Science  18 Oct 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5593, pp. 513
  1. Budget-Delay Jitters

    Supporters of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are worried that new programs could be crippled if legislators don't pass the agency's 2003 budget soon.

    Congress did not complete most appropriations bills before the fiscal year ended 30 September, instead approving a series of temporary resolutions to fund agencies at 2002 levels. NIH can stay on track if its budget—slated to complete a 5-year doubling to $27.2 billion—is adopted by mid- December, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni told a House appropriations panel last week. But further delay would force NIH to scale back grants, put off construction projects, and “greatly interfere with” $1.7 billion in new bioterrorism research and vaccine development, Zerhouni said. A delay until March—one worst case scenario—could shrink the number of new grants from about 9850 to 6800, according to some research advocates.

  2. Academic Fusion

    Two of Britain's top universities have announced their engagement. Imperial College London and University College London (UCL) plan to merge into a single university, officials said this week.

    Joining forces is the only way to compete in the knowledge economy, says Richard Sykes, the rector of Imperial, who is acting as marriage broker. Before coming to Imperial last year, Sykes was chief executive of Glaxo Wellcome, masterminding the 2000 megamerger of GlaxoSmithKline, now the world's largest pharmaceutical company (Science, 16 November 2001, p. 1443). The name of the new university has yet to be decided, and the British Parliament must approve the fusion, “but we'll start sharing resources by December,” says Sykes.

    Derek Roberts, provost of UCL, says the two institutions complement one another. For example, the 176-year-old UCL has a law school but no business school, whereas the 95-year-old Imperial trains executives but not lawyers. First up is a joint fundraising campaign to boost their combined $12 million endowment.

  3. Schön Papers Pulled

    Jan Hendrik Schön, the Bell Labs physicist tagged for faking data (Science, 4 October, p. 30), and his co-authors earlier this week agreed to retract 16 papers faulted by an inquiry. European officials, meanwhile, have launched two new inquiries. Officials at the University of Konstanz are reexamining Schön's doctoral work. And the DFG, Germany's primary science funding agency, is studying whether grant money given to Schön while at Bell Labs was used to promote fraudulent data. Schön could not be reached for comment.

  4. Linear Leaders

    The global competition to build the next huge linear electron-positron collider, a 30- kilometer-long machine aimed at answering fundamental questions in physics, appears to have become a two-horse race. Four teams are working on designs for the multibillion-dollar device, which would pick up the baton from the Large Hadron Collider now under construction at CERN near Geneva. But last week, at a meeting of the International Committee for Future Accelerators, Germany's TESLA collider and a joint bid from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in California and Japan's KEK particle physics lab emerged as the clear front-runners.

    A panel that has spent 15 months vetting the four entries has identified about 30 R&D issues that must be addressed before physicists try to sell their favored design to funders. But panel chair Greg Loew of SLAC told Science that there are no apparent technical “showstoppers” for the top two entries.

  5. Advancing Aurora

    The European Space Agency (ESA) is getting ready to give potential funders their first look at blueprints for Aurora, a planetary research program that aims to send human explorers to the moon and Mars by 2030. As a first step, Aurora planners earlier this month commissioned studies of four robotic missions that would test the technologies needed to send a rover to Mars and return samples to Earth by 2009. In December, Aurora officials will present study results to ESA's 15 member nations and Canada. Funding decisions could come as early as next summer.

  6. Fire Fallout

    In an ironic twist, the cost of fighting this year's record fires in the western United States has left many fire scientists without funding for studies aimed at preventing future burns. To pay for extinguishing fires on more than 2.5 million hectares, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has diverted at least $27 million designated for research. USFS officials say most of the money should be restored by spending bills pending in Congress. But for the moment, fire researchers have to cool their heels and possibly delay some planned projects.