News this Week

Science  22 Sep 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5487, pp. 2014

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    CERN Gives Higgs Hunters Extra Month to Collect Data

    1. Oliver Morton*
    1. Oliver Morton is a writer in Greenwich, England.

    All good things must come to an end, and for the largest particle accelerator in the world, that end was meant to come late this month. After 11 years of banging electrons and positrons together at higher energies than any other machine in the world, CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, had decided to shut down the Large Electron-Positron collider (LEP) and install a new machine, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), in its 27-kilometer tunnel. In 2005, the LHC will start bashing protons together at even higher energies. But tantalizing hints of a long-sought fundamental particle have forced CERN managers to grant LEP a month's reprieve.

    In August, scientists working on LEP's ALEPH particle detector saw intriguing signs that the accelerator might be producing Higgs bosons. In early September a reanalysis of the DELPHI detector's data flagged something similar there, too. The experimenters were excited enough to ask for a stay of execution, and on 14 September, after taking advice from CERN's research board about the lab's long-term interests, CERN director-general Luciano Maiani extended the accelerator's lease on life. But it's a short-term lease. On 2 November, the beams are to be shut down for good, even though evidence for the Higgs will probably still be inconclusive at best. LEP may be in the position of glimpsing, but never actually entering, the promised land of new physics that its makers have been journeying toward for decades. “It's exciting to be close,” says Peter Dornan of ALEPH. “Obviously, if after another month one really believes that one is seeing it, then it will be very frustrating [to close down].”

    Considering the fuss that physicists make about Higgs bosons, it might seem outrageous that CERN is willing to cut short an experiment that may actually be finding some of them. The perennial next big thing in high-energy physics since the early 1980s, the Higgs is the crucial missing component in physicists' “Standard Model,” an assemblage of theory that accounts for almost everything so far observed in the subatomic realm. Interactions with the Higgs account for the masses of other particles, and precise measurements of its behavior promise insights into processes beyond the Standard Model, such as those which would produce new “supersymmetric” particles. Indeed, finding and studying the Higgs is one of the key reasons that CERN's member states, with contributions from the United States and other nations, have committed themselves to the LHC project. And it is to keep that project on track that CERN is committed to shutting down LEP.

    The two CERN detectors have seen events in which it appears that a Higgs boson has been created along with a Z boson, a force-carrying particle that LEP was designed to provide by the bushel. Both immediately decay into paired jets of secondary particles. Higgsless events can produce similar sets of jets, but the CERN events occurred well above an expected background rate. The current excess corresponds to a three-standard-deviation signal, meaning that the odds of it arising by chance are less than 1 in 100.

    To drive the statistics up to five standard deviations and a mere 1 in a million chance of error—which would count as a copper-bottomed discovery—would take many months. But lengthening LEP's run by even 2 months, as LEP scientists suggested at a 5 September meeting, could have delayed serious LHC work until next year, a move that would have triggered penalty clauses with various contractors. Worse, if the delay had rippled along the LHC's tight construction schedule, it might well have pushed the machine's first operations back from summer 2005. CERN's machines shut down in winter, when the cost of electricity peaks, so that might have meant not starting up until spring 2006—an unacceptable delay.

    It may seem odd, if LEP is capable of making Higgs bosons, that it waited until the end of its life to do so. But it is precisely because the plug is about to be pulled that these new events are being seen. Pushing a huge but delicate machine like LEP too hard might curtail its useful life. But staying within the design limits carries a risk of not exploring the machine's full potential. And that can mean lost glory. When the J/_ particle was discovered at Brookhaven and Stanford in 1974, an Italian accelerator called ADONE had been running for more than a year at energies up to its design limit of 3 giga electron volts (GeV). It was quite capable of the 3.1 GeV needed to produce J/_ particles—it made some within days of the discovery—but no one had pushed the machine as far as it would go until it was too late.

    To avoid a similarly disappointing denouement, LEP operators decided at the end to throw caution to the wind. This summer, like Nigel Tufnel in the movie This Is Spinal Tap, they turned their amp up to 11—or, to be technical, their beams up to just over 103 GeV each—for that extra push over the cliff. And that made all the difference. With 100 GeV in each beam—the level the machine was designed for—there was simply not enough energy for a colliding particle pair to make a 91-GeV Z and a 114-GeV Higgs, which is what the new sightings suggest is going on. With 206 GeV, there's just enough.

    The extra month of research is meant to double the amount of data taken at this highest energy. That's almost certainly not enough to settle things for sure, but it might add more hints of a 114-GeV Higgs—or, if no further events are seen, rule out the possibility. As John Ellis in CERN's theory division explains it, “What you are looking at is not a paper saying ‘Discovery [of a Higgs].' But if the effect is repeated you might get a paper saying ‘Evidence …,' while at the moment all you could get would be a paper saying ‘Indications. …’” Dornan, though, points to the possibility of a “golden event” in which the Z decays into a pair of electrons or muons. A distinctive signature unlike anything expected in the background, that event would cry out for a Higgsian explanation. Such events are expected only about an eighth as often as the four-jet events, so the chances of seeing one in the next month may not be good. But if one were to turn up before 2 November, there might be a case for running LEP longer still. “How the management would take such a case,” Dornan says, “is unclear. We've been told that there's no way it could be kept on after [2 November]. But we'd have to see.”

    Barring a golden event, the likelihood now is that any “Discovery” paper will come not from CERN but from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) near Chicago. Next year scientists there will start using their improved Tevatron. This accelerator works at much higher energies than LEP, but because it uses protons and antiprotons, which are composed of quarks, rather than electrons and positrons, which have no subcomponents, its collisions are messy and only a fraction of the beam energy goes to producing new particles. The upgraded Tevatron's beams are meant to be 100 times brighter than before, and this means it may produce a measurable number of 114-GeV Higgs bosons.

    According to Mel Shochet of the University of Chicago, who is part of the CDFdetector team at the Tevatron, it will take a year or more to know for sure whether LEP did indeed glimpse something in its last few months. If that happens, and Fermilab discovers the Higgs, expect diplomatic niceties over the credit due to the LEP experimenters—niceties in which the distinction between the indications seen today and the evidence that might be seen by the end of October could play a crucial role. And expect excitement over the LHC, which operates at energies 10 times greater than the Tevatron's, to escalate further. As Ellis points out, a Higgs at 114 GeV would effectively guarantee that the Standard Model breaks down at energies easily accessible to the LHC, and thus that the new machine will be exploring rich realms of discovery from day one—with no pesky time limits.

  2. NIH

    Imaging Institute Picks Up Momentum

    1. Kathy Fisher*
    1. Kathy Fisher is a free-lance writer in Alexandria, VA.

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) may soon have a new offspring. Last week a House panel approved the creation of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIE) despite pleas from top NIH officials that such a move will balkanize research. The bipartisan proposal, which is also backed by Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, may have enough momentum to sail through Congress by the time it adjourns early next month. Even if it falls short, NIBIE reflects the growing desire of segments of the biomedical community to have their own address on the Bethesda campus.

    “Imaging is used as a tool in all the institutes, but there is no home at the NIH for the basic research that is essential to develop new imaging techniques and technologies for the 21st century,” University of Pennsylvania radiologist Nick Bryan, a former head of imaging research at NIH's clinical center, told the House Commerce Committee on 13 September, 1 day before its health and environmental subcommittee approved the measure. “Imaging is based on mathematics and physics, not the biological sciences that underlie most of the research in the current institutes.”

    A separate institute “makes no sense,” argues Marvin Cassman, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of 25 NIH institutes and centers. NIH already makes allowances for those differences, he says, and its organization by major disease or biological system better addresses societal goals. In addition, he notes, radiologists aren't alone in feeling that their needs aren't being met. “There isn't a field of science that NIH supports that does not feel it is neglected, underfunded, or in some way mistreated,” Cassman says.

    The House bill, H.R. 1795, is a marriage of proposals from Representative Richard Burr (R-NC), who wanted to give his medical-imaging constituents a bigger piece of the NIH pie, and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who was looking out for bioengineers in her home state. The bill would authorize spending at current levels for bioimaging and bioengineering, which NIH estimates stood at $840 million in 1998. Last year a congressional spending panel signaled its support, warning NIH that “the present organization does not accommodate basic scientific research in these fields and encourages unproductive diffusion of imaging and engineering research.” The lobbying effort includes 40 professional societies representing more than 100,000 physicians, radiological technicians, bioengineers, and imaging scientists, and has signed up 169 co-sponsors. Vice President Gore has even tucked the idea into his 191-page economic plan, as part of a discussion of the role of technology in improving health care.

    NIH has not been oblivious to all this political interest in a red-hot research area. In 1997 then-NIH director Harold Varmus linked the relevant pieces on campus into a Bioengineering Consortium (Science, 5 June 1998, p. 1516). This spring NIH raised the profile of the field by creating an Office of Bioengineering, Bioimaging, and Bioinformatics (OB3) that reports to acting NIH director Ruth Kirschstein. But proponents of the new institute point out that an office lacks the grantmaking powers of a center or an institute, and the director has a relatively free hand in setting its budget.

    Bryan said that he left NIH in large part out of frustration with the roadblocks that its structure posed to imaging research. He predicted that OB3 “will have to do what I did—pass the hat” among other institutes to obtain adequate funding. The current NIH structure also forces scientists to “artificially tailor their proposals to create the appearance of disease- or organ-specific research,” says Bryan. Even then, he says, institutes may well “recast the research to fit their own missions.”

    Having an institute will allow imaging and bioengineering researchers to chart their own course, proponents argue. “Cancer people have no interest in talking to the lung people” about their findings, says Reed Dunnick, chair of radiology at the University of Michigan and a former NIH researcher, who also testified before the Commerce panel. “Nothing short of an institute will be effective in stimulating and coordinating biomedical research to the extent that is needed.”

