ScienceScope

Science  05 May 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5774, pp. 671
  1. Academy to Probe Minority Programs

    1. Jeffrey Mervis

    Are federal programs to attract minorities into biomedical research working? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) doesn't know, and moreover, it doesn't know how to find out. So it's asked the U.S. National Academies to sponsor a workshop this summer on the best way to assess the dozens of programs NIH offers to attract minorities into biomedical research.

    “We want to test some of the underlying assumptions for these sorts of interventions,” says Clifton Poodry, head of the Minority Opportunities in Research division at NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which is funding the project. “We're looking for evidence-based interventions, not somebody's best guess.”

    The workshop won't assess the programs themselves, says National Research Council program officer Adam Fagen, a task that has proven to be devilishly difficult (Science, 20 January, p. 328). Fagen's first step is assembling a team to plan the July event, which will include 40 or so experts in evaluation science.

  2. Whale Stranding: Sonar Cited

    1. Eli Kintisch

    Submarine sonar was “a plausible, if not likely” cause of the harm suffered by whales during a 2004 incident that stranded more than 150 melon-headed whales off the shore of Kaua'i, Hawai'i, an investigation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has concluded. The U.S. Navy says it's unknown what caused the incident, but they reject NOAA's interpretation. One calf died in the episode, despite local canoeists' efforts to herd the whales away from the beach.

    Using time-stamped maps of joint U.S. and Japanese submarine exercises under way during the nearby Rim of the Pacific Exercises (RIMPAC), NOAA determined that the whales could have been within hearing range, and the report ruled out algal blooms or other natural causes. Now NOAA is considering a Navy request to authorize this year's RIMPAC; NOAA official Brandon Southall said that the incident will be part of the “range of information” that the agency uses to make its decision. The Navy has promised new mitigation measures during the event, but activists want NOAA to force it to turn its sonar volume down, avoid islands, and switch sonar off while traveling between exercise sites.

  3. Clouds Part for NASA

    1. Andrew Lawler

    It took seven tries over 7 days, but two new Earth-observing satellites are finally exploring clouds and how they form. The successful launch on 28 April from California was a relief to scientists who face long-term budget cuts at NASA and who have endured a year of delays due to strikes, technical issues, and finally, bad weather.

    Cloudsat and CALIPSO—short for Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations—will provide insights from 750 kilometers above Earth into the complex interaction between clouds and climate.

  4. Tennessee Scientists Beaming

    1. Robert F. Service

    After 7 years of construction and a few final, tense hours tweaking the machine, engineers at the new $1.41 billion Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee churned out their first few blasts of neutrons last week. “Everyone cheered and jumped up and down” as they watched the results from the SNS control center, says SNS project director Thom Mason.

    SNS engineers will spend the next 1 to 2 years working out the machine's glitches to create the world's most powerful source of neutrons, which are prized for condensed matter physics and materials science research. But ORNL scientists should be able to start using the neutrons for experiments as early as this summer. Five beamlines are under construction, and the Department of Energy has asked for money next year to begin construction of 15 more.

  5. Weaponeers Seek Models

    1. Eli Kintisch

    Modeling the behavior of nuclear bombs is getting tougher as stockpiled weapons age, so the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is refocusing toward prediction an existing program that funds academic computer scientists. Five universities currently run NNSA-sponsored modeling centers that do nonclassified work in areas including rocket behavior and exploding stars. Program head Dimitri Kusnezov says the academics have helped root NNSA in good science as well as top computing. But old bomb tests are becoming less and less relevant to aging weapons, he says, making prediction more important. Now he wants to recompete the contracts, emphasizing prediction of complex systems. “We can ask much more complex questions today,” he says.