Newsmakers

Science  19 May 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5776, pp. 995
  1. CELEBRITIES

    CREDIT: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS
    CREDIT: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

    STUNT SCIENCE. Murat Gunel wasn't just one of the gawkers looking on as performance artist David Blaine spent a week inside a water tank in New York City earlier this month. The Yale neurosurgeon and molecular geneticist headed the medical team that monitored Blaine throughout the stunt, which ended after Blaine came nearly 2 minutes short of setting a record for holding one's breath under water (his time was 7:08). The attempt led Gunel (above) to wonder whether some individuals have genetic quirks that might give them an advantage.

    Gunel plans to analyze blood samples from Blaine and from the free divers who helped rescue him after he blacked out. He says he tried to dissuade Blaine, a personal friend, from doing the stunt.

  2. INSIDE GOVERNMENT

    CREDIT: KAYA BILGUVAR

    NEW USGS HEAD. A principled resignation has proved lucky for petroleum geologist Mark Myers, who last week was nominated as the next director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Environmentalists like the fact that Myers, 51, left as director of Alaska's Division of Oil and Gas last fall along with five other officials because he felt that a pipeline deal negotiated by Governor Frank Murkowski with several oil companies would shortchange the state. “He has a significant amount of integrity,” says Karen Wayland of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C.

    Myers holds a Ph.D. in sedimentology from the University of Alaska and worked in industry before joining the state agency, which leases drilling rights to oil and gas companies. He also headed the state's geological survey. Robert Swenson, acting state geologist, says Myers “first and foremost is a broad-based scientist. He's fair, and he stands up for the people who work for him.”

    Myers, who relied on information from USGS to make decisions in his previous job, says one of his major goals will be to ensure that data produced by the agency “remains objective.” If confirmed by the Senate, he will replace Charles Groat, who resigned in June 2005 after nearly 7 years as director to return to academia.

  3. INSIDE GOVERNMENT

    ROTATING CHAIRS. Steven Beering, president emeritus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, was all set to head a high-profile look at the state of U.S. science and math education—until the National Science Board, which created the education commission, realized that it needed him as its leader.

    Warren Washington, its current chair, had completed a 12-year stint on the presidentially appointed board, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), and last week members elected Beering as his successor. But that left a vacancy at the top of the board's new education commission (Science, 7 April, p. 45).

    That void has been filled by physics Nobelist Leon Lederman, who founded the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. Lederman is one of 12 public members of the new panel, which includes former Ohio congressman Louis Stokes as well as a middle school science teacher from Lederman's home state. The commission expects to issue a report next spring.

  4. MONEY MATTERS

    WAR ON CANCER. Real estate tycoon and publisher Mortimer Zuckerman has gifted $100 million to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City. The center is saying thanks by putting his name on a new 23-story laboratory building scheduled to open this month. Zuckerman, who is on MSKCC's board, says he made the gift “to accelerate the pace of progress” in cancer research and “to help the center's extraordinary scientists and physicians achieve their crucial goals.”

  5. MOVERS

    CREDIT: FORREST CRANE/PETROLEUM NEWS

    BUSINESS SENSE. John Chisholm, 59, the newly appointed chair of the U.K. agency that oversees government biomedical research, has one big advantage over his predecessor Anthony Cleaver: He actually studied science at university. Chisholm earned a degree in mechanical sciences from the University of Cambridge and joined a computing arm of British Petroleum before helping launch a successful U.K. software company called CAP Scientific. His signature accomplishment may have been forging a disparate group of U.K. military labs into a single research unit, later dubbed QinetiQ. It was spun off as a private firm in 2001, and a stock sale this year raised more than $1 billion.

    Those corporate management skills will come in handy at the Medical Research Council (MRC) as Chisholm follows orders to merge its research with clinical studies in the Department of Health. Some scientists worry that basic science could be hurt in the shuffle. Chisholm offers a reassuring view: “I have long been a passionate advocate for research. … It's a wonderful moment to have been given a chance to contribute to seizing the opportunities before the MRC.”

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