    Yet the need for improved coordination is exactly why Varmus opposes the new institute. Before he left in December to become president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Varmus proposed a dramatic overhaul that would collapse NIH into a half-dozen institutes of similar size organized around major research themes. “The proliferation of institutes is hampering the overall function of NIH,” he says. “Everyone wants an institute, and NIH has become too cumbersome for any director to manage.”

    Yet Varmus sees no sign that the trend toward disaggregation is abating. He predicts that, within 5 years, the residents of the new institute will demand a divorce into separate quarters for radiologists and bioengineers. And he guesses that, even if the bill fails this year, it will probably pass in the next Congress. “Once the train has left the station,” he says, “there's no turning back.”


    Canine Virus Blamed in Caspian Seal Deaths

    1. Richard Stone

    Canine distemper virus (CDV) has been identified as the most likely cause of a die-off of thousands of seals in the Caspian Sea earlier this year. Although the findings by two independent research groups allay fears of a threat to humans, they heighten concerns about the survival of the imperiled species.

    Dead and dying seals began washing ashore in mid-April near the mouth of the Ural River in Kazakhstan, one of five countries bordering the world's largest landlocked sea. Normally shy, the small, mottled-gray seals would swim up to boats, rub their noses against the hull, and bark oddly, as if gasping for air, says Anatoly Beklemishev, a molecular biologist with the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) near Novosibirsk, Russia. The first victims were pups, but as the die-off accelerated, the disease began to claim adults, too. Fearing that a presumed pathogen might be transmissible to people, Kazakhstan dispatched soldiers in body suits and gas masks to collect carcasses for incineration.

    Grim day at the beach.

    Russian scientist prepares to take tissue sample from ailing seal.

    Environmental groups immediately pointed a finger at oil companies in the region that were operating the Tengiz offshore oil field and exploring the Kashagan field. They claimed that sulfur dioxide discharges were corroding the animals' lungs. In June, Kazakhstan's environment minister asserted that pollution from the oil fields and pesticides were degrading the seals' health, citing recent studies showing high levels of DDT, an organochloride pesticide, in Caspian seal blubber. But the companies have denied the charges, and scientists say that DDT alone could not account for the seal deaths despite the fact that organochlorides have been implicated in lowered immune function in seals.

    Working with tissue samples from 16 seals, a team led by Seamus Kennedy of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Belfast, U.K., found lung tissue and epithelial cells riddled with microscopic lesions characteristic of morbillivirus infection—the viral group that includes CDV and a pathogen recently discovered in seals, phocine distemper virus. The researchers nailed canine distemper using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test specific for the CDV fusion gene. The diagnosis came as no surprise to Kennedy's group, which had found a CDV brain infection in one seal off Azerbaijan during an investigation into a slight rise in Caspian seal mortality in 1997.

    The findings will appear in the November-December issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases. However, they were posted last week on the journal's Web site ( after a Russian-Kazakh team released its preliminary findings ( That group, led by Beklemishev and Aleksandr Shestopalov of VECTOR, a former bioweapons lab, took samples from seals at a rookery on Maly Zhemchuzhny Island off the Russian coast and from a rookery on Kazakhstan's Bautin Bay. VECTOR scientists had studied a similar die-off in Russia's Lake Baikal in 1987–88 that was later attributed to CDV.

    Shestopalov believes that CDV has an accomplice. PCR tests of the recent samples revealed that some individuals were infected with seal influenza, and Shestopalov says that the symptoms observed by his team—including massive loss of body fat, shrunken spleens, and blood-filled lungs—cannot be attributed to CDV alone. He intends to test healthy seals for antibodies to various pathogens.

    The die-off, which has subsided after claiming as many as 20,000 victims, is another blow to the long-term prospects for the Caspian seal, a population of about 400,000 animals that is listed by the World Conservation Union as vulnerable to extinction. Scientists also plan to keep a close eye on the seals by watching them on the ice throughout the winter. “Just how high the mortality will be is anybody's guess,” says Kennedy.


    Earmarks, Rising Costs Threaten NASA Missions

    1. Andrew Lawler

    NASA space science chief Ed Weiler is already scrambling to match his budget with his priorities, which include martian rovers, an orbiter to circle Europa, and a host of other spacecraft designed to study the sun, black holes, asteroids, and other heavenly bodies. And his task won't get any easier in coming weeks and months. Besides the missions already planned, Weiler likely will have to pay for several Earth-bound subjects, such as museums, Web-technology projects, and even plant studies, that NASA hasn't even proposed.

    The House and Senate are working out a final 2001 budget plan that should leave NASA with a small increase over this year. But the increase will be more than swallowed up by projects costing hundreds of millions of dollars that politicians have added to satisfy their constituents. At the same time, rising mission costs in the wake of two recent Mars failures are forcing agency officials to steal money from lower priority efforts such as a trip to Pluto. The two trends, warn NASA and science community officials, could prove devastating to NASA's space science efforts.

    Last week a Senate spending panel voted to give the space agency $13.84 billion—less than its $14 billion request but $243 million more than this year. One piece of good news for NASA was $20 million to begin Living With a Star, a solar research effort axed by the House (Science, 28 July, p. 528). But agency supporters who praised the bill, such as Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), ranking minority member of the Senate spending panel, appear to have overlooked nearly $300 million in pork projects, also called earmarks, along with a $100 million cut in the overall account for science, aeronautics, and technology. The House likely will add its own pork-barrel projects when the two chambers meet in conference to work out a final budget. It's not clear how much space science received in last week's actions, which also didn't specify how the cuts would be distributed.

    A closer look.

    NASA says past failures are forcing up costs of planned missions such as the Europa orbiter.

    These “stealth cuts,” as one Administration official called them, could unravel NASA's space science program, for which the agency requested a 10% boost, to $2.4 billion. “The numbers don't look that bad, but the results could be devastating,” he says. “These earmarks are extraordinarily damaging,” adds Steven Squyres, an astronomer at Cornell University and chair of NASA's space science advisory panel. But “the end game” for the 2001 budget hasn't been reached, says a Mikulski aide, and there is still a chance for more money.

    Among the proposed pork projects is $3 million for coastal management studies at the University of Southern Mississippi, which pleases Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), as well as $2.5 million for a composite technology institute in West Virginia, a boon for former majority leader Robert Byrd (D-WV). There's also $2.5 million for a Hawaii museum, and $3 million to study the effect of weather and pathogens on genetically modified plants at a plant center in Missouri, the home state of Senator Christopher Bond (R), who chairs the spending panel that handles the NASA budget. The House did not add any earmarks in its $13.7 billion proposal for the agency, but Administration and congressional sources expect to see them added in conference.

    Weiler isn't panicking yet. “I'm more concerned about the doubling of costs of the Pluto and Europa missions,” he says. He recently ordered a halt to the Pluto mission after costs soared to $800 million, although he says the mission has not been canceled. The trip to Jupiter's moon Europa remains on target for a 2006 launch, despite its overruns, although Weiler says it could slip by a year. A new series of small missions called Explorer has been put on hold for as long as a year after costs crept up.

    The increases stem in part from the recent Mars failures, and a resulting report that blamed poor management and insufficient tests of the hardware. “It's forcing people to take a closer look” at each mission, says Weiler, adding that such conservatism breeds cost increases. Weiler has also ordered the shutdown at year's end of the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer, which since 1992 has been conducting an all-sky survey. “This is premature,” says Fred Walter, an astrophysicist at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. “But the user community is fairly limited, and so it doesn't have a lot of support.” NASA officials say the mission has been fulfilled and that the issue was more priorities than operations costs.

    The rising costs and delays worry some space scientists. “Signs of stress cracks already are appearing,” says Claude Canizares, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist and chair of the National Research Council's Space Studies Board. “But the program probably can make it if it doesn't have to absorb big cuts.” Weiler agrees that the situation is manageable if he can avoid paying for political pork. “If we get a bunch of earmarks, the only place we can get money is by canceling programs,” he warns. “Pluto is only the beginning.”


    Europe Set to Work on Hubble's Replacement

    1. Alexander Hellemans*
    1. Alexander Hellemans writes from Naples, Italy.

    NASA scientists and engineers working on the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST) got a boost from across the Atlantic last week. On 15 September in Paris, the European Space Agency's (ESA's) top science advisory committee recommended that the agency become a major partner in the project. The recommendation puts NGST—along with a handful of other missions the committee also endorsed last week—one short step away from officially becoming part of Europe's space program.

    Hot prospect. Solar Orbiter is one of six missions a European Space Agency panel approved last week.

    “We couldn't be happier,” says Bernard Seery, NGST project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. ESA's involvement is “critical to NASA's being able to achieve the objectives of NGST,” agrees Rick Howard, NGST's project executive at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. In the past, funding problems have threatened to curtail European participation in the space telescope (Science, 31 January 1997, p. 606). But now, says ESA's science director, Roger Bonnet, “it is clear that both the Americans and the Europeans are very keen on this mission.”

    The NGST, an 8-meter optical and infrared telescope scheduled to be launched around 2008, is on NASA's drawing board as a replacement for the aging Hubble Space Telescope. ESA's contribution would consist of a Near Infrared Multi-Object Spectrograph, an instrument for measuring the distance to remote galaxies, and a midinfrared camera-spectrometer to be built by several European countries. The agency will also help construct and operate the spacecraft itself.

    Such active participation is a “must for astronomy in Europe,” as it will secure European access to NGST, says Giovanni Bignami, science director of the Italian Space Agency. ESA plans to spend 180 million euros (about $150 million) on the telescope, but individual countries are expected to chip in additional money, Bignami says. The 180-million-euro figure is the maximum that ESA rules allow the agency to spend on any of its “fleximissions”—projects that the agency develops simultaneously and only later schedules for launch. ESA introduced fleximissions a year ago as a cost-cutting measure (Science, 1 October 1999, p. 21).

