Science  12 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5895, pp. 1427

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    DRIVEN. As a Swiss teenager, Louis Palmer dreamed of driving around the world in a solar-powered car. On 3 July 2007, the Lucerne native—a teacher by trade—set off in one built for $10,000 with help from businesses and universities across Switzerland. Last week, he cruised through Washington, D.C., and New York City having completed 80% of his 53,000-km journey.


    The 3.5-m car, which can go 88 km/h, pulls a 5-m-long trailer covered in solar cells, and its passengers have included Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “I want to raise awareness that we can stop global warming and be independent from fossil fuels with today's technology,” says Palmer, 36, whose next goal is to drive around the world in 80 days with a solar-powered car.


    SMASHING HIT. Not so sure what the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will do? Then go to YouTube to view the Large Hadron Rap, a 4:49 music video in which science writer and jam master Katherine McAlpine explains it all as dancers gyrate gawkily in the tunnel that houses the CERN accelerator. McAlpine, 23, was a press contact for the U.S. contingent to the LHC. “I thought maybe we'll get a couple of thousand views,” she says about the video, which has scored more than a million hits since it was posted 28 July.


    Physicists are thrilled about the publicity. “[T]he text is way more accurate and to the point than most … articles about the machine and the experiments,” writes blogger Roberto Corsini, an accelerator physicist at CERN ( Watch out for more from McAlpine; she says the press office at the National Super-conducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University in East Lansing has asked her to rap about the lab's proposed accelerator.


    MARRYING MINDS. Mathematical ecologist Louis Gross is already well-known as a scientist, teacher, and organizer. Now he will put those talents to use as director of a new institute at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, that will tackle problems at the interface of mathematics and biology.

    The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, launched last week, is modeled in part on a 13-year-old ecological synthesis center in Santa Barbara, California. Funded by a $16 million, 5-year grant that includes $11 million from the U.S. National Science Foundation and $5 million from the Department of Homeland Security, the institute will have a full-time staff of nine, about a dozen postdocs, and five core faculty members; it will also convene expert panels. Gross hopes to focus on animal diseases, such as the potential spread of pseudorabies from feral pigs in national parks to domestic swine, and explore other biological problems as diverse as wildfire control and cancer metastasis.


    Gross, whose past experience includes developing a multi-scale model to help plan the restoration of the Florida Everglades, is “perfect” for the job, says animal-disease modeler Leslie Real of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “He's very gifted at bringing biologists and mathematicians together.”


    BIRD VERSUS MALL. Mark Anderson, 44, has studied the threats facing lesser flamingos for 18 years. But last month, he was suspended from his job with the South African provincial government apparently for trying to protect a new breeding site in a lake near Kimberley, some 475 km southwest of Johannesburg. Two of his scientific colleagues at the Department of Tourism, Environment and Conservation were also suspended.


    The suspensions happened after a developer complained that Anderson and his colleagues—one of whom has also publicly supported a campaign to improve water quality in the lake—would not be neutral in reviewing the environmental impact assessment of a proposal to build shopping malls and more than 6400 houses on 382 hectares near the lake. Anderson, a staff ornithologist, says the 17 charges are trumped up. “It's remarkable that the department would go to this length,” he says. Les Abrahams, the chief of staff for the department, which is also charged with economic development, won't comment on the charges but says it takes flamingo conservation seriously.

    Anderson, who faces a disciplinary hearing starting on 15 September, already has a new job. Next month, he'll become executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group BirdLife South Africa.