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Cell Supporters
Scaffolds help turn stem
cells into new bone, nerves
and cartilage

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1992 September–October 3

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AMERICAN

Scientist
Departments Feature Articles
Volume 105 • Number 5 • September–October 2017

258 From the Editors


259 Letters to the Editors
262 Spotlight
Harrassment in science rScents
and insect brains r Briefings
266 Infographic
The blooming of a corpse flower
268 Sightings
An unusual shimmer
270 Computing Science
Computers that can run backward 282 298
Peter J. Denning and
282 The “Simplest Satellite” That 298 Structural Support for Damaged
Ted G. Lewis
Opened Up the Universe Tissue Repair
274 Engineering Launched 60 years ago to win a political Scaffolds made from biomaterials could
The state of our infrastructure space race, Sputnik left a legacy of col- help mend bodily injuries.
Henry Petroski laborative explorations far beyond Earth. Treena Livingston Arinzeh, Jennifer
Lev Zelenyi and Olga Zakutnyaya Moy, and Gloria Portocarrero Huang
278 Perspective
Suburban stalkers: The near-wild 290 Why Ecology Needs 306 The Evolutionary Advantage of
lions in our midst Natural History Burrowing Underground
Robert Louis Chianese Intertwined histories show that most Many animals dig dens for protection,
theoretical breakthroughs have been and this behavior may have allowed
Scientists’ preceded by deep observational work, some species to survive when others
Nightstand which has fallen out of vogue. have died out.
312 Book Reviews John G. T. Anderson Anthony J. Martin
Adventures in mathematics rThe
Scientific Revolution rSolar corona
290
From Sigma Xi
317 Sigma Xi Today
Stay in touch with the Society r
Chapters receive grants rStudents
can earn nominations to Sigma Xi r
Research grants available to students

The Cov er
306
Structures made from biomaterials—such as ceramics, plastics, and complex carbohydrates—can provide a variety of mechanical,
chemical, and even electrical cues that respond to external stimuli and support tissue repair. Such scaffolds can use seeded stem cells
or support the growth of the body’s own cells. A fibrous polymer scaffold (cover, dark blue) signals cells to grow and differentiate.
Human mesenchymal stem cells (green) are growing along these fibers, dotted with their nuclei (bright blue circles). In “Structural
Support for Damaged Tissue Repair” (pages 298–305), Treena Livingston Arinzeh, Jennifer Moy, and Gloria Portocarrero Huang dis-
cuss how their development of such scaffolds is helping them find new ways to regenerate bone, cartilage, and nerve tissue and could
someday help patients with musculoskeletal injuries move better.

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FROM THE EDITORS

AMERICAN
In It Together
Scientist
www.americanscientist.org

I n the early 1900s, Annie Montague Alexander, an


heiress with a strong interest in field work and natu-
ral observation, became so concerned about how much
natural biodiversity and habitat was being lost to hu- VOLUME 105, NUMBER 5
man encroachment that she helped to found the Mu-
seum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley. She and her Editor-in-Chief Fenella Saunders
colleagues, particularly Joseph Grinnell, spent much of Senior Consulting Editor Corey S. Powell
their careers collecting and documenting specimens to Digital Features Editor Katie L. Burke
Contributing Editors Sandra J. Ackerman,
create a comprehensive record of animal distribution
Marla Broadfoot, Catherine Clabby, Brian Hayes,
in California that future biologists could use to assess
Anna Lena Phillips, Diana Robinson, David
wildlife changes. Indeed, biologists still refer to those Schoonmaker, Michael Szpir, Flora Taylor
careful notes today. As John G. T. Anderson argues in Editorial Associate Mia Evans
“Why Ecology Needs Natural History” (pages 290–
297), such devotion to observation has fallen out of vogue, perhaps because of the Art Director Barbara J. Aulicino
many time and financial pressures on scientists, but its loss bodes ill for the future.
Anderson makes the case that observational scientists should be willing to accept SCIENTISTS’ NIGHTSTAND
Editor Dianne Timblin
that their results may only be put to use long after they are gone, but that such deep
records of observations have been essential for large breakthroughs, such as the AMERICAN SCIENTIST ONLINE
ones Charles Darwin made in describing natural selection. Digital Managing Editor Robert Frederick
Legacy and interconnectedness are themes again as we celebrate the 60th an-
niversary of the launch of Sputnik 1, the first humanmade satellite in space. As Lev Publisher Jamie L. Vernon
Zelenyi and Olga Zakutnyaya point out in “The ‘Simplest Satellite’ That Opened
Up the Universe” (pages 282–289), Sputnik 1 was developed in a rush to be first, ADVERTISING SALES
BEWFSUJTJOH!BNTDJPSHt
and it didn’t have much capability on its own. However, it began a long and fruitful ___________

path of international collaboration on outer-space research. It remains true today EDITORIAL AND SUBSCRIPTION
that no individual country has the means to undertake on its own the most ambi- CORRESPONDENCE
tious missions—those that reveal so much about what goes on in the universe. American Scientist
Looking both inward and outward, connection affects us on all levels, from our P.O. Box 13975
smallest cells to the Earth’s full biosphere. To differentiate and grow, stem cells re- 3FTFBSDI5SJBOHMF1BSL /$
quire chemical and physical cues from their immediate environment. In “Structural tGBY
Support for Damaged Tissue Repair” (pages 298–305), Treena Livingston Arinzeh, FEJUPST!BNTDJPOMJOFPSHtTVCT!BNTDJPSH
____________ ________
Jennifer Moy, and Gloria Portocarrero Huang describe scaffolds they are developing
PUBLISHED BY SIGMA XI, THE SCIENTIFIC
from biocompatible materials, which can coax stem cells to develop into tissues, such
RESEARCH HONOR SOCIETY
as bones and nerves, that can be difficult to regenerate without such assistance. And President Stuart L. Cooper
on the larger scale, in “The Evolutionary Advantage of Burrowing Underground” Treasurer David Baker
(pages 306–311), Anthony J. Martin makes the case that all those dens and burrows President-Elect Joel R. Primack
that have been dug into the earth for eons by diverse creatures, from insects to alliga- Immediate Past President Tee Guidotti
tors, have not only affected the survival of species, but may also have had altered Executive Director Jamie L. Vernon
global environments—and even the Earth’s climate. American Scientist gratefully acknowledges
In the endeavor of science itself, professional climate, collegial connection, and support for “Engineering” through the Leroy
an understanding of legacy can mean the difference between success and failure. Record Fund.
Some recent studies have highlighted the often-subtle harassments that women
and minority scientists can encounter in academic environments, and how their Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor
colleagues are often not aware of these experiences. Dr. Katie L. Burke takes a Society is a society of scientists and engineers,
hard look at these cases in this issue’s Spotlight section (“Harassment in Science,” GPVOEFEJOUPSFDPHOJ[FTDJFOUJmD
pages 262–264). As scientists who value data, it behooves all of us to pay atten- achievement. A diverse organization of
tion to such studies and consider whether they apply to our own environments. members and chapters, the Society fosters
interaction among science, technology, and
This letter is my first as editor-in-chief of American Scientist, and I hope to con-
society; encourages appreciation and support
tinue the magazine’s legacy of connecting our readers with the research enterprise.
of original work in science and technology; and
We hope to draw readers into the larger conversations about how science itself is QSPNPUFTFUIJDTBOEFYDFMMFODFJOTDJFOUJmDBOE
evolving, while supporting that strong history of building observations that can engineering research.
foster breakthroughs. Please join the conversation with us so we can keep scientific
Printed in USA
research thriving far into the future. —Fenella Saunders (@FenellaSaunders)

258 American Scientist, Volume 105

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LETTERS

When Adaptation Is Easy ing this radiation, the different spe- The ship was the SS Manhattan,
cies evolved different beak sizes and an oil tanker more than 300 meters
To the Editors: shapes as they adapted to different long, two to four times the length of
Zachary D. Blount’s article “Replaying food resources. As with the anoles, the a conventional icebreaker. The prow
Evolution” (May–June) is most inter- adaptation was based on quantitative and hull had been modified and rein-
esting. I think the anoles that demon- changes in an existing trait. Conse- forced. Previously, the ship had been
strate the repeatability of evolution quently, I think it quite likely that we the luxury oil tanker of Aristotle Onas-
all came from the same stock and the would see the same radiation occur sis. The bridge was amidships, which
differences are easy adaptations, much again and again if we could replay the is unusual for a tanker, and some quar-
like Darwin’s finches on the Galapa- finches’ evolution in the Galapagos. ters still had bidets and Italian art.
gos Islands. Quantitative changes in a trait are like- In the fall of 1969, amidst a flurry
ly to be quite easy. After all, once a trait of publicity, the Manhattan success-
Ernest McCray
exists, there will almost certainly be fully traversed the Passage. A more fo-
Tucson, AZ
heritable mutations that have quantita- cused attempt was made the following
Dr. Blount responds: tive effects upon it. This means that the spring to relate speed to ice thickness
potential for adaptation on the basis and propeller thrust, but the ice was
I think Mr. McCray is largely correct. of quantitative variation will also ex- thicker than before, and there was not
The adaptations displayed by the dif- ist, making repeated instances of evo- enough thrust.
ferent Anolis ecomorphs involved lution in the face of similar selective A suggestion was made to apply
quantitative changes of traits that ex- pressures more likely. Newton’s Second Law to each ram
isted in their common ancestor. As I into the ice, even though the proce-
note in the article: “Adaptation is more Saved by the Slide Rule? dure had been tried with a Russian
likely to recur if it requires only quan- icebreaker and did not work. The ex-
To the Editors:
titative changes in existing traits— pedition leader Stanley Haas gave the
such as toe pad and body size, or leg Henry Petroski’s excellent article, “Slide go-ahead, and six engineering college
and tail length—and the anoles had Rules: Gone But Not Forgotten” (En- students made the measurements.
the right existing traits.” In the case of gineering, May–June) is germane to a This “ice-testing team” was helicop-
Darwin’s finches, we see closely relat- multimillion dollar icebreaker research tered off to measure thickness and
ed birds that radiated from a common project that was conducted in 1970 in strength of the ice. As the professor, I
ancestor to fill a variety of food-based the Northwest Passage to determine managed to tag along to look out for
niches on the Galapagos Islands. Dur- feasibility of the Passage for shipping. polar bears.

American Scientist (ISSN 0003-0996) is published bimonthly by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, P.O. Box 13975, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709 (919-549-0097). Newsstand single copy $5.95.
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_________________________ of a remarkably sharp cutoff age for
understanding it, attesting to the pre-
cipitousness with which slide rules fell
out of use. Visitors whose engineering
New Website Design Check out AmSci Blogs
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The Concord writer’s work as a natu- american-scientist
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caption on page 236 should have said that
ralist continues to guide and inspire. the stromatolites were 2 to 3 billion years
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Explaining Research Using Emoji
The #EmojiYourPhD hashtag game Read American Scientist Infographic
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Page 271 Barbara Aulicino

Engineering
An experimental global positioning been taken along as a joke. A $10 slide Pages 276–277 Barbara Aulicino
system was available but only tracked rule thus became a primary tool for Structural Support for Tissue Repair
one satellite; radar was not reliable; reducing data from a $300-million re- Pages 300–303 Stephanie Freese
and underwater sonar signals jammed search program. The student group
as soon as the ship plowed into ice. made, graphed, and interpreted the
A well-known ice scientist, Andrew measurements, and wrote a key part of 1

Assur, set up a simple alternative: Two the onboard report. It was described in 1

boards stuck out over the side of the a 1977 paper in Arctic Systems by Fen-
ship could be used to measure the Dow Chu as “the most valuable full-
time it took for a snowdrift to pass the scale ice breaking data yet available.”
projected distance between them. A Many tests have since been made
stopwatch was used to measure this with conventional icebreakers, but
time interval. Ice thicknesses were esti- none with a ship the size of the Man-
mated as chunks of ice were turned up hattan. In 1987 it ran aground during a
on edge. Running times during a ram typhoon and was cut up for scrap. Still,
were measured with a tape recorder. the data live on; I cited them in a 2013
The system was so successful that it book, and I still have the slide rule. How to Write to American Scientist
was relied on for dead reckoning of the Brief letters commenting on articles
Richard L. Handy
ship position. appearing in the magazine are wel-
Madrid, Iowa
Each ram gave ice resistance ver- comed. The editors reserve the right
sus velocity, as required for applica- To the Editors: to edit submissions. Please include
tion of Newton’s Law, and data were When my university discontinued an email address if possible. Address:
gathered even though the ship came slide rule instruction, a 6-foot-long Letters to the Editors, P.O. Box 13975,
to a stop. The onboard computer died, teaching model was relocated to a Research Triangle Park, NC 27709 or
but fortunately a small slide rule had laboratory, where it became a marker editors@amscionline.org.
_________________

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Spotlight

Harassment in Science “They just have general harassment


training, and it doesn’t address a lot of
issues around cultural stereotyping that
can be problematic in the sciences.”
Recent studies demonstrate an unwelcoming workplace for people of
One can at the very least start build-
color and women in STEM fields, point to a need to raise awareness ing awareness, she says, by first con-
among men and leaders, and elicit calls for cultural change. sidering a few questions: “Does every-
body look the same where you work?
Have you ever had people stop to think
When we talk about harassment in the However, most white male respondents about why that is? Is it on purpose, or
sciences, the focus is often on the most were unaware of their colleagues’ expe- is it accidental? Are the tasks in your
scandalous cases—and there are plen- riences, a result that points to a knowl- workplace being distributed fairly? Do
ty of recent ones to choose from, such edge gap that needs to be addressed. you know if there are policies in your
as the one that induced astronomer For example, 40 percent of the women workplace [for reporting harassment]?
Geoffrey Marcy to retire in 2015 from astronomers reported hearing sexist re- If you don’t know, do you even know
the University of California, Berkeley, marks “sometimes or often” from their whom to ask? Would you feel com-
amid public outrage, or the incidents peers, in comparison with 23 percent fortable in your workplace reporting a
that sparked the resignations last year of the men. And 21 percent of women problematic behavior?” She asks these
of molecular biologist Jason Lieb from reported hearing such remarks “some- questions, she says, because “even if
University of Chicago and paleoan- times or often” from their supervisors, they don’t know of scandals or haven’t
thropologist Brian Richmond from the whereas only 5 percent of men reported seen them in their own workplace,
American Museum of Natural History. observing such behavior. these smaller things lead up to an en-
A slew of scandals and lawsuits over The gap between astronomers of col- vironment that makes a scandal more
the past several years have demonstrat- or and white astronomers was similar- likely or makes it more likely that the
ed that scientists guilty of sexual ha- ly large with regard to racist remarks: scandal will be swept under the rug.”
rassment have repeatedly been allowed Twenty-eight percent of astronomers Following standard methodology
to continue their careers, enabling them of color reported witnessing racist re- in the social sciences for studying un-
to find new victims. But focusing on marks by peers, but only 9 percent of derrepresented groups, the researchers
note that the results from the survey
are not necessarily representative of
“By focusing on the most egregious the prevalence of these behaviors, but
do indicate their widespread presence.
harassment, we miss the areas where They also note that the survey numbers
are probably low, given that these be-
there is lots of opportunity to change.” haviors are often underreported. The
workplace experiences of scientists of
other gender identities need to be ex-
headline-making cases may avert atten- white astronomers reported it. Katha- plored too; a small number of nonbi-
tion from the underlying issues: institu- rine Lee, one of the survey’s coauthors nary gender and transgender people re-
tional tolerance for patterns of behavior, and a graduate student in Clancy’s lab- sponded to the survey, but not enough
legal or illegal, that create an unwel- oratory at the University of Illinois at to include in statistical comparisons.
coming environment for women and Urbana-Champaign, notes that white Differences in workplace experi-
underrepresented minorities—and an men, “even though they are the major- ence have noticeable effects. Clancy’s
incentive structure in academic science ity of the workforce in science…are ei- team found that negative experiences
that resists changing this atmosphere. ther not seeing [the harassment of oth- affected women’s career opportunities:
A survey of 474 astronomers that ers] or they’re not taking the time to see Eighteen percent of women of color
Kathryn Clancy and others published these problems in their surroundings.” and 12 percent of white women in the
recently in the Journal of Geophysical Re- The gaps between the experiences of survey said that they skipped profes-
search: Planets indicates that 40 percent people of color and whites in the sci- sional events because they did not feel
of women astronomers of color and 27 ence workplace, and between experi- they would be safe at them. The num-
percent of white women astronomers ences of women and men, indicate a ber of women of color on science facul-
reported feeling unsafe in the work- need for building awareness and pro- ties has recently decreased, even as the
place because of their gender or sex, and viding training. “A lot of places [in aca- number of white women faculty mem-
28 percent of women of color reported demia] don’t even have diversity and bers has increased. Other studies have
feeling unsafe as a result of their race. cultural awareness training,” Lee says. shown that both women and people

262 American Scientist, Volume 105

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of color experience more workplace


incivilities than their white male col-
leagues, even when these incivilities
are not explicitly based on gender or
race. Although this phenomenon isn’t
confined to the research community,
there are aspects of a science career
that can exacerbate the problem. “Ha-
rassment is not a unique problem,”
says Lee. But she points out that lab
culture has more “gray areas between
when it’s work or not, as opposed to
standard office work” and that the
way power dynamics are structured
makes it difficult for victims to feel
safe calling out problematic behav-
ior. For example, the person an early-
career researcher works for, their advi-
sor, will also be the person who evalu-
ates whether or not they get a job.
The problems Clancy highlighted
among astronomers are found in many
fields of science. Her 2014 survey of
women doing scientific fieldwork
found that 64 percent had experienced Jeff Chiu/AP Photo
harassment and 22 percent had experi- University of California graduate students Erin Bennett (holding microphone) and Kathleen
enced sexual assault while in the field. Gutierrez (standing beside Bennett) speak at a news conference on the Berkeley campus on
Remote work often means that it is un- April 11, 2016. Bennett and Gutierrez filed a complaint regarding sexual harassment by a UC
clear which institution is responsible, Berkeley professor. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
and colleagues work in close conditions.
The problem is further complicated by a at first, Marcy was allowed to continue for change. The UC system has dealt
power dynamic characteristic of these working at the university, even though with this criticism head-on, putting
kinds of mistreatment: Women were four women had come forward alleging new policies in place that address past
mostly harassed or assaulted by superi- his inappropriate behavior and an inves- problems, such as a lack of consistency,
ors. Other studies have also shown that tigation found that he had violated the transparency, and faculty involvement.
people who are more junior in hierar- university’s sexual harassment policy. Enobong (Anna) Branch, the chancel-
chy are more likely to experience incivil- These high-profile cases and research lor’s faculty advisor for diversity and
ity, discrimination, and harassment— publications such as Clancy’s have inclusive excellence at the University
especially if they are women. brought renewed attention from the sci- of Massachusetts Amherst and a social
Lee adds that managers are chosen entific community to this issue. A meet- science expert on diversity issues in
differently in academic science than in ing of a National Academies of Sciences, the workplace, observes that the UC
many other workplaces. She says, “A lot Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) system’s new legal framework “has
of people [in academia] get promoted ad hoc committee studying the effects of clear authority lines, along with time
because they’re good at a topic or skill, sexual harassment in academia met for lines and feedback loops, and they re-
and they’ve never been given the man- the third time on June 20–21 in Irvine, vised their process to allow for faculty
agement training that people in other California, to discuss the approaches that feedback.”At the June meeting, she
fields might have gotten.” organizations and individuals can take noted that the UC system has been en-
The funding incentives in academic to address sexual harassment in the sci- gaged in a four- to five-year project con-
science also deter institutions from ad- entific workplace. Committee members cerning campus climate. “It started with
dressing harassment if a perpetrator is are compiling a report to guide leaders in a survey of all the UC systems, followed
bringing in money. “There are people science, and will meet again in October. with reports, and then the establish-
who feel like they can’t afford to fire At the June meeting, several lead- ment of equity officers who have for-
somebody who has brought in a big ers from the University of California malized processes,” explained Branch.
grant, because they need that money (UC) system discussed their efforts to “On campuses across the country, these
to fund their other operations,” Lee ex- change the legal framework and work- processes are not always that clear.”
plains. “We need to think more about place culture following the high-profile These changes stand in clear con-
how to fund good science and good sci- Marcy case. After media stories about trast with the way things once were
entists in a way that doesn’t place de- Marcy broke in 2015 and several oth- at UC Berkeley—and the way things
partments in this financial constraint.” er UC Berkeley faculty resigned after still are at many other academic insti-
sexual harassment charges in 2016, the tutions around the country. Engineer
Revamping Legal Processes university’s faculty, outraged at the Alice Agogino of UC Berkeley said dur-
Funding seems to have been a factor in lack of discipline in the Marcy case and ing the June meeting that these policy
the initial handling of the Marcy case; their lack of say in the matter, called changes have greatly affected the way

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such cases are handled: “I was chair Grassroots Efforts to Reduce Risks of praise, the need for such organiza-
of our academic senate about a decade Some victims of harassment have not tions suggests a lack of leadership on
ago. The process then was that the pro- waited for academic leaders to come this issue. Paula Johnson, president of
vost and the chancellor had the author- around. Astronomer Heather Flewel- Wellesley College and one of the co-
ity to make decisions themselves, with- ling, now a postdoctoral researcher at chairs of the NASEM committee, made
out involving any faculty. There was the University of Hawai'i, learned of this observation during a panel dis-
no transparency; nobody would hear the difficulty victims of harassment cussion at the June meeting: “Some of
about it; and it never made it to a facul- encounter, she said, when she was these issues are taken up by the most
ty committee. Some of the high-profile stalked by a colleague. When the stalk- junior people, who have the most at
cases like the Marcy case never went er showed up at her new apartment risk. If this is going on at the meetings
to the faculty senate either, because of soon after she’d begun graduate school, and senior people know, then why is
fear [that members would stand up for she reported the episode to the police, it, in fact, that the majority of the bur-
accused colleagues]—unjustifiably so, who responded that they could not do den is on relatively junior people?”
because at Berkeley it was the faculty anything without more proof. Later, Involving men in instituting change is
that pushed back and said, ‘You should at a professional meeting, the stalker essential. If men see sexual harassment
have been more aggressive.’” showed up repeatedly. “It was terrify- as strictly a women’s issue or don’t con-
ing,” she said, simply, as she explained sider it a problem, reforms will stall.
Cultivating Inclusivity her story at the NASEM meeting. Lee says, “You would be hard pressed
Although improving the legal frame- The professional society sponsoring to find a woman who would say that
work is imperative, that alone will not the meeting at which Flewelling was she hasn’t experienced this in her
be enough to fully cultivate a work- stalked, the American Astronomical career. People who refuse to see this
place environment that feels safe and Society (AAS), had a code of conduct as a problem are the people that others
welcoming to diverse scientists, Branch that prohibited sexual harassment. To won’t report incidents to. They help
points out. At the NASEM meeting, she report it, however, she had to seek out contribute to a workplace that feels
noted that “there are real limitations a senior colleague, tell them her story, hostile and where people don’t feel
in terms of faculty and department and wait for the reporting process to safe.” Indeed, research by psychologist
dynamics that the legal framework play out. In the meantime, Flewelling John Pryor of Illinois State University,
around harassment doesn’t cover well.” had to either leave the conference for who is on the NASEM committee,
shows that men who hold sexist beliefs
are more likely to harass in certain
“If the leader tolerates sexual contexts. “If the leader tolerates sexual
harassment, more men will do it,”
harassment, more men will do it.” Pryor said at the June meeting.
One of the panelists at the June
meeting, Jackson Katz of the Mentors
To address the broader environment, the sake of her safety or persevere un- in Violence Prevention, put it bluntly:
in her first year in her current position der conditions of threat. “The missing piece has been men’s
Branch undertook a survey of the cam- Spurred by this experience, Flewel- leadership.” Katz educates men about
pus climate, the results of which will ling colaunched a grassroots organiza- preventing harassment in a variety of
be published later this year. Campus tion called Astronomy Allies, which contexts. He says that men have very
climate surveys help academic institu- offers astronomers who have experi- few opportunities to open up about
tions get a sense of how different people enced harassment a safe space to be the ways that gender violence has af-
experience their campus—and what listened to and, if they choose, a place fected their lives. He elaborated, “One
gaps need to be addressed. Branch says to officially report their harassment or of the key predictors of whether a
these surveys help institutions decide to be supported in other ways. Allies man will challenge another man or in-
what an inclusive environment means in the program are vetted as first re- terrupt another man’s abuse is if he
to their community. Many problematic sponders to victims of gender harass- thinks that other men agree it’s a prob-
behaviors on the spectrum of gender ment. The Allies also began to offer safe lem and that he’s speaking for others
harassment would not be dispelled by walks in groups back to hotel rooms who might be agreeing.” Katz said he
legal consequences alone. She explains, from an unofficial party that many as- would like to see science institutions
“Gender harassment is behavior that’s tronomers attend for networking while demand that leaders be knowledge-
not necessarily sexual—it’s not intend- at the AAS meeting. Astronomy Allies able about these issues.
ing to lead toward a relationship—but continues to grow and look for ways Researchers of and advocates for di-
it [encompasses] broader things like ob- to improve its support. In addition to versity and inclusion are in agreement
jectification of or disdain for women. cofounding Astronomy Allies, Flewel- that bridging differences of experience
That [type of] gender harassment in and ling gave AAS feedback that they have in the science workplace, as well as
of itself is not illegal, but it can create since used to improve their reporting the knowledge gaps about these dif-
a hostile environment. The most egre- and response procedures. ferences, will require new policies,
gious harassment is a fraction of what training, vision, incentives, and hiring
most women experience on a daily ba- A Need for Real Leadership practices. It is no small task, but the
sis. By focusing on the most egregious, Although the ingenuity and deter- good news is that there are clear steps
we miss the areas where there is a lot of mination driving grassroots efforts institutions and individuals can take to
opportunity to change.” such as Astronomy Allies is worthy move forward.—Katie L. Burke

264 American Scientist, Volume 105

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First Person: John G. Hildebrand


What can we learn about the brain by getting up close and personal with the sense of smell
of the giant sphinx moth? More than you’d think, says John G. Hildebrand, a neuroscience
professor at the University of Arizona and one of Sigma Xi’s Distinguished Lecturers.
Hildebrand studies insect nervous systems, particularly the neurobiology of the olfactory
system, its roles in behavior, and related research areas of chemical ecology and the biology
of disease vectors. He spoke with contributing editor Sandra Ackerman about his research.

