Year In Science

Sunday, January 13, 2002

Rosa Beddington
Rosa Beddington, a preeminent embryologist, died of breast cancer on May 18 at the age of 45. Although her career was short, she lived long enough to fundamentally change our understanding of mammalian development. In experiments with lab mice, she discovered how small groups of cells dance about to form an embryo and how a layer of cells surrounding the embryo itself, previously thought of as nothing more than a protective cloak, orchestrates the formation of an embryo's body parts.

In the late 1970s, as Beddington pursued her doctorate at Oxford, the university was an intellectual hub of mammalian developmental biology. Scientists knew much of what happens between fertilization and embryo implantation, but they knew less about what happens after the bundle of 100 or so cells burrows into the uterine wall. That was largely because no one had found a reliable way to keep postimplantation mouse embryos alive in vitro. Beddington solved the problem by adapting a rat culture system for use in mice. Using her new culture system, she joined forces with colleagues to research which cells in an embryo contribute to which parts of the adult animal, a process called fate-mapping. During early development, many cells move around, mixing and shifting in ways that don't seem logical. By following individual groups of cells, Beddington and her compatriots drew a complete fate map of a mouse.

In 1983, Beddington set up her own lab at Oxford and became one of the first scientists to demonstrate that embryonic stem cells can give rise to any tissue found in a developed body. She moved her lab in 1991 to the Center for Genome Research in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she decided that the future of embryology lay in understanding how individual genes influence development. With William Skarnes, she created a new technology that enables researchers to see when, where, and for what purpose a particular gene is used in an embryo—for example, the genes that are required to create a limb. The technology allowed researchers to chart hierarchies, or cascades, of genes and to track the process by which one gene after another turns on, directing the embryo's development.

Two years later Beddington moved to the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill in London as head of the division of mammalian development. There she made her most significant discovery: An embryo has an organizing center that directs the development of a mammal's head. For that work, she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Despite her great dedication, Beddington created a life outside the lab. She was an accomplished horsewoman, fencer, and dancer. In 1987 she married Robin Denniston, former head of Oxford University Press, now vicar of Great Tew in Oxfordshire.

In September 1999, Beddington returned to work after cancer treatment. Despite the ravages of her illness, she was able to say to her friend Sally Dunwoodie: "I have had reason to consider my life recently, and I have had a bloody good one."
— Rabiya S. Tuma

Tributes to the Talented
Among the many gifted scientists and scholars who died last year:

Electrical engineer William Hewlett, 87, on January 12. Together with David Packard, he founded what became the second-largest computer-manufacturing company in the United States.

Archaeologist Richard MacNeish, 82, on January 16. He is celebrated for discovering 5,500-year-old ears of corn, the ancestors of today's domesticated crop, in a cave in Mexico in 1962.

John O'Brien, 66, on February 1. His discovery of the genetic cause of Tay-Sachs disease paved the way for the first fetal tests to diagnose this fatal neurological disorder, which afflicts primarily children of Eastern European Jewish descent.

John Rust, 91, on February 11. An authority on the effects of radiation, he identified cancer in cattle following the U.S. testing of the first atomic bomb in 1945 at a site near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Ugo Fano, 88, on February 13. A student of Enrico Fermi, Fano played a central role in the early development of modern atomic physics, carrying out the first controlled nuclear chain reaction in 1942.

Ariel Loewy, 75, on February 13. The cell biologist helped explain how blood clots form by identifying factor XIII, the enzyme that binds proteins together to create a plug in a wound, preventing a person from bleeding to death.

Claude Shannon, 84, on February 24. The mathematician's theories on binary numbers—0 and 1—established the groundwork for the electronic communications networks that now circle the planet.

Physicist Natalie Mandzhavidze, 45, on April 9. An authority on high-energy solar physics, her research investigated the acceleration and impact of nuclei during solar flares, which affect power transmission systems on Earth.

William Mullins, 74, on April 22. An expert on how solids form from liquids, his theory of morphological stability explained how snowflakes develop in an unstable manner to produce their intricate patterns.

Dennis Puleston, 95, on June 8. Founder of the Environmental Defense Fund, his observations of cracked osprey eggs on Long Island, New York, helped lead to the 1972 nationwide ban of the pesticide DDT.

Viktor Hamburger, 100, on June 12. The renowned embryologist charted the intricate architecture of the developing nervous system, proving that its final structure is shaped not just by newborn cells but also by those that eventually die.

Nikolai Basov, 78, on July 2. A Nobel Prize-winning physicist, he helped to develop the maser, an intense beam of pure microwave radiation that later laid the foundation for the development of lasers.

Jia Lanpo, 92, on July 8. Director of the Chinese archaeological site of Zhoukoudian near Beijing, Jia helped unearth 45 fossils of Homo erectus, a 1.8-million-year-old hominid that may be a human ancestor.

Edward T. Hall, 77, on August 11. By carbon-dating the Shroud of Turin to between 1260 and 1390, he debunked the myth that it had wrapped the body of Jesus.

Fred Hoyle, 86, on August 20. In the 1950s he showed that most elements could be produced from hydrogen by synthesis in the hot interior of stars. Although he coined the term Big Bang, he opposed the notion, preferring his own steady state theory of a universe without beginning or end.

Peter Jusczyk, 53, on August 23. His studies of language development showed that even month-old babies can perceive subtle differences in sounds, the first evidence in support of the theory that language is hardwired into the brain.

Donald Cohen, 61, on October 2. A psychiatrist who studied Tourette's syndrome and autism, he showed that the latter is not induced by upbringing but is a biological disorder.

Christiaan Barnard
Christiaan Barnard was hailed as a "cross between God and Frankenstein," an apt description of a man who performed the world's first human heart transplant. Born in poverty in South Africa, Barnard became a doctor to dig his family out of debt. He went on to study open-heart surgery, perfecting his first transplants on dogs. Then, on December 3, 1967, he took the heart of a brain-dead victim of an auto accident and placed it in the chest of 55-year-old Louis Washkansky, who lived 18 days before dying of pneumonia brought on by high doses of immunosuppressants. Barnard died at age 78 on September 2.

Arthur Walker
Photograph courtesy of Stanford University News
Arthur Walker captured the sun's corona on camera. That halo of hot gas is so energetic that it radiates light at the extreme end of the spectrum, beyond the range of conventional photography. Walker solved the problem by setting up an array of space telescopes outfitted with thin multilayered films designed to record the X rays and gamma rays spewed forth from the solar surface. In 1987, he produced the first detailed shots of the sun's outer atmosphere, explosions of heat and light hitherto invisible to scientists. To his students—many of them African-Americans and women he mentored during a quarter century as a physics professor at Stanford—Walker himself was a source of radiant light. At a tribute held shortly before Walker's death on April 29, at age 64, a colleague paid homage to him as Hokule'a, the guide star by which ancient Polynesians navigated home to the Hawaiian Islands.

Helge Ingstad
Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, but the Vikings arrived in America almost 500 years earlier. We know that thanks to Helge Ingstad, a Norwegian explorer who in 1960 discovered the remains of their millennium-old settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Ingstad, who died March 29 at the age of 101, found the ruins of the ancient Viking village by studying Norse sagas and following an Icelandic map made in the 1670s. Ingstad was never satisfied by one career: Over the years, he was a lawyer, a trapper, a novelist, and a governor of Greenland.
— Josie Glausiusz