ScienceScope

Science  22 Aug 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5636, pp. 1029
  1. Tales from the Blackout

    Scientists often describe their work as a shot in the dark. That was literally true last week, after the lights went out for 50 million people in eastern North America. Below, ScienceScope spotlights the big blackout's impact on some scientists.

    BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY, NEW YORK · About 250 researchers saw their experiments come to an abrupt end when the National Synchrotron Light Source's (NSLS's) powerful x-ray beam blinked off. Among the casualties: protein crystallography studies and temperature-sensitive samples that wilted when cryogenic coolers failed. Still, NSLS operations chief Erik Johnson says that there was little permanent damage and that the synchrotron was up and running again this week.

    UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, CANADA · As Science went to press, astrophysicists at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics were still waiting for the nation's fastest supercomputer to come back online. Fittingly, the machine is critical to running mathematical models of black holes and dark matter.

    THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN HEALTH SYSTEM, ANN ARBOR · A campus power plant and backup generators carried many labs unscathed through a 29-hour blackout. But the heat did claim “a few rats” and perhaps some cell lines and tissue samples, says spokesperson Sally Pobojewski. And research halted for a day when nonessential staff members were asked to stay home.

    STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, STONY BROOK · Researchers lost an array of samples, leaving some grumbling that the university didn't plan adequately for power loss. “We had to hustle to get dry ice from a local ice cream store,” reports one scientist.

    COLD SPRING HARBOR LABORATORY, NEW YORK · Some people will do anything to make a yeast cell biology meeting. After University of Toronto biologists Brenda Andrews and Charles Boone were stranded in New York City, the pair bought $100 bicycles and pedaled back to the meeting at Cold Spring Harbor. Not surprisingly, it was dark when they finished the 25-kilometer ride.

  2. Security R&D Rises to Top In 2004 Budget Debate

    Security-related science is the big winner so far in Congress's annual budget battle. Nearly all R&D spending increases approved to date for 2004 would go to the departments of Defense (DOD) and Homeland Security (DHS), according to an analysis released this week by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, publisher of Science; see www.aaas.org/spp/rd/sum81503.pdf).

    When Congress returns next month, it will have just weeks to complete the 13 spending bills for the new fiscal year, which begins 1 October. So far, the House of Representatives has completed work on 11, and the Senate has finished four.

    Overall, the House bills would increase federal R&D spending by 7%, to $126 billion. The majority of the new funds would go to defense, homeland security, and bioterror programs at DOD and DHS. The National Science Foundation would get a 6% increase, and the National Institutes of Health would get a 3% boost. R&D spending at other agencies would remain flat, and some programs at the departments of Agriculture and Commerce would see steep cuts. It remains to be seen whether the Senate will go along.

  3. Europe's Moon Launch Delayed

    LONDON—Europe's solar-powered moon probe is facing new launch delays. The European Space Agency said this week that SMART-1, originally scheduled to lift off this month from Kourou, French Guiana, won't fly until late September at the earliest due to scheduling conflicts with other payloads. SMART-1 is the first of an international string of lunar missions (see p. 1033).

    If all goes as planned, the 1-cubic-meter spacecraft will test an array of cutting-edge technology. It is powered by a solar motor that produces electricity used to charge gas atoms that push the spacecraft along. Miniature electronics will help it maneuver to the moon in a new way: SMART-1 will be launched into an elliptical Earth orbit, spiraling closer to its target for about 16 months until it is captured by the moon's gravitational field.

    The craft's instruments will then survey the lunar surface for at least 6 months. “X-ray and infrared spectrometers of such power have never been flown around the moon,” says SMART-1 project manager Giuseppe Racca. Researchers hope SMART-1's data will help resolve mysteries such as the moon's origin and the composition of its crust.

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