Newsmakers

Science  13 Apr 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5822, pp. 181
  1. TRIUMPHS

    CREDIT: KIRSTEN H. ENGEL

    A CLEAN VICTORY. Kirsten Engel was in the shower when her husband, Scott Saleska, cried out “We won!” after reading about the 2 April ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that greenhouse gases were pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The win was a very personal one for the University of Arizona, Tucson, faculty members. Saleska, an ecologist, and Engel, an environmental law professor, were key authors on a friend-of-the-court brief that argued in favor of regulating greenhouse gases. After Engel linked up with other lawyers involved in the suit, which was filed by a dozen states and other governmental entities against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Saleska recruited scientists to help write the brief. The document argued that cutting auto emissions would substantially mitigate climate change. Justice John Paul Stevens cited it when the Supreme Court heard the case last fall, and the 5-4 decision included lengthy references to climate research data mentioned in the brief.

    Ironically, Engel and Saleska met each other in 1987 while working at EPA. From there, the pair entered academia, and they've collaborated on a few law review articles since. “Science policy played a role in our coming together,” says Saleska.

  2. AWARDS

    INNOVATORS. Chemical-sensing polymers that match a dog's ability to sniff out explosives are keeping U.S. soldiers out of harm's way—and have won Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) chemist Timothy Swager (below) this year's $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize.

    The polymers, which change color when they detect their molecular targets, are the basis for bomb detectors made by an Oklahoma company called Nomadics Inc. U.S. soldiers in Iraq currently analyze people, clothing, and automobiles using the detectors, which are also part of a robotic system for prowling through danger zones. They are among the many contributions that earned Swager one of the country's richest prizes for inventors.

    CREDIT: COURTESY LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM

    The program also bestowed its first $100,000 prize for sustainability on Dartmouth College chemical engineer Lee Lynd. Over 3 decades, Lynd has created a raft of technologies for turning agricultural wastes and forest trimmings into automotive fuel. He recently co-founded a company, called Mascoma Corp., to commercialize the technology.

  3. MOVERS

    TAKING OVER AT NIH. Two acting directors have been named permanent chiefs of their respective institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland.

    Griffin Rodgers, 52, will head the $1.8 billion National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, where he has been acting director since Allen Spiegel left last March. A molecular hematologist, Rodgers has spent his career at NIH, where he helped pioneer treatments for sickle cell anemia.

    Hematologist Barbara Alving, 60, will direct the $1.1 billion National Center for Research Resources, which she has led in a temporary capacity since 2005. Alving is a former deputy director at the heart institute and head of the Women's Health Initiative.

  4. MOVERS

    BIG SHOES. “Wanted: A world-renowned researcher to advise the British Prime Minister on all matters scientific. Knighthood almost guaranteed for good service.” The British government has put out a job ad along those lines now that Cambridge University chemist David King, one of the most influential chief scientific advisers in the United Kingdom in recent years, is scheduled to finish his tenure.

    King took up the reins in 2000 just before an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease struck British farms. His advice on slaughtering guidelines is thought to have had a major impact on containing the disease. He contributed to an energy-policy review that controversially recommended a new generation of nuclear power plants. And he's probably best known for proclaiming in 2004 that “climate change is the most severe problem we are facing today—more serious even than the threat of terrorism.”

    Parliamentarian Ian Gibson, former chair of the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee, says King “knows his science” and commends him for having “stood up to the American government” on climate change. King will step down by the end of this year.

  5. THREE Q'S

    CREDIT: LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS

    John Mather won a Nobel Prize in physics last year for helping to explain the big bang. Now he's taking on what some would say is an even tougher job. Last week, Mather was named chief scientist in NASA's science office, with the goal of helping his boss, Alan Stern, rescue an imperiled space science program. Mather will split his time between Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and NASA headquarters.

    Q: Why would a Nobel laureate want this job?

    I didn't need to add this to my résumé. But we have an entire planet of people complaining that NASA is not doing the right thing. We need to show that we have a good team and a good plan.

    Q: What's your biggest challenge?

    Understanding earth science. I've got most of my information until now [from] watching the Weather Channel and Al Gore's movie.

    Q: Is your inclination to kill projects or spread the pain?

    My instinct is to spread the pain, but experience says that is a bad idea. Then everyone hurts and nothing gets done.

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