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Discovery
2008: Year in Review

A look back at some of the NSF-supported advances and activities that made news last year

Eight thumbnail images and 2008 in Review

Here are some of the NSF-supported advances and activities that made headlines in 2008.
Credit and Larger Version

March 13, 2009

Climate change, genomics, new research infrastructure, discoveries in space and on Earth, neuroscience, computational thinking and methods, and advances in metamaterials and nanotechnology--researchers and educators supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) made headlines in these and related areas of science, engineering and education in 2008. 

The research news and discoveries highlighted here offer the potential for innovations and new areas of inquiry, and they attracted the attention of researchers, educators and the public. The highlights are listed in the order they were first reported, beginning in January 2008

Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 Is Released
The National Science Board (NSB) released Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, the Board's biennial, comprehensive report on the state of science and engineering research and education in the United States. The 2008 edition: tells a mixed story regarding the achievement of U.S. students in science and math compared with students of other countries; finds the capability to do science and technology work increased throughout the world; and reports that U.S. public support for government funding of scientific research is strong and growing.
January 15, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=110984

Newly Discovered Solar System Contains Scaled-Down Versions of Saturn and Jupiter
A team of international astronomers reported in the journal Science the discovery of a solar system nearly 5,000 light years away that contains scaled-down versions of Jupiter and Saturn. The team's findings suggest that our galaxy could contain many star systems similar to our own.
February 14, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111093

And the Award Goes To....
Ron Fedkiw, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford University, received an academy award for his groundbreaking work in liquid simulations. Fedkiw has conducted cutting-edge research into computational physics, a field that uses computers to simulate physical phenomena. These complex models and simulations allow researchers to observe theoretical events or predict how objects might behave under certain conditions. Fedkiw's models are so accurate that they also can transport moviegoers into another world.
February 25, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111178

Researchers Complete Draft Sequence of Corn Genome
A consortium of researchers led by the Genome Sequencing Center (GSC) at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., announced they completed a draft sequence of the corn genome in less than three years. At 2.5 billion base pairs covering 10 chromosomes, the corn genome's size is comparable to that of the human and is one of the most challenging genomes sequenced to date. The draft sequence will allow researchers to begin to uncover the functional components of individual genes as well as develop an overall picture of the plant's genome organization.
February 28, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111175

Tiny Torrents: Researchers Develop Powerful New Microchip-sized Fan
Harnessing the same physical property that drives silent household air purifiers, engineers have created a compact, solid-state fan that is the most powerful and energy efficient fan of its size. It produces three times the flow rate of a typical small mechanical fan and is one-fourth the size. Developed with support from NSF's Small Business Innovation Research program, the miniaturized device is now ready for testing as a silent, ultra-thin, low-power and low-maintenance cooling system for laptop computers and other electronic devices.
March 17, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111293

Down the Drain: Lakes of Meltwater Can Crack Greenland's Ice and Contribute to Faster Ice Sheet Flow
Researchers have for the first time documented the sudden and complete drainage of a lake of meltwater from the top of the Greenland ice sheet to its base. From those observations, scientists have uncovered a plumbing system for the ice sheet, where meltwater can penetrate thick, cold ice and accelerate some of the large-scale summer movements of the ice sheet.
April 17, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111471

Global Warming Affects World's Largest Freshwater Lake
Russian and American scientists have discovered that the rising temperature of the world's largest lake--Lake Baikal, located in frigid Siberia--shows the region is responding strongly to global warming. Before the findings, it was widely thought the lake would be among those most resistant to climate change due to its tremendous volume and unique water circulation.
April 30, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111511

Ancient "Nutcracker Man" Challenges Ideas on Evolution of Human Diet
Tiny marks on the teeth of an ancient human ancestor, known as the "Nutcracker Man," may upset current understanding of the early hominid diet. Using high-powered microscopes, researchers looked at rough geometric shapes on the teeth of several Nutcracker Man specimens and determined the teeth structure alone was not enough to predict diet.
April 30, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111457

