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:: By: Lydialyle Gibson

:: Photo Credit: M. C. Davis

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Investigations ::


For security's sake
In national emergencies, write Law School scholar Eric A. Posner and his former Chicago colleague Adrian Vermeule in a new book on terrorism, “the executive acts, Congress acquiesces, and courts defer.” Although the Bush Administration has stirred controversy since 9/11 with warrantless wiretaps, “coercive interrogations,” and detentions without trial, Posner and Vermeule, now at Harvard Law School, contend that judicial deference to similar “alleged executive overreaching” has long benefited Americans. Terror in the Balance: Security, Liberty, and the Courts (Oxford University Press, 2007) draws precedent-setting examples from the Civil War, both world wars, and the Red Scare to argue that government should curtail civil liberties when new threats arise, and that the executive branch is uniquely suited to balance freedom and safety.


Paddlefish pectoral fins exhibit limb-development genes also found in human arms

Fish feet
Overturning a long-held but oft-debated theory, three Chicago evolutionary biologists have found that eons before four-legged animals began walking the planet, primitive fish possessed the genes necessary to grow hands and feet. Studying Hox genes—important for limb development—in the pectoral fins of paddlefish, professor Neil Shubin and postdocs Marcus Davis, PhD’04, and Randall Dahn found patterns of activity that resemble those of tetrapod limbs. Reported in the May 24 Nature, the revelation offers genetic proof of the evolutionary link between fish and land animals. Shubin had already provided morphological evidence with his 2004 discovery of a fossil belonging to Tiktaalik roseae, the first animal to walk out of water onto land.

Raising grandchildren is no picnic, but...
Caring for grandchildren may be strenuous, but it’s not unhealthy, says sociologist Linda Waite. Using data from nearly 13,000 grandparents aged 50 to 80, she and three colleagues looked at obesity, alcohol use, smoking, depression, chronic conditions, functional limitations, and self-rated health. Those in ill health while raising their grandchildren were often already ailing, Waite reported. Her findings, published in the June Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, contradict earlier research, in part, she says, because previous studies used smaller samples and did not control for situations in which children’s mothers were on drugs or in jail.

Inner magnetism
The “secret” magnetism of antiferromagnets—so called because it is invisible to the naked eye—is secret no more. Using X-ray holograms, researchers at Chicago, Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials, and the London Centre for Nanotechnology got a first glimpse at the inner workings of antiferromagnets, whose atoms act as magnets that cancel each other out. Scientists have studied the materials’ behavior since Greek antiquity but until now weren’t able to peer inside them. The recent report, coauthored by Chicago physicist Thomas Rosenbaum and published in the May 2 Nature, indicates that antiferromagnets may never be truly at rest.

Fossilized mystery solved
Four hundred million years ago, before vertebrates emerged from the oceans and ferns began spawning seeds, terrestrial Earth’s inhabitants included worms, wingless insects, leafless plants—and a 20-foot-tall fungus called Prototaxites. Fossilized remains of the organism, which stood in tree-like trunks, were first discovered in the mid-1800s, but for more than a century scientists couldn’t agree whether Prototaxites was a conifer, lichen algae, or fungus. In the May Geology, however, Chicago paleobotanist C. Kevin Boyce and colleagues from Washington, DC’s National Museum of Natural History analyzed two carbon isotopes from fossils and determined that the organism was, indeed, a fungus. Their work confirms a theory first advanced in 1911.