Newsmakers

Science  21 Mar 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5870, pp. 1597
  1. IN THE NEWS

    CREDIT: LANDOV

    LAST-MINUTE SWITCH. A violation of training rules has cost a South Korean researcher his chance to become the country's first space hero.

    Last September, the South Korean government announced that Ko San, 30, a researcher at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, would fly to the international space station next month aboard the Russian spacecraft Soyuz (Science, 21 September 2007, p. 1659). But during his training, Ko violated mission protocols by taking home a training manual and later borrowing a space flight manual he was not authorized to examine.

    For these infractions, South Korean officials last week decided to give his seat to his backup, Yi So-yeon (above), who last month received a Ph.D. in bioengineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon. Yi, 29, will become the 50th woman, and first Korean, to fly in space.

  2. AWARDS

    CREDIT: NANCY BECHTOL

    IN ABSENTIA. A decade ago, Middle East politics derailed plans to honor Israeli physicist Daniel Amit of Hebrew University in Jerusalem for fostering scientific cooperation in the region. This month, the European group that administers the Rammal Award chose to give it to Amit—4 months after he committed suicide in his Jerusalem home at the age of 69.

    The award is named for the late Lebanese physicist Rammal Rammal. In 1998, a jury chose Amit for helping to incorporate physics into neuroscience and for working toward peace in the region. But the French Physical Society, which administered the prize at the time, chose not to give an award that year after some Lebanese scientists protested, arguing that no Israeli should receive the prize until there was peace between Israel and Lebanon (Science, 5 March 1999, p. 1422).

    Yet Gérard Toulouse, a physicist at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris who established the award in the early 1990s, never abandoned his campaign to honor Amit. And this year, Euroscience, the organization that now administers the award, chose to honor Amit posthumously. Toulouse, who is still mourning his friend's death, says the prize gives him a “huge sense of relief” as well as a deep feeling of regret. Honoring Amit in 1998 would have made him “a grand symbolic figure,” he says. “That might have changed Amit's fate.”

  3. CELEBRITIES

    WAITING FOR BILL. Inside a packed room in Washington, D.C., last week, members of the House Science and Technology Committee begged Bill Gates, retiring Microsoft chair and billionaire philanthropist, to tell them how to get more U.S. students interested in science and engineering. “What's our next Sputnik moment?” asked Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), whose husband, Mark Kelly, is an astronaut.

    Gates, who called for more spending on research and education, himself may be part of the answer. His presence last week at the committee's 50th anniversary hearing generated enough buzz that the queue for the 10:00 a.m. hearing began forming shortly after sunrise. There was a preponderance of 20-somethings in line. “I just thought it would be neat to hear him,” said Sean Connolly, a University of Mississippi student visiting Washington, D.C.

  4. AWARDS

    INTEL SCHOLARS. Shivani Sud has won the top, $100,000 prize in the Intel Science Talent Search for finding a genomic signature that predicts colon cancer relapse and identifying drugs that could help prevent it. A senior at Charles E. Jordan High School in Durham, North Carolina, Sud worked with Duke University oncologist Anil Potti. “There were days she would bring her homework to the lab and stay till 2 in the morning,” Potti says.

  5. THREE Q'S

    CREDIT: TEMPLETON FOUNDATION

    Michael Heller, a Polish cosmologist and Catholic priest who advocates a convergence of scientific and theological inquiry, has won the $1.6 million Templeton Prize from the John Templeton Foundation. The 72-year-old professor at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow will use the prize to create an institute, named for Copernicus, for research on science, philosophy, and theology.

    Q: You talk about a theology of science. Can there be such a thing?

    I don't think it exists. But I hope it could be created. If you are investigating the world using the standard scientific method, there are some aspects of the world that are automatically switched off. A theology of science would accept that the limits of rationality do not coincide with the limits of the scientific method, … allowing for questions such as the ultimate cause of the universe.

    Q: You say science is the discovery of the mind of God. Can a complete scientific understanding of the universe supplant the idea of God?

    I don't think so. I believe God is immanent, and so every law of physics is a manifestation of God. But God is also transcendent and extends beyond the universe. I don't think one day we could solve an equation that will prove that God exists.

    Q: You suggest that God may be too complex for humans to understand. Why should that be?

    Our brains evolved over millions of years through our interaction with the environment. Evolution required us to develop certain mental faculties to survive. We are fortunate that we somehow developed the surplus brainpower to understand things like quantum mechanics, but I doubt whether that is still enough to comprehend the full nature of reality.

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