Science  13 Feb 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5916, pp. 859


    A FABLED LIFE. Susan Frontczak says that reading a biography of Marie Curie while growing up inspired her to study science and become an engineer. After 14 years as an engineer with Hewlett-Packard, Frontczak became a professional storyteller and turned those childhood memories into a one-woman show about the French scientist.

    The play, which Frontczak has performed for the past 8 years across North America and Scotland, takes audiences through Curie's romance with Pierre, the discovery of radium, her receipt of two Nobel Prizes, motherhood, the death of her husband, and her experience as the first woman professor at the University of Paris. Sporting World War I-era clothing and speaking with a Polish accent, Frontczak (left) uses props such as a replica piezoelectrometer to convey Curie's scientific ideas.

    After the 2-hour performance, Frontczak answers questions about the scientist's life and work, even tricky ones from chemists and physicists. When audiences seem surprised that she knows more science than she puts into her script, the 54-year-old Frontczak reminds them that she “only has to understand physics up to 1915.”


    Elias Zerhouni, who resigned as director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health last fall, is taking a small step back into the policy fray. He's joined the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a senior fellow in the global health program, a part-time gig that means monthly visits to Seattle, Washington, to advise the foundation's $436 million Global Challenges initiative and other projects. Other fellows include William Foege, former chief of the CDC; Peter Piot, director of UNAIDS; and Julio Frenk, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. Zerhouni says he's not looking for a job in government and is looking forward to setting his own agenda.


    AWASH IN CASH. The BBVA Foundation of Madrid wrapped up a series of eight new $512,000 prizes last week with an Ecology and Conservation Biology Award to biologists Thomas Lovejoy and William Laurance. Lovejoy, a researcher at the Heinz Center in Washington, D.C., and Laurance, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Manaus, Brazil, share the prize for studying habitat fragmentation in the Amazon and developing the idea of using debt forgiveness to preserve habitat.

    The first of BBVA's Frontiers of Knowledge Awards went to oceanographer Wallace Broecker (Science, 23 January, p. 445). Other winners are Joan Massagué of the Sloan-Kettering Institute for his work on tumor generation and metastasis; Jacob Ziv of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology for innovations in data file compression; Ignacio Cirac of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching and Peter Zoller of the University of Innsbruck, Austria, for quantum computation; Jean Tirole of the Toulouse School of Economics for game theory and information theory; Abdul Latif Jameel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for scientific methods to assess development funding; and architect Steven Holl.


    ONCE A PHYSICIST … Although he doesn't have a new job yet, former Department of Energy (DOE) science chief Raymond Orbach is keeping busy by doing science. Orbach, who left the agency last month after a 6-year stint, is writing a paper on dilute magnetic alloys known as spin glasses. He began the work with his former graduate student Gilberto Rodriguez years ago when he was chancellor of the University of California, Riverside.

    Orbach says he kept his hand in research even while managing DOE's $4 billion science portfolio. He and Rodriguez, who moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 2004, would work in the evenings at the University of California's center in the capital. “I do administration, but I'm a scientist at heart,” says the 74-year-old Orbach.


    So, apparently, is another member of the Bush Administration. Last June, then-presidential science adviser John Marburger published a paper revealing a conceptual flaw in the earliest derivation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics. Marburger, who is battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, worked on the paper while recovering from a round of chemotherapy in the summer of