    Along with the NGST partnership, three other fleximissions won approval from ESA's Space Science Advisory Committee (SSAC) in Paris. LISA, another NASA collaboration, is an orbiting laser interferometer for detecting gravity waves. Solar Orbiter will study the sun from a close-in orbit. Eddington, a satellite designed to search for extrasolar planets, is a “reserve mission” to be launched if future funding and the schedules of NGST and LISA permit. Two other fleximission candidates—MASTER, a planned study of Mars and asteroids, and STORMS, a satellite designed to monitor storms in Earth's magnetosphere—were turned down but may still win approval later. In addition, the SSAC selected the next two “cornerstone missions” in its Horizons 2000 science program: Bepi-Colombo, a spacecraft that will orbit Mercury, and GAIA, a mission to determine the positions of stars with high precision. The projects, budgeted at 550 million euros (about $470 million) each, are scheduled to be launched in 2009 and 2012. All the proposals still need the go-ahead from ESA's Science Program Committee, which will meet on 11 and 12 October. In the past, the committee—made up of representatives of European governments—has generally approved projects recommended by the SSAC.


    Research Behemoth Slated for Overhaul

    1. Robert Koenig

    BRUSSELS—Disaffection with the European Union's (E.U.'s) flagship research effort has found a sympathetic ear in the program's upper echelons. Last week, the E.U.'s top two research officials said they are pushing for big changes in the successor to Europe's 5-year, $17 billion Framework 5, including stronger efforts to coordinate research across the continent and to support innovative projects.

    Among other complaints, scientists say that Framework's cumbersome bureaucracy takes too long to hand out grant money and that too little money is set aside for basic research that doesn't fit into such prescribed categories as aviation or infectious disease. In the current Framework, a small fraction of funding is reserved for “generic” projects—far less than in Framework 4. Such criticisms have galvanized the lobbying arm of the new European Life Scientist Organization (Science, 15 September, p. 1859). Although the next iteration, Framework 6, won't start until 2003, scientists are pushing hard now, because the E.U. research directorate has begun drawing up the new Framework's contours.

    Rank-and-file researchers—some of whose complaints were endorsed in an expert panel's report this summer—now have powerful allies in agitating for change. In a speech on 14 September to the European Parliament, research commissioner Philippe Busquin promised that Framework 6 would play a bigger role in coordinating European research. And speaking with journalists last week, the research directorate's new director-general, Greek economist Achilleas Mitsos, predicted that Framework 6 will include a greater proportion of funding for projects that don't fit into the spending pigeonholes.

    Mitsos also says that Framework 6 is expected to prime efforts to “link the different national and European Community research programs in a more strategic way.” That picks up on Busquin's proposal for a “European Research Area” (ERA)— endorsed this summer by European science ministers—to help coordinate national research efforts in E.U. member states (Science, 21 January, p. 405).

    Whether Busquin and Mitsos can execute their desired changes is another question. New programs and changes in E.U. policy must be endorsed by all 15 member states, as well as by the European Parliament and the commission. To help navigate this labyrinth, Mitsos's team is preparing a strategic plan, to be issued early next month, that will lay out how the research directorate plans to implement the ERA and develop Framework 6, the first draft of which is due in February.


    For Certain Shrimp, Life's a Snap

    1. Kathryn Brown*
    1. Kathryn Brown is a writer in Alexandria, Virginia.

    For such a shrimp, Alpheus heterochaelis gets awfully violent. Whenever a delicious—or dangerous—sea creature skulks by, the dirty-green shrimp slams its snapper claw shut, blasting the visitor with a jet of water. Quite naturally, scientists have attributed the crackle of snapping shrimp colonies, much like the sound of burning twigs, to many claws banging together. But now, an unusual study reveals the shrimp's real noisemaker: bubbles.

    On page 2114 of this issue, physicist Detlef Lohse of the University of Twente in the Netherlands and his colleagues report that a collapsing bubble outside the shrimp's claw causes its characteristic clack. According to this new study, A. heterochaelis clamps its claw so rapidly that a water jet gushing from the claw first loses and then gains pressure, causing an air bubble in the jet to swell and collapse with a pronounced “snap!” The imploding bubble generates shock waves that stun nearby prey and ward off other shrimp, who have learned to keep their distance. “These bubbles are tiny, but they have tremendous energy,” remarks Lohse. Snapping shrimp may be the first animals known to create forceful “cavitation” bubbles, more commonly churned by the propellers of ships.

    “This is one of those studies that makes you think, ‘Damn, I wish I'd done that,’” says physicist Lawrence Crum of the University of Washington, Seattle. “It's a first-class piece of work.” (Crum is no stranger to the surprising sounds of nature: He has recorded the underwater gas bubbles that form and then burst with a shriek when snowflakes fall on a lake.) “What's remarkable,” Crum says, “is that this shrimp can move its claw fast enough to create a vapor bubble.” Shrimp in the study snapped their claws shut at speeds reaching 108 kilometers per hour, Lohse says.

    Smaller than a finger, A. heterochaelis lives in warm, shallow seawater, often burrowing below coral rubble or among oyster clumps in tide flats. Each shrimp sports one ordinary claw and one snapper claw, which looks like a mottled green boxing glove and can grow to half the shrimp's size. Muscles on each side of the snapper claw slowly contract, cocking the claw open like a revolver—until an unfortunate little crab, for instance, triggers the claw to slam shut. Together, hundreds of trigger-happy shrimp make a colony, snapping day and night. During World War II, the Navy launched some of the first acoustic studies on the shrimp, whose constant crackle drowned out submarine-detecting sonar.

    The new study was sparked a few years ago, when Barbara Schmitz, a zoologist at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, was shooting video of shrimp in her lab and noticed the curious flash of a bubble in some pictures. At a 1999 meeting, she approached Lohse, who studies bubble dynamics. They decided to collaborate.

    To catch the bubbles in action, the scientists, with Twente researchers Michel Versluis and Anna von der Heydt, tethered seven shrimp on a platform inside Schmitz's lab aquarium. Then they planted a 40,000-frame-per-second camera above, or sometimes below, the aquarium and dangled a hydrophone, or underwater microphone, into the water. Over and over, the researchers tickled each shrimp's snapper claw with a paintbrush, recording its reaction, for a total of 108 experiments.

    Every time, the shrimp's claw snapped shut—followed, hundreds of microseconds later, by the loud collapse of a bubble in the ensuing water jet. The video shows an air bubble forming between a shrimp's closing claw and then blasting away along with the water jet before the claw shuts. Some 300 microseconds later, the bubble balloons to about 3 millimeters and then shatters, leaving a cloud of tinier bubbles that quickly dissolve. On audio, the big bubble break, or cavitation, invariably broadcasts a loud snap. “What we hear must be bubble noise,” says Schmitz. “The recordings are quite convincing.”

    To work out the physics of this crustacean cavitation, the researchers simulated it with a numerical model. Their model relies on a phenomenon called Bernoulli's Principle: When liquid moves above a certain speed, its pressure drops, and vapor bubbles in the liquid expand. But if the pressure rises again, those bubbles will implode. And that's precisely what happens with a snapping shrimp, Lohse says, as the water jet spewing from its claw returns to normal pressure. The team's calculations of bubble shape and speed closely mirror the lab recordings, Lohse adds.

    “The study makes a nice case for cavitation,” agrees physicist Michael Buckingham of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. Buckingham wonders, however, whether suction pad-style membranes on the back of the shrimp's claw—and not the closing of the claw itself—cause the bubbles. For that matter, no one knows how many of the roughly 400 snapping shrimp species blow bubbles, or how the talent evolved. On these matters, the shrimp fall strangely silent.


    A Victim of the Black Sea Flood Found

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    Have deep-sea explorers uncovered the drowned dwelling of some of Noah's less fortunate contemporaries? Archaeologists are mulling over tantalizing images of what appears to have been a house of wood and mud littered with human artifacts now 91 meters beneath the Black Sea. The find lends further credence to the claims of two oceanographers that a torrent equaling 200 Niagara Falls cascaded from the Mediterranean Sea 7500 years ago, driving Neolithic peoples living along the Black Sea coastline inland (Science, 20 February 1998, p. 1132). But whether the catastrophe gave rise to the biblical account of Noah's Flood and spread farming into central Europe, as the researchers speculate, we can't yet say.

    Oceanographer Robert Ballard of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut, led the expedition during which the discovery was made. He used the same combination of underwater technology and informed searching as he employed when he made his other famous finds, including the Titanic, the Bismarck, and two Phoenician ships—the oldest shipwrecks ever discovered in deep water. Guiding a remotely operated vehicle across a sea-floor target initially identified in a sonar survey, Ballard and his colleagues on the National Geographic Society-sponsored expedition came upon “one of the most astonishing things I've ever seen,” said the expedition's chief archaeologist, Fredrik Hiebert of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, whose research centers on Neolithic sites onshore from the find off the Turkish south coast of the Black Sea.

    In a shipboard interview provided by the society, Hiebert recounted what to date other archaeologists have seen in a few grainy images. “… We were coming along the flat, slightly sloping plane of the bottom of the Black Sea today. It was almost featureless. … We found a rectangular site some 4 meters across and maybe double that in length. … Here were hewn beams in a rectangular form along with branches that seemed to be stuck in layers of mud. What we were looking at was a melted building made out of wattle and daub. Now, this is the typical type of construction for the ancient inhabitants along the Black Sea coast. And here we're seeing it under 300 feet [91 meters] of water. … As we went very carefully—practically inch by inch—over this site, we began to see stone tools. … I don't know if they're hammers or chisels … but it's quite clear that they were worked by human hands. … We also found fragments of ceramics. … This is a remarkable find.”

