News this Week

Science  12 Oct 2001:
Vol. 294, Issue 5541, pp. 278

    Massive DNA Identification Effort Gets Under Way

    1. Andrew Lawler

    At the largest crime scene in U.S. history, hundreds of police and volunteers are working around the clock, combing for victims' remains through thousands of tons of debris at the collapsed World Trade Center. A less visible but equally ambitious effort is now under way at laboratories across the country, as forensic scientists scramble to organize the largest DNA identification project in history, designed to help grieving relatives and friends bring closure to a horrific chapter of their lives.

    The task of matching remains with identities following the 11 September terrorist attack poses daunting challenges, both scientific and logistic, that will test the limits of forensic DNA technology. The work requires unprecedented coordination of city medical examiners, private gene-sequencing companies—including bioinformatics powerhouses Myriad Genetics and Celera Genomics—and FBI software specialists.

    Despite the huge scope of the task, forensic researchers say that quick action by New York authorities to organize the effort—the city hosted a coordination summit on 3 October—coupled with new technologies bodes well for its success. And, they add, the project could revitalize a struggling field already swamped with a huge backlog of demands for DNA testing.

    The Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania crashes pose a challenge similar in scale to that of other major air disasters. One hundred and eighty-eight people were killed at the Pentagon; 44 at the Pennsylvania site. From the search-and-rescue missions—now largely completed—workers have retrieved 912 and 529 tissue and bone samples, respectively. At the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) in Rockville, Maryland, researchers are now trying to match those samples with DNA collected from family members as well as from the clothing, hair, and toothbrushes of the victims. In contrast, the task facing those sifting through the rubble of the World Trade Center is unparalleled.

    At the crash site, where more than 5000 dead are buried under pulverized steel and concrete, workers have so far collected roughly 5000 samples—a tiny fraction of the total expected. The intensity of the fire, coupled with the buildings' collapse and water poured on the site, have badly degraded the remains, says Robert Shaler, New York City's forensic biology lab chief. Debris from the site is being shipped to a Staten Island landfill and spread out so trained dogs and anthropologists can search for human remains. Those samples, now mostly bone, as well as those recovered at the site, are taken to the morgue at the New York City medical examiner's building, where DNA is extracted. Nearly 100 lab staff are working in 12-hour shifts, supplemented by a large number of volunteers, says Shaler.


    Sequencing companies are helping identify victims of the World Trade Center attack.


    Once the DNA is extracted, it is shipped to Myriad Genetics in Salt Lake City, Utah, which has worked with the New York State Police in the past and has extensive DNA identification facilities. Myriad will soon be joined by Celera Genomics of Rockville, Maryland, which will take on a hefty share of DNAprocessing. The New York medical examiner's lab and Bode Technology Group of Alexandria, Virginia, each plan to handle about 5% of the samples.

    Meanwhile, LabCorp of Burlington, North Carolina, which specializes in paternity testing, is collecting DNA samples from relatives as well as victims' belongings that may contain their DNA. The New York State Police lab in Albany is extracting that DNA and sending it to the companies for matching. All of the resulting data will be combined in a massive set of databases, which will use software based on the FBI's felon and population statistics programs. The companies, which are offering their services for free or at a much-reduced cost, will assist in upgrading that software.

    In the lab, researchers will use two techniques for matching DNA. If a cell in a sample has an intact nucleus, the job is relatively straightforward: Researchers can make a match within a few hours to 2 days. But if the nucleus is degraded by heat, pressure, or dampness—conditions that affect the New York site—they must resort to analyzing DNA from mitochondria, which can survive for long periods in protected areas of the body such as bone or teeth. “That can take 1 week to months, depending on the sample,” says Demris Lee, a senior researcher at AFIP.

    Even in the best hands, the tests are not foolproof. Because of natural genetic variation, one hair may yield an A in the genetic code, whereas another hair from the same person could yield a T. “There's a potential for mismatch even with one person,” says Lisa Calandro, a researcher with Forensic Analytical in Hayward, California. Another problem is “contamination of one bodily fluid on another [sample]. Untangling mixed DNA,” says Calandro, “is very difficult to do with sequencing.”

    But public and private researchers involved in past disasters are confident. “We can expect a high percentage of victims to be identified,” says Kevin McElfresh, operations vice president for Bode Technology Group in Springfield, Virginia. As evidence, he cites the successful identification of remains found in Vietnam 30 years after the war.

    Each match from the World Trade Center disaster made by the private labs will be verified by the medical examiner's lab. Police then will inform families in person. Shaler says he expects the entire effort to take a year. At this stage, cost is hard to estimate, says Shaler, who notes that the city and state can draw on relief funds appropriated by Congress.

    The huge task will put DNA identification in the public spotlight. Forensic scientists say they have been hampered in the past several years by lack of staff, advanced equipment, and funding. New York City alone, for example, has 10,000 samples from alleged rapes yet to be processed. The Justice Department this summer proposed spending $30 million over the next 18 months to begin resolving the national backlog. Researchers are quietly hoping that their success in identifying the disaster victims will prove their worth and bring needed resources to their field.


    Hoping Software Will Help Keep the Peace

    1. Robert Koenig

    Hundreds of Russian nuclear scientists may soon find themselves writing commercial software in a novel bid to keep their weapons expertise from falling into the wrong hands. The deal, in the works for months, may herald other initiatives aimed at blocking weapons proliferation in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks.

    The arrangement—announced in Washington, D.C., last week by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy in Moscow, and their Russian corporate partner—is salve for a bruised U.S. nonproliferation effort. In April, the Bush Administration proposed cutting $100 million from a raft of DOE programs to improve nuclear security in Russia, from securing plutonium stockpiles against potential smugglers to helping nuclear physicists find peaceful work (Science, 1 June, p. 1632). Last month's events, however, appear to have built stronger support for U.S. nonproliferation efforts. The attacks “crystallized the need to intensify cooperation” to keep weapons expertise out of terrorists' hands, says U.S. Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), an expert on Russia.

    A Russian company, LUXOFT, along with its U.S. partner CTG Inc., will take the lead in retraining the scientists, whose salaries will be paid by a $500,000 grant from the DOE's Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) program. Previous projects in the $25-million-a-year IPP have typically paired U.S. companies directly with Russian defense scientists. Nevertheless, says DOE's Steven K. Black, turning weapons scientists into computer programmers “epitomizes the goal of the IPP.”


    New project will retrain 150 scientists from the Kurchatov Institute (above) over the next 2 years.


    The details of the Kurchatov project, which were being finalized in Moscow on 11 September as the World Trade Center and the Pentagon burned, may also help stem a decade-long decline at the institute. Its 5000 scientists, half the peak number from the 1980s, are seriously underpaid, says Boris Stavisski, a nuclear physicist who heads the Kurchatov Technopark, which seeks to commercialize the institute's research. Although fewer than two dozen scientists will be involved in the project's first phase, LUXOFT managing director Dmitry Loschinin says his firm expects to retrain 150 scientists over the next 2 years and perhaps 500 by 2006. Stavisski concedes that it will be difficult to steer some older scientists onto a new path, while others worry that such programs may fail to reach the crème of the weaponeers because the Russian government isn't ready to have its finest weapons designers shifted to civilian work.

    Even so, a new day may soon dawn for many other former Soviet defense experts. The Bush Administration is expected to propose several initiatives to expand R&D collaboration and nonproliferation programs at a summit meeting next month in Moscow between President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “It's a new era in our relationship,” says Weldon, one that requires “a concerted effort to show Russian scientists that there are opportunities outside of weapons development.”


    First House Vote Good for NIH Budget

    1. David Malakoff

    U.S. biomedical research spending appears headed for another big boost. Congress last week took the first step toward finalizing a 2002 budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) when a House subcommittee approved a 12%, $2.5 billion increase, to $22.5 billion, for core research programs. The panel also urged NIH to forge ahead with controversial human stem cell research, rebuffed a White House proposal to trim spending at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and boosted antibioterrorism budgets.

    Biomedical groups are welcoming the NIH increase, although it falls almost $1 billion short of the amount needed to keep the agency on track to double its budget by 2003. The 2002 fiscal year began on 1 October, but Congress has given itself until the middle of the month to complete work on the 13 spending bills that direct U.S. government spending, with further extensions likely if needed.

    NIH's raise was part of a larger $123.1 billion spending bill approved on 3 October by a House Appropriations Committee subpanel. Details were not available as Science went to press, but lobbyists and congressional aides say the bill, which also funds labor, education, and social welfare programs, provides roughly the amount for NIH basic research requested by President George W. Bush. It also contains several hundred million dollars for improving science and math teaching as part of a successor to the Education Department's Eisenhower program.

    A report accompanying the bill urges NIH to move ahead quickly to fund controversial research on human stem cells derived from embryos and adults. In doing so, it sidesteps a potentially bruising fight over existing language that instructs NIH not to fund research involving the destruction of human embryos by explaining that it does not conflict with recent White House rules restricting federally funded researchers to using stem cell lines created before 9 August (Science, 17 August, p. 1242). “The language and logic are tortured, but the message is clear: Get on with stem cell research,” says one aide to a House Democrat.

    Panel members also rejected a White House effort to trim CDC by adding more than $380 million to the Administration's request. That amount would boost CDC's budget by 5.5%, to $4 billion. In particular, lawmakers restored nearly $150 million to the CDC's health promotion budget, which sponsors education and advertising campaigns aimed at preventing disease.

    The panel also added $50 million to a small increase requested by the White House for antibioterrorism programs within the Department of Health and Human Services, for an overall 25% boost to $300 million. Associated research and public preparedness efforts are expected to get more funds from the $40 billion emergency spending package that Congress approved in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks.

    The full House is expected to sign its version of the NIH spending bill within a few weeks, shifting attention to the Senate. Biomedical researchers were hoping for even better news as early as this week from the Senate spending panel that oversees NIH, because its leaders, Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), have already promised a $3.4 billion increase. Differences between the House and Senate bills will be worked out by negotiators from each body, perhaps before the end of the month.


    New Insights Into Metastasis

    1. Jean Marx

    The metastatic cell is a tumor's stealth invader: able to slip into foreign territory, set up a beachhead, and grow until it kills. Indeed, it's the metastases, not the primary cancer, that usually defeat oncologists' efforts to cure their patients. Results published online today by Science ( now pinpoint a genetic change that may help colon cancer cells metastasize to the liver—information that could help researchers develop drugs to stanch the invasion.

    The work, which comes from Kenneth Kinzler, Bert Vogelstein, and their colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, Maryland, shows that a tyrosine phosphatase enzyme called PRL-3 is expressed at higher levels in colon cancer cells that have metastasized to the liver than in nonmetastatic colon tumors and normal colon epithelial cells. In at least some cases, this was because of a genetic change, an amplification of the PRL-3 gene. The finding suggests that an excess of the enzyme, which may normally help control cellular activities, somehow fosters the spread of colon cancer to the liver, its principal site of metastasis.

    Mixed bag.

    In addition to living cancer cells (2), this liver metastasis contains dead and dying cancer cells (1) and a capsule of connective tissue (3), all surrounded by liver and inflammatory cells (4).


    Although the Johns Hopkins workers do not yet know how PRL-3 might spur colon cancer metastasis, other researchers are already enthusiastic. They note that although many gene changes have been tied to the early stages of cancer development, few have been linked to metastasis. There's “still remarkably little known about the molecular genetics and signaling pathways responsible for metastasis … and that's the most lethal aspect of cancer,” says Jeffrey Trent of the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. The PRL-3 discovery may provide an entrée to tracing one of those pathways, Trent and others say.