You have spent a lot of time studying living. Finding an animal like Manduca
the hawk moth, Manduca sexta. What that really heavily depends on olfaction
does it look like, and how common is it? offers a rich array of opportunities to
Probably many people have seen them study the olfactory basis of behavior. It
without realizing it. Anybody in the also informs us about what that olfacto-
United States who has tried to grow ry system is meant to be detecting, and
tomato plants in their garden and has what it’s meant to be responding to.
had a great big caterpillar eat the plants,
in all likelihood has had the Manduca What makes a good animal model for
sexta caterpillar working against them. a particular area of study?
It’s a green creature the size of a pretty The layout and organization of the ol-
good-sized cigar, and it’s voracious. A factory system in an insect like Man- disease that’s just started to show up
single one can eat all the leaves off a duca is very similar to that of a mam- in the Caribbean. I could go on and on.
single tomato plant. As an adult, they’re mal like us. That’s what we mean by a There are just so many diseases that are
a big moth. They have a wingspan of model system: It’s a system that bears vectored by mosquitoes.
about 4 inches, and they behave a lot like many resemblances to the systems in
hummingbirds. So people seeing them creatures like us. Do you think these diseases are spread-
at dusk, or even later in the evening dur- Moreover, the Manduca’s olfactory ing more because of climate change? Or
ing the warm season, may think they’re system is much simpler, in the sense of perhaps we’re just hearing more about
seeing a hummingbird—but in fact they having far fewer nerve cells. The sys- them? Or is there some other factor?
may well be seeing Manduca. They hov- tem is more comprehensible. We can ac- I think that the scientific community is
er over flowers to feed on nectar, and the tually analyze the circuitry and analyze quite confident that the changing pattern
females hover over plants to lay eggs. what happens to information detected of distribution of diseases of this kind
by the receptors of the periphery as we really is due to global climate change.
Why is Manduca sexta such a good trace the information through the brain, Certainly, just take the examples that I
model for the study of the neurobiology in a way that’s much more facile—and, mentioned, which are in South America.
of olfaction? I would say, powerful—than we can in They are now coming right up to the
Insects like Manduca depend on olfaction a more elaborate vertebrate animal. border of the United States. That’s be-
for practically everything they do. If one One of the main reasons I chose to cause of global climate change. Warming
wants to study the neurobiological ba- work on Manduca about 45 years ago trends, the fact that the winters are less
sis of olfactory-dependent behavior, it’s is that it is a big insect, and its nervous harsh, and deep freezes don’t happen in
good to use an animal that does every- system, its brain, is big too—much big- many places the way they used to. The
thing on the basis of olfaction. Finding ger than that of many other insects. same could be said for mosquitoes and
mates, finding food, finding places to lay That’s good, because the nerve cells in other vector insects, and even for things
eggs: For Manduca, all of that depends the system are also bigger than those that aren’t insects, such as ticks, that are
on olfaction. We know a lot about the of other insects. Having big nerve cells vectors. These creatures now have a
behaviors that depend on olfaction, and in relatively smaller numbers is a big much wider distribution and therefore
it’s most of their natural behaviors. advantage. ability to spread disease than they did
The advantage of using an animal in the days when we had really hard
that depends heavily on olfaction is that You also study insects that are signifi- freezes all over the country.
we know a lot about the behaviors that cant vectors of disease? Yes, I think the biggest factor is glob-
are served by the olfactory system. I am Mosquitoes are responsible for more al climate change. Another is travel.
a neurobiologist whose point of view human morbidity and death than any Humans now travel everywhere by
is what we call neuroethological. I’m in- other creature on the planet, if you add air. They carry with them parasites
terested in nervous systems because of up all the viral, bacterial, and parasitic and viral and bacterial pathogens and
what they do for the animal. I’m not in- diseases that are spread by mosquito the airplanes can also carry the vec-
terested in them because of disease and vectors in humans. The total toll on hu- tor creatures, so there’s a very efficient
so forth. To understand what a sensory man life is enormous. The most obvious distribution system now that we didn’t
system like an olfactory system does, I primary example is malaria, but there expect. Most of the Chagas disease that
want to understand how it serves the are many other diseases, such as West we see in the United States is brought
natural behavior of the animal in its Nile virus. Dengue is now in parts of the in by people who were infected in oth-
real world, going about the business of United States. Chikungunya is a new er countries.

www.americanscientist.org 2017 September–October 265

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Infographic

THE SMELLY CHEMISTRY OF THE TITAN ARUM


Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum FDQJR\HDUVZLWKRXWöRZHULQJÕEXWZKHQLWGRHVLWSURGXFHVDQRGRUOLNHGHDGöHVK+HUHØVWKHFKHPLVWU\EHKLQGLW

THE SPADIX THE COMPOUNDS BEHIND THE STENCH

7KHVSDGL[ULVHVIURPWKHFHQWHURIWKHöRZHULQJ 'LPHWK\OGLVXOõGHDQGGLPHWK\OWULVXOõGHDUHWKH
VWUXFWXUH'XULQJöRZHULQJWKHVSDGL[VHOIJHQHUDWHV PDLQFRPSRXQGVEHKLQGWKHVWHQFKWKH7LWDQ
KHDW DSURFHVVNQRZQDVthermogenesis DQGDOVR $UXPSURGXFHV0HWK\OWKLRODFHWDWH ZKLFKKDV
SURGXFHVVPHOO\FRPSRXQGV7KLVDWWUDFWVSROOLQDWRUV DFKHHV\JDUOLFN\RGRU DQGLVRYDOHULFDFLG DOVR
WRWKHFOXVWHUVRIVPDOOöRZHUVZKLFKIRUPDWWKH SDUWO\UHVSRQVLEOHIRUWKHVPHOORIVZHDW\IHHW DOVR
EDVHRIWKHVSDGL[ VKRZQEHORZ 7KHVPHOOLV FRQWULEXWHDQGWULPHWK\ODPLQHLVEHKLQGWKHURWWHQ
VWURQJHVWRQWKHõUVWQLJKWRIöRZHULQJ õVKVPHOOWRZDUGVWKHHQGRIWKHöRZHUØVOLIH

S S DIMETHYL TRISULFIDE
H3C S CH3

FLOWERS
H3C S DIMETHYL DISULFIDE
S CH3

O
THE SPATHE CH3 METHYL THIOLACETATE
H3C S
7KHVSDWKHLVDIULOO\DGDSWHGOHDIZKLFKSURWHFWV
WKHöRZHUVDWWKHEDVHRIWKHVSDGL[,WLVJUHHQRQ CH3 TRIMETHYLAMINE CH3 O
WKHRXWVLGHDQGEORRGUHGRQWKHLQVLGH,WRSHQVRQ
öRZHULQJDIWHUWZRGD\VKDYHHODSVHGLWFORVHVXS N
DJDLQDQGWKHVSDGL[HYHQWXDOO\FROODSVHV H3C CH3 ISOVALERIC ACID H3C OH

© Andy Brunning/Compound Interest 2017 - www.compoundchem.com | Twitter: @compoundchem | FB: www.facebook.com/compoundchem


 This graphic is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence. BY NC ND

U
sually, you’d want to stay as far away as possible from of the spike, or spadix) unfurls, revealing its blood-red inner coloring.
a smell described variously as being like the odor of a The spadix then starts to self-generate heat, a process known as
“dead rat,” a “moldy bath mat,” or “cabbages and thermogenesis. And it starts to produce foul-smelling compounds, a
death.” However, people recently flocked to Cambridge carrion cologne designed to lure pollinating carrion beetles.
University Botanic Garden to sample this unpleasant-sounding The first night of flowering offers the most intense odor. The lured
aroma for themselves. The explanation for their interest lies in the carrion beetles scurry to female flowers that have opened inside the
source of the smell: The rare occurrence of a flowering Titan Arum flowering structure; ideally they bring pollen from other Titan Arum
plant, commonly known as a corpse flower. flowers with them. By the end of the second day of flowering, the
Native to the rainforests of Sumatra in Indonesia, the Titum odor is much less intense, and the plant’s male flowers then open;
Arum’s life cycle is a curious and patient one. A germinating seed as the carrion beetles depart, they pick up pollen from these flowers,
develops into an underground corm, which pushes out a single which may eventually find its way to another Titan Arum.
leaf that can reach the height of a small tree and branch into The odor of the Titan Arum is contributed by several compounds.
numerous leaflets. For many years its life cycle will consist of this The key odorants are sulfides; dimethyl trisulfide lends a rotting,
single leaf growing, then dying after several months, then a new animal-like sulfury odor, whereas dimethyl disulfide has a garliclike
one growing in its place. Flowering doesn’t happen until the plant smell, but likely doesn’t contribute as much to the overall odor
is at least 7 to 10 years old; after this initial flowering, some plants because of its higher odor threshold. Other compounds present
manage to flower every 2 to 3 years. But others can take another include isovaleric acid, a chemical that also makes a significant con-
7 to 10 years, as is expected for the one in Cambridge. tribution to the smell of sweaty feet, and methyl thiolacetate, which
Titan Arum is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the largest smells like an unsavory blend of garlic and cheese. Finally, as the
flower in the world. That title is actually held by Rafflesia arnoldii, flowering structure collapses, trimethylamine delivers a final blow to
another type of corpse flower. The Titan Arum loses out because your olfactory senses, carrying with it a waft of dead fish.
it isn’t a single flower but a small cluster (known as an inflores- The Cambridge Botanic Garden’s specimen started wilting after just
cence). It is, however, the largest unbranched inflorescence in the over a day of flowering. Some flowers can last for a few days more.
world—the unbranched qualifier is needed because the talipot But workers at the garden had attempted to pollinate their Titan Arum
palm boasts the largest (branched) inflorescence. using pollen obtained from the Eden Project’s Titan Arum, which
When the Titan Arum does flower, it’s over very quickly. On the first flowered earlier in the year. The spadix sagging so quickly may mean
day of flowering, the spathe (the frilly adapted leaf around the base success, although they’ll have a wait to find out. —Andy Brunning

266 American Scientist, Volume 105

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Briefings

I
n this roundup, digital features that warming in Antarctica alone could ocean-drilling study points to an explana-
editor Katie L. Burke summarizes cause 4 feet of sea-level rise during this tion: Certain conditions promote brittle
notable recent developments in century. During the Antarctic summer of minerals to form at deep faults, and these
scientific research, selected from reports 2016, meltwater appeared on the big- minerals do not absorb forces as well as
compiled in the free electronic newslet- gest floating ice platform on Earth, the more hydrated sediment. Researchers
ter Sigma Xi SmartBrief. Online: https://
_____ Ross Ice Shelf in western Antarctica, and drilled 1,500 meters below the seafloor
www.smartbrief.com/sigmaxi/index.jsp lasted 15 days. Most ice loss in this region in two places near Sumatra where sedi-
has occurred through warming of ocean ment is moving toward the fault line, so
waters under the ice, not a warmer at- that they could study what conditions are
Oldest Homo sapiens Fossils mosphere. The warmer air likely resulted in flux. They found a layer of sediment
Fossils from Morocco are the earliest yet from El Niño conditions; climate change where the water was lower in salinity than
found of our species, dating to about is predicted to make El Niño events more in surrounding layers. The fresher water
300,000 years ago. Previously, the oldest frequent and extreme. Melting from un- must have seeped out of the minerals,
known Homo sapiens fossils had been derneath and on the surface could make rather than seeping in from seawater. Dur-
found in 2003 in Ethiopia and were these formations more unstable. As larger ing their formation over millions of years,
195,000 years old. The new fossils upend ice shelves lose mass, ice formations they the minerals took in water as part of their
the idea that there was a “cradle of hu- hold in place can flow into the sea. crystal structure. As more sediment settled
mankind” in East Africa. Instead, humans on top, it heated up the minerals until a
Nicolas, J. P., et al. January 2016 extensive chemical transformation pushed water out
summer melt in West Antarctica favoured of the crystals. As water flowed away over
by strong El Niño. Nature Communications time, the sediment became dehydrated
doi:10.1038/ncomms15799 (June 15) and brittle—conditions that promote a
big quake. More research will determine
A Closer Look at Jupiter’s Poles whether this process is happening at other
The Juno space probe’s first looks at Ju- major faults with similar sediments.
seem to have evolved in multiple loca- piter’s poles, during passes that began in
tions across the African continent. Homo July 2016, are challenging scientists’ under- Hüpers, A., et al. Release of mineral-bound
fossils were first found at Jebel Irhoud standing of the gas-giant planet. Images water prior to subduction tied to shal-
in Morocco in 1961 but were thought show numerous polar cyclones; it’s unclear low seismogenic slip off Sumatra. Science
to be tens of thousands of years old. what drives them. Images from more doi:10.1126/science.aal3429 (May 26)
Nevertheless, their morphology confused flybys will show whether the cyclones are
paleoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hub- always present. Sea Spiders’ Guts Pump Blood
lin, of the Max Planck Institute, enough Researchers had Most organisms use a circulatory system
to cause him to look for more fossils thought that the to pump blood, while a separate diges-
there. He excavated skull bones and flint planet’s atmosphere tive system pumps food, but sea spiders
blades from the same sedimentary layer. was well mixed, but use their digestive
Dating the flint blades revealed that they the concentration of system for pump-
had burned 300,000 years ago. The skull ammonia turns out ing both blood and
bones belonged to several individuals. to vary significantly food. Researchers
Philipp Gunz/MPI EVA Leipzig, NASA/SwRI, Timothy R. Dwyer (PolarTREC 2016)/ARCUS,

Their faces and brain sizes were similar from place to place. The data also show used dye to track
to those of humans today, although their that the particles driving Jupiter’s auroras blood flow through
brains were more elongated. The flint in may differ from those of Earth’s auroras. sea spiders’ bod-
the blades was from a site 20 miles from Finally, Juno’s gravity field measurements ies and noticed
Jebel Irhoud, suggesting that early hu- imply that heavy elements are distributed that the creatures’ hearts beat weakly
mans sought far-off resources. differently than expected, a finding that but that their digestive systems were
changes ideas about Jupiter’s core. contracting in waves that moved food
Hublin, J.–J., et al. New fossils from Jebel around the gut and blood around their
Irhoud, Morocco, and the pan-African origin Bolton, S. J., et al. Jupiter’s interior and vessels. Sea spiders are arthropods (but
of Homo sapiens. Nature doi:10.1038/ deep atmosphere: The initial pole-to-pole not true arachnids) that live in the ocean.
nature22336 (June 7) passes with the Juno spacecraft. Science Their unusual digestive system extends
doi:10.1125/science.aal2108 (May 26) down each of their eight legs, providing
Richter, D., et al. The age of the hominin
maximum surface area for taking up oxy-
fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and the
Connerney, J. E. P., et al. Jupiter’s magneto- gen via diffusion. The researchers suggest
origins of the Middle Stone Age. Nature
sphere and aurorae observed by the Juno that pumping both food and blood with
doi:10.1038/nature22335 (June 7)
spacecraft during its first polar orbits. Science the same system may conserve metabolic
doi:10.1126/science.aam5928 (May 26) energy. This study is the first to report
Big Ice Melt in Antarctica this dual-mode circulation.
An ice melt larger in area than Texas is Deadly 2004 Quake, Explained
a warning sign that climate change is The 9.2-magnitude earthquake in Sumatra Woods, H. A., et al. Respiratory gut peri-
destabilizing parts of the Antarctic ice in 2004 was unexpectedly destructive, kill- stalsis by sea spiders. Current Biology
sheet. A 2016 study in Nature predicted ing more than 250,000 people. A recent doi:10.1016/j.cub.2017.05.062 (July 10)

www.americanscientist.org 2017 September–October 267

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Sightings

An Unusual Shimmer
The golden scarab keeps its shine even when other beetles do not. Now we better
understand how, but not why, it does so.

T
o examine the outer shells, or cuticles, of shiny bee- shiny through the left-handed filter, the right-handed filter
tles, scientists can view them through filters like eliminates the shiny color, allowing for closer examination.
those found in modern 3D-movie glasses, which But the golden scarab beetle, Chrysina resplendens (pictured
use both left- and right-handed circularly polar- below), is different: It has a structural design that enables it
ized filters (as the diagram below illustrates), one type of to reflect both left- and right-handed circularly polarized
filter for each eye. Some shiny beetles reflect left-handed light, and at roughly the same intensity.
circularly polarized light, so although they still appear “It is unclear whether any other species of beetle or
animal concurrently reflects left-handed and right-handed
direction of circularly polarized light,” says Pete Vukusic, who research-
propagation es biophotonics at the University of Exeter in the United
Kingdom. “If someone in a company were to design this, it
would be a stunning innovation.”
C. resplendens can reflect both types because it has a spe-
cial layer in its cuticle that appears to work as a half-wave
linear plate, transforming left-handed circularly polarized light
°

z
90

polarization

circular
y
polarization
The electric-field vector rotates
around the axis of propagation. The
direction of rotation shown here
is termed “right-handed.”

The electric field of circularly polarized light (center


and right) is composed of two plane waves of equal
amplitude differing in phase by 90 degrees.
Ewan Finlayson, University of Exeter

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into the right-handed circularly polarized light. It’s particu- light. As the newly transformed left-handed circularly polar-
larly innovative because C. resplendens has the same struc- ized light continues into the cuticle, it encounters the second
tures as the thousand other beetle species known to reflect structure of aligned chitin microfibers, and is strongly reflected
left-handed circularly polarized light. It just has two such back. That reflected left-handed circularly polarized light then
structures, separated by that special layer. reencounters that special layer and is converted back to right-
“This complex structure is very much of interest,” says handed circularly polarized light, which again passes through
Ewan Finlayson, because it could inform “a potential suite the upper structure and so back out of C. resplendens’s cuticle.
of novel optical components.” Finlayson is first author of Fabricating synthetic versions of the cuticle would
the paper describing the work that he, Vukusic, and Luke provide even more evidence in support of the hypothesis,
McDonald published in the June issue of the Journal of the but only for how it works in reflecting circularly polarized
Royal Society Interface. light, not why the beetle has this adaptation, which, so far,
To examine that complex structure, the team employed appears to be unique in the animal kingdom.
the high-magnification imaging techniques of transmission “Is it just an artifact of the way the cuticle grew,” asks Vu-
electron micrography and scanning electron microscopy. kusic, or is it an adaptation that “produces a specific signal
Preparing the cuticle sample using accepted techniques that works for antipredation or for mating—who knows?”
resulted in a little shrinkage but did not otherwise affect Because some light scatters as it passes through the cu-
the material’s structure. After analyzing the physical layers, ticle, it takes many more layers of aligned chitin microfibers
measuring optical reflectance, and then creating computer in the lower structure, beneath the special layer, to reflect
simulations to model that reflectance, the team suggested a as much right-handed circularly polarized light (overall)
hypothesis for how light passes through and is reflected by as the left-handed circularly polarized light reflected by
C. resplendens’s cuticle. the upper structure. And because the intensity of reflected
As regular, unpolarized light strikes the top layer, the com- circularly polarized light—both left- and right-handed—is
ponents of the light that are left-handed circularly polarized roughly the same from the cuticle of C. resplendens, that sug-
are reflected by the first such structure, which is formed from gests that the optical ambidexterity is not an artifact at all,
layers of aligned microfibers made of chitin, a protein common but is evolutionarily important for some reason still to be
to beetle exoskeletons (see diagram at right). Components of discovered.—Robert Frederick
the unpolarized light that are right-handed circularly polar-
ized essentially just pass through that top structure. They next
encounter that special layer, which converts the right-handed
circularly polarized light to left-handed circularly polarized

Layers of aligned microfibers of proteins (exploded view, left)


stacked together (right) form the structure that gives a
thousand beetle species the ability to reflect
a certain kind of polarized light.

The golden scarab beetle Chrysina


resplendens has an unusual
structure in its exoskeleton
that appears to be unique,
allowing it to reflect a
type of polarized
light that other
beetles cannot.

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Computing
Science

Computers That Can Run Backwards


Reversible computations—which can, in principle, be performed without giving
off heat—may be the future of computing.

Peter J. Denning and Ted G. Lewis

I
n the universe of computing, heat computers, an up-and-coming tech- puts as inputs, assigning one output
is the companion of progress— nology that will be common within pattern to every input pattern and vice
and its enemy. According to a decade, if research continues at its versa. That means each input can be
Moore’s law, the number of com- current pace. These computers will reconstructed from the output; no bits
ponents on a chip of a given size dou- take mere seconds to solve certain are lost, so reversible circuits will not
bles every two years, potentially dou- kinds of problems—such as cracking give off heat from bit loss. Further-
bling its heat output at the same rate. ciphers, or encoded messages—that more, reversible circuits can simulate
Computer engineers have therefore would take current computers cen- standard logic functions and can there-
constantly sought ways to reduce the turies. Quantum computers store in- fore be used in any computer.
energy consumption of each new gen- formation in the states of individual A curious feature of reversible cir-
eration of chips. Portable and desktop atoms, called quantum bits or qubits. cuits is that, as the name implies, they
computers use circulating air and fans Instead of wires, they use quantum- can actually be run in reverse! The cir-
to cool their chips, whereas supercom- mechanical effects such as photons, cuits maintain the same function even
puters use much more elaborate cool- superconductivity, superposition, if you reverse the roles of the input
ing systems, such as air conditioning and entanglement to store and com- and output lines. Because of this abili-
and cooled liquid baths. These efforts municate information between qubits. ty, reversible computers are sometimes
have paid off handsomely: Computa- However, quantum circuits are exqui- described as “computers that can run
tions per unit of energy have doubled sitely sensitive to heat: A small amount backwards.” We do not actually run
every 1.6 years since the first electronic of heat can cause the atoms to vibrate them backwards, although we fre-
computers in 1945. But even with all too much and lose function. The initial quently do partial reversals to recover
their innovations, chip designers have versions of quantum computers rely from errors by restoring the circuit to a
found heat to be a major limitation on circuits cooled to within a fraction saved former state.
in their quest for faster computers. of a degree of absolute zero. We need
Around 2005, chip makers started lim- quantum circuits that in theory give The Birth of Reversible Circuits
iting clock speed (which controls the off no heat at all. The question of whether computers
rate that computations are executed) Standard computer circuits have a could be built without dissipating heat
to about 3 gigahertz per chip, because hidden source of heat: the loss of infor- was first taken seriously in the 1950s.
faster clocks generated heat too rap- mation when bits are erased. During a Early researchers noted an interesting
idly and caused chips to burn up. computation, components of circuits connection between information theory
To continue to keep pace with called logic gates most often take two and thermodynamics. Both theories say
Moore’s law, the computer hardware bits as input and produce one bit as that entropy increases when informa-
industry has needed to search for output. Each bit value is represented tion about a system’s state is lost. Ther-
innovative new ways to make pro- as a burst of energy that travels along modynamics says that an increase of
cessors run cooler even as they run wires between gates. A gate that re- entropy causes heat to radiate from the
faster. Some look forward to quantum ceives two units of bit-energy at its in- system. Therefore, if we can avoid los-
puts and delivers one unit of bit-energy ing information from a system, we can
at its output must lose a bit-unit of avoid giving off that form of heat.
Peter J. Denning is Distinguished Professor of Com- energy. Because energy cannot be cre- In 1961, Rolf Landauer (1927–1999)
puter Science and Director of the Cebrowski Institute
ated or destroyed, that bit-unit must of IBM analyzed the relationship be-
for information innovation at the Naval Postgraduate
School in Monterey, California, and editor of ACM
go somewhere—so it appears as heat tween thermodynamic entropy and in-
Ubiquity. The author’s views expressed here are not given off by the gate. formation entropy. He concluded that
necessarily those of his employer or the U.S. Federal One of the earliest proposals to re- the erasure of a bit of information has
Government. Ted G. Lewis is a cofounder of the Cen- duce heat from lost bits was to make a minimum, unavoidable energy cost.
ter for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval computer circuits reversible. A revers- He gave the formula for the minimum
Postgraduate School. Email for Denning: _______
pjd@nps.edu ible circuit has exactly as many out- energy: kT ln 2, where k is the Boltzman

270 American Scientist, Volume 105

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1 0
0 1

0
0
0
1
1
0 1
1

0 1
1
1
0
0 1
a a
a
c
b b b

1 X c'

Standard computers (left, symbolized by a common logic gate used in circuits) generate a surpris- ate an adiabatic reversible computer.
ing amount of waste heat from computations that have fewer outputs than inputs. If the same Feynman took an interest in revers-
computations could be made reversible, with the same number of inputs and outputs (right), ible computing in the 1970s because
computers could use far less energy, an important consideration as more circuits are packed in.
he wanted to know whether there is a
fundamental lower limit to how much
constant (1.38 x 10-23 joules per kelvin) ergy. Adiabatic computing cannot hap- energy is needed to carry out a com-
and T is the temperature in kelvins. The pen without reversible circuits. putation. What kinds of computers at-
natural log of 2, given as ln 2, is the ex- A very well insulated frictionless car tain that limit? He knew of the Lan-
ponent the constant e would have to be is a good theoretical analog for an adia- dauer limit, which puts a lower bound
raised to in order to equal 2, and ap- batic computer. Once it accelerates to a on the amount of energy lost to heat
proximately equals 0.693. In 2012 two cruising speed, an adiabatic car would when a single bit of information is lost.
groups experimentally confirmed Lan- lose no energy to friction and radiate He asked: If we use reversible circuits,
dauer’s theoretical limit. According to no energy into the environment, al- which lose no bits, what is the minimum
the formula, one erased bit costs only a lowing it to travel indefinitely on its energy required to get the computation
minuscule amount of energy; but when
scaled to a computer at room tempera-
ture with 1012 transistors switching
1012 times a second, the loss becomes
A reversible circuit has exactly as many
significant—about 3 kilowatts.
Reversible circuits could solve that
outputs as inputs. Each input can be
problem, and if other sources of heat
can be removed as well—for example, reconstructed from the output; no bits
electrical resistance and the kinetic
energy lost when electrons change are lost, so reversible circuits will not
direction—then reversible circuits
would function with no heat loss. In give off heat from bit loss.
1973, Charles Bennett of IBM bor-
rowed the term adiabatic from thermo-
dynamics, where it means there is no momentum. It could slow down using done? He eventually concluded that
heat exchange between a system and 100 percent efficient regenerative brak- there is no theoretical minimum.
its environment. Adiabatic computers ing and then speed up again, as long In 1982 Edward Fredkin and Tom-
would be revolutionary because they as momentum was conserved and no maso Toffoli of the Massachusetts In-
would continue to operate indefinitely energy was dissipated by friction. stitute of Technology took reversible
after they were initialized and started, Physicist Richard Feynman showed computing a step further by devis-
without adding or subtracting heat en- that it is theoretically possible to cre- ing the first reversible gates. A circuit

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2008 + 2009 laptops operate much faster than circuits that


1 × 1016
SiCortex SC5832 switch electrons.
Although quantum Fredkin-Toffoli
1 × 1015 Dell Dimension 2400 gates can be used to imitate classical
Gateway P3, 733 MHz logic gates, the first working commercial
1 × 1014
computations performed per kilowatt-hour of energy expended (logarithmic scale)

quantum computer, from D-Wave Sys-


tems, is not a general-purpose computer.
1 × 1013 Dell Optiplex GXI It is designed to solve problems with
IBM PS/2/E + Sun SS1000
solutions that can be represented by the
1 × 1012 486/25 and 486/33 minimum energy state of a system gov-
Desktops erned by a set of equations. Once the
Compaq Deskpro 386/20e
1 × 1011 Macintosh 128k computer is given the parameter val-
IBM PC IBM PC-AT
ues, it settles in a few microseconds into
1 × 1010 a state representing the solution to the
Cray 1 supercomputer IBM PC-XT
Apple IIe
equations. To use the machine, the pro-
1 × 109
DEC PDP-11/20
grammer has to represent the problem
Altair Commodore 64
to be solved as a system of equations,
8800
1× 108 not as a series of instructions.
SDS 920
To make matters more confusing,
1 × 107 quantum computers are different

Wikimedia Commons, Dave’s Old Computers, Old Computers


from quantum dot technology. Quan-
1 × 106 Univac III (transistors) tum dots are a form of nanotechnol-
ogy that emit resonant frequencies of
light. Some researchers are investigat-
1 × 105
Univac II ing how to build reversible gates from
quantum dots. If they succeed, they
1 × 104
Univac I can create a reversible computer that
runs at room temperature.
1,000
EDVAC Some conventional uses of comput-
Eniac
ers would not benefit from a reversible
100 Regression results: processor. A smartphone, for example,
N = 80
Adjusted R-squared = 0.983 expends 80 percent of its energy to
10 light the display and power the GPS
Comps/kWh = exp(0.4401939 × year < 849.1617)
Average doubling time (1946 to 2009) = 1.57 years and WiFi receivers. Much energy re-
1 duction research is focused on these
1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 components. However, the massive
year computer banks in modern cloud data
Koomey’s law, a relative of Moore’s law, says that over the first 70 years of electronic computing
centers do not need these components.
(as represented above by typical computers of the time), computations per unit of energy have A superfast, reversible quantum com-
been doubling about every 1.6 years. Had this not been happening, each doubling of components puter would be very valuable for sav-
would have doubled the heat to be dissipated and would have shut down Moore’s law long ago. ing power in these centers.
Koomey’s law is also good news for mobile computing, which relies heavily on battery power.
Algorithms and Energy
made from these gates could be unam- The Cost of Keeping Cool Algorithms pose another limit to en-
biguously backed up to its previous Reversible computers may be possible ergy that Feynman didn’t consider. An
input. Fredkin and Toffoli also showed in theory, but in practice, they would algorithm specifies a series of instruc-
that their gates are universal: A com- come at a cost. According to Feynman, tions that transforms a given input
puter built from them would be able zero heat dissipation is achievable only into a desired output. Most algorithms
to run any program that runs on a con- if the reversible computer operates at expressed in standard programming
ventional computer. an infinitesimally slow speed. Even in a languages contain many structures
Reversible computing has gathered a reversible circuit, operations that change that are irreversible, such as condition-
new following in recent years, not only the direction of electron flow will dis- als, loops, jumps, and function calls.
because it supports energy reduction, sipate a small amount of heat from the Once these structures have completed
but because it is necessary for quan- change of kinetic energy of the electrons. their work, you cannot determine ex-
tum computers. In 2016 researchers at Using slower switching speeds means actly what input they had before they
Griffith University and the University less kinetic energy consumption, and is started. Algorithms composed of such
of Queensland in Australia announced called adiabatic switching. irreversible operations can force com-
they had built a quantum Fredkin- Quantum computers use photons of puters to give off heat by information
Toffoli gate using photons of light. And light to communicate signals. Because loss, even if the computers are made of
this year a company called D-Wave of- photons don’t have mass, switching reversible circuits. Does this put adia-
fered a 2,000-qubit quantum computer them does not generate kinetic ener- batic computing out of reach?
that operates at near absolute zero tem- gy heat loss. Feynman’s caution does Members of a research group at MIT,
perature as an adiabatic machine. not apply: Quantum computers can led by Nirvan Tyagi, believe they can re-

272 American Scientist, Volume 105

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Logic Gates in Reversible Circuits


Conventional gates Fredkin gates
All digital computers are built of circuits using just three
kinds of binary logic gates, as shown in the lefthand column EXCHANGE EXCHANGE
at right. These circuits exist in two dimensions only. The
NAND gate implements the logic function c=NOT(aANDb). a b a X b
It is universal because all other logic functions can be ex- b a
pressed solely with NANDs. Using a small network of b X X a
NAND gates to avoid physical wire crossovers, the EX-
CHANGE gate reverses the positions of its inputs. The three
corresponding Fredkin gates, which are reversible, are shown FANOUT FANOUT
in the righthand column. A Fredkin gate must have the same a a a
number of inputs and outputs, so that there is a one-to-one a
map of inputs to outputs. The “X” symbol means that an
a 0 X a
incoming “1” on a vertical line inverts the horizontal signal.
The “O” symbol means that a signal on a horizontal line con-
trols another horizontal line. In the NAND, both the a and b
NAND NAND
inputs must be “1” to control the inverter on the bottom line,
and the bottom line is permanently set to input “1.” Tracing a a a
all the input combinations of a and b shows that the Fredkin c
b
NAND output is indeed c’= NOT(aAND b). Note that the b b
Fredkin gates are completely reversible because if the out-
puts are provided at the right instead of the left, they perform
the same functions. 1 X c'

design common irreversible algorithms tem around units called recovery blocks. and more reliable computing. Soon we
into new, reversible versions, which can These modules of code take inputs, will need to find replacements for sili-
be expressed in a new programming lan- perform a computation, and test the con chips that meet the ever-increasing
guage using only reversible structures. outputs for acceptability. All inputs to demand for speed and energy conser-
The MIT researchers have designed a all modules could be recovered by roll- vation. Reversible computing may be
new language, called EEL (Energy- ing recovery blocks backward. one way to enjoy the benefits of both
Efficient Language), that restricts loops, Recovery blocks are designed to be speed and low-energy consumption.
conditionals, jumps, and function calls self-contained—or, as the researchers But it will require a technology jump
to reversible forms. They take a prag- call it, atomic. While they execute, they to new materials and techniques such
matic approach and do not insist that exchange no information with their en- as quantum dots, photon entangle-
every algorithm be made reversible; vironment. If they weren’t atomic, the ment, or hardware and software that
with their language they can measure failure of an acceptance test would have runs forward and backward.
how much irreversible code is gener- a domino effect, causing the system to
ated when an EEL program is compiled restart completely, backing up to the Bibliography
into language the machine can execute. beginning of the program. Just before Bennett, C. H. 1973. Logical reversibility of
EEL can help them write programs with entry to a recovery block, the operating computation. IBM Journal of Research and
relatively minor amounts of irreversible system saves a copy of the system’s state Development 17:525–532.
code. When run on conventional com- in a recovery cache. This makes rollback Feynman, R. 2000. Lectures on Computation.
puters, EEL programs will save energy fast and easy. The system simply pops Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
because they do not require as many in the previous state from the cache and Frank, M. P. 2017. Foundations of general-
bit-changes as conventional algorithms. restores memory to that state. ized reversible computing. In Proceedings
of the 9th International Conference on Revers-
The idea of building programs that ible Computation, Kolkata, India, July 6–7,
can be reversed is not new. In the 1970s Reliability and Reversibility I. Phillips and H. Rahaman, eds., pp 19–34.
Brian Randell of Newcastle University Even though the EEL project comes 40 New York, NY: Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-
led a group that studied how to make years after the recovery block project, 3-319-59936-6 2
software more reliable. The core of their the two systems have striking simi- Fredkin, E., and T. Toffoli. 1982. Conserva-
idea was to build several independent al- larities. They have the same immediate tive Logic. International Journal of Theoretical
Physics 21: 219–253.
gorithms for the same function into their goal: reversing the computation to a
programs. If one algorithm failed to give previous point. EEL uses the rollback Landauer, R. 1961. Irreversibility and heat
generation in the computing process. IBM
the correct outcome, their system would mechanism to save energy; recovery Journal of Research & Development 5:183–191.
back up to the state it was in before it blocks use it to save reliability.
Randell, B., P. Lee, and P. Treleaven. 1978. Reli-
started that algorithm and try a different This convergence raises the possibil- ability issues in computing system design.
one instead. (A similar fault-tolerance ity of a relationship between reliability ACM Computing Surveys 10:123–165.
technique used in hardware is called and reversibility. Are reversible com- Tyagi, N., J. Lynch, and E. D. Demaine. 2016. To-
N-version computing.) Interestingly, this putations inherently more reliable? ward an energy efficient language and com-
method has the side effect of introducing Could pursuing reversibility at the piler for (partially) reversible algorithms. In
the possibility of reversible computing. algorithm and language level lead to Proceedings of the 8th International Conference
on Reversible Computation, Bologna, Italy, July
In 1976, Tom Anderson, a member programs of greater reliability? 7–8, S. Devitt and I. Lanese, eds., pp. 121–136.
of Randell’s team, and his colleagues These questions open new possibili- New York, NY: Springer. https://arxiv.org/
__________
built a language and operating sys- ties for faster, more energy-efficient, abs/1605.08475
_________

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Engineering

The State of Our Infrastructure


National and state report cards are one measure of progress or decline.

