ScienceScope

Science  25 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5423, pp. 2065
  1. Enriching Debate

    An expert panel has presented the German government with some choices for a controversial new reactor near Munich that's designed to produce neutrons for materials science and other research. The $500 million FRM-II neutron source, due to be completed in 2001, would be fueled by highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make weapons. Nonproliferation advocates want the reactor to be reconfigured to use a low-enriched uranium fuel. The German government appointed a committee in January to review alternatives (Science, 5 February, p. 785).

    This week, the seven-member panel concluded that it would be costly and time-consuming to alter FRM-II's design this late in the game. But the panel, led by science ministry official Wolf-Michael Catenhusen, said that the reactor might be able to make a less costly switch by 2008 to a low-enriched uranium fuel in development.

    The German cabinet is expected to decide how to proceed within a few months. But any changes in the FRM-II must be coordinated with the state of Bavaria, which oversees the project.

  2. Biology Boost

    An alumnus who made a fortune selling car insurance has pledged $35 million to a new genome research center at Princeton University. The gift from Peter Lewis, CEO of Progressive Corp. in Cleveland, Ohio, will cover almost half the planned $75 million budget of the Institute for Integrative Genomics.

    The donation marks the latest gain for genome studies at major research universities. Harvard recently decided to spend $40 million on a center to apply genomics to the study of evolution, while the California Institute of Technology is more than halfway toward a goal of raising $100 million for interdisciplinary research on the brain and development. The Princeton center, launched last year, is probing how a cell's many molecular components fit together as a functional unit of life, says cell biologist Shirley Tilghman, the institute's director.

    “This is a trend you are going to see more of,” says Bruce Umminger, division director of integrative biology and neuroscience at the National Science Foundation.

  3. Change of Heart

    When it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of federal R&D programs, you can't have too much input. At least that's what Neal Lane, the president's science adviser, has decided in lifting his objections to a congressional suggestion that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) examine how well federal science agencies are complying with a 1993 law that calls for annual reviews of their research portfolios.

    Last fall Lane complained to legislators that an NAS study, recommended in a bill funding the National Science Foundation, would be redundant and out of step with the Government Performance and Results Act. But now he has given NAS president Bruce Alberts the green light for such an “independent assessment,” suggesting in a letter that the academy write up case studies of a half-dozen federal programs. The House and Senate science panels have chimed in too, stating in separate letters that they “look forward to seeing the results.”

    Academy staffers hope that the support from Lane and Congress will persuade agencies to pony up the needed $300,000 for the study. If funded, they say, the project would take about a year.

  4. Sounding Out

    The U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) wants to continue the once-controversial Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate (ATOC) project, which measures sea temperatures by clocking underwater sound pulses.

    In 1994, activists stalled the installation of ATOC emitters off California and Hawaii, worrying that the pulses would deafen whales; that fear proved unfounded (Science, 27 February 1998, p. 1302). But ATOC's $40 million seed grant ran out last year and the California station is being dismantled. Last week, however, ONR signaled its desire to keep the Hawaii source running for at least a few more years, saying it will sponsor an environmental study necessary for obtaining new operating permits. ATOC researchers are thrilled by the move, which could take a year to complete, because it will allow them to collect valuable long-term data.

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