could use on the observatorys 85-foot radio
dish to search for alien signals. He called that rst search Project
Ozma, after the princess of Oz from L. Frank Baums books. The
project failed, but he was not surprised. After all, he had looked
at just a handful of stars and radio frequencies, for a whopping
two months. Nobody could possibly expect to luck onto an alien
broadcast that easily, unless there happened to be technologically
advanced civilizations lurking around just about every star.
Soon after this rst attempt, Drake came up with the celebrated
Drake equation, which became the fundamental organizing principle
for the new cross-disciplinary eld of astrobiology. The equation
looked at all the factors determining how many (if any) detectable
extraterrestrial societies are out there. Drake multiplied the number
of sunlike stars in our galaxy that form each year by a handful of
variables: the fraction of those stars that have planets; the number
of planets per planetary system where life could exist; the fraction
of habitable planets where life actually arises; the fraction of those
where intelligence emerges; the fraction of intelligent species that
develop interstellar communication; and nally, the average length
of time that those communicating civilizations survive.
The only one of those factors that scientists had a clue about at
the time was the formation rate of sunlike stars. The rest was pure
speculation. On the question of how often life arises under the right
conditions, for example, optimists like Carl Sagan thought it would
almost always happen. Others suspected that life was actually a rare
occurrence. At a gathering convened by Drake early on, opinions as
MANY SCIENTISTS regard the last 50 years as just a learning process.
SETI pioneer
Frank Drake
(standing,
center ) at
the National
Radio
Astronomy
Observatory
in 1962.
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YOUD HATE to be tuning in to channel 5 when the aliens are happily
to the number of civilizations in the Milky Way ranged from 1,000 to
100,000,000 , but many researchers outside that group thought the
true number might be 1just us. That is an absurdly broad range,
so scientists of all stripes set out to nail down the actual gures in
Drakes equation. Astronomers went in search of planets circling other
stars. Planetary scientists began sending probes to Mars, Venus, and
other places to look for signs that life might have taken hold else-
where. Biologists tried to unravel the secret of lifes origins. And SETI
searchers kept scanning for that long-awaited signal from space.
Over the next couple of decades, there were a few fleeting
moments of excitement in the world of SETI. In the 1960s astrono-
mers reported evidence of a planet orbiting nearby Barnards Star.
In 1976 it was reported that NASAs Viking landers had detected
a hint of biological activity in the soil of Mars (See Its Alive,
DISCOVER, June 2010). A year later, astronomer Jerry Ehman
announced his Wow! signal, so named because it looked so much
like an alien message that he jotted Wow! on the printout from
his radio telescope. None of these leads panned out.
It was not until 1995 that astronomers began to make some
progress in cracking the Drake equation. That is when a Swiss
team found the rst planet orbiting a sunlike star other than our
sun. The proof that planets really are out there gave a huge boost
to the mood of SETI searchers. Today the tally of such so-called
extrasolar planets stands at more than 450, including a few super-
Earths, worlds that are several times more massive than ours. The
recently launched Kepler space telescope will soon begin nding
Earth-mass planets if they exist; given the profusion of planets
found so far, nobody doubts that they do.
At the same time, SETI scientists have started feeling more bullish
about the next part of Drakes equation, the fraction of planets that
could support life. Until about 10 years ago, we were only consider-
ing planets orbiting sunlike stars as suitable places for life, Drake
says. The most common type of star in the galaxysmall, dim,
red stars known as M-dwarfsoutnumber sunlike stars 10 to 1,
but they were generally dismissed out of hand. For one thing, such
stars tend to emit a lot of ares, making them unreliable sources of
sustenance. For another, they are so cool and dim that any habitable
planets would have to orbit extremely nearby. At such close range,
a planet would probably become gravitationally locked to its star,
so that one boiling-hot side would perpetually face the star while
the other side, freezing cold, would face out into dark space. We
thought those were showstoppers, Drake says.
But the theorists have reconsidered. The aring of M-dwarfs seems
to die down over time, and new climate models suggest that even
a locked planet could be habitable because its atmosphere would
help even out the temperatures. Meanwhile, a project called MEarth,
begun in 2008 using off-the-shelf amateur telescopes, has already
found a planet orbiting an M-dwarf that is only a bit too large and a
bit too hot to be considered Earth-like. Expanding the number of
potential target stars obviously raises the SETI odds considerably.