Henry Petroski

E
ight years ago in this column make a national commitment “to vastly Infrastructure on Report
(September–October 2009), I improve America’s infrastructure.” Starting with its 1998 report card, the
wrote on America’s infrastruc- This effort was expected to require a ASCE instituted its practice of quadren-
ture and efforts to employ doubling of the annual investment made nial updates, and the announcement
metrics of a sort to assess its condi- by government in new and old public of each became the occasion for a press
tion. As I noted then, a landmark effort works, which in 1985 stood at about $45 conference. Since 2001, the release of a
was included in the 1988 document billion. At the same time, the report cau- new report card has coincided with the
entitled Fragile Foundations: A Report on tioned that the problems with the na- beginning of a new administration in
America’s Public Works, which was is- tion’s infrastructure “cannot and should Washington, DC, and ASCE makes no
sued by the congressionally chartered not be solved through a crash program.” secret of wishing to influence public pol-
National Council on Public Works Im- A “sustained effort” was needed. icy with its assessments of the nation’s
provement (NCPWI), which used the Like many government reports, Frag- fabric. My 2009 column included a table
then-common term “public works” for ile Foundations was a one-off study, but summarizing the grades assigned to the
what we now so familiarly call “in- in 1998 the American Society of Civil various and augmented categories of in-
frastructure.” Fragile Foundations in- Engineers (ASCE) took up the infra- frastructure, and my 2016 book, The Road
cluded a so-called report card, which structure report card meme and issued Taken: The History and Future of Ameri-
assigned letter grades in eight catego- its own set of grades for 10 categories ca’s Infrastructure, updated that table to
ries, including Highways, Mass Tran- of infrastructure. These areas included include the grades from ASCE’s 2013
sit, Aviation, Wastewater, and Hazard- Roads and Bridges as separate ele- report card. That table shows a slight
ous Waste. The grades ranged from B ments broken out from the NCPWI’s overall improvement from an average
to D, meaning good to poor, with an Highways, and added Schools as a new grade of D to one of D+. Unfortunately,
average grade of C, for mediocre. category, giving it a grade of F. The C+ it also shows an estimated increase of in-
As pointed out in my 2009 column, given to Highways by the NCPWI re- vestment needed to $3.6 trillion by 2020.
Fragile Foundations called for the govern- mained on average nearly unchanged, To put this number in some perspective,
ment, private industry, and the public to as the ASCE assigned a grade of D– to the entire annual federal budget, includ-
roads and a C to bridges. The average ing so-called entitlement programs (such
ASCE grade across all categories of in- as social security, unemployment, and
Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of frastructure was D, and the civil engi- welfare), is about $4 trillion.
Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke neering society estimated that an aver- As expected, earlier this year the
University. His most recent book is The Road Taken: age investment of $1.3 trillion over five ASCE issued a new report card; its
The History and Future of America’s Infrastruc- years was needed to bring the nation’s grades are included in the table shown
ture. Address: Box 90287, Durham, NC 27708. infrastructure up to snuff. on the facing page.

274 American Scientist, Volume 105

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REPORT CARDS FOR AMERICA’S INFRASTRUCTURE* all sources to total 3.5 percent of the
NCPWI ASCE ASCE ASCE ASCE ASCE ASCE
U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by
1988 1998 2001 2005 2009 2013 2017 2025. Presently, about 2.5 percent of
HIGHWAYS C+ GDP is being spent on infrastructure.
ROADS D– D+ D D– D D In 2016, when the U.S. economy is esti-
BRIDGES C C C C C+ C+ mated to have been about $18.6 trillion,
(MASS) TRANSIT C– C C– D+ D D D– this percentage amounted to $465 bil-
AVIATION B– C– D D+ D D D lion per year. With a politically hoped-
WATER RESOURCES B for growth of 3 percent per annum in
DAMS D D D D D D GDP—a figure that has been termed
WATER SUPPLY B– highly optimistic by economists—the
DRINKING WATER D D D– D– D D nation’s GDP in 2025 would be about
WASTEWATER C D+ D D– D– D D+ $19 trillion. The called-for investment
SOLID WASTE C– C– C+ C+ C+ B– C+ would then be in excess of $650 billion
HAZARDOUS WASTE D D– D+ D D D D+ per year. Whether that can be realized,
F D– D D+
given all the other demands on budgets
SCHOOLS D D
D– D– D
private and public, remains to be seen.
(NAVIGABLE) INLAND WATERWAYS D+ D–
ENERGY (NATIONAL POWER GRID) D+ D D+ D+ D+
The Local Factor
PUBLIC PARKS & RECREATION C– C– C– D+
Money aside for the moment, just as
RAIL C– C– C+ B all politics is said to be local, so all in-
SECURITY I frastructure may be said to be anecdot-
LEVEES D– D– D
al. For example, try telling the people
PORTS C C+ of Flint, Michigan, that the quality of
AVERAGE GRADE C D D+ D D D+ D+ drinking water in the United States did
INVESTMENT NEED 3.5
(DOLLARS IN TRILLIONS/5 YEARS, UNLESS 3.6 by percent of
not deteriorate from 2013 to 2017, or
0.2 1.3 1.6 1.6 2.2
OTHERWISE NOTED) 2020 GDP by telling those 200,000 people who were
2025
forced to evacuate when the spillway of
* Grade definitions: A = Exceptional, B = Good, C = Mediocre, D = Poor, F = Failing, I = Incomplete the Oroville Dam in northern California
began to fail, that the condition of dams
has not changed. The ASCE’s grades
Note that a new category, Ports, was Three categories (Transit, Solid Waste, are necessarily gross evaluations of the
added in 2013, no doubt to reflect the and Parks) received lower grades. condition and capacity of infrastructure
flurry of infrastructural activity up and And the remaining seven (Wastewa- categories across the nation, and they
down the East Coast, including the un- ter, Hazardous Waste, Schools, Inland represent a snapshot taken when the
precedented raising of the roadway of Waterways, Rail, Levees, and Ports) re- report was written, not a daily log of
a major bridge (New York Harbor’s ceived higher grades. As suggested by what may be happening in a particular
Bayonne). These developments aim this distribution, the bottom line aver- place at a particular time.
to make ports accessible to the larger age grade remained the same—a D+. Still, to have seen the average grade
container ships expected to be in use In the fiscal bottom line, instead of for the nation’s infrastructure increase
after the completion of the Panama stating a fixed dollar amount over a from a D in 2009 to a D+ in 2013 and
Canal expansion (see this column for period of time, the latest ASCE report remain there in the latest quadrennial
July–August 2015). As is clear from the calls for infrastructure spending from report card—even while spokespeople
table, of the 16 categories considered
by the ASCE in 2017, the grades for Infrastructure of all types—from (as shown from left to right) wastewater treatment plants,
six (Roads, Bridges, Aviation, Dams, dams, freeway overpasses, airport terminals, and railway bridges—has received report card
Drinking Water, and Energy) remained grades since 1988, but whether such public works are improving or further degenerating, or
unchanged from the prior report card. are receiving sufficient funding, can be confusing to decipher from these general averages.

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for engineering societies, ASCE STATE REPORT CARD Given the national focus
candidates for public office, GRADES FOR ROADS AND BRIDGES* of the ASCE’s quadrennial
and pundits warned that YEAR ALL-CATEGORIES report card, the public can
ISSUED ROADS BRIDGES AVERAGE GRADE
our road, bridges, and other be excused for getting the
forms of infrastructure were ALABAMA 2015 D+ C– C– impression that all or at least
crumbling—can leave some ALASKA 2017 C– B– C– most money for infrastruc-
citizens wondering what ARIZONA 2015 D+ B C ture comes from the federal
they are missing. Is our in- ARKANSAS 2014 D+ C+ D+ government. In fact, in the
frastructure improving, is it D.C. 2016 B– D+ C– case of roads and bridges—
continuing to deteriorate, or FLORIDA 2016 B C C which I take as surrogates
is its rate of “crumbling” ac- GEORGIA 2014 C– C– C for all of infrastructure—the
celerating? This question is ILLINOIS 2014 D+ C+ C– U.S. government contributes
difficult to answer, in part be- IOWA 2015 C– D+ C– on average only about 25
cause it depends on where KANSAS 2013 C+ D+ C– percent of the cost of main-
one stands—or lives. LOUISIANA 2017 D D+ D+ taining existing ones, repair-
Like most large professional MAINE 2016 D C– C– ing failed ones, and building
societies and organizations, MISSOURI 2013 C C– C– new ones. The balance must
the ASCE has subunits called MONTANA 2014 C–
necessarily come out of state
sections, branches, and chapters, NEVADA 2014 C– and municipal budgets, bond
whose boundaries are for the C– C–
issues, and creative invest-
NEW HAMPSHIRE 2017 C–
most part coextensive with the 2016
ment instruments such as
NEW JERSEY D+ D+ D+
geographic boundaries of the public-private partnerships.
NEW YORK 2015 D– D+ C–
states, regions, or areas from The overemphasis on the role
NORTH CAROLINA 2013 C C– C
which they take their names. It of the federal government in
OKLAHOMA 2013 D D+ C–
was a natural progression for infrastructure spending may
PENNSYLVANIA 2014 D– D+ C–
individual ASCE sections to have its roots in the fact that,
begin issuing report cards on TENNESSEE 2016 C+ B C without federal contributions,
the condition of the infrastruc- UTAH 2015 B+ B+ C+ the states and municipalities
ture within their own states. VERMONT 2014 C– C C would be in dire straits in-
There does not appear to be VIRGINIA 2015 D C C– deed, especially because most
any regular schedule for is- WASHINGTON 2013 D+ C– C are required by law to main-
suing such state report cards, *Note that only states with grades reported in the ASCE national infrastructure tain balanced budgets.
report appear in this table. The national report does include at least an overview
and not all society sections of the state of the infrastructure for each of the 50 states, providing factoids about Further sources of poten-
participate in this volunteer- the miles of roads or the number of bridges in need of repair but not always letter
grades. Note also that the average grade in the table is not the average for just
tial confusion over the dispro-
driven activity. Nevertheless, roads and bridges but for all categories of infrastructure graded. portionate role of the federal
the table at right gives a sense government in funding in-
of how roads across the nation frastructure are the anecdotal
alone can vary in quality and capacity, plied question remaining, of course, is stories that make good press but weak
from a B+ in Utah to a D– in New York where will this money come from? history. It is true that the U.S. govern-
and Pennsylvania. It is becoming clear that politi- ment did contribute about 90 percent
The new administration in Washing- cians in Washington do not wish to of the initial cost of the interstate high-
ton does not appear to need such report be looked to for solutions to the prob- way system, but the interstates make
cards to back or bolster its claims that lem of infrastructure budget short- up only about 50,000 (or 1.25 percent)
roads and bridges—and other catego- falls. In the much-ballyhooed 2015 of the 4 million miles of roads in this
ries of infrastructure—across America FAST Act legislation—the acronym country. Although state departments
are “crumbling,” the almost knee-jerk stands for Fixing America’s Surface of transportation may apply for federal
adjective applied by politicians and Transportation—legislators left the grants to pay for work on the bulk of
journalists alike to the noun “infrastruc- federal gas tax at 18.4 cents per gallon, the cost of highways and bridges under
ture” whenever it is used. This coupling where it has been for more than two their jurisdiction, the states are pretty
of the words has become so ubiqui- decades. Without an increase of rev- much on their own when it comes to
tous that it goes unchallenged. Quasi- enue from this tax, the Highway Trust the lesser roads and bridges that so
quantitative evaluations like those of Fund that it replenishes will not keep many drivers rely upon daily.
ASCE and its state sections can, how- up with the needs exemplified in the An incident earlier this year in At-
ever, bolster this impression. ASCE’s bottom-line estimates of how lanta also publicized that the federal
Neither the ASCE’s report cards much money is required to maintain government will contribute 90 percent
nor the media’s reporting on infra- and advance our infrastructure. The of the cost to replace a damaged section
structure issues comes across as opti- 2017 ASCE report card recommends of Interstate 85, which carries as many
mistic. However, it is the bottom line raising the federal motor fuel gas tax as 240,000 vehicles a day through the
that tells the tale of where we must by at least 25 cents per gallon. This northeastern sector of that city. A fire
go from here. And that line is the one bold move would amount to a more started by a homeless person spread
that estimates what it will cost just to than 135 percent increase, something to construction materials stored under
bring our infrastructure up to expected politicians are likely to run away from an elevated section of I-85, causing it to
and acceptable standards. The big im- as fast as possible. collapse and need immediate repair. It

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was feared that the closure, combined founded by Trump supporter Stephen Indeed, in many cases the state tax on
with the heavy traffic of Atlanta, would A. Schwarzman. Although the Saudi in- gasoline is an amount several times
cause congestion so severe it would cre- vestment was in some cases reported to the federal tax, which has to be an un-
ate “Carmageddon,” a term coined in be $40 billion, elsewhere it was stated sustainable solution. Something will
2011 when a section of I-405 in south- that that country’s Public Investment have to give, and it is likely that the
ern California was closed for a week- Fund would commit only $20 billion. federal government will do the giv-
end of repairs. (Drivers having been Even if half the money would come from ing, not in the form of more money
forewarned, the condition never ma- Saudi Arabia, it was less clear where to the states out of the Highway Trust
terialized; nor did it in Atlanta, for the that money would go. The implication Fund, but in an abrogation of the fed-
same reason.) The emergency nature of seemed to be that it would all be spent eral commitment to the nation’s roads
getting the collapsed section of Atlanta on U.S. infrastructure, but according to and bridges, which are after all owned
freeway reconstructed and opened as reporting in The Hill, the investments by state and local governments.
soon as possible was big news nation- would be only “mostly in the U.S.” “Pri- Hypothetically, if even partial fund-
ally, regionally, and locally. The fact that marily in the United States” was how the ing of our infrastructure were no longer
the feds would be paying 90 percent of New York Times put it; their headline ac- part of the federal budget, it would be
the cost was too juicy a tidbit to leave curately announced that the Saudis were easier for Congress to concentrate on
out of media reports. Although this fact committing $20 billion to the Blackstone other demands for the national dollar.
did not skew the truth in this specific Group, not to U.S. infrastructure directly. Of course, it would also become more
case, such reports do give a false im- How the money would be counted to- difficult for state and local governments
pression of where the money to fix our ward a $1-trillion infrastructure budget to figure out how to raise money to fix
roads and bridges generally does come the roads and bridges within their ju-
from and how readily it is available. risdictions. And that task will be made
all the more difficult when the federal
Who Pays the Bill? An educated government can no longer be blamed
Concurrent with stories of filling the gap
in the Atlanta interstate were higher pro-
electorate should for not helping rebuild our infra-
structure, doing so having been being
file reports out of Washington of the new not passively deemed not to be a federal responsibil-
administration’s promise of spending ity. Whether or not this scenario will
$1 trillion on the nation’s infrastructure. accept trillion- come to pass will depend upon how
Numerous reporters have contacted me dollar estimates or knowledgeable voters become about
to put this number in perspective, and I infrastructure funding issues.
have had to tell them that more informa- promises, but should An educated electorate should not
tion is needed. Is the $1 trillion per year passively accept trillion-dollar es-
a federal contribution alone, or does it
ask for the details. timates or promises, but should ask
include expected contributions from for the details. Quantitative think-
outside of government? The latter part ers should not settle for assertions of
of this question is prompted by frequent was not discussed, but there can be little how much something will cost or how
references to public-private partnerships doubt that it will be. much money will be spent on a prob-
and the like, in which nongovernmental Federal legislators and executives lem. We should expect breakdowns
entities invest in our infrastructure, with may be able to get a good deal of mile- that enable evaluations of how realistic
the understandable expectation of real- age out of actions such as passing the the estimates and promises are. The
izing a return on their investment. This FAST Act and courting investment ASCE report cards give us a basis for
type of partnership usually means tolls, from abroad, but state and local govern- doing so. The trick will be to get more
the rates of which government partners ments are the ones who have to worry of the news media to ask the right
may or may not be able to hold in check. about how to pay for maintaining their questions and report the revealing an-
Questions regarding the condition of potholed back roads and deteriorating swers, and to have more of the public
our infrastructure and how to fund its workaday bridges, which collectively recognize how much these numbers
improvement are indeed complex ones, add up to a big headache. Because such can affect them and their daily com-
but the six-page fact sheet on infra- roads and bridges are not high visibility mutes, as well as their votes.
structure contained in the 2018 budget emergency problems, successfully gain-
proposal issued by the White House in ing a repair grant from the federal gov- Selected Bibliography
mid-May did much to clarify at least one ernment might take a longer period of American Society of Civil Engineers. 2017. In-
point, in that it stated unambiguously time than the structures can be kept on frastructure Report Card. _________
https://www.
that “providing more Federal funding, life support, so the state or local folks infrastructurereportcard.org.
on its own, is not the solution to our in- will have to move on their own. de la Merced, M. J. 2017. Saudi Arabia to in-
frastructure challenges.” Especially after seeing the FAST Act vest $20 billion in infrastructure, mostly in
U.S. New York Times, May 20.
Still, numbers can be deceiving, or at passed with absolutely no provision
least deceivingly or confusingly report- for increasing the federal gas tax, states National Council on Public Works Improve-
ment. 1988. Fragile Foundations: A Report on
ed. During President Trump’s visit to have been forced to look to their own America’s Public Works. Washington, D.C.:
Saudi Arabia in May, it was announced gas taxes, and over the past couple of Government Printing Office.
that the Arab nation’s sovereign wealth years many have increased that tax Petroski, H. 2016. The Road Taken: The History
fund would partner with the Blackstone by a significant amount (see this col- and Future of America’s Infrastructure. New
Group, a world-class investment fund umn from September–October 2016). York: Bloomsbury.

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Perspective

Suburban Stalkers: The Near-Wild


Lions in Our Midst
Difficult decisions await those trying to preserve mountain lions in suburban
areas while also maintaining their wildness.

Robert Louis Chianese

O
n a rainy November night in vention, the mountain lion cannot thrive Today, the mountain lion popula-
the hills of Malibu, California, among us. But it’s unclear whether we tion in California is stable, with an esti-
a mountain lion moves silently can live alongside it and still protect the mated 4,000 to 6,000 individuals in the
into a pen of alpacas. It snags species—and its wildness. state. So far, living with lions has come
a long throat in its jaws, teeth bloody, the with minimal risk to human life. Ac-
animal barely squealing, no flight, fully Living with Lions cording to the California Department of
down. There are more alpacas, many more, In Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, Fish and Wildlife, mountain lions have
and the mountain lion’s overcharged in- a series of mountain ranges extend in killed six people in the state since 1890.
stincts hold him to readiness again. Move- parallel from the Hollywood Hills west Despite the low risk, the core of public
ment triggers attack, jumping, tearing, to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, with support for P-45 and other mountain
until nothing moves—a field of bloody dense suburban populations on ei- lions seems based in part on our need
prey he cannot eat or drag away. ther side of and between them. These to feel enlivened by their presence,
The recent killing of 10 alpacas by ranges—the Santa Susana Mountains, their vitality and danger, as if we our-
the mountain lion known as P-45 in the Simi Hills, and the Santa Monica selves gain a certain charge and revived
the Santa Monica mountains near Los Mountains—connect to a longer range natural spirit for having them close by,
Angeles made national headlines and stretching 300 miles northeast along the sauntering through urban outskirts, re-
prompted outpourings of support for major San Andreas fault, with the vaster storing a lost wildness to our own lives.
the big cat. The alpaca owner received Los Padres and Angeles National For- Poet Brendan Galvin, in “Cougar,”
a permit to exterminate the beast, but ests lying to the north. Both east-west captures our thrill in finding a lion in
she too felt sympathy for this mag- and north-south freeways and urban de- our midst, because it helps us push
nificent creature. She let it live. Many velopment cut these “inner” mountains back the stale conformity, inauthentic-
cheered her decision, though others off from the rest of the “outer” range. ity, and enervating overconvenience of
faulted her for grazing her nonnative Mountain lions (Puma concolor)—also modern life:
flock in mountain lion habitat. known as cougars, pumas, panthers,
Non-native plantings stuck into
Many of us desire to conserve the and catamounts—live, breed, and roam
lawns,
wild, in part so that we and the gen- in this extensive inner area, which has
welded chains supporting the
erations after us can experience it. But its own system of freeways and subur-
mailboxes,
the case of the mountain lion in south- ban sprawl. The National Park Service
too many electives at the regional
ern California shows just how uneasy uses GPS collars to track as many as
school—we were in danger
neighbors we and wild animals often 20 mountain lions at any one time just
until a state trooper saw it
become. Many Californians want to within these densely populated areas.
pad with dignity across the road.
protect this carnivore, even at the risk Californians voted to protect their big
....
of losing livestock and, although much cats in 1990 with the California Wild-
Good to know we have places
less likely, human life. Without our inter- life Protection Act, a ballot initiative that
the houselights don’t pin down,
made California the only western state
. . . . good to feel,
to outlaw trophy hunting of mountain
Robert Louis Chianese is an emeritus professor going from car to porch light,
lions, with a few other states trying to
of English at California State University, North- the short hairs lifting off my neck.
enact such a ban. The act does, how-
ridge, a 1979 Mitchell Prize Laureate in Sustain-
ability, a Fulbright Senior Specialist, and Past
ever, permit government agencies to kill Stalking near the ranchettes, McMan-
President of the American Association for the Ad- mountain lions deemed a threat to pub- sions, and swerving housing tracts of the
vancement of Science, Pacific Division (2012), the lic health, and for individuals to request Santa Monica Mountains, P-45 reminds
only humanities professor selected in its 100-year depredation permits to kill mountain us of the savagery and wilderness we
history. Email: ____________
rlchianese@gmail.com lions that attack their livestock. have tamed and nearly destroyed. We

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A female mountain lion “cheek-rubs,” leaving her scent on a log, in mountains overlooking travel routes, the compulsively roam-
downtown Los Angeles, California. According to the U.S. National Park Service, Los Angeles ing animals inevitably will be forced to
and Mumbai are the only megacities that have big cats living within the city limits. (Unless creep through expanding human habi-
otherwise noted, all images are courtesy of the National Park Service.) tat, with further sad outcomes likely.

feel cougars have to stay. The risk they kittens behind in rock piles high above Wildness Lost
present to pets, livestock, hikers, and the houses. Within a couple of months, To buffer against these threats, the
joggers we think is worth it. However, two of the kittens met the same fate. mountain lions close to human devel-
it’s not an easy accommodation. Mountain lions that forego danger- opment are highly managed by the Cal-
ous highway crossings instead face ifornia Department of Fish and Wildlife
Fragmentation health risks associated with inbreeding. and the National Park Service. Many
We create landscapes increasingly at The coastal-edging Santa Monicas in of the lions in southern California are
odds with mountain lion biology. Al- particular feature fractured habitats re- captured, tested for disease, genetically
though mountain lion populations are sulting in genetic “bottlenecks.” Accord- typed, then collared with a radio trans-
doing well overall in California, the ing to the National Park Service, moun- mitter for regular GPS monitoring of
U.S. National Park Service reports that tain lions in this region have among the their travel and energy use over their
the long-term survival of mountain lowest genetic diversity of any moun- lifetimes. They are numbered if not
lions in and around the Santa Monica tain lion population ever recorded. named, photographed even at night,
Mountains region in Los Angeles and Mountain lions also have a strong in- sometimes recaptured and treated for
Ventura Counties is threatened by an stinct to hunt, which places both domes- disease, and finally channeled not just
increasingly fragmented habitat. ticated animals and the mountain lions by their own scent trails and ancient
Lions, particularly males, roam in themselves at risk. P-22, the mountain paths, but by human-altered geologi-
search of mates, which increases health- lion known as the “Griffith Park lion,” cal features and the irregular lines and
ful genetic diversity. A male cougar’s is believed to have entered the Los An- discontinuous edges of our fragmented
typical home range is about 200 square geles Zoo, jumped an 8-foot wall, and human developments. By carefully
miles, a female’s around 75 square miles. captured and fled with a koala. Los An- managing lions, we in effect strip them
They often move along natural wild- geles mourned the koala and also ac- of their original wildness.
life corridors—long-established animal cepted that this type of incident might Conservationist Stephen M. Meyer
trails along ravines, passes, and seasonal happen in a zoo located within a large defines the wild as places without hu-
streambeds. In Southern California, their urban semi-natural park. The loss of a man disturbance, and claims, resign-
intense need to roam frequently meets single zoo specimen can be lamented, edly, that there are no such places left.
impassable asphalt. In 2015 vehicles but owners of livestock often feel their His 2006 book, The End of the Wild,
killed nine mountain lions in this re- livelihoods are threatened by cougar at- forces us to face our total reshaping of
gion. Last December, a female, P-39, was tack. According to the Mountain Lion the planet for our purposes. Meyer’s
killed on the eight-lane Highway 118 on Foundation, 250 cougars face depreda- formula for stemming the depletion of
the edge of the suburban Simi Valley, a tion permits each year in California. species is as simple as it is difficult to
major choke point on what seems a well- As urban development further im- accomplish—reduce our material con-
traveled natural corridor. She left three pinges on the mountain lion’s historic sumption, shrink our ecological foot-

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the “islands” of wilderness. I


Los Padres see, however, a resigned cou-
National Forest
gar supporting both our gear-
P33 craving and our contrary at-
tractions to wildness. P-18 up-
holds our plastic stuff as icons
P38 SANTA P35 of suburban life. The cougar’s
SUSANA tamed proximity seems to pro-
MOUNTAINS
P39 Angeles mote the endless accoutrements of mod-
National Forest
ern camping in the “wild,” here both a
Simi Valley desert on the camper’s roof and a burnt
hillside where P-18 seems to pause.
SIMI HILLS
San Fernando
P41 The red gas can is more ominous—the
Valley source of both pollution and wildfires.
P-18 seems to carry the means of his
P45
own destruction, or is himself reduced
to another outdoor consumer product
P30
SANTA
P27
P23 P22
for us to own, control, and safely enjoy.
MONICA He is then an “other,” like nature, out
P19
MOUNTAINS
P42 Los there and separate from human life.
Angeles
²