Closing the Achievement Gap in Math and Science
The latest results from NSF's Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program show not only improved proficiency among all elementary- and middle-school students, but also a closing of the achievement gaps between both African-American and Hispanic students and white students in elementary school math, and between African-American and white students in elementary and middle-school science.
May 1, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111514

Platypus Genome Decoded
New research proves the oddness of the platypus' looks isn't just skin-deep. The DNA of the duck-billed, egg-laying, otter-footed, beaver-tailed, venomous platypus is a cobbled-together array of avian, reptilian and mammalian lineages that may hold clues to speciation during evolution and also to human disease prevention. Discover Magazine included this on its list of the top 100 science stories for 2008.
May 7, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111521

Waterman, Bush and Public Service Awardees Are Honored
In May, NSF and NSB honored the recipients of the Alan T. Waterman, Vannevar Bush and Public Service awards. NSF presented UCLA Professor of Mathematics Terence Tao with the Waterman Award. It is given to recognize an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by& NSF. NSB awarded the Bush Award to businessman and aerospace engineer Norman Augustine. The award is given to an individual who, through public service activities in science and technology, has made an outstanding "contribution toward the welfare of mankind and the nation." The NSB also presented public service awards to SAE International and the Bayer Corporation for their separate efforts to increase public understanding of science and engineering.
May 9, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111541

Scientists Discover Stinging Truths About Jellyfish Blooms in the Bering Sea
A new study helps explain a cyclic increase and decrease of jellyfish populations, which transformed parts of the Bering Sea--one of the U.S.'s most productive fisheries--into veritable jellytoriums during the 1990s. The study shows the availability of food for jellyfish may cap the potential size of the Bering Sea's jellyfish population, even while other factors, such as rising temperatures, may encourage the population's continued growth. A special report, "Jellyfish Gone Wild: Environmental Change and Jellyfish Swarms," reveals more of what we are learning about jellyfish.
May 29, 2008
Full stories: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111598 and http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112797

Gemini Observatory Captures Death of a Star
For the first time, astronomers have witnessed the earliest moments of a massive star collapsing into a supernova. In January 2008, Princeton University researchers were monitoring an older supernova when they detected a mysterious X-ray flash from elsewhere in the same galaxy. Soon afterward, the NSF-funded Gemini North telescope was able to capture the earliest optical spectrum ever obtained of a supernova explosion outside of our galaxy's neighborhood.
May 12, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsletter/jun_08/index.jsp#work3

Plastic Brain Outsmarts Experts
Can you study for an IQ test? Swiss postdoctoral fellows working at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor suggest that at least one aspect of a person's IQ can be improved by training a certain type of memory. Most IQ tests attempt to measure two types of intelligence--crystallized and fluid. Crystallized intelligence draws on existing skills, knowledge and experiences to solve problems by accessing information from long-term memory. Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, draws on the ability to understand relationships between various concepts, independent of any previous knowledge or skills, to solve new problems. The research shows this part of intelligence can be improved through memory training. Discover Magazine included this on its list of the top 100 science stories for 2008.
June 5, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111659

Species Have Come and Gone at Different Rates Than Previously Believed
Using contemporary statistical methods and a paleobiology database, researchers reported that most of the early diversity of invertebrates took place well before the Late Cretaceous, and that the net increase through the period since is proportionately small relative to the 65 million years that elapsed. The research contradicts previous work showing dramatic increases beginning 248 million years ago and may shed light on future diversity.
July 3, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111785

Tongue Drive Technology May Aid People With Disabilities
Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed an experimental tongue-based system that may allow individuals with debilitating disabilities to control wheelchairs, computers and other devices with relative ease. Because the tongue is directly connected to the brain via cranial nerves, it usually remains mobile when other body parts lose function due to disease or accidents. That mobility underlies the new system.
July 21, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111936