So does the realization that the habitable zone (the region around
a star where a planet could have liquid water, essential for life as we
know it) is a lot broader than anyone had thought back in 1960. We
now know, Drake says, that you could move Venus a lot farther
from the sun and it would remain habitable due to greenhouse
warming. We know that theres liquid water under the surface of
the moons Europa and Enceladus. Im not saying there could be a
technological civilization in the ocean on Europa; you probably need
re for that. But Im more enthusiastic about SETI than ever.
It is not just the expanded number of possible targets that has
Drake and the other SETI scientists feeling upbeat. It is also the
drastic increase in the power of the actual searches for alien signals.
Ever since Drakes rst experiment, scientists have had to guess at
pretty much every aspect of how extraterrestrials might broadcast,
including the thorny issue of which among billions of possible radio
frequencies they would use. You would hate to be tuning in to chan-
nel 5 when the aliens are happily chattering away on channel 6.
Listening in on many channels at once requires powerful elec-
tronics. But since the rst SETI experiments, digital electronics
have increased exponentially in power while plummeting in cost.
That means searchers can look at far more stars, in far more ways,
in a given amount of time. Were doing 14 orders of magnitude
better than Frank Drake did with Project Ozmaand that improve-
ment is going to continue, Tarter says.
Back in the days of Project Ozma, radio was the only efcient
method of interstellar conversation anyone could imagine. The
subsequent development of powerful lasers, however, suggested
another way to transmit signals between the stars. Physicists
at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory have built lasers that put out a beam with a petawatt,
or 10
15
watts, of power. A nanosecond pulse from one of these
lasers, reected off a 10-meter telescope mirror like the one in the
Keck telescope, would outshine all of the light from a star by a
thousandfold, Drake says. If ETs are sending those signals out,
we have phototubes that could detect them.
Even a modest telescope can detect millions of stars, which means
it could also pick up any ashes of light that outshine those stars.
Drake has conducted a large optical SETI, or OSETI, search, looking
for spots of light in the sky that icker in some meaningful way; he is
seeking funding to start up a new hunt at Lick Observatory near San
Jose, California. Paul Horowitz, a Harvard physicist and another SETI
veteran, has been working with optical wavelengths for more than
a decade and has an active OSETI project going on now. He isof
coursemore enthusiastic than ever. Charlie Townes [a pioneer in
developing the laser] gave a talk several years ago, Horowitz says,
and pointed out that if we could make lasers just an order or two of
magnitude more powerful than they are today, we could create pulses
that would be naked-eye visible from a faraway planet .
Aliens would have to be only slightly more advanced than we
are to have done that, yet we do not see naked-eye ashes. You
could see that as discouraging, Horowitz says. But I question
why they would bust their asses to transmit a prodigious amount of
power to make themselves visible when they could crank it down
to something we could detect in maybe 20 years. He suggests
that alien civilizations might aim their messages only at civilizations
more advanced than ours.
Shostak too doubts that any aliens are trying to contact us spe-
cically. They dont know we exist, he says. I say that unequivo-
cally. They know theres some sort of biology here, but thats been
true for billions of years. Only in the last 100 of those years have we
developed radio transmitters. Theyre not going to waste energy
88 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
DV0710SETI5A_WC 88 5/11/10 9:23:23 PM
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chatting away on channel 6.
signaling blue-green algae. Instead, he thinks they might have a
long list of planets that show some evidence of life and might ping
each one for a millisecond or so every few daysa simple, low-
effort project to see if anyone at the other end is paying attention.
If there were a bright ash tonight and another three weeks from
now, he says, wed study the heck out of itand then wed prob-
ably build a huge receiver to try and learn more.
The overriding problem with SETI searches is that even if aliens
are out there, we have no clue how they might think, what they
might choose to do, or how they might do it. SETI searchers,
Tarter notes, have been looking for only a limited class of signals
from a very small number of stars. Maybe we havent looked at
enough stars or enough frequencies, she says.
Maybe were not looking for the right technol-
ogy because we havent invented it yet.
To the SETI community, such thoughts are
inspiring rather than deating. People like Tarter
and Drake consider crazy-sounding new ideas
all the time; they think of it as part of their job.
Back in the 1960s, for example, the physicist
Freeman Dyson suggested that advanced civi-
lizations would build shells around their suns to
trap and utilize every bit of energy. Some astron-
omers promptly went ahead and searched for
Dyson spheres, which would leak telltale infra-
red radiation. In his new book, The Eerie Silence,
astrobiologist Paul Davies proposes looking for
evidence of ETs hidden in the DNA of microbes
right here on Earth. An alien expedition to Earth
might have used biotechnology to assist with
mineral processing, agriculture, or environmen-
tal projects, he writes in an essay in The Wall
Street Journal. If they modied the genomes of
some terrestrial organisms for this purpose, or
created their own microorganisms from scratch,
the legacy of this tampering might endure to this
day, hidden in the biological record.
