ScienceScope

Science  31 Mar 2006:
Vol. 311, Issue 5769, pp. 1847
  1. A New Dawn for NASA, and Some Help for Astrobiologists

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    NASA has eased the pain to researchers bloodied by cuts in its planetary science and astrobiology programs.

    This week, NASA reinstated the $440 million Dawn mission to two giant asteroids that it had canceled 3 weeks earlier. Mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, convinced an appeal panel that they have conquered formidable fiscal and technical problems. NASA expects to launch Dawn next summer, a year late, for its rendezvous beyond Mars.

    NASA officials have also softened the blow of a 25% cut to the agency's $65 million astrobiology program. They will add back $30 million to allow funding this year of half the usual number of 3-year proposals. But President George W. Bush's 2007 request for the agency includes a 50% cut to the program from 2005 levels, and as one researcher noted, “we still have a pretty significant problem.”

  2. DOE Takes Fresh Look At a Delayed Accelerator

    1. Adrian Cho

    It's back to the drawing board for physicists developing an accelerator to generate beams of exotic nuclei. Last month, the Department of Energy (DOE) put a 5-year hold on the proposed $1 billion Rare Isotope Accelerator (RIA), which promises to unlock the secrets of stellar explosions (Science, 24 February, p. 1082). Now DOE has scrapped the RIA design and asked the community to devise a cheaper machine that can make a unique contribution.

    RIA would have generated exotic nuclei in three ways: by bombarding a target of heavy atoms with protons; by shooting a beam of heavier nuclei through a target of light atoms, causing nuclei in the beam to fragment in flight; and by capturing the fragments in such a beam in a tank of gas and then “reaccelerating” them. DOE would like researchers to focus on reacceleration because it's a novel approach, says Konrad Gelbke, director of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

    But reacceleration is an unproven technology, Gelbke says, and NSCL leads the world in the “fast fragmentation” technique. “Build on your strengths,” he says. “That's my motto.”

  3. Nuclear Neighbors Talk Science

    1. Pallava Bagla

    NEW DELHI—A devastating act of nature has led to the first-ever official talks on possible scientific collaborations between India and Pakistan. Last week, three senior Indian science administrators met in Islamabad with seven of their Pakistani counterparts to explore mitigation strategies in the wake of last fall's deadly earthquake in Kashmir. Seismology has long been a touchy subject for these rival nuclear powers. Joint research projects in weather, climate, and agricultural sciences were also discussed.

    India is expected to host a second meeting later this year and has offered Pakistan its touring “science train” exhibit touting the country's accomplishments.

  4. Spain Says Si on Stem Cells

    1. Xavier Bosch

    BARCELONA—The Spanish government has decided to authorize and fund the use of human embryos in somatic cell nuclear transfer experiments. The proposed legislation would allow this particular use of human embryos, also known as therapeutic cloning, for the first time. It updates a 2004 law that authorized studies on unused embryos from fertility clinics—but not nuclear transfer. Francisco Gracia, director of the Ministry of Health research funding agency, says that calling the nucleated egg an “activated egg” rather than an embryo will help skirt sensitive issues in a Catholic country.

    Approval is expected before the end of the year, making Spain the fourth European country to fund such work.

  5. New School Science Journal

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    Help is on the way for Europe's secondary school science teachers. A new print and online journal, Science in School (scienceinschool.org), made its debut this week with the ambitious goal of providing teachers with news about research, teaching practices, and policy developments that affect the profession. “Our focus will be on secondary school teachers, but we hope to reach an international audience,” explains Eleanor Hayes, the journal's editor and only full-time staffer.

    The quarterly journal is being published by a consortium of Europe's seven largest intergovernmental research organizations and is based at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. A Ph.D. insect biologist, Hayes relies on volunteers to write and review articles for the magazine, which is making its 20,000 print copies available upon request.

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