    Archaeologists who have seen the few images released on the nightly news or the society's Web site ( are definitely intrigued. “There do seem to be some traces of human activity,” says archaeologist Peter Bogucki of Princeton University. “Based on these photos, they have found highly suggestive evidence of human habitation,” says archaeologist Andrew Moore of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. But like others, he adds, “I would like to see the objects themselves.” Some, such as wood suitable for carbon-14 dating, may be retrieved on this expedition.

    The presumed discovery would lend support to the scenario put forth 3 years ago by oceanographers William Ryan and Walter Pitman of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, in which rising sea level in the Mediterranean after the last ice age eventually breached the Bosporus strait and expanded the existing freshwater lake by a kilometer or more a day. The geologic evidence has largely persuaded archaeologists of the reality of the deluge, says Moore, but “there is a great deal of skepticism of the larger claims of cultural change.” The requisite coastal population may have been there at the time of the flood, says Moore, but the links to a forced migration that spread agriculture and prompted flood myths are “still tenuous ones for most scholars.”


    Forbes Loses in Fallout From Reactor Fight

    1. Andrew Lawler

    A New York congressman who sided with environmentalists to kill a nuclear research reactor at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, has been defeated in a stunning primary upset. Representative Michael Forbes, who switched from the Republican to the Democratic party last year, lost last week by a narrow margin to Regina Seltzer, the 71-year-old widow of a Brookhaven chemist. The defeat is a blow to the national Democratic party, which had strongly backed Forbes, but is welcome news to many Brookhaven scientists.

    Forbes had alienated many of the lab's 3000 employees in recent years when he urged the Department of Energy (DOE) to shut permanently the High-Flux Beam Reactor, which leaked tritium (Science, 25 February, p. 1382). Although DOE chief Bill Richardson decided last year to close the facility, many scientists accused Forbes of politicizing the issue and currying favor with influential Long Island environmentalists. Seltzer, a former librarian, describes herself as “a passionate supporter of science.”

    Seltzer won the 12 September primary by just 35 votes, causing Long Island activists to point to the lab as a critical factor. “There was a lot of resentment toward Forbes,” says Brookhaven chemist Joanna Fowler, who backed Seltzer. Adds one DOE official, “If he hadn't done what he did to Brookhaven, he would have won this election.”

    Seltzer, who billed herself during the primary campaign as the “real Democrat,” faces an uphill battle against Republican Felix Grucci Jr. because of the district's heavy Republican majority. Forbes will appear on the November ballot as the candidate of a minor party.


    Moratorium Urged on Germ Line Gene Therapy

    1. Eliot Marshall

    A report issued this week by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, publisher of Science) has called for a total moratorium* on attempts to cure genetic diseases by altering the genome in ways that would be passed from one generation to the next. Human germ line gene therapy would be unsafe and unethical, the report concludes. And it urges the government to create an independent panel to monitor public and private research and prevent such risky experiments.

    The authors of the report, ethicists Mark Frankel and Audrey Chapman of the AAAS staff in Washington, D.C., reached these conclusions after consulting for 2 years with a score of advisers in gene therapy, ethics, sociology, and theology. They found wide support for a moratorium on germ line gene therapy. But they went further, proposing a moratorium on therapies that might change human DNA accidentally, including methods already being used by some reproductive medicine clinics.

    The DNA editing methods that make it possible to revise mammalian genomes are “developing impressively,” said Theodore Friedmann, director of the gene therapy program at the University of California, San Diego, and adviser to the AAAS authors. It would be exciting to try to “fix” genetic diseases by editing the human genome, Friedmann said, but he is convinced that the risks—not just to the individuals immediately affected but to future generations—outweigh the potential benefits.

    The AAAS report reflects this concern, although it supports expanded basic research in this field as well as clinical gene therapy for cells other than sperm and eggs. Public funding of germ line gene therapy “is not warranted,” it concludes. And it urges careful monitoring of private labs, noting that private firms might try to sell genetic “enhancement” therapies to improve the beauty, brains, and brawn of children. The report proposes that a national group of experts and laypeople, open to the public and housed at an institution that does not fund biomedical research, be established to keep tabs on the field.

    Risky therapy?

    Ethicists question a fertility technique that transfers cytoplasm from one human egg to another.


    At present, no public or private labs are proposing to do germ line gene therapy. But reproductive medicine clinics are conducting experiments that might be affected if these recommendations were adopted. For example, the report questions a type of therapy that involves removing cytoplasmic material from a donor egg and injecting it into a recipient to improve the egg's viability. The process also transfers mitochondrial DNA, which means that a child born by this process may inherit mitochondrial DNA from both eggs. The AAAS report classifies this as a type of “inheritable genetic modification” and argues that it should not be done at present.

    Jacques Cohen, director of the Institute of Reproductive Medicine and Science at the St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey, which developed and is using the technique, agrees that it is “highly experimental.” But he argues that it is “an incredible stretch” to classify it as germ line gene therapy. He says he has found no harmful effects from the technique, which has enabled infertile women to give birth to healthy babies—15 at last count.


    Twins for the Themis Asteroid Family

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    Many planets enjoy the company of a moon or two, but asteroids usually travel in solitude. Now a high-tech telescopic search has revealed that the asteroid Antiope is actually two bodies of similar size circling each other. It's not the first asteroid found to be a pair, but the uniquely twinned Antiope presents a severe problem: How could the continual banging about among asteroids create bodies of similar size in orbit about each other?

    The first discovery of a satellite pair didn't give theoreticians such trouble. In 1994, the Galileo spacecraft found little 1.5-kilometer Dactyl orbiting 56-kilometer Ida, and the most obvious explanation was a large collision. Ida is a member of an asteroid “family” of large fragments traveling in much the same orbit about the sun, all of which must have formed when a collision shattered a much larger ancestral asteroid. Dactyl could be just a small relic of the same event that Ida happened to capture. The discovery in 1999 of 13-kilometer Petit-Prince circling 214-kilometer Eugenia proved more difficult to explain because Eugenia is the largest of its family; any candidate satellites among the debris would have been blasted out of its gravitational grasp.

    Now, in a meeting abstract newly posted to the Web (, astronomer William Merline of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado—the discoverer of Petit-Prince—and his colleagues report the discovery of two more asteroid pairs. Using adaptive optics that undo the atmosphere's blurring effects, they imaged a small companion of the asteroid Pulcova. More surprisingly, they also split the supposed 120- kilometer Antiope—a member of the Themis asteroid family—into two equal-size bodies separated by 170 kilometers. “I'm stunned and astonished,” says planetary physicist Jay Melosh of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “It's not anything that was expected.”

    Theoreticians contacted by Science are at a loss to explain the twinning of Antiope. Planetary dynamicist William Bottke of SwRI, Boulder (who is not a co-discoverer), does hazard a guess. Many small collisions may have reduced an ancestral Antiope to a collection of rubble, he speculates. If so, a glancing blow by another asteroid might have spun Antiope like a top, causing it to fly apart into two equal-size rubble piles still orbiting about their center of mass. But a lot of computer modeling will be needed to support such speculation. As Melosh says, “We have a very interesting new puzzle in the solar system.”


    Soft Money's Hard Realities

    1. Marcia Barinaga

    “Second-class citizen” is how researchers on soft money, who have to raise their salaries from grants, describe their position. It can be fraught with financial insecurity, disrespect, and poor facilities—as well as some advantages

    The University of California, San Francisco, didn't want to lose star geneticist Nelson Freimer in 1995 when his wife, mathematical biologist Sally Blower, was looking for a job. But they didn't have a tenure-track position open in her field. So UCSF offered Blower, who has an international reputation for her work on the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases, a position as an adjunct associate professor—in other words, a “soft money” job in which she had to raise her own salary. Blower accepted the offer, but while Freimer thrived, Blower festered. She found her position “humiliating and offensive” and felt she had to grovel to senior faculty members who controlled her lab space. “Many women get shoved into this [kind of position] who should have proper jobs,” Blower said last spring before she and Freimer left UCSF for two tenured positions at UCLA (7 April, p. 26).

    Stanford analytical chemist Maria Dulay, on the other hand, willingly turned down a tenure-track faculty job at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for a long-term, soft-money position as a research associate in Richard Zare's lab at Stanford. Although she craved the status and independence of a faculty position, she also wanted to be with her scientist husband, who was firmly ensconced in a Silicon Valley start-up company. Dulay points out the upsides of her job: She is part of a premier research team, has few funding worries because Zare's grant covers her salary, and gets to spend more time with her young daughter than she would as a faculty member. But, she notes, her choice was “career limiting”: There is now little chance that she will ever hold a full-fledged faculty position.

    Such are the disparate experiences and often conflicting emotions—rage, resignation, and contentment—of scientists in soft-money positions. These jobs come in various forms, with titles ranging from researcher or research associate to adjunct or in-residence professor. Some positions are under the wing of a tenured faculty member, while others offer principal investigator or faculty status. Although data on the exact numbers of these positions are scarce, they make up a substantial fraction of the scientific workforce at many universities, especially medical schools (see table). What scientists in these positions have in common is that they are not on the esteemed tenure track, their salaries are paid by grants rather than their institutions, and they have little or no long-term job security. “Second-class citizen” is the phrase that even those who like their jobs often use to describe their status in the departments where they work.

    The majority of soft-money scientists work within collaborative groups, and many of them are willing to trade some status for freedom from administrative duties. It is spouses like Dulay and Blower who tend to be the most frustrated, because they feel they deserve a crack at the tenure track. Soft-money positions are especially tough on those scientists who decide to go it alone as independent investigators. They often feel overwhelmed by the stress of having to conduct their research with minimal resources or departmental support, all the while competing with tenure-track faculty members for the grants that provide their salaries and facing the prospect that their employment could end when their current grant expires.