Some SETI ideas are so far-out that they
are nearly impossible to test. The only sensible
approach, Shostak suggests, is to start with
the science we understand today and assume
that we will be able to explore a whole lot more
later. Imagine its 1492, he says. Would you
tell Columbus not to botherthat if he just waits
500 years hell be able to cross the ocean in six
hours eating bad food?
For now, that attitude mostly translates to
bigger, better, faster, and smarter versions of
the radio SETI project Frank Drake initiated in
1960. The latest tool is LOFAR, an array of 44
low-frequency radio detector stations that are
being brought online across western Europe,
36 of them in the Netherlands. The relatively
small, inexpensive antennas will be linked together to rival the
power of the worlds biggest observatories, and part of LOFARs
observing program will be dedicated to SETI.
A similar approach is at work at the Allen Telescope Array, a
collection of 42 twenty-foot dishes located in Hat Creek, Califor-
nia, funded by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. The array began
operating in 2007, using low-cost electronics to combine the input
from the many radio antennas and to comb through the resulting
signal, simultaneously doing conventional radio astronomy and
scanning for signals from ET. Tarter, who helps manage the project,
is seeking funds to increase the number of dishes to 350.
We shouldnt even think about getting discouraged at this
point, Shostak says, with customary verve. Horowitz amplies
that thought: Imagine how foolish you would feel if you didnt try
only because someone said youre a lunatic.
A patchboard in the SETI control room in Mountain View, California, helps
piece together the ET puzzle and keep the scientists inspired.
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nnovation is the path to the future.
Stauer takes that seriously. Thats why
we developed the Compendium Hybrid, a
stunningly-designed hybrid chronograph
with over one dozen analog and digital
functions that is more versatile than any
watch that we have ever engineered.
New technology usually starts out at
astronomical prices and then comes
down years later. We skipped that step to
allow everyone the chance to experience
this watchs brilliant fusion of technology
and style. We originally priced the Stauer
Compendium Hybrid at $395 based on
the market for advanced sports watches...
but then stopped ourselves. Since this is
no ordinary economy, we decided to start
at 88% off from day one. That means this
new technological marvel can be yours
for only $49!
Welcome a new Digital Revolution.
With the release of the dynamic new
Compendium, those boxy, plastic wrist
calculators of the past have been replaced
by this luxurious LCD chronograph that
is sophisticated enough for a formal
evening out, but rugged and tough
enough to feel at home in a cockpit,
camping expedition or covert mission.
The watchs extraordinary dial seamlessly
blends an analog watch face with a stylish
digital display. Three super-bright lumi-
nous hands keep time along the inner
dial, while a trio of circular LCD windows
track the hour, min-
utes and seconds. An
eye-catching digital
semi-circle animates
in time with the sec-
ond hand and shows
the day of the week.
The watch also fea-
tures a rotating bezel,
stopwatch and alarm
functions and blue,
electro-luminescence
backlight. The Compendium Hybrid
secures with a rugged stainless steel band
and is water-resistant to 3 ATMs.
Guaranteed to change the way you
look at time. At Stauer, we believe that
when faced with an uphill economy,
innovation and better value will always
provide a much-needed boost. Stauer is so
confident of their latest hybrid timepiece
that we offer a money-back-guarantee. If
for any reason you arent fully impressed
by the performance and innovation of
the Stauer Compendium Hybrid for $49,
simply return the watch within 30 days
for a full refund of the purchase price. The
unique design of the Compendium limits
our production to only 4,995 pieces, so
dont hesitate to order! Remember:
progress and innovation wait for no one!
The new face of time? Stauers Compendium Hybrid fuses form and functionality for UNDER $50! Read on...
Smar t Luxur i esSur pr i si ng Pr i ces
Exclusively Through Stauer
Stauer Compendium Hybrid Watch$395
Now $49 +S&P Save $346
Call now to take advantage of this limited offer.
1-888-324-4370
Promotional Code VHW209-01
Please mention this code when you call.
14101 Southcross Drive W.,
Dept. VHW209-01
Burnsville, Minnesota 55337
www.stauer.com
WATCH SPECS:
- Three LCD windows show hour, minute and second
- Stop watch function
- Water resistant to 3 ATMs
- Fits 6
3
/4"8
3
/4" wrist
The Compendium: The
spectacular face of the
latest watch technology.