    “Very exciting,” is how cancer biologist Lance Liotta of the National Cancer Institute, also in Bethesda, describes the finding. Not only could the enzyme provide a good target for chemotherapeutic drugs, but it may also provide a molecular marker to help clinicians assess tumor aggressiveness.

    The Johns Hopkins team looked for the molecular changes underlying colon cancer metastasis by using a technique called serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE). They developed the system about 6 years ago for performing wholesale analysis of the genes expressed in cells (Science, 20 October 1995, p. 484). In this study, they wanted to compare levels of gene expression in colon cancers that had metastasized to the liver with those in primary colon tumors and normal colon cells. But the researchers' original efforts ran into trouble. “Tumors are composed of lots of different cell types, and most of the genes expressed at different levels were actually coming from nontumor cells,” Vogelstein says.

    The team had to painstakingly separate the cancer cells from all the other cell types in their tumor samples before comparing gene expression patterns. But this, says metastasis researcher Isaiah Fidler of the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, is one of the strengths of the work: “They did it the right way, comparing [isolated] metastatic cells with primary tumor cells.”

    This analysis identified 144 genes expressed at higher levels in the metastatic tumor cells and 79 expressed at lower levels. The researchers decided to focus on PRL-3, Vogelstein says, because it was up-regulated in all the metastases they looked at—“its consistency was striking,” he notes—and because its structure suggests that it is a tyrosine phosphatase.

    These enzymes, which remove phosphate groups from the amino acid tyrosine, are involved in regulating cell activities. Not much is known about the function of PRL-3, which was identified just 3 years ago, but there are indications that it and its relatives, PRL-1 and −2, foster cell growth. Further work by the Johns Hopkins team confirmed that PRL-3 levels reflect a cell's menace. Its expression increased from little or none in normal colon epithelia to intermediate in advanced but nonmetastatic primary tumors to high in the metastases. But perhaps the best evidence that the enzyme is involved in metastasis was the finding that extra copies of the gene were present in three of 12 metastases examined. Such gene amplifications were unstable and tend to be lost, Vogelstein says, unless they provide some selective advantage.

    What that advantage might be, and how it might contribute to colon cancer metastasis, is not yet known. As Fidler points out, metastasis is complex, involving some 10 steps from the time a metastatic cell escapes the primary tumor until it settles down in a site where it can grow. Researchers will want to know where PRL-3 comes into play and whether it's involved in the metastasis of other cancers as well. Given that cancer cells succeed all too often in metastasizing, any clues to how they do that are welcome.


    HIV Gains Foothold in Key Asian Groups

    1. Jon Cohen

    A few years ago, Indonesia was scarcely a blip on the radar screens of epidemiologists who track the AIDS epidemic. Now, it's sending a strong warning signal. A new report that analyzes the spread of HIV and AIDS through Asia and the Pacific says that Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, has an “exploding” rate of new infections among injection drug users, as well as “steep rises” among sex workers. And the authors stress that what's happening in Indonesia is being repeated in several other Asian countries. “We have new epidemics breaking out after many years of silence,” says Bernhard Schwartländer, an epidemiologist at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which helped finance the report.

    The 33-page analysis, written by Modeling the AIDS Pandemic (MAP), an international network of epidemiologists, public health experts, and modelers, notes that China and Vietnam are already beginning to see a dramatic spread of the virus through sex workers and injection drug users. And the authors urge the leaders of Bangladesh and the Philippines—two countries that still have strikingly low levels of HIV—to learn from the problems their neighbors are facing. “No society is immune,” says Karen Stanecki, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Census Bureau who chairs MAP.

    The report doesn't offer estimates of national HIV prevalence, because the authors contend that aggregate numbers can be misleading in this part of the world. As the report states, “national figures are meaningless in huge countries such as China, India, and Indonesia, where some states and provinces have more inhabitants than most nations of the world.” Instead, the authors argue that what is happening at the local level offers “a more realistic basis for assessing the future course of the region's epidemics.”

    Much of the report analyzes how HIV gets a foothold in different populations. It notes that in Asia, injection drug users, sex workers, and migrant laborers often provide the early connections.

    Warning signals.

    HIV prevalence among sex workers and injection drug users in Indonesia, 1999–2000.


    Take Indonesia, for example. In 1999, UNAIDS estimated that only 0.05% of Indonesia's population was infected. But surveillance data from 1999–2000 show that as many as 53% of injection drug users in some Indonesian provinces are now HIV-positive (see map). Until recently, the report says, “the very phenomenon of drug injection was little known” in Indonesia, but injection drug users are now the epicenter of an HIV outbreak that could become widespread. Although some AIDS researchers have contended that injection drug users represent a “self-contained” epidemic, the MAP report says that data from Indonesia suggest that many drug injectors are likely to infect sex workers—who now have infection rates as high as 26.5%—and other sex partners.

    The same is happening in Vietnam. HIV prevalence among injection drug users in Vietnam tops 60% in some cities, the report says, and surveys have found that more than 20% of drug users bought sex in the past year—and most did not use condoms. Since 1994, infection rates among sex workers have jumped from 0.5% to 3.5%.

    A similar confluence of factors has begun to accelerate the spread of HIV through many of Asia's largest countries. In China, HIV at first was confined largely to injection drug users and people who donated blood in clinics where needles were contaminated. Now the MAP report warns of “rapid rises” in infection rates among sex workers, who rarely use condoms. “As millions of men frequent sex workers every year, it is inevitable that HIV infection [rates] among these men will rise and that the fatal virus will eventually get passed on to their wives and regular girlfriends,” the report predicts.

    India has an estimated 3.9 million HIV-infected people, more than any other country in the region. Although the prevalence of HIV is still low compared with most of sub-Saharan Africa, states that attract large numbers of migrant workers have dramatically higher infection rates, the report notes. With “disturbing regularity,” the report states, migrant laborers who frequent sex workers take HIV back to their home states.

    Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University who specializes in the spread of HIV in Asia, says he applauds the MAP report for emphasizing the connection between injection drug use and sexual risk groups. “They've got it exactly right,” says Beyrer, who in 1998 published War in the Blood: Sex, Politics, and AIDS in Southeast Asia.

    The news, however, isn't all bad. “The MAP network doesn't want to be alarmist … we see a window of opportunity,” says Stanecki. The MAP report emphasizes, for example, that Thailand has used aggressive condom campaigns and education of high-risk groups to curb an epidemic that could have been much worse. According to MAP modelers, if Thailand had not intervened, 10% to 15% of its adult population might now be infected; the actual prevalence is 1% to 2%. That shows what can be accomplished—if the warning signals are heeded.


    Animal Magnetism Guides Migration

    1. Kathryn Brown

    Animals are the ultimate commuters. From butterflies to newts, many creatures roam the neighborhood—or globe—and still manage to find their way home. In this issue, two studies reveal how sea turtles and mole rats tap a basic navigational tool: Earth's magnetic field.

    Loggerhead sea turtles migrate around the North Atlantic, encountering different magnetic fields en route. A team led by marine biologist Kenneth Lohmann of the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill, reports on page 364 that the turtles detect these fields, like boundaries, and use them to stay on course. The study suggests a strategy that may guide one of nature's longest migrations.

    And on page 366, a team led by neuroanatomist Pavel Nemec of Charles University in Prague identifies for the first time an area of the mammalian brain that apparently processes magnetic field information. “This opens up a whole new area of research in magnetic sense,” says biologist Michael Walker of the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

    Earth's churning liquid core casts a magnetic field across the planet's surface. Birds, fish, crustaceans, and a host of other animals appear to use regional variations in the magnetic field, along with sensory cues such as sight and sound, to navigate. “We're faced with all these animals who go from place to place, sometimes over thousands of miles, with remarkable precision,” says marine biologist Michael Salmon of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. “But very few people have been able to figure out just how they do it.”

    Lohmann and his spouse, UNC biologist Catherine Lohmann, study loggerhead sea turtles that hatch on the eastern coast of Florida and immediately crawl into the moonlit ocean. The hatchlings head into the North Atlantic gyre: a circular ocean current that flows clockwise around the Sargasso Sea. Loggerheads loop the gyre, heading northeast toward Europe and then south, spending 5 to 10 years in the gyre's warm, rich waters before heading back to the North American coast.

    Charging along.

    The Zambian mole rat reportedly taps the magnetic field to position nests (above), while some loggerhead sea turtles use it to navigate the North Atlantic (below).


    In previous lab experiments, the Lohmanns and their colleagues found that loggerheads can sense magnetic field intensity and inclination angle. In the new study, they posed a broader question: Do the turtles use the regional magnetic fields they encounter to stay on their migratory path?

    To find out, the researchers collected 79 hatchlings. Each hatchling was fitted with a tiny bathing suit, tethered to a computer-linked tracking system, and placed in a shallow lab tank. Outside the tank, a grid of electric coils generated magnetic fields. The scientists presented each hatchling with one of three fields found at critical points along their migratory route: near northern Florida, Portugal, and the southernmost edge of the North Atlantic gyre.

    In each magnetic field tested, the turtles swam preferentially in the direction of their migratory path. When the tank simulated the magnetic field of the northeastern gyre, for instance, the turtles began swimming south—a direction that, in the Atlantic, would keep them on course and away from fatally cold water. “By recognizing and responding to these regional magnetic fields,” Lohmann surmises, “hatchlings with no prior migratory experience can make their way across the Atlantic.”

    The same innate feat may help migratory birds and other travelers. “This suggests many animals may be programmed with orientation responses to specific magnetic fields,” notes ornithologist Kenneth Able of the State University of New York, Albany. The new study also means that hatchling loggerheads may not need a mental map of their migration. Rather, they may coast along the gyre current, veering in certain directions as they encounter new magnetic fields. “The big question now,” Able says, “is how do these inherited responses work in the brain?” Because all sea turtles are threatened or endangered, however, researchers can't study their brains to learn how they detect magnetic fields.

    Another animal is helping answer such questions: the Zambian mole rat. Although not a migratory creature, the mole rat boasts its own directional prowess: It digs underground tunnels that stretch 200 meters or more and then builds a nest at the end. In previous lab studies, researchers reported that Zambian mole rats consistently position their nests in a southerly direction, changing nest locations in accordance with a shifting magnetic field.

    In the new study, Nemec, Stephan Marhold at J. W. Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, and their colleagues combined this nest-building test with an assay of the mole rat's brain. The team put 16 mole rats in one of three conditions: the natural geomagnetic field; a periodically changing field with shifting polarity; and a weak, shielded field. As controls, six additional mole rats were kept in the natural field, while two were placed in the weak, shielded field.

    The experimental mole rats were given time to build nests in plastic arenas. The controls were kept in home cages with existing nests. Afterward, the scientists assayed the animals' brains for the c-Fos transcription factor, a marker of active neurons. Levels of c-Fos remained relatively low among mole rats within the shielded field and among control animals. But mole rats that built nests within active magnetic fields showed strong activity in a layer of a brain region called the superior colliculus. This part of the brain is a neural way station known to collect spatial cues and direct orienting behavior.

    “This study makes wonderful sense,” says neuroscientist John Phillips of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. Until now, Phillips adds, most researchers have been hunting for sensory receptors that detect magnetic fields rather than studying areas that are responsible for more complex processing. Walker says this study may help knit the neuroscience efforts together. “We're on the edge of a coherent story, from detector cell to behavioral response,” Walker says. “If there is a general magnetic sense for vertebrates, we should be able to see common mechanisms.” With such diverse species as turtles and mole rats offering insights, he adds, the nature of navigation may finally be within reach.


