ScienceScope

Science  23 Oct 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5389, pp. 601
  1. Germany's New Minister Steps Out of Shadow

    Germany's new research and education minister says she will support bigger budgets for the nation's scientists and universities.

    This week, the newly elected ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens announced that Edelgard Bulmahn—the Social Democrat's parliamentary spokesperson for science—will replace Jürgen Rüttgers when the new government assumes control on 27 October. In making the announcement, the “Red-Green” coalition resisted calls from rival ministries to split the portfolio, which includes basic and applied research. Leading German scientists had opposed the idea. However, the coalition moved several small business-related research programs to the economics ministry.

    Although Bulmahn, 47, is a political scientist by training, she is no stranger to science policy. She recently served as “shadow minister” for science while the Social Democrats were in the opposition and since 1995 has served on the Bundestag's science and education committee. Bulmahn has a good grasp of the issues facing German science, says biochemist Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, who heads the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Germany's basic-research granting agency.

    Bulmahn says that the new ruling partners, led by chancellor-designate and longtime ally Gerhard Schröder, “agree on the importance of scientific research for Germany's future.” In a new position paper, the coalition promises a “significant strengthening” of science budgets next year and moves to bolster German universities.

    Bulmahn told Science that she opposes “major changes” in biotechnology policies, despite a push by some Greens for stricter controls on research involving genetically engineered plants. However, she expressed support for studies into the potential risks of certain biotechnology methods. It is not yet clear, however, how her ministry will respond to the research implications of the coalition's plans to phase out Germany's nuclear industry. The move could pinch fusion research and possibly delay the FRM-II neutron source now under construction in Garching.

  2. Computer to Pinpoint Distant Galaxies

    European radio astronomers have switched on a new supercomputer that will provide some of the sharpest views of the universe ever obtained. Yesterday, researchers at the Joint Institute for Very Long Baseline Interferometry in Dwingeloo, the Netherlands, dedicated the $10 million European VLBI Network Data Processor, which will knit together data from 16 telescopes across Europe. Together, the telescopes create a virtual dish 9000 kilometers wide that can detect the faintest radio emissions from distant galaxies.

    “It's a fantastic system they've built,” says Jonathan Romney of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which runs a similar but less powerful “correlator” in Socorro, New Mexico. Still, it will take the new machine, which makes 16 trillion calculations per second, days or weeks to construct an image from a single observing session. The first images are expected later this year.

  3. Party Insider Gets Australian Science Post

    Australia has a new science minister with added clout as a result of a Cabinet shuffle by newly reelected Liberal leader John Howard.

    South Australian Senator Nick Minchin, formerly the special minister for state, takes over the science and industry portfolio from John Moore, who will now oversee defense. A confidant of Howard and a rising star within the party, Minchin played a key role in pushing through controversial legislation limiting Aboriginal land claims and in organizing a national convention to review the country's constitution.

    Science appears to have done well in the reshuffle. Its move into a ministry that includes industry and the previously separate resources “strengthens the portfolio by linking research and technology with some of the most important economic bases,” says Australian Academy of Science President Brian Anderson. Anderson described Minchin, a 45-year-old career politician, as “forthright and respected for his judgment.”

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