Amazing New Hybrid Runs Without Gas
8
8
%

O
F
F
Suggested Retail $395
NOW, on your
wrist for $49
For a limited
Time Only
Analog and digital display
Built-in alarm
Electro-luminescence backlight
LCD complications
Stop watch function
VHW209-01_7x10.qxd:Layout 1 5/3/10 4:21 PM Page 1
DV71019.indd 1 5/11/10 12:35:29 PM
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A Healthy Diet During Pregnancy Can Help Prevent Birth Defects And Clefts. Diet is an important part of pregnancy. Eat a healthy diet that contains lots of fruits and vegetables and foods fortified with folic acid. According to the
U.S. Government, women who plan to have a child should be sure to take sufficient levels of folic acid (400 micrograms per day) during pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects and reduce the risk for cleft lip and palate.
When folic acid is taken one month before conception and throughout the first trimester, it has been proven to reduce the risk for neural tube defects by 50 to 70 per cent. Be sure to receive proper prenatal care, quit smoking,
and follow your health care providers guidelines for foods to avoid during pregnancy. Foods to avoid may include raw or undercooked seafood, beef, pork or poultry; delicatessen meats; fish that contain high levels of mercury;
smoked seafood; fish exposed to industrial pollutants; raw shellfish or eggs; soft cheeses; unpasteurized milk; pt; caffeine; alcohol; and unwashed vegetables. For more information, visit www.SmileTrain.org. Smile Train is a
501 (c)(3) nonprofit recognized by the IRS, and all donations to Smile Train are tax-deductible in accordance with IRS regulations. 2010 Smile Train.
...one of the most
productive charities
dollar for deedin the world.
The New York Times
Donate online: www.smiletrain.org or call: 1-800-932-9541
Smile Train provides life changing free
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minutes and costs as little as $250.
It gives desperate children not just a
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Z10071086ZFVY33
Forget Saving The World.
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With One Donation?
Discover 7-10:Layout 1 4/30/2010 4:04 PM Page 1
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N
eed more passion in your life? Looking
for some romantic heat to ignite that
old flame? Youre not going to find it in the
drug store. The secret of historys great lovers
had nothing to do with pharmaceuticals.
Casanova and Valentino wooed women the
old-fashioned way: with chivalry, poetry and
gigantic gemstones.
If you want to melt her heart, forget
subtlety. Go for fireworks. Our Polished
Ruby Necklace features a whopping
350 carats of smooth-tumbled, genuine
rubies. The Polished Ruby Necklace is
a grand gesture guaranteed to make
her swoon.
The worlds rarest and most precious
stone has been working its magic for
centuries. Ruby is the red variety of the
mineral corundum, one of Earths hardest
minerals. It has everything a precious
stone should have including intense color,
superb hardness (second only to a diamond)
and rarity. So its no wonder that top
quality rubies achieve such high prices at
auctions, surpassing even the hammer price
for diamonds in equal classification.
In the time of chivalry, the regal ruby was
considered 8 times more valuable than
diamonds. Ancient people even believed
that rubies were lit from within by an
inextinguishable flame. Luckily, after
thousands of years reigning as the King of
Gems, the passionate fire inside of the
radiant red ruby has shown no signs of
cooling. Desire for this sultry, seductive
stone is hotter than ever. And at a price
this low, its the perfect time to get things
smoldering again.
Genuine ruby for under $2.00 per
carat? Believe it. High-end jewelers can
sell some rubies for more than $5,000 a
carat! We think thats ridiculous in todays
economy so we dropped that price by
about 99.95%. How
do we get our prices
so low? Volume. Last
year, we believe Stauer
was the largest buyer
of carat-weight emer-
alds in the world and
this year were on
track to be the largest
buyer of carat-weight
rubies. At 350 carats
for under $150, weve
really outdone our-
selves this time.
Designed to take her breath away, this
windfall of enormous rubies is strung
together into an elegant, hand-knotted
18" necklace that secures with a gold
vermeil lobster clasp and includes a 2"
extender. The size and shape of each stone
is unique, with natural color variations
from burgundy to bordeaux.
Our passionate guarantee. The seduc-
tive fire of brilliant red ruby expresses
your love like no other gemstone. Try our
Polished Ruby Necklace for 30 days. If for
any reason you are not completely
satisfied with your purchase, simply
return it to us for a full refund of the
purchase price.
JEWELRY SPECS:
- 350 ctw of genuine smooth-tumbled rubies
- Gold vermeil clasp
- 18" necklace with 2" extender
If Your Passion Lasts Longer Than
4 HoursCall Your Doctor
14101 Southcross Drive W.,
Dept. RKN189-01
Burnsville, Minnesota 55337
Stauer Polished Ruby Necklace
350 ctwWas $395
Now, Your price $145 +s&p
Call now to take advantage of this limited offer.