    Tornado Rips Apart Maryland Center

    1. Robert Koenig

    BELTSVILLE, MARYLAND—The funnel cloud was already teeming with glass shards, roof tiles, and tree branches when Autar Mattoo spotted it outside his window at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) here. Seconds later it smashed windows in his research building and blew through the nearby cluster of greenhouses. “Shattered glass was everywhere. It looked like a war zone,” recalls Mattoo, a molecular biologist. Moments earlier the tornado, which struck in the early evening on 24 September, had killed two students in a car at the nearby University of Maryland campus in College Park.

    Although Mattoo and his colleagues at the world's largest agricultural research complex miraculously escaped the tornado's deadly force, their work setting was dealt a serious blow. BARC's director, Phyllis Johnson, estimates the destruction at $20 million, including extensive damage to one-third of BARC's 8400 square meters of greenhouses. In addition to plants damaged by the flying debris, high winds, and exposure to the elements, a power outage of nearly 48 hours may have ruined numerous frozen tissue samples and collections.

    Shattering experience.

    BARC's Autar Mattoo watched the tornado smash greenhouses and buildings at the research center.


    Reconstructing clones, says Robert E. Davis, who heads BARC's molecular plant pathology lab, could take 2 or 3 years. Many of BARC's research projects are done in conjunction with other labs around the world, he notes, meaning that the delays will have repercussions elsewhere. A week later, even getting around the workplace remained a challenge. “There's so much shattered glass, we had to wear hardhats when we went into the greenhouses,” says plant pathology researcher Rosemarie Hammond, who is using plant viruses to produce vaccines for poultry and cattle.

    At Mattoo's vegetable research laboratory—which uses biotechnology to complement classical breeding—transgenic tomatoes and potatoes in the greenhouses were toppled, cut by falling glass shards, and exposed to cool weather. Hundreds of tissue samples—collected over the years from transgenic plants—were ruined when the freezers shut off. “It's a great shame for our staff researchers and postdocs,” he says. “In a matter of minutes, months of work was blown away.”

    Fortunately, the twister spared most of BARC's Animal and Natural Resources Institute and the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center. But it destroyed a $130,000 remote-sensing van that BARC scientists had borrowed from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center for help in surveying soil moisture and temperature from space. Although BARC has a small emergency fund, the money needed to recover from the tornado must come from Congress, now completing work on the agriculture department's 2002 budget.


    Researchers Accept Not-So-Nobel Awards

    1. Andrew Lawler

    BOSTON—While eminent scientists were heading to Sweden to accept their coveted awards (see p. 288), lesser known colleagues were celebrating a very different honor: the Ig Nobel Prize. For boldly tackling research topics such as why shower curtains billow inward, a select group from six countries and four continents was inducted into the scientific pantheon of ignominy at a raucous 4 October ceremony at Harvard University.

    The Un Laurel.

    Harvard chemist and Nobelist Dudley Herschbach displays an Ig Nobel Prize before awarding it at last week's ceremony.


    Four genuine Nobel laureates were on hand to present the awards—in the form of a plaque framed by a cell phone and two cans connected by string. The 11th annual send-up of the more staid Stockholm event featured a brief opera as well as what organizer Marc Abrahams described as “the world's most scientific wedding ceremony.” Senior researchers also were invited to describe their field in 24 seconds and then in seven words. For her discipline, Smith College professor Dany Adams summarized: “If it can get infected, it's biology.” Among the so-called winners:

    Medicine.Peter Barss of Montreal's McGill University for his report on injuries due to falling coconuts. Barss explained that his Papua New Guinea research concluded that the worst injuries occur to individuals asleep beneath coconut trees.

    Physics. David Schmidt of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, for his work on why shower curtains billow inward. He told the audience that the value of such research, for which he received no outside support, lies in its immediacy to anyone who showers.

    Biology. Inventor Buck Weimer of Pueblo, Colorado, for Under-Ease, airtight underwear that includes a replaceable charcoal filter to remove gases. He presented samples to the wedding couple and the Nobel laureates.

    Economics. Joel Slemrod of the University of Michigan Business School in Ann Arbor and Wojciech Kopczuk of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, for their research on the way estate taxes influence a person's time of death. Their work, said Slemrod, proves that “the pursuit of science, even social science, can be fun.”

    Psychology.Lawrence Sherman of Miami University of Ohio for his ecological study of glee in small groups of preschool children. Sherman noted that the paper published in Child Development in 1975 has garnered 120 citations. “And it's better to be used than not used at all,” he added.

    Astrophysics. MIT physicist Walter Lewin accepted the award on behalf of Michigan evangelists Jack and Rexella Van Impe, for their discovery that black holes fit all the technical characteristics of hell. Lewin demurred, however, noting that for astrophysicists, “black holes are heaven.”

    Technology. John Keogh of Hawthorn, Australia, for his successful patenting of the wheel in that country earlier this year. By audiotape, Keogh explained that he wanted to expose the absurdity of Australia's patent system; his patent indeed won worldwide attention.

    The event, presided over by the king and queen of Swedish meatballs, included a win-a-date-with-a-Nobelist contest; the lucky winner gets to go out with Harvard chemist Dudley Herschbach, described as enjoying “collision theory and football.” The ceremony concluded with the 60-second no-nonsense wedding of Lisa Danielson and Will Stefanov, two geologists from Arizona State University in Tempe. Abrahams, who edits the Annals of Improbable Research, then thanked participants, noting that “if you didn't win an Ig Nobel prize tonight—and especially if you did—better luck next year.”


    From Earth's Core to African Oil

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    WASHINGTON, D.C.—Geologist Kevin Burke wants to take plate tectonics down a notch or two. He has nothing against the mechanism, which built the world's great mountains and shaped all the ocean basins. “Plate tectonics is wonderful,” he said at a seminar here last month, but “it doesn't do everything.” In particular, it needs help to explain Africa, a continent nearly untouched by other drifting plates for 200 million years. African geology, Burke argues, is shaped not by the clashing and grinding of plates but by plumes of hot rock, some of which rise 2900 kilometers from Earth's molten core. He sees a chain of events leading to Africa's corrugated surface and ultimately the oil riches being harvested offshore of Nigeria, with the origin of humans in midchain for good measure.

    Some researchers are quick to challenge one link or another in his chain—“he's certainly stirring the pot,” says seismologist Andrew Nyblade of Pennsylvania State University, University Park. But Burke's approach of linking the geological record at the surface with the increasingly detailed seismic snapshots of the deep Earth is an emerging new direction in the geosciences.

    Bridging the gulf between geology and geophysics can appear presumptuous, and Burke, of the University of Houston, is not at all the shy sort. “I don't measure anything,” he said, “so I like to take other people's data and ask, ‘What could it mean?’ The trouble is the African story is very elaborate, and it's not close to what you'd call the mainstream.”

    Burke, who laid out the latest developments in his unorthodox scenario at the Carnegie Institution of Washington seminar here, begins with the widely recognized observation that “Africa hasn't moved much with respect to the mantle beneath it” for 200 million years. In fact, “it hasn't moved at all in the past 30 million years.” Africa just doesn't have much get up and go, because it lacks the cold, dense slabs of sinking ocean plate found off Japan and South America. There, as the slabs sink into the mantle, they exert a powerful pull on the plates to which they are attached. In contrast, the African plate—the continent and its surrounding ocean crust—is bounded on nearly all sides by midocean ridges that push against it only gently as new crust spreads away from the ridges. Africa's dearth of slabs also means there's long been no cold “downdraft” of slabs into the deep mantle beneath the continent; without such refrigeration, the mantle beneath Africa has been heating slowly, most researchers believe.

    By running the plate tectonics machine backward (mathematically) for 250 million years, Burke thinks he has traced a major force in African geology back to this deep heating of the mantle. During the past 250 million years, there have been 29 massive lava outpourings around the world, called large igneous provinces (LIPs). Many researchers believe LIPs mark the spot where rising plumes of hot rock hit the bottom of a plate, melt a bit of it, and send magma upward to gush onto the surface in a rare “flood basalt” eruption.

    The core's long reach.

    In Kevin Burke's scheme of African geology, the lack of cold, descending slabs allows hot, ascending plumes to shape the surface.


    When Burke recently backtracked from the present position of each LIP—such as the Siberian Traps—through its past plate motion to its position at formation, he found that 25 of the 26 LIPs that could be analyzed had formed over one of two regions: the Pacific Ocean or Africa. As it happens, those are the same two regions where seismic probing has in recent years revealed two great blobs of hot rock—often called superplumes—sitting on the bottom of the mantle hard against the core (Science, 9 July 1999, p. 187). The coincidence, says Burke, suggests that the African blob has been down there at least 250 million years, episodically sending plumes toward the surface.

    It was one of those episodic plumes that set the geologic style of Africa for the past 30 million years, according to Burke. Before 30 million years ago, the African continent was fairly flat and low-lying. Things had been quiet geologically for many tens of millions of years. Then a large plume rose beneath what is now Ethiopia, lifting the plate into a 1000-kilometer-wide dome and spewing the Afar LIP. At about the same time, Africa came to a dead stop. As Burke sees it, the weak push from the midocean ridges simply couldn't drive the African plate over the new plume-raised “hill,” pinning the plate where it was.

    Pinning the African plate was key to Africa's subsequent geologic history, says Burke, especially aspects of interest to us humans. It allowed the Afar plume to work on the same spot for tens of millions of years, tearing open the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the East African Rift. The latter seems to have been an environmentally benign cradle for the evolution of early humans.

    The plate standstill also allowed the mantle beneath the African plate to switch its style of heat-driven circulation, Burke thinks. Instead of flowing in one broad cell that slowly rises on one end and falls on the other, the upper mantle's convective circulation broke up into a field of small cells, like so many pots of boiling water. That's what computer simulations call for when a plate stops moving, notes Burke, and he can see evidence of the convection rippling beneath the surface in the more than 30 swells of higher ground it raises across the continent with basins between. Most of the swells are capped by volcanoes, fed by shallow plumes, he presumes. Erosion of the swells, especially in central and northern Africa, then carried sediments offshore, where they buried organic-rich sediments related to a previous plume episode, giving rise to the oil that enriches the Niger delta and Congo deep-sea fan.

    Support for Burke's grand story in the geophysics community is mixed. Bradford Hager of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology “would quibble with the details” of Burke's plate-pinning plume but finds it reasonable, “crudely speaking.” Gregory Houseman of the University of Leeds, U.K., who did some of the early computer simulations of shallow mantle convection, also believes there is small-scale convection beneath Africa. But seismologists who are beginning seismic surveys of the mantle beneath Africa can't see most of what Burke envisions. “There's no sign of small-scale convection” in the upper mantle, says Paul Silver of Carnegie's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism.

    Burke is undismayed. He sees further tests coming in the ongoing expansion of African mantle seismic imaging and better dating of events in his plate-pinning scenario. Then maybe plume tectonics will erupt into acceptance.