    And virtually all soft-money scientists, even those who profess to be happy, have tales of disrespect and humiliation they have suffered. Neuroscientist Ratnesh Lal, an associate research biologist on soft money at the UC Santa Barbara Neuroscience Research Institute, compares the academic culture to the caste system in his native India, with soft-money researchers trapped at the bottom. “You have to have a strong will” to survive in such a position, he says. It also helps to have an accommodating department, friends in high places, and money in the bank as a cushion—not to mention emotional security and a tough skin.

    A steppingstone to tenure?

    For those with strong wills—and exceptional scientific talent—styling oneself as an independent soft-money researcher can occasionally pay off with a tenure-track position. But tenured professors at top institutions who started out that way warn that it's a difficult route, in which the chance of success is tenuous at best. “If I were making the decision again, I certainly wouldn't take that track,” says developmental biologist Marianne Bronner-Fraser, a full professor at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who began her career on soft money at UC Irvine. “It is so easy to get stuck.”

    The best insurance against getting stuck, says Bronner-Fraser, is to regard the position as temporary and be prepared to switch jobs within a few years. She was 27 and still writing her Ph.D. thesis when she was offered an adjunct faculty position at Irvine in 1980 as part of a recruitment package for her husband, Scott Fraser. She found the offer “very flattering” and accepted it. With minimal teaching and no administrative responsibilities, her research flourished, and she brought in ample grant support. It took her several years to realize that she had come in at the lowest pay scale, a rung rarely if ever used for starting tenure-track faculty. Then “I started putting myself up for accelerated promotions, just about every year until I caught up.” But she soon tired of having to pay 100% of her salary from her grants and wanted a tenure-track position.

    When a slot opened up at Irvine, Bronner-Fraser applied but didn't get the job. “I felt really disgruntled,” she says. “I thought I was much better than this guy who got hired.” So she began looking elsewhere. The prospect of her departure was enough to persuade another department at Irvine to offer her a tenure-track job, where she went on to become a full professor. Although Bronner-Fraser didn't have to move to another university to make the leap, “you have to be willing to go,” she says.

    Threatening to leave is not guaranteed to crack open the tenure track, however. In February of this year, Freimer wrote to UCSF Chancellor J. Michael Bishop complaining about Blower's treatment and status, and he threatened that they would both leave if her situation did not improve. Despite a world-class reputation and a steady stream of papers in top journals, Blower did not get a tenure-track offer from UCSF. Blower blamed it on sexism; the university said that a position simply wasn't open in her field. Freimer and Blower made good on their threat and left for independent tenured positions at UCLA.

    The power of advocates

    Researchers who are unwilling to consider moving elsewhere lack that leverage. Developmental biologist Gail Martin took a soft- money position at UCSF in the mid-1970s because she and her husband Steve Martin wanted to live in the Bay Area. Gail was a postdoc at University College London, and Steve had his own lab at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund when he was offered a job at UC Berkeley. “I said, ‘Let's go, and I'll figure something out,’” Gail recalls. She was highly marketable, having just published an important paper on using teratocarcinoma stem cells as an in vitro model for mammalian development. In retrospect, she says it may have been a mistake not to look nationwide for a pair of tenure-track offers. Instead, she took a second postdoc at UCSF and within a year negotiated herself a soft-money faculty position.

    Before long Martin realized the limitations of the path she had chosen. “There I was with 300 to 400 square feet [28 to 37 m2] of space, old and unrenovated. I had no salary support and zero setup money.” Without setup funds to install the basic lab furniture they needed, she and her postdocs had to scavenge discarded lab benches from other labs that were being renovated. What's more, she was in a common situation for soft-money faculty members, with a position cobbled together with resources from more than one department; in her case, she had space from one department and a faculty appointment in another. And that meant she had no advocate watching out for her interests—and advocates are key, she says.

    Nevertheless, over the next 9 years, Martin built an international reputation with publications in top journals including Nature, Cell, and Science. She was given additional space—albeit unrenovated—and was promoted to full professor in residence on the nontenure track. But her status in her field greatly outstripped her status at home. “People outside didn't have a clue that I was working with such marginal institutional resources,” she recalls. It was “really a struggle.” It was not until the mid-1980s that her fortunes changed. UCSF was looking for someone to head a new program in developmental biology, and several influential faculty members, including UCSF cancer biologist Bishop, now chancellor of the campus, and Bruce Alberts, now head of the National Academy of Sciences, saw Martin as the ideal candidate to lead the program. With Bishop and Alberts as her advocates, she says, “for the first time in my career at UCSF I had some real leverage.” Martin took the post, and as recompense got not only a tenured position and newly renovated lab space but the opportunity to recruit two top young developmental biologists as her neighbors.

    Whereas Martin charted her soft-money course independently of her husband, many soft-money spouses begin in their spouse's lab, which can prove an extra impediment. Developmental biologist Christine Holt took a soft-money position at UC San Diego in the late 1980s so she could be with her husband, development biologist Bill Harris. But she soon faced the problem of how to differentiate her work from her husband's. Although Holt was working on an independent project that she had begun before she even met Harris, she shared his lab space, and they often collaborated, leading their colleagues to view her as a glorified postdoc. “There was a tendency to credit my work to him,” says Holt, now a tenured reader at the University of Cambridge, equivalent to full professor in the United States. “I remember being told by the department that if I wanted to have a job, we would have to stop publishing together.” Closing down their collaborative work was painful, says Holt, but it won her tenure at UC San Diego.

    Settling into a soft-money life

    Whereas some scientists view soft-money positions as temporary, others settle into them as careers, without expecting tenure. Fresh out of a postdoc in the early 1980s, UC Davis neuroscientist Karen Sigvardt was offered a tenure-track position at the State University of New York, Buffalo. But she turned it down because she didn't want to leave California. She had already received a grant from the National Science Foundation for her work on spinal cord physiology, so, grant in hand, she went around to colleagues in northern California to negotiate a job. She succeeded, striking a deal for a soft-money position with the chief of neurology at the Veterans Administration hospital affiliated with UC Davis.

    Sigvardt was never promised, nor did she expect, a chance to make the hop to the tenure track, but that hasn't dampened her sense of fulfillment in her career. Although she misses the financial security of tenure, she revels in the freedom from administrative responsibilities that comes with her position. “You can say ‘no' to anything they ask you to do within reason, because 100% of your salary is paid by your grant,” she says. “I just joke and say, ‘Nobody is paying me to do this.’” Taking advantage of that freedom, Sigvardt has gone to work in a collaborator's lab in London for months at a time. But Sigvardt has also volunteered to do department service she enjoys: She has been a graduate adviser for her department and directs the neuroscience graduate program.

    “I personally value the contribution that our adjunct faculty make,” says Sigvardt's department chair, William Jagust. “Karen is incredibly productive scientifically, and she has been a very good colleague.” Sigvardt acknowledges that she is lucky to feel like “a valued member” of her department. Satisfaction in soft-money positions “is very department-dependent,” she says. “I know people on this campus who think adjuncts are just inferior scientists who couldn't get a job.”

    Salary jitters

    Even soft-money researchers like Sigvardt who are appreciated by their departments face the specter of financial insecurity. “Every single year I get this letter that reminds me … that should I fail to have sufficient funds to cover my salary and benefits, my appointment will cease,” Sigvardt says. Funding “is a continual source of stress and anxiety,” agrees neuroscientist Don Anderson, although he has survived 22 years as a soft-money research biologist at UC Santa Barbara without a lapse in funding. “You go through a roller coaster mentally every few years. You get funded and feel pretty good,” but soon begin to worry about the next grant cycle.

    Some researchers opt for alternative duties, such as teaching, to secure part of their salary. But for one microbiologist, at least, that choice only compounded her problems by gobbling up precious research time. Because one grant is insufficient to pay her salary, this researcher, who asked to remain anonymous, signed on to teach for two quarters in exchange for about one-third of her salary. “I feel there is much more pressure on me in this position than on a regular tenure-track professor. If I had tenure, I would have to come up with just 3 months of my salary [from my grant] and would only have to teach one quarter. I would have much more time to do research, write papers, and get funding.” She adds: “I love my research, but sometimes I just feel like quitting.”

    And sometimes the money does run out, throwing researchers into what Alex Peinado of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City recalls as “a young investigator's worst nightmare.” As a postdoc at Einstein 7 years ago, Peinado landed a FIRST award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—a grant designed for beginning faculty members—and along with it a promotion to assistant professor at Einstein, where most faculty members are on soft money. But when his experiments didn't pan out, his funding lapsed. Einstein provided crisis support for 18 months, a benefit many institutions offer in some limited fashion. But when that ran out and another grant proposal was rejected, Peinado wound up last January working without pay for 6 months. “I was very lucky that with my wife's salary and our savings we had enough money to support our family,” he says. “[Otherwise] my career as a scientist would be over.”

    Peinado now has a grant that will begin in December. Meanwhile, his chair has generously given him an additional 5 months of crisis support and reinstated his position even before his grant kicks in. Despite his ordeal, Peinado believes that soft-money positions are “not … intrinsically bad.” In principle, he says, 2 years of crisis support should be adequate. But he would like to see more flexibility in how the safety net is applied, to allow for the failures that can result when capable young investigators shoot for overly ambitious goals.

    To reduce that risk, soft-money investigators might be well advised to work in collaborative groups rather than on a single-investigator grant, says Jagust of UC Davis. “That is a tough life. You are the only one, and if you fail, you are dead,” he says. Indeed, some institutions, such as the University of Chicago, don't have independent soft-money positions. Soft money is best used to hire researchers whose work fits in with ongoing research projects, says Robert Zimmer, Chicago's deputy provost for research. “We have made the decision to avoid the situation where you have somebody who says … ‘I have a grant. Just give me some space.’”