Amazon Outflow Powers Atlantic Ocean Carbon "Sink"
Nutrients from the Amazon River's outflow spread well beyond the continental shelf and drive carbon cycling in the tropical ocean, according to scientists who conducted a multi-year study. The researchers discovered a significant and surprising drawdown of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the tropical ocean by microorganisms living in the Amazon River's outflow.
July 21, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111904

Supercapacitors Could Be Key to a Green Energy Future
Research by a Drexel University doctoral student could lead to a new wave of energy storage devices with increased efficiency. Supported by NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program, the grad student has shown how to improve supercapacitors' power delivery by minimizing nanopore size within the superconductor's carbide-derived carbon framework. By precisely matching the nanopore size to the ions passing through the conductor, the researcher increased the amount of electrical charges the supercapacitor can hold by about 50 percent.
July 30, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111835

Concrete That Bends Without Cracking?
Researchers at the University of Michigan have designed a new type of fiber-reinforced concrete that maintains all of the advantages of normal concrete but can be bent without fracturing when overloaded. The new material--Engineered Cement Composites (ECC)--is 300-500 times more resistant to cracking and 40 percent lighter in weight. In its report, NSF's advisory committee on performance assessment noted that this work may establish the U.S. as "the global leader in 'designer' cement-based composites" and has "potential consequences in the design of sustainable structures resistant to earthquakes and weather events."
July 31, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2008/nsf08064/nsf08064.pdf (Discovery Subgroup)

Pulling Energy-rich Fuels From Water
Using a surprisingly simple, inexpensive technique, chemists have found a way to pull pure oxygen from water. The method works with relatively small amounts of electricity, common chemicals and a glass of room-temperature water. The new water-splitting catalyst could have a huge impact on efforts to develop sustainable alternative energy. Science magazine cited the work as a runner up in its list of science breakthroughs for 2008.
July 31, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111975

Antarctic Fossils Paint a Picture of a Much Warmer Continent
Scientists working in an ice-free region of Antarctica have discovered the last traces of tundra--in the form of fossilized plants and insects--on the continent's interior before temperatures began a relentless drop millions of years ago. The international team combined evidence from glacial geology, paleoecology, dating of volcanic ashes and computer modeling to report a major climate change 14 million years ago. The collaboration resulted in a major advance in the understanding of Antarctica's climatic history.
August 4, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111913

Flexible Web of Micro-sensors: The Shape of Things to Come?
Instead of using a flat microchip as the light sensor for their new camera, Northwestern University and University of Illinois researchers have developed a sensor that is a flexible mesh of wire-connected pixels. The technology is already showing promise for photography, as the researchers conformed the array to a hemispherical shape and incorporated the device into a working eye-like camera. Researchers are testing the same design principles in a range of other applications, including as a thin, conformable monitor to detect electrical signals traveling across the undulating surface of the human brain.
August 6, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112012

New Metamaterials Bend Light Backwards, Bringing "Invisibility Shields" One Step Closer
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have for the first time engineered 3-D materials that can reverse the natural direction of visible and near-infrared light. The development could help form the basis for higher resolution optical imaging, nanocircuits for high-powered computers, and, to the delight of science-fiction and fantasy buffs, cloaking devices that render objects invisible to the human eye. Two breakthroughs in the development of metamaterials--composite materials with extraordinary capabilities to bend electromagnetic waves-were reported separately. Time and Discover magazines separately picked the research as one of their top science stories for the year.
August 11, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112043

'Virtual Archaeologist' Reconnects Fragments of an Ancient Civilization
A team of Princeton University computer scientists working in collaboration with archaeologists in Greece has developed a new technology that may change the way people conduct archaeological research. The team developed a system that employs a combination of powerful computer algorithms and a processing system that mirrors the procedures traditionally followed by archaeologists. The automated system could substantially reduce the time needed to reconstruct artifacts from fragments.
August 13, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112142

Team USA Brings Home the (Linguistics) Gold
U.S. high-school students captured 11 out of 33 awards, including gold medals in individual and team events, at the sixth International Linguistics Olympiad in Slanchev Bryag, Bulgaria. It was only the second time the U.S. has competed in the event. The students' achievement brings a new focus on computational linguistics.
August 15, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112073