1-888-324-1969
Promotional Code RKN189-01
Please mention this code when you call.
www.stauer.com
Smar t Luxur i esSur pr i si ng Pr i ces
Spark her passion with a spectacular 350 carats of genuine polished rubies.
Discover the
passionate fire and
exquisite color inside
these radiant rubies
350 carats of richly-colored, genuine
rubies at this price is simply amazing.
JAMES T. FENT,
Stauer GIA
Graduate Gemologist
This necklace contains a
stunning 350 ctw of deep
red rubies. Enlarged to
show details.
ADVERTISEMENT
RKN162-01_7x10.qxd:Layout 1 2/1/10 12:53 PM Page 1
DV71026.indd 1 5/14/10 1:43:10 PM
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Dont delay these historic coins WILL NEVER BE MINTED AGAIN!
To order, please mail coupon or visit us at www.LittletonCoin.com/specials
Complete 4-Coin Uncirculated Set of 2009
cents, featuring special designs honoring
the bicentennial of Lincolns birth!
Special Offer for New Customers Only
Card No. Exp. Date_____/_____

2
0
1
0

L
C
C
,

L
L
C
Please send me the Complete Uncirculated
56-Coin Set of 1999-2009 Statehood,
D.C. & U.S. Territories Quarters for ONLY $29.95 regularly
$94.50, plus Free Shipping (limit 5 sets). Also send my
FREE Uncirculated 2009 4-Coin Lincoln Cent Set (one
per customer, please).
YES!

How Many Sets (limit 5): $________


Total Cost @ $29.95 per set: $________
Add a Custom Statehood,
D.C. & U.S. Territories Display
Folder and SAVE over 10%
at $3.50 each (limit 5): $_________
Shipping & Handling: $_________
Total Amount: $__________
FREE!
Method of payment:
Check payable to Littleton Coin Co.
VISA MasterCard
American Express Discover Network
ORDERS MUST BE RECEIVED WITHIN 30 DAYS
Americas Favorite Coin Source TRUSTED SINCE 1945
Please send coupon to:
Dept. 9SP462
1309 Mt. Eustis Road
Littleton NH 03561-3737
Name ____________________________________________________
Address ______________________________________ Apt#_______
City _______________________________State ____ Zip _________
E-Mail ____________________________________________________
Please print your complete name and address clearly
SPECIAL
SAVINGS!
Complete Uncirculated Set of Statehood, D.C. & U.S. Territories Quarter designs
Get ALL 56 Commemorative Quarters
from 1999 to 2009 ...before its too late!
Now that the wildly popular Statehood quarters
have ended, and the last of the 2009 D.C. & U.S.
Territories quarters have been released, collectors
are snapping up these coins in preferred Uncirculated
condition. Minted only briefly, these special quarters
will never be struck again! Dont miss out, get your
complete Uncirculated set of all 50 Statehood
quarter designs, plus all six one-year-only 2009 D.C.
& U.S. Territories quarter designs before its too late
for the special price of ONLY $29.95! Youll SAVE
68%off the regular price, and enjoy Free Shipping.
Order now and youll also receive all four
Uncirculated 2009 Lincoln bicentennial cents,
absolutely FREE!
Youll also receive our fully illustrated catalog,
plus other fascinating selections from our Free
Examination Coins-on-Approval Service, from
which you may purchase any or none of the coins
return balance in 15 days with option to cancel at
any time.
45-Day Money Back Guarantee of Satisfaction
FREEGift!
when you order within 30 days
SAVE 68%
9SP462 7x4.625:Layout 1 5/13/10 7:27 AM Page 1
uaexzttacz
N Social Work
N Marketing
N Fashion Merchandising
N Human Resources
N Business Management
N Health Information Tech.
N Entrepreneurship
N Financial Services
N Accounting
Earn your Associate Degree AT HOME in as little as 16 months!
For free facts call toll-free or check your career and mail this ad today!
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U.S. Career Institute
2001 Lowe Street, Dept. DSVB3A60, Fort Collins, CO 80525
www.uscareerinstitute.com
Call 1-800-441-7426
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Award-winning lodge in Tamshiyacu-
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Customized itineraries. Weekly departures.
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zutovuzut
$400 WEEKLY ASSEMBLING
Electronic circuit boards/products from home.
