Saturday, April 30, 2005

Fiddleheads

Every second the sun converts roughly 700 million tons of hydrogen into helium. As if by some cosmic magic, the helium weighs less than the original hydrogen. Five million tons less. Matter has been turned into pure energy. E=mc2. Every second the sun turns five million tons of its own substance into radiant energy.

In summer, about a millionth of an ounce of the sun's depleted mass falls each second onto my college campus. In winter less than half as much.

A fraction of a millionth of an ounce of mass is all it takes to ignite the cinnamon ferns by the brook. Like croziers they come up, like cudgels, like Irish shillelaghs, shaking their tight little fists at winter past. In a few days time, with a confident flare, they will unfurl broad sails of chlorophyll, drinking up the sun's red and blue light and leaving the green for the season.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Hope is the thing with feathers

The ivory-billed woodpecker lives! The last undisputed sighting in the United States was in the 1940s, and the bird was thought to be extinct.

The ivory-billed woodpecker has almost mythic status. It is a large bird with a wingspan of nearly 3 feet, shiny black plumage marked by distinctive white stripes, a magnificent scarlet crest (on the male), and the long ivory bill that gives the bird its name. It is sometimes called the Lord God Bird because when folks saw it they exclaimed: "Lord, God, what a bird!"

In Audubon's painting of a male and two females (above), the birds have something of the look of gaily-colored pterodactyls. Audubon frequently observed ivory-billed woodpeckers. Like them, he loved the solitude of wild forested places. Soon the woodpecker's isolated refuge will be aswarm with birders seeking to augment their life lists.

The early-20th-century ornithologist Frank Chapman described the call of the ivory-billed woodpecker as "the distant note of a penny trumpet." There are no more penny trumpets, but apparently there's at least one ivory-billed woodpecker toot, toot, tooting in Arkansas.

And why are we so thrilled? Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of all species that have ever lived on Earth are extinct. Extinction is a necessary engine of evolution, a corollary of the thrust toward biological complexity and diversity. Without extinction, we would not be here. But then, we are here, and something wonderful has changed. As conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote: "For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Globalization and the language of life

Communication makes civilization possible. Words. Winks. Nudges. Scowls. Emoticons. If we didn't have ways to communicate with one another societies could not exist.

Of course, that's a truism. And it applies also to flocking birds and swarming bees.

What is less obvious is that it applies to the tens of trillions of cells that make up our bodies. Our bodies are societies of cells in communication with one another. The words are molecules: proteins mostly. The syntax is geometrical: proteins and receptors fit together like key and lock.

Microbiologists have begun to compile a dictionary of the language of life. The number of "words" in a cellular society is not dramatically different than the number of words in my American Heritage College Dictionary (there are about 30,000 genes in the human genome and 200,000 definitions in the dictionary).

Organelles, cells, multicelled organisms: All benefit from cooperation and specialization.

It's time to start thinking about the health of the ultimate collectivity: the society of all humans on Earth. The technology exists for global communication among individuals, what NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman calls "a flat Earth." Now if we can just stop thinking of races and ethnicities other than our own as "inferior" and of religions other than our own as (in the words of the new pope) "gravely deficient."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ninety years without slumbering

On a visit to my then 88-year-old mother in Chattanooga a few years ago, she entertained me with a song she had learned more than 80 years previously, "My Grandfather's Clock":

"My Grandfather's clock was too tall for its shelf, so it stood 90 years on the floor..."

The words came tumbling out, the entire song, without missing a beat. How? How can the words and tune of a childhood ditty still be in there, woven into a tapestry of neurons, able to be instantly extracted and sung, without erasing -- like Googling the internet?

There may be as many as 100 billion nerve cells in the human brain, and each one is connected to thousands of others. Memories are stored as electrical and chemical changes at the synapses where cell communicates with cell. A lifetime of experiences scribbled into flesh, and when I visit my mom again in a few weeks time the song will likely be as fresh as ever.

This is the self: a vast web of synaptic connections, unconsciously assembled over a lifetime, utterly unique, almost miraculously complex, infinitely precious.

