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News and Trends
May 4, 2009


A Telescope to the Past
Where the Jobs Are
Who Grew It?
Ancient Foot, Modern Walk
Call Them Acro-Bats
A Degree in Beatle-ology

A Telescope to the Past
Four hundred years ago, Galileo Galilei built his first telescope—and began to change the way people viewed the universe. In honor of the anniversary, one of Galileo's telescopes is on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia through the summer. (It's one of two that still exist; until now, neither had been outside Italy since Galileo's lifetime.) An astronomer and physicist, Galileo made his first telescope in 1609 after hearing that a Dutch eyeglass maker had built a spyglass. Galileo's telescopes allowed him to become the first to see mountains on the moon and satellites orbiting Jupiter. These discoveries challenged the Earth-centered view of the universe that had prevailed for a thousand years. In 1633, Galileo was put on trial by the Roman Catholic Church for promoting the Copernican theory that the Earth and other planets orbited the sun. He was convicted of holding views "contrary to Scripture" and declared "vehemently suspect of heresy." Galileo recanted and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

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Where the Jobs Are
Although the recession has sent the unemployment rate in the U.S. to a 25-year-high of 8.5 percent, Fortune magazine says there are jobs out there if you know where to look. Experts advise job seekers to avoid industries tied to the mortgage crisis, like construction and finance. Some of the best opportunities are in fields like education and health care. Teachers are in high demand—especially in science and math—and so are nurses. In fact, the health-care industry added more than 19,000 jobs in January. One online job site reports a 29 percent jump in openings for electrical engineers, and there are jobs to be filled in the farming, fishing, and forestry industries. If none of those is adventurous enough for you, how about a career as a G-man or a spy? The F.B.I. plans to hire 850 new agents, and the C.I.A. is recruiting on college campuses.

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Who Grew It?
It can be a long way from farm to table, but the Internet is making it easier for consumers to find out where their food came from—even which farmers were involved. Buyers of Dole organic bananas can now enter a bar-code number from the banana's sticker on Doleorganic.com and see photos and details about farms in Central and South America. Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield, Missouri, invites customers to enter bar codes on Askinosie.com and visit its cocoa-bean farms in Mexico, Ecuador, and the Philippines. And the Stone-Buhr flour company in San Francisco connects consumers with wheat growers at findthefarmer.com.The idea behind these Web sites is traceability, which can be good for more than satisfying customers' curiosity. The theory: If food producers know they're being watched, they'll be more careful.

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Ancient Foot, Modern Walk
Until now, no footprint trail had ever been associated with early members of our long-legged genus Homo. But prints recently uncovered near Lake Turkana in northern Kenya show that as early as 1.5 million years ago, an ancestral species, most likely Homo erectus, had already evolved the feet and walking gait of modern humans. Scientists say the individuals had heels, insteps, and toes almost identical to ours, and that they walked with a long, humanlike stride. William Junger, a paleoanthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, says the footprints are further evidence that Homo erectus had "undergone a major structural change in body plan, and it's much like our own." One exception: the Homo erectus brain, which was more advanced than those of previous ancestors, but still much smaller than the Homo sapiens, or modern human, brain.

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Call Them Acro-Bats
Because bats roost hanging from their heels, they must land upside down against a cave ceiling or foliage. Scientists have long wondered how they do it without damaging their fragile limbs. Now, Daniel Riskin of Brown University in Rhode Island has used high-speed video technology to analyze the landing technique of three species of bats. Riskin, who specializes in the biomechanics of bat locomotion, says the creatures perform a flip—and in some cases a twist—to make a two- or four-point landing. He also used a contact plate to measure the force with which the bats landed. Tree-roosting bats landed hard on all four limbs, which reduced the stress on any one limb. Cave-dwelling bats, which roost on a harder surface, landed more softly, maneuvering to one side during the flip to land on just their hind limbs.

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A Degree in Beatle-ology
Plenty of colleges offer individual courses on the Beatles. But Liverpool Hope University, in the Beatles' hometown of Liverpool, England, now offers the world's first master's degree in Beatles studies. Many places in Liverpool where the Beatles lived and worked are intact, so studying the Fab Four there can help make their early years come to life. But what exactly will graduates do with a master's in Beatle-ology? The musicians among them might profit from analyzing the Beatles' musical innovations, while social scientists might examine the upheaval the group helped usher in during the 1960s. In fact, a serious study of the Beatles involves an enormous amount of material. To understand the group's prehistory, for example, students will have to delve into not only the American roots of rock—blues, country music, and R&B—but also Broadway show tunes and the British music-hall tradition, which shaped the Beatles' music as surely as Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. The Beatles disbanded in 1970; John Lennon was murdered in 1980 at age 40, and George Harrison died in 2001 at 58. But Paul McCartney, 66, and Ringo Starr, 68, are still performing and selling plenty of music.

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