Newsmakers

Science  21 Sep 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5845, pp. 1659
  1. CELEBRITIES

    CREDIT: KOREA AEROSPACE RESEARCH INSTITUTE

    RISING.A lightweight amateur boxer with a background in computer vision and artificial-intelligence research will be South Korea's first astronaut, officials announced this month. Ko San will board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft next April to travel to the international space station.

    A graduate of Seoul National University with degrees in mathematics and cognitive science, the 30-year-old Ko was working at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology in Yongin before he was selected for astronaut training from more than 36,000 applicants. South Korean officials hope his participation will boost public interest in South Korea's nascent space program. In addition to building a $265 million space center, the country is readying its first homegrown rocket for launch next year after having built 11 satellites launched by other countries.

    Ko reportedly wants to be known as a space scientist rather than as an astronaut. During his week on the space station, he hopes to conduct 18 experiments that include how microgravity affects the fermentation of kimchi, South Korea's national dish.

  2. AWARDS

    BALZAN WINNERS. Two immunologists and a nanoscientist are among the winners of this year's Balzan Prizes, set up in 1956 in memory of Eugenio Balzan, a former editor and co-owner of Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper.

    Sumio Iijima of Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan, will receive the $830,000 award (half of which has to be spent on research) for his discovery of single-walled carbon nanotubes. Bruce Beutler of The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, and Jules Hoffmann of the French national research agency in Strasbourg—also the current president of the French Academy of Sciences in Paris—will share the same sum for their work on innate immunity.

    The winners will join awardees in international law, literature, and peace at a 23 November ceremony in Berne, Switzerland.

  3. AWARDS

    MEDICAL MESSIAHS. An immunologist who discovered key cells of the immune system known as dendritic cells and two cardiac surgeons who developed implantable heart valves have won this year's research awards from the Lasker Foundation.

    The winner of the basic research award is Ralph Steinman, 64, of Rockefeller University in New York City, for his work with dendritic cells, which he says at first glance reminded him of “a swimmer treading water.” Steinman found that dendritic cells spurred T cells to attack invading pathogens.

    Alain Carpentier (above), 74, of the European Hospital Georges Pompidou in Paris and Albert Starr (below), 81, of the Providence Health System in Portland, Oregon, share the clinical research award. Starr developed a mechanical heart valve that was first successfully implanted in 1960. Carpentier took the technology a step further by using pig valves after encountering a patient with a mechanical valve who'd been paralyzed by a blood clot. The man, he remembers, had been an artist but could no longer wield a paintbrush. Carpentier was inspired “to devote my professional life” to finding valves that wouldn't pose a clotting risk. Heart valves today help save 300,000 people a year.

    CREDIT: PROVIDENCE HEALTH SYSTEM/OREGON

    The Lasker Foundation also honored Anthony Fauci, 66, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for building up U.S. government programs on AIDS and biodefense.

  4. AWARDS

    HEINZ AWARDS. A Nebraska mom whose concern for her son's well-being led her to launch a campaign against drinking-water pollution has won a share of the $250,000 environmental prize awarded by the Heinz Family Foundation. Susan Seacrest, who started the Groundwater Foundation 2 decades ago, shares the award with civil engineer Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders, a Colorado-based nonprofit that implements clean water, sanitation, and other engineering projects in developing communities around the world. Read about other Heinz Awards winners at http://www.heinzawards.net/.

  5. IN THE COURTS

    A RULING DEFIED. A fight over water rights is the latest wrinkle in the controversial and long-delayed plan by the U.S. government to build a nuclear waste dump in the Nevada desert.

    On 31 August, federal District Judge Roger L. Hunt ruled that Nevada's state engineer could deny water to teams drilling for rock samples at the site of the planned Yucca Mountain Repository, 140 km northwest of Las Vegas. The Department of Energy (DOE) is supporting the drilling to gather data for a license that it plans to file next summer to build the $58 billion facility to store waste from the country's 104 nuclear power plants, which most state officials and residents bitterly oppose.

    Hunt blasted DOE for ramping up its drilling program 5 years after Congress approved the project. “The Court entertains the suspicion that either DOE wants to look busy, or it wants to keep its contractor occupied during its lengthy delays in filing for a license,” he wrote.

    DOE declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation, but geoscientists familiar with the project say the drillers are most likely studying the area's seismic and volcanic history. The work continues, with DOE officials asserting that Hunt's ruling doesn't apply to the 58 boreholes due to be completed this month. Nevada has vowed to keep up the fight. “One way or another, we're going to try to get the court to assist us,” says Steven Frishman, technical policy coordinator for the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

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