N Santa
0 1 2 3 4 5
Monica What Might We Do?
miles
Many conservationists push to connect
The home ranges of many mountain lions in the Los Angeles area extend right to the edge of isolated cougar populations by unblock-
urban development. The mountain lion known as P-22 likely crossed two major Los Angeles ing natural wildlife corridors or creating
freeways, the 405 and 101, to make it to Griffith Park on the eastern end of the Santa Monica new ones. Increasing connectivity could
Mountains, where it entered a zoo and captured a koala. mean protecting large swaths of land be-
tween cougar populations, or building
print, and stop pollution. But he takes relentless behavior. He became, at least overpasses or underpasses to encour-
his thesis about the control we have temporarily, a manic slaughterer rather age safe highway crossings. For exam-
over nature to an end point we may than a stealthy, savvy hunter. ple, the National Wildlife Federation’s
not like—he says we need more con- Everything about cougars plying out- #SaveLACougars campaign is raising
trol over nature, more management lying areas bordering suburban neigh- funds for a major corridor over the east-
and interventions, not false hopes that borhoods is a semi-this or semi-that— west 101 freeway that would connect the
things can survive if left to themselves semi-wild, semi-tamed, semi-developed, Santa Monica Mountains with the Simi
as “wild.” Environmentalist Bill McK- semi-acceptable. The whole issue lives in Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.
ibben makes a similar claim in his 1989 a liminal zone. Artist Luke Matjas turns But some ecologists believe that con-
book, The End of Nature. McKibben this space between the wild and man- structing corridors gives us a false sense
chronicles how pollution of the atmo- aged into a locus of fantasy in a project of conservation. Ecologist Daniel Sim-
sphere and subsequent global climate titled The Natural History Museum meets berloff of the University of Tennessee
change alter some prime values and Home Depot. His 2016 hyper-real paint- at Knoxville told writer Jim Robbins for
beliefs. In subduing nature, we lose ing, Study of Landscape Connectivity in Yale Environment 360, “A general concern
our sense of a spirit in nature, and now I’ve had with the corridor bandwagon
experience an underlying sadness and By carefully managing is that it perpetuates the notion that we
loneliness when contemplating it. can somehow have conservation on the
This scenario brings us back to P-45 lions, we in effect cheap by providing a technological solu-
and his forays into domesticated na- tion to the problem of habitat destruc-
ture on the edge of what I call the “near
strip them of their tion and fragmentation.… It’s seductive,
wild”—the mainly undisturbed out- original wildness. but unlikely to work in many cases. Un-
er areas of Ventura and Los Angeles fortunately to conserve biodiversity we
Counties. P-45 killed 10 alpacas, eating Urban Island Environments, offers a trib- have to conserve habitat.”
only one. How wild is that? According ute to cougar P-18, who was killed cross- There is also a simple and con-
to a statement issued by the Mountain ing the 405 freeway. It depicts an over- founding issue I have never heard
Lion Foundation after the alpaca at- burdened cougar supporting a camper, addressed—increasing connectiv-
tack, “P-45 finds himself victim to an plastic containers and chairs, an ecologi- ity between mountain lion populations
evolutionary mismatch between the cal life-cycle diagram, and a semi-living creates two-way access. Corridors are
environment in which he evolved and tree of life. P-18 seems stoic, accepting not just escape routes into less popu-
the place where he is attempting to his burdens as he steps into a poppy- lated or open areas. Connectivity may
survive today.” Presenting P-45 with edged pathway. Had such a pathway also, I fear, allow lions from the hinter-
a pen of alpacas prompted an “unnat- been an open wildlife corridor, he might land to more easily walk into subur-
ural” animal attack. The alpacas had have survived. ban hillsides, causing more human and
nowhere to run. P-45 responded to an Matjas’s title implies his wish that livestock encounters. I wonder wheth-
over-stimulated instinct that triggered we could create corridors that connect er, over time, this more regular con-

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Many Californians feel that mountain lions should be protected, de- The National Park Service tracks mountain lions in southern Califor-
spite the risk to livestock. Last November, this mountain lion, known nia with GPS collars. Here, the lion known as P-39 takes a break from
as P-45, killed 10 alpacas in a pen. After applying for a depredation a meal in the spring of 2015. She and two of her cubs were later killed
permit, the alpaca’s owner ultimately decided to let P-45 live. trying to cross the 118 freeway.

tact may further strip mountain lions We have three options. First, we use ballot measures by wide margins
of their remaining wildness. Wildlife can persist in a shaky coexistence, that would save open space and agricul-
ecologist Anthony Giordano, founder and expand cougar ranges and access, tural resources (SOAR) on the edge of
of the Society for the Protection of En- hoping new corridors might keep suburbia for 30 more years. These mul-
dangered Carnivores and Their Inter- them—and us—safe. That seems our tiple initiatives, first adopted in 1995 and
national Ecological Study (SPECIES), current direction. 1998, do not permanently lock up our
claims that mountain lions now eat Second, we can accept that instead large, mainly undeveloped county, but
more raccoons than deer, by necessity. of truly “wild” lands, we have some- require a vote of the people to approve
Will they one day stalk raccoons into thing more like the “near wild” of the any development in the “protected”
suburban haunts, ambushing them at distant mountains, the “managed wild” areas. The first SOAR initiatives gener-
garbage containers? Will they yield to of the inner mountains, and the “con- ally succeeded for 20 years in restrain-
the temptations of coyote-like adaptive tained wild” of Griffith Park and the Los ing development beyond the existing
coexistence with us? Will this induce Angeles Zoo itself. In our attempts to boundaries of our cities. These land use
a lamentable semi-domestication into save the mountain lion, we could fol- measures have not prevented near-wild
their magnificence? low Meyer’s seemingly paradoxical in- creatures such as P-39 from escaping
junction to go ahead and manage the death while crossing freeways, but over
environment even more in order to pre- the coming years they can minimize the
serve it. We could consider the rural sur- loss of nearly wild habitat for them to
rounds of Los Angeles as an extended roam. However, new grumblings about
semi-zoo, where animals are managed SOAR from within our county’s Board
and fenced in or out to meet our need of Supervisors suggest we will have to
to share the environment with them. We continue the fight both to keep and ex-
could introduce more native deer and pand our preserved open space.
other natural prey. We could provide I believe that mountain lions would
water sources such as pipe-fed troughs do better if we kept our mutual dis-
to encourage them to stay within their tances. But keeping the near-wild lions
managed ranges. already in our midst out of backyards
Or, we could attempt, whenever pos- and motorways remains an unresolved
sible, to keep our distance from them. dilemma. We want mountain lions here
We could stop developing housing and and can protect them somewhat, but ulti-
commercial projects that jut into open mately our coexistence might serve to do
space, which would reduce the need for little more than to threaten or tame them.
“managed” corridors between shrink-
ing habitat “islands.” In Ventura County, Bibliography
where I live, we have partly done that. Galvin, B. 1986. “Cougar,” in Seals in the Inner
We passed a number of integrated-land- Harbor. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon Univer-
sity Press. Reprinted in Urban Nature: Poems
The California-based artist Luke Matjas cre- about Wildlife in the City, 2000, ed. Laure-Anne
ated this work entitled Study of Landscape Bosselaar. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions.
Connectivity in Urban Island Environments Meyer, S. M. 2006. The End of the Wild. Cam-
(P-18) as part of a larger collection called The bridge: MIT Press.
Natural Sciences Illustrated. The mountain McKibben, B. 1989. The End of Nature. New
lion known as P-18 died attempting to cross York: Random House.
the 405 Freeway. Creating highway overpass- Robbins, J. 2011. Can wildlife corridors heal
es or underpasses to act as wildlife corridors fragmented landscapes? Yale Environment 360.
may protect mountain lions from vehicle col- http://e360.yale.edu/features/ecological_
_________________________
lisions. But the author sees managed wildlife corridors_connecting_fragmented_pockets_
_________________________
corridors as an imperfect solution. of_wildlife_habitat
___________

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The “Simplest Satellite” That


Opened Up the Universe
Sputnik 1 was launched 60 years ago to win a political space race, but its
legacy is collaborative explorations far beyond Earth.

Lev Zelenyi and Olga Zakutnyaya

O
ctober 4, 2017, marks the satellite projects in the United States the first satellite to orbit Earth. To some
60th anniversary of the were likewise developed in the context extent, it was an ideal symbol for the
launch of Sputnik, the first of the IGY. The resulting Vanguard and first humanmade body in space.
artificial satellite. It oper- Orbiter (later Explorer) projects emerged Despite its simplicity, Sputnik 1 also
ated for only 92 days and did not carry as rivals, not just to the Sputnik pro- served science. The USSR built a net-
any specific scientific equipment, but gram but also occasionally to each oth- work of observational stations through-
its transmitters generated radio signals er. Modern space exploration emerged out the country to track its path. Based
heard around the world as the “beep… from this multifaceted rivalry. on those observations, researchers ob-
beep…beep” that marked the begin- In the USSR, the project to build a tained new information on the atmo-
ning of the Space Age. Over the years, satellite officially started in the begin- spheric density at Sputnik’s altitudes,
the impact of Sputnik continued in the ning of 1956. Work on “Object D” (the and a new branch of science was con-
literal “sputniks” (which is Russian for classified designation of the future ceived—space geodesy. Without any
satellite) that followed, in the broader Sputnik 3) was assigned to engineer Ser- specific scientific equipment, however,
development of the Soviet and Russian gei Pavlovich Korolev’s Special Design Sputnik 1 was considered by many to
space programs, and ultimately in the Bureau No. 1 (OKB-1), then the leading be a mere toy sent for the sake of the
entire program of cosmic exploration Soviet organization for the develop- space race. Its successors, Sputnik 2 and
that the tiny orbiting ball initiated. ment of rockets. The scientific payload Sputnik 3, were much more scientific in
The sheer magnitude of the Sputnik was designed and developed by several their missions. On November 3, 1957,
effect makes it difficult to analyze in a scientific institutions under the umbrel- Sputnik 2 carried the dog Laika, the first
coherent way. As scientists whose lives la of the USSR Academy of Sciences. living being in space. Sputnik 3 was the
are connected with space research and At the same time, a special commis- actual Object D, which finally launched
exploration, we are inclined to con- sion for Object D was established under on May 15, 1958.
sider the event primarily as a scientific Mstislav Vsevolodovich Keldysh, vice Sputnik 3 carried 12 instruments
achievement. It is true that Sputnik itself president of the academy, an outstand- (weighing 968 kilograms out of a total
was not much of a scientific spacecraft, ing scientific leader, and a close friend of 1,327 kilograms for the entire satel-
but its launch was announced as a con- of Korolev. Keldysh became the leader lite) to study solar-charged particles,
tribution to the International Geophysi- of the scientific side of the Soviet space electrical and magnetic fields in space,
cal Year (IGY), an international pro- exploration program. ion content and density of the upper at-
gram from July 1957 to December 1958 Object D was intended to carry scien- mosphere, and the population of micro-
with science exchange and activities to tific experiments with dedicated instru- meteoroids. Sputnik 3 data showed that
better understand the planet Earth. Two ments. In late 1956, however, it became there are two radiation belts around the
clear the project would not meet the Earth: The inner belt consists primarily
Lev Zelenyi is the director of Institut Kosmicheskih target launch date in the fall of 1957. In- of protons, whereas the outer one has a
Issledovani (IKI), the Space Research Institute at stead of postponing the launch, Korolev mostly electron population. Data from
the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, where decided to replace Object D with anoth- Sputnik 3 supported the idea that par-
he has worked since 1972. He is also the scientific er, much simpler spacecraft, designated ticles precipitating from the belts were
leader of the Russian Lunar Program and the Rus- PS-1 (prosteishyi sputnik 1, essentially the cause of auroras and ground-level
sian part of the ExoMars (ESA-Roscosmos) and “the simplest satellite”). The decision electrical discharges. From there, the
Resonance missions. Olga Zakutnyaya is the direc- was motivated by the fear that American picture of Earth’s space environment
tor of communications at IKI and coauthor of Rus- rocket engineers would be the first to started to assemble. The last of the for-
sian Space Probes: Scientific Discoveries and
launch a satellite: The Vanguard project mally designated Sputnik missions—
Future Missions (Springer Praxis Books, 2011).
She has a PhD in the history of Russian journalism
was under way, and even though it was Korabl-Sputnik 5—in 1961 carried a
and literature. Parts of this article draw on material not ready for launch, the sense of rivalry dog, Zvezdochka, along with a realistic
presented in 2015 at the “Space Science: Yesterday, was intense. So Sputnik 1—a modest ball mannequin named Ivan Ivanovich.
Today and Tomorrow” forum in Moscow. Email for with antennae, batteries, a radio trans- Sputnik 2 and Sputnik 3 marked two
Zelenyi: __________
lzelenyi@iki.rssi.ru mitter, and little else—was created to be sharply divergent styles of space ex-

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A proposed series of Russian lunar probes would continue the legacy of Sputnik, picking up where time of Yuri Gagarin—the first human
Luna 24 left off in 1976. Starting at top, left to right: Luna 25 will scout a polar site on the Moon; in space—and the Apollo program. It is
Luna 26 will establish an orbital data link; Luna 27 will test drilling operations; and Luna 28 will now known that humans can live and
send samples back to Earth. These missions would likely be carried out with the European Space work in near-Earth space; it is less clear
Agency, toward the goal of an International Moon Station. (Images courtesy of IKI and NPOL.) what tasks can be done only in space
and only with human hands.
ploration: crewed (if only with dogs) sensing techniques and special robots The greatest opportunity Sputnik 1
versus automatic. The first approach could fully replace human beings in and its many descendants gave to sci-
was more appealing to the general space. Later, when the real hostility of ence is the opportunity not to merely
audience, which got them used to the the space environment was assessed, observe, but to run active experiments in
idea of future colonization of space. The the idea of extended human space trav- interplanetary (even interstellar) space
second strategy implied that remote- el seemed less viable than even at the or on the surface of other planets and

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Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy, Everett Collection Historical/Alamy, bas/Alamy


Sputnik 1 (above, disassembled)
carried no instruments, but it
opened opportunities to visit
other worlds and to study space
beyond the veil of Earth’s at-
mosphere. Sputnik 2 (left),
launched on November 3, 1957,
carried the dog Laika, a prelude
to human space explorers. The
ambitious Sputnik 3 (right),
launched May 15, 1958, estab-
lished a blueprint for future
scientific satellites. Between
Sputniks 2 and 3, the United
States sent up its first three sat-
ellites: Explorer 1, Vanguard 1,
and Explorer 3.

bodies. We are nowhere near the limit of In parallel with the human space race confirmed by the Venus Express orbiter
this opportunity, and this is what gives to the Moon, a more Sputnik-like plan- from the European Space Agency (ESA).
space science its constant boost. etary space race developed starting in The United States, on the other
the 1960s. In this competition, the USSR hand, had its greatest early achieve-
Planetary Space Race focused its efforts on Venus. The Soviet ments in the studies of the Red Planet,
Just four years after Sputnik 1, the first Venera 7 lander was the first to reach the Mars. Those initial successes led to a
spacecraft were launched to fulfill the surface of the planet in 1970 and study long chain of missions, running from
most urgent desire of space visionaries: its hostile environment. Later, in 1975 Mariner 4 in 1964–65 to the twin Viking
to explore other worlds, starting with Venera 9 transmitted the first panorama landers of the 1970s to the Opportunity
the Moon, Mars, and Venus. It was only of the Venusian surface. These images, and Curiosity rovers now in operation,
natural for the first space explorers to together with those obtained by Venera along with the upcoming InSight land-
study the outer worlds with the aim 13 and Venera 14 in 1982, remain the only er and still-nameless Mars 2020 rover.
Overall, Soviet Martian missions were
far less successful. The Soviet Mars 3
The original impetus for space exploration lander made the first landing on Mars
in 1971, but it worked for only 20 sec-
onds before going silent. The affiliated
as a human adventure subsided rather Mars 3 orbiter successfully mapped
the plasma environment around Mars,
quickly. On the other hand, scientific showing it resembles that of Earth. The
subsequent Mars 4, 5, 6, and 7 missions,
interest has not subsided at all. however, mostly or completely failed.
A major early discovery from the
planetary space race was that neither
to use them for the sake of humanity. direct views of Venus. Besides this ac- Mars nor Venus showed any evident
The environment on the surfaces of our complishment, the Venera probes con- signs of life; instead, they presented sur-
neighboring worlds turned out to be far ducted a great number of experiments prisingly hostile environments. A nota-
from hospitable though. That might be to study the composition of the planet’s ble related finding was that Earth’s clos-
why the original impetus for space ex- surface and atmosphere, its weather est planetary neighbors show extreme
ploration as a human adventure sub- patterns, and its electromagnetic envi- variants of greenhouse-effect evolution.
sided rather quickly. On the other hand, ronment. The first hints of lightning on On Venus, a thick carbon-dioxide atmo-
scientific interest has not subsided at all. Venus were detected, a discovery later sphere, along with slow rotation and

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proximity to the Sun, have led to in the 1990s determined that the
enormous heating. The temperature Moon’s polar regions may differ
of the surface is around 400 degrees significantly from its equatorial
Celsius, the pressure is 93 times zones. Polar areas seem to contain
higher than on the Earth, and the a notable amount of volatiles (eas-
sky is cloaked with clouds consist- ily vaporized substances), espe-
ing primarily of sulfuric acid. cially in permanently shadowed
On Mars, with an exceedingly craters. There are apparent de-
thin atmosphere, we observe an posits of water ice in the shallow
opposite outcome: The atmosphere subsurface of these regions, which
is very thin and cannot accumulate makes them appealing locations
solar heat, so the average tempera- for establishing a possible lunar
ture is low, around –40 degrees Cel- base, either manned or robotic.
sius on average. Data from the U.S.
missions have supported the idea Into the Deep
that Mars initially had large res- By the 1990s, the nearest neigh-
ervoirs of water that then escaped borhood of the Solar System was
into space, leaving the planet bare inspected more or less thoroughly,
and dry on the surface (except for even though there was still a lot
its polar regions), though with sig- to learn. The regions outside the
nificant subterranean deposits of Martian orbit and closer to the
water ice and carbon-dioxide ice. Sun than Venus are less explored.
The Mariner and Venera probes re- Color images from the surface of Venus (top) were taken There have been only two full-
vealed a likely explanation for these by the Venera 13 lander in 1982, which survived 127 min- fledged missions to Jupiter (Galileo
utes despite intense heat and crushing pressures. Venera
environmental extremes: Neither and Juno, both by NASA) and only
13 built on a legacy of Soviet Venus probes going back
Mars nor Venus has an appreciable to Venera 3, the first human object to land on another one dedicated to the study of Sat-
magnetic field. It is assumed that planet in 1966. The U.S. space program had greater suc- urn (Cassini-Huygens, a NASA/
both planets lost their water due to cess exploring Mars. On July 15, 1965, Mariner 4 took the ESA endeavor). The two Voyager
photochemical processes and inter- first planetary close-ups, revealing the Red Planet as an missions gave a “portrait gallery”
action with the solar wind. Ultravio- unexpectedly desolate and cratered world (above). (Im- of the outer planets and their satel-
let rays split apart water molecules ages courtesy of Roscosmos and NASA.) lites; New Horizons flew past Pluto
and, in the absence of the kind of in 2015 and now is headed to a
powerful field that protected Earth, key questions remain unresolved. Most distant Kuiper Belt object, 2014 MU69.
charged particles from the Sun then car- notably, there is the problem of the Human exploration of the deep so-
ried away the hydrogen. A similar pro- Moon’s origin. The leading theory says lar system is out of the question for
cess may limit the habitability of planets that the Moon emerged after a great now, so the automated model of Sput-
orbiting other stars as well. impact between the proto-Earth and a nik 3 prevails. Two spacecraft have vis-
What makes Mars different from Mars-size planetary body. Yet some de- ited Mercury: Mariner 10 (1974–75) and
other planets is that, despite its obvi- tails about the Moon’s composition and MESSENGER (2005–2015), both by
ous hostility, it is the only planet where angular momentum do not fit; some NASA. The innermost planet is inter-
human beings could plausibly survive evidence still favors the opposing theo- esting for its high density and strong
without extreme protective hardware. ry, that the Moon and the Earth formed magnetic field. Despite Mercury’s
That trait is a major reason why Mars simultaneously but separately. proximity to the Sun, like the Moon it
is the most frequently visited planet. During the 1960s and 1970s, both has volatiles, and most probably water
Besides those launched by the United USSR automatic interplanetary sta- ice, in its shallow subsurface.
States and Russia, additional Mars tions (Luna 16, 20, and 24) and U.S. One of the largest international ex-
missions have come from Europe, Ja- Apollo astronauts targeted the Moon’s plorations of the first decades of the
pan, China, and India, and many more equatorial regions. That approach, Space Age was aimed not at a planet
are to come in the near future. although pragmatic, missed some in- but at a much smaller object: the fa-
Another focal point of post-Sputnik triguing aspects of lunar geology. Later mous Comet Halley, which is just 15
robotic exploration was the Moon. De- remote-sensing data from the U.S. Cle- kilometers wide. The comet’s last close
spite a half-century of ongoing studies, mentine and Lunar Prospector missions approach to the Sun occurred in 1986.

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As that date approached, the USSR, nus, because the comet has no intrinsic the physics of radiation belts and aurora
the ESA, and the Japan Aerospace magnetic field. regions. Gradually, we came to think of
Exploration Agency (JAXA) decided The Halley Armada marked the be- Earth as a planet within a plasma bubble
to send a spacecraft. The “Halley Ar- ginning of more intensive exploration of created by the terrestrial magnetic field.
mada” included two Soviet probes smaller Solar System bodies, which now The geomagnetic field protects every-
(Vega 1 and Vega 2), two Japanese con- are known to be far more diverse than thing on Earth’s surface, including us,
tributions (Sakigake and Suisei), and the had been assumed on the basis of prior from solar and galactic cosmic rays—
ESA’s Giotto spacecraft. Earth-based observations. The armada fluxes of energetic charged particles.
In March 1986 five spacecraft also established a collaborative, inter- This natural shield probably played a
passed through Comet Halley’s national approach that moved past the major role in the emergence and evolu-
coma, the cloud of gas and dust sur- geopolitical rivalry that had inspired the tion of life. Nevertheless, large bursts
rounding its solid nucleus. The level first Sputniks. To our mind, the apex of from the Sun, called solar mass ejec-
tions, can cause the magnetosphere to
respond, allowing charged particles to
Successors of the early Sputniks have penetrate deeper into it; such “guests”
are potentially hazardous for near-Earth
satellites. Another menace is the trapped
visited almost every major destination radiation in the Earth’s radiation belts,
which precipitates at high latitudes and
that can be reached within a human can pose a danger for the pilots and pas-
sengers of high-altitude planes.
lifespan using current technology. The Sun’s influence continues far
beyond the orbit of Pluto, where solar
wind meets with interstellar medium,
of coordination among agencies was the small-body missions (for now) was creating two borders: the termination
so great that data on the position of the Rosetta project, which orbited comet shock (where solar wind velocity decreas-
the comet from the Soviet Vega 1 and 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for al- es to subsonic) and the heliopause, or the
Vega 2 were transmitted in real time most two years and landed the Philae border between the regions with domi-
to Giotto’s operators, who used them probe on its surface. nating solar wind particles and alterna-
to more precisely target the probe. As At the other extreme is the largest ob- tively that of the interstellar medium.
a result, Giotto was able to fly just 596 ject in the Solar System: the Sun. Sputnik This region was explored by the Voyager
kilometers from the comet’s nucleus. 3 pioneered the study of space plasmas, 1 and Voyager 2 probes, launched in 1977
Meanwhile, the Vegas’s instruments and solar science has advanced greatly but still active. After Sputnik 1, the flight
gave experimental evidence of the since then. A subsequent series of small of Gagarin, and Apollo, one must put the
complex interaction between the solar Soviet spacecraft called Kosmos helped Voyager mission as the major milestone
wind and the comet. Plasma structures piece together a comprehensive picture of space exploration successes.
around Comet Halley were oddly rem- of Earth’s magnetosphere, its interac- Astrophysicists expected to find the
iniscent of those around Mars and Ve- tions with the upper atmosphere, and Sun’s termination shock approximate-
Comet Halley made a rare passage close to the Sun in 1986,
inspiring an international effort to study this famous but enig-
matic object. The Soviet Union contributed the Vega 1 and Vega 2
probes, which flew past the comet on March 6 and March 9. They
returned clear views of the comet’s nucleus (left) and sent back
navigational data (below) that helped guide the European Giotto
probe to an even closer encounter with Comet Halley four days
later. (Images courtesy of IKI.)

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Cosmic perspective was one of the great gifts of the


Sputnik program. In 1983, the Soviet Relikt experiment
aboard the Prognoz 9 spacecraft made the first full map
(top left) of the cosmic microwave background—the
afterglow of the Big Bang. It closely matches a later,
more famous result (bottom left) from the U.S. COBE
probe. Researchers at IKI also came up with the concept
for RadioAstron (above), a space-based radio observa-
tory that can synchronize with counterparts on Earth
to create the equivalent of a single enormous telescope.
(Images courtesy of IKI, NASA, and ASC.)

ly 90 astronomical units (AU) distant peatedly in response to new discover- other, more recent Russian-led proj-
from it, and the heliopause at 150 AU ies, fashion, and, last but by no means ects, including the innovative Spektr-R,
(where an AU is defined as the average least, financial realities. The heated a space-based 10-meter radio dish that
distance from the Earth to the Sun). In political climate that spurred the ear- can link with its counterparts on the
the 2000s, the two Voyagers crossed the ly Sputniks had greatly cooled by the ground to create the equivalent of a
actual termination shock at 94 AU and 1980s. Social and economic crises of 350,000-kilometer telescope.
84.7 AU, respectively; then in 2012, Voy- the 1990s led to a decade-and-a-half hi- More often, Russia has built on the
ager 1 reached the heliopause at 121 AU. atus in Russian planetary exploration. post-Sputnik international spirit of the
The discrepancies between models and Only a few missions were launched Halley Armada. Russian scientists in
measurements might be because of in- after 1990, and we also suffered two the 2000s participated in ESA’s Mars
teractions between magnetic field lines, tragedies of interplanetary missions: Express and Venus Express, as well as
which tend to shrink and deform the Mars 96 in 1996 (an orbiter mission) NASA’s Mars Odyssey, Lunar Reconnais-
volume containing the solar plasma. and Phobos Sample Return in 2011 (an sance Orbiter, and Curiosity. Russian-
If we think about space exploration attempt to collect samples from Pho- built neutron detectors discovered huge
as being about crossing the borders and bos, Mars’s closer moon). deposits of water ice below the Martian
pushing frontiers, then Voyager is per- On the other hand, Russian scien- surface and proved that some regions
haps the last, greatest achievement of the tists succeeded with the Interball multi- of the Moon are up to 4 percent water
expansive phase that began with Sputnik probe mission during the tough years by weight, a surprising and exciting
1 six decades earlier. For the first time, from 1995 to 2001. Four spacecraft discovery. Russia also participates in
humanmade objects pushed through were sent into two types of orbits. One the International Gamma-Ray Astro-
the Solar System and sensed interstel- pair studied aurora regions around physics Laboratory (INTEGRAL), an
lar space. It seems that the successors of Earth; the other went far into the tail international x-ray observatory under
Sputnik have visited almost every desti- of the magnetosphere, where the so- ESA’s leadership. Russian-directed re-
nation that can be reached within a hu- lar wind blows Earth’s magnetic field search with INTEGRAL led to the dis-
man lifespan using current technology. into a long cone. Interball was among covery of vast clouds of electrons and
the first projects to make simultaneous positrons (their antimatter equivalent)
Russian Perseverance measurements in different regions of annihilating each other at the center of
There is an old proverb: “If you want near-Earth space. A similar approach the Milky Way.
to make God laugh, tell Him about was later adopted by ESA’s Cluster and One of the most ambitious cur-
your plans.” Plans in Soviet and Rus- NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale rent collaborations is ExoMars, a
sian space science have changed re- (MMS) missions. There were a few two-part effort between ESA and the

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Russian Roscosmos State Corpora- craft aims to analyze the interior of Resonance, consists of several iden-
tion for Space Activities since 2013 to the smallest planet, its interaction with tical spacecraft that will orbit within
search for signs of past and present solar wind, and the composition of its a single “tube” of flux in Earth’s in-
life on Mars. The first ExoMars mis- upper surface. ner magnetosphere, closely monitor-
sion, launched in 2016, consisted of the Object D ushered in a new age of ing interactions between particles and
Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli cosmic studies, as astronomers finally waves in this region. Such observa-
lander. TGO will perform a thorough could observe the sky in the whole tions will enable new insights into
study of Martian atmospheric trace range of photon energies, from radio space weather, which can disrupt com-
gases, which may inform us about to gamma rays. Russia’s space pro- munications and overload power lines
possible ongoing biological activity. gram is pressing ahead there as well. on Earth. Interhelioprobe is a mission to
TGO is currently circling Mars and Most of the electromagnetic spectrum send two identical spacecraft to within
will start its scientific mission once is invisible to observers on Earth, 45 million kilometers of the Sun, high
it reaches its final orbit in April 2018. because our planet’s atmosphere ef- out of the plane of the Solar System.
The second ExoMars mission, to be fectively absorbs these photons. No spacecraft has yet operated in these
launched in 2020, comprises a Euro- Spektr-RG, an x-ray observatory be- regions. Interhelioprobe is not expected
pean rover and a Russian stationary ing developed jointly by Russia and to launch until after the end of the cur-
surface platform that will extend the Germany, bears two x-ray telescopes: rent Federal Space Program of the Rus-
studies of geochemistry and possible eRosita (Germany) and ART-XC (Rus- sian Federation in 2025, however, so
biochemistry to the surface. The rover sia). Over its planned seven-year mis- its future is especially sensitive to the
bears two instruments built in Russia; sion, it will provide the most complete divine laughter that often greets ambi-
the descent module to land on Mars is census of massive galaxy clusters and tious plans.
provided by Roscosmos, as is the Pro- supermassive black holes in the ob-
ton launcher for this mission. servable universe. Like BepiColombo, Back to the Moon
Russia is also contributing several Spektr-RG is set for a 2018 launch. The Venera and Luna programs begun
instruments to the upcoming Euro- In the 2020s, Roscosmos plans to in the 1960s greatly expanded human
pean-Japanese BepiColombo mission participate in two major new space- understanding of the worlds closest to
to Mercury. This dual-probe space- plasma and solar missions. One, called Earth, and yet many mysteries remain.
It is only fitting then that Roscosmos’s
future plans include a return to the
Founding Figures of Soviet Space Research Moon and Venus, this time starting
with a much more sophisticated base-
The Space Research Institute (in Russian, “Institut Kos- line of knowledge.
micheskih Issledovani,” or IKI) was established seven Key questions regarding Venus in-
years to the day after the launch of Sputnik 3. Under the clude why the greenhouse effect be-
direction of Mstislav Keldysh (right), then the president came so fierce there; what causes the
of the Academy of Science of the USSR, it became a upper layers of the atmosphere to
chief academic organization for the exploration of space move much faster than the planet’s
with robotic probes. IKI drew in many scientists both rotation; and when geologic activ-
inside and outside the academy, with a focus on basic ity reshaped the surface with volcanic
research. It therefore was equivalent not to NASA, but rock. For about a decade Russian sci-
rather to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, managed for entists have developed blueprints for
NASA by the California Institute of Technology. a lander, named Venera-D, that could
IKI benefited greatly from Keldysh’s close friend- survive on the surface for a much
ship with one of the pivotal figures of Soviet rocketry, longer time that its predecessors—up
Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (left). An interesting twist of to several days in the crushing heat.
history is that Korolev is today acclaimed in the his- This project would include an orbiter
tory of space exploration, while Keldysh stays in the and perhaps balloons as well. Venera-
shadows. In the 1950s and 1960s it was the opposite: D has experienced many difficulties
Korolev, a totally classified person, was referred to as though and remains in the state of pre-
an anonymous “chief designer” in the media, whereas liminary design. A joint Venus-mission
Keldysh was a celebrated academic star. science definition team with Russian
Another important early Rus- and American participants is seeking a
sian space scientist who is now way to bring this project to life.
largely forgotten in the West is The more immediate Russian goal
Alexander Chizhevsky (right). He was one of the first to is a revived lunar program, harken-
demonstrate links between solar activity and processes ing back to the earliest days of the
on Earth. He also predicted the existence of the solar Sputnik era. For planetary scientists,
wind, a stream of charged particles flowing from the Sun the Moon is a place to study the his-
in every direction. The Soviet Luna 2 spacecraft verified tory of Earth’s formation and the early
the reality of the solar wind in 1959. Solar wind is still an evolution of Solar System. The Moon
active topic of study, because it affects everything from is also a promising place to build a
the evolution of planetary atmospheres to satellite com- crewed scientific station beyond low-
munications. (Images courtesy of RGANTD.) Earth orbit. It is close enough to be rel-