    At 100, Alfred Nobel's Legacy Retains Its Luster

    1. Richard Stone

    Born of a 19th century magnate's vision of heroic science, the Nobels remain the prizes everybody wants to win—and nobody wants to tamper with

    CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—This week, several scientists saw their names equated with dazzling achievement, a standing they will never lose. The general public is now discovering how these newfound celebrities reached their pinnacles: what obstacles they overcame, whose shoulders they stood upon to see so far. Reporters are hanging on their every utterance, soliciting their views on topics ranging from world peace to whether porridge or a raw egg is the breakfast of champions. Colleagues, too, are scrutinizing this latest crop of Nobel Prize-winners in a new light. Will the new demigods honor or diminish the Nobel pantheon?

    Most scientists would love to run that gantlet, but few ever will. Not counting this year's winners, just 280 prizes in three science categories—physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine—have been handed out since the Nobels made their debut 100 years ago. Hard work and dedication alone won't earn a membership in this exclusive club. “It's never for lifetime achievement,” says Svante Lindqvist, director of the Nobel Museum in Stockholm. “That's the wonderful thing about the prize.” Instead, it's the sublime spark of creativity that counts. For some éminences grises, that's the prize's tragic flaw. “The only real problem with the prize as I see it is its focus on a single major discovery,” says Bruce Alberts, president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. “Giant contributors” have been bypassed, he says, “to my regret—and the Nobel's loss.”

    Is the heroic drama losing currency in this era of big science? Do lab chiefs deserve all the fame when prizewinning experiments often are carried out by underlings? Should some Nobel science prizes go to institutions, as the Peace Prize does on occasion? Is it fair to limit a prize to three living individuals? The mandarins at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (RSAS) who anoint the winners take such questions seriously. “The academy feels the temperature outside,” says physicist Anders Bárány, secretary of the academy's Nobel Committee for Physics. “If necessary, it adjusts.”

    Grand debut.

    The first Nobel Prize ceremony in 1901 was an instant hit, although the King of Sweden gave it a miss.


    Science sought to take the temperature as well by polling several dozen prominent scientists. They delivered a resounding defense of the status quo. As epochal as a Nobel can be for the winners, most said, the real beneficiary is science itself. “It puts science on the map, at least once a year,” says laureate Peter Doherty of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. And quaint, quirky, and sometimes anachronistic as the prize might seem, nothing else approaches its status or does its job in remotely the same way.

    An explosive legacy

    The prizes are named after Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite and one of the world's richest men when he died in 1896. Fluent in five languages, Nobel was a tireless and effective promoter of an explosives empire spanning 20 countries. But his surviving letters also reveal a lonely, often sickly man plagued by low self-esteem.

    Nobel may have been prompted to establish the prizes by a French obituary appearing after his brother Ludvig died in 1888. Thinking it was Alfred who had passed away, the newspapers tolled the end of the “merchant of death” who had built a fortune on devising ways to mutilate and kill people. Mortified, Alfred “became so obsessed with his posthumous reputation that he rewrote his last will, bequeathing most of his estate to a cause upon which no future obituary writer would be able to cast aspersions,” Kenne Fant wrote in Alfred Nobel (Arcade Publishing).

    When Nobel succumbed to a stroke in 1896, he left behind a handwritten will as famed for its imprecision as its jaw-dropping philanthropic gesture. Most of his estate, valued at $9 million at the time, was left to endow a fund to award prizes annually to people who had “rendered the greatest services to mankind.” The fund's interest every year would be divided into five equal parts for the three science prizes and for prizes for peace and literature.

    It took executors of Nobel's will 3 years to liquidate his far-flung assets, set up the Nobel Foundation to administer the fund, forge agreements with the awarding institutions, and settle with Nobel's relatives, some of whom challenged the will. Shrewdly anticipating that the prize's impact would be diluted if the money were spread too thinly, the Nobel family insisted that each prize be limited to three living individuals. They thought that rationing the awards “would glorify the name,” says Bárány.

    The Nobel Prize was a true novelty and an instant hit. “It really was the first prize that had an international quality,” says 1989 laureate Harold Varmus, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Part of the allure was the fantastic sums involved: In 1901, each prize was 150,000 Swedish crowns, roughly 30 times a professor's annual salary—and twice the French Academy of Sciences' entire budget that year. The worldwide press coverage of the first Nobel awards ceremony in 1901 was so glowing that King Oskar II of Sweden, who had declined to present the prizes, realized his mistake and bestowed the honors the next year, a tradition every Swedish monarch has upheld.

    The human dramas behind the awards quickly came to the fore. For instance, when Marie and Pierre Curie shared the 1903 physics prize with Antoine Henri Becquerel, the public devoured the couple's rags-to-riches story. Marie, mother and pioneer in the strange new phenomenon of radioactivity, was “instantly transformed into a worldwide celebrity,” Burton Feldman writes in The Nobel Prize (Arcade Publishing). “Because of her, newspapers around the globe changed their way of reporting the Nobel Prize, generating endless publicity, and thereby finally changing the meaning of the awards.”

    The Nobels soon showed a darker side as well. One of the most controversial Nobelists was Fritz Haber, awarded the 1918 chemistry prize for his discovery of how to fix nitrogen from air as ammonia for fertilizer. Haber had also spearheaded Germany's development of poison gas during World War I. Critics excoriated the RSAS for honoring a person linked with so much human suffering.

    Prize politics took on a new dimension in the 1930s, when Adolf Hitler, furious that Jewish scientists in Germany had won Nobels, laid plans for an Aryan alternative: the Hitler Prize, which never came to pass. In the early years of the Cold War, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin also toyed with the idea of establishing Nobel alternatives, including a Mendeleev Prize for science. “Stalin considered the Nobels a diabolical conspiracy against Soviet Russia,” says Michael Sohlman, executive director of the Nobel Foundation. “He thought it was ridiculous that a small and unimportant country like Sweden would control a huge prize.” Stalin's prizes, too, came to nothing.

    Picking favorites

    Meanwhile in Stockholm, behind a façade of incontestable probity, the men and women who choose Nobel laureates engaged in their annual battle of wills. As designated in Nobel's will, the RSAS selects the winners of the physics and chemistry prizes, while Sweden's Karolinska Institute chooses the winners in physiology or medicine. The prize bodies appoint five-member juries, which in turn gather hundreds of nominations each year, whittling these to a few dozen that merit serious consideration.

    During a months-long vetting process, the prize committees ask outside experts to prepare dossiers on leading candidate discoveries, which this year in physics, for example, amounted to fewer than 20. Experts vet the experts' reports. “Even Toyota would be impressed with our quality assurance,” remarks Karolinska president Hans Wigzell, who serves on the physiology or medicine committee (Science, 28 September, p. 2374). By early autumn, the physics and chemistry juries report to the RSAS's general assembly, which can reject a selection and name its own winner—a prerogative it has rarely exercised. Few outsiders were privy to these deliberations until 1974, when the Nobel Foundation decreed that only the past 50 years of its archives would remain secret.

    Every year since then, new information has emerged to help demystify the process. For example, the archives lay bare the machinations that prevented Albert Einstein from winning a prize for his most influential work. In the first 2 decades of the 20th century, dozens of scientists nominated him for the physics prize for relativity. “One man stopped Albert Einstein year after year,” says Bárány: Allvar Gullstrand, a 1911 physiology or medicine laureate on the physics jury who doubted that relativity would stand the test of time. According to the archives, a young academy member, C. W. Oseen, resolved the impasse in 1921 by nominating Einstein for the physics prize for his lesser (but surely Nobel-worthy) theory of the photoelectric effect. Gullstrand accepted the compromise, and Einstein won the 1921 award.

    Historical records fail to explain some astounding errors of judgment. Witness the 1949 prize in physiology or medicine, shared by neuroscientist António Egas Moniz for his development in 1935 of the prefrontal lobotomy. The jury failed to appreciate how widely discredited the procedure had become by the time it tapped Moniz. “It was a terrible mistake that caused permanent damage to thousands of patients,” says 1981 physiology or medicine laureate Torsten Wiesel of Rockefeller University in New York City.

    In some cases, controversial awards have triggered seismic shifts in the Nobel science committees' policies. In the early days, for example, the RSAS and its juries took nominations for key inventions seriously. They adhered to the wording in Nobel's will, which declared that the physics prize should go to the most important discovery or invention, and the chemistry prize to the most important discovery or improvement. In back-to-back years, the 1908 physics prize honored color photography, the 1909 prize wireless radio.

    That penchant for the practical started to change after the 1912 physics prize, which drew howls of derision. That year, Nobel archives show, the physics jury chose Dutch scientist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes for his groundbreaking work in low-temperature superconductivity. But under pressure from a prominent industrialist in the RSAS, the academy dinged Onnes in favor of a Swede, Gustaf Dalén, who had developed a prosaic, if clever, technique for engineering lighthouse lamps to switch on and off automatically.

    The ensuing uproar provoked unprecedented soul-searching within the RSAS, says Bárány. When the prize juries took a hiatus during World War I, he says, representatives of the awarding institutions met and “reflected whether they were going in the right direction.” They decided that any invention so evidently practical that it could launch a company would be ineligible for a prize. “Dalén was the stimulus for this,” says Bárány. In today's biotech era, the most-practical Nobels tend to be given in the physiology or medicine category, although Sweden's current emphasis on “strategic” research should ensure that physics and chemistry prizes rooted in applied science are not necessarily a thing of the past. “I would be extremely surprised if members of the prize committees were not influenced by this climate,” Bárány says.

    One Nobel tradition unlikely to change any time soon is secrecy. Juries endeavor to keep winners in the dark until a congratulatory phone call on the day a prize is announced. “We've had wives say, ‘I absolutely won't wake my husband,’” Bárány says. One call to a chemistry laureate was made to a carpet cleaner with the same name. He took it in good humor, responding that “there's a lot of chemistry in carpet cleaning,” says Bárány, whose grandfather, Robert Bárány, won a 1914 Nobel for insights into the inner ear. On rare occasions—particularly with the Peace Prize—the names of controversial selections have leaked out early, but in general the science juries are known for deafening silence.

    A timeless anachronism?

    When Carlo Rubbia won the 1984 physics prize for the discovery of the W and Z particles a year earlier, the award was as much in honor of the hundreds of scientists at CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics near Geneva where the particles were found, as it was for Rubbia and co-laureate Simon van der Meer. So if Rubbia, CERN's director, was cited, why not also cite CERN itself? RSAS statutes do not prohibit an institution from receiving a physics or chemistry prize. (Karolinska rules expressly bar an institute from a physiology or medicine Nobel.) Although Bárány is not allowed to comment on the 1984 prize deliberations, he says the physics jury would consider awarding a future prize to an institution.

    View this table:

    However, many are loath to see an entity win a science Nobel. “Institutions don't make discoveries; individuals do,” says 1980 chemistry laureate Walter Gilbert of Harvard University. Honoring institutions, adds Will Stewart, chief scientist at the telecom giant Marconi in London, would “drastically reduce the ‘PR for science’ role that may be the greatest value of the Nobels. Who ever heard of any of Einstein's institutes besides the Swiss patent office?” And many scientists cringe at the thought of a Nobel Prize going to the public consortium or the private company involved in what could be this year's biggest science story, the sequencing of the human genome. Still, there may be ways to honor sequencing. “There are wise people in the field who have identified the goal of sequencing a whole organism,” notes Wellcome Trust director Mike Dexter.