"Ninety years without slumbering, tick tock tick tock. His life seconds numbering, tick tock tick tock . . ."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The ring of truth

Philip Morrison is dead at age 89.

Morrison was far and away the best science communicator of the second half of the 20th century. I knew him best from his three decades as book reviewer for Scientific American. Each review was a beautifully crafted essay jam packed with useful information and brilliant ideas. Then there was his splendid TV series on science, The Ring of Truth. And books, including the wonderful Powers of Ten.

During the twenty years I wrote science essays for the Boston Globe, I had a number of appreciative letters from Morrison, and on one occasion he and his wife Phyllis invited my wife and me to dinner at their Cambridge home. I have never been in a home where the evidence of intelligence and creativity was more evident: books, toys, scientific gizmos, cultural artifacts -- a playpen for the curious adult mind.

Physically disabled by polio as a child, Morrison never let his handicap get in the way of a full-speed engagement with life. He taught us all that (in Faraday's words) "nothing is too wonderful to be true." He also taught us that everything wonderful need not be true. Thanks, Phil.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Sivana redux

Last evening I watched 20 minutes of a made-for-TV movie called "Locusts." I wanted to see what Hollywood was doing with Mad Scientists.

In the film, a researcher named Peter Axelrod has genetically engineered locusts that are 3 times bigger, reproduce 10 times faster, and fly 300 miles per hour. A few escape from the lab and...

I didn't watch long enough to find out what happened, but I can guess. After all, I grew up with Mad Scientist movies. Two that I particularly remember are "The Thing" (1951) and "The Fly" (1958).

The plantlike Thing crash-lands its flying saucer near an American research station at the North Pole, causing all kinds of mayhem. Captain Hendry organizes an assault. Chief scientist Dr. Carrington has other ideas. He is impressed by the Thing's pure vegetable intelligence. "No emotions, no heart, our superior in every way!" the doctor enthuses, revealing the Mad Scientist at his best.

In "The Fly," gentle Andre, loving husband and father, has devised a matter transporter in his basement laboratory. An object goes in Cabinet A and reappears in Cabinet B across the room. "There need never be a famine," gushes Andre to his spouse. "Surpluses can be sent instantaneously at no cost anywhere. Humanity will never want or fear again." To test his device, he gets in Cabinet A, unaware that he shares the space with a fly...

The Mad Scientist of "Locusts" has neither the maniacal intensity of Carrington, or the bumbling well-meaningness of Andre. Rather, he seems something of a dumb prig.

The glory days of Mad Scientist movies was when science itself was generally esteemed by the public. Today, science is demonized on the right for stem cell research and global warming predictions, and on the left for genetically modified food and nuclear energy. Today, all scientists are Mad Scientists -- which may be why Axelrod seems so boringly ordinary.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Prayer or Rid-x

A current TV commercial has a woman saying: "We used to flush and pray. Now we use Rid-x." At least she was able to flush, which is more than can be said for Hannah Macdonald, the subject of this week's Musing.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Scott Kim, a homage

Some years ago I came across a book by Scott Kim, called Inversions, a collection of Kim's astonishing feats of typographical wizardry. It set me off on a spree of making inversions of my own. I stumbled on Kim's web site again recently and was reminded of how much fun I had.

Here's a rotational inversion (reads the same up or down) of my father's name (and mine), Chester. Not an easy name to invert, but I rather like the look of it. And a rough sketch of an inversion of my granddaughter's name, Victoria.

A rough sketch for niece Katherine, later used for granddaughter Katherine. I did a Christmas inversion for all the grandkids: Daniel, Charlotte, Michael, Rebecca. Rebecca was the hardest of all. And a simple little Noel inversion for a Christmas card.

And a mirror inversion for the Cushing-Martin Library of my college. Hold a mirror to the top of Martin and see Cushing. I also tried a "through the looking glass" inversion of Lewis Carroll, unsuccessfully. If you can do better, e-mail it to me and I'll post it.

