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The pill that started more than one revolution

The birth control pill, whose 50th anniversary is being celebrated this month, helped turn countless girls into women and boys into men. But a little-told part of the pill’s history is that it also helped bring about the adulthood of the Food and Drug Administration itself.

The pill — first marketed as Enovid, by G.D. Searle — has been called the most important scientific advance of the 20th century. Much has been written about how it revolutionized sexual and social relationships, allowing women to defer pregnancy, enter the work force and make life choices their mothers could not — or, if you prefer, spawning promiscuity and undermining the foundations of marriage. Regardless, half a century after its approval, it is still a leading method of birth control, used by more than 100 million women around the world.

But the pill also greatly advanced what Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the current food and drug commissioner, calls regulatory science. Many of the steps that underlie modern drug approvals — extensive clinical trials, routine referrals to panels of outside experts, continuing assessments of a medicine’s safety and direct communications between the FDA and patients — were pioneered to deal with evolving concerns about the pill’s safety.

A tragic moment Kent State won’t forget after 40 years

KENT, Ohio — Black pillars mark four sites on the east side of Kent State University — each memorializing one of the four college students killed by the Ohio National Guard during antiwar protests on May 4, 1970.

Torey Wootton, now a freshman, wants to lie in one of those sites, to understand what her uncle Paul Ciminero felt on that warm and sunny day 40 years ago as he stood watching Jeffrey Miller, a fellow student, die in that spot. Miller was shot in the mouth by a National Guardsman. “It’s just to take a moment and reflect and appreciate, more than try to connect to it,” said Wootton, 19, a musical theater major from nearby Akron.

Particle detector shows promise, if nothing else

A widely anticipated experiment underneath a mountain in Italy designed to detect a sea of dark particles that allegedly constitute a quarter of creation did not see anything during a test run last fall, scientists reported Saturday.

But, they said, the clarity with which they saw nothing spurred hopes that such experiments are approaching the rigor and sensitivity necessary to detect the elusive gravitational glue of the cosmos. The results also cast further doubt on some controversial claims that dark matter has already been seen.

“It’s the strongest statement about dark matter today and it reads: we have looked here and there and over there but didn’t find nothing,” Rafael Lang of Columbia University, wrote in an e-mail message from California where he presented results from the experiment, known as XENON100, at a meeting Saturday. A paper describing the work has been submitted to the journal Physical Review Letters.

The experimenters, led by Elena Aprile of Columbia, are seeking to record the passage of putative dark matter particles through a tank wired with sensors and containing 350 pounds of ultra-pure liquid Xenon since January and is expected to accumulate data throughout the summer.