    A related issue strikes a deeper chord: Does a lab chief deserve to bask in the glory alone? If genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, as non-Nobelist Thomas Alva Edison famously remarked in 1932, in most labs 99% of that sweat is shed by grad students, postdocs, and other rank-and-file researchers. “The senior scientists should not get all the credit unless they are the only ones who deserve it,” argues chemist Joan Valentine of the University of California, Los Angeles, who believes that James R. Heath, a graduate student, should have shared in the 1996 prize for the discovery of buckyballs. Then there are baneful errors of omission, such as Albert Schatz, who science historians believe discovered streptomycin while working in Selman Waksman's lab at Rutgers University. Although both were listed as discoverers on the streptomycin patent, the 1952 prize for the finding went solely to Waksman, who neglected to mention Schatz in his Nobel lecture.

    Most abundant are cases in which senior scientists had their Nobel dreams shattered by the three-person limit. Two recent causes célèbres are nitric oxide researcher Salvador Moncada for missing out in 1998 and Oleh Hornykiewicz last year (Science, 26 January, p. 567). Of his own 1995 prize, says Paul Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, “I would have felt equally well, maybe better, if the prize had gone to five or six people.”

    But expanding the winners' circle beyond three would mean rewriting statutes laid down for all the prize-awarding bodies. That would be a hard sell. “There are no plans to change the rule,” says Nobel Foundation board chair Bengt Samuelsson. And although perceived injustices may abound, few scientists seem prepared to take up this cause. Restricting prizes to three winners at most, notes physical chemist Philippe Poulin of the Centre de Recherche Paul Pascal in Pessac, France, allows the public to “identify the ‘Einstein’ of the year.”

    Nobel conservatism appears to spring from a desire not to tamper with a winning formula. “The fact that the prizes have such luster is one of life's deep mysteries,” says 1996 chemistry laureate Richard Smalley of Rice University in Houston. The Nobel Foundation's top priority, he says, “is to keep the prize lustrous. … I suspect that anything they do will risk the magic they've had going for them thus far.”

    The most magical day for the winners comes on 10 December—the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death—when they are feted at a banquet in Stockholm City Hall. There they will collect vouchers for checks for their share of the prize, this year set at 10 million Swedish crowns ($939,000). If a far richer science prize were ever to come along and up the ante, that might “put the Nobel selection process into a real soul-searching era,” says Smalley. “Until then you might as well relax. It ain't gonna change.”


    Some Nobel Milestones

    1896 Alfred Nobel dies, leaving his fortune to a nonexistent prize foundation.


    1901 First prizes given in chemistry, physics, peace, and physiology or medicine. Cash award per prize is 150,782 Swedish crowns.


    1903 Marie and Pierre Curie, with Antoine Henri Becquerel, share physics prize for radioactivity research.

    1903 Svante Arrhenius receives chemistry prize for studies of electrolytic dissociation.

    1906 Camillo Golgi and Santiago Ramón y Cajal share physiology or medicine prize for work on nervous system structure.


    1908 Ernest Rutherford honored with chemistry prize for pioneering research in transmutation chemistry.

    1909 Guglielmo Marconi and Carl Ferdinand Braun honored for invention of the radio.


    1911 Marie Curie wins chemistry prize. She is the first woman honored independently and the first person to win two prizes.


    1915-1919 Prizes disrupted during World War I. Some prizes not given in certain years.

    1918 Max Planck wins physics prize for research in quantum mechanics.


    1921 Albert Einstein honored with physics prize for theory of the photoelectric effect.

    1922 Niels Bohr wins physics prize for quantum theory.


    1932 Werner Heisenberg receives physics prize for work in quantum mechanics.

    1933 Erwin Schrödinger and Paul Dirac share the prize for physics.


    1938 Enrico Fermi wins physics prize for study of nuclear reactions.


    1940-1942 No prizes given during part of World War II.

    1945 Alexander Fleming, Ernst Chain, and Howard Florey share prize in physiology or medicine for discovery of penicillin.


    1945 Wolfgang Pauli gets physics prize for discovery of exclusion principle.

    1953 Hans Krebs and Fritz Lipmann share prize in physiology or medicine for studies of citric acid cycle biology.

    1954 Linus Pauling gets the chemistry prize for his quantum chemical bonding theory.


    1958 Frederick Sanger honored for the first analysis of a protein, insulin.


    1958 George Beadle, Edward Tatum, and Joshua Lederberg honored with physiology or medicine prize for the one-gene-one-enzyme postulate.

    1961 Melvin Calvin gets the chemistry prize for his study of photosynthesis.

    1962 James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins win the prize in physiology or medicine for their discovery of the structure of DNA.


    1965 Richard Feynman, Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, and Julian Schwinger win the prize for the discovery of quantum electrodynamics.

    1965 François Jacob, André Lwoff, and Jacques Monod are honored with the prize in physiology or medicine for the discovery of messenger RNA.

    1969 Max Delbrück, Alfred Hershey, and Salvador Luria win the prize in physiology or medicine for showing that DNA carries genetic information.


    1969 The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is established; the first prize goes to Ragnar Frisch of Norway and Jan Tinbergen of the Netherlands.

    1973 Karl von Frisch, Konrad Lorenz, and Nikolaas Tinbergen win the physiology or medicine prize for their pioneering work in ethology.

    1981 Roger Sperry, David Hubel, and Torsten Wiesel win the physiology or medicine prize for their studies of the visual cortex.

    1981 Cash award per prize reaches 1 million crowns.

    1983 Barbara McClintock wins the physiology or medicine prize for her discovery of mobile genetic elements.


    1989 J. Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus receive the physiology or medicine prize for the discovery of retroviral oncogenes.


    1990 Elias Corey wins the chemistry prize for the synthesis of complex molecules.

    1992 Dollar value of prize peaks at $1.2 million.

    1993 Kary Mullis shares the chemistry prize for the discovery of the polymerase chain reaction.


    1995 Edward Lewis, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, and Eric Wieschaus are awarded the physiology or medicine prize for their pioneering studies of development.

    1996 Robert Curl Jr., Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley share the chemistry prize for the discovery of buckminsterfullerenes.

    2001 The Nobel Prizes celebrate their 100th anniversary.

    2001 Cash award reaches 10 million crowns ($939,000).

    [Sources: (1) The Nobel Prize: A History of Genius, Controversy and Prestige; (2)]


    Nobel Nuggets

    Why no math prize? Folklore says it's because a mathematician stole Nobel's girlfriend. “It's a constant apocryphal story,” says Michael Sohlman, executive director of the Nobel Foundation. “We have found no evidence to support this, no evidence that Alfred Nobel was even interested in mathematics.”


    Nobel prisoners. Lev Landau (physics, 1962) was imprisoned by Stalin in 1938 as a German spy but freed after a year thanks to pleas by his colleague Pyotr Kapitsa (physics, 1978). In the 1940s, Kapitsa himself was put under house arrest for 8 years. During World War II, German scientists Otto Hahn (chemistry, 1944), Max von Laue (physics, 1914), and Werner Heisenberg (physics, 1932) served time in a secret British prison camp, Farm Hall. Hahn was awarded the Nobel while there.


    Saved. Hours before Nazi troops descended on the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, George de Hevesy (chemistry, 1943) dissolved in acid the gold medals belonging to James Franck (physics, 1925) and Max von Laue (physics, 1914). After the war, the gold was reconstituted and the reminted medals returned to their owners.


    Postnuptial. By prior agreement, all the money from Albert Einstein's 1921 Nobel Prize went to his ex-wife Mileva Maric.


    Longest wait. F. Peyton Rous, regarded as a pioneer on the path to oncogene research, published his discovery of a virus that causes cancer in chickens in 1911. He had to wait 55 years, until he was 87, to receive the 1966 prize for physiology or medicine.


    Prizewinners, No--But Not Losers

    1. David Malakoff

    Through misjudgment or design, worthy theories and discoveries have failed to win the Nobel stamp of greatness

    The caller to a radio talk show a few years ago was irate. How could teachers take Charles Darwin's theory of evolution seriously? After all, he asked the host, if Darwin was so great, “how come he never won a Nobel Prize?”

    “Probably because he wasn't smart enough,” growled the equally skeptical host from his Bible Belt studio.

    The real answer is that Darwin died long before Alfred Nobel's will established the awards a century ago. And even if Darwin had lived long enough, it's doubtful that the great naturalist's musings on the origin of species would have fallen within the prize's reach of chemistry, physiology or medicine, and physics.

    Although many people see the Nobel as the imprimatur of important science, a slew of discoveries that have shaped our world view—from the theory of relativity to the discovery of ancient human ancestors—were never recognized by the Nobel Prize committees. Some breakthroughs occurred in fields such as mathematics, earth sciences, and ecology that clearly fall outside the Nobel trio; other fields, such as astrophysics, were long excluded by the selection committees. Sometimes a discoverer died before a committee could act: Posthumous prizes are prohibited, with the exception of winners who die in the narrow window after they are named in October but before the award ceremony in December. And with 20/20 hindsight, it's clear that the august selectors have snubbed paradigm-shifting concepts. In perhaps the most famous example, Albert Einstein's relativity theory never achieved Nobel status (see p. 288).

    Scientists of all stripes have their favorite high-impact discoveries that never won the prize. Prominent examples include seismology wizard Beno Gutenberg's pinpointing of Earth's core, Vilhelm Bjerknes's explanation for weathermaking “fronts,” and Ed Knipling's and Raymond Bushland's creation of sterile insects to combat agricultural pests. From a century's worth of unrecognized genius, here are five more un-Nobel ideas that researchers agree are scientific dynamite but had the misfortune of falling outside the terms of Nobel's will:

    The Expanding Universe. In the 1920s and 1930s, astronomer Edwin Hubble helped reveal the Milky Way's smallness in an immense, and expanding, universe. From his Mount Wilson aerie, Hubble first showed that there are many galaxies outside our own, then proposed that distant galaxies produce a pronounced “red shift” in their spectra because they are speeding away. “Hubble's Law” holds that the fastest moving galaxies are the farthest from our own and lie on the cusp of a rapidly expanding universe. The discoveries made Hubble a celebrity, but the physics committee would not reconsider its exclusion of astrophysics. The jury is rumored to have voted him the prize just before his death in 1953, says biographer Gale Christianson of Indiana State University in Terre Haute. Hubble probably would have won sooner, he says, “if they hadn't diddled with the categories.”


    General relativity and weather fronts are among the groundbreaking ideas that Nobel committees did not, or could not, commemorate.


    Island Biogeography. Robert MacArthur and Edward Wilson shook up ecology in the 1950s and 1960s by linking elegant math with creative fieldwork to develop theories of how species colonize new territories. Today, the ideas help conservationists figure out how much habitat endangered species need to survive, and evolutionary ecologists have seized on them to deepen their thinking about speciation and extinction, says Stuart Pimm of Columbia University in New York City. Although MacArthur died in 1972, Pimm notes that Wilson has hauled in a fair number of prestigious—and valuable—prizes. “Nobels are not everything,” says Pimm. “For many of us, they aren't anything.”

    Continental Drift. Colleagues laughed at geoscientist Alfred Wegener's suggestion in 1915 that Earth's land masses wander across the globe. Wegener froze to death on a research expedition in Greenland in 1930, just as other researchers were beginning to take continental drift seriously. By the time indisputable proof emerged in the 1950s, Wegener had become a scientific footnote.

    The Hidden Mind. On 31 October 1929, 73-year-old Sigmund Freud opened his diary and wrote: “Passed over for the Nobel prize.” By then, decades after his groundbreaking theories of the unconscious mind and its influence on behavior, Freud was used to rejection. Biographers, however, say he held out hope to his dying day, a decade later, that Stockholm would call. But psychology and the social sciences were in their infancy in Nobel's day, science historians note, leaving those who study the human mind largely out of the prize's limelight.

