Science  14 Jan 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5707, pp. 191

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  1. Perchlorate Study Suggests Lower Risk

    1. Erik Stokstad

    A new report on the health effects of the chemical perchlorate is stirring the waters on this controversial pollutant from rocket fuel. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study, released this week, found that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) 2002 draft risk assessment of safe daily oral intake was roughly 20 times too stringent—a figure that's prompting dissent on both ends of the spectrum.

    The biggest worry about perchlorate is the harm it may cause fetuses and infants, by preventing the thyroid gland from making hormones crucial for brain development. After reviewing the existing evidence, the NAS panel determined that 0.0007 mg per kilogram of body weight is a safe level for oral intake. But environmentalists say that the study on which the panel relied most heavily only looked at adults and that infants are more sensitive to the chemical. Conversely, industry officials argue that perchlorate is safe in drinking water at even higher levels.

    Both EPA and the states will likely consider the NAS report when finalizing drinking-water standards in the coming years, says endocrinologist Thomas Zoeller of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Another big unknown is how much perchlorate infants ingest through food and milk.

  2. Is NASA Ready for Readdy?

    1. Andrew Lawler

    With NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe planning to leave the space agency 1 February, the White House is scrambling to come up with a replacement. The current leading candidate is Bill Readdy, the agency's space flight chief and a former shuttle astronaut who has been with the agency since 1986. But some NASA and industry officials consider him too wedded to the space shuttle program and not enthusiastic enough about President George W. Bush's exploration vision, announced 1 year ago (Science, 23 January 2004, p. 444). If nominated, Readdy will also have to answer questions about the 2003 Columbia tragedy.

  3. Swansea U. Goes Deep Into Supercomputing

    1. Eliot Marshall

    CAMBRIDGE, U.K.—“Deep computing” is the glittering phrase IBM holds out to universities that join it in R&D projects—the latest being Swansea University in Wales. The school and IBM are jointly investing in a 1.7- to 2.7- teraflops supercomputer from the Armonk, New York, company, along with software and training for high-tech medical studies.

    Dubbed “Blue C,” the computer is the ballast in Swansea's planned $100 million Institute of Life Sciences (ILS). Officials expect ILS to focus on visualization, medical nanotechnology, and personalized medicine. The Welsh Assembly has added about $35 million to $6 million from private sources in hopes that the institute will generate what Wales's economic development minister Andrew Davies calls “massive economic wealth.” The rest of the $100 million will be raised piecemeal.

    IBM representative David White says the company's goal is to whet the appetites of top researchers for its products. It has previously partnered with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and the University of Cambridge, U.K.'s Cancer Research Center.

  4. NIH Wants More Pioneering Women

    1. Jocelyn Kaiser

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking more women to apply for—and judge—its new no-strings-attached awards to innovative researchers.

    The Pioneer Award, created last year as part of NIH Director Elias Zerhouni's “Roadmap” initiative, is worth $500,000 per year for 5 years. Last fall, the agency got a tongue-lashing from scientific societies and individual scientists because none of the nine winners in the first round was a woman (Science, 22 October 2004, p. 595). Only about 20% of the more than 1300 applicants were women, notes Judith Greenberg of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, who is running this year's competition.

    The new solicitation* says women and underrepresented groups “are especially encouraged” to apply by the 1 April deadline. NIH also hopes to diversify the pool of reviewers, 94% of whom were men. “I've been impressed by how quickly they've responded to the concerns,” says Stanford University neuroscientist Ben Barres, a vocal critic of the first competition.