Friday, April 22, 2005

A world out of balance

You're right, Judy. Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains is one of those books that is both exhilarating and depressing. Exhilarating to realize that there are people such as Dr. Paul Farmer who so selflessly put their heart and science to the service of the poorest of the poor; depressing to think how self-centered is my own life by comparison.

Last Sunday's NYTimes had a long story about the doctors and health workers from the World Health Organization, The United States Centers for Disease Control, and Doctor's Without Borders risking their lives daily to contain an outbreak of the deadly Marburg virus in Angola. We owe them more than many people realize.

For stories of astonishing bravery by these medical heroes, read Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. The book is now a decade old, but the struggle on the ground is the same.

Read about Dr. Joe McCormick, for example, formerly of the CDC, who stayed on the job in N'zara, Sudan, trying to identify and stifle a viral outbreak even though he thought he had been infected by a deadly virus with an incubation time of five to seven days. "I just didn't see the point of going to some hospital and getting everybody in a stew, sitting and waiting to get sick, and thinking all the while about the work I should have been doing in N'zara," he told Garrett.

McCormick's story could be multiplied a thousandfold. The doctors, nurses and scientists who fight on the front lines of disease control know that microbes respect no political boundaries, and that, in an age of mass air travel, a pathogen can jump from the Sudan or Angola to Boston in a matter of hours.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Joyful noise

Temperature in the 80s today, and on the walk home from college the spring peepers in full fortissimo chorus.

The peeper is only an inch long, but it's all voice-box from stem to stern. Most frogs call by inflating air sacs under their chins; peepers inflate their whole bodies. The air is not expelled with each peep. The peeper uses its body like a bagpiper's bag; keeps it pumped up for the duration of its amatory calls.

It's the male frog making all the noise. That old spring business all over again, finding a mate. But why the tumultuous decibels? Is the female peeper deaf? Has evolution cranked up the volume of this chorus by finding some connection between the loudness of the love song and reproductive fitness?

Or is it something else, something you won't find in the biology books -- pure excess vitality. Just listen to that racket rising from the water meadow. That's what the spring peepers' hallelujah chorus is all about: the sheer, unstoppable ebullience of life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Onward Christian soldiers

When I was a student in a parochial junior high school, we sang a jaunty little hymn to stoke our triumphalism: "An army of youth flying standards of Truth, we're fighting for Christ the Lord. Heads lifted high, Catholic Action our cry, and the Cross our only sword! On Earth's battlefield, ne'r advantage we'll yield, as dauntlessly on we swing, comrades true, dare and do, 'neath the Queen's White and Blue, for our Flag, for our Faith, for Christ the King!"

Oh yes, we Catholics had the Truth, and anyone who wasn't with us was doomed to Hell.

Then I got a serious crush on a sweet Jewish girl. I had a hard time visualizing her burning for all eternity while I basked in the glow of the Beatific Vision.

What a relief it was to discover a way of knowing based on empirical verification. Science makes no reference to religion, race, politics or ethnicity. Its truths are tentatively held, with varying degrees of certainty. Absolutes are rejected. No one has a direct line to the mind of God. And all humans are equal under the sun.

Alas, religious triumphalism remains alive and well -- in Rome, the Middle East, and evangelical America. This morning's Boston Globe has a scary story about religious discrimination by evangelical Christians at the US Air Force Academy. In the new American theocracy so fervently desired by Christian Dominionists, the armies of youth will not only be armed with their Cross, but also with laser-guided missiles and B-1 bombers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Free as a bird?

Thanks for the good responses to this week's Musing on free will. When all is said and done, free will is a social construct, not a scientific hypothesis. Humans long ago discovered that living peaceably in groups required a notion of individual responsibility. Responsibility implies freedom. In contemporary society, it is the judicial system that ultimately decides to what extent our actions are "free." The defense "my genes made me do it" has been denied by the courts. Impaired mental competence stands. Both assertions of diminished responsibility are at root biochemical. Society negotiates responsibility. Science delves.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Dining in

What is the best understood creature on Earth?

