Science  15 Dec 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5806, pp. 1665

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    GLOBETROTTER. A prominent Japanese newspaper has criticized British Nobelist Sydney Brenner for spending only a fraction of his time in Japan despite drawing a $160,000 annual salary as full-time head of the planned Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST). But Japanese officials say Brenner's doing a great job no matter where he is.

    The Yomiuri Shimbun calculated that the 79-year-old molecular biologist has spent only 63 days in Japan since being appointed to the position 15 months ago. That's not surprising given Brenner's multiple research and administrative appointments in the United States, United Kingdom, and Singapore.

    Kiyoshi Kurokawa, science adviser to Japan's prime minister and chair of OIST's board of governors, admits that the paper's tally is “roughly correct.” But “it is simply amazing to consider what he has been doing for us,” says Kurokawa, who notes that Brenner's stipend is far below international standards. “Yomiuri has missed the point and is dwelling on a minuscule technicality.” Brenner did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.


    HIGHER STAKES. Despite an increase in the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF's) budget, winning a grant from the agency is a lot tougher now than it was 6 years ago. But while the success rate for applicants has dropped from 30% in 2000 to a current level of 21% because of a 47% jump in applications and little growth in the number of awards made, scientists who succeed are getting grants that, on average, are 41% larger than in 2000 (see graph).


    “In 2002, we said that if we had to choose between success rates and grant size, grant size should win,” noted National Science Board member Ray Bowen after a recent presentation by an internal working group examining the issue.* “So in a sense, we asked for what has happened.”

    NSF hopes to survey recent grantees early next year to learn more about the factors driving the rise in applications. One factor could be a growth in solicitations for proposals in particular areas. The working group also found that the average winning scientist now submits 2.2 proposals compared to 1.7 a decade ago. At the same time, young scientists are keeping pace: Some 60% receive their first NSF grants within 5 years of their doctoral degrees, the same as a decade ago, and 73% get one within 7 years.


    A WIN-WIN. Education pays. Just ask Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) biologist Nagiza Samatova. This month, three Tennessee high school students she has been mentoring received $100,000 as the winning team in the annual Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology. And their research helped her win an $800,000 grant from the lab.


    Scott Molony, Steven Arcangeli, and Scott Horton (left to right)—seniors at Oak Ridge High School—spent nearly 6 months in Samatova's lab identifying genes and biochemical pathways useful for microbial ethanol production. They were so successful that Samatova won an ORNL-run, peer-reviewed grant competition that gave her enough money over the next 2 years to keep the students working on the project and also hire additional staff. “It's not a miracle,” she adds. “It's the families and school system; they gave us extremely good material.”

    Siemens gives away $2 million each year to outstanding students. Dmitry Vaintrob of South Eugene High School in Oregon won this year's top individual prize, a $100,000 college scholarship.


    CHANGE AT EMBO. Frank Gannon, executive director of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), plans to retire from his post in mid-2007. In his 12 years as leader of the 1100-member society, Gannon introduced initiatives to nurture young researchers, launched two journals, EMBO Reports and Molecular Systems Biology, and expanded the society's influence on policymaking. A search for a new executive director is on.


    HONORED. Nobelist Joshua Lederberg and Nathan Sharansky, a mathematician and prominent Soviet dissident, are among 10 individuals who will receive the U.S. National Medal of Freedom this year. The full list is available at