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Future Russian missions aim to mix old Sputnik ambition with a modern emphasis on col-
laboration. Spektr-RG (left), an x-ray observatory, is being readied for a 2018 launch in con-
junction with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). A long-stalled Venus probe called Venera
D (top right) is in discussion with U.S. researchers. The Sun-approaching Interhelioprobe
(bottom right), a proposed follow-up to NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, is a natural international
project to study the star that affects our whole planet. (Images courtesy of IKI and NASA-JPL.)

atively safe, yet it is outside the Earth’s We envision Luna 27 as a truly in- question is what can be done there,
magnetosphere and the atmosphere ternational mission that will test sys- and a crucial part of the answer will
and radio signals that interfere with tems for high-precision landing, hazard come from science. Space is a unique
many astronomical observations. An avoidance, and cryogenic drilling. This laboratory with numerous opportuni-
observatory on the Moon is a techno- last task is crucial for understanding the ties as yet untapped. The genealogi-
logically viable project that could be composition of the lunar surface and its cal tree of Sputnik shall continue fur-
implemented in the close future. Such suitability as a resource for future astro- ther, and the next revision will be even
a research station would almost surely nauts. All of these elements are now un- more overwhelming to summarize
be international because of its cost and der discussion with our European col- than the one given here. That predic-
broad appeal. The International Space leagues. Pushing the technology a step tion is perhaps the only thing about
Station offers a template for how a lu- further, Luna 28 will deliver samples of space science we can be sure of.
nar base could be built. lunar material with untouched vola-
Russia’s current plans—that word tiles back to the Earth where they can Bibliography
again—begin with two lunar land- be studied more thoroughly. Luna 29, Dickson, P. 2001. Sputnik:  The Shock of the
ers, one orbiter, and one sample re- which will be probably launched after Century. New York, NY: Berkley Books.
turn mission before 2025, along with 2025, will deliver a Lunokhod (“Moon Harvey, B., and O. Zakutnyaya. 2011. Russian
Space Probes: Scientific Discoveries and Future
one rover after that. These will pave walker”) rover that can travel extended
Missions. New York, NY: Springer Praxis
the way for crewed expeditions and distances to collect interesting samples. Books.
eventually a full-fledged base, antici- The incremental, housekeeping ap- Kornilenko, V. S., and A. V. Zakharov (eds.).
pated to have shift workers and ex- proach of the new Luna program is in- 2007. Space: The First Step. Collection of essays
tensive scientific facilities. The name tended to fill the gap between crewed devoted to the 50th Anniversary of First Artifi-
of the new missions will bear the leg- and automatic space exploration. In cial Earth Satellite—Sputnik launch. Moscow:
Space Research Institute. http://www.iki.
acy of Soviet Lunas, which ended in Russia as in the United States, human rssi.ru/books/2007pervaya_e.pdf
____________________
1976 with the Luna 24 sample return exploration has historically developed
mission. The first in the new series, more intensely than fundamental sci-
Luna 25, will be a lander to explore the ence. That imbalance has been present
southern polar regions of the Moon, since the very beginning of the Space
an appealing location for a base be- Age. It spurred the triumphs of Apollo
For relevant Web links, consult this
cause of its relatively high water con- but also the long period of stagnation
issue of American Scientist Online:
tent and favorable conditions for radio that followed. One of the greatest lin-
communication. Then comes a Luna gering challenges from the early Sput- www.amsci.org/magazine/issues/2017/
26 orbiter, which will test pole-to-orbit nik program is finding the right har- september-october
radio links and orbital operations. It mony between humans and machines.
will also scout sites for the next Luna Humans today are finally well
27 landing mission. equipped for working in space. The

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Why Ecology Needs


Natural History
The two fields’ intertwined histories show that most
theoretical breakthroughs are preceded by the kind of
deep observational work that has fallen out of vogue
in the past half century.

John G. T. Anderson

I
n March 1908 a remarkable part- the lapse of many years, possibly a
nership was forged that would century, the student of the future
affect the practice and teaching will have access to the original re- Joseph Grinnell (above), the first director of

© Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley


of field biology for more than a cord of faunal conditions in California.” the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berke-
century. Annie Montague Alexander, So detailed are Alexander and Grin- ley, crisscrossed California in his Model T
heiress to a Hawaiian sugar fortune, nell’s notes that more than a century Ford between 1904 and 1939, collecting about
had trained in paleontology at the Uni- later researchers can indeed compare 100,000 specimens and 10,000 photographs.
versity of California. To the surprise the present distribution and abun-
and consternation of friends and fam- dance of birds and mammals across opportunity to spend long weekends
ily, Miss Alexander—as she was gen- California in precise locations studied at field stations near the coast or in the
erally known—had participated in a before the onset of modern develop- mountains. Of perhaps equal impor-
number of expeditions in Alaska, the ment and climate change. tance, instructors made clear to stu-
western United States, and Africa. Her Unlike many patrons, who might be dents that we were part of something
experiences in the field had raised her content to supply money or other re- much bigger than ourselves—a science
concern over the loss of biodiversity sources so that other people can engage of natural history that had formed the
and habitat as industrial agriculture in studies or art, Alexander was a full foundation for science itself.
and a growing human population participant in museum activities, col- Ecologist Tom Fleischner of Prescott
transformed the western landscape. lecting large numbers of animals and College defined natural history in a 2001
Teaming up with Joseph Grinnell, a plants for the museum’s archives and article as “a practice of intentional, fo-
recent Stanford University graduate herbarium. She reveled in fieldwork, cused attentiveness and receptivity to
who shared her passion for fieldwork, capturing and preserving her speci- the more-than-human world, guided
Alexander established the Museum of mens, documenting their ranges and by honesty and accuracy.” Although
Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley. habitats, and sending specimens and this definition may hint at a degree of
The museum’s goal was to provide notes back to Berkeley for preserva- mysticism, it also illustrates why the
a carefully documented record of the tion. Grinnell was equally active in the process of broadly based, patient ob-
distribution of animals across Califor- field, directed the museum, and taught servation must be valued as an essen-
nia that would serve as a reference for generations of students in courses that tial first step in the scientific method.
future biologists to assess changes in eventually crystallized as an extended For early humans, an understanding
wildlife. Grinnell recognized the impor- course in vertebrate natural history. of plants and animals in the landscape
tance of this endeavor, saying in a 1910 Although Grinnell had died in 1939 was not a matter of academic interest
article in Popular Science Monthly, “After and Alexander, in 1950, when I took but rather of simple survival. Once the
this course in 1978, the spirits of both immediate demands of food and shel-
naturalists were very much alive in the ter were met, sufficient leisure for the
John G. T. Anderson is the W. H. Drury Professor of
emphasis on spending as much time study and categorization of organisms
Ecology/Natural History at College of the Atlantic.
He is the author of Deep Things Out of Dark- as possible examining animals in the for nonutilitarian values would have
ness: A History of Natural History (University outdoors. Every student conducted an been possible. Natural history began
of California Press, 2012). He studies seabirds, his- independent two-term research proj- as a descriptive practice, and classi-
tory, and island ecology in the Gulf of Maine. Email: ect. Half-day field trips every week fication created a common language
janderson@coa.edu.
__________ were mandatory, and there was the and a methodology whereby experts

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Grinnell’s collection remains important today in ways he never could have imagined. The answers, and, as the country itself has
right half of the image above is from a photograph Grinnell took of his Model T Ford parked become increasingly urbanized, it is
in front of Lassen Peak in northern California; the left half shows the same spot today. harder to encounter an area devoid of
the effects of human development.
from different areas could compare is at odds with ecology’s past—few Alexander was no stranger to cities,
observations and begin to formulate students today would have the kind but she saw correctly that organisms
patterns to make predictions. In this of field experiences I had as an under- needed to be studied within the land-
way, natural history—and one might graduate. As documented in a 2014 pa- scape where they evolved. Given her
say science as a whole—was born. per in BioScience I coauthored with Josh adventures in the field, one feels that
Like any human endeavor, science Tewksbury and others, the number of she might be surprised by the modern
has its fashions, and natural history organism-based classes at colleges and emphasis on safety and the avoidance
fell out of fashion in the 20th century. universities has declined markedly over of discomfort—the important goals for
Natural historians were increasingly the past 50 years, as has the number of her were always to get the data, collect
regarded as old-fashioned in style and pages devoted to whole-organism biol- the specimen, and have the experience.
out of touch with modern methodolo- ogy and ecology in introductory texts.
gies. Granting agencies are reluctant to Students are encouraged to spend The Earliest Natural History
fund surveys, and funding cycles make more time indoors, conducting lab “ex- Natural history in a formal sense owes
it difficult, if not impossible, to study periments” with predetermined out- its origin to the philosopher Aristotle,
long-lived organisms for even one gen- comes and running increasingly sophis- who emphasized in his scientific writ-
eration. Ecologists are encouraged to ticated simulations of behaviors rather ing what he himself had seen rather
perform a few hypothesis-driven stud- than observing actual organisms in an than what he had been told. By con-
ies with one organismal “system” and uncontrolled context. The bias toward trast, Pliny the Elder—a Roman natu-
then move on, rather than take the time presenting biology as a lab science ral philosopher whose work, Naturalis
to develop a comprehensive natural starts young. Justifiably nervous about Historia, developed the concept of an
history of a study species. No ecologist liability issues involved in taking stu- encyclopedia—was a great cataloger
I know, myself included, is studying dents outside, primary- and secondary- of stories but made little effort to veri-
even the same order of organism that school teachers are also strapped for fy the truth of what he had been told.
we researched in graduate school. time to plan the logistics of field trips. Natural historians’ objects of study
The loss of natural history expertise In addition, learning standards are ranged from meteorology to geology
pervades recent trends in ecology and designed around easily quantifiable to zoology. Because so much was new

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to the growing scientific com- focused view of nature. The eco-


munity, they paid great atten- logical diversity of the new con-
tion to surveys, taxonomy, and tinents must have been daunting.
the classification of variation. There was plenty to survey and
For much of the Middle Ages, classify, and some sort of logi-
utilitarian natural history, such cal taxonomy and common lan-
as medicine and animal hus- guage are essential ingredients of
bandry, was emphasized. Ham- any successful science. Natural
pered by religious restrictions historians were in a position to
on dissection, medical stud- provide for these needs.
ies still produced fascinating By the 17th century, some nat-
“herbals,” some of which wan- ural historians rejected the strict-
dered into the realm of fantasy, ly utilitarian notion of nature.
whereas others proved to have In 1691 John Ray, who invented
true pharmaceutical effects. one of the first comprehensive
Religious concerns often sup- systems of taxonomy, rejected
pressed examination of cause- an anthropocentric view of the
and-effect relationships: God world, saying,
created the world for human
use, and it was unwise (and There are infinite other crea-
possibly heretical) to go further tures without this Earth, which
than biblical explanations. no considerate man can think
There were some rebels. In © Museum of Vertebrate Paleontology, University of California were made only for man, and
the 13th century, the Holy Ro- Annie Alexander was an avid natural historian who estab- have no other use.... It seems
lished the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley, funded
man Emperor Frederick II (von Grinnell’s work, and also collected specimens and photos that to me highly absurd and un-
Hohenstaufen) gathered a re- continue to be useful. Her love of the field continues to be reasonable, to think that bod-
markable array of scientists at passed on at the museum, but natural history overall has been ies of such vast magnitude as
his court and wrote what is ar- in decline in the teaching, funding, and practice of biology. the fix’d stars, were only made
guably the first textbook on or- to twinkle to us.
nithology, largely from personal study. caricatured as obsessed with the trans-
Unfortunately, the brief scientific re- mutation of metals rather than recog- By raising the possibility that nature
naissance that he fostered was snuffed nized as experimental scientists. might not be an anthropocentric tele-
out at his death: Dante placed him in ology, Ray also advocates for science
the sixth circle of hell in his epic poem The Rise of Natural History as an unrestricted endeavor. Although
Divine Comedy, and many of the scien- The acknowledgement of the New Ray and his immediate successors
tists that had frequented the emperor’s World of the Americas and a growing talked of understanding the creator
court were transformed in subsequent trade with Africa and Asia presented through the study of creation, it is also
histories into wizards and warlocks, challenges to a Eurocentric and Bible- clear that they valued knowledge for

780 1 natural microbiology total number 1

natural history–related material in college


history-related and molecular of PhDs in
760 .9
biology textbooks (proportion of total)
biology biology
proportion of PhDs by discipline

740 .8 biophysics genetics .8


and neurology
720 .7
number of herbaria

700 .6 .6
courses for a BS in biology
minimum natural history
biological sciences (U.S.)

680 .5 7,000 3
6,000 .4
PhDs per year in

660 North .4
America 5,000 2
640 .3
Europe 4,000
.2 .2
620 1
3,000
600 .1 2,000
0 0
580 0 1,000
00

05
60
70
80
90

19 5
19 5
19 5
19 5
19 5
19 5
20 5
19 2
19 7
19 2
19 7
19 2
19 7
19 2
97
10

3
4
5
6
7
8
9
6
6
7
7
8
8
9
20
20
19
19
19
19

19
19

year year year

Natural history shows declines in research collections, such as herbaria (left). As graduate degrees in biology have been increasing overall, the
proportion dedicated to natural history has been decreasing (middle). The number of natural history–related courses required for an under-
graduate degree in biology has also been falling, as has the proportion of pages in introductory biology textbooks dedicated to content on the
subject. (Figure adapted from Tewksbury et al., 2014.)

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Because examination of cause-and-effect relationships could be seen as heretical during the


Middle Ages, natural historians mostly focused on acquiring utilitarian knowledge. An ex-
ception was Frederick II von Hohenstaufen (left), the Holy Roman Emperor who wrote the
first ornithology textbook, De Arte Venandi cum Avibus [The Art of Falconry], during the 13th
century. The book has hundreds of illustrations of birds, such as those in flight shown above.
Following von Hohenstaufen’s death, his style of natural history scholarship fell out of favor,
and Dante placed him in the sixth circle of hell with other heretics in the Divine Comedy.
Wikimedia Commons

its own sake and that they thought Plants, and also represents the begin- As one examines the history of nat-
literal interpretations of biblical texts ning of true scientific biogeography. ural history, a pattern becomes clear:
were best left at the pulpit. The Roy- Humboldt’s ambition was no less Many of the most important naturalists
al Society—founded in 1660 and still than to understand the universe itself. were (and are) travelers during periods
one of the most important scientific His unfinished masterpiece, Cosmos, of their development as scientists. They
organizations—elected Ray as one of was intended to unify all the increas- went in search of a magical place that
its early members in 1667. The Soci- ingly disparate elements of the sciences we now refer to as “the field.” They
ety’s motto, Nullius in verba, or “take under one comprehensive philosophy. had direct encounters with strange
nobody’s word for it,” is a delightful Although Humboldt died before finish- organisms in the context of the land-
echo of von Hohenstaufen’s remark in ing his work, he had a profound impact scapes where the creatures evolved.
De Arte Venandi cum Avibus [The Art on 19th-century science. Charles Dar- They returned home and wrote about
of Falconry] 400 years earlier: “Entire win repeatedly mentions Humboldt both their science and their travels in
conviction of the truth cannot come in his letters and publications, and it ways that inspired a future genera-
from mere hearsay.” is clear that Humboldt’s accounts of tion to continue their work. Darwin
All this change made way for the fieldwork in the tropics inspired several may have spent the great majority of
scientific epiphany that was Alexan- generations of natural historians. his professional life at Down, 10 miles
der von Humboldt. Born in Berlin, from London Bridge, but his five years
Germany, in 1769 to wealthy parents, of travel and adventure on the HMS
Humboldt decided early in life to Beagle were what formed him as a sci-
spend both his fortune and his career entist, and his love of South America
studying as much of the world as he comes shining through in his writing.
could. He traveled extensively in north- By the second quarter of the 20th
ern South America and Mexico, visited century, it was becoming harder to
Thomas Jefferson in Washington, DC, find truly “wild” places for research
and journeyed across most of Russia. or recreation. In the 1940s Aldo Leop-
Everywhere he went, he combined ex- old wrote in A Sand County Almanac, “I
tensive studies of botany and geology am glad I shall never be young with-
with measurements of climate, weather, out wild country to be young in. Of
and the effects of altitude on plants and what avail are forty freedoms without
animals. His climb to within a few hun- a blank spot on the map?”
dred feet of the summit of Chimborazo It may be that as natural historians
in the Andes Mountains of what is now helped to fill those “blank spots on
Ecuador established a human altitude the map,” they were also taking some
record that lasted for a generation. of the drive out of their field of study.
Sheila Terry/Science Source
More importantly, it inspired a mag- By the 17th century, some natural histori-
Challenges facing the modern natu-
nificent graphic depiction of vegetation ans, including John Ray (above), began to ral historian are no longer how to get
distribution in relation to elevation (as reject a strictly utilitarian and anthropo- from one point to another, but rather
shown on page 295). This map formed centric view of nature. An early member of how to get beyond the Google Earth
the centerpiece of Humboldt’s 1807 the Royal Society, Ray advocated pursuing image and to make the seemingly fa-
seminal book, Essay on the Geography of knowledge for its own sake. miliar new and exciting.

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Ecology Versus Natural History dismissed many forms of bio-


Although Alexander, Grinnell, and logical research either direct-
their successors had no trouble ly or through omission. Like
talking about and teaching natu- many of his forebears, Platt
ral history, there was a growing seems to have believed that the
critique of the term as describing fieldwork carried out by natu-
an old-fashioned form of science. ral historians was merely the
There were holdouts: In his 1927 collection of facts without do-
book on animal ecology, Charles ing anything useful with them.
Elton—arguably one of the most “Strong Inference” presented
influential British ecologists of the the idea that biology would be
20th century—casts back to the nat- best served by emulating the
ural historians of the 18th century physical sciences in selecting
by quoting Gilbert White’s 1789 simple models that generate
book, The Natural History of Sel- testable hypotheses with re-
borne, in which White criticized the search questions structured as
sort of research that “a man might a branching tree: If this, then
do in his study,” saying: “The in- that; if not, then other. The pa-
vestigation of the life and conver- per is littered with delightful
sation of animals is a concern of anecdotes and examples, and
much more trouble and difficulty, although Platt cautions against
and is not to be attained but by the an excessive reliance on quan-
active and inquisitive.” Elton then titative methods, he largely
says, “Ecology is a new name for dismisses the importance of
a very old subject. It simply means individual variation, stressing
scientific natural history.” Wikimedia Commons instead the tendency to gener-
Elton and his students ranged Alexander von Humboldt was a natural historian and alize through oversimplified
across the Northern Hemisphere, travel writer whose adventures inspired generations of model systems.
seeking explanations for popula- successors, including Charles Darwin. A good case can be made for
tion cycles in mammals and birds. Platt’s overall outline: Initial
Their data are ever more important Humboldt made science seem acces- observations give rise to working hy-
as climate change transforms the Arc- sible. A marvelous observer and travel potheses that are tested and that lead
tic in the opening act of what may be writer, he went out of his way to tell to generalization and theoretical ad-
global catastrophe. his readers not only where he went, vance. The difficulty is that field biol-
Unfortunately, the “trouble and dif- but also how he got there, what sort of ogy is largely context dependent; often
ficulty” that White alluded to became equipment he took with him, and how deals of necessity with small sample
increasingly problematic to many re- he used it. More than 200 years later, sizes; and for a broad range of organ-
searchers. Although Elton and his stu- reading his description of climbing the isms, the most interesting phenom-
dents and successors spent a great deal peak on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, ena occur over longer timescales than
of time in both the lab and the field test- one can imagine going there, doing the typical grant cycle. Platt had little
ing hypotheses that could be regarded the follow-up study, and comparing patience for these complications. In
as appropriately scientific, the trend has results. This attentiveness is the power instructing future scientists he makes
moved away from studying organismal of natural history. light of “surveys, taxonomy, design
biology in a field setting. The causes Biology as a series of lab exercises of equipment, systematic measure-
of this trend are doubtless many and is in many respects exemplified by a ments, and tables.” He was also skep-
varied, but it seems possible that one model of science presented in John tical of the value of long-term studies,
element is the concurrent loss of history Platt’s 1964 paper in Science, “Strong In- saying, “In dozens of cases in every
itself in the college science curriculum. ference.” Although I am sure that many field, what was needed was not a life-
When Warder C. Allee and several oth- professors and doctoral committees say time but rather a few short months
ers wrote the landmark textbook Princi- that “Strong Inference” isn’t the only or weeks of analytical inductive in-
ples of Animal Ecology in 1949, the word view of science, the paper has been ference.” This maxim is certainly true
ecology was less than 90 years old, yet standard reading for graduate students in some cases, but if one deals, for
Allee and his coauthors devoted two for 50 years and in many cases may be example, with long-lived organisms
chapters and 59 pages to the history of the only specifically philosophic paper that exhibit high reproductive variabil-
the science. A 21st-century textbook is that students awarded PhDs in biology ity between breeding episodes, Platt’s
unlikely to mention history at all. Both have read. Elements of the thinking in “few short months or weeks” will be
Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace were the paper have had a profound effect misleading at best. Likewise, it is hard
inspired by Humboldt (Darwin took a on several generations of teaching. to imagine how one can even iden-
copy of Humboldt’s Personal Narrative Platt was trained as a biophysicist tify, much less explain, morphological
with him on the Beagle). If the history of and as such celebrated cell and mo- or behavioral variation over a wide
scientific discovery is eliminated from lecular biology in particular. He made geographic area without the benefit of
the teaching of a science, who will in- it clear that some types of science were “surveys, taxonomy…systematic mea-
spire a new generation? more “successful” than others, and he surements, and tables.”

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Science Source
Humboldt’s climb of Chimborazo in the Andes Mountains in present-day Ecuador resulted in Frederick II was an emperor. Pliny was
this map of vegetation change in relation to elevation, published in 1807 in the seminal book the chief secretary to an emperor.
Essay on the Geography of Plants. This work laid the foundation for biogeography. In each case, what money bought
was time: time to think, time to study,
I doubt Darwin would have made than 35 years as a practicing ecologist, I and time to travel and observe, unen-
the breakthroughs that still drive much have seen the great flowering of theory cumbered by any demand to “publish
of biology had he not first been ex- of the 1960s and 1970s wither and be or perish.” Darwin could observe the
posed to a wide range of organisms. replaced with an increased emphasis action of earthworms in real time with-
As a broadly trained naturalist, Dar- on statistical manipulation and tech- out having to worry about tenure deci-
win could learn from myriad crea- nology. We celebrate the sophistica- sions or where the next grant would
tures, spanning orchids to earthworms. tion of our tools, but it is not clear that come from. A modern graduate student
Much of his initial enthusiasm came an ever-improving ability to measure in a five-year PhD program cannot af-
from paleontology before he refocused has translated into better guidelines of ford the sort of freedom that many of
on living species. I further argue that what matters in terms of what should the past figures in natural history took
although Darwin spent years indoors be measured, or, subsequently, in our for granted. Professors, under increas-
working on barnacle taxonomy, it was ability to predict outcomes. Although ing pressure to publish frequently in
his actual observations of plants and some of the terminology has changed, high-impact journals, are ever more un-
animals in the field that led him to his the contents of an ecology textbook available for time-intensive field cours-
linking behavior with morphology in a published in 2015 are strikingly similar es. Broad understanding of taxonomy
real evolutionary synthesis. In a similar to what you would have found in 1972. is replaced by increasingly specialized
way, Alexander, Grinnell, and their suc- While criticizing contemporary eco- knowledge and technique.
cessors were able to see the importance logical practice, the role of culture and The failure to train a new generation
of geography in ecology by direct expo- class in our practices of science is im- of natural historians goes beyond aca-
sure to the context of organisms’ lives. portant to recognize. Alexander, Dar- demic interests and has practical and
Although Platt may have further win, and Humboldt had the advan- legal implications. Several years ago,
accelerated the movement of science tage of being independently wealthy. I participated in a workshop on the
and the teaching of science indoors, we Ray would have been unable to travel importance of natural history in mod-
have not seen the major breakthroughs without the generosity of a wealthy ern science. After the presentations, a
in ecological theory that he suggested benefactor. Grinnell benefited enor- representative from a federal agency
would follow from his process. In more mously from Alexander’s patronage. stood up and said essentially, “Look,

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you environmentalists have What can we learn from the


managed to get all these laws history of natural history? First,
passed that require us to do resources matter. We need to redi-
environmental-impact state- rect a significant portion of fund-
ments. Then you betrayed us. ing to long-term and exploratory
You went into the lab and fo- studies. Instead of telling new
cused on theory and genetics. biologists to decide on a question
You stopped teaching herpetol- and then pick a model organism
ogy, mammalogy, and ornithol- that will answer that question,
ogy. When I am trying to do a we need to also encourage tak-
consultation on the Endangered ing time to simply observe, and
Species Act, I don’t need some- then letting the questions come.
one who can talk theory or run This process will require money
gels; I need to know whether that and a change in pedagogy. We
is a clouded salamander, because should consider universities as
if it is, a whole new regulatory facilitators—supporting a stu-
procedure has to be instituted. dent to sit, observe, think, and
You people in universities just develop a real sense of the con-
aren’t turning out students with text of subsequent hypotheses.
the training I need anymore.” We need to also acknowledge
If universities no longer train that some questions require a
students in field biology, we will great deal of time to arrive at
no longer have the core knowl- real answers. Granting agen-
edge needed to enforce poli- cies should move away from the
cies. Furthermore, we will not model of awarding a few big,
have teachers who can pass on nonrenewable grants that cover
knowledge and enthusiasm that one or two years of research,
will get people outdoors with © Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London and instead consider incremen-
an eye for biological diversity. Darwin’s impressive collections from his travels on the tal grants that are guaranteed for
As fewer people have even a HMS Beagle are housed at London’s Natural History Mu- 10 or 20 years, and may involve
passing knowledge of the plants seum. They have inspired work for generations of biologists generations of graduate students.
and animals around them, and continue to be studied in ways Darwin could not have Second, travel matters. Step-
where will we get the members predicted. ping out of familiar surround-
of town conservation commis- ings seems to work wonders for
sions? Science already has something the exotic in our view of nature. This some people. Darwin needed the Beagle
of a communications problem outside trend has led to some useful discover- to develop as a biologist. Humboldt
of increasingly narrow subdisciplines. ies and a degree of ecological apprecia- needed South America. Wallace needed
Natural history is and always has been tion, but it isn’t enough. the East Indies. Programs such as the
a way of encouraging citizen participa- The next generation of students could Organization for Tropical Studies do a
tion in the process of understanding end up discouraged from pursuing the marvelous job of exposing some North
one’s surroundings. organismally based field biology that is American students to the Neotropics,
but there needs to be more reciprocity
in terms of North–South exchange and
A modern graduate student in a five- greater access to this sort of program
by a broader range of students. We also
year PhD program cannot afford the sort need to encourage East–West move-
ment both continentally and globally.
of freedom that many past figures in Many graduate programs used to have
language requirements built in to a de-
gree. What if there was a travel require-
natural history took for granted. ment? Graduate students would be
encouraged (and supported) to take a
semester in an entirely new landscape.
Bringing Back Natural History needed for conservation planning and Third, we should take advantage of
The problems before us are nontrivial implementation, whereas the broader what is already partially in place. For
and will not be met by simple solu- public, jaded by beautiful imagery on example, the U.S. National Park Ser-
tions. The loss of influence of natu- nature shows, will turn away from their vice has the potential to play a leader-
ral history is both symptomatic and local environment when they find that ship role in understanding change on
causative of changes in our practice of there are ticks, mosquitoes, and a likeli- both the local and global levels. Some
science and our view of nature. In the hood of rain. Platt and his generation of this action is already happening. Al-
past 50 years, we have chosen to re- staged something of a revolution in exander and Grinnell’s successors have
ward short-term, highly focused stud- science. Perhaps now is the time for a done some remarkable work in Yosem-
ies in our science and the dramatic and counterrevolution. ite National Park examining changes