    Finding a balance

    Administrators at a number of institutions reached by Science say they are committed to minimizing the perils of soft-money positions. But they also want to balance fairness to the investigators with maintenance of their institutions' standards for high-quality research. Most administrators say that the best way to prevent soft-money failures is to appoint only those people who are well-equipped to succeed. Charles Kruger, vice provost and dean of research and graduate policy at Stanford University, says his office reviews every appointment of a soft-money faculty member. If a department chair were appointing a weak person to a soft-money position “out of desperation,” says Kruger—say, as part of a spouse's recruitment package—“it probably wouldn't pass … the review process.”

    At least some institutions take special care to fully disclose the nature of the appointment. “We want to be sure … that the conditions and expectations are laid out adequately,” says Marvin Parnes, associate vice president for research at the University of Michigan. To that end, he said, his office reviews the offers that departments make to job candidates to ensure that the offers clearly spell out what kind of support and resources the person will receive and precisely what will be expected of them come promotion time.

    Regarding the biggest concern of soft-money researchers—emergency salary support—university administrators say it should be doled out judiciously. No one should be turned out immediately upon losing a grant, says Ellen Switkes, assistant vice president for academic advancement at the University of California. The university has “an investment in this person. Their research is up and going; there may be graduate students working with them. It behooves the institution to tide the person over until their new grant comes through.” Departments usually provide this kind of bridging support, she says, although it is UC policy not to promise it. On the other hand, say Switkes and other administrators, it is a mistake to postpone the eventual termination of grantless researchers by supporting them for too long. When grievances over such support reach her office, Switkes says, the department most often has erred on the side of generosity, floating an unfunded researcher for so long that he or she feels entitled to further support. Parnes says Michigan has a well- defined sliding scale for the amount of crisis support available to its soft-money faculty: up to 18 months in any 5-year period for the most senior people. But, he emphasizes, support is only offered in cases to “truly bridge” a short-term gap between grants: “This is not a substitute for severance pay.”

    Despite evidence of concern from the top, there is no guarantee at any university that rules won't be bent or abuses won't occur. “It is definitely ‘buyer beware’” for the person considering a soft-money job, says Switkes (see sidebar, 2028). “You have to be very careful about the kind of department you are getting into, what the local politics are, and the perspective for long-term grant funding. Those are all very individual things.”

    “There is nothing inherently exploitative or bad about soft-money positions,” adds Gillian Einstein, a scientific review administrator at NIH who held a soft-money faculty position at Duke University Medical Center for 11 years. “They can be incredibly useful. The key is the structure, and a sense of the culture in which they exist, and whether you can grow and be creative. Because that is why you're doing science.”

    View this table:

    Satisfaction Sans Status

    1. Marcia Barinaga

    Developmental biologist Susan Bryant was already a tenured professor at the University of California (UC), Irvine, in 1980 when she met her future husband, David Gardiner, who was a postdoc at UC Davis. When they married in 1983, Gardiner took a soft-money position as a researcher at Irvine. Because Gardiner was flexible in his goals and committed to raising children, it seemed a better choice than trying to get two jobs somewhere else, he recalls. And 17 years and two children later, Gardiner says that decision was right for them as a couple—and that he has learned to endure the indignities that come with the territory.

    Personally as well as professionally, says Gardiner, the arrangement has given the couple “tremendous advantages.” For one, it enabled Gardiner to spend a lot of time with the children when they were young. Gardiner also appreciates the freedom to immerse himself in the couple's joint research on amphibian limb development, without the distraction of administrative and teaching responsibilities. Gardiner keeps the lab productive when Bryant, who is now dean of biological sciences, has to attend to other matters. Gardiner likens the couple's arrangement to a small business whose success depends on teamwork.

    The two didn't expect to work so closely; indeed, when he first moved to Irvine, Gardiner was determined to pursue his own research interests in fertilization. But with no fertilization researchers at Irvine, he felt isolated, while Bryant had built an exciting team. Before long Gardiner gave in and joined the group, and the couple has enjoyed collaborating ever since. “If biology is a big part of your life, then being able to work together is really tremendous,” says Bryant.

    Gardiner says his toughest challenge has been accepting that his position does not command respect. The concrete indignities, such as not being listed in the campus directory, may seem trivial, but Gardiner compares the overall effect to institutionalized sexism or racism. “The attitude is … ‘We all have agreed that there is a hierarchy, and we are at the top and you are not. So, gosh, don't feel bad about it.’” He feels he gets even less respect because he's a man in a spousal soft-money position: “A lot of men think, ‘That's OK for a woman, but why's a guy doing this? What's wrong with him?’” Realizing that his decision to join Bryant's research project hasn't helped his quest for respect, Gardiner recently took on a project of his own: studying the deformed frogs that began turning up in the Midwest 5 years ago, a project that has brought him national prominence and the ear of federal policy-makers. That recognition, based on his work rather than faculty status, “felt really good,” Gardiner says.

    Bryant says it has been painful to realize that others view Gardiner as an “underling” rather than giving him equal credit for their lab's success: “I feel somewhat guilty about it.” As dean of biological sciences, Bryant hopes to improve the status and job security of those on soft money. But she realizes that she has to tread carefully so that she does not appear self-serving in the reforms she tries to enact.


    Geology Couple Plots a Path to Success

    1. Marcia Barinaga

    In 1988, experimental geophysicists Quentin Williams and Elise Knittle were on the job market, having completed their Ph.D.s with Raymond Jeanloz at the University of California (UC), Berkeley. They landed a lot of interviews but suffered from the “two-body problem”: husband-and-wife job candidates in the same field needing jobs in the same geographical area. Pennsylvania State University offered them two tenure-track positions. But the offer that intrigued them most was from the department of earth sciences at UC Santa Cruz: a tenure-track position for Knittle and a soft-money slot for Williams at the department-affiliated Institute of Tectonics.

    They chose Santa Cruz in part, says Knittle, because UCSC offered a better setup package, which would enable them to get up and running faster. “We were trying to balance the short-term advantages of having two tenure-track positions versus the long-term advantages of having a better lab,” she says. “We felt that ultimately our success or failure in a tenure-track position or otherwise was going to depend on getting the science going.” They also felt they were joining a young, growing, and dynamic department at UCSC. “It looked like it was probably going to expand over the next several years, and there was a possibility if not a likelihood that I could be part of that expansion,” says Williams. Indeed, the UCSC department promised that within a few years it would advertise a position in Williams's research area, for which he could apply.

    As a soft-money recruit, even in such a sympathetic department, Williams realized that getting the job was not a sure bet. “Having an internal candidate come out as the best person in an open search is often difficult,” he says. “I knew I would have to be extremely productive [so] that … there would be no question that I would be head and shoulders above the other candidates.” He also realized he needed to prove his commitment as a department citizen. To this end he helped raise money for department programs, advised graduate students, developed and taught new courses, and became a regular participant at seminars and department events. The couple also made an effort to increase their individual value to the department by diverging their research paths. “We run a lab together, and a decent portion of our work is jointly published,” says Williams, but “we have differentiated ourselves intentionally over time. I take more of a geochemical route, and Elise sells herself as a geophysicist.”

    In 1990, Santa Cruz made good on its promise, and Williams's hard work paid off; the position came open, and he got the job. They have since thrived at UCSC: Knittle received tenure in 1992 and Williams in 1995; she became full professor in 1998 and he in 1999. Knittle just became chair of the department.

    Looking back at her own experience and forward into the department's future, Knittle thinks its use of soft-money positions to attract couples has paid off. She acknowledges that a spouse's area of research may not be in the direction the department originally intended to grow, “but people [in the department] have been very open to change.” And by offering a job search in the spouse's area, she says, “we have been able to hire people I don't think we could have recruited otherwise.”


    Look Before You Leap

    1. Marcia Barinaga

    For those considering a soft-money position, either as a temporary or permanent career move, researchers and administrators advise going in with your eyes wide open and well informed about the specifics of your situation. Here are some of their suggestions:

    • Think hard about whether you are up to the emotional as well as intellectual challenges ahead. Unless you land in an unusually enlightened department, you are going to feel like a second-class citizen. “You have to be a fairly secure person in your own right; otherwise I think you'd probably have a nervous breakdown,” says University of California (UC), Davis, neuroscientist Karen Sigvardt, who has had a soft-money position for 17 years. “It is a very stressful situation for some people.”

    • Make your job move a positive choice rather than a passive slide into a default option. Biologist Nancy Hopkins of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology warns postdocs and faculty members alike not to allow a postdoctoral stint to stretch out into a semipermanent soft-money position just because the postdoc is having trouble finding a job.

    • Think of the hurdles you need to clear for whatever route you have chosen, from getting your own funding to meeting promotion milestones, to qualifying for a tenure-track slot. Then get unbiased advice about whether you have what it takes, advises geophysicist Quentin Williams of UC Santa Cruz. That means an evaluation from a former adviser or someone in your field—and not your spouse.

    • Recognize the department's reason for offering you the position, says developmental biologist Gail Martin, who spent 9 years on soft money at UC San Francisco. If the department is recruiting your spouse, things may change once your spouse has signed on, and your needs may sink to a lower priority. So expect that whatever the department offers up front is all you're going to get. Judge whether you have a true advocate, other than your spouse, in the department—someone who sees your value and has an interest in your development—advises Martin.

    • If you are offered a spousal appointment, says Williams, “you need to be very adept at detecting whether a department is friendly to this kind of thing.” For instance, are there other spouses in soft-money positions who have not advanced?

    • And finally, see whether the university is committed to supporting what the department is offering you. Martin says those making the offer “may sometimes blur the distinction between what they would like to give you and what they actually can provide.” Stanford Vice Provost Charles Kruger encourages people “to get an assessment of how the system works and to get it from a person who doesn't have a stake in the situation.”


