Science  03 Aug 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5838, pp. 579

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    IN THE HOT SEAT. Hawaii's spectacular volcanoes and lava flows can leave tourists with a sense of dread and wonder. The National Science Board is feeling similar emotions after its visit to the island state triggered a political eruption in the U.S. Senate.

    In June, board president Steven Beering (center) led a delegation on a 7-day tour of Hawaii's many telescopes and other projects supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which the board oversees. In an unexpected coda, Beering also signed a “joint statement of understanding” with Republican Governor Linda Lingle (to his right) recognizing the state's efforts to promote science and technology.

    State officials were thrilled by what they saw as an endorsement, but Hawaii's senior senator, Democrat Daniel Inouye, apparently didn't appreciate being blindsided by the board's foray into his backyard. So Inouye, who chairs the committee that oversees NSF's programs, decided “to send a message,” in the words of one Hill aide. “It is clear that the day-to-day management structure and leadership is not serving the board or the interests of the [appropriations] committee,” notes a report accompanying the Senate bill to fund NSF in 2008.

    Beering says the words were a complete surprise, adding that “I am not aware of any problems.” Board Executive Officer Michael Crosby (far left) says he is trying to arrange a meeting to explain the board's actions.


    POWERED BY FAT. Leftover cooking grease may be a waste product for most of the world. But Suzanne Hunt can't get enough of the stuff.

    Hunt, who until recently directed the Worldwatch Institute's bioenergy program, has converted cooking grease from a local restaurant into biodiesel to run tractors on her family's vineyard in upstate New York. This spring, she drove a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup truck powered by the biodiesel fuel from Washington, D.C., to Central America to demonstrate the concept. Now Hunt and Shari Friedman are running a project that is training middle school students in Philadelphia to produce biodiesel by collecting leftover grease from area restaurants and performing the simple chemical processes necessary for extracting the desired methyl ester.


    Hunt doesn't think biodiesel is the answer to the nation's energy needs. Tall grasses, trees, and waste hold more potential, she says, because they grow without much input and they don't compete directly as food resources. But Hunt and Friedman believe that biodiesel is a good way to show students that there are practical alternatives to petroleum for cars and trucks.


    “This computer, although assigned to me, was being used on board the International Space Station. I was informed that it was tossed overboard to be burned up in the atmosphere when it failed.”

    —A NASA employee's explanation for the loss of a laptop, recorded in a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office documenting equipment losses of more than $94 million over the past 10 years by the agency.



    PRIVATE SANCTUARY. The Australian government has established a 135,000-hectare wildlife preserve on Queensland's Cape York Peninsula named after Steve Irwin, the wildlife enthusiast and television personality who died in a stingray attack last year. A scientific center on site will allow visitors and 24 researchers from the University of Queensland to study the local species, including the endangered speartooth shark and the northern quoll, a cat-sized carnivorous marsupial, and tackle management challenges such as fires and feral pigs. Prime Minister John Howard called the park, which will be closed to the public, a “fitting tribute to a passionate environmentalist.”