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in the distribution of birds and face of a student banding her first


mammals. This model can be du- bird (or has talked to her 20 years
plicated a hundredfold with the later) will have no doubts about the
right planning and investment of impact of that experience on her
time and resources. The National subsequent attitudes toward both
Park Service’s Revisiting Leopold: the wild and the practice of science.
Resource Stewardship in the Na- Done well, natural history can pro-
tional Parks emphasizes parks as vide a rich and informative encoun-
outdoor laboratories, but we have ter with the nonhuman world that
yet to commit the funding and may be essential for a successful
personnel needed to make this program in conservation and Earth
vision a reality. stewardship. Rather than fencing
Fourth, we need to directly in- off the wild across an artificial bar-
volve a broader public in the study rier of civilization, natural history in
and appreciation of the outdoors. partnership with science and tech-
Although Fleischner’s “focused nology can provide new insights
attentiveness” takes training and into and appreciation for both the
patience, it is doable by a broad human and the nonhuman world.
segment of society at a fraction of Our advances in genetics and
the cost of many lab experiments. statistical analysis would intrigue
One can get dozens of pairs of bin- Alexander and Grinnell, and they
oculars and hand lenses for the Fieldwork led by the author, monitoring birds on Great would doubtless be gratified that
price of a good compound micro- Duck Island in Maine, gives undergraduate students the the 100th anniversary of Grinnell’s
kind of direct experience with wildlife that the author
scope. Many high-school and col- vertebrate natural history course
advocates to improve science education and practice.
lege classes are taught every year would be celebrated in 2017. But
in the same locations by the same I suspect they would be most en-
instructors seeking ways to engage a dents learn best when they are active thusiastic about the field trips after that
changing mosaic of students. The de- players in their education and when symposium and the students, young
velopment of standardized protocols they can participate in all stages of the and old, who are willing to put up with
for data collection, coordination, and work involved—from initial observa- a few of White’s “difficulties” to know
analysis is entirely feasible. tion through theorizing, data collec- what is behind the trees, around the cor-
Such endeavors would not represent tion, analysis, and presentation of re- ner, and on the further slope.
data collection for the sake of data sults. Unfortunately, many scientific
collection. Current technologies allow exercises tend to be preprogrammed, Bibliography
the integration of information over with one “right” answer, and students Anderson, J. G. T. 2012. Deep Things Out of
broad areas, essentially crowdsourcing are evaluated on their ability to achieve Darkness: A History of Natural History. Berke-
ley, CA: University of California Press.
observations continentwide (or this intended outcome. Any difference
Fleischner, T. L. 2001. Natural history and the
even globally) that can lead to in results is dismissed as some form of
spiral of offering. Wild Earth 11(3/4):10–13.
novel hypotheses and theoretical error. This practice isn’t really science
Ghilarov, A. 2001. The changing place of theory
explanations. We are beginning to see in the broad sense; it is recipe-book in 20th century ecology: From universal laws
the power of this sort of data collection cooking in which imagination and ini- to array of methodologies. Oikos 92:357–362.
with websites such as the Cornell Lab tiative are suppressed and the world is Humboldt, A. von, and A. Bonpland. 1852. Per-
of Ornithology’s eBird program and presented as a much cleaner and clear- sonal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Re-
apps such as iNaturalist. Educational er place than it actually is. gions of America, during the Years 1799–1804.
Vol. 1. Trans. T. Ross. London: H. Bohn.
institutions, museums, and government Technology can aggregate broad
Platt, J. R. 1964. Strong Inference. Science
agencies could act as clearinghouses data sets, but it also has the ability to 146:347–353.
for the enormous data sets that a truly remove us from actual landscapes and Ray, J. 2014. The Wisdom of God in the Works of
involved citizenry would generate. Each organisms. Remote sensing and geo- Creation. Republished from the 7th edition
individual would have the opportunity graphic information systems can pro- of 1717. Charleston, SC: Nabu Press.
to participate in the assembly of vide invaluable overviews of habitats, Sunderland, M. 2013. Teaching natural history at
information (a process that could help regions, and whole continents. They the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. The Brit-
ish Journal for the History of Science 46:97–121.
people appreciate the strengths and allow us to represent reality in particu-
Tewksbury, J., et al. 2014. Natural history’s place
weaknesses of data collection) as well as lar and often useful ways, but sooner
in science and society. BioScience 64:300–310.
to see how their piece of the puzzle fits or later someone is going to have to
into a larger framework. go out and find out what those pixels
Finally, we need to be bold in accept- actually represent. If we do not train a
ing that science is as much about the new generation of natural historians,
For relevant Web links, consult this
unknown as it is about the known. We the federal agent I mentioned earlier issue of American Scientist Online:
need to take chances, run down blind will continue to be betrayed.
alleys, and accept that sometimes, as Regulations change. What does not www.amsci.org/magazine/issues/2017/
with Grinnell and Alexander, our work change is the importance of the direct september-october
may be of greatest use long after we encounter with the other that fieldwork
are gone. It is widely accepted that stu- can provide. Anyone who has seen the

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Structural Support for


Damaged Tissue Repair
Scaffolds made from biomaterials that respond directly to external stimuli could
help mend bodily injuries, including those to bone, cartilage, and nerves.

Treena Livingston Arinzeh, Jennifer Moy, and Gloria Portocarrero Huang

I
t all began with an experience one tating and can severely limit a person’s tures that could someday help patients
of us (Arinzeh) had more than two quality of life. In addition, such tissues struggling with severe injuries and
decades ago. In 1991, a summer re- cannot fully regenerate after a severe movement disorders to move freely.
search experience at the Universi- injury or in response to disease. Tis- For bone repair, our group has studied
ty of California at Berkeley demonstrat- sue engineers aim to fully repair and composite scaffolds consisting of poly-
ed how engineering could improve the regenerate that tissue so that it regains mers and ceramics that provide both
lives of patients. Instead of working in complete function, but at that time re- mechanical and chemical cues to repair
a more traditional area such as automo- searchers still had a lot to learn about bone. Piezoelectric materials, which re-
bile design, Arinzeh spent the summer cells and their support structures to spond to mechanical stimuli by gener-
after her junior year of college working solve these problems. ating electrical activity, are used to en-
in a rehabilitation laboratory. Engineers The earliest successes were with courage the growth of nerve tissue as
there were designing new prosthetic skin, in which researchers used dermal well as cartilage and bone. Glycosamino-
devices for patients who had lost limbs, cells to generate grafts, leading to the glycans (GAGs), a major component of
and new assistive devices to help par- first commercial products in the late native cartilage tissue, provide growth
alyzed patients move. The engineers 1990s. Researchers imitate nature, us- factors to promote tissue formation,
would then collaborate with clinicians ing cells as building blocks and devel- and Arinzeh has designed biomimetic
at a rehabilitation center to test their oping strategies to guide the cells to scaffolds that incorporate these mol-
developments. Before that summer she form the appropriate tissue. Because ecules. After all these years, the prom-
hadn’t connected traditional engineer- stem cells are precursors to almost all ise that seemed so enticing in 1991 is
ing principles with the opportunity to tissue types, such cells are a promising becoming a practical reality, with huge
solve biomedical problems. But by the source of these critical building blocks. implications for human health.
end of those short months, Arinzeh But cells don’t grow and differentiate
was hooked on the promise of using on their own. The cell’s microenviron- Alternatives to Donated Tissue
mechanical engineering to help people ment can influence stem-cell function In the United States, people sustain
move better. in critical ways. Engineered microenvi- nearly 8 million bone fractures each
Tissue engineering, a budding field ronments, or scaffolds, can effectively year. The body can naturally heal
at that time, offered a chance to move promote stem cells and other cell types small, simple bone fractures. Howev-
beyond building prosthetics. Damage to form tissues. To construct such scaf- er, 10 percent of these injuries—such
to musculoskeletal tissues, such as folds, some important tools are what as large-scale bone defects or severe
bone and cartilage, and nervous tissue, are called functional biomaterials. These injuries from a car accident—are
such as the spinal cord, can be debili- materials respond to environmental more challenging. These patients of-
changes such as pH, enzymatic activ- ten need multiple surgeries and tissue
ity, or mechanical load, and their com- implants to complete the job. Alloge-
Treena Livingston Arinzeh is a professor of bio- position can mimic or replicate compo- neic (or donated) bone grafts offer an
medical engineering at the New Jersey Institute nents of native tissue. important source of tissue, but they
of Technology in Newark. She received her PhD One of us (Arinzeh) wanted to aren’t always the best choice. Chemi-
in bioengineering from the University of Penn- use functional biomaterials to create cal processing of donated tissues can
sylvania in 1999. She received the Presidential three-dimensional tissuelike structures lead to poor healing in patients, and
Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers
where cells can grow, proliferate, and such tissues can harbor a small risk of
in 2004, and a National Science Foundation Fac-
differentiate, ultimately forming and disease transmission.
ulty Early Career Development award in 2003.
Jennifer Moy is a graduate student, and Gloria regenerating tissue. Our group’s work Tissue engineers are working on al-
Portocarrero Huang is a postdoctoral research started with bone studies in the 1990s, ternative scaffold materials that can fill
associate, in biomedical engineering at the New eventually moving into cartilage and in the bone defects and also stimulate
Jersey Institute of Technology. Email for Arinzeh: the spinal cord over the past decade. tissue repair. Bone scaffold materials
arinzeh@njit.edu
_________ The overall goal is to produce struc- can sustain two different tissue-building

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strategies. Osteoconductive materials sup-


port the attachment of bone cells and
bone tissue in-growth, whereas osteoin-
ductive materials promote stem cells to
differentiate to form bone synthesizing
cells, known as osteoblasts. Osteoinduc-
tive scaffolds often rely on the inter-
play between mesenchymal stem cells—
multipotent stem cells found in bone
marrow that can produce a range of
tissues, including bone, cartilage, and
fat—and growth factors, such as bone
morphogenetic protein. This factor sig-
nals to local stem cells to become osteo-
blasts. The scaffold can be used alone
and rely on the patient’s own cells with-
in the defect to populate the scaffolds,
or researchers can seed scaffolds with
cells prior to implantation.
Arinzeh has developed a scaffold
with both osteoconductive and os-
teoinductive properties, without any
added growth factors. In addition, the
material is a composite, with both a
ceramic component and a polymer
or plastic component. The composite
material combines both the beneficial
biochemical properties of the bioactive
ceramic and the mechanical proper-
ties of the polymer. Such ceramics are
based on calcium phosphate, which
can chemically bond to bone tissue and
degrade over time. At the same time
they spur the stem cells to differenti-
ate into bone cells. Two types of con-
ventional bioactive ceramics we use
are ȕ-tricalcium phosphate and hydroxy-
apatite. Both are osteoconductive: Tri-
calcium phosphate degrades quickly,
whereas hydroxyapatite is more stable.
The latter has a similar composition to
bone mineral and can more easily form
chemical bonds with bone tissue.
To coax stem cells to become bone
cells, Arinzeh wanted a scaffold in
which she could both control the rate
of degradation and have a stable but
chemically reactive surface for the

Scaffolds provide both mechanical and chemi-


cal features that are useful for engineering tis-
sues such as cartilage and bone. Differences in
the chemistry of carbohydrates surrounding
human mesenchymal stem cells affect whether
the cells differentiate to form cartilage. The
green staining in the image to the bottom right
shows the presence of collagen II, a sign that
stem cells are differentiating into cartilagelike
cells. These cells are surrounded by carbohy-
drates partially decorated with sulfate groups,
whereas the image at top right (without visible
collagen) includes carbohydrates with a higher
sulfate content. (Unless otherwise noted, all
images are courtesy of the authors.)

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mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) bone tissue. Both scaffolds made


from the single bioceramic material
showed little to no bone formation,
demonstrating that the optimal ratio
MSC proliferation of hydroxyapatite to tricalcium phos-
phate was critical to induce the dif-
ferentiation of stem cells. We suspect
that the 20/80 scaffold releases more
osteogenesis chondrogenesis other tissue types phosphate and presents a more stable
scaffold surface, two features that al-
“committment” lowed the cells to attach and produce
a uniform bone matrix. As a result,
Arinzeh pursued scaffolds incorporat-
transitory osteoblast transitory chondrocyte ing the 20/80 version for bone-tissue
engineering applications.
lineage Although these combined ceramics
progression facilitate bone-tissue growth, they are
brittle, which limits their use for treat-
ing bone defects in tissues that bear
osteoblast weight. Therefore, Arinzeh wanted
to produce composite scaffolds that
differentiation combined the 20/80 ceramics with
polymers. In addition to making the
myotube scaffolds stronger, we could use these
(muscle) polymers to create fibrous structures
that more closely mimic the mineral-
osteocyte chondrocyte T/L fibroblast ized collagen within the bone’s ex-
(tendon/ tracellular matrix, a stew of bioactive
ligament) molecules and support structures sur-
maturation
rounding cells in the body’s tissues. We
can form fibers of the composite with
adipocyte diameters in the nanometer to micro-
BONE CARTILAGE (adipose tissue) meter range using a technique called
electrospinning, which applies an electric
field to a polymer solution and “spins”
Mesenchymal stem cells can differentiate into a variety of cell types that make up a subset of
human tissues, including bone, cartilage, muscle, and fat. To build tissues that help patients
the material into tiny, threadlike struc-
move better, the focus is on constructing scaffolds that support differentiation of these stem tures. The structural fibers in the bone
cells along pathways through osteoblasts and osteocytes to form bone, or to form chondro- extracellular matrix are similar in diam-
cytes as the basis of cartilage. eter to electrospun fibers, making this
technique ideal for producing scaffolds.
Arinzeh chose a polymer called
cells. So we mixed the hydroxyapatite phatase, an enzyme expressed by bone polycaprolactone because it supports
with tricalcium phosphate to form a cells. Only the 20/80 scaffold, however, cell attachment, is biocompatible,
biphasic ceramic. We constructed these produced osteocalcin, a marker of ma- and is mechanically flexible at room
scaffolds with different ratios of hy- ture bone cells, in the presence of gen- and body temperatures. Its bonelike
droxyapatite to tricalcium phosphate eral growth media. Those results made strength makes it useful for weight-
to investigate the optimal ratio for pro- it clear that the 20/80 scaffold included bearing defects, and its compatibility
moting stem-cell differentiation. These the optimal mix of biomaterials. with surgical rods and pins allows it
structures had pore sizes of 300 to 600 We then implanted 100 percent hy- to be easily inserted into defects. For
micrometers to allow cells to infiltrate droxyapatite, 100 percent tricalcium the next round of scaffolds, we electro-
the structures and to make room for phosphate, and 20/80 scaffolds load- spun polycaprolactone fibers and em-
tissue growth. We then seeded the scaf- ed with mesenchymal stem cells un- bedded them with nanoparticles made
folds with human mesenchymal stem derneath the skin of severe combined of our 20/80 ceramics. We tried several
cells. First, we studied the scaffolds immunodeficient mice to evaluate cell formulations that varied the amount
with stem cells over 28 days under cell differentiation and tissue formation. of embedded ceramic and the solvent
culture conditions, in either general These research animals have compro- used. Those formulations led to vari-
growth media or media that would mised immune systems, which pre- ous fiber shapes and changes in the
promote the stem cells to become bone vents them from rejecting implanted distribution of the 20/80 nanoparticles
cells. The stem cells on scaffolds com- human cells. We performed two tests, within the fibers. The fiber surfaces
prising 60/40 and 20/80 ratios (by one with six weeks and one with 12 were rougher for scaffolds containing
weight) of hydroxyapatite to tricalcium weeks of implantation, after which, higher amounts of 20/80 ceramics,
phosphate showed signs of differentia- in both cases, the porous structure of which could mean that these nanopar-
tion: increased activity of alkaline phos- the 20/80 scaffolds was filled with ticles are clustering within the fibers.

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a b location of thigh bone injury,


and bone healing using tissue scaffolds

A scaffold constructed from an optimal mix of bioceramics and polymers healed a defect in weeks after implantation. Interestingly,
the thigh bone (right) of an adult sheep within eight weeks. Microcomputed tomography both the scaffold alone and the one
images show how mineralized bone tissue has filled into a gap (a) compared with no bone loaded with bone marrow had similar
formation in untreated defects (b). amounts of bone fill. Both groups of
treated subjects regenerated signifi-
Scaffolds produced with a solvent proteins—this feature triggered chang- cantly more bone compared with the
called methylene chloride had both es that resembled the natural forma- healing that occurred with untreated
nanometer- and micrometer-sized di- tion of bone. Under these conditions, subjects. Over 16 weeks, the scaffold
ameters and rough surfaces. For the the ceramic nanoparticles dissolved degraded as it was replaced by bone,
scaffolds produced with a combina- from the fibers and deposited bonelike a process that helps restore normal
tion of this solvent with another, called minerals on the surface of the fibers. function and the ability to bear weight.
N,N-dimethylformamide, the fibers were When these scaffolds were cultured These scaffolds provided the necessary
all on the micrometer scale and had with mesenchymal stem cells, the cells support to help large bone defects heal
smooth surfaces, with the ceram- produced and mineralized a bonelike more like smaller defects would nor-
ics completely embedded within the extracellular matrix, infiltrated the mally. Our group plans to move these
fibers. Despite the differences in ap- scaffold, and showed osteogenesis. scaffolds into clinical testing soon.
pearance, all these fibrous scaffolds Arinzeh has also tested whether this
had similar mechanical properties to electrospun composite could heal a large Smarter Tissue Replacements
trabecular bone, the spongy, shock- bone defect in the thigh bone of an adult The composite scaffolds are both bio-
absorbing tissue found at the ends sheep. We implanted the scaffolds either compatible and bioactive, which means
of large bones and within the pelvis alone or in combination with the sheep’s they are chemically active. They inter-
and vertebrae. However, the scaffolds whole bone marrow as a source of stem act and integrate with their surround-
containing 30 percent by weight of the
20/80 nanoparticles, produced with
either solvent, had the most uniform
distributions of ceramic within the fi- Functional biomaterials create three-
ber and were ideal for further biologi-
cal studies. dimensional tissuelike structures
To study the biological response to
the scaffolds produced using different where cells can grow, proliferate, and
solvents, we cultured human mesen-
chymal stem cells on the scaffolds for
up to 21 days. Both scaffolds support-
differentiate, ultimately forming and
ed cell growth. The scaffolds produced
with methylene chloride, however,
regenerating tissue.
had larger spaces between the fibers.
The cells could infiltrate deep within
these structures and developed into cells. Harvesting a patient’s whole bone ing environment through chemical re-
stronger, vascularized, three-dimen- marrow at the time of surgery and im- actions occurring at their surface. But
sional tissue. mediately implanting it is a faster, sim- we would like to have even greater con-
These initial tests also demonstrated pler approach than isolating and grow- trol over tissue healing. Smart materi-
the potential of the scaffold to regener- ing a patient’s own stem cells from the als, which can be changed or controlled
ate bone. In the scaffolds formed from bone marrow, which must be performed in precise ways with external stimuli,
methylene chloride solutions, more in a laboratory setting. offer additional ways to direct the heal-
ceramic sits on the surface of fibers. With microcomputed tomography, ing process. More recently Arinzeh has
When we placed these structures in a high-resolution x-ray technique, investigated piezoelectric materials,
simulated body fluid—buffered so- we saw that a significant amount of which can generate electrical charge
lutions that simulate blood but lack bone filled into the defect within eight when they are mechanically deformed.

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+
+ Taylor
+ + +
polymer solution + cone
+

syringe
polymer jet
high voltage
power supply collector
a b

A technique called electrospinning is a useful way to transform a variety of polymers into prompt the formation of a glial scar.
fibrous support structures that help stem cells to grow and differentiate. In this technique, This type of structure acts as both a
a stream of polymer or a polymer solution is treated with a high voltage (a). The material’s mechanical and biochemical barrier to
internal electrostatic repulsion overcomes its surface tension, allowing the liquid to erupt into nerve regrowth across the injury site.
a stream, a phenomenon known as the Taylor cone (inset). The jet deposits on a collector plate
To repair the damaged tissue, various
to produce a network of polymer fibers (b).
researchers have investigated several
strategies to reduce a glial scar, includ-
Electric fields can guide the develop- deformed, molecular groups within the ing the use of growth factors and im-
ment and regeneration of many tissues, material shift asymmetrically, which can planted cells, such as neural stem cells
including cartilage, bone, and nerves. produce an electric charge or voltage. and glial cells. Neural stem cells are
Clinicians already use electrical In our efforts to build novel piezo- multipotent stem cells found within
stimulator devices for bone repair and electric tissue scaffolds, Arinzeh has the nervous system. They require pro-
neural conditions. In addition, colla- focused on a polymer called polyvinyli- teins, such as fibroblast growth factor, to
gen, which is found in many tissues, dene fluoride-co-trifluoroethylene (PVDF- differentiate into neurons. As the neu-
exhibits piezoelectric properties. Few TrFE) because it is both biocompatible ral stem cells mature, they differentiate
tissue-engineering researchers, howev- and has well-characterized piezoelec- to form neurons and glial cells. Piezo-
er, have studied piezoelectricity, even tric properties. We have processed this electric materials could advance neural
though such materials could boost tis- polymer into soft or flexible fibrous repair by forming a bridge across dam-
sue regeneration for cells and tissues scaffolds that can mimic the fibrous aged sites while using electrical stimuli
that rely on electrical stimuli. structure of the native extracellular to guide the growth of axons.
One advantage of piezoelectric scaf- matrix in a wide range of applications, Arinzeh wanted to investigate
folds is that they can generate electri- most notably spinal injury. piezoelectric polymers as scaffold ma-
cal activity through body movement, When damaged, the spinal cord can terials for neural regeneration. So we
cell attachment, and scaffold contrac- regenerate only in limited ways. In ad- initially electrospun fibrous PVDF-
tion rather than via an external power dition, an inflammatory response can TrFE scaffolds and examined whether
source. As piezoelectric materials are impede wound healing, which can they could support neural cells. We

a b

50 50
micrometers micrometers

Scaffolds that support the differentiation of neural progenitor cells selves along the scaffold fibers, which were either randomly arranged
into neurons could prove important for treating patients who have (a) or aligned (b). Red staining highlights a protein called ȕ-III tubulin,
injuries to their spinal cords or other nerve structures. Human neural which is expressed by neurons, and shows how neurites extend paral-
progenitor cells, grown on two different scaffolds, arranged them- lel to the fibers.

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also assessed how the orientation of ions proteins


fibers affects neurite formation (the
projection of new axons or dendrites
from a neuron). We fabricated these
scaffolds with an array of features: fi-
bers aligned or arranged randomly,
and with diameters at the nanometer cells
or micrometer scale. Some of these fi-
bers were annealed, a heat treatment piezoelectric scaffold
that prompts crystal growth, whereas
others were left untreated.
After characterizing their structural

deformation
and mechanical features, we studied
these scaffolds to see whether they
could support neurite outgrowth.
Within our scaffolds, we used dorsal voltage
root ganglions, well-studied sensory fibronectin influx of ions
into cells
neurons that are a good cell model for
examining nerve growth on biomate-
rials. The cells attached to the scaffolds
readily. Neurites elongated along the
fibers, and the fibers provided a physi-
cal cue for directing the neurites. We piezoelectric scaffold
observed the greatest neurite exten-
sion with micrometer-sized annealed
scaffolds, which have higher crystal- As piezoelectric scaffolding materials are deformed, they generate surface charges, which spur
linity and thus increased piezoelectric the proteins and ions surrounding the cells to redistribute. These changes can also cause ions
activity. On the aligned fiber scaffolds, to rapidly flow into cells, altering their behavior. These properties are potentially useful for
the neurites from dorsal root gangli- producing smart scaffolds for engineering tissues.
ons extended in the same direction as
that of the fibers. stem cells. These findings suggest that We electrospun polyvinylidene fluo-
Our group has recently studied piezoelectric scaffolds can promote ride, which is also piezoelectric, using a
these fibrous scaffolds as conduits in a neuronal differentiation and guide range of applied voltages to determine
rodent model for investigating spinal neurite growth. the effect of processing methods on the
cord repair. In those experiments, the Piezoelectric materials can also piezoelectric properties of the scaffold.
piezoelectric scaffolds enhanced axo- support the growth of bone and car- When fibers were electrospun using
nal regeneration depending upon the tilage, tissues that respond to an elec- higher voltages, the resulting fibers be-
design of the conduit. We are continu- trical stimulus and are activated by came more piezoelectric. The scaffolds
ing to study these scaffolds in animal physiological movement or mechani- produced with the higher voltages
models with the hope that they can cal deformation. Osteocytes can sense prompted the greatest number of stem
eventually be tested in the clinic. deformations to the extracellular ma- cells to differentiate into bone cells. As
In addition, piezoelectric scaffolds
may prompt neural stem/progenitor
cells to form neurons, which could
someday be useful in spinal cord re- Smart materials, which can be precisely
pair. As in previous experiments,
Arinzeh varied the fiber diameter, fi- changed or controlled with external
ber alignment, and annealing of these
materials. We then cultured the stem stimuli, offer additional ways to direct
cells over the course of nine days on
these scaffolds with media that should
either induce or control cell differenti-
the healing process.
ation. After nine days, most of the cells
in both media conditions expressed
the protein ȕ-III tubulin, indicating that trix, which can serve as a signal to re- in earlier studies, Arinzeh measured
they were neurons. We observed the model that tissue. Type I collagen has stem-cell differentiation into bone cells
highest number of apparent neurons piezoelectric properties and is a ma- based on comparisons of apatite min-
when cells had been cultured in in- jor component of the bone extracel- eralization and higher activity of alka-
duction medium on aligned, annealed lular matrix; therefore it could be the line phosphatase.
scaffolds. Interestingly, neural stem source of such signals. Thus, Arinzeh Cartilage cells, known as chondro-
cells cultured on tissue culture poly- investigated piezoelectric scaffolds cytes, also respond to electrical stimuli.
styrene controls primarily expressed to induce human mesenchymal stem Similar to the environment surround-
nestin, which is a protein marker for cells to form bone cells. ing bone tissue, cartilage extracellular

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collagen fibril hyaluronan chondroitin sulfate C

interstitial fluid
cellulose sulfate
attached aggrecan
H OR
H H
In cartilage, fibers of collagen protein entangle with a va-
H OR 1 4 H O
riety of proteoglycans, complex biopolymers with protein
and carbohydrate components (above). One of the natu- RO O
ral carbohydrate components is chondroitin sulfate C (top O RO O
right). Cellulose sulfate (bottom right) has a similar chemi- H
cal structure and can be produced in the laboratory. These 4 H
O OR 1
synthetic carbohydrates have been useful for studying how
the chemistry of carbohydrates within a synthetic scaffold H OR H H n
affects the formation of new cartilage tissue.

matrix contains glycosaminoglycans charged sulfate groups, a feature that struct a microenvironment for stem
(GAGs), long, sulfated polysaccha- helps them interact with a variety of cells that resembles the native tissue
rides that naturally induce changes in proteins and other factors that boost environment and attracts growth fac-
the electric potential in the tissue when cell growth and development. How- tors that induce differentiation.
subjected to physiological loading. We ever, the native polysaccharides can be Before constructing tissue scaf-
also studied whether PVDF-TrFE scaf- difficult and costly to extract in suffi- folds, however, we wanted to examine
folds could promote differentiation of cient quantities from biological sourc- whether cellulose sulfate can enhance
stem cells into cartilage cells. These es. Arinzeh overcame this challenge expression of cartilage-specific genes
scaffolds supported greater cell dif- by using molecules whose structure (namely aggrecan and collagen type II)
ferentiation compared with other con- resembles native GAGs. and matrix molecules from mesenchy-
ventional biomaterials, indicating that The GAG mimetic we came up with, mal stem cells. To model the develop-
these materials may be good candi- cellulose sulfate, is a semi-synthetic ment of cartilage tissue, we grew these
dates for cartilage repair applications.
Arinzeh is among the first research-
ers to demonstrate that scaffolds con-
structed from piezoelectric materials After a quarter century of research,
can effectively regenerate tissue. In
bone, cartilage, and nerves, we have swapping in cells and support scaffolds,
begun to understand how the electro-
mechanical stimulus promotes tissue rather than relying on the body’s
formation. As a following step in de-
veloping scaffolds that could be im-
planted in patients, we are preparing
mechanisms alone, is finally a reality for
the next generation of piezoelectric
materials that degrade as tissue grows.
both skin and cartilage.
Mimicking Tissues’ Chemical Cues
Stem cells and other cells within grow- derivative of cellulose that is inexpen- cells in pellet cultures: Cells were spun
ing tissues use chemical cues to re- sive and simple to produce. Cellulose down with a centrifuge into a dense
spond to their environment as they sulfate can be synthesized to produce collection and allowed to grow togeth-
develop and grow. Therefore Arinzeh structures similar to chondroitin sul- er. When cellulose sulfate was present
is also developing functional biomate- fate, a native polysaccharide in the in the media, the cells expressed more
rials that mimic that adaptability. We cartilage extracellular matrix. Arinzeh cartilage matrix–specific molecules
went back to GAGs, which are dec- incorporated cellulose sulfate into and exhibited uniform cell shapes
orated with a variety of negatively tissue-engineering scaffolds to con- consistent with that of cartilage. We

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then incorporated this material into a scaffold combinations. Interestingly, phasic calcium phosphate ceramics for hu-
tissue-engineering scaffold, hoping to partially sulfated cellulose has a simi- man mesenchymal stem-cell-induced bone
formation. Biomaterials 26:3631–3638.
further steer the differentiation of stem lar chemistry as chondroitin sulfate,
Huang, G. P., et al. 2017. Gelatin scaffolds con-
cells toward chondrocytes. the naturally occurring polysaccharide taining partially sulfated cellulose promote
To incorporate cellulose sulfate in cartilage. This finding suggests that mesenchymal stem cell chondrogenesis.
into a fibrous scaffold, we blended these synthetic scaffolds could lead to Tissue Engineering Part A, in press.
it with gelatin, which promotes cell robust cartilage tissue formation. We Lee, Y. S., and T. L. Arinzeh. 2012. The influ-
adhesion. Many studies have indicat- are currently evaluating these scaffolds ence of piezoelectric scaffolds on neural
ed that the degree of sulfation within in cartilage defects. The hope is that differentiation of human neural stem/
progenitor cells. Tissue Engineering Part A
these extracellular polysaccharides someday we can use these structures 18:2063–2072.
can influence cell behavior. Therefore to help patients renew their own car- Lillien, L. 1998. Neural progenitors and stem
we investigated cellulose sulfate scaf- tilage after an injury, using their own cells: Mechanisms of progenitor heterogene-
folds that incorporated carbohydrates cells and tissues. ity. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 8:37–44.
that were either fully or partially sul- Repairing a car is still a lot easier Patlolla, A., G. Collins, and T. L. Arinzeh. 2010.
fated. We seeded stem cells onto these than repairing the human body. But Solvent-dependent properties of electro-
spun fibrous composites for bone tissue
scaffolds—made of partially sulfated after a quarter century of research, the regeneration. Acta Biomaterialia 6:90–101.
polysaccharides and gelatin, fully sul- idea of swapping in cells and support
fated polysaccharides and gelatin, or scaffolds, rather than relying on the
gelatin alone—and looked for signs body’s mechanisms alone, is finally
of chondrogenesis. In particular, we a reality for both skin and cartilage.
measured the amount of collagen With continued work on scaffolds
type II, which is found only in car- and studies with stem cells, we have For relevant Web links, consult this
tilage tissue and comprises a major a lot of optimism for helping patients issue of American Scientist Online:
portion of the fibrous extracellular move better and even for repairing
www.amsci.org/magazine/issues/2017/
matrix of cartilage. the spinal cord. september-october
In the scaffolds made from partial-
ly sulfated cellulose and gelatin, the Bibliography
amount of collagen type II secreted Arinzeh, T. L., T. Tran, J. McAlary, and G.
by the cells greatly exceeded all other Daculsi. 2005. A comparative study of bi-

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The Evolutionary Advantage


of Burrowing Underground
Many animals dig dens for protection from weather, disasters, or predators, and
this behavior may have allowed some species to survive when others have died out.