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uzecnauc sz
LEARN TO DO CHIROPRACTIC
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COMPLETE HOME COURSE
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Pre-algeBra/algeBra 1
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algeBra 2
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algeBra Word ProBleMs
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geoMetry
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advanced algeBra
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Matrix algeBra
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trig/Precalculus
5 Hours - $31.99
calculus 1&2
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advanced calculus 2
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calculus 3, vol 1
10 Hours - $44.99
calculus 3, vol 2
11 Hours - $49.99
Physics
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unit conversions
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This ad material is the property of M.I.
Media Services and may not be published or
reproduced without written consent.
Visit our website
to View sAMPle
Video cliPs of
eVery course
raise grades or your money back
order By Phone: 877-Math-dvd
order online:
www.Mathtutordvd.com
All topics taught entirely through
worked example problems.
Having Math Problems?
We can help!
00 0d MAv A 08, Fk00dC1, 0k Skv|C 0d wAN1 10 A0vk1|S 10 0vk 6 M|LL|0N kA0kSI
coutc tutubt \ouuc ron iuro: 2!2-624-48!! on avouueQcscovzeuaeazuz.cou
DV71023-24.indd 2 5/14/10 9:30:10 PM
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worldmags
Dont delay these historic coins WILL NEVER BE MINTED AGAIN!
To order, please mail coupon or visit us at www.LittletonCoin.com/specials
Complete 4-Coin Uncirculated Set of 2009
cents, featuring special designs honoring
the bicentennial of Lincolns birth!
Special Offer for New Customers Only
Card No. Exp. Date_____/_____

2
0
1
0

L
C
C
,

L
L
C
Please send me the Complete Uncirculated
56-Coin Set of 1999-2009 Statehood,
D.C. & U.S. Territories Quarters for ONLY $29.95 regularly
$94.50, plus Free Shipping (limit 5 sets). Also send my
FREE Uncirculated 2009 4-Coin Lincoln Cent Set (one
per customer, please).
YES!

How Many Sets (limit 5): $________


Total Cost @ $29.95 per set: $________
Add a Custom Statehood,
D.C. & U.S. Territories Display
Folder and SAVE over 10%
at $3.50 each (limit 5): $_________
Shipping & Handling: $_________
Total Amount: $__________
FREE!
Method of payment:
Check payable to Littleton Coin Co.
VISA MasterCard
American Express Discover Network
ORDERS MUST BE RECEIVED WITHIN 30 DAYS
Americas Favorite Coin Source TRUSTED SINCE 1945
Please send coupon to:
Dept. 9SP462
1309 Mt. Eustis Road
Littleton NH 03561-3737
Name ____________________________________________________
Address ______________________________________ Apt#_______
City _______________________________State ____ Zip _________
E-Mail ____________________________________________________
Please print your complete name and address clearly
SPECIAL
SAVINGS!
Complete Uncirculated Set of Statehood, D.C. & U.S. Territories Quarter designs
Get ALL 56 Commemorative Quarters
from 1999 to 2009 ...before its too late!
Now that the wildly popular Statehood quarters
have ended, and the last of the 2009 D.C. & U.S.
Territories quarters have been released, collectors
are snapping up these coins in preferred Uncirculated
condition. Minted only briefly, these special quarters
will never be struck again! Dont miss out, get your
complete Uncirculated set of all 50 Statehood
quarter designs, plus all six one-year-only 2009 D.C.
& U.S. Territories quarter designs before its too late
for the special price of ONLY $29.95! Youll SAVE
68%off the regular price, and enjoy Free Shipping.
Order now and youll also receive all four
Uncirculated 2009 Lincoln bicentennial cents,
absolutely FREE!
Youll also receive our fully illustrated catalog,
plus other fascinating selections from our Free
Examination Coins-on-Approval Service, from
which you may purchase any or none of the coins
return balance in 15 days with option to cancel at
any time.
45-Day Money Back Guarantee of Satisfaction
FREEGift!
when you order within 30 days
SAVE 68%
9SP462 7x4.625:Layout 1 5/13/10 7:27 AM Page 1
uaexzttacz
N Social Work
N Marketing
N Fashion Merchandising
N Human Resources
N Business Management
N Health Information Tech.
N Entrepreneurship
N Financial Services
N Accounting
Earn your Associate Degree AT HOME in as little as 16 months!
For free facts call toll-free or check your career and mail this ad today!
*and more with experience, depending on career choice QQ143
Name ____________________________________________________________________________________ Age ________________
Address __________________________________________________________________________________ Apt. ________________
City_____________________________________________________________________ State ___________ Zip ________________
E-mail _________________________________________________________________________________________________________
U.S. Career Institute
2001 Lowe Street, Dept. DSVB3A60, Fort Collins, CO 80525
www.uscareerinstitute.com
Call 1-800-441-7426
Dept. DSVB3A60
or mail this ad.