    Human Evolution. Darwin may have hypothesized the existence of apelike human ancestors, but it was Louis and Mary Leakey who found the first carefully documented fossils. In 1959, the husband-and-wife team unearthed the remains of a 1.75-million-year-old hominid in Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania, causing a worldwide sensation. But “bone hunting,” paleoanthropologists complain, simply isn't considered a science in some circles.


    For Winners, a New Life of Opportunity--and Perils

    1. Eliot Marshall*
    1. This special section includes additional reporting by Michael Balter, Josh Gewolb, Robert Koenig, Andrei Ol'khovatov, Charles Seife, and Ben Shouse.

    Nobel fame and money propel laureates in many directions. Some leave science altogether; few remain unchanged

    The Nobel Prize may be the most glamorous award a scientist can receive, but it can also be a curse. Few recipients are prepared for the publicity that comes with it. Some bedazzled winners have ventured into far-out, speculative projects, leapt into political causes, or just enjoyed being famous. Others have husbanded their fame and financial rewards—up to $1 million, depending on how many ways the prize is split—with care, using it to extend their science, start a company, or land a new job. But even the most dedicated have found it difficult to return to their old routines after being summoned to Stockholm.

    Richard Roberts, who shared the medicine Nobel in 1993 for discovering split genes, calls it “the prize that keeps on giving.” The torrent of phone calls, media interviews, dinners, speaking engagements, trips, and petitions was a bit overwhelming at first, he says. After an initial fling, he's become much more selective. He's most likely to respond to schools, he says, “because you never know who is going to be in the audience and might decide that science is their life.” On the other hand, Douglas Osheroff of Stanford, who shared the physics prize in 1996 with two others for discovering superfluid helium-3, has embraced the larger stage afforded by the prize. Friends began telling him in the mid-1970s that he was a nominee for a Nobel, but it was only after he stopped thinking about it that he got a phone call from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In an instant, he says, “I knew that my life had been turned upside down.”

    The phone kept ringing. He agreed to dozens of media interviews; joined a press blitz put on by the National Science Foundation, which has funded his work; visited his old lab in New York with a Swedish film crew in tow; and traveled widely. “Time is absolutely the scarcest commodity in a Nobel laureate's life,” Osheroff says. But he has stuck with his decision to “accept the responsibility of becoming a spokesperson for science and my institution and an inspiration for young people.”

    Foundation grant.

    Laureate Günter Blobel is using his Nobel money to rebuild a Dresden church destroyed in World War II.


    In her 1977 book, The Scientific Elite, sociologist Harriet Zuckerman argues that the Nobel Prizes often “impede rather than … advance scientific work” by making laureates into celebrities and stealing time from their research. Harold Varmus, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), agrees. A 1989 winner with J. Michael Bishop of the medicine prize for oncogene research, Varmus says he eventually cut back on travel because he felt that “the steam was going out of my research program” in the immediate aftermath of the award—“when you're Miss America.”

    The prize also paved the way to a new career: Varmus discovered that politicians suddenly wanted his advice. The “pivotal moment” came when former NIH director Bernadine Healy asked him how the government should reimburse institutions for indirect costs spent to support research. “I didn't know a thing about indirect costs,” Varmus recalls, adding that he had “studiously avoided” the dean's office and even faculty meetings. He says the prize was also key to his selection as NIH director in 1993.

    Varmus is one of half a dozen molecular biology laureates who later took over big research institutions. James Watson, who shared the 1962 medicine prize with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for discovery of DNA's structure, has run the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York for decades and was the first director of what is now the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH. David Baltimore, a 1975 laureate in medicine, became president of Rockefeller University in New York City and is now president of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. And Tom Cech, who was a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, when he shared the 1989 chemistry prize for research on RNA, now runs one of the world's richest charities, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

    A smaller number have made a management leap into business. Walter Gilbert, who shared the chemistry prize in 1980 for a rapid DNA-sequencing method, left Harvard University to found and run a biotech company in Massachusetts called Biogen. Although he returned to Harvard, he's continued to launch companies, including Memory Pharmaceuticals with Eric Kandel, one of three 2000 laureates in medicine. Winning the prize, Gilbert says, provided “an extra level of independence” that gave him the confidence to try new ventures and the recognition to attract the necessary support.

    Others share Gilbert's view of the Nobel Prize as a liberating force. Britain's Max Perutz, who won the 1962 chemistry prize with John Kendrew for work on the structures of globular proteins, says that the honor “greatly increased my self-confidence” and set the stage for “my best work.” It also enabled him to buy his first car. William Phillips, a 1997 physics laureate at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, thinks the prize has given his studies a practical and fiscal boost. It has become “easier to get funding,” he says, and “easier to branch out into things on the edge,” like quantum information.

    Some Nobel laureates have gotten a different kind of boost from the prize—an elevation to political prominence. Linus Pauling, who won the chemistry Nobel in 1954 for his detailed elucidation of chemical bonds, won the Peace Prize in 1962 after campaigning for a decade against the testing and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam put another Nobelist—biologist George Wald of Harvard (medicine, 1967)—on President Richard Nixon's “enemies list.” NIH's Julius Axelrod (medicine, 1970) and Christian Anfinsen (chemistry, 1972) attracted attention for petitioning the president to back scientific exchanges with the Soviet Union and later criticizing Nixon's war on cancer. Henry Kendall, one of three physics Nobelists in 1990, used his prize money to help the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group he co-founded that advocates strict controls on nuclear technology.

    These researchers lobbied on issues of public policy. Others have used their prominence to back a private cause. Günter Blobel of Rockefeller University, for example, is spending the nearly $1 million from his 1999 medicine prize to rebuild the Frauenkirche, an 18th century church in Dresden destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945, and the Dresden synagogue, destroyed by Nazis on Kristallnacht, 9 November 1938. Blobel glimpsed the Frauenkirche as a child just days before its destruction. The restored synagogue will open next month; the church, 4 years from now. Blobel says he is just trying to combat “cultural Talibanism.”

    Winning the prize may have slowed his productivity for a bit, Blobel says, but “it hasn't changed the focus of my work.” Blobel says that he enjoyed the period of celebrity, but “I have not been seduced into thinking that I should now solve the brain.” Others, however, have moved into new fields, including brain research. Francis Crick, after his success with Watson in defining the structure of DNA, has spent 3 decades examining the source of dreams, consciousness, and the biological basis of the soul at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. Donald Glaser, winner of the 1960 physics Nobel for inventing the bubble chamber, left particle physics to work on developing computer models of human vision.

    Brian Josephson of the University of Cambridge, after sharing the physics prize in 1973 for his theoretical work on electron tunneling and superconductivity, made a striking change: He turned to full-time study of psychokinesis—the use of mental powers to move matter—and other exotic interests. Josephson says he sensed that the “golden age of condensed-matter physics had passed, and I couldn't be interested” any longer. Getting the prize, he says, “has facilitated my working in unorthodox areas.”

    In contrast to the field-switchers, many scientists come through the Nobel experience seemingly unchanged and with their productivity undiminished. John Bardeen, for example, shared a physics prize for the discovery of the transistor in 1956 and then shared a second prize 16 years later for a theory of superconductivity. Frederick Sanger, after winning a solo chemistry prize for protein sequencing in 1958, shared another chemistry prize in 1980 for DNA sequencing. As Perutz says, “Great discoveries are wonderful in themselves.” But the Nobel adds “something extra.”

  15. General Contentment Masks Gender Gap in First AAAS Salary and Job Survey

    1. Constance Holden

    AAAS takes the pulse of the U.S. life sciences community in the first comprehensive survey of salaries and job satisfaction

    The largest employment survey of U.S. life scientists ever conducted finds a high level of job satisfaction and rising salaries among senior researchers. But it also reveals a few downsides. Respondents say they spend less time than they would like doing research, there is a significant gender pay gap, and younger scientists express uneasiness about their career path.

    This summer the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) queried 19,000 U.S.-based members who work in the biological sciences. This first-ever survey asked about salary levels, job histories, and factors that have shaped their careers. The survey was anonymous, although many respondents indicated in a separate mailing that they would be willing to be interviewed for this article. (For details of how the survey was conducted, see previous page.)

    Smart, white, and middle-aged.

    Fully 93% of the respondent population have Ph.D.s or M.D.s (or both). Only 15% are under 40, and even fewer—13%—are ethnic minorities. Geographically, there's a tilt toward the coasts, with the smallest proportion (19%) living in the Midwest. (Figure 2)

    Wide reach.

    Respondents represent about 30 subdisciplines. Biochemistry is the top research area, followed by neuroscience and molecular biology. Scientists in most disciplines are represented roughly evenly both within academia and without. Two exceptions are neuroscience, where respondents are three times as likely to be in academia, and biotechnology, where they are 11 times as likely to be in the nonacademic sector. (Figure 3)

    View this table:

    With some 70,000 members in the life sciences, the AAAS draws from a wide variety of disciplines and sectors. But its dominant group is male Ph.D. and M.D. researchers in academia. Reflecting the AAAS membership, the respondents are largely in academia (61% of the total), well-established (60% of the academics have tenure), and male (72%). In particular, almost two-thirds of the 8692 respondents are between the ages of 40 and 59 (Figure 2). Three out of four say they are at or near the peak of their careers; half the total—and 54% of academics—have been in the same job for more than 10 years. The overwhelming majority—93%—have either a Ph.D., M.D., or both (Figure 2). Unemployment (those without a job and actively seeking one) is only 1%, and only 2% are in part-time jobs, although AAAS members are more likely to be employed than the overall pool of life scientists. The generally high level of satisfaction suggests that underemployment among this group is also rare.

    Discrepancies abound.

    Median salaries are lower, and discrepancies are greater in academia than in other sectors, with salaries ranging from $42,000 for researchers to $120,000 for administrators. The median for executives is $160,000 outside academia, where the lowest salary is $72,000. Sex differences are pervasive, becoming most pronounced at the highest ranks. Some of this, as with physicians, reflects the fact that men more often choose high-paying specialties. (Figures 4 and 5)


    Although only 27% of the respondents are female, women make up 38% of those in the survey under 40 years of age, reflecting the surge of women into the life sciences over the past few decades. Similarly, although only 9% of respondents are foreign nationals here on temporary or permanent visas, foreign nationals make up 27% of those under 40 in the survey.

    Apprentice pay.

    Although 77% of the postdocs in the survey work in academic settings (and more than half of these in medical schools), the pay is better in industry. (Figure 6)


    Some 30 subdisciplines in the life sciences are represented in the survey; the largest single research field is biochemistry (10%), followed by neuroscience and molecular biology (7% each). Fifteen percent of respondents list “medicine” as their primary subdiscipline—consistent with the fact that 13% of respondents hold M.D.s, not Ph.D.s.

    Follow the money

    Salarywise, the first half of 2001 was good for most respondents. The median salaries for academics and nonacademics alike rose by 7% over the previous 12-month period, outpacing inflation, although in some sectors it grew only 3%. Not everyone is riding the tide of wealth, however. Just over half of postdocs must scrape by with incomes of less than $40,000 a year (Figure 6), and one biologist at a large state university in the South, who asked that her name not be used, is earning $27,000 in the fourth year of a postdoc.

