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Past Highlights

December 2003





NSF Receives 2003 Presidential Management Award


White House imageNSF is one of two agencies named recipient of the Presidential Award for Management Excellence for 2003. The award is presented by the Bush Administration to recognize agencies that have made exemplary progress in implementing the objectives of the President's Management Agenda, a strategy for improving the management and performance of the federal government. NSF was singled out for outstanding performance and results in the area of "Expanded Electronic Government."
Read the full story . ... Posted 12/30/03


Climate, Biodiversity and Oldest Humans Mark NSF Science Highlights from 2003


James Osse, a University of Washington field engineer, skims water at field siteIn 2003, research supported by NSF continued to make headlines in the United States and around the world. NSF's science success was also recognized in the year's Nobel Prizes -– six of the nine Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, medicine and economics received NSF support during their careers. Other notable results of NSF support ran the gamut from Ethiopian fossils of newly discovered mammal species and the earliest known Homo sapiens to the impact of humans on climate change and biodiversity. These and the other discoveries from 2003 demonstrate how NSF continues to promote the progress of science in the 21st century.
Image Credit: Peter West / National Science Foundation
Read the full story . ... Posted 12/29/03


United States, Russia, China Link Up First Global-Ring Network for Advanced Science and Education Cooperation


the Little GLORIAD network ringThe U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), a broad consortium of Russian ministries and science organizations and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) today announced the start of operations for the first round-the-world computer network ring, which will be used for joint scientific and educational projects. Completing the ring includes increasing the bandwidth between the United States and China and making the first-ever fiber network connection across the Russia-China border. The new network increases the bandwidth to 155 megabits per second (Mbps) between the United States and China and continues current 155-Mbps service levels between the United States and Russia. In addition, Russia and China are connecting their science networks at the border cities of Zabajkal'sk and Manzhouli—completing a ring around the Northern Hemisphere.
Credit: Trent L. Schindler / National Science Foundation
Read the full story . ... Posted 12/22/03


Landscapes on Buried Glaciers in Antarctica's Dry Valleys Help Decipher Recent Ice Ages on Mars


image describing how ice ages begin on MarsStudies of the unique landscape in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica provide new insights into the origin of similar features on Mars and provide one line of evidence that suggests the Red Planet has recently experienced an ice age, according to a paper in this week's issue of the journal Nature. The distribution of hexagonal mounds and other features on the Martian surface at mid-latitudes similar to those in the Dry Valleys also supports previous scientific assertions that a significant amount of ice lies trapped beneath the Red Planet's surface.
Credit: Trent L. Schindler / National Science Foundation
Read the full story . ... Posted 12/18/03


Researchers Develop Nanoscale Fibers That Are Thinner Than the Wavelengths of Light They Carry


a silica wire is wrapped around a sapphire taperResearchers have developed a process to create wires only 50 nanometers (billionths of a meter) thick. Made from silica, the same mineral found in quartz, the wires carry light in an unusual way. Because the wires are thinner than the wavelengths of light they transport, the material serves as a guide around which light waves flow. In addition, because the researchers can fabricate the wires with a uniform diameter and smooth surfaces down to the atomic level, the light waves remain coherent as they travel. The smaller fibers will allow devices to transmit more information while using less space. The new material may have applications in ever-shrinking medical products and tiny photonics equipment such as nanoscale laser systems, tools for communications and sensors.
Credit: Limin Tong/Harvard University
Read the full story . ... Posted 12/17/03


Mustard-Root Map Breaks New Ground Tracking Gene Expression


First step in the root expression map technique.A new "gene expression" map is helping scientists track how a complex tissue ultimately arises from the blueprint of thousands of genes. Focusing on the root of a small flowering mustard plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, a research team led by Duke University biologist Philip Benfey created a detailed mosaic of cells showing where and when about 22,000 of the plant's roughly 28,000 genes are activated within growing root tissue. The results, announced in the Dec. 12th issue of the journal Science, are the first to demonstrate "this level of resolution of gene expression on a global basis for any organism," said Benfey. The work, he said, serves as "a proof of principle" that similar approaches can be applied to other plant organs and other organisms.
Photo credit: Ken Birnbaum, New York University/ Plant line created in lab of J. Hasseloff.
Read the full story . ... Posted 12/11/03