    New Way Found to Study Closely Related Proteins

    1. Evelyn Strauss

    Rather than designing specific inhibitors for closely related proteins, researchers are remodeling the proteins to make them uniquely susceptible to inhibition

    In large families, siblings sometimes get lost, especially when they look a lot alike. But people can modify their appearance—combing their hair into spikes, for example —so that they stand out in a crowd. Now, scientists have applied this same principle to mark individual proteins so that their activities can be distinguished from those of other family members—an accomplishment that should help pin down the functions of the many closely related proteins found in cells.

    The technique, devised by Kevan Shokat, a chemist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and his colleagues, involves enlarging the active site of an enzyme so that it can bind an inhibitor that won't fit into the active sites of related—but unaltered—enzymes. Researchers can then insert the gene that encodes the modified enzyme into cells or living animals and turn off that enzyme by feeding them the inhibitor—without affecting other, very similar, enzymes. “This is a beautiful way to get around the limitation that we can't yet design inhibitors for every natural protein in the cell,” says Tim Clackson, a protein engineer at ARIAD Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    What's more, the technique may have some advantages over other approaches to studying the functions of individual proteins, such as mutating or knocking out the genes that encode them. Knockouts, for example, may disrupt embryonic development, producing abnormal animals, or even no animals at all. But as Tony Hunter, a molecular biologist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, points out, “Here you take a fully developed animal in which everything is normal until you turn off the [enzyme].”

    The Shokat team began its work about 3 years ago, focusing on a key family of regulatory enzymes, the protein kinases, which transfer a phosphate group from the high-energy molecule ATP to any of a large number of target proteins. The kinases have been tough to study individually, because they are numerous—yeast has more than 100 and humans about 900—and have very similar active sites, making it tricky to design specific inhibitors.

    Instead of trying to tease out distinguishing features of individual kinases that might serve as inhibitor targets, the Shokat team used genetic engineering to create such sites. They started with v-src, one of the cancer-causing oncogenes, which encodes a kinase. They modified the gene so that the bulky amino acid threonine in the part of the kinase that binds ATP was replaced with the smallest amino acid, glycine. “We decided to cheat,” says Shokat. “We carved a new hole in the active site.”

    As reported in the February 1998 issue of Current Biology, this modification had little effect on the catalytic activity of the Src kinase. Although the altered version showed slightly decreased activity in the test tube, it transferred phosphate efficiently when introduced into cells. Furthermore, it still conferred unrestrained growth on cells in culture. But adding a specially synthesized kinase inhibitor blocked that aberrant growth. Because the technique was tried on just one protein, the team did not know how widely applicable it might be. Quite applicable, suggests new results reported in the 21 September issue of Nature.

    In this work, Shokat and his colleagues created new inhibitor-binding pockets in seven protein kinases from five distinct families, again by replacing a bulky amino acid with a glycine. The researchers then dove into their collection of chemical inhibitors, some synthesized by their group and others by chemist John Wood at Yale University. They found compounds that inhibited the altered enzymes but not the normal ones. “We can now say it's going to be a generally useful procedure, because they've used it successfully on very disparate kinases,” says Clackson.

    Shokat's team also showed that they could inhibit the modified kinases in yeast cells, which lend themselves particularly well to genetic manipulation. The researchers targeted a gene that encodes the Cdc28 kinase, which is needed for progression of the cell division cycle. Because Cdc28 knockouts are lethal, researchers have previously studied the gene's function by generating mutations in which the gene product functions normally at low temperatures but is inhibited at higher ones. But results with such temperature- sensitive mutants can be hard to interpret, because the temperature change may affect cellular processes other than those that directly involve the catalytic activity of the target protein. The new method may help circumvent that problem.

    Working with David Morgan's group, also at UCSF, Shokat's team substituted a modified Cdc28 gene for the normal one in yeast cells. The researchers found that the altered cells showed few changes in gene expression and they divided normally—until the researchers added the kinase inhibitor, which blocked the growth of the cells. In contrast, the inhibitor did not affect proliferation of cells containing the normal Cdc28 gene, except at 1000-fold higher concentrations.

    Further analysis revealed that the inhibitor arrests the modified cells after DNA duplication has occurred, but before the two daughter cells have separated. This contrasts with the results of previous experiments with the temperature-sensitive mutants, most of which indicated that loss of Cdc28 function blocks the cycle at the point when cells start copying their DNA. The fact that the results were different when using the temperature-sensitive mutants than when inhibiting the kinase implies that the protein may have more than one role in the cell. Shokat notes that temperature-sensitive mutations sometimes disrupt the structure of the altered protein, which can lead to loss of all of its activities, including interactions with other proteins. Consequently, he suggests, such interactions of Cdc28 may be important at the DNA-copying stage of the cell cycle, whereas its kinase activity may be what's more important at the cell separation stage.

    Because the inhibitor acts quickly, the new technique can also be used to assess the effects of blocking a protein's activity at specific points in the cell cycle. David Drubin's group at the University of California, Berkeley, has been doing just that. In work reported in the October issue of Nature Cell Biology, the researchers used the technique to study a protein called Cla4, a kinase involved in forming the bud that expands to form the daughter cell when a yeast cell divides. Analysis of this protein using temperature-sensitive mutants has been difficult because a shift to the higher temperature temporarily disrupts the cell's internal skeleton, interfering with bud formation even in normal cells.

    In their experiments, Drubin and his colleagues replaced the normal Cla4 gene with an inhibitor-sensitive version. They found, as others had using different techniques, that the protein is needed to build the collar that eventually squeezes off to separate the daughter cell from its parent. They were also able to pin down exactly when Cla4 acts. The researchers gathered cells that they had arrested at various points in the cell cycle, added the inhibitor, and then allowed the cells to resume growth. Cells that had started to bud before addition of the compound divided normally. But buds formed after inhibitor addition continued to elongate without pinching off. The observations suggest that Cla4 kinase activity is needed at or before an early stage of bud emergence, even though the defect isn't evident until much later when mother and daughter cells try to separate.

    Now that the technique has worked in yeast and in isolated mammalian cells, scientists are trying it in whole animals, such as mice. The results have not yet been published, but they look promising. And although Shokat has so far applied the system only to enzymes that use ATP, he says it should work with proteins in other large families. The similarity of the members, he notes, has been a hindrance to researchers. But the new technique may turn that around, because a mutation and inhibitor that work with one family member may work with others as well. Says Shokat, “We've turned the disadvantage into an advantage.”


    Global Warming, Insects Take the Stage at Snowbird

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    SNOWBIRD, UTAH—Some 2600 ecologists made their way to this sun-soaked canyon last month for the Ecological Society of America's (ESA's) 85th annual meeting. Topics ranged from ancient droughts to photosynthesis beneath snow and how trees resist insects.

    Could Past Portend 50-Year Droughts?

    The Dust Bowl that struck the southern plains of the United States in the 1930s devastated millions of hectares of rich farmland, leading 750,000 people to flee, burying houses with dirt, and darkening the skies for days. But that 7-year drought was a mere taste of what global warming may bring, warned ecologist Jim Clark of Duke University. Sediments from a North Dakota lake reveal that 8000 years ago, the plains were seesawing through droughts and wet periods that lasted a whopping 40 to 50 years. Similarly long drought cycles could happen again, asserts Clark, as accumulating greenhouse gases turn continental interiors warmer and drier.

    By probing tree-ring records and other evidence, researchers have recently found hints that Dust Bowl-scale droughts were frequent over the past 2000 years. But to find out what might happen to ecosystems under much more arid conditions than today's, Clark's team looked even farther back in time, to the mid-Holocene, when the U.S. plains were arid. To do so, they went to Kettle Lake in North Dakota, which contains 20 meters of mud deposited over millennia. Clark, Eric Grimm of the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, Joe Donovan of West Virginia University in Morgantown, and others studied a 50-cm sediment core dating from the mid-Holocene. By examining minerals, charcoal, and pollen in the core, they have illuminated in unprecedented detail the wildly shifting ecology of the region during a 600-year period.

    Clark and his colleagues found long wet periods, characterized by pollen, diatoms, and charcoal from naturally burned grasslands. They also charted a shift in plant type from cool-season grasses to warm-season grasses. Then the pattern flipped to drought: Quartz dust from erosion becomes abundant, while grass pollen and charcoal levels plummet. The repeating cycles lasted about 80 to 100 years. By contrast, a core from 2000 years ago showed no distinct patterns. “I was just blown away” by the work, says Brown University paleoclimatologist Tom Webb. “To get that high a frequency [of climate swings] and to get it so neatly told among the chemical data and the pollen is rather astounding.”

    Because the driver behind the warm, arid climate of the Holocene was a different tilt and orientation of Earth, not the rising carbon dioxide levels that seem to be contributing to warmer temperatures today, these results may not predict what's to come in a greenhouse world, concedes Clark. But even so, his group's data are worrisome, says ecologist Peter Leavitt of the University of Regina in Saskatchewan. “We've been adapting to some of the mildest possible droughts. These are beyond anything we've known in human society.”

    Snow Falling on Tundra

    Few ecologists visit the Alaskan tundra before the winter snowmelts. They've long assumed that there's little biological activity to warrant the trip. But the notion of a snow-cloaked ecosystem too cold and dark for photosynthesis may no longer hold. At the meeting, ecologist Gregory Starr of the University of Florida, Gainesville, reported that he's peered under the snow on Alaska's North Slope and found plenty of photosynthesis by evergreen tundra plants—enough that estimates for how much carbon the tundra soaks up may need to be adjusted.

    Along with other scientists doing separate arctic experiments, Starr may have stumbled upon a small but significant hidden “sink” for global carbon dioxide: early spring tundra growth. “It seems to be a pretty robust finding,” says San Diego State University ecologist Walter Oechel, who's also recently detected photosynthesis by tundra ecosystems beneath the Alaskan snow.