    There are a number of notable differences among groups with comparable training. First, academic life scientists, at least those not at medical schools, make less money than those outside academia—$80,000 compared with $96,000. The lowest paid in the private or governmental sectors are rank-and-file researchers, whose median pay is $76,000. That would look good to many in academia, especially the non-tenure track, nonteaching researchers who earn a median of $42,000 (Figures 4 and 5).

    “A nontenure position is so tenuous you're pretty much on your own,” says ophthalmology researcher Gail M. Seigel, 40, now in a tenure-track position as an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo in New York. Only last year, as a researcher at the University of Rochester in New York, she recalls that “I didn't get a paycheck for 4 months” after a National Institutes of Health grant was delayed.

    Highest paid of all, with a median salary of $153,000, are CEOs, followed by physicians (Figure 5), at $125,000. Mark Tepper, for example, a 44-year-old vice president for research and operations at the biotech giant Serono in Randolph, Massachusetts, makes more than $200,000 including bonus. And J. Robert Beck, a 48-year-old physician, is earning $235,000 at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia for his expertise in the burgeoning world of bioinformatics.

    Even though academics generally earn less than their counterparts in industry, there is a sizable range by type of institution and rank. Geography also makes a difference (Figure 10). Doctoral-granting institutions pay a good deal better than 4-year colleges, for instance, with median salaries of about $76,000 at the former and $57,000 at the latter (Figure 7). There's also a whopping $36,000 gap in median pay between associate and full professor ($72,000 versus $108,000). Not surprisingly, paychecks are much smaller in many rural areas, even for senior faculty members. For example, 47-year-old plant cell biologist Russ Feirer, who has been at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, for 11 years, earns less than $50,000 as an associate professor.

    The shabby professor.

    Schools that don't have big graduate programs are the lowest paying of all employers in this survey, with the median salary at 4-year colleges bottoming out at $57,000. Most rewarding employers: hospitals and independent labs, where median salary is $105,000. (Figure 7)


    Finally, there's the sex gap. Men earn almost one-third more than women: $94,000 versus $72,000. The difference is greatest among academic administrators, where the midpoint is $120,000 for men and $75,000 for women; in industry and government, the figures are $160,000 for men and $125,000 for women.

    Although gender differences in pay are notoriously hard to interpret, the report finds evidence that “women are paid less for similar work even when type of employer is held constant.” Asked for comment, respondents of either gender offer a slew of explanations, from the relatively recent arrival of significant numbers of women into the workforce to their disproportionate presence in lower paying fields and at lower paying, non-doctorate-granting institutions. Finnie Murray, a dean at Texas A&M University, Commerce, notes that there are “market-driven differences in starting salaries” in disciplines such as computation-based fields that are heavily dominated by men.

    Whistle while you work.

    The 3% of respondents who are self-employed rated their degree of contentment highest of all, on a scale of 1 to 10, followed by those in Ph.D.-granting institutions. Proving that money doesn't buy happiness, the “highly satisfied” rate in industry is only 53%, not far above the least satisfied of all: those in hospitals and independent labs (49%). (Figure 8)


    What makes you happy

    The AAAS survey found that making a big investment in education pays off emotionally, if not financially. Fully 86% were satisfied with their current jobs—including 59% who were “highly” satisfied (Figure 8). Generally, women life scientists are not only less well paid but somewhat less satisfied than the males (Figure 11). Men rate their jobs better in a host of areas: salary and compensation, job security, promotion opportunities, hours worked, resources available to do the job, autonomy, opportunities for collegial exchange, and prestige.

    Job satisfaction tends to increase with level of position and, thus, with age. In academia, full professors and administrators are most pleased with their lots. “I'm about 98% happy,” says P. Stephen Baenziger, a 50-year-old “distinguished professor” in plant breeding and agronomy at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, who loves seeing the tangible results of his work. “70% of Nebraska wheat has come out of my program.”

    Having an M.D. also seems to increase satisfaction, although within academia, those working at medical schools are not as satisfied as those in colleges and universities. Although 60% of respondents profess to be well satisfied with their salaries, even more are pleased with their health and retirement benefits (76%) and their degree of job security (71%).

    The survey results support the idea that U.S. life scientists pursue advanced degrees less for money, power, or prestige than for the intellectual adventure. Asked what factors were most important in considering a job change, 79% said intellectual challenge is “highly important” (Figure 12). Autonomy on the job comes next at 70%. Only 53%, in contrast, make salary a top priority, and only 32% put a premium on prestige. Nonetheless, worldly recognition is more important to academics than to nonacademics—especially those academics working at doctoral-level institutions and medical schools.

    Soothing medicine.

    The top-drawing field in this survey is academic medicine—with a median salary of $145,000—which helps explain why a lot of people wish they'd gotten an M.D. And that's the only field where the salaries aren't better outside academia. (Figure 9)


    Life scientists in academia spend half their time conducting research; the proportion is slightly lower in nonacademic settings (Figure 13). In fact, respondents say that one of the benefits of being low on the totem pole—the nontenured and those not on the tenure track—is the chance to spend more time in the lab. In contrast, more senior academics spend increasing amounts of time on administrative tasks as they rise through the ranks. Research is basically limited to “writing grant proposals and papers, while my students and postdocs do the fun stuff,” says cell biologist Sidney Pierce, 56, of the University of South Florida, Tampa. “Of course I would love to do nothing but research. But somebody has to run the show.”

    Despite those complaints, scientists in medicine, ecology, and environmental sciences are the only ones who spend less than half their time on research. Physicians, who spend over two-thirds of their time on tasks other than research, teaching, or administration—presumably patient care—are most eager to increase research time. Researchers in the medical specialties of cancer biology, neurobiology, virology, and immunology report the highest percentage of time in the lab.

    The opportunity to teach is also a strong component of job satisfaction. But the pattern is complex. For almost half of respondents, the median amount of time currently spent with students—27% for academics—seemed about right. But a need to find the right balance is also important. People at medical schools who do little teaching want to do more, and people at colleges and universities who teach a lot want to do less. Instructional burdens are particularly onerous at non-Ph.D.-granting schools. “I had this vision of a college professor as one who could finally have the time to sit back in his chair, feet on the desk, and keep up on the science,” says Feirer of St. Norbert College, who spent the early part of his career as an industry scientist. “Instead, I find now that I'm further behind than I've ever been.”

    The one thing few people want is more administrative duties. Even senior executives in government and private industry say they would like to reduce the amount of time spent on administration.

    Postdoc update

    Science talked with a handful of postdocs earning from $27,000 to $36,000. With so little disposable income, they are understandably concerned about whether their employer pays for health insurance and other benefits. But as one postdoc points out, “there are a lot of disparities [among institutions] in the rules and guidelines for postdocs.”

    Of the 292 postdocs who responded to the survey, 76% work in an academic institution, and 46% hope to climb aboard the tenure track. Although one postdoc says she is open to moving to a more applied focus in an industry job, she adds that “I have to like what I work on.”

    The data also suggest that the warnings several years ago of an “endless” postdoc may not be materializing. Although some 42% of current postdocs (and 37% of all who have done at least one postdoc) say they have held two or more such positions, that percentage is no higher than what biochemists reported in the 1980s (Science, 3 September 1999, p. 1533).

    Location, location.

    Nonacademic salaries—primarily in industry—are consistently higher in most regions, rivaled only by medical schools (median salaries shown in thousands of dollars). (Figure 10)


    Looking both ways

    The survey tried not only to capture what people have done with their careers but also shed light on the strategies they used, and what, if anything, they might have done differently.

    Some things haven't changed. Despite the heightened emphasis on providing a range of support services for fledgling scientists—from formal mentoring programs to postdoc associations—38% of all respondents ranked personal contacts as the “most valuable” source of employment help (Figure 15). Second on their list are opportunities to co-author papers. Mentors also figure importantly. Columbia University professor Stuart Firestein attributes his ability to launch a new career in his 40s in large part to the fact that “I had the right mentors at the right times—people I'm still very close friends with.”

    Women not as happy.

    Male life scientists generally are somewhat more satisfied than females with all aspects of their jobs; women in particular feel that they have less job security and get less recognition in terms of prestige, promotion, and money. (Figure 11)


    The days of lifelong allegiance to a single institution may be gone, but there is still quite a bit of stability among AAAS members. Fully 47% of respondents have been working at the same place for more than 10 years—and the proportion goes up to 54% in academia. Still, there are quibbles. Psychologist Ruben Gur, 54, for example, whose salary tops $150,000 and who has been working in the area of brain imaging in the study of human behavior at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia since 1974, says, “I think our research agenda could have been much further ahead with more support from the administration. People at Penn are pretty much ignored until they get a competing offer. I could show you each research space and tell you which offer generated that particular area.”

    Joy of thinking.

    Intellectual challenge—and the freedom and resources to pursue such challenges—stand out as the most important job considerations for this highly educated bunch. And they rank markedly above salary, prestige, geographic location, or hours worked.(Figure 12)


    In keeping with their generally high levels of satisfaction, more than 70% of all respondents said it was unlikely they would look for a new job in the coming year (Figure 16). Mobility is a little higher outside of academia, especially among managers, where 46%—as opposed to 27% of academics—said they were likely to change jobs. Barbara M. Sullivan, 41, a biochemist and director of business development at Nalge Nunc International in Naperville, Illinois, which makes labware, says she would switch not for more money but to take a more direct hand in the development of medical products. In academia, the most restless work in medical schools, while the most settled teach in 4-year colleges. Not surprisingly, seniority makes a big difference: Only 9% of those with tenure were seriously considering a job change.

    Different worlds.

    Although academics and nonacademics spend about the same amount of time on research, work patterns are very different. Many nonacademics say they would like to do some teaching; many academics would like to do less of it. (Figure 13)


    That picture may change as the baby boomers—31% of respondents are now in their 50s—start to retire. Despite the uncapping of retirement ages both in and outside academia, the median intended retirement age remains 65, with most people planning to retire sometime in their 60s. For people who love their jobs, the retirement age rises over time: The average researcher over 60 plans to hang on until age 68, and 9% plan to retire after age 70.

    Expectations for working after retirement also differ with age, with younger respondents envisioning a more varied lifestyle. Just over 60% of workers now under 40 plan to work at least part-time after retirement, while only 40% of those over 60 are planning to do so. A sizable group also plan to retire before age 60.

    “My husband and I plan to retire as soon as our finances will allow,” sometime in their 50s, says 31-year-old neuroscientist Catherine Delaney Freiman, who does research with animal models for diabetes at Esperion Therapeutics in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “I think we would both continue in our careers but not full-time,” says Freiman, who is attracted to the idea of teaching neuroscience to high school students. Freiman does not count herself among the workaholic population and says being an academic never appealed to her. “I saw how hard my advisers had to work to be a success, … sleeping in the lab, scrambling for grants.”

    One of the most thought-provoking questions on the survey asked what changes people would have made if they had the chance to do it all over again. Some 37% would have made major changes (Figure 14): Of these, 18% said they'd switch out of science altogether. A few respondents (3%) sound embittered: “Basic or academic research is a lower middle-class profession these days,” wrote one academic who has counseled students against entering science. Another wrote that “card dealer school and bar tending school” would have been more rewarding than getting a Ph.D.

    Among others who wish they had done things differently, the most commonly voiced regret was not having gone to medical school (12%). One respondent, tied to a region because of her husband's job, says that credential would have made her much more employable; she can't find a job despite a varied career in research and teaching. Many respondents also felt they would have benefited from a business degree (9%). Degrees in law, computer programming, or engineering were also seen as desirable.

