Science  31 Aug 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5842, pp. 1153

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  1. THREE Q'S


    Chinese entomologist Ren Wang began his career studying how to boost yields by controlling crop pests with beneficial insects. Last month, he took on the job of increasing the productivity of the 15 independent institutes that make up the $450 million Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Wang, 52, had been deputy director of research at CGIAR's International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

    Q: What are CGIAR's priorities for helping poor farmers?

    Improving the productivity of staple crops, especially for unfavorable environments such as South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. This is low-hanging fruit. We have drought-tolerant maize that could raise yields from 2 to 4 tons [per hectare]. How you manage the challenge of sustainability with this intensification effort—that's an urgent issue.

    Q: How about climate change?

    CGIAR's goal is to help farmers be prepared for unpredictable weather. Flood-resistant rice is just one example. Farming-systems research—rotation, for example, and [fast-growing] crop varieties—can influence millions of people and could change global agriculture.

    Q: What are the major challenges facing CGIAR?

    We will try to improve the efficiency of CGIAR and make ourselves more lean, … [but] we need more support. We need to mobilize and convince our investors that international agriculture research provides promising solutions.



    GRABBING A KNIGHT. Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, has stolen away a star organic chemist from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). J. Fraser Stoddart, who has pioneered a subfield devoted to manipulating interlocked rings and other mechanically linked compounds, will begin moving most of his 30-member team from UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) next month to Northwestern's new Center for the Chemistry of Integrated Systems.

    A native of Scotland, 65-year-old Stoddart joined UCLA in 1997. He's the third-most-cited chemist of the past decade and was knighted by the Queen of England in January. Stoddart says CNSI has struggled to fund its ongoing operations after receiving generous initial support from the state. Northwestern, by contrast, has been buoyed by an influx of cash from licenses for pharmaceutical compounds.

    “I'm sad. I like having him in L.A.,” says James Heath, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who collaborates with Stoddart on molecular electronics research. “This is good for Northwestern. It's clearly a program on the move.”


    A GOLDEN SUMMER. Sherry Gong, an 18-year-old from Exeter, New Hampshire, tied for first place at the China Girls' Mathematical Olympiad held in Wuhan in China's Hubei Province this month. It was the first time the United States had entered the competition, held annually since 2002. In July, Gong also participated for the U.S. team in the International Mathematical Olympiad held in Hanoi, Vietnam, which was won by Russia. Gong shared her top spot with Zhuo Chen of China.

    Also this summer, Adam Hesterberg, a 2007 graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, took home top honors in the individual competition at the International Linguistics Olympiad in St. Petersburg, Russia. The 64 high school contestants at the event, now in its fifth year, were asked to decipher the rules of unfamiliar languages such as Hawaiian, Tatar, and a Papua New Guinean language called Ndom guided by some samples and their English translations. Russian and U.S. squads tied for first in the team competition.



    AN OFFICER AND A SCIENTIST. In June 2006, Tod Caldwell went from studying how atomic decay affects metals at Los Alamos National Laboratory to Iraq's Anbar Province. It didn't take long for the reality of war to hit home for the physicist and U.S. Army sergeant first class. Three weeks into the reservist's deployment in Habbaniyah, a roadside bomb blew up a Humvee in his convoy, killing a marine. “I saw the vehicle flip over,” says Caldwell, 39, who won a Bronze Star for, among other service, “personal courage” in securing the area and evacuating wounded soldiers. “It was a reminder that people wanted to kill you.”

    Caldwell, an intelligence officer, was stationed with an Iraqi army unit of 650 soldiers at a base for 8 months with no running water or food stores onsite. He took on the nickname “Sergeant Angry” for his direct style in training Iraqi soldiers. His technical side served him well when the bomb attack thrust him into the role of communications officer.

    A prior stint in England in 2001 disrupted his Ph.D. research at Florida State University, which he completed in 2004. “It's frustrating in terms of my career,” he says of his military service. But “it's rewarding to know what I've done.”