ScienceScope

Science  26 Jul 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5581, pp. 495
  1. Pluto or Bust?

    Space scientists are rethinking one element of a new planetary research plan released last week by the National Academy of Sciences (Science, 19 July, p. 317). After initially expressing full support for the plan, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) now says NASA should delay a proposed 2006 launch for a Pluto mission if it would hurt other science projects.

    Pluto advocates say a delay would cause the spacecraft to miss a Jupiter gravity assist and arrive after the planet's atmosphere has frozen. But AAS officials say recent studies suggest that the freeze might never occur and that better propulsion systems could make up for a delay.

    Space scientists hope to win Senate support this week for an early Pluto voyage. But the project's fate won't be set until after Congress finishes its spending bills this fall.

  2. Hanging On

    Argentinian scientists, whose research budgets dried up after the country's economy tanked in December (Science, 29 March, p. 2356), have gotten some good news. The secretary of science, Julio Luna, has won Treasury approval to use up to $14 million designated for research loans as direct grants. The money—from an international loan—will allow the cash-strapped Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnologíca, or “the Agency,” to catch up on delayed grant payments and even start a new competition, says an Agency official. To the relief of many, Luna has also killed a plan to merge the Agency with CONICET, a larger science body whose review system has been criticized by scientists. The government also recently gave researchers permission to buy imported supplies and equipment.

    The downside: Agency grants—once worth up to $50,000 annually—have lost 70% of their value due to the peso's slide. Still, University of Buenos Aires ecologist Osvaldo Sala says that the funds will be particularly helpful to scientists whose labs “have run out of money.”

  3. Museum Stays

    Nanjing city officials have agreed to revise plans for boosting tourism to accommodate a science museum being built by the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology.

    The institute, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, spent 4 years winning approval for a three-story, $3.6 million museum that would display fossils and other artifacts. But in February, city officials ordered the institute to halt work on the building, to be completed next year, because it interfered with plans to enhance a nearby 1400-year-old Buddhist nunnery (Science, 24 May, p. 1379). Last month the city backed off, however, saying it will develop new beautification plans that take the museum into account.

    Yang Qun, deputy director of the institute, says he's “glad that the government has reiterated its support” for the museum.

  4. NIMH Short List

    The search is winding down for a new director for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which has lacked a permanent leader since Steven Hyman returned to Harvard in December 2001. A search committee has forwarded four names to National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Elias Zerhouni, sources tell Science. They are Edward Scolnick, executive vice president for science at Merck & Co. Inc.; Thomas Insel, a former NIMH researcher who is now at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta (see p. 506); Dennis Charney, who leads NIMH's intramural program on anxiety disorders; and David J. Kupfer of the University of Pittsburgh.

    The front-runner is said to be Scolnick, a former NIH cancer researcher now on NIMH's advisory council. But rejoining the government would mean a hefty pay cut.

  5. Forgive and Take

    In an unusual deal, Russia has agreed to forgive $98 million in Armenian debt in exchange for control of four state enterprises, including a pair of scientific institutes. The biggest prizes are the Hrazdan thermal power station and the Mars joint-stock company, a circuit-board manufacturer. But the inclusion of two Yerevan-based electronics research labs irks some observers. “This is a new form of neocolonialism,” grouses an official of a science foundation in Yerevan. The parliaments of both countries are expected to ratify the deal this fall.