I once checked Biological Abstracts, a journal that indexes biological research. There were five times more references to Escherichia coli, a bean-shaped bacterium, than to any other species. Its genes have been exhaustively mapped. Its proteins cataloged. This microscopic blob of life has no secrets.

There are enough E. coli living in my digestive tract to make a line that would stretch from Boston to San Francisco. As house guests go, they are not unwelcome. They produce useful vitamins. They devour other microorganisms that cause disease. But mostly they just go about their business, happily sharing my interior space, doing me very little good or harm. The technical term for our relationship is commensal: literally, "eating at the same table."

I suppose it makes some folks squeamish to think of those zillions of troglodytes living in the dark cave of our guts. Not me. I sing their praises: root of life, commensal friends.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Free will hunting

In a world were everything happens in accordance with unvarying natural law, how is it that we deem our thoughts and actions "free"? After all, it was entirely my undetermined choice that my Musing this week is about free will, rather than bluebirds or black holes. I think.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

A grandeur in this view of life -- Part 2

Anthony draws our attention to an example of nonbiological replication, mutation and competition leading to surprising novelty. Stanford University's John Kosa and colleagues have programmed a powerful computer to use the paradigm of natural selection (what he calls genetic programming) to digitally evolve useful electronic circuits, including many devices for which patents had been previously granted to human inventors (see Scientific American, February 2003). In January 2004, a patent was issued for an invention that is entirely the computer's own.

Friday, April 15, 2005

A grandeur in this view of life...

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 35% of Americans think evolution is "well-supported," this in spite of the fact that every important biologist on Earth considers common descent the bedrock principle of biology. Well, let's put the question this way: Are the following statements true or false?

1. Plants and animals replicate.

2. Genes mutate.

3. Plants and animals, as individuals, groups or alliances, compete for resources.

I can't imagine that anyone with even a cursory knowledge of biology would call these statements false.

If these statements are true, then evolution by natural selection is a logical necessity. Indeed, it would take the intervention of a supernatural being to keep it from happening.

Anything that replicates subject to inheritable modification and faces some sort of selection must evolve. This applies even to the most primitive self-replicating molecules, such as RNA or its precursors. Give me a self-replicating organism, no matter how simple, and enough time, and I'll give you a planet of astonishing biodiversity. But I won't take credit for it. It had to happen.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Heart and soul

As long as I'm extolling the work of friends, let me mention a little book that has just arrived on my desk, by Brian Doyle -- he of the fuzzy chin and twinkling eyes, whom I have never met F2F -- a little book called The Wet Engine: Exploring the Mad Wild Miracle of the Heart, a perfect little book, about Brian's son Liam who was born with a damaged heart, and the surgeon David McIrvin, who fixes the damaged hearts of little boys (and girls), a book I was asked by his publisher to blurb and -- having read the manuscript -- felt honored to comply.

Brian is simply one of the best essayists working in America today, and The Wet Engine -- well, it's more than an essay, but it has an essay's heartfelt grace. It is all about cardiology, and love, and faith, and parenthood, and childhood, and the dark throbbing chambers of the heart, and hummingbirds (whose hearts beat much, much faster than the hearts of little boys), and blue whales (whose four-chambered hearts are as big as rooms and weigh seven tons) and -- and just about anything else that's worth caring about. Thanks, Brian.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Pixels

Einstein famously said: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."

My sister Anne Raymo is an artist who lives on a mesa in New Mexico. We differ in many ways, but we share a sense of the mysterious. In her career Anne has explored various media, but in recent years she has become enthralled with computer graphics. She often takes her inspiration from science. I love the graphic vitality of her work, which has been recognized internationally. Here is a gallery of her cyber drawings.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Dearest freshness deep down things

Commenter Barry looks for the divine in the mysteries of the big bang and why there is something rather than nothing. He is correct that science has no answers to these questions, and he is not alone in looking for God in the gaps of science.

But gaps have a way of getting filled, even as new gaps appear. I'm more inclined to encounter the unnamable Mystery in the continuing miracle of the commonplace -- the sweet slurring song of the meadowlark, a spider web bejeweled with morning dew, the ceaseless dance of DNA in every cell of my body, a summer night canopied with stars.