    Starting over.

    About 37% of all respondents said they would make major changes in their education and career paths if they had it to do over. Of the 6% who hold only bachelor's or master's degrees, the majority now wish they had pursued further education. The people with M.D.s seem most content with their choices, but even among these, one-third wish they'd done something different. (Figure 14)


    Reflecting their unsettled states, people just beginning their careers are more likely to say they would have chosen differently. Women were more likely than men to consider a major change. Several people expressed regret that they had not gotten started on their career path sooner; others wished they had recognized the importance of being affiliated with a high-prestige school or lab.

    The personal touch.

    Respondents indicated that despite growth of services for postdocs and job-seekers, personal contacts remain by far the most important factor in getting one's first permanent job. Also important are opportunities to showcase one's promise through co-authoring papers or conference presentations. (Figure 15)


    Again, differences in priorities may result in different career choices by men and women. Although life scientists overall value knowledge and discovery over other factors, males were more likely to care about making money, whereas women focused more on lifestyle issues: geographic location; opportunities for collegial exchange; working hours and conditions, including promotion opportunities; and sabbaticals. But even in these areas, men rate their jobs more highly than do women. And by a margin of 36% to 10%, women report more often than men that taking leave for personal or family reasons is disadvantageous to their careers.

    Krista Johnson, 36, who runs a lab at Alexion Pharmaceuticals in Cheshire, Connecticut, has taken maternity leaves to give birth to her two sons. She says it “takes a while to get your feet wet again” afterward. “It would be really nice to be able to take a longer leave than they give you—but the longer you're away, the harder it is to get back.”

    Deeply rooted.

    Almost three-quarters of our academic respondents indicated that they have no intention of switching jobs any time soon. Nonacademics are somewhat more likely to be on the move—except for the self-employed scientists, 90% of whom want to stay that way. (Figure 16)


    Most women scientists say their careers have been constrained to some extent by their spouses, and 27% report being restricted “a lot.” Dianne Cox, 43, a nontenured researcher in immunology at Columbia University, says she is interested in teaching but must remain in New York because of her husband's job. However, she says, “I see it as a limit rather than a sacrifice.” Cox agrees with Johnson that taking an extended family leave would “not [be] a viable option if I wanted to keep moving ahead.” Only 7% of male scientists felt their spouse's career needs had seriously affected their own. Partly as a result of this, more women than men report having part-time jobs. What's more, women biologists are less likely than their male counterparts to be married (72% versus 88%) and more likely to be separated, divorced, or widowed (13% vs. 6%) or never married (15% vs. 6%).

    One of the major demographic changes in science has been the increase of two-scientist couples and the inevitable compromises for one or both members. Although Gur and his collaborator-wife Raquel Gur are very happy at Penn, he says that universities by and large “have made minimal efforts to accommodate the phenomenon of collaborators who are also personal partners.” Although universities “absorb benefits such as major savings in health insurance,” he says, “little is done to address their [couples'] special needs.”

    All in all, though, this survey confirms that scientists tend to be people who like their jobs. They feel that their education has paid off in a highly rewarding, if not lucrative, career. Says Columbia's Firestein: “We get to think about the things that interest us the most, … and we have a significant amount of control over the direction of our lives, more so than many people who make a lot more money.”

  16. Miniprofiles

    1. Constance Holden

    These miniprofiles personify important trends reported by respondents in the AAAS 2001 salary and employment survey. The information in the profiles was gleaned from interviews with Science and not from survey responses, which remain confidential.

    M.D. = More Dollars

    Salary: $235,000

    J. Robert Beck has parlayed an undergraduate math major and a medical degree into a remunerative career that combines administration and research.

    After 9 years at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Beck started last month as vice president and chief information officer at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Beck calls himself a “decision scientist” who does research on medical decision-making, disease modeling, and bioinformatics. He started out after medical school as a junior faculty member doing research, teaching, and clinical work. Then, in 1989, he launched into information technology administration at a time when “not that many people with IT and management strengths were working in medical schools.” Now, he says, “every health center has people who do this.”

    Beck says his new job includes oversight of everything from phones and payrolls to the organization of bioinformatics and genomics programs. Despite getting paid well for his labors, he says that working for a nonprofit puts a ceiling on his earning power: “[My salary] is nothing like what this job pays in the private sector.”

    Happy With His Lot

    Salary (includes grants): $110,000

    At 52, Stuart Firestein is a happy man. He typifies a large portion of the respondents to our survey—a middle-aged, tenured male faculty member who likes his job. But he's unusual in one respect: He didn't earn his doctorate until the age of 40, after a career in the theater doing directing and lighting design.

    Today Firestein, an associate professor at Columbia University, limits his designs to his lab, where since 1993 he's explored the molecular physiology of olfaction in rats and mice. “I've been very lucky. It was just the right time to get into my field,” says Firestein.

    Although the university expects him to focus on teaching in exchange for the 65% share of his time that it supports, he actually teaches only one undergraduate class and one graduate seminar a year. The rest of his pedagogy comes as a mentor in his lab, where he spends an estimated 80% of his time. “There's sort of a macho thing among people who run labs: They have to say how much they dislike teaching,” says Firestein. But he and his colleagues take teaching “very seriously,” he adds.

    He does carry a larger administrative burden than he would like—“I'm not very good at saying no.” But, he adds wryly, “if you don't do them, an administrator will.”

    Administrating Can Be Fun

    Salary: $106,799

    Finnie A. Murray, 58, spent 25 years as a biology professor at Ohio State and Ohio universities, studying early fetal development. Then he fell into administration, “more or less by accident,” and found that he liked it. Now he's dean of arts and sciences at Texas A&M University, Commerce, a part of the Texas A&M university system.

    Murray reluctantly gave up research in reproductive physiology when he became dean 15 months ago. He teaches one course a semester—and spends the rest of his time working to solve other people's problems. “I enjoy the challenge. … I found it was as stimulating as being in the lab. It's rewarding to be able to do something to make other people successful—to take an impossible situation and try to make something possible out of it.”

    Starved for Research

    Salary: About $50,000

    Professors at non-doctoral granting schools often find to their sorrow that teaching duties tend to crowd out research. That's what vertebrate behavioral ecologist William Rogers discovered after landing a job at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, in 1989.

    “I was sort of an academic sharecropper for a while,” says Rogers, 51, who earned a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985. He is now a tenured professor at Winthrop with a heavy teaching load—more than 12 and sometimes as many as 18 “contact hours” per semester. And “a lot of service is expected here,” he adds. Rogers says that faculty members are expected to be productive in research, but that he's lucky to carve out 5% of his time for his research, which is funded by various government and private sources. And some of that is spent “desperately trying to keep up with journals.”

    More importantly, his teaching duties leave him with little opportunity or time for interaction with colleagues. “Day by day, I have just quietly lost a sense of connection with the bigger scientific community out there,” he says.

    Forever Young

    Salary: Satisfying

    Geneticist Mary-Claire King, 55, wants her career to last forever. The first researcher to find a gene causing an inherited form of breast cancer, King runs a lab of about 20 researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle. And she has no plans to slow down. “When you look at opportunities available now in genetics, it's just irresistible to keep doing science,” she says.

    She's also satisfied with her financial situation. She received a 30% pay hike as a full professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1990s after a university statistician discovered that females at her level were making substantially less than the lowest paid male of that rank. Moving to Washington in 1995, she says, “I am happy with my [current] salary,” which she prefers not to disclose.

    Instead of stepping aside to make room for younger scientists, she's come up with another way to nurture new ideas. “I've already started to include young investigators whose interests I share and who are highly autonomous,” she says. She's also rethinking her response in the AAAS survey that she planned to work until she is 80: “After talking with some 80-year-old friends, I realize that may be a little young.”

    Biotech Veteran

    Salary: Between $85,000 and $105,000

    Tony Day, 42, is head of structural biology at Genencor's R&D center in Palo Alto, California, and a veteran in the fast-moving biotech industry. He's been at Genencor, founded in 1982 as a collaboration between Genentech and Corning, for 8 years. “This company is unusual: It has one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry, due largely to the flexible and collegial work environment,” he says of the company's 1100 employees.

    The British-born Day headed for the New World in 1993 after completing his postdoc in enzymology at Cambridge University. Inadequate funding made for “very poor” opportunities at all but the most elite U.K. institutions, he says, whereas the U.S. biotech industry offered the promise of well-equipped labs and good-paying jobs. Day says he has done some business development and has acquired a taste for it. “At a certain level, it's as much management as research,” says Day. “To get back to the lab full-time, I'd have to take a step downwards both in salary and responsibility.”

    Life at a Medical Center

    Salary: $150,000 to $200,000

    As an administrator in a California academic medical center, Linda Cork is on the cusp of the financial and operational upheavals caused by U.S. health care reforms. It's a tough job, she admits.

    Cork, a veterinary pathologist, is chair of the comparative medicine department and runs the animal care program at Stanford University in Palo Alto. Research is mostly a memory. Instead, she and her colleagues “are constantly facing changes in the regulatory environment”—everything from the shape of mouse cages to the training of the graduate students who work with them. They must also be “expert on all areas of personnel and budget.” In addition, Cork is scrambling to house an “explosion” in the mouse population as genetic technology multiplies the number of models used for research.

    The 64-year-old Cork says that she could have remained a full-time researcher, studying degenerative diseases of the nervous system in mice. But “comparative medicine [which uses animal models to study human conditions] is not that big a field, and I felt that it was time to provide opportunities for junior people.”

    Dedicated Postdoc

    Salary: $36,500

    Biochemist Xiao-Dong Gao was one of the first students given the chance to study abroad when China opened its doors to the West in 1982. He spent 15 years in Japan, getting his Ph.D. at the University of Tokyo before heading to the United States. Now, at 36, Gao is in his fourth year of a postdoc at the State University of New York (SUNY), Stony Brook, studying the biosynthesis of cell surface molecules in yeast and fungi that cause human fungal diseases. “I love science. I want to have my own lab and get grants and do research,” says Gao.

    With 2 years left in his postdoc, he's not sure where that might be, however. His wife, who is Japanese, is working at SUNY as part of her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Tsukuba University. “I can go back to Japan if I want,” Gao says, but “for a woman scientist it is very, very hard to get a job in Japan.”

    Gao says he'd return home if China offered him enough money to carry out a first-class research program. But the United States would be his first choice. “If I can do science here, of course I want to stay. This is the best country to do science,” he says.

    High-Risk Start-Up

    Salary: $100,000

    When Rajan Kumar decided to set up a company to develop patented microarray systems, the stock market was still booming. But by the time the company, Genome Data Systems in Hamilton, New Jersey, opened for business early this year, the financial climate had soured. As a result, Kumar has only three employees on the payroll. “We didn't start at a good time,” he admits.

    The original idea was to attract venture capital and expand very rapidly. But as the market collapsed, he says, “we changed our strategy and decided to pursue technology development with federal money.” The company now has two grants, from the departments of Energy and Defense. One is for developing small instruments requiring less than a microliter of sample solution that can be used in testing possible drugs. The other is for microarrays of proteins for use in proteomics research. Now, he says, “we'll be around for the next 18 months at least.”

    Kumar, 37, got his Ph.D. in molecular biology and worked for almost 5 years in the private sector. He started his own company because “I wanted to work in a situation where I was closer to developing a product.” Kumar's company may get an unexpected boost from the newly launched U.S. war on terrorism: One use for its technology is as an assay for potential toxins in bioweapons.

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