Researchers Engineer Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells to Form Sperm Cell Precursors


Mouse embryonic stem cells.For the first time, researchers using laboratory techniques alone and no animal hosts have isolated sex-cell precursors from mouse embryos, coaxed the cells into a sperm-like form, used them to fertilize mouse eggs, and ultimately formed early-stage embryos. The research may offer a breakthrough tool for studies of embryonic cells and gene delivery, potentially helping scientists develop treatments for infertility and providing insight into the growth of certain tumors. The researchers, led by George Daley of Children's Hospital and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Niels Geijsen of Massachusetts General Hospital, also in Boston, report their findings in the December 10, 2003 Nature (online).
Image credit: Niels Geijsen, Massachusetts General Hospital / National Science Foundation
Read the full story . ... Posted 12/11/03


Rainfall Controls Cascade Mountains' Erosion and Bedrock Uplift Patterns


Panoramic view of storm, mountains and lake.The pattern of rainfall in the Washington Cascades strongly affects long-term erosion rates in the mountain range and may cause bedrock to be pulled up towards the Earth's surface faster in some places than others, according to a National Science Foundation-funded study published in this week's issue of the journal Nature. The results are the first convincing evidence of such effects, on mountain-range scales. "The data strongly suggest that precipitation controls erosion rates across the Cascades, and that the regional climate may also exert a strong control on the distribution and scale of tectonic rock uplift and deformation of the range," said Peter Reiners, lead author of the study and a geologist at Yale University.
Image credit: Getty Images/PhotoDisc
Read the full story . ... Posted 12/11/03


New Fossils from Ethiopia Open a Window on Africa's "Missing Years"


Example of the genus Arsinoitherium.An international team of researchers has announced the discovery of new fossils from the highlands of Ethiopia. The fossils fill a long-standing gap in scientists' understanding of the evolution of African mammals. The results are reported in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. "The work of this team continues to reveal the extremely rich fossil record encased in East Africa’s rocks," says Rich Lane, program director in NSF's division of earth sciences, which funded the research. "It also sheds light on the role pre-modern animals played in establishing the worldwide distribution of mammals today." The dynamics of animal populations from 24 million to 32 million years ago has long stood as one of the most poorly known for all of Africa and Arabian, says John Kappelman, a paleontologist at the University of Texas and the project's leader.
Image credit: Trent Schindler / National Science Foundation
Read the full story . ... Posted 12/3/03


Top Scientists Conclude Human Activity Is Affecting Global Climate


Downtown Los Angeles and San Gabriel Mountains.Two of the nation's best-known atmospheric scientists, after reviewing extensive research by their colleagues, say there is no doubt human activities are having measurable-and increasing-impacts on global climate. Results of the study, which appear in the December 5th issue of the journal Science as part of a "State of the Planet" assessment, cite atmospheric observations and multiple computer models to paint a detailed picture of the climate changes likely to buffet Earth in coming decades, including rising temperatures and an increase in extreme weather events such as flooding. Thomas Karl of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., and Kevin Trenberth, director of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., conclude that industrial emissions have been the dominant influence behind climate change for the past 50 years, overwhelming natural forces.
Image: Corbis
Read the full story . ... Posted 12/2/03


Geologists Discover New Class of Spreading Ridge on Sea Bottom; Finding Changes Notion of Ocean Crust Formation


A block model of the ultraslow spreading Gakkel Ridge.
Scientists have discovered a new "ultra-slow" class of ocean ridge involved in seafloor spreading. Investigations in the remote regions of the planet—in the far south Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the sea floor beneath the Arctic icecap—found that for large regions there, the sea floor splits apart by pulling up solid rock from deep within the earth. These rocks, known as peridotites (after the gemstone peridot) come from the deep layer of the earth known as the mantle. According to marine geologist Henry Dick of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, this newly recognized class of ultraslow-spreading ridges constitutes a surprising 12,000 miles of the 30,000-mile global ocean ridge system. "This work will increase our understanding of mid-ocean ridge processes; marine geology textbooks will be rewritten," said David Epp, director of the marine geology and geophysics program at the National Science Foundation, the federal agency that funded the research.
Image courtesy: Dr. Henry J.B. Dick, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Read the full story . ... Posted 12/1/03


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