ScienceScope

Science  19 Apr 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5567, pp. 447
  1. Lethal Legacy

    The Republic of Georgia is about to ramp up its hunt for Soviet leftovers. In February, the International Atomic Energy Agency helped the Georgians recover two abandoned canisters (below) packed with dangerous strontium-90 (Science, 1 February, p. 777). So far, six of the highly radioactive Soviet-era sources, once used to power portable thermogenerators, have been retrieved from the Ingury River valley. But the agency believes as many as four remain unaccounted for. In June, atomic agency experts and member states will assist Georgia on a 2-week mission to scour the valley for the missing devices by vehicle, horseback, and foot. Also in the planning stage is a countrywide search for other “orphan” radioactive sources.

    CREDIT: IAEA
  2. Barrier Breaker

    Washington, D.C., high school science teacher Douglas Tyson sees it as a unique opportunity for his students to mingle with the scientific elite. For the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), it's a chance to be a good neighbor and open doors to a group of highly motivated minority students.

    This week the academy announced a new partnership program linking it with Benjamin Banneker, the district's only public college-prep high school. This summer four graduating seniors will work in the National Research Council's (NRC's) division of earth and life sciences to kick off a paid internship program, and academy staffers have agreed to spend time in the classroom and on science-related activities. The goal, says NAS President Bruce Alberts, is “to help close the gap in the number of minorities in scientific, engineering, and medical careers.”

    Banneker's success with a rigorous academic curriculum for students from disadvantaged backgrounds makes it the obvious partner, says NRC division head Warren Muir, who worked with Tyson to lay the groundwork. “You want a school where there's somebody on the other end who cares,” he says. Tyson, coach of the school's national championship “It's Academic” team, is looking for something that he can't provide: “We can set high standards, but if students are going to succeed in this world they also need to engage in activities involving the majority population.”

  3. Touching a Nerve

    Do investigators believe that grant size and duration have a big impact on their research? The National Science Foundation (NSF) is still tallying the answers to that and other questions put to some 6000 grantees as part of a study ordered by the White House budget office. But the 92% response rate to its Web-based questionnaire indicates how strongly researchers feel about the subject, officials say.

    “I've never seen such a high response. It's amazing,” says Norman Bradburn, a survey veteran who heads NSF's social and behavioral sciences directorate. NSF director Rita Colwell expects that the survey results, due out next month, will help her persuade Congress and the White House that larger, longer awards would make researchers more productive. “We hope it will reveal what more they could do with the right size and length of grants,” Colwell told the National Science Board at its March meeting. The average NSF grant is now $113,000 and runs for 2.9 years.

  4. One Beluga, Two Beluga

    Responding to critics, an international body has disclosed the data it relied on in allowing Caspian nations to resume fishing beluga. Pressure groups have argued that stocks of this sturgeon species, prized for its caviar, cannot sustain commercial harvest (Science, 22 March, p. 2191). But the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) deems the beluga's status “far from precarious,” claiming that there are an estimated 9 million individuals in the North Caspian alone (www.cites.org/eng/programme/Sturgeon/catch.pdf).

    CREDIT: HANS-JÜRGEN BURKARD/BILDBERG, CAVIAR EMPTOR

    The 2002 allowed catch of 1780 beluga—a 39% decline from the average over the previous 4 years—is “sustainable and conservative,” argues CITES Deputy Secretary-General Jim Armstrong. Critics are unimpressed. “I'm not at all convinced that they have a case,” says Ellen Pikitch of the Wildlife Conservation Society. She hopes CITES officials change their mind before the main sturgeon harvest in the north Caspian commences in May.

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