Cataloging Invisible Life: Microbe Genome Emerges From Lake Sediment
A University of Washington-led team has taken a sample of Lake Washington mud and successfully sequenced the complete genome of an unknown microorganism. The method provides a way to discover new microscopic life in complex communities.
August 17, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112138

On the Threshold of a New World of Particle Physics: Large Hadron Collider
Located at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's most powerful particle accelerator. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NSF invested a total $531 million in the construction of the accelerator, which scientists believe could help unlock extraordinary discoveries about the nature of the physical universe. NSF-supported researchers contributed to the design, construction, maintenance and operation of the two largest detectors-the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) and the A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS (ATLAS). On September 10, an international collaboration of scientists sent the first beam of protons zooming at nearly the speed of light around the LHC's 27-kilometer ring. The LHC attracted the interest of many mainstream publications; for example, it was Time Magazine's top scientific discovery for 2008.
August 19, 2008
http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111862 and
http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112130

But First, a Delay....
While the first beam tests were successful, an electrical malfunction a few days later brought start-up activities to a halt. Investigators concluded that a faulty electrical connection between two of the accelerator's magnets resulted in mechanical damage and release of helium from the magnet cold mass into the tunnel. Repairs and new protective measures are ongoing, and CERN has announced a restart date of late September 2009 for the beams, with proton collisions at low energies starting in late October.

Real-World Lessons From Virtual Worlds
WolfQuest is an interactive computer game that immerses players in every aspect of a wolf's survival in the animal's habitat. WolfQuest is also an example of how, through computer gaming technology, learning can reach across time and space, and link learners to a set of challenges--along with a set of tools to address them, and the motivation to succeedDeveloped and hosted by the Minnesota Zoo with funding from NSF, the game motivates players to learn about how wolves survive, thereby absorbing a series of lessons about the animals' biology and their interactions with other wolves, prey and their environment.
August 27, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112127

Engineers Create Bone That Blends Into Tendons
Engineers at Georgia Tech have used skin cells to create artificial bones that mimic the ability of natural bone to blend into other tissues such as tendons or ligaments. The artificial bones provide for better integration with the body and handle weight more successfully.
August 29, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112210

Medal of Science Laureates Honored
At a White House ceremony, President George W. Bush presented the Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor, to the 2007 laureates: (biological sciences) Robert J. Lefkowitz of Duke University and Bert W. O'Malley of Baylor College of Medicine; (chemistry) Mostafa El-Sayed of Georgia Institute of Technology; (engineering) Leonard Kleinrock of University of California, Los Angeles and Andrew J. Viterbi of University of Southern California; (physical sciences) Fay Ajzenberg-Selove of University of Pennsylvania, Charles Slichter of University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and David Wineland of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
September 3, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112173

From Sugar to Gasoline: Breakthrough in Creating Gas From Biomass
Following independent paths of investigation, two research teams announced they have converted sugar--potentially derived from agricultural waste and non-food plants--into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and a range of other valuable chemicals. Chemical engineer Randy Cortright and his colleagues at Virent Energy Systems of Madison, Wisc., and researchers led by chemical engineer James Dumesic of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, announced that sugars and carbohydrates can be processed like petroleum into the full suite of products that drive the fuel, pharmaceutical and chemical industries. The key to the breakthrough is a process developed by both Dumesic and Cortright called aqueous phase reforming.
September 17, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112256

Oldest Known Rock on Earth Discovered
Canadian bedrock more than 4 billion years old may be the oldest known section of the Earth's early crust. Scientists at the Carnegie Institution of Washington and McGill University in Montreal used geochemical methods to obtain an age of 4.28 billion years for samples of the rock, making it 250 million years more ancient than any previously discovered rocks.
September 25, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112299

