Newsmakers

Science  18 Apr 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5874, pp. 299
  1. SLICE OF LIFE

    CREDIT: CERN

    A LONG WAIT. In 1964, Peter Higgs proposed a theory to explain why fundamental particles have mass, predicting the existence of a new particle that came to be known as the Higgs boson. Earlier this month, the now-retired physicist ventured out of his home in Edinburgh to visit the machine that he hopes will prove him right: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland. Higgs told reporters that he hopes LHC, which goes online this summer, will have confirmed his theory before his 80th birthday in May 2009. If not, he joked, “I'll just have to ask my [general practitioner] to keep me alive a bit longer.”

    Paul Collier, CERN's group leader for beam operations, says Higgs “was quite impressed by the nitty-gritty of all the material that makes up a particle accelerator.” He adds that, amid all the hectic preparations, it's easy to lose sight of the overall goal. “With Peter there, it reminded me why we're doing it.”

    The $6 billion LHC, built in a 27-kilometer-long tunnel that straddles the Swiss- French border, will smash together beams of protons with enough energy to match the conditions that existed moments after the big bang. Physicists expect to learn more about the fundamental nature of particles and forces, even if they do not find the Higgs boson.

  2. IN PRINT

    SOURCE: MATTHEW LACLAIR

    READING, CRITICALLY. A prominent publisher of U.S. textbooks is reviewing sections on global warming in a public policy textbook after a high school student complained that it ignores the strong scientific consensus on the topic. Matthew LaClair, a senior at Kearney High School in New Jersey, objected to the assertion in the 2006 edition of American Government: Institutions and Policies that “science doesn't know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect is, if it exists at all.” The Houghton Mifflin textbook contrasts concerns of “activist scientists” about global warming with observations by “skeptics.”

    LaClair tipped off the Center for Inquiry, an Amherst, New York, group that fights for the separation of church and state, which polled James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, and other top climate researchers. The scientists found several statements that were “profoundly mistaken in ways that will mislead students about the facts and science of global warming,” Hansen wrote last month in a letter to the publisher. The latest edition of the book, which came out before the center issued a press release about it last week, does not contain the statement questioning the existence of warming. But other sections to which the scientists objected are still in it. “Global warming is virtually unequivocal,” says LaClair. “It's vitally important that students get this knowledge.”

  3. AWARDS

    Stanford University developmental biologist Philip Beachy and Harvard University geneticist Clifford Tabin have won the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology for their contributions to the understanding of how hedgehog genes guide an embryo's development. They will share $250,000.

    Terence Tao, a mathematics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), is the winner of this year's Alan T. Waterman Award from the U.S. National Science Foundation. The prize recognizes outstanding scientists under the age of 35. Tao is 32 and has been on UCLA's faculty for the past 12 years. The 3-year, $500,000 award is in honor of his contributions to the areas of partial differential equations, combinatorics, number theory, and harmonic analysis.

  4. MOVERS

    SOURCE: FERMILAB

    A GOOD BASELINE. When Hugh “Mont” Montgomery, 60, takes the helm at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab) in Newport News, Virginia, in September, he'll inherit a facility that's doing better than most U.S. Department of Energy national labs. Construction on an upgrade to JLab's main accelerator is scheduled to start this summer, and JLab's 2008 budget has rebounded after some very lean years—which looks good compared with the shutdowns and layoffs at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, where Montgomery has been associate director for research for the past 6 years.

    Looking down the road, Montgomery sees the possibility of building an electron-ion collider on the 24-year-old lab's 81-hectare campus or perhaps expanding its free-electron laser for materials sciences. More immediately, he's leaving the summer open in case son Richard makes the U.S. Olympic rowing team. “There's a slight chance they'll qualify for Beijing,” he says. “And if they do, I'll be there.”

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