GOD'S GRANDEUR 
Gerard Manley Hopkins


The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge & shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast & with ah! bright wings.

And speaking of poetry, here is an unshod poet, Charles Goodrich, who should be better known by all who attend with reverence to the natural world.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Words and actions

On everything from stem cell research to morning-after pills, scientists are getting the stick lately from those who profess to celebrate a "culture of life." Certainly, scientists are seldom selfless saints; like the rest of us, they are often motivated by prestige or money. And some scientific research may be ethically dubious. But if there's a "culture of life," it's not among the ugly mobs outside of abortion clinics or Terry Schiavo's hospice; it's in the research hospitals and labs where physicians and scientists are discovering new ways to prolong life and ameliorate suffering. If there is a "culture of life," it is not in a Congress shamelessly pandering to the religious right, but among the brave physicians of the Centers for Disease Control or Doctors Without Borders who put their lives on the line in places like Angola and Darfur. If you want to discover an authentic "culture of life," stop listening to President Bush's pious pontifications and read instead Tracy Kidder's inspiring biography of Dr. Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Science and magic

This week's Musing reflects on the enduring tension between empirical and magical thinking in the Roman Catholic Church. Will that tension be alleviated with the election of a new pope? Unlikely. From what I can tell, the current generation of young Catholics -- who will furnish the next generation of spiritual leaders -- are more comfortable with magical thinking than were their parents.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Convergent nidification

A tree outside my office:

Friday, April 08, 2005

Into the dark

In the graph posted yesterday, that grim wall of death at the beginning of life was just one of the many afflictions -- war, famine, disease -- that plagued even the most affluent people in former times.

To the tragedy of high infant mortality, the Church added the grim reminder that without baptism there was no hope for the child's entry into eternal life. The parents of stillborn children or infants who died soon after birth looked desperately for "children's life signs" -- a rosiness of cheek caused by candle light, an imagined twitch -- to give them a chance to baptize the child and save its soul from eternal darkness.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The wall

Here is a graph from Arthur Imhof's Lost Worlds: How Our European Ancestors Coped with Everyday Life and Why Life Is So Hard Today. It shows the number of deaths in the German parish of Dorotheenstadt during the years 1715-1875 as a function of the age of death.

What is striking about the graph is the wall of deaths at the very beginning of life -- one-third of all newborns died in the first year of life, one-half by age 8 --followed by a rather flat carpet of deaths stretching out to age 80 and beyond.

A similar graph for a developed country today would be almost exactly reversed: a relatively flat carpet of deaths from birth to age 75 or so, with a wall of deaths at the end of life.

There may be no more significant change in the way we live than this: the wall behind vs. the wall ahead. That transformation, of course, was due to scientific medicine and sanitation, in particular the introduction of smallpox vaccination at the beginning of the 19th century and the amelioration of gastrointestinal diseases throughout that century.

The lucky ones got over the wall at the beginning. No one gets over the wall at the end. Yet.

Sometime before the end of the present century, scientists may discover and eliminate the causes of senescence, the decay of old age. Then the graph will become a flat carpet of death by disease, violence and accident stretching from birth into the indefinite future.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Knowledge and power

A review (Nature March 10, 2005) of a new biography of Marie Curie points out that her personal papers, which have been accessible to researchers for more than a decade, are still slightly radioactive. A scientist of prodigious determination, Curie chemically isolated from tons of ore a tiny amount of a new element, radium, that glowed with a mysterious light that had its origin in the transformation of matter into radiant energy. This is the very transformation that makes the universe blaze with light and life, and which lit the sky above Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. Two times a Nobel laureate, she suffered terribly and died of radiation poisoning.

Adrienne Rich has a poem about Marie Curie, which ends with these lines:
She died   a famous woman   denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The flickering soul

Brain imaging technologies -- positron emission tomography, MRIs, and near infrared spectroscopy -- have reached a point of development that bioethicists are discussing the moral implications of being able to read someone's mind (see Science, March 11, 2005).