Anthony J. Martin

T
he alligator den had a big sur- My colleague was geographer Michael live in water. Yet no lakes, ponds, or
prise for us. Its occupant was Page, who had joined us the previous streams were within sight, and the for-
hidden inside a dark space day; he had been on St. Catherines with est floor around the den was carpeted
down an inclined tunnel, its me once before to map alligator dens with dry pine needles. Still, this den
entrance denoted by a meter-wide, in July 2012. We documented dozens and several others nearby were locat-
half-moon-shaped hole in the middle of dens next to water bodies, many of ed on the bank of what used to be a
of a pine forest. The alligator’s pres- which hosted alligators. In some in- human-made canal. Thus Michael and
ence was verified only by a rumbling stances, we affirmed the identity and I quite reasonably surmised that the
growl, followed by an openmouthed purpose of these big holes by witness- canal had been submerged sometime
hiss. The burrow chamber added reso- ing alligators swimming or otherwise in the past—perhaps decades ago—
nance to these sounds, turning an al- dashing into them. With other dens, which encouraged alligators to move
ready spooky situation into a down- we spotted tracks and tail-drag traces into the neighborhood and dig dens.
right portentous one. This sonic combo, crisscrossing their entrances, effectively Later, drought and other changes in lo-
intended as a warning, worked quite telling us not to get any closer. cal hydrology must have altered the
well in that respect, persuading all of us This den, though, had no such fresh water supply in this area. So the alliga-
to issue a collective “Whoa!,” take a few warning traces outside of it, meaning tors moved somewhere else.
steps back, and assess our situation. that the contentious alligator inside had In this instance, I had just begun ex-
It was yet another moment in my been there for a while. When the growl- plaining to our students how this was
teaching career when I wondered how hiss greeting was broadcast from the yet another example of an abandoned
many other professors must concern den, Michael was standing above and den made by previous generations
themselves with apex predators show- behind the den, whereas I was almost of now-dead alligators. This meant it
ing up in their classrooms. Nonethe- directly in front. We had already seen only served as the trace of a former
less, on the plus side, if any of my stu- about 10 alligator dens that morning, alligator in what used to be an aquatic
dents had been bored with the course all of them empty. That fact lulled us environment that later turned into a
material, they were now very much into a false sense of security, a confir- terrestrial environment. A fine hypoth-
engaged, perhaps even wondering mation bias that affected our better esis it was, but one so rudely proven
whether this alligator-related incident judgment when approaching this one. wrong by the live, two-meter-long,
would be covered on the next exam. My prejudice was further bolstered by body-armored, and bad-tempered
At that moment, my undergradu- a memory of this very same burrow, saurian residing in its so-called aban-
ate students, a faculty colleague, and which had had absolutely no sign of an doned home.
I were deep in the interior of St. Cath- alligator in it when Michael and I had To my students’ credit, they had
erines Island on the Georgia coast and examined it the previous summer. Dur- started us on the path to falsifying the
on our sixth day of a spring-break field ing that visit, we photographed and notion that this big hole was gator-less.
course trip in March 2013 to the Geor- measured each den we encountered, as Once I spotted the den, I greeted it like
gia barrier islands. St. Catherines is an well as recorded their locations with a an old friend, enthusiastically strid-
undeveloped island used mostly for global positioning system (GPS) unit. ing toward its opening before deliver-
scientific research and was the fifth is- But we remembered this specific den ing my little lecture to the assembled
land we had visited thus far on our trip. because it had the largest entrance of group. A few students stood back,
any we had seen, at more than a meter impressed by the size of the hole and
wide and 40 centimeters tall. It was big staring into its underground darkness,
Anthony J. Martin is a paleontologist, geolo-
enough that I could have crawled into a seemingly bottomless pit of mystery.
gist, and ichnologist at Emory University in
Atlanta. This article is excerpted and adapted it, had I been so stupid. The whirring of zoom lenses and digi-
from The Evolution Underground by An- Size aside, what really made this den tally rendered shutter sounds behind
thony J. Martin, published by Pegasus Books, memorable was its location, which was me told me they were taking plenty of
2017 © Anthony J. Martin. All rights re- in the middle of the woods. As every- pictures. I was pleased that they found
served. Reprinted with permission. one likely knows, alligators normally this burrow as interesting as I did.

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Alligators at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana take shelter in dens dug into a river bank. Meanwhile, alligators and other croc-
Such burrows may help them survive during hot, dry, or cold conditions. The protection offered odilians carried on, as did a number of
by going underground may have been a key factor in the evolution of this and other burrowing turtles, lizards, snakes, fishes, amphibi-
species. (Photograph courtesy of Ruth M. Elsey/Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.)
ans, insects, earthworms, mammals, and
other animals we now accept as normal
Suddenly, I was jarred out of my With his GPS unit in one hand, parts of our modern world. What did
educational reverie when one of stu- Michael smiled, and with barely sup- they have in their genetic or behavioral
dents said, “I see teeth in there.” pressed glee at the absurdity of our repertoire that could have helped them
“Teeth?” I asked. predicament he said, “Guess we have survive, that the dinosaurs did not have?
“Yeah,” she said, and others nodded to mark that one as occupied.” Let’s think about birds first. As ev-
agreement. eryone with a five-year-old child knows
“What kind of teeth?” I asked. Like Dens: The Multitool of Survival by now, not all dinosaur lineages went
a typical paleontologist, I was thinking This alligator incident marked the be- extinct, as some evolved into modern
of a disembodied skull or jaw, instead ginning of an idea for me that had far birds. The first birds descended from
of a breathing animal bearing (or bar- wider implications than field-trip hi- theropod dinosaurs about 160 million
ing) those teeth. jinks and close encounters with poten- years ago; most theropods were two-
“I don’t know. Could it be a snake?” tially dangerous foes. This idea stems legged carnivores, such as cinema stars
“Sure, that’s possible.” I had seen from what we know of how alligators Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus. So far,
alligator dens with snakes in them be- descended from a lineage of croco- paleontologists have discovered about
fore. Also, unlike certain fictional ar- dilians and their kin that were alive 40 species of feathered theropods,
chaeologists, I like snakes and relished more than 200 million years ago, when enough that we can now confidently
the thought that one might be in the dinosaurs were still stomping, fight- assert that most (if not all) theropod di-
burrow. “But you probably wouldn’t ing, nesting, eating, mating, peeing, nosaurs from the Late Jurassic and Cre-
be seeing its teeth,” I said, as I became pooping, and otherwise leaving their taceous periods (from about 160 to 66
more confused about this unexpect- mark on the world. Yet when a me- million years ago) were feathered. (This
ed shift in the lesson plan. Puzzled, teorite smacked into the Earth about discovery also means that the Juras-
I stepped closer to the entrance— 66 million years ago, this disaster and sic Park films, including Jurassic World,
eliciting the startling growl-hiss. other problems caused a devastating should have been rated R, because all
I looked up at Michael. The disbe- worldwide crisis for life everywhere, of the raptors and other theropods por-
lief probably still registered on my whether in the oceans or on land. As a trayed in them were naked.) Feathered
face, but my expression also must result, all of the dinosaurs (that did not and flighted avian dinosaurs somehow
have wordlessly asked him, “What have the good sense to be birds) died, survived a mass extinction that took out
do we do now?” leaving only their bones and traces. all of their relatives 66 million years ago.

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Traces of prey, in this case a deer pelvis, found outside of alligator dens (left) provide evidence that would have left alligator skeletons
burrows may also help alligators hunt. On St. Catherines Island off the coast of Georgia, a sandy strewn throughout a desiccated land-
area that was created by a storm surge next to a salt marsh shows alligator footprints and tail-drag scape. Nonetheless, they were still very
marks (right). Such trace indicators can be used to determine animal distribution and habitat us- much present, active, and continuing to
age, and show that alligators do not stay only in freshwater areas. A fiddler-crab burrow is also
survive by spending more time in dens.
next to the tail-drag mark. (Unless otherwise indicated, images are courtesy of the author.)
Alligators likely dug these big burrows
along the edges of ponds, canals, and
Interestingly, on that very same is- been enduring a drought for the previ- other wetlands during times of plenti-
land of St. Catherines and others off the ous few years, part of a more severe ful water; the dens remained once the
Georgia coast, my students and I had overall pattern caused by less rainfall wetlands vanished and were succeeded
witnessed interactions between birds on the island during the past several by grasslands and forests. Yet alligators
and crocodilians that made us feel like decades. This meant the normal habi- could still move back into these dens;
we were back in the Cretaceous. Some tats for alligators—freshwater ponds some of the burrows they were able to
island interiors held ponds with small and other wetlands—had shrunk, leav- use intersected the groundwater table
islands, where tall wading birds—such ing them with fewer places to stay and below the surface.
as storks, herons, and egrets—built their make a living by killing fish and other Thus these underground “wet-
nests on tree branches, well above land animals. One might expect that such lands” served the purpose of keeping
and water surfaces. Their nests were pro- low water supplies and dire conditions alligator skins moist, while confer-
tected by not just the parent birds, but by
what seemed like unlikely allies: alliga-
tors. Because alligators were swimming
in the ponds and staying nearby in dens,
they served as convincing deterrents to
raccoons or any other mammals that
thought they could raid a bird’s nest and
enjoy scrambled eggs for breakfast. This
deal, however, was a Faustian bargain.
As a Mafia-like payment, if a hatch-
ling fell out of the nest and onto an is-
land or into a pond, this hapless baby
bird became an easy meal for any al-
ligator lucky enough to be in the right
place at the right time. Yet this brutal
compensation is a much better deal for
Wikimedia Commons

parent birds than having an entire egg


clutch consumed by ruthless raccoons.
Hence these birds and alligators may
have coevolved their respective behav-
iors, with mutual arrangements struck
by their ancestors millions of years ago. Many successful animal lineages include burrowing behaviors. A fossil skeleton of a Lystro-
So now let’s focus on the alligators, saurus has stout forelimbs, a shovel-like face, and other adaptations for digging. This species
and specifically those on St. Catherines belonged to the synapsid reptiles, almost all of which went extinct at the end of the Permian
Island. At the time I visited there with period, about 250 million years ago. Many of those that made it through were burrowers,
my students in 2013, the alligators had which may have aided their survival. Mammals eventually evolved from this lineage.

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ring many other benefits. For ber very close to the burrow
instance, given that these dens entrance, ready to defend her
held fresh water on an island offspring against anything that
where such supplies had be- might try to bring them harm,
come more precious, they also human or otherwise. In several
provided a tempting source of instances, I have seen the moth-
water for other animals, such as er’s massive head just behind
mammals and birds. Their thirst the den entrance, almost daring
then neatly delivered the alliga- you to get closer and test her
tors’ groceries to them. All the evolutionary legacy.
alligators had to do was wait Dens protect alligators of all
just within burrow entrances ages in another way, which is
and snatch whatever looked from cold winters and hot sum-
large enough to eat. My students mers. As most people know, al-
and I found evidence of this am- ligators are cold-blooded, or
bush strategy on that same field ectothermic. This means they
trip: Two dens that had fresh cannot regulate their own body
carcasses outside of them. One temperatures and instead have
den had just the remains of a An illustration of a burrow from another avid digger, the to rely on their surrounding en-
vulture, its bones and feathers gopher tortoise, shows a turn leading to a living chamber. vironment to keep themselves
stuck in the entrance, whereas Smaller burrows are added by other animals, such as mice within a range that allows for life
another had the remains of a and insects. At left are partially collapsed tortoise burrows. to go on. For alligators, the ideal
raccoon about a meter away temperature is about 27 to 32 de-
from its opening. A meter farther from secure in their dens during the fire, and grees Celsius; any higher or lower than
the raccoon, though, was another dead then emerged for a little walkabout. this range, and they have problems.
vulture; the still-red bloodiness of If this use of alligator dens doesn’t im- Surprisingly, though, alligators can live
both bodies suggested they had been press as a form of protection, then think farther away from the equator than any
killed in quick succession. So it was of alligator babies. That’s right: cute little modern crocodilians. In North America,
easy to think how the raccoon, once alligator babies, which easily fit on the these big reptiles can live as far north as
dispatched and only partially eaten, palm of an average adult human hand North Carolina, and how they accom-
would have attracted the attention of when newly hatched. Only later do they plish this trick is by using dens.
vultures, supplying the den-dwelling grow up to become monsters—in much These burrows bestow a Goldilocks
alligator with a two-course meal. the same way that human children even- effect by averaging the temperatures of
Similarly, older and long-abandoned tually turn into teenagers. Despite being cold winters and hot summers, mak-
dens in parts of the island had bone col- so adorable, a baby alligator is regarded ing it just right all year. On the Georgia
lections adorning their fronts, usually as an appetizer by nearly everything coast, where summer temperatures can
consisting of a jumbled mix of deer and bigger than it is—including other alliga- easily exceed 32 degrees and water tem-
raccoon parts. All of this trace evidence tors—regards it as an appetizer. Hence peratures approach those of hot tubs,
told us the alligators could switch from these little tykes need defending, which alligators duck into dens to cool down.
aquatic to terrestrial predation if neces- is partially provided by their overprotec- Conversely, I have also seen large alliga-
sary, like a shark deciding it was go- tive mothers, but also by dens. Alligator tors out sunning themselves on near-
ing to turn into a lion. This surprising mothers stay with their offspring for as freezing days in December, implying
behavioral transformation and adapt- long as two years after they hatch, and if that a den was close by and kept them
ability in alligators was made possible dens are nearby, they will use these not warm enough to get out for a little so-
through their dens, which during times only as places with plenty of fresh water lar therapy. Human cavers similarly re-
of environmental change became all- (which baby alligators need), but also as count the mollifying effects of being un-
purpose hunting lodges. places for hiding the kids from trouble. derground, enjoying what feels like cool
In addition to keeping their occu- I have seen (or caused) the lat- and warm cave interiors during summer
pants wet and enabling them to am- ter behavior many times. My walk- and winter, respectively, when the cave
bush prey, dens served another impor- ing near a den or a small pond with is actually the same temperature all year.
tant purpose: protection. For example, baby alligators sets off their alarm All of this brings us back to the unex-
drought conditions on St. Catherines calls, which consist of a series of high- pected burrow occupant my class and
bolstered the likelihood of lightning- pitched grunts. These noises send a I encountered, while neatly answering
caused fires racing through forests and clear signal that you could die, because the perfectly reasonable scientific inqui-
grasslands alike. Sure enough, one such a big momma gator is close by and ry: “What the heck was a large adult al-
fire in the summer of 2012 scorched now knows her babies are in danger. ligator doing in the middle of a forest?”
part of St. Catherines. This same place Once the babies sound the alarm, the Remember how I said we were
had enough alligator dens in it that the mother either crawls or swims into the visiting in March? The timing of our
island manager, Royce Hayes, had nick- den headfirst, leading the way for her trip suggests this big critter had likely
named it the “Nerve Center.” He was wee ones. Still grunting, they align and entered the den sometime during the
amazed to find fresh alligator tracks on scramble together toward and into the winter, when temperatures dipped low
top of a wildfire ash layer, made by al- den to be with mom. By then, she will enough and long enough that it needed
ligators that apparently stayed safe and have turned around in a large cham- to stay sufficiently warm to survive. We

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raising young, protecting themselves


and their chicks from predators, and
avoiding the harsh conditions of their
outside environments. (Incidentally,
the oldest known fossil penguins date
from about 62 million years ago, just
after the extinction of their nonavian
dinosaur cousins). So alligator dens are
by no means a unique instance of bur-
rows allowing their makers to survive
long enough to pass on genes to the
next generation, while also enabling
gene-passers to do more than just that.
For many animals, burrows save and
extend lives, while also serving as the
Wikimedia Commons

places animal families call home.


Keeping this “burrow equals surviv-
al” theme in mind, and just in case you
are still enthralled with the alligator-
crocodile-bird success story of out-
surviving nonavian dinosaurs, realize
Burrowing is of course not limited to reptiles and amphibians. These little penguins (Eudyp- that this is not nearly as impressive as
tula minor), emerging from a burrow on Bruny Island in Tasmania, are among the many other knowing how burrows contributed to
animals that nest in underground dens. the lineage you see reflected in your
mirror every morning. Many mam-
were there at the cusp of spring on the droughts. Then consider how many mals are fabulous burrowers, and this
Georgia coast, when outdoor tempera- salamanders, frogs, toads, turtles, liz- ability goes back even further into the
tures were edging closer to the alliga- ards, snakes, and other ectothermic geologic past than alligators, crocodiles,
tor heaven of 27–32 degrees instead of animals live at far higher latitudes than and birds. Ancestors of these furry ver-
the crystalline cold of winter. Yet the alligators. Nearly all of these animals tebrates, called mammaliaforms, evolved
weather in early March, with average accomplish this feat by spending win- toward the end of the Triassic period
lows around 10 degrees, was still not ters underground or otherwise pro- about 220 million years ago, which was
quite warm enough to coax this one out tected. Even self-heating endotherms— just after the start of the dinosaurs. The
of its temporary refuge. What was the namely, birds and mammals—their ancestors of mammaliaforms, synapsid
year-round average temperature in this chances of freezing or sweltering by reptiles, originated even farther back in
part of Georgia? More like 20 degrees, seeking shelter below ground surfaces. time, during the Carboniferous period,
meaning that if you lived underground In short, these animals can’t move up more than 300 million years ago.
all year, there would be no need to set a unless they get down. Once they evolved, synapsids, such
thermostat, as it would stay that way all as Dimetrodon, were terrifically success-
of the time. While the weather outside The Evolution Underground ful, adapting to and dominating land
dipped below freezing, this big alliga- These insights we gain from studying environments throughout the Permian
tor and many of its compatriots had alligators’ dens suggest that at least period (about 300 to 250 million years
probably overwintered in dens that re- some of the ancestors of modern-day ago). Sadly (for them), nearly all went
mained close to 21 degrees all winter. alligators and crocodiles, and perhaps extinct at the end of the Permian, a time
What cavers and other underground their bird companions, likely used sometimes called “the Great Dying”
enthusiasts have learned through ex- burrows to get past the environmen- because of how extreme global warm-
perience, alligators figured out through tal hazards of the past. For an example ing and other factors caused 95 percent
natural selection. of burrowing birds, just think of those of all species to wave goodbye to their
Given the multifaceted uses of dens, charming, family-oriented, unstoppa- evaporated gene pools. Notice I said
it is now easy to see how a simple ble krill-eating marchers, penguins. All “nearly,” which implies that a few made
statement can be made about the role penguin species live in the Southern it into the next period, the Triassic. From
dens have played in the evolutionary Hemisphere and all polar bears live in these surviving synapsids, mammals
history of alligators: no dens, no alli- the Northern Hemisphere, meaning evolved, and their descendants some-
gators. This bold statement is backed that the only place you would ever see how made it past another mass ex-
up by a quick look at alligators’ living a polar bear eating a penguin is in a tinction at the end of the Triassic, then
close relatives, such as the Chinese al- badly managed zoo. Yet despite the were a constant presence throughout
ligator (Alligator sinensis), which dig ex- stereotype of penguins living only in the heyday of the nonavian dinosaurs—
tensive tunnels in riverbanks to make Antarctica and huddling together for surviving, but not necessarily thriving.
dens, as well as other crocodilians that warmth there, most species actually Then, once the dinosaurs died out in
burrow to survive. Indeed, more than live in a wide variety of environments. the next mass extinction at the end of
half of all crocodilian species (14 out Moreover, more than half of all pen- the Cretaceous period, about 66 million
of 23) dig and live in burrows during guin species make and live in burrows, years ago, mammals really took off. This
times of environmental stress, such as which they use for—you guessed it— success led to our own primate lineage,

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Jasmine Vink
Fossilized lungfish burrows from the Devonian period (about 420 to 360 million years ago) the importance of vertebrate burrows
show that the animals would wriggle into wet mud and cover themselves in a mucus cocoon for maintaining life’s balance in many
to hibernate during winters or droughts (left). Modern amphibians similarly use their digging ecosystems today.
skills to survive arid conditions, as does this desert spadefoot toad (Notaden nichollsi), which But enough about vertebrates:
has jumped up from its burrow in an Australian sand dune to catch an insect (right). What about the real overlords of the
Earth, such as worms and insects?
some members of which learned how to rowing abilities to future generations, How about other spineless animals
control fire, track game animals, identify which is all that matters in evolution- that have adapted to nearly every ter-
useful plants, map the heavens, and, ary terms. Moreover, all of these animals restrial and marine environment? Do
finally, flirt with emoticons. descended from water dwellers that modern invertebrates live in burrows,
Burrows do not just start with syn- flopped, slithered, crawled, or otherwise and did their ancestors also live in bur-
apsids and mammals, though, but also landed on foreign shores. How did these rows? Of course they do and did, as
go much farther back in time as a tool aquatic animals manage to overcome the can be attested by anyone who has
for survival. For instance, during the desiccating effects of land environments owned a yard, strolled through a park,
Devonian and Carboniferous periods after emerging from the water? Burrows walked along seashores, or sat on an
(420 to 300 million years ago), lungfish- certainly would have helped. ant nest. Many of these burrows left a
es and amphibians were also digging Much later, vertebrate burrows of remarkable record of the evolutionary
down and living in burrows. Skeletons all sizes and shapes also provided mi- history of animals going back more
of these animals have even been found crohabitats for plenty of other species, than 550 million years, as they made
in their fossil burrows, connecting this which today is best exemplified by go- transitions from surface living to deep
behavior with modern-day burrowing pher tortoises and their homes. These burrowing, and as they moved from
deep-sea environments to shallower
sea bottoms, and from the sea to fresh-
The long history of these burrowing water ponds and streams, and from
water to land. The bigger picture be-
invertebrates completely altered global hind these everyday observations of
many holes in the ground, however, is
environments and even affected climate. that the long history of these burrow-
ing invertebrates completely altered
global environments, from the deepest
lungfishes, as well as with salamanders, seemingly unimpressive tortoises, sea to the highest mountains, and even
frogs, toads, and other amphibians that which do not get much bigger around affected the atmosphere and climate.
do the same. Burrowing behaviors en- than a typical dinner plate, are incred- In short, the entire surface of our plan-
able these water-dependent animals ible diggers, hollowing out tunnels that et is built upon one big complex and
to live in deserts or avoid the worst ef- can be more than 10 meters long and 3 constantly evolving burrow system,
fects of droughts. Once self-buried, meters deep to keep themselves out of controlling the nature of our existence.
some lungfishes, frogs, and toads can harm’s way. Their lengthy tunnels can
stay underground and become torpid also have nearly 400 species cohabitat-
for months or years, popping out once ing in them, from insects to snakes, with For relevant Web links, consult this
water becomes more plentiful. Granted, at least a few of these species having issue of American Scientist Online:
lungfishes and amphibians fossilized in evolved their own specialized niches
their burrows did not survive whatever over many generations of burrows. The www.amsci.org/magazine/issues/2017/
september-october
fate entombed them. Yet enough of their underground “rain forests” of biodiver-
relatives did and then bequeathed bur- sity in gopher tortoise burrows hint at

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S c i e n t i s t s’
E`^_kjkXe[

regation to climate modeling. You’ve


written previous books on mathe-
The Scientists’ Nightstand, Adventures in matics and infrastructure. With Fool-
American Scientist’s books
section, offers reviews, review a Less Fretful proof, you return to math. What drew
you back?
essays, brief excerpts, and more.
For additional books coverage,
Cosmos: A I’m lucky to have wandered into a
please see our Science Culture Conversation with way of life that allows me to roam
blog channel, which explores through all the sciences. I find fas-
how science intersects with other Brian Hayes cinating stories in every corner. But
mathematics does seem special. As
areas of knowledge, entertain-
Dianne Timblin “handmaiden of the sciences,” it’s a
ment, and society: tool for making sense of the world
americanscientist.org/blogs Brian Hayes and mathematics go way we live in, but math also opens up a
/science-culture.
__________ back. As he notes in Foolproof, and world of its own, where the objects
Other Mathematical Meditations, of study have no necessary connec-
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE forthcoming in September, his first job tion with the physical universe. The
out of high school involved hand-drawing number 19 will always be a prime, no
HERETICS! The Wondrous (and the scales on electrical instruments, such matter who is in the White House; 25
Dangerous) Beginnings of as ammeters and voltmeters. He marked will be a square even when the Sun
Modern Philosophy. By Steven certain points according to technicians’ expires. Bertrand Russell called this
Nadler and Ben Nadler. calibrations; then he used interpolation mathematical realm “a less fretful cos-
page 314 to fill in intermediate points. (Yes, Hayes mos,” and I like to spend a little time
confesses, “I was a teenage angle trisec- there every day if I can.
THE SUN. By Leon Golub and
tor.”) He joked with his supervisor about
Jay M. Pasachoff.
trisection, declaring, “We should get ex- The essays collected in Foolproof
page 316 tra pay . . . for solving one of the famous began as Computing Science columns
unsolvable problems of antiquity.” His su- in this magazine. How did you pick
pervisor, an amiable skeptic, doubted that your favorites, and what changed
accurate trisection was impossible—so in when you transformed them into a
his spare time, Hayes outlined a proof. collection?
Although management remained uncon-
Steven Nadler and Ben Nadler, 2017. Courtesy of Princeton University Press.

vinced, Hayes, undeterred, has been ex- An opportunity to revise is a great


ploring mathematics ever since. luxury. There’s always something that
Hayes and American Scientist go needs correcting or improving. And it’s
way back too. During the early 1990s he not just a matter of my own second
was the magazine’s editor, and for more thoughts. Many of the most important
than two decades he authored American changes and additions start with letters
on optics... Scientist’s Computing Science column, from readers. (American Scientist  read-
building a cult following with his pen- ers are the world’s best in this respect.)
etrating, playful, finely wrought essays. Some of the pieces needed serious
He continues as the magazine’s senior updating. For example, a column from
contributing writer while also working 1998 discusses self-avoiding walks:
on a host of other projects. I was eager to Think of tracing a route through a
talk with him about Foolproof; an excerpt grid of city streets, with the rule that
from our conversation follows. you never retrace your steps or cross
René Descartes opines on the
properties of light. From Heretics!
your own path. The small community
One thing I enjoy about your writing of people working in that field have
is its scope: Your next topic could be made a lot of progress in the past 20
anything from neuroscience to  seg- years, so this was a chance for me to

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learn new algorithms, rewrite a major


section of the text, and create some
new illustrations.
As for choosing which columns to
include, I approached it like a greatest-
hits album: You pick the best ones. (I
also have a list of greatest flops, but I’m
not going to publish those.) I would
add that some magazine writing has
a limited shelf life. In 2009 I wrote a
column whining about the difficulty
of displaying mathematical notation

From Foolproof, by Brian Hayes, 2017, MIT Press. Images courtesy of the author.
on the web. That problem was soon
solved by a program called MathJax,
so the column is of no ongoing interest.

