Science  27 Jun 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5884, pp. 1703

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    THE SON ALSO RISES. A new father-and-son team wants to tap the sun's rays—from on high. Martin “Marty” Hoffert, an energy expert at New York University, and his son Eric, a New Jersey entrepreneur, are trying to get U.S. science agencies or venture capitalists to fund their $50 million experiment to beam the intense solar energy collected in orbit down to Earth.

    Space solar power isn't a new concept. But high launch costs have relegated the idea to “science fiction” for decades. The Hofferts'experiment would deliver up to 150 kilowatts—enough to power roughly 40 homes—by laser to a collector on the ground at initial prices more than 10 times the average cost of power. It would serve customers in remote locations. Bigger systems would mean cheaper power, they say. “Hope springs eternal,” says Washington, D.C., space consultant John Pike, who remains skeptical that the cost of getting equipment into orbit will drop anytime soon.

    While they look for backers, the father-son pair is relishing the collaboration. “We both felt it was important to work to do something about the energy problem,” says Marty, who adds his science to his son's business acumen. “We definitely lock horns; we're both strong personalities,” says Eric, who has worked at Apple and AT&T's Bell Laboratories. Marty sees another advantage to the two-generation approach: “No matter how brilliant I think I am, I know it's not going to happen in my lifetime.”


    COMING FULL CIRCLE. Paleoclimate modeler Eric Barron began his career at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. Now he's returning to be its director.


    Barron, 56, came to NCAR as a graduate student to model the ice ages. After serving as a staff scientist, he held positions at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Texas and recently stepped down as board chair of the organization managing NCAR for the National Science Foundation.

    “I think he's a fantastic choice,” says climate modeler Michael MacCracken of the Climate Institute in Washington, D.C. “He's very good in areas where people have differing views.”

    “The climate change issue is turning a corner in this nation,” Barron says, but “there is still a disconnect between the science and how it can be utilized for society.” He's hoping his $150-million-a-year budget and 950-person staff, which studies everything atmospheric from yesterday's thunderstorms to ancient ice ages, will help close that gap.


    SUPERMAN? As an astrophysicist, Edward Seidel uses high-performance computers to simulate the relativistic world of Einstein's equations. This fall, he'll take leave from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge to direct the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Office of Cyberinfrastructure (OCI), which aims to provide all scientists with the computing tools they need. “Since I accepted the job, I've gotten comments from a lot of colleagues about how now I will be able to solve all their problems,” he laughs.

    OCI was moved from the computing science and engineering directorate into the NSF director's office in 2005 to separate the development of better computing facilities from the discipline itself. Seidel, 50, knows his $185 million budget will limit just how many problems he can fix. One pressing challenge is to transform NSF's $100-million-a-year TeraGrid computing program, which ends in 2010, into the next-generation “Extreme Digital” initiative. Another is to increase the number of computational scientists.


    John Towns of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Urbana, Illinois, one of the original NSF supercomputing centers, calls Seidel “the type of visionary leader OCI needs. The office is standing up, and now it needs to start running.”



    KYOTO PRIZE. Two Canadians and one American are being honored with the Kyoto Prize for lifelong contributions to basic sciences, advanced technology, and arts and philosophy in a way that benefits humanity.

    Anthony Pawson (far left), a molecular biologist at Mount Sinai Hospital's Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto, Canada, receives the basic sciences prize in life sciences for work on signal transduction involved in regulating cell growth and differentiation. His studies have led to the development of new cancer drugs. The advanced technology prize goes to Richard Karp (above, right), an electrical engineer and computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. He's being honored for developing computer algorithms and advancing computer science theory. And Charles Taylor, professor emeritus of philosophy at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, wins this year's arts and philosophy prize.

    The Kyoto Prize is awarded by the Inamori Foundation, established by Kazuo Inamori, who made a fortune as the founder of Kyocera Corp., a high-tech ceramics company. Each laureate will receive approximately $460,000.