ScienceScope

Science  12 Nov 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5443, pp. 1265
  1. Biomed Headhunting

    As government contracts go, it's small—but possibly very important for the future of biomedical research. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is paying the National Academy of Sciences $25,000 to help find a successor to National Institutes of Health director Harold Varmus, who plans to depart at year's end. Academy president Bruce Alberts, with the assistance of Institute of Medicine president Kenneth Shine, has promised to deliver a list of “six to 12” suitable candidates to HHS secretary Donna Shalala later this month. She will forward the recommendations to President Clinton, who gets the final say.

  2. Slam Dunk

    A high-stakes donor wants to help the next generation pump up Israeli science. U.S. industrialist William Davidson last week made the largest individual gift ever to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot: $20 million intended to enliven classroom science.

    The Weizmann, a $180-million-a-year operation, already is the largest producer of science teaching tools for Israel's secondary schools. But the new Davidson Institute of Science Education aims to add new curricula and programs such as Perach, in which 25,000 undergrads tutor disadvantaged students in exchange for scholarships. The gift is an “investment in the future,” says Davidson, CEO of Michigan's Guardian Industries and a partner in the Detroit Pistons basketball franchise.

    Weizmann officials have their work cut out for them. According to Rami Rahimimoff, a former Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School dean, studies show outstanding Israeli students shunning science and “looking to get rich quick” in other fields.

  3. Case Dismissed

    Suing a professor for stealing one's ideas may become more difficult in New York state, thanks to a recent court decision. Judge Emily Jane Goodman of the state Supreme Court for New York City last month dismissed a suit brought by Sheng-Ming Ma, a former Columbia University Ph.D. candidate in mathematics, who claimed his thesis adviser misappropriated his work (Science, 23 April, p. 562). After summarizing the complex issues at stake—including the question of whether a new math proof was valid—Judge Goodman concluded: “This court cannot fathom how I or a jury could decide which theorem is correct.” The decision may put a chill on such cases in New York, including a suit by nutritionist Antonia Demas claiming that her adviser at Cornell University took her ideas.

  4. Early Birds

    The White House has moved with record speed in nominating two scientists to serve on the 24-member National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF). Historically, the Administration has been slow to pick members for the panel, leaving it so short-handed at times that it was barely able to convene a quorum. But NSF officials credit Neal Lane, the president's science adviser and former NSF director, with shepherding the new nominees—crystallographer Michael G. Rossmann of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and ecologist Daniel Simberloff of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville—through the bureaucracy for an announcement on 1 November, giving the Senate plenty of time to confirm them before their 6-year terms begin in May 2000. NSF hopes for similarly rapid action on replacing the remaining eight panelists whose terms end next spring.

  5. A Wrinkle in Space-Time

    In 1916, Albert Einstein predicted that violent cosmic motions should send gravitational waves rippling through the fabric of space. This week, researchers inaugurated an unusual observatory designed to catch those elusive waves. The $292 million Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO)—which has facilities in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington—will use laser beams to continually measure the positions of mirrors suspended in vacuum tubes 4 kilometers apart. Researchers hope the delicate detectors can discern relative wiggles as small as 1/10,000th the diameter of a proton.

    “I can't imagine a more exciting new window to open on the universe,” says Caltech physicist Gary Sanders, LIGO's deputy director. But LIGO probably won't sense any shimmers in space-time until both facilities are fine-tuned and ready to start eyeing the gravitational universe in early 2002.

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