Mystery Metal

Intermetallics could be the key to faster jets, more efficient steam turbines, and better car engine valves. But these heat-resistant, lightweight compounds have stumped scientists for decades. Why do so many break so easily? Professor of Engineering Sharvan Kumar cracked the code with colleagues from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and UES Inc. The team used the world’s most powerful electron microscope to see, for the first time, atomic details that may provide the answer for the most common class of intermetallics. Their results—which could open the door for new materials for commercial use—were published in Science in February.

Skate Key

An experiment using the red blood cells of skates—the flat, boneless fish of the sea—has netted a critical finding about how human cells work. Leon Goldstein, a professor of medical science, and University of Chicago researcher Mark Musch discovered how cellular “gates” are activated to disgorge excess water. The pair believes that the molecular mechanisms that trigger this “release valve” are common to many cells and may provide clues for diabetes and cancer treatment. These findings were published in the April issue of the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory,Integrative and Comparative Physiology.

Mum’s the Word

Government bans and political pressure—think embryonic stem cell research and human cloning—constrain science. But scientists also censor themselves. In a February paper in Science, assistant instructor in dermatology Clifford Perlis and colleagues revealed results of forty-one interviews with geneticists, biologists, psychiatrists, and other researchers. The team found that fear—of controversy over hot topics such as race and intelligence as well as of protests from animal-rights groups—is an even more powerful force than politics in suppressing science. Scientists reported shying away from certain topics, experimenting with animals, or publishing controversial results.