Science  14 Oct 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5746, pp. 211

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  1. Task Force: U.S. Needs New Nukes

    A Department of Energy (DOE) task force report slams as “neither robust nor agile” the government's ongoing effort to certify aging bombs as reliable. The report, approved by the energy secretary's advisory committee last week, calls for new weapons that would be cheap to build, long-lasting, and hard to steal—without resuming nuclear testing.

    DOE lawyers pushed the department's advisory committee to endorse the report last week rather than simply pass it on, according to chair Peter McPherson, former Michigan State University head. But one committee member, physics Nobelist Burton Richter of Stanford University, warned that building new bombs could geopolitically “stir up some kind of a hornets' nest.” Voting unanimously to approve “the thrust of the report,” committee members noted that they “did not have sufficient time to consider” some issues. Congress is expected to triple funding for a current preliminary design project, and the report is seen as aiding backers of new weapons.

  2. Updates

    GraphicKazakh authorities last week announced that they had nearly finished converting 2.9 tons of highly enriched uranium (Science, 23 May, p. 1224) into low-grade material for civilian nuclear plants with U.S. help.

    GraphicThe U.S. Senate last week voted to double the size of a scholarship program aimed at attracting U.S. citizens into scientific careers within the Department of Defense to $20 million. The measure, aimed at spawning a new National Defense Education Act, the groundbreaking education program spurred by the 1957 Sputnik launch, is expected to garner House support in an upcoming conference.

    GraphicNASA last week reversed its decision to shut down the $600 million Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, a joint mission with Japan, promising to keep the satellite operating at least through 2009 and possibly as long as 2012, when its fuel is likely to give out.

    GraphicDespite losing the second of three gyroscopelike reactor wheels last week, Japanese officials say spacecraft Hayabusa (Science, 16 September, p. 1797) may still land on near-Earth asteroid Itokawa for a sample-return mission. The team is studying how the use of rockets for stability will affect fuel reserves.

  3. NIH Bolsters Clinical Research

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week announced a new initiative to move biomedical discoveries to the bedside. The competition will help institutions create new centers or departments for clinical and translational research—from testing discoveries in animals to moving treatments into practice, NIH says. NIH aims to expand the program from $41.5 million in research awards and planning grants in 2006 to $500 million by 2012. “[A] new, vital, and reinforced academic discipline” will result, writes NIH Director Elias Zerhouni in this week's New England Journal of Medicine. Proposals are due by 27 March 2006.

  4. DARPA 'Bots Navigate Mojave

    Armed with six Pentium M processors and radar, GPS, camera, and laser systems, a Stanford University-developed autonomous vehicle this week won this year's $2 million, 212-kilometer DARPA Grand Challenge race across the Mojave Desert in Nevada. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency officials are thrilled with the competitor's technical achievements; four other vehicles completed the windy course, three within 40 minutes of Stanford's “Stanley,” the speedy VW Touareg R5 that won in roughly 7 hours. Last year, the best 'bot went only 12 km.” At one point, we dodged a bird,” said Stanford's Sebastian Thrun proudly.

  5. New German Government Pledges R&D Boost

    BERLIN—A “grand coalition” agreement between Germany's two biggest political parties, usually bitter rivals, lists an increase in research funding as the first point of accord. Under the agreement, Germany should invest by 2010 at least 3% of its GDP on research and development; the current figure is 2.5%. Angela Merkel, who holds a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, will be chancellor (Science, 2 September, p. 1471).

    Annette Schavan, a former state culture minister, is expected to be named science and education minister. Schavan studied education, philosophy, and Roman Catholic theology and is thought unlikely to support loosening Germany's prohibitions on embryo research. But Horst Seehofer, expected to be agriculture and consumer protection minister, could ease strict regulations on genetically modified plants.