Mysteries of the Unregulated Internet
One day in February 2008, the YouTube Web site disappeared from the Internet. YouTube didn't take it down; the problem came from Pakistan, when a telecommunications company suddenly began rerouting traffic to and from the Web site into an Internet black hole. Fascinated by incidents like this, a University of New Mexico graduate student built and posted an Internet Alert Registry (IAR) that automatically sends an e-mail to registered Internet service providers when there is trouble with traffic in their section of the World Wide Web.
September 29, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111970

Ozone Pollution in Wildfires Exceeds Health Standards
Wildfires can boost ozone pollution to levels that violate U.S. health standards, a new study concludes. The research, by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., focused on California wildfires in 2007, finding that they repeatedly caused ground-level ozone to spike to unhealthy levels across a broad area, including much of rural California as well as neighboring Nevada.
October 9, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112403

Volcanoes, Meteor Impact: What Killed the Dinosaurs?
A team lead by researchers at Princeton University reported that a series of monumental volcanic eruptions in India may have killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, not a meteor impact in the Gulf of Mexico. The eruptions, which created the gigantic Deccan Traps lava beds of India, are now the prime suspect in the persistent paleontological murder mystery, say the scientists who conducted investigations of new paleontological data.
October 29, 2008
Full stories: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=110684 and http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112776

Extra-solar Planets Directly Observed
Until 2008, the existence of planets outside our solar system were detected by indirect methods--orbiting planets causing a star to "wobble," or gravitational microlensing. But 2008 brought the first direct observations of extra-solar planets. Astronomers using the Gemini North telescope and W.M. Keck Observatory on Hawaii's Mauna Kea obtained the first-ever direct images identifying a multi-planet system around a normal star. The historic infrared images of an extra-solar multiple-planet system were made possible by adaptive optics technology used to correct in real time for atmospheric turbulence, the shimmering or blinking of starlight as it passes through the earth's atmosphere. And a Hubble Space Telescope team led by a University of California, Berkeley researcher has obtained the first optical image of a planet. Only 25 light years away, the Jupiter-size planet is like Neptune in that it sculpts the inner edge of a belt of comets and debris, the equivalent of our Kuiper belt. Science magazine named the exoplanet sightings as a runner up in its list of science breakthroughs for 2008.
November 13, 2008
Full stories: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112613 and http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112668

Live...From Under the Ocean: New Deep-sea Observatory
On November 10, 2008, the first deep-sea ocean observatory offshore of the continental United States went "live," returning scientific data from 900 meters (3,000 feet) below the ocean surface. Located off the coast of central California, the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS) is operated remotely and will allow marine scientists to continuously monitor the world of the deep sea, and get data in real time, 24 hours a day.
November 17, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112749

Caltech 4-D Microscope Could Revolutionize Our View of the Nano World
A breakthrough technology based on new concepts has allowed, for the first time, the real-time, real-space visualization of fleeting changes in the structure and shape of matter barely a billionth of a meter in size. The new technique, called four-dimensional (4-D) electron microscopy, was developed in the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology, directed by Ahmed Zewail, professor of physics at Caltech and winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
November 20, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112739

Researchers Discover Key Link in How Plants Adapt to Climate
How many mouths does a plant need to survive? The answer changes depending on climate and some of the decisions are made long before a new leaf sprouts. Stanford University researchers have found that the formation of microscopic pores, called stomata, is controlled by a specific signaling pathway that blocks activity of a single protein required for stomata development.
November 24, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112762

Team Sets Records in Simulating Seismic Wave Propagation
A team led by researchers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego has successfully completed record-setting, petascale-level simulations of the Earth's inner structure, paving the way for seismologists to model seismic wave propagations at frequencies of just over one second--the same frequencies that occur in nature.
November 24, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112769

Studies Reveal Differing Perceptions of Nanotechnology
Two recent research studies show public acceptance of nanotechnology isn't a foregone conclusion. Instead, the studies indicate continued concern. Researchers at Yale University say that when people learn about this novel technology, they become sharply divided along cultural lines, while a separate study led by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Arizona State University finds that nanotechnology seems to be failing the moral litmus test of religion. Survey results from the U.S. and some European countries indicated that people with religious views see nanotechnology as less morally acceptable, compared with people who live in more secular societies.
December 11, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112809

