Newsmakers

Science  01 Aug 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5889, pp. 619
  1. CELEBRITIES

    CREDIT: JOHN HARRINGTON

    SWINGING WITH MATH. In a television ad for the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy, the world's second-ranked golfer tees off as equations dance in the foreground. Last week, Phil Mickelson told Congress why the link between math and his game isn't that far-fetched.

    “I use statistics to maximize my practice,” explained Mickelson, who, with his wife, Amy, stole the show from the rest of an eight-member panel testifying before the House Education and Labor Committee on industry-backed efforts to improve science and math education. “I do a drill with 3-foot putts. And I can make 100% of them. But at 4 feet, it's 88%, at 5 feet 78%, and at 6 feet, it's only 65%. So while I may not be wasting my time trying to add 20 yards to my drives, what I really need to do is hit my chip shots within 3 feet of the hole. That's the best way to lower my score.”

    Mickelson donates his time, money, and name to the academy, which in the past 3 years has trained 1400 teachers from grades three to five in 1-week summer sessions. “A lot of the teachers don't know who he is,” admits Truman Bell, who manages the teachers' academies for the foundation. “But once they meet Phil and Amy, they realize how sincere they are about improving science and math education.”

  2. MOVERS

    HOT SEAT. Stewart Prager says his new job is “an adventure at a time [in life] when it's great to have an adventure.” The 59-year-old plasma physicist is leaving the University of Wisconsin, Madison, this fall after 31 years to become director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), a Department of Energy (DOE) facility that Princeton University has managed since 1951.

    CREDIT: PPPL

    The lab is still coping with DOE's decision in May to pull the plug on one of two major fusion physics projects: the incomplete and over budget National Compact Stellarator Experiment. Prager hopes to help the facility recover from that setback by focusing on the ongoing National Spherical Tokamak Experiment—another fusion project—and pursuing a variety of experiments of different sizes not just in fusion but in plasma physics more broadly.

    Prager currently leads Wisconsin's fusion physics experiment, the Madison Symmetric Torus, and his work ranges from the science of fusion reactors to astrophysics. Prager's “broad scientific vision” should benefit PPPL, says Richard Hazeltine of the University of Texas, Austin. However, Hazeltine says, Prager will have to fix some “morale issues” at the lab: “There is a cadre of engineers at PPPL who have come up with a series of wonderful ideas, and none of them has been built.” Prager says the best way to improve morale is to keep producing ideas for great experiments large and small.

  3. MOVERS

    Robert Strain has been named the new director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Strain has led the space department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, since 2006 and has worked as a manager for the defense and space industries for more than 25 years. He succeeds Edward Weiler, who was appointed associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in May.

  4. IN THE COURTS

    NO SIMPLE ANSWER. A biologist is suing a California community college for improperly firing her based on a student's complaint about how she answered a question on the heritability of homosexuality. In the 16 July lawsuit filed in a California district court, June Sheldon claims that San José City College (SJCC) violated her academic freedom and asks to be reinstated as an adjunct faculty member.

    Sheldon was released from her position in February after the university said its investigation upheld a complaint filed by a student about comments Sheldon made during a 2007 summer course she taught on human heredity. According to the complaint, Sheldon cited a German researcher's work showing that pregnant mice under stress were more likely to have gay male offspring and, the student alleges, stated that “there are hardly any gay men in the Middle East because the women are treated very nicely.” When asked what causes homosexuality in women, the complaint said, “Professor Sheldon promptly replied that there aren't any real lesbians.”

    Sheldon's attorney, David Hacker of the Alliance Defense Fund in Folsom, California, told Science that Sheldon denies making the two latter statements, though she acknowledges that she did note work by the German researcher, Gunter Dörner. “She is contesting what the student claimed in the complaint,” says Hacker. Neither Sheldon nor SJCC is commenting on the lawsuit.

  5. TWO CULTURES

    CREDIT: JONATHAN FELDSCHUH

    A collection of new paintings by New York City-based artist Jonathan Feldschuh provides an abstract impression of subatomic particles being smashed together inside the Large Hadron Collider, the 27-km-long CERN accelerator that is expected to go online later this summer. Feldschuh has an undergraduate degree in physics. The works depict splatterings on detectors and other instruments inside the accelerator, as if paint had collided with its surface and left a mark. This painting is part of an exhibit at the Galerie Vernon and Vernon Projekt in Prague and can also be viewed at http://www.jonathanfeldschuh.com/.

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