ScienceScope

Science  19 Nov 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5444, pp. 1453
  1. Warning Shot

    NASA space science chief Ed Weiler is losing patience with Gravity Probe B, the $400 million spacecraft that would test Einstein's theory of general relativity by measuring the space-time curvature caused by Earth. Mission planners say they need an extra 11 months and $30 million to fix problems with the probe, which was supposed to launch next October.

    Weiler is ordering a technical review of the program, in the works for more than 2 decades, to determine what it will take to get the probe into orbit. “We've already spent hundreds of millions on this, and I don't want to spend hundreds of millions more,” he says. If the review—due to be finished by the end of the year—concludes that $30 million is sufficient to get the program back on track, Weiler says he will find the money. If that is not enough, he says, he may discuss terminating the program at a senior NASA managers meeting in February.

    Killing Gravity Probe B—the brainchild of Stanford University scientists—would pose political dangers for NASA, however, given the strong support for the program from California's congressional delegation. But Weiler waves off that threat. “My job is to do the right thing for American taxpayers; someone else can worry about the politics.”

  2. Sharing the Weather Wealth

    India and the United States have moved to fill a meteorological monitoring gap that has handicapped weather forecasters and climate scientists. Researchers from both nations gathered this week in New Delhi to inaugurate a data-sharing center that will immediately transmit information gathered only by Indian satellites to users worldwide. In the works for 16 years, the data-sharing agreement “is a dream come true,” says James Dodge of NASA's earth sciences program.

    India has historically denied prompt international access to its weather data, including Indian Ocean cloud-cover images and temperature records, saying that potential enemies might use it to better target missiles or time attacks (Science, 17 October 1997, p. 379). But now, in exchange for electronic access to massive U.S. climate databases and other information, India will give researchers abroad a real-time look at its holdings.

    Indian forecasters say that the center, which will also conduct forecasting research, will help them spot potentially dangerous storms earlier. U.S. researchers, meanwhile, say closing “the India gap” will lead to better global climate models.

  3. Genentech Settles

    One of the longest patent fights in biotech history may at last be over. On 16 November, the Los Angeles Times reported that Genentech Inc. of South San Francisco had agreed to pay the University of California (UC) $200 million for having infringed UC's patent on a genetically engineered human growth hormone.

    A trial on the decade-old infringement case ended with a hung jury in June (Science, 11 June, p. 1752). Now, a scheduled January retrial appears to have been averted. According to the Times, nearly half of the settlement will be split among the five scientists named as co-discoverers on the patent, and the remainder will go to UC San Francisco, with $50 million earmarked to fund a new research building. As Science went to press, UC and Genentech were staying silent on the deal until the UC Regents had a chance to review it at a meeting earlier this week.

  4. My Way

    Arguing that academic quality is paramount, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has reshaped a congressional plan to give out 10,000 scholarships a year to low-income college and graduate students pursuing degrees in computer science, engineering, and mathematics. And even more scholarships may be on the way.

    Last year Congress levied a $500 fee on employers who hire foreign workers for high-tech jobs and gave NSF about a third of the money to provide 2-year, $2500 scholarships (Science, 4 December 1998, p. 1796). But NSF says it is better for institutions—not individuals—to compete for the funds, which total $21 million in the first round of a 3-year program. The switch “allows us to ensure that the surrounding program is of high quality,” says Norm Fortenberry, NSF's head of undergraduate education. “It's better than telling students: ‘Here's some money, now you're on your own.’” NSF has begun reviewing proposals to select 100 winners from the 280 colleges and universities bidding for up to 40 slots each.

    The number of scholarships could grow further under a bill, S. 1804, introduced by Senator John McCain (R-AZ). It would lift the cap—now 115,000—on the annual number of visas issued, which should pump more money into scholarships, and award grants aimed at beefing up math and science education at all levels. “We want a bigger bang for our buck,” an aide explains.