Next Generation Microscopy: No Stain, Big Gain
Researchers at Harvard University have developed a real-time, label-free imaging technique based on stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) that could revolutionize biomedical imaging in research and diagnostic laboratories. SRS microscopy works by detecting the vibrations between atoms. It avoids labor-intensive sample preparation and autofluorescence, or "background noise", associated with traditional fluorescence microscopy.
December 18, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112877

They're Brilliant....Don't Just Take Our Word for It
In December 2008, NSF announced the 20 young scientists who received Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for the 2007 competition. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on scientists and engineers in the early stages of promising independent research careers. PECASE nominees are chosen from junior researchers and faculty who received an NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program award. The names of CAREER awardees are found on a number of prestigious lists. For example, in October, Popular Science magazine named its "Brilliant 10" Class of 2008, and four of them were past CAREER awardees, including University of Colorado at Bolder biomaterials engineer Kristi Anseth who also received NSF's Alan T. Waterman Award, the foundation's most prestigious honor for a young researcher, in 2004. In addition to the CAREER awardees, two other NSF-supported researchers made Popular Science's "Brilliant 10" list of young researchers to watch.
December 19, 2008
For NSF PECASE winners, see: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112804&org=NSF&from=news

Biologists Learn Structure, Mechanism of a Powerful Molecular Motor in Virus
Researchers from Purdue University and the Catholic University of America have discovered the atomic structure of a powerful "molecular motor" that packages DNA into the head segment of some viruses during their assembly, an essential step in their ability to multiply and infect new host organisms. The virus in the study, called T4, is not a common scourge of people, but its host is the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli). T4 has been an important model system for studying virus mechanisms since the 1940s. The new findings could lead to sophisticated nanomachines. In addition, because a number of virus types (including the one that causes herpes) may possess a similar motor, the results may also assist pharmaceutical companies developing methods to sabotage virus machinery.
December 29, 2008
Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112930

 

FAVORITES OF NSF WEB SITE VISITORS IN 2008

The following science news and discoveries--some published in 2008 and others published earlier--were the most popular among our Web site visitors last year.

  1. Beyond Cold: How the World Works at Minus 459 Degrees
    Working as a graduate student in professor Brian DeMarco's lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, David McKay describes using a combination of laser and evaporative cooling for experiments with atom gases cooled to only 10 billionths of a degree above absolute zero (-459.67 degrees F).
    July 25, 2008
    Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111935

  2. Laser-Induced Shocks in Diamond Anvil Can Achieve Pressures Inside Supergiant Planets
    A method combining diamond anvil cells and laser-induced shock waves could achieve pressures 100 to 1,000 times greater than possible today, reproducing conditions expected in the cores of supergiant planets, according to NSF-supported researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.
    May 2, 2007
    Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=110362

  3. Metal Foam Has a Good Memory
    A new class of materials known as "magnetic shape-memory foams" has been developed by NSF-supported research teams headed by Peter Müllner at Boise State University and David Dunand at Northwestern University. The materials are the first foam to exhibit magnetic shape memory, and have great potential for uses that require a large strain and light weight such as space applications and automobiles.
    December 18, 2007
    Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=110901

  4. Gamma-Ray Burst Smashes a Record
    Astronomers have used a close collaboration between space-based and ground-based telescopes to detect the most distant cosmic explosion yet seen: a gamma-ray burst from the edge of the visible universe. This powerful burst, likely marking the death of a massive star as it collapsed into a black hole, was detected on Sept. 4, 2005.
    September 12, 2005
    Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=104440

  5. Laser Blasts Viruses in Blood
    A father-son research team working from separate laboratory benches across the country has discovered a new use for lasers--zapping viruses out of blood. The technique, which holds promise for disinfecting blood for transfusions, uses a low-power laser beam with a pulse lasting just fractions of a second.
    August 29, 2007
    Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=110077