It can be unnerving to see those colorful images in the science journals of brains flickering with activity as subjects do mathematics, read poetry, or think about God. Mental states studied by brain imaging include intelligence, racial antipathy, impulsivity, additive cravings, political affiliations, sexual attraction, neuroticism, aggression, moral reasoning, empathy, deception and religious transcendence.

In other words, all of those characteristics that used to be ascribed to an immaterial soul -- the ghost in the machine -- are now seen to be identifiable activities of the machine itself. Descartes turned on his ear: I am, therefore I think.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Enter, Izumo

Let's face it, everything about the creation of a human self -- body and soul -- is astonishing, which is perhaps why vitality and soul were for so long explained as nonmaterial manifestations of the supernatural. But as we learn more and more about conception, embryogenesis and consciousness, the more we realize that even the most apparently miraculous aspects of self are susceptible of natural explanations.

Consider the fertilization of an egg by a sperm. One sperm of millions manages to penetrate an egg's outer coat, the zona pellucida. Instantly, the coat becomes impenetrable to other sperms. How does this marvel of selective admittance work?

In a recent issue of Nature, Japanese researchers working with mice announced the discovery of a protein -- named Izumo, after the Japanese shrine to marriage -- that seems to be an essential "key" to sperm egg-fusion. The precise protein on the egg's inner plasma membrane that Izumo binds to has yet to be determined, as is the nature of the subsequent chemical cascade that seals the zona pellucida to further entry.

Step by step, the marvelous story of a human beginning is unraveled -- not miraculous, to be sure, but the geometry of proteins.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Minimizing harm

The present administration in Washington makes much of promoting a so-called "culture of life," and certainly reverence for life -- all life -- is a virtue that few people would disagree with. Yet this is the same administration that indirectly allows thousands of young people and married women in Africa to die of AIDS because of an policy that emphasizes abstinence over condoms. Beware of those who wears their moral absolutes on their sleeves -- the subject of this week's Musing.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Revenge of the Yokyoks

Thanks, Joshua, for confirming my memory of the Yokyoks, an army of tiny green men with long, straight noses and red-and-yellow gloves, invented by Rube Goldberg, who carry an assortment of tools and go about fouling the works -- clogging holes in saltshakers, making pens and faucets leak, blowing fuses, letting the air out of tires.

Yokyoks especially love old houses, such as the one I have just returned to in New England. They live in the walls, the crawl space, the attic, and any other place where they can remain inconspicuous and do mischief. What is especially diabolical about Yokyoks is the way they choose the most inaccessible pipes to cause to leak -- and they've been busy while I was away.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Scientific American

Back to New England, and three-and-a-half months of accumulated mail and magazines. Paper magazines. Real magazines I can hold in my hands.

Of course, I have been reading Science and Nature every week on the web, but with the dial-up line I had in Exuma, it wasn't easy. Now I get to browse to my heart's content, picking up stories I missed.

And there's Scientific American, a magazine I have subscribed to since November 1959. I was a graduate student in physics at the time and my new spouse gave me a subscription to the magazine for my birthday.

During the intervening years, geology was revolutionized by the theory of plate tectonics, the big bang theory for the origin of the universe was substantially verified, spectacular progress was made in understanding the molecular basis of life, computers permeated every aspect of science and society, humans left footprints (and tire tracks) on the moon and sent probes to the outer reaches of the solar system, the human genome was sequenced -- to mention just a few things that transpired in science. Throughout it all, Scientific American kept me (and thousands like me, both scientists and nonscientists) authoritatively informed.

The authoritativeness of Scientific American stems from the fact that the articles are written by the experts who did the work. Scientific specialists are not usually noted for the lucidity of their prose, so credit most go to the editors who skillfully insure that the words that reach the pages are in plain English. Secondly, the magazine's graphics are simply the best there are.

The contribution of this fine magazine to science education is seldom acknowledged. I am one reader and educator who would like to say "Thanks."