    Starr began his study in 1997 while a graduate student at Florida International University, working at the Toolik Lake Field Station, some 210 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. His original plan was to explore how red pigments called anthocyanins help evergreen tundra plants get a jump start on photosynthesis during the spring snowmelt. But to his surprise—as well as that of his adviser, Steve Oberbauer—Starr found “a lot of light reaching the plants” through the snow. Starr then set up instruments to measure light, CO2 levels, and temperatures weekly over a roughly 40-hectare snowfield during two springs. Looking at four species of evergreens, he gauged photosynthetic activity by dropping jars containing CO2 detectors over individual plants, then correlating the results with levels of chlorophyll, anthocyanins, and other plant chemicals.

    He found a naturally formed igloo greenhouse. Not only was it up to 5°C warmer under the snow, but the melting and refreezing snow forms “ice lenses” that let sunlight through and allow leaves to dry, aiding photosynthesis. The snowpack also traps CO2 released by soil microbes and plant respiration, concentrating it for plants. The rates of photosynthesis in the four evergreen species, although quite variable, approached 20% of the peak rates Starr had measured in July. Adding up this activity for the 7 to 9 weeks in spring and early fall when there's both snow and sunlight, Starr estimates that tundra evergreens could be absorbing 15% more carbon than researchers had thought.

    Starr's work adds to observations by Oechel and Japanese colleague Yoshi Harazono, who since the mid-1990s have both run experimental towers fitted with sensors to measure fluxes of CO2 wafting into and out the arctic tundra. They've noticed that carbon uptake begins in spring while the tundra is still snow-covered—apparently from photosynthesis by mosses in the wet coastal tundra where they work.

    If this under-snow photosynthesis does indeed occur throughout the tundra, then it could add a new wrinkle to the Arctic's role in global warming. The tundra has flipped from an overall carbon sink to a source during the last 2 decades as the permafrost has begun to thaw and microbial activity has speeded up. The tundra may become an even bigger carbon source, speculates Starr, if the arctic climate keeps getting warmer and deciduous plants replace mosses and evergreens. At this stage, however, notes ecologist Terry Chapin of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, “it's hard to know what the net effect” would be on the global carbon budget.

    Even so, Oechel thinks that the tundra findings hold a lesson for ecologists searching for the so-called missing sink—a large chunk of carbon that's likely absorbed by plants yet is not accounted for by existing inventories of forests and land-use changes. “People are looking for one smoking gun, but it may be the global sum of much smaller pieces,” Oechel says. “I think we're going to have to step through each major biome and understand the pattern of controls.”

    How an Old Tree Outwits Its Foes

    Trees and caterpillars are locked in mortal combat. Each spring a new generation of voracious caterpillars emerges and quickly begins munching on tree leaves. The trees, in turn, spew out chemical weapons to deter the hungry critters. But ecologists have long wondered why the caterpillars haven't been able to develop resistance to these agents, as they have to pesticides. New studies of a very long-lived tree, mountain birch, and its number one enemy may have uncovered the secret: The tree churns out a shifting array of chemicals throughout the season—confounding the caterpillar's genetic ability to adapt to them all. Ecologists think that other tree species may also adopt a similar strategy.

    Plant-herbivore ecologist Erkki Haukioja of the University of Turku in Finland, who described the work at an ESA symposium, compares the tree's multipronged defense to the drug cocktails used to combat ever- mutating viruses such as HIV. Although ecologists had suspected that this strategy might help explain how centuries-old trees resist insects year after year, “the story has never been put together in this way,” says ecologist Anurag Agrawal of the University of Toronto. “It's actually very logical. [A caterpillar] can't be a jack of all trades.”

    These new findings had their genesis a few years ago, when Haukioja's team began probing seasonal changes in the birch's chemical defense against the ravenous larvae of the autumnal moth Epirrita autumnata. When chemists working with Haukioja analyzed birch leaves, they found that the leaves crank out some 150 chemicals, from sugars to amino acids to phenolics, that fluctuate from June to September. Haukioja's group has since found that three types of chemical and physical traits keep the larvae in check.

    First, budding leaves produce gallotannins, phenolic compounds that gum up proteins in the gut of the autumnal moth larvae and make leaf proteins hard to digest. Growing leaves later abound in another stomach-knotting group of tannins, proanthocyanidins. And finally, the trees produce chemicals that deter larvae by toughening leaf structures.

    The caterpillars seemed able to evolve counterdefenses to one of these defenses but not all. For instance, caterpillars that grew fast as young larvae on gallotannin-rich leaves weren't always particularly good later in life at digesting proanthocyanidins or chewing tough leaves. The Finnish team suspected that these traits might involve a genetic trade-off—that is, inheriting the ability to deal with one chemical might make an individual vulnerable to the other. To check this hypothesis, they tested batches of genetically related larvae for tolerance to the chemicals. Verifying their hunch, they found an inverse relationship between resistance to gallotannins and to proanthocyanidins. Although they're still analyzing results from more experiments, Haukioja says: “We may be on the right track. … Natural selection has not been able to provide the ability to be good on both” plant defenses.

    This “moving target” idea may also explain why other deciduous trees, such as oaks, put so much metabolic energy into producing a whole chemist's shelf of chemicals, says ecologist Jack Schultz of Pennsylvania State University, University Park. “This is the best data to support the view” that it's no accident but a clever defense system, he says.


    On a Slippery Slope to Mediocrity?

    1. Martin Enserink

    If Nobel Prizes and journal citations are gold standards, Dutch science is on a high. But critics warn that the scientific community has already begun to lose its edge

    UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS—When two physicists here bagged the Nobel Prize in physics last year, their achievement was hailed as an example of the strong Dutch track record in physics—and proof that even a small country can make cutting-edge discoveries. But as some Dutch researchers like to point out, the mathematical model for “electroweak interactions” that led to the prize was developed almost 3 decades ago, and the country's commitment to science has faltered ever since. During the past 2 decades, the Netherlands has stopped being a top science spender, scientific careers have gone out of fashion, and women's participation in science remains appallingly low—a situation that some experts predict will soon lead to a steep shortage of researchers.

    The country's new budget, unveiled on 19 September, does little to reverse the trend, science administrators say. For some time now, they have argued that unless government spending on R&D—about $2.4 billion in 2000—rises dramatically, the Netherlands will become a second-rate player in science. Recent initiatives by education and science minister Loek Hermans have had about as much impact as “a few drops in the ocean,” says Utrecht University president Jan Veldhuis.

    Judging by scientific output, there would appear to be little reason for alarm. Several recent analyses rated the Netherlands among the world's leaders, per capita: For instance, a study 3 years ago ranked the country sixth worldwide in number of papers published as well as in number of citations (Science, 7 February 1997, p. 793).

    But science advocates say such numbers reflect investments made decades ago. Trying to rein in an unruly budget deficit, almost every Dutch Cabinet for over 20 years has cut university budgets; together, public and private science spending have fallen to just over 2% of gross domestic product—well below that of Japan and the United States, which spend between 2.5% and 3%, and also behind comparably sized countries such as Sweden, Switzerland, and Finland. Earlier this year, the main granting agency, NWO, warned of an impending brain drain. “Eventually, our scientific culture will become less eminent,” predicts physicist Gerard ‘t Hooft of Utrecht University, one of last year's Nobel laureates.

    Another threat to the country's scientific vigor is a looming shortfall in the research workforce, according to a study ordered by the Dutch parliament and released this summer. Based on a model by the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, the survey predicts that universities and research organizations will face a shortage of almost 1300 scientists as early as 2003, rising to nearly 3000 in 2008, if nothing is done.

    The problem stems from a string of factors, says the study's author, former Utrecht University administrator Lieteke van Vucht Tijssen, ranging from an imminent retirement wave among senior scientists to paltry pay for young researchers and the pull of the business world. “It's more and more difficult to find good people,” concurs ‘t Hooft. “What the university pays them simply pales compared to the princely salaries they can make in business or management.” In addition, immigration is a long and bureaucratic process, making it “terribly complicated,” says ‘t Hooft, to recruit scientists from Eastern Europe or Asia.

    One particularly vexing problem is that very few Dutch women choose to pursue science careers. Although 54% of graduating university students are female, women occupy only 7% of full professorships. “It's really terrible,” says Van Vucht Tijssen. In one United Nations Development Program study, she says, Holland came in second to last among all U.N. member countries, beating out only Botswana.

    The Dutch government is taking steps to try to avoid becoming a scientific has-been. This year, for instance, Hermans launched Innovation Impulse, an initiative to retain young, bright, “adventurous” scientists who might otherwise pursue a career overseas or forsake science altogether. The first 40 grantees, to be announced next month, will each get $120,000 a year for 5 years to start a research group. The fund is slated to grow to some $60 million in 5 years, enough for 500 candidates. But there's a catch: The universities and NWO each have agreed to supply one-third of the money out of their own budgets. So the plan does little to boost overall science funding.

    Nor does the science budget presented this week, which, except for Innovation Impulse, doesn't contain an increase in science spending for 2001. Science supporters are giving the only other news, a $20 million addition to the 2000 budget, a lukewarm reception. “We take it as a positive sign,” says NWO president Reinder van Duinen. “Of course it's not nearly enough”—especially considering that earlier this year, his agency had called on the government to boost its $300 million budget by some $200 million. Also calling for a major cash infusion is Van Vucht Tijssen, who in her report advocates a 10-year, $560 million plan to avert the exodus of young scientists. The money would be spent on such items as boosting salaries, creating a career path similar to the U.S. tenure track, and outfitting scientists with better equipment. Veldhuis thinks even more is needed: To face international competition, he says, universities would need about $400 million a year more in the long run.

    Such drastic remedies, Veldhuis says, are unlikely unless an underlying ill is cured: Dutch politicians don't appear to be clued in to how important science is to long-term economic health. “We're really slipping away,” he says. Yet, the slide into mediocrity may be gradual enough to be hardly noticeable. “We have to take action now,” Veldhuis says, “if we still want to win Nobel Prizes 20 or 30 years from now.”