In your essay “Young Gauss Sums In a chapter called “Crinkly Curves,” Brian
It Up,” you examined more than 100 Hayes discusses space-filling curves, path-
versions of a famous anecdote about ways so twisty and tortuous that they eventu-
ally touch every point in an area of the plane.
how, as a schoolboy, Carl Friedrich
In 1890, Giuseppe Peano proposed the first
Gauss solved a cumbersome math- space-filling curve (above), dividing a square
ematical problem. How did reader into nine smaller squares, each containing the
feedback change your approach in same pattern of perpendicularly connected
the updated version of the essay? line segments. Wacław Sierpiński developed
a curve in 1912 (above, right) that fills a square
That story was very much a collabora- by repeating a pattern fitted to triangular
tive effort, and for me it’s been a grand subdivisions. Bill Gosper introduced the
adventure.  flowsnake pattern at right in the 1970s; it
When I started work on it for the breaks out of the box, so to speak, by filling
a roughly hexagonal space. From Foolproof.
American Scientist column, sometime in
2005, I prowled library stacks looking
for versions of the anecdote. Accord-
ing to my notes, I visited 18 libraries in ry, you can find anecdotes about Gauss In your book’s title essay, you discuss
cities all up and down the East Coast, in books you never knew existed. how mathematicians grapple with
plus one more in Natchitoches, Louisi- The discovery of all this new ma- proofs so complex that they may take
ana. Friends further afield—especially terial has changed my understand- many years to confirm. You men-
in Germany—tracked down a few ing of how the story has been passed tion that the traditional approach to
more items for me. (Incidentally, I have down to us. There’s a sinister aspect I proof now coexists with experimental
always welcomed any excuse to go to never would have guessed. The first mathematics. What is the difference?
the library; it allows me to feel I’m be- telling of the story—and the ultimate
ing diligent and productive without source of all the others—was a rather Yes, mathematics has had some fa-
actually having to write anything.) obscure memorial volume written by mous problems that stood unsolved
After the column was published, I a colleague of Gauss’s shortly after his for centuries: Fermat’s last theorem
received a deluge of new leads, both death in 1855. In my first survey of the (about the equation xn + yn = zn), the
from old friends and from readers I literature I found only a few other ac- Kepler conjecture (about stacking
had never met. Most of that new ma- counts until well into the 20th century, spheres), and the four-color theorem
terial was found on the internet. Some but now I have several more links in (about coloring countries on a map).
of those volunteers proved to be very the chain of transmission. And once someone comes up with
creative in searching Google Books The sinister part is that some of a proof, checking its correctness of-
and other online archives. By the time them appear in works that have an ten turns out to be another daunting
I began revising the manuscript for anti-Semitic slant. For example, one task that can take years to settle. Right
publication in book form, I had about telling features in an 1894 collection of now several dozen mathematicians
50 new examples. Furthermore, sev- essays on “the German Jewish ques- are struggling mightily to digest a
eral of those tellings of the story were tion and the reform of German uni- huge purported proof of something
crucial early publications. versities.” As far as I can tell, Gauss called the abc conjecture, which con-
Having digitized text available on- himself never expressed anti-Semitic nects the additive properties of num-
line has made a huge difference in this sentiments, and he was on friendly bers (a + b = c) with the multiplicative
kind of scholarship. It’s not just a matter terms with Jewish colleagues. He got properties (the prime factors of a, b,
of convenience—of not having to travel mixed up in this ugly business long and c). They’ve been going at it for
to New York or Boston or Natchitoches after his death, when racist propagan- five years and the end is not in sight.
to find a volume on the shelves. What’s dists offered him up as a “pure” Ger- Is this a crisis? Is the whole enter-
more important is that the text is search- man genius. It’s a strange detour for prise of mathematics going to bog
able. If you can formulate the right que- a story we now tell to schoolchildren. down or stall out because proofs are

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wrong. It was a cautionary whether it’s a spruce needle, a light-


and humbling experience. ning bolt, a hedgehog, or the trajectory
That computer simula- of a breeze. Only in the late 16th cen-
tion could be considered a tury did the term begin to represent
bit of experimental math- a specific discipline; even then, con-
Photo by Brunswyk, Wikimedia Commons

ematics, although the term nections remained between scientific


covers more territory than investigation and philosophic inquiry.
that, including methods So before science was called science
that long predate the arrival (a term that didn’t take on its con-
of the computer. Gauss was temporary meaning until the 1800s),
a master of the art; some it was called natural philosophy, and
of his deep insights arose the 17th century was its adolescence.
from just playing with These were the formative years of the
numbers. Personally, I find Scientific Revolution, a movement
experimental approaches that, in its turn, strongly influenced
suit my habits of thought the Enlightenment. European scholars
Prodigious mathematician Carl Gauss completed a proof and help cover up some of began to lay out foundational theories
at age 19 showing how a 17-sided polygon could be drawn
my deficiencies. But no one as part of a wider effort to grasp the
accurately with a compass and straight edge—the first break-
through of its kind in 2,000 years. Gauss suggested that a
in mathematics believes basics of existence itself. In so doing,
heptadecagon would be appropriate for his gravestone, but a they will ever push proof they generated theories that still in-
memorial statue is instead decorated with a 17-point star. How off the pedestal. form our notions of what science is,
this came about is another murky historical question. Proof is a big part of what science isn’t, the role of science,
what distinguishes math- and how scientists ought to regard
growing so long and intricate that even ematics from other scientific pursuits. their work.
expert mathematicians can’t follow the In physics or biology you don’t prove A critical part of the process was
argument in full detail? My sense is that a hypothesis is true; you merely the exchange of ideas among schol-
that it’s a perpetual crisis. If you’re run experiments that fail to prove the ars: As they read one another’s books
way out on the frontiers of knowl- hypothesis is false. In mathematics and shared manuscripts, scholars at-
edge, problems are hard and answers we can make positive assertions of tached themselves to the ideas they
are complicated. It will always be that truth. In an era of “alternative facts,” agreed with, argued against and re-
way. We might as well get used to it. it’s comforting to have at least a little jected those they disagreed with, and
Anyway, it’s not the proofs of deep, corner of the universe that offers that added their own ideas to the mix. The
breakthrough theorems that concern kind of certainty. progression was heady, contentious,
me; they get plenty of scrutiny. and far from linear.
In everyday life people don’t often In Heretics!, philosophy professor
frame their thoughts in terms of stat- Steven Nadler and his son, illustrator
ing and proving theorems, but we all Of Atoms and Anvils Ben Nadler, remind readers of the vi-
use mathematical tools to answer ques- tal connection between these 17th-cen-
HERETICS! The Wondrous (and Danger-
tions and solve problems. When you’re tury thinkers and how we continue to
ous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy.
working on the Sudoku puzzle in the view science and its intersections with
Steven Nadler and Ben Nadler. 184 pp.
daily newspaper, you might persuade other fields. Their entertaining and
Princeton University Press, 2017. $22.95.
yourself that a certain cell can only cor- thoughtful account of the European
rectly contain the number 3. If your philosophical scene circa 1600–1703

W
reasoning is sound, then you have just hat do the contentious trea- presents a parade of philosophers—
proved a theorem! The trouble is, get- tises penned by a passel of from Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon,
ting proofs correct can be a very ticklish 17th-century European phi- and René Descartes to Blaise Pascal,
business. I, for one, have an embarrass- losophers have to do with how science Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton—as
ing record of clumsy mistakes. is practiced in the 21st century? Much they exchange ideas, navigate allianc-
What inspired me to write that es- more than you might think. es, and engage in scholarly feuds.
say was a little problem in probabil- At a glance, the disciplines of phi- The Nadlers tell this story in
ity theory. For two years in a row the losophy and science may not seem to graphic-novel style, and it’s a winsome
baseball World Series was won in a impinge much on one another: Today, approach. The book aims to present
clean sweep—four games to none. their most significant intersection is and contextualize a century’s worth of
“What are the odds of that?” I won- ethics. But in the West, science and phi- thought experiments about the prop-
dered. So I tried to work it out and got losophy were originally conjoined. The erties and interactions of the cosmos,
a certain answer. Then I tried another term philosophy sprang up around 1300 God, the human mind, the human
method and came up with a differ- CE to refer to bodies of knowledge; for body, and natural phenomena. No
ent number. And then a third answer. a time, the boundaries between disci- small task. By associating these ideas
Finally, I wrote a small computer pro- plines remained indistinct. Eventually, with distinct personalities and plac-
gram to simulate the contest, and with the phrase natural philosophy emerged ing those personalities in conversation,
the computer results in hand I eventu- to represent study of the material the author and illustrator make their
ally figured out which of my analyses realm—that is, any item, phenomenon, topic highly engaging while retaining
was correct and where the others went creature, or effect that is observable, sufficient complexity. They also take

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advantage of the opportunity to de-


pict the world as each thinker envi- With the mechanical philosophy,
Descartes would explain everything in Even our own
sions it philosophically. For example, the terrestrial and celestial realms in bodies are just
the bearded deity shown carefully set- terms familiar from everyday experience. like machines.
ting objects in motion to explain one All you need are
scholar’s theories is banished from the matter and motion,
scene when another theorist discusses little particles
his own, contradictory ideas. moving other
little particles.
Taking full advantage of the format,
the Nadlers use characterization, cre-
ative visuals, and humor to help con- Hey, that
vey the narrative. In an early scene, device hasn’t
been
Descartes demonstrates one of his invented
yet!
theories about matter and motion us- Lighten up,
ing a Newton’s cradle toy (see panels Newton.
on this page). The familiar device drives From Heretics!, S. Nadler & B. Nadler, 2017. Courtesy of Princeton University Press.
Descartes’s point home instantly. But In presenting René Descartes’s mechanical philosophy, author Steven Nadler and illustrator
the Nadlers aren’t done with it yet. Ben Nadler use nested anachronisms to great effect, depicting Isaac Newton (who was not yet
Anachronistically, Newton, who fig- on the philosophical scene) bickering with Descartes over using a 20th-century toy to demon-
ures prominently later in the book, strate his 17th-century theory. From Heretics!
pops into the bottom of an adjacent
frame to quibble that the toy itself is The narrator goes on: “Just as Epicu- Wilhelm Leibniz’s theory that Earth is
anachronistic. Descartes, irritated, sug- rean minima are surrounded by a void, only “one of many possible worlds”—
gests that Newton “lighten up.” so Gassendi’s atoms move through immediately brings to mind the mod-
In these two panels, the Nadlers get empty space.” Gassendi (presumably ern concept of the multiverse. Al-
across an early theory of matter, make it having evaded the anvil) steps into though Heretics! doesn’t mention the
memorable with an injection of humor, frame to add, “This allows atoms to multiverse, the image prompted me
and depict an aspect of the scholars’ move away from and toward each to consider how the two theories offer
personalities. The book’s epilogue con- other, bouncing off other atoms but an intriguing indication of how schol-
veys that philosophers came to regard also getting tangled up with them ars contend with the theoretical limits
Descartes as a “dreamer” and Newton, and forming larger structures.” The of their times. The nature of their re-
a “sage.” It’s a useful summation, but moment comes across as a real break- sponse changes from era to era, yet in
Steven Nadler’s canny characteriza- through: The theory’s lineage is clear, any epoch thinkers must eventually
tions in this early scene had already yet it’s also apparent that Gassendi drop a conjectural marker at the edge
tipped readers off; he revisits these of the known territory and gesture at
scholars’ distinct patterns of thought what may lie beyond—Leibniz points
as the narrative unfolds, which proves In any epoch, thinkers to God, whereas contemporary physi-
helpful in assessing the men’s theories.
The liveliness of the narrative also
must eventually drop a cists indicate the horizons of quantum
cosmology. And from there, the work
helps convey the swirl of ideas schol- conjectural marker at of advancing into these murky zones
ars of the 17th century had to navigate continues.
and how theories tended to advance the edge of the known If you’re already familiar with 17th-
in a modular fashion. In the context of territory and gesture century philosophy, Heretics! is a de-
this ideological swap meet, advances lightful refresher; if you’re not, it’s
that are especially original and fruit- at what lies beyond. a fine introduction. In either event,
ful stand out. For example, thinkers if you’re up for a contemporary fol-
such as Robert Boyle began asserting makes an impressive leap. Readers low-up and a good hard think, phi-
that objects are made up of countless can then more fully appreciate why losopher Nick Bostrom’s 2014 work,
minuscule entities, or corpuscles; these his theories went on to influence John Superintelligence—which holds a
tiny building blocks were generally be- Locke, who considered Boyle’s cor- prominent place on the shelves of Elon
lieved to be motionless. In forming his puscularian theory and Gassendi’s Musk and Bill Gates—may do nicely.
own ideas, however, Pierre Gassendi atomism as he formed his own ideas It considers a future when humans
reached back to Epicurus and drew about objects’ primary qualities (that is, may find themselves coexisting with
on his concept of atomism; atoms, as their defining characteristics, which he superintelligent artificial entities who
Epicurus imagined them, were similar considered distinct from the qualities could develop sentience. As Bostrom
to Boyle’s corpuscles, but Gassendi our senses can perceive). examines the very nature of being, you
did not believe they were simply inert The book’s highly visual approach may notice some striking philosophical
matter. “They have weight,” Steven may also spur readers to connect connections between the historical past
Nadler has Gassendi explain (as he 17th-century ideas to contemporary and the speculative future, drawing to-
stands under a falling anvil) and “an thought in fresh ways. For example, gether eras of reason and robots.
innate, natural, native propensity to Ben Nadler’s depiction of row upon
motion that cannot be lost, a kind of row of Earths—which he uses to con- Dianne Timblin is book review editor for Ameri-
propulsion or impetus from within.” vey German philosopher Gottfried can Scientist.

www.americanscientist.org 2017 September–October 315

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book excerpt

*OUIF4IBEPXPG

© 2008 Miloslav Druckmüller, Peter Aniol, Martin Dietzel, Vojtech Rus̆in


UIF.PPO
Leon Golub and Jay M. Pasachoff

The appearance of a total solar eclipse is so


distinctive, its effect so dramatic, that his-
tory records several instances when eclipses
shaped human events. A 6th-century eclipse
persuaded factions battling south of the
Black Sea to declare a truce. In 1806, Shaw-
nee warrior Tecumseh used his foreknowl-
edge of an eclipse to score a diplomatic coup.
Today, solar eclipses are unlikely to affect
diplomacy, but experiencing one is no less
spectacular. In this passage adapted from
their new book, The Sun, Smithsonian as-
trophysicist Leon Golub and Williams Col-
lege astronomer Jay M. Pasachoff describe A variety of solar eclipse images captured during totality were combined to reveal the delicate
features of the Sun’s corona.
what it’s like to witness a solar eclipse and
explain how researchers came to understand brightness would be at night, and it is partial-eclipse glasses and look at the
the origin of the corona that appears dur- still light outside. The tiny crescent of celestial phenomenon directly.
ing the fleeting minutes of totality. (Those the Sun is small but still at full bright- What exactly is the halo, or corona,
interested in learning how art influenced re- ness, so it is still unsafe to stare at the that may be seen around the lunar sil-
search into the solar corona's visual trickery residual solar disc directly; you need the houette during a total solar eclipse? Is it
can check out “The Art and Science of Solar increasingly available “eclipse glasses” the atmosphere of the Moon? Even in the
Eclipses,” by Richard Woo, in the July– to see the crescent. (These would be bet- 21st century, some people (not astrono-
August 2016 issue of American Scientist.) ter described as “partial-eclipse glasses,” mers!) mistakenly believe so. The eclipses
as they need to be removed for you to of 1715 and 1724 were observed from

W
hen we stand in the location see totality once the bright photosphere widely separated locations in Europe,
of a total solar eclipse, we are is completely covered. Occasionally, and the appearance of the corona was the
in an ordinary-looking place people aren’t given correct instructions same at both locations. Had the corona
and may have traveled halfway around and leave them on during totality—so been located on the Moon, only 400,000
the world. But we know—and trust— they see nothing of totality because the kilometers away from us on Earth, in-
the scientists who have predicted that, solar corona is much too faint to be seen stead of on the Sun, 150,000,000 kilome-
at the anointed time, we will be in the through these solar filters.) ters away (about 400 times farther), the
shadow of the Moon. Though the Moon Then, things begin to change more corona would have appeared shifted
begins partly to cover the Sun an hour quickly. The Moon almost entirely cov- over as viewed from one side compared
or more before totality, one wouldn’t ers the Sun, with only a few beads of to the other, an effect known as parallax.
notice for a long time that anything is sunlight visible as the last bits of the ev- (See the parallax effect by looking at a dis-
happening. People around you may be eryday Sun are visible in the lunar val- tant object behind your thumb at the end
going about their business, completely leys aligned your way at the edge of the of your outstretched arm, though this
unaware of the treat that lies ahead. Moon. These “beads” are named after time first from one eye and then from the
But about 15 minutes or so before total- the English astronomer Francis Baily, other.) Also, the Moon was seen to move
ity, the light takes on an eerie quality, who saw and wrote about them at the across the corona, rather than having the
something you can’t put your finger on. 1836 eclipse. The beads had actually corona move with the Moon. So the co-
Only with hindsight might you realize been seen and commented upon ear- rona was apparently associated with the
that shadows have changed in some lier by Harvard’s Francis Williams at the Sun itself rather than being part of the
way: They are no longer being project- 1780 eclipse seen from what we now call Moon. This point remained controversial
ed by the full disc of the Sun, a half- Maine, though it was then part of Massa- for decades. The photographic proof at
degree across, but by a narrow crescent, chusetts and behind enemy (that is, Brit- the 1860 eclipse that bright solar promi-
so the shadows look sharper. ish) lines for the American astronomers. nences at the edge of the lunar silhouette
For the last few minutes before total- The last bead of sunlight—and there did not show parallax helped convince
ity, the sky grows noticeably darker. But is usually only one—is so beautiful and scientists that the corona was solar.
the Sun is about a million times brighter relatively bright compared to the dark-
than the full Moon, so even when only ening sky that it has been known, since From The Sun, by Leon Golub and Jay M. Pa-
1 percent—one one-hundredth—of the the 1925 solar eclipse in New York City, sachoff, © 2017. Published by Reaktion Books in
everyday Sun is left, the residual is still as the diamond-ring effect. Only at association with the Science Museum of London.
10,000 or so times what the full Moon’s this time can you safely take off your Used with permission of the publisher.

316 American Scientist, Volume 105

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Sept.–Oct. 2017
Volume 26
Number 5

Sigma Xi Today A NEWSLETTER OF SIGMA XI, THE SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH HONOR SOCIETY

Stay in Touch with From the President


the Society
We’ll Always Have Paris
To get the most from your member-
ship, Sigma Xi needs your up-to-date I welcome my new role as Sigma Xi’s president as of July 1.
contact information. Updating your I have been most fortunate to have been mentored by Past
profile information is easy when you President Tee Guidotti and former interim Executive Direc-
follow these steps. tor and CEO John Nemeth for the past year. Tee and John
1. Go to www.sigmaxi.org, and click led a turnaround for our Society that was just in time for
“Login” in the top-right corner. If us to prepare to meet the challenges that face researchers
you haven’t created a password, today. Tee attended to the details of strengthening our gov-
click “Forgot Your Password?” ernance and financial infrastructure, and John led the way
on the next screen. Then enter the to bring Sigma Xi to the forefront of our peer professional
email address that Sigma Xi cur- societies. To maintain this momentum, we must grow our President Stuart L.
rently has on file for you, and fol- membership and increase our member retention through Cooper
low the steps to create a password. the actions of our local chapters and headquarters leader-
2. Once logged in, click on your ship. John came out of retirement to serve as our interim executive director and we
name in the top-right corner. are a stronger organization because of his efforts. We welcomed our new executive
Select “My Sigma Xi” from the director, Jamie Vernon, on July 1 and have the highest expectations for what he will
drop-down menu. accomplish for the Society.
Most researchers are disappointed to see the United States withdraw from the
3. On the My Sigma Xi page, under Paris climate accord. I write “most researchers” because Sigma Xi has a diversity
the Self-Service section, select of opinions in its membership, and we certainly expect the Society to remain an
“Update Profile Information.” apolitical organization. As your president, however, I personally regret the deci-
4. Update your email address, sion to withdraw but look with some optimism at the large number of governors
phone number, chapter affilia- and mayors holding fast to the spirit of the plan as they move to implement
tion, and more. The Society pre- energy-saving technologies that reduce our carbon footprint. Indeed, well before
fers a nonwork and nonschool the Paris accord action I organized the Symposium on Atmospheric Chemistry,
email address. Scroll to the bot- Climate, and Health that Sigma Xi will host on November 10 along with our Stu-
tom of the page and click the dent Research Conference on November 11 in Raleigh, North Carolina. I picked
Submit button. the topic because as a chemical engineer and a researcher I could see the relevance
5. Return to the My Sigma Xi page, of this theme to a broad swath of our membership and to society at large. Please
and select “Manage Addresses” register for the events as space is limited. The following world-class researchers are
to edit your mailing address. scheduled to speak.
A current mailing address David Archer, The University of Chicago
ensures you receive American Humanity and Global Warming: Views from the Carbon Cycle
Scientist. A print subscription is Barbara Finlayson-Pitts, University of California, Irvine
included in active membership. The Past is Prologue: Lessons Learned for Science-Based Policies to
Active members also receive an Address Air Quality and Climate
e-newsletter every other week and C. Arden Pope III, Brigham Young University
have access to Sigma Xi’s online Air Pollution and Health: Scientific and Public Policy Controversies
member community, The Lab:
Members to Members. A. R. Ravishankara, Colorado State University
The Ozone Hole: From Discovery to Recovery
Find Your Chapter Jeffrey Shaman, Columbia University
Visit Sigma Xi’s website to find a Simulation and Forecast of Infectious Disease: Environmental
chapter near you. Select “Locate Determinants and Transmission Dynamics
a Chapter” from the drop-down
menu under “Chapters.” Stuart L. Cooper

www.americanscientist.org 2017 September–October 317

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CHAPTERS AND PUBLICATIONS

Chapter Grant Award Recipients Announced


Sigma Xi is committed to diversify- fications and Membership has an- “Enhancement of Motivation of Mi-
ing its membership, its programs, nounced the following recipients of nority Students for Research Doc-
and the broader scientific and en- this year’s chapter grants: toral Program.”
gineering research community. The r 5IF 6OJWFSTJUZ PG /PSUI
Society welcomes participation by Diversity Grants Carolina-Chapel Hill Chapter
individuals from groups that are Diversity Grants provide up to was awarded $1,000 for its proposal
historically underrepresented in sci- $1,000 in seed money for chapters to “Second Annual Diversity in STEM
ence, technology, engineering, and use to initiate innovative diversity Conference.”
mathematics (STEM). programs that promote inclusion of
To help achieve this mission, individuals from underrepresented Science, Math, and Engineering
Sigma Xi offers chapter grants and groups. Diversity may reflect gen- Education (SMEE) Grant
teacher stipends. The Society en- der, race, ethnicity, disability (men- The SMEE Grant provides up to
courages award applicants to col- tal or physical), and/or socioeco- $2,000 for chapters to fund innova-
laborate with other chapters or to nomic status. The Society awards tive education programs.
identify matching support from oth- Diversity Grants to chapters that
er sources that can enhance the ef- organize outstanding programs to r 5IF 5FYBT ". 6OJWFSTJUZ
fectiveness of their proposed initia- promote diversity within the sci- Chapter was awarded $2,000 for
tives. Grants are normally awarded ence, engineering, and research its proposal “Learning by Seeing:
to new projects as a onetime source communities. A Visualization-Based Education
of support. for Manufacturing Science and En-
r 5IF 3VTI 6OJWFSTJUZ $IBQUFS
Sigma Xi’s Committee on Quali- gineering.”
was awarded $1,000 for its proposal

Partnership Will Help Students Publish Research Faster

the highly advanced throughput


capabilities brought to the table by J&J
Editorial’s expertise,” said Andrew
Joseph, CTNR editor. “This partnership
will ensure that students can become
published authors before applying to
college. Based on the great enthusiasm
of young researchers at both the
American Junior Academy of Science
and the Intel International Science and
Engineering Fair about the possibility of
publishing their work this year, CTNR’s
future looks bright indeed.” New Researcher,” said Michael Casp,
The journal has published high J&J Editorial’s director of business
school students’ research since 2014. development. “J&J is committed to
Sigma Xi and J&J Editorial are creating Students who are preparing for serving the research community with
a partnership that will benefit Chronicle research careers can learn firsthand best practices in scholarly publishing,
of The New Researcher (CTNR), the about the scientific peer-review and we relish the opportunity to
Society’s scientific journal for high publishing process by submitting a help guide young researchers as they
school students. To help simplify manuscript. Industry and academic communicate their scientific research
and accelerate the CTNR publishing professionals review the students’ findings to the world. We believe in the
process, J&J Editorial will take over manuscripts and provide feedback. mission of CTNR and value the chance
the day-to-day editorial management Submissions to the journal are free for to support its work."
responsibilities related to manuscript students and their schools thanks to
submission, professional review, and funding from DIRECTV. Find more
Sigma Xi Today is
publication. information at www.sigmaxi.org/ctnr. edited by Heather Thorstensen
"CTNR is excited about a collaboration “We are thrilled to be working and designed by Justin Storms.
with respect to the relaunch and with Sigma Xi on Chronicle of The

318 Sigma Xi Today

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EVENTS

Students Can Earn Nominations to the Research Honor Society


One by one, graduate, undergraduate, who provide feedback as judges. Later, In the key-
and high school students are called up professionals share their knowledge note address,
to be recognized before their peers and and expertise at the networking ses- Greg Fishel,
judges. These students—who inves- sion. Students also attend career- a Sigma Xi
tigate a variety of topics, from chem- preparatory sessions to advance their member and
istry to physics, from environmental science communication skills. chief meteo-
science to engineering—are selected Aaron Huertas, founder and prin- rologist for
as top presenters in their disciplines at cipal of Science Communication Me- WRAL-TV
the Student Research Conference. dia, will lead and WRAL-
All presenters at the conference earn a workshop FM, will dis-
nominations to associate membership titled “Orga- cuss “Climate
in Sigma Xi, the world’s largest mul- nizing an Ef- Greg Fishel Change, My
tidisciplinary research honor society. fective Visit Journey from
Winners’ nominations come with a with a Policy- Ideology to Science,” which will be a
monetary award, a medal, and a year maker,” which reminder to go through life thinking as
of waived membership dues to Sigma will cover best a scientist.
Xi. You can see the pride in their faces practices for “For many years, I did not address
as they reach this milestone in their interacting the issue of climate change as a scien-
young careers. When the students ac- with elected tist but rather as an ideologue,” Fishel
cept the nomination, they join a com- Aaron Huertas officials. Par- said. “I want to help ensure that others
munity of researchers elected for their ticipants will don’t make the same mistake I did.”
potential or achievement in research. learn to think about how their research The Student Research Conference
This year’s hopefuls will have their fits into a policymaker’s point of view. will be preceded by the Symposium on
chance at the 17th Annual Student Re- A panel discussion titled “Communi- Atmospheric Chemistry, Climate, and
search Conference on November 11 in cating Research in a Rapidly Shifting Health on November 10 in Raleigh.
Raleigh, North Carolina. The confer- Landscape” will describe best practices
ence is a gathering of students from for researchers who are interested in Register for the Student Research
across the world. Students meet and communicating their findings to policy- Conference at https://www.sigmaxi.org/
________________
present their work to professionals, makers and the public. fallsymposium-src.
___________

"MCFSUP-PQF[ DFOUFS GSPNUIF6OJWFSTJUZPG$BMJGPSOJB *SWJOF XBT 5ZSB .D,OJHIU  SJHIU  BO VOEFSHSBEVBUF TUVEFOU GSPN 46/:
UIF 6OEFSHSBEVBUF %JWJTJPO 8JOOFS JO UIF  "OOVBM 4UVEFOU Plattsburgh, presents her research on the hemoglobin beta gene to
Research Conference for physiology and immunology. a judge. (Images courtesy of Robb Cohen Photography and Video.)

www.americanscientist.org 2017 September–October 319

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SUPPORTING STUDENTS

Sigma Xi Offers Research Grants to Students


Sigma Xi invites undergraduate and graduate
students to apply to its Grants-in-Aid of Research
(GIAR) program by October 1, 2017. The application
is on Sigma Xi’s website at https://www.sigmaxi.org/
___________________
programs/grants-in-aid/apply.
______________________

Endowment Distributes First Grant


The new Claude C. Barnett Grants-in-Aid of Research
Endowment Fund distributed its first grant this spring.
Carolyn Shasha, a doctoral candidate at the University
of Washington, is using
the $800 grant to support
her research project on
magnetic particle imag-
ing (MPI), a new medical
imaging method that uses
magnetic nanoparticles. It
is currently being devel-
oped as a cheaper, faster
alternative to magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI).
“My goal is to develop
a method for creating
multicolor images with
MPI so that, for example,
blood, healthy tissue, and
Doctoral candidate Carolyn
cancer cells could appear
Shasha is the first student to on an image in different
receive a grant from the new colors,” said Shasha.
Claude C. Barnett Grants-in-Aid Her project involves
of Research Endowment Fund. using computer simula-
tions to identify the ex-
perimental conditions necessary for creating a multi-
color image. She is spending August testing the method implications,” said Peter J. Harries, chair of the GIAR
at a functioning prototype MPI system at the University committee. “This importance is the crux of the Society’s
Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. This is her first support for up-and-coming researchers who are pur-
grant and she is using it to support her travel costs to suing research in the myriad disciplines that enhance
and from Germany, and to meet and work with leaders our understanding of the topic. By adding this new
there and gain access to state-of-the-art equipment. category to the grants program, we aim to promote the
“I believe that nanotechnology will play an extremely continued development of this growing field.”
important role in the development of future medical The new climate science category is related to an
technologies,” Shasha said. “I enjoy the challenge of upcoming event Sigma Xi will host on November 10
trying to figure out exactly what’s going on with these in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Symposium on Atmo-
tiny particles, while at the same time contributing to a spheric Chemistry, Climate, and Health will feature five
broader field that will hopefully soon be translated into researchers who will discuss climate change and its
clinical applications.” effects on global and human health. Sigma Xi’s Student
Barnett was a Sigma Xi member for 60 years and Research Conference will follow on November 11. See
served as president of the Whitman College–Walla Walla pages 317 and 319 for details.
University Chapter in Washington state.
How to Support Student Research
Climate Science Research Grants Now Available GIAR will reach its centennial year in 2022, thanks in
GIAR will accept applications for climate science re- large part to individual donors. Sigma Xi’s goal is to
search grants for the first time this fall. “Sigma Xi rec- increase financial support for GIAR so it can help more
ognizes that climate change is a critical, interdisciplin- students. If you would like to support student research,
ary issue that has important scientific as well as societal go to https://ecommerce.sigmaxi.org/ecom/#Donate.

320 Sigma Xi Today

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