Newsmakers

Science  03 Mar 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5765, pp. 1239
  1. On Campus

    CREDIT: AP PHOTO; PTT POST

    Fallen from Grace. Two universities in the Netherlands have distanced themselves from Dutch physicist and 1936 Nobel laureate Peter Debye after new revelations about Debye's closeness to the German Nazi regime. Utrecht University said last week that it will rename its Debye Institute—a decision the institute director calls “hasty”—and Maastricht University will no longer award the Peter Debye Prize for science unless the foundation sponsoring the award renames it.

    Debye succeeded Albert Einstein as director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin in 1934 and remained until 1939, when he left and took a job at Cornell University. Although Debye was known to have helped expel Jews from the German Physical Society, which he chaired in 1938, he has often been painted as an apolitical figure. But in a recent dissertation, science journalist and historian Sybe Rispens claims Debye displayed considerable loyalty to the Nazi regime, signing personal letters with “Heil Hitler” and offering to return to Berlin as late as 1941. Rispens also discovered a letter showing that Einstein tried to prevent Debye from getting a U.S. job.

    Maastricht University has announced a new, more thorough study of Debye's life; the former Debye Institute will undertake one as well, says its director, Leo Jenneskens. He says he would have preferred to keep the name for now, but he was overruled by the university board. And the American Chemical Society, which has an annual Peter Debye Award for Physical Chemistry, is looking into the matter as well.

  2. Movers

    CREDIT: BNL

    Sudden Exit. Last year, when a budget crisis at Brookhaven National Laboratory threatened the existence of its Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), lab director Praveen Chaudhari met with U.S. politicians and “anyone who would listen” to argue for more money for the lab. But now that the proposed 2007 federal budget restores funding for RHIC, Chaudhari, 68, has decided not to stick around to enjoy his success. He'll be leaving 30 April, after 3 years on the job, to return to research at the Department of Energy (DOE) lab on a part-time basis.

    “It's probably best for the institution since I've drawn so much flak for my protests over RHIC,” says Chaudhari, who accepted a private donation of $13 million to run the facility this year. Other researchers complained that the gift set a bad precedent for public funding of science, he says.

    Robert Jaffe, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, says Chaudhari's single-minded advocacy for the lab likely ruffled the feathers of some higher-ups. “He's built a very firm foundation for physics there,” Jaffe says, “and he probably broke some eggs to make that omelet.”

  3. Movers

    CREDIT: JOHN WILLIAMS/OFFICE OF NAVAL RESEARCH

    Naval Research Head. The Navy's $1.8 billion Office of Naval Research has a new commander in Rear Admiral William Landay, who took over from Jay Cohen in January.

    Trained as a systems engineer, Landay's previous job was head of the Navy's applied research wing in shallow water and mine warfare. But despite his background in developing and acquiring new technology, Landay told Science through a spokesperson that he's “not so acquisition-oriented [that he'll] undermine basic research.” Among the challenges he wants to focus on are basic and applied research on improvised explosive devices and the “anthropology of terrorism.”

  4. Two Cultures

    CREDIT: UCSD-TV

    Larger Than Life. In college, Ivan Schuller decided that physics was easier than acting, his original major. Decades later, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), professor has found a forum for his inner ham in a television show about nanoscience.

    When Things Get Small is a half-hour program about the physicist's real-life quest to develop the world's smallest magnet. Created through a collaboration between Schuller (above, left), UCSD-TV producer Rick Wargo, and actor Adam Smith (above, right), the show uses humorous gimmicks to explain concepts from the nanoworld. In one scene at a baseball stadium, Smith buys a bag of peanuts from John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres, before explaining that the number of atoms in a single human hair equals the number of peanuts needed to fill all 30 major league baseball stadiums.

    Schuller also illustrates the minute nanoscale by yanking hairs from the actor-host's head and going nose-to-trunk with a shrunken elephant. “We want people to go away and think that science is fun, entertaining, and maybe a little bit useful,” he says. The show will premiere this month on the University of California's public satellite broadcast service.

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