Newsmakers

Science  16 Nov 2007:
Vol. 318, Issue 5853, pp. 1047

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  1. CELEBRITIES

    CREDIT: SEAN GRAFF

    A SECOND LOOK. The gripping story of Mario Capecchi's childhood in wartime Italy made headlines throughout the world last month when he won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine (Science, 12 October, p. 178). But the extra fame has triggered a new level of scrutiny that casts doubt on some details.

    The questions arose after the Associated Press (AP) reported that parts of the story Capecchi has repeatedly described—surviving on the streets from ages 4 to 9 after his mother was arrested in 1941 by the Gestapo and taken to the Dachau concentration camp—can't have happened that way. The AP found no record of Capecchi's mother being held at Dachau, and historians say that the Gestapo was not working in Italy then. Other records suggest that Capecchi spent at least part of that time living with his father. After AP showed him the new information, Capecchi released a statement saying that “what I have said and written is my most accurate recollection of my early childhood.” He has said that the stories were based on what his mother and uncle told him after the war.

    A longtime collaborator, molecular biologist Kirk Thomas of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, says the details of Capecchi's story are unimportant. “If you asked me what makes him a great scientist, I think growing up on the streets of war-torn Italy probably has something to do with it,” he says. Capecchi's optimism, capacity to focus, and ability to make tough decisions “are all survival skills,” Thomas adds.

  2. MOVERS

    TROPICAL TRAINING. A fledgling medical school in Singapore has lured tropical disease specialist Duane Gubler away from the sun and sands of Hawaii to set up a research program in emerging infectious diseases. The school, established by Duke University and the National University of Singapore, opened this summer with the goal of strengthening graduate-level medical training in the city-state.

    Gubler, an expert on dengue, now directs the Asia-Pacific Institute of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. He expects to assemble a team of 10 principal investigators to do basic, clinical, and translational research, as well as to train grad students and postdocs. He also hopes to knit new field labs into an emerging infectious diseases regional network. “Singapore is in an ideal position to provide regional leadership,” Gubler says.

  3. MOVERS

    ON FIRMER GROUND. After 2 years of uncertainty, the leading journal of environmental health has a new editor in chief. Hugh Tilson, 61, a neurotoxicologist and administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, will head Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. In 2005, then-NIEHS director David Schwartz proposed privatizing the open-access journal but later scuttled the plan after protests from scientists, environmentalists, and Congress.

    Tilson fills a slot that's been empty for the past year. He says NIEHS will restore cuts to EHP's budget and bring back some features. He hopes to expand the role of associate editors and publish more research on risk assessment. “We are confident that [Tilson] will provide stability and scientific rigor to the journal,” says Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C.

  4. MONEY MATTERS

    FOR GREATER GOOD. David Heymann has spent a lifetime fighting the spread of infectious diseases, most recently teaming up with epidemiologists and health professionals around the world to stop SARS in its tracks. Those efforts earned the 61-year-old World Health Organization expert a $250,000 prize from the Heinz Family Foundation last month, which he's now donating to work on the global monitoring and prevention of infectious diseases.

    The money will go to the Emory University Global Health Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, to support the training of young epidemiologists in developing countries. The initiative, to be coordinated through the International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI)—a nonprofit funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—is “totally consistent with David's own dedication and passion in public health,” says IANPHI president and Heymann's longtime friend Jeffrey Koplan, who describes Heymann as a “remarkably humble and self-effacing soul.”

    CREDIT: WHO/JEAN-MARC FERRE

    “How could I keep this award to myself when there are so many others working to protect the human condition,” Heymann says, citing individuals such as “Red Cross workers fighting Ebola or Marburg disease in the Congo” and “community volunteers trudging to remote villages to stop polio in Afghanistan.”

  5. INSIDE GOVERNMENT

    CREDIT: COURTESY OF BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY

    DOE SHAKEUP. Patricia Dehmer has become the top research manager within the Department of Energy's (DOE's) $4 billion Office of Science, filling the new position of deputy director of science programs under Raymond Orbach. Orbach, who is also undersecretary for science, promoted Dehmer last month from head of basic energy sciences to overseer of all six DOE research programs—which also encompasses high-energy physics, nuclear physics, fusion, biological and environmental sciences, and advanced computing—whose managers previously reported directly to Orbach.

    “Pat is an extremely effective communicator,” says Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society. “She understands very, very well how to deal with members of Congress and with DOE.”