Science  08 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5399, pp. 153
  1. See You in Court

    Six women—including a scientist and several technicians—say that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory discriminates against its 3000 female employees by paying them less than men and denying them promotions. On 23 December, they filed suit in California state court against lab director C. Bruce Tarter and the Board of Regents of the University of California, which operates the nuclear weapons facility for the Department of Energy. “The regents and management at the lab have known about this problem for a very long time and have simply refused to take appropriate action,” claims lead plaintiff Mary Singleton, a chemist who worked at Livermore for 22 years before retiring in 1997. Lab officials aren't commenting on the suit, which will get a first hearing later this year.

  2. An AXAF By Any Other Name

    NASA has given its tongue-twisting Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility a more user-friendly name. The $2 billion space observatory, due to be launched this spring, has been christened the Chandra X-ray Observatory, after the late University of Chicago astrophysicist and Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. An Idaho high school student and a California teacher independently suggested the name, which means “moon” or “luminous” in Sanskrit.

  3. Tritium to Go

    Some researchers and arms control advocates aren't happy with Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's decision to use two commercial nuclear power plants to produce the tritium gas needed to keep U.S. nuclear weapons potent. On 22 December, Richardson announced plans to start producing tritium by 2005, if needed, at the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA's) Watts Bar and Sequoyah plants in Tennessee. The plants would rebuild the U.S. stockpile, which has been dwindling by 5% per year since production ended in 1988. But critics say the move undermines a long-standing policy against using civilian reactors to make military materials. It also dashed the dreams of some scientists, who had hoped Richardson would reopen a mothballed research reactor in Washington state or build a new linear accelerator in South Carolina (Science, 4 April 1997, p. 28). Richardson said that the TVA facilities were the cheapest option and would allow the government to buy tritium on an as-needed basis.

  4. Particle Projects Fused

    Japanese physicists hope that combining plans for two new accelerators will improve the chances of getting them built. One, the Neutron Science Project, is a linear accelerator that would break down nuclear waste by pelting it with neutrons. The other, the Japan Hadron Facility (JHF), would create the world's most powerful proton synchrotron to generate kaons and other subatomic particles for basic research.

    Japan's Science and Technology Agency had championed the neutron project, while the JHF was being pushed by the education ministry. But the two bureaucracies, themselves to be merged in 2001, have joined forces to reduce the projects' combined $2 billion price tag.

    Saving money will force some compromises: Neutrons will move a little slower, dragging out nuclear waste studies, and physicists must abandon plans to build the JHF in an existing tunnel at the High-Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) in Tsukuba. The new plan—which promoters hope will get its first funding next year—calls for building the JHF, then the neutron accelerator, at a research center in Tokai, 150 kilometers north of Tokyo. “If this is the only way [to get funding], we have to accept it,” says Sakue Yamada, a KEK director.

  5. Short-Lived Comeback?

    The SOHO saga has taken a turn for the worse. On 21 December, just 3 days after earning Science's Comeback of the Year award for its miraculous rescue after a June 1998 accident (Science, 18 December 1998, p. 2156), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) apparently lost its last stabilizing gyroscope. The breakdown has put the $1 billion sun probe into sleep mode and is forcing it to burn precious fuel to remain stable. Now, engineers are racing to write software that will allow the joint European-U.S. craft to limp along without the navigational aid—all before the craft burns its remaining fuel, which could last just 6 months. Even if they succeed, SOHO will be out of action for at least a month and its reduced mobility will limit the use of several instruments, says Joe Gurman of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The setback is “no fun,” he says, “especially after all that's been done to save it.”