  6. 2007: Year in Review
    From evidence of climate change at the Earth's poles and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes to fossils that fill in evolutionary gaps and new materials with surprising properties, these are some of the research and education advances that made news last year.
    January 30, 2008
    Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111049

  7. Supercapacitors: Key to a Green Energy Future?
    Drexel University doctoral student John Chmiola is doing groundbreaking work on supercapacitors, and the results could be the key to a new wave of energy storage devices with increased efficiency.
    July 30, 2008
    Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111835

  8. Top Science and Math Teachers Receive Presidential Award
    Teachers who bring excellence in science and mathematics teaching to their classrooms were honored by President Bush as winners of the 2007 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). For the 2007 awards, 99 middle school and high school math and science teachers were singled out for recognition.
    May 1, 2008
    Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111502

  9. On the Origins of Google
    Even in the primitive Internet world (circa 1993), the need for more accessible interfaces to growing data collections had already been recognized. NSF led the multi-agency Digital Library Initiative (DLI) that, in 1994, made its first six awards. One of those awards supported a Stanford University project led by professors Hector Garcia-Molina and Terry Winograd. One of the graduate students funded under the NSF-supported DLI project at Stanford took an interest in the Web as a "collection." The student was Larry Page who uncovered the missing links, so to speak, in Web page ranking. He was soon joined by Sergey Brin, another Stanford graduate student working on the DLI project. Page and Brin went on to found the Google search service.
    August 17, 2004
    Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=100660

  10. Fossil Feathers Preserve Evidence of Color
    Traces of organic material found in fossil feathers are remnants of pigments that once gave birds their color, according to scientists whose research results were published online in the journal Biology Letters. Their findings could make it possible someday to determine the colors of feathers in ancient bird species and related species such as dinosaurs.
    July 10, 2008
    Full story: http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111902
--  Ellen Weir, (703) 292-7760 eweir@nsf.gov

Readers Favorites
The stories viewed the most by visitors to the NSF Web site are listed below.
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Photo of winter ice on Lake Baikal
Winter ice on Lake Baikal may soon be less frequent, a result of global warming.
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Illustration of Paranthropus boisei, also called Nutcracker Man, eating fruit.
Tooth wear challenges assumptions of why specializations occur in nature.
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Illustration comparing a platypus with a reptile, a bird and a mammal
Platypus DNA is a combination of reptiles, birds and mammals.
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Photo of a Chrysaora jellyfish
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A researcher swims with a jellyfish species known as Chrysaora on the coast of Argentina.
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Photo of a slab of limestone that is covered with fossils.
This slab of limestone is about 450 million years old.
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Photo of Maysam Ghovanloo pointing to a small magnet attached to tongue of graduate student.
Maysam Ghovanloo (left) points to a small magnet attached to graduate student Xueliang Huo's tongue.
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A snapshot showing the new, efficient oxygen catalyst in action in Dan Nocera's laboratory at MIT.
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MIT researchers explain their catalyst discovery in this video.
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Photo of the electronic-eye camera.
The new electronic-eye camera.
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Photo of a student demonstrating a computer game she developed to another student.
A high-school student demonstrates a game she developed, soliciting feedback from a middleschooler.
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Photo of green gasoline on top of water.
Collected straight off the catalytic system, green gasoline rests atop water.
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Photo of bedrock along the coast of Hudson Bay, Canada.
Bedrock along the northeast coast of Hudson Bay, Canada, has the oldest rock on Earth.
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Artist's conception of the multiple planet system
Artist's conception of the multiple planet system, initially discovered with Gemini North optics.
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SRS image showing diffusion of retinoic acid
This SRS image shows diffusion of retinoic acid (blue) through the top layer of skin.
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Striped fossil feather and recent woodpecker feather
Striped fossil feather and recent woodpecker feather show melanosomes in dark, but not light, areas.
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