ScienceScope

Science  09 Apr 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5412, pp. 233
  1. Neutron Bomb

    The $1.3 billion Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) is facing fresh troubles in Congress. Last week, Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chair of the House Science Committee, recommended wiping out next year's $214 million allotment for the high-profile Department of Energy (DOE) project, which aims to create powerful neutron pulses for studying atomic structure and the physics of materials. The recommendation follows several critical reviews of SNS management, including Sensenbrenner's own fact-finding mission last month to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where DOE hopes to build the project by 2005.

    Sensenbrenner had a few kind words, giving Energy officials high marks for hiring physicist David Moncton last month to oversee the project (Science, 5 March, p. 1425). And if Congress were to hold up next year's funding, the legislator says, money could be restored after DOE produces a solid cost estimate and revised timetable. It could be months, however, before Congress decides whether SNS's ailments deserve Sensenbrenner's harsh prescription.

  2. Fruit Fly Nanny

    Got some extra lab space and the desire to coddle a few thousand jars' worth of flies? Consider becoming the next curator of the Drosophila Species Center, a collection of 265 species of fruit flies. We aren't talking about your average Drosophila melanogaster, the workhorse of molecular genetics. Rather, the 1400 strains range from Mexican cactus-eaters to flies with a taste for only select Hawaiian fruits. No comparable collection exists for studying how species arise, says evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago: “It would be a terrible loss to evolutionary biology if that collection were shut down.”

    Heeding such warnings, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is soliciting proposals for a new manager to take the reins in 2001 from Bowling Green State University's biology department, which no longer does much fruit fly work. Disabuse yourself of the idea that curating means laying out fly chow and cleaning jars now and then. The job requires “somebody really punctilious” to maintain stocks at proper temperatures and humidities and with special diets, Coyne says. Still interested? Send an application to NSF by 6 July.

  3. Too Hot to Handle

    Cowed by a heated dispute, the French Physical Society (SFP) announced last week that it will no longer sponsor an award named after the late Lebanese physicist Rammal Rammal. The medal honors talented physicists who foster scientific cooperation among Mediterranean countries. But SFP officers last month nullified a jury vote that had tapped Israeli physicist Daniel Amit for the 1998 prize. Their decision came after Lebanese officials and academics protested the selection, even though Amit is an outspoken critic of Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon (Science, 5 March, p. 1422).

    On 31 March the SFP's executive board went further, voting to sever its ties to the medal altogether. Despite the “generous aim” of a prize it has sponsored since 1993, the SFP is “incapable of handling” the type of controversy that dogged last year's pick, the board stated. The medal's originator, French physicist Gérard Toulouse, says he's consulting with Rammal's family about how to continue the prize. Toulouse says he would have preferred a more courageous stand from SFP leaders: “Any sensible member of the scientific community would have felt that the SFP [officers] should resign and the Rammal medal should stay.”

  4. Ready to Fuse

    Physicists are gearing up for another attempt to tame the wild horse of the energy frontier. In February, researchers produced “first plasma” at the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX), a $24 million facility at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey that will explore how to sustain the sun-hot plasma needed to fuse hydrogen atoms. Magnetic fields in the device are supposed to shape the plasma into a spherical torus—a sphere with a hole through its center.

    Princeton researchers are now analyzing results from the test run in preparation for the machine's first full-scale research campaign, due to begin in July. A team from 14 U.S. institutions and Japan, Russia, and Great Britain will focus on “discovering whether the machine works the way the theoretical calculations said it would,” says NSTX project director Masayuiki Ono. It could take a year, he says, “to bring it to full capability.”

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