Newsmakers

Science  14 Jul 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5784, pp. 167
  1. TWO CULTURES

    SCIENCE FICTIONALIZED. When Canadian writer and filmmaker Christina Jennings found herself asking questions such as whether to vaccinate her child or eat genetically modified food, she had an insight about the broad impact of science on everyday lives: “I realized it wasn't just me, that these were water-cooler conversations.”

    CREDIT: STEVE WILKIE

    The thought led Jennings (below) to create ReGenesis, a science-based television drama whose second season ended last month. Broadcast in 80 countries including Canada, the show's hourlong episodes have probed the ethical challenges presented by cloning, engineered viruses, and other scientific advances. One tells the story of a dying boy who suspects he is a clone of his overbearing genius father. In another episode, researchers discover a “gay gene” and struggle with the fallout. “The scientists are in the same dilemma with what to do about the results as the average person on the street,” says Aled Edwards, the show's scientific consultant and a proteomics researcher at the University of Toronto.

    CREDIT: STEVE WILKIE

    Jennings starts shooting the show's third season later this summer. “Someone asked me if we're going to run out of stories,” she says. “I said, ‘You're kidding.’ There are hundreds of science stories out there.”

  2. POLITICS

    CREDIT: MANISH SWARUP/AP PHOTO

    AXED. India's foremost medical research institution, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, is in turmoil after its director was fired last week. Cardiac surgeon Panangipalli Venugopal, 64 (left), was dismissed by the institute's governing body for allegedly violating the code of conduct for civil servants. In response to a suit by Venugopal, the Delhi high court on 7 July temporarily suspended the dismissal until the next hearing of the case in mid-August.

    Trouble between the director and the government began this spring after the government rolled out a controversial plan to increase the quota of government jobs and university positions for people from disadvantaged social groups (Science, 2 June, p. 1291). Protests erupted, and officials claimed Venugopal had gone against the government line by allowing protesters to stage demonstrations on AIIMS grounds. Last month, Venugopal criticized India's health minister, Anbumani Ramadoss (right), for meddling with the institute's autonomy. On 5 July, AIIMS's governors accused Venugopal of “indiscipline” and fired him in the “public interest.”

    The dismissal “hurts terribly,” Venugopal told The Indian Express. He has spent 47 years at AIIMS and performed more than 50,000 open-heart surgeries. Sanjiv Malik, president of the Indian Medical Association, has condemned the firing as “an attempt to bulldoze the autonomy of [India's] medical institutions.” It has certainly roiled AIIMS: As Science went to press, most medical staff were on strike, crippling patient care.

  3. HONORS

    CREDIT: VENETIA BURNEY PHAIR

    A NAME TO REMEMBER. Astronomers have a special place in their hearts for Venetia (Burney) Phair, an 87-year-old retired schoolteacher in Epsom, U.K. She has an asteroid named after her, and she received a personal invitation from NASA to attend the launch of the New Horizons spacecraft in January. And last month, one of the instruments on that spacecraft was named in her honor.

    The reason for these honors is that in 1930, at age 11, Venetia Burney came up with the name Pluto for the newly discovered ninth planet. On 14 March that year, she was at breakfast when her grandfather Falconer Madan read to her about the discovery from The Times of London newspaper. “For some reason I, after a short pause, said, ‘Why not call it Pluto?’” Phair told NASA public affairs in an interview earlier this year, explaining that she had been a keen reader of Greek and Roman myths. Madan, the retired librarian of Oxford University's Bodleian Library, passed the idea to Oxford astronomer Herbert Hall Turner, who cabled it to the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, where the discovery had been made. The rest is history.

    New Horizons, the first spacecraft to travel to Pluto, set off on 19 January carrying a dust-counting instrument designed, built, and operated by students. Last month, it was named the Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter. By the time the instrument reaches Pluto in 2015, its namesake will be the venerable age of 96.

  4. IN BRIEF

    BACK TO TEACHING. A year and a half after his controversial remarks on the scientific talents of women, Lawrence Summers has stepped down from Harvard's presidency. Last month, the 51-year-old economist was appointed a professor at the university's Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Business School. He will begin teaching and research in the fall of 2007, after a year's sabbatical.

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