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NIH Record  
Vol. LXIV, No. 15
  July 20, 2012
Author Pink Challenges Outmoded Management Model
U.S., India To Collaborate in Diabetes Research
HHSinnovates: Vote for the Best Innovations
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Butte Mines Public Databases for Therapeutic Gold

Dr. Atul Butte spoke at NIH on June 20 in the final Wednesday Afternoon Lecture of the season.

Dr. Atul Butte spoke at NIH on June 20 in the final Wednesday Afternoon Lecture of the season.

In the “olden days,” scientists first had hypotheses, then went out and collected measurements to test their ideas. But in an era when data is pouring in by the zettabyte (1,000 quadrillion), it makes increasing sense to say, “The data’s there already, we just need to ask intelligent questions of it.”

That’s precisely the approach taken by Dr. Atul Butte of Stanford University, who on June 20 dazzled a Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series audience with at least three characteristics: an entrepreneurial zeal (he has started or consulted for dozens of companies, leading him to quip at the outset, “Therefore you can’t believe a word I say.”); a rapidity of speech that must certainly have been tutored by the Internet’s blazing speed; and an uncanny faith in the cleverness of high school students to make the most ambitious use of the many Everests of data now piling up around the globe.

Butte repeatedly made the point that smart teens, unafraid of scrounging about the Internet backyard in which they grew up, can out-research the tenured classes, and he has the data to prove it: five high school interns who have passed through his Stanford lab have placed in the top 300 in such prestigious science contests as those sponsored by Intel, Westinghouse and Siemens.

NIH Artifacts from All Eras Have Their Own Laboratory Experience

What research complex has a walk-in X-ray room, anaerobic chamber, gigantic freeze drier and “dirty” and “clean” laboratories? Hint: its pastoral setting outside of Washington, D.C., is gently brushed by breezes from the Patuxent River. Wait, it isn’t NIH? Nope, it’s another fine scientific facility, the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory.

At the MAC Lab, as it’s nicknamed, scientists research and protect more than 7 million artifacts from Maryland’s archeological past. Its federal collections curator, Sara Rivers-Cofield, has been working with the staff of the NIH Stetten Museum to bring the archaeological collections held by the museum in line with current storage practices and to make them available for researchers.

Before a building is constructed on campus, federal regulations require an archaeological survey of the area to be sure there are no significant cultural remains on the site. Digs on the NIH campus have turned up signs of more than 3,000 years of human occupation, from projectile points made by Native Americans who camped and hunted here, to pieces of plates and equipment used by 19th century farmers, to car keys lost by a surely distraught late-20th century NIH employee. After a dig is finished, boxes of materials and their documentation go to the NIH Stetten Museum.