Science  09 Oct 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5387, pp. 209

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  1. Turn Out the Lights, the ITER's Over

    The U.S. Department of Energy is recalling its fusion scientists from their posts in Germany and Japan, where they have spent the last 3 years working on the moribund International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). Congress ended U.S. contributions to the $10 billion project last week (see p. 210), prompting DOE to order more than a dozen scientists back to their home institutions by 16 November. The recall completes a withdrawal begun in July, when it became clear that Congress wouldn't provide enough money to support the 36 U.S. researchers assigned to the project.

    The retreat “has created a pretty depressed mood here,” says physicist Ron Parker, who will be leaving his post at the ITER site in Garching, Germany, to return to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He calls Congress' decision to pull out “completely destructive. But at some point you have to put disappointment behind you and move on to new challenges.”

  2. Chemist Tapped to Head Genomics Institute

    The Swiss life sciences giant Novartis is expected to name University of California, Berkeley, chemist Peter Schultz as the director of its new Novartis Institute for Functional Genomics. Last spring, the company announced that its philanthropic arm—the Novartis Research Foundation—would spend $250 million over 10 years to bankroll the San Diego-based institute. The center is expected to hire some 100 researchers to sort out the function of newly discovered genes as a basis for new drugs.

    Schultz has pioneered the use of techniques such as combinatorial chemistry and DNA chips for drug development. His appointment is “a good hire for Novartis and a tough break for Berkeley,” says Harvard University biologist Tim Mitchison. “He's not someone to let anything stand in his way.”

  3. Ph.D. for ET?

    Budding scientists who want to join the search for extraterrestrial life can now get a leg up on the competition. The University of Washington (UW), Seattle, is creating what it claims is the first Ph.D. program in astrobiology. About a dozen students are expected to start their studies, which will range from microbiology to aeronautics, in fall 1999. Fieldwork, alas, is limited to Earth. “Everyone will have to get their hands dirty,” says UW astronomer Woodruff Sullivan.

    Some new blood might be welcome at NASA, where officials are still sorting out their astrobiology initiative, which links 11 scientific teams in a virtual research center (Science, 29 May, p. 1338). Administrative infighting has dogged the effort, which NASA says could limp without a leader into next year. Complains one researcher: “The team is playing without a coach.”

  4. Australia Plans R&D Summit

    Australian voters may have opted for the status quo in last week's elections, but their country's science policy could be on the verge of major changes.

    The hard-fought campaign, which ended with Prime Minister John Howard's ruling Liberal-National coalition winning a narrow majority over the Labour party, featured promises from both sides to invigorate the country's sluggish R&D efforts through increased funding and tax incentives. The scientific community will have a chance to offer its advice to the government at a national innovation summit early next year.

    “Things are not working,” says Peter Cullen, president of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, who welcomes the summit. “This is an opportunity to take stock.” Adds Vicki Sara, chair of the Australian Research Council, “The government has missed the boat” on what's needed to turn research into new products. “We need to create a seamless web of activity between all the players.”