Newsmakers

Science  08 Sep 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5792, pp. 1385
  1. PIONEERS

    LEADING BY EXAMPLE. French astrophysicist Catherine Cesarsky last week became the first woman to be elected president of the 9800-member International Astronomical Union.

    CREDIT: COURTESY OF IAU

    Cesarsky, 63, has been director general of the European Southern Observatory since 1999 and led the design and construction of the ISOCAM camera on board the Infrared Space Observatory of the European Space Agency. She previously headed basic research at the French Atomic Energy Commission.

    Cesarsky welcomes the rising number of women graduating with Ph.D.s in astronomy but says that the challenge of juggling career and family keeps many from reaching their potential. She says she raised her two children, now adults, by using childcare and working at night. She willingly accepted some constraints on her career, she says, for the chance “to have a balanced life.”

    “She is very open, and she has a tremendous astronomical knowledge,” says the union's new general secretary, Karel van der Hucht. Cesarsky says she will give all her support to the union's working group on women, which was created 3 years ago to monitor the status of female astronomers and promote gender equality and family-friendly measures.

  2. IN THE COURTS

    HITTING THE WALL. A Florida State University (FSU) chemist who helped invent the blockbuster cancer drug Taxol has lost a court battle with his institution over how a portion of the royalties can be spent. But Robert Holton should be getting back an $11 million gift to the university from his foundation.

    CREDIT: COURTESY OF TAXOLOG.INC

    Holton, whose drug earned him and the Tallahassee school millions of dollars, pledged $18.5 million from a lab account held by the university toward a new building dedicated to his field, synthetic chemistry. He sued last year after FSU announced that the five-story building would be a general chemistry facility (Science, 18 November 2005, p. 1101).

    In an oral ruling last week, Circuit Judge Janet Ferris threw out Holton's bid to prevent the university from spending the $18.5 million. But Ferris told FSU to give back the $11 million plus interest donated by the MDS Research Foundation established by Holton.

    The foundation rejected the university's offer to return that amount in January because it also wanted the lab funds, says Michael Devine, the foundation's executive director. Holton may appeal the ruling, he says.

  3. IN THE COURTS

    NO BIAS. An employment tribunal has ruled that the Roslin Institute in Midlothian, Scotland, and its former star scientist, Ian Wilmut, did not commit racial discrimination against a molecular biologist whom the institute fired 2 years ago. But the Edinburgh tribunal says the researcher, Prim Singh, was dismissed improperly.

    Singh, 46, who now works at the Leibniz Center for Medicine and Biological Sciences in Borstel, Germany, accused Wilmut and the institute of dismissing his ideas because of his Asian heritage and sought $1.9 million in damages. The hearings exposed the dynamics of the team that created Dolly, the cloned sheep, and resurrected several old disputes over authorship and credit (Science, 17 March, p. 1539).

    CREDIT: COURTESY OF PRIM SINGH

    The tribunal ruled that Wilmut had been subjected to “wholly unjustified personal attacks by the claimant” but faulted the institute for not following due process in dismissing Singh. He could receive up to $114,000 in damages following a final hearing later this month.

  4. THREE Q'S

    CREDIT: COURTESY OF BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY

    Nuclear physicist Samuel Aronson takes the helm of the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, just as Congress prepares to restore funding for its Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) and provide money for the design of a proposed $700 million x-ray source.

    Q: How do you see the lab's mission evolving?

    Evolution is the right term. The science mission of the lab will not change, but there will likely be a rebalancing among the major thrusts. I expect RHIC and its upgrades to be active or under construction. The basic energy sciences' component will probably become a larger piece of our portfolio.

    Q: What are the challenges you foresee?

    We have several—and they are common to the entire national laboratory system—worker safety; security, including cyber-security; and an aging infrastructure. We are making progress, but fiscal constraints cause us to move more slowly than I would like.

    Q: What science questions most intrigue you?

    My background is in experimental high-energy and molecular physics, and the fundamental questions addressed there continue to stimulate my personal interest. I have become particularly interested in the connection between nuclear and particle science in the laboratory and astrophysics and cosmology.

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