Accredited. Affordable. Approved!
Earn up to $50,000
*
a year
No classes
to attend.
No schedules
to keep.
Find a QuickGym near you!
818.504.6450
www.quickgyminfo.com
RENT A QUICKGYM
FOR 30 DAYS.
EXERCISE
IN EXACTLY
4 MINUTES
PER DAY
RENTAL APPLIES TO PURCHASE.
$14,615
Car mblem
E
s $6
ProScience -ProPeople 800-386-5846
S
ickers
$2
t
EvolveFISH
www.
u
tto
n
B
s
2
.0
0
$
.com
c t a s s r z c t s t u e s
teavzt
AMAZON RAINFOREST
Award-winning lodge in Tamshiyacu-
Tahuayo Reserve shown to have
the worlds greatest diversity of primates.
Customized itineraries. Weekly departures.
1-800-262-9669.
Visit: www.perujungle.com.
zutovuzut
$400 WEEKLY ASSEMBLING
Electronic circuit boards/products from home.
For free information send S.A.S.E:
Home Assembly-D, P.O. Box 450
New Britain, CT 06050-0450
uzecnauc sz
LEARN TO DO CHIROPRACTIC
with Dr. Holmquists
COMPLETE HOME COURSE
Save Family Money See:
www.homechiropractic.net
AwArd
winning
MAth & Physics
tutoriAl dVds
SubjectS:
Basic Math
7 Hours - $26.99
Basic Math Word ProBleMs
8 Hours - $26.99
Pre-algeBra/algeBra 1
10 Hours - $26.99
algeBra 2
6 Hours - $26.99
algeBra Word ProBleMs
6 Hours - $26.99
geoMetry
9 Hours - $26.99
advanced algeBra
7 Hours - $31.99
Matrix algeBra
7 Hours - $31.99
trig/Precalculus
5 Hours - $31.99
calculus 1&2
8 Hours - $36.99
advanced calculus 2
14 Hours - $49.99
calculus 3, vol 1
10 Hours - $44.99
calculus 3, vol 2
11 Hours - $49.99
Physics
11 Hours - $39.99
ProBaBility & statistics
10 Hours - $39.99
unit conversions
4 Hours - $21.99
This ad material is the property of M.I.
Media Services and may not be published or
reproduced without written consent.
Visit our website
to View sAMPle
Video cliPs of
eVery course
raise grades or your money back
order By Phone: 877-Math-dvd
order online:
www.Mathtutordvd.com
All topics taught entirely through
worked example problems.
Having Math Problems?
We can help!
00 0d MAv A 08, Fk00dC1, 0k Skv|C 0d wAN1 10 A0vk1|S 10 0vk 6 M|LL|0N kA0kSI
coutc tutubt \ouuc ron iuro: 2!2-624-48!! on avouueQcscovzeuaeazuz.cou
DV71023-24.indd 3 5/14/10 9:30:53 PM
worldmags worldmags
worldmags
1 Get small. A nanometer is
about the width of a strand
of DNA; if you design, build,
or use functional systems
smaller than 100 of these,
youre a nanotechnologist.
2 By that denition, we have
been doing nanotech for cen-
turies. For instance, the colors
in medieval stained glass
windows result from nano-
crystals created in the heating
and cooling of the glass.
3 Size matters. At the nano
scale, materials take on
unusual properties. Their
color, transparency, and
melting point often differ sig-
nicantly from those of larger
clumps of the same stuff.
4 Nanoscale bits of metal
oxide, carbon ber, or metal
blends can detoxify hazard-
ous waste: Their extreme
solubility and chemical reac-
tivity help them zero in on the
nasty stuff.
5 This approach is already
being used at sites in a
dozen states, mostly to clean
groundwater fouled by sol-
vents, metals, and petroleum.
6 Brighter colors! Richer
avors! Less spoilage! Those
are some of the reasons why
companies are dumping
nanoparticles into hundreds
of products, including cos-
metics, sunscreens, and food.
20 THINGS YOU DIDNT KNOW ABOUT
NANOTECHNOLOGY
7 Analysts say the global
market for manufactured
goods using nanomaterials
could hit $1.6 trillion by 2013.
8 Uh-oh. Studies show that
nanoparticles can work their
way into the bloodstream,
penetrate cells, and get
past the blood-brain barrier.
Research has linked such
particles to lung damage; the
brain may be affected too.
9 But if those particles
dont kill us, they just might
save us. Scientists at U.C.
San Diego have designed a
uorescent nanoparticle that
glows inside the body, mak-
ing it easier to image tumors
and organ damage.
10 Yale researchers have cre-
ated plastic nanospheres that
encapsulate proteins called
cytokines, which stimulate
the immune systems killer
T-cells. An injection of those
spheres could help ght
disease and infection.
11 And in a University of
Southern California lab,
nanotubes have been used
to create synthetic neurons.
12 The USC team is trying to
assemble these neurons into
functional networks, which
would bring us closer to
assistive brain implants.
13 In 1989, using an atomic
force microscope, IBM
engineer Don Eigler became
the rst person to move and
control a single atom.
14 Eigler and his team later
used 35 xenon atoms to spell
out IBM, thus performing
the worlds smallest PR stunt.
15 Atoms? Big whoop.
Researchers at Princeton
and U.C. Santa Barbara can
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DISCOVER (ISSN 0274-7529) is published monthly, except for combined issues in January/February and July/August, by Discover Media LLC, 90 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011.
Volume 31, number 6; copyright 2010 Discover Media LLC. Periodical postage paid at New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices. In Canada, mailed under publication mail
agreement 41245035, P.O. Box 875, STN A Windsor, ON, N9A 6P2. GST Registration #817800345RT0001. SUBSCRIPTIONS: In the U.S., $29.95 for one year; in Canada, $39.95
for one year (U.S. funds only), includes GST; other foreign countries, $44.95 for one year (U.S. funds only). Back issues available. All rights reserved. Nothing herein contained may
be reproduced without written permission of Discover Media LLC, New York, NY. POSTMASTER: Please address all subscription corre spondence, including change of address, to
DISCOVER, P.O. Box 37808, Boone, IA 50037, or call toll-free 800-829-9132; outside the U.S.A., 515-247-7569. Printed in the U.S.A.
control the spin of a single
electron, trapping it in a cor-
ral created by applying volt-
age to minuscule electrodes.
16 But theyre not playing
cowboy. The breakthrough
could lead to powerful quan-
tum computers that store and
manipulate data in the spin of
individual electrons.
17 Not to be outdone, Stan-
ford scientists used scanning
tunneling microscopy and
holograms to write informa-
tion within the interference
patterns formed by electron
waves on a copper sheet.
The letters are less than a
third the size of Eiglers IBM.
18 Government research-
ers have created arrays of
chromium nanodots that can
store magnetic data with
unprecedented uniformity.
One goal: drawing more
complex integrated circuits
on silicon chips.
19 For the rodent who has
everything. Georgia Tech
scientists made piezoelectric
generators out of nanowires
and attached them to tiny
hamster jackets. When the
critters ran, the generators
created electricity.
20 Zhong Lin Wang, co-
inventor of the jacket,
envisions a shirt that charges
your cell phone as you stroll,
or an implanted device for
measuring blood pressure
thats powered by your own
heartbeat. REBECCA COFFEY
96 | DISCOVERMAGAZINE.COM
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LETS GO FURTHER ON ONE GALLON OF FUEL.
We must learn to use energy more efficiently. For 25 years, the Shell Eco-marathon has
supported teams worldwide who explore ways to maximize fuel economy. Last years
winner was capable of travelling 8,870 miles on the equivalent of one gallon of fuel.
This spirit epitomizes our relationship with car manufacturers, finding ways to make cars
more efficient. And its typical of our ambition to help build a better energy future.
Lets go. www.shell.us/letsgo


1001 Fannin Street, Suite 500, Houston, TX 77002
TRAFFIC LEGEND
z
Pull from: Downloaded into
studio
Job No: SCO CI
W07861-A54
Description: eco-marathon Ad
Trim: 8 x 10.5
Bleed: 8.25 x 10.75
Description: Print
Prepared by JWT/Houston
Print Specs: CMYK
Media Issues: Discover
Creative Director: studio
Art Director: studio
Copywriter: Schildberg
Account: Peck
Production: Archibald
Traffic: Jolivet
Vendor: TBD
Studio: Please see initials
Filed:
Output Size:
ROUTING SIGNATURE DATE O.K. CHANGE REVISION NUMBER
PRODUCTION
PROOFREADER
COPYWRITER
ART DIRECTOR
ACCT. EXEC.
TRAFFIC
W07861-A54_EcoMarthonAd_8x10_5.indd 1 5/11/10 11:29 AM
DV71002.indd 1 5/11/10 1:27:30 PM
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