PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: The 44th president of the United States takes office at noon today, and he happens to be black. Today is undoubtedly one of the most historic days in this country's history, and Americans of all races have ample cause to celebrate. For those concerned about the climate and the environment, today also holds hope for a new direction, one that sheds "small thinking," as Obama has put it. Worldchanging adopts this hopeful tone as it anticipates the Obama presidency, as does ecomii in its look ahead to energy policy under the Obama administration. The Daily Green summarizes some prominent slips in the president-elect's suggestion box, ranging from choosing a dog to growing an organic garden in the front lawn. And tonight, Obama will be the first incoming commander-in-chief whose presidency is celebrated with two carbon-neutral inaugural balls. For more on Obama's inauguration, check out MNN's inauguration guide. (Sources: CNN, Agence France-Presse, Worldchanging, ecomii, The Daily Green, OnDayOne.org, MSNBC)

GEEK CHIC: Natalie Angier writes in the Science Times this morning that Obama's presidency, which ushers in "geek chic" and renewed interest in science, could be a springboard for more women entering scientific fields. (Source: The New York Times)

AVALANCHES: Today's Science Times also features a profile of Ed Adams, a Montana State University civil engineering professor who studies avalanches, which have killed 31 people this winter in the United States and Canada. Adams has created "dozens" of real-life avalanches, in which he triggers the flood of snow while waiting in a shed below with measuring equipment. But recently he's been studying what causes avalanches in a "cold lab," where he examines why a weak layer of poorly bonded snowflakes ends up supporting heavier layers of packed snow. (Source: NY Times)

THE DIRT ON DIRT: Soil in Africa is woefully depleted, worn thin from climatic changes, drought, erosion and nearly 10,000 years of human agriculture. With a growing population, though, the continent's soil is more vital than ever — 236 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were chronically hungry in 2007. That's why the International Center for Tropical Agriculture is creating a satellite map of Africa's soils, which will indicate nutrients, moisture, organic matter, and physical and chemical properties of the dirt in all 42 of the region's countries. The data will be available on the Internet for a variety of policymakers and farmers to use. (Source: TerraDaily)

CHARMED LIFE: We might actually know how life on Earth began. New Scientist has a fascinating article this week explaining the research of biochemist David Deamer, who's been sticking containers of nucleotides and RNA into steaming mud pools at Northern California's Lassen Volcanic National Park to see what happens. It's hard to create artificial RNA, the genetic precursor to DNA, because its nucleotides fall apart as easily as they bond. They lose a molecule of water when they form a bond, and gain a molecule of water when one breaks. But if you give them water then take it away, the bond sticks and more bonds form. Repeat that cycle, and the nucleotides start self-replicating like crazy. Therefore, environments that fluctuate quickly and often between wet and dry — such as these volcanic vents — could be the cradle of life. (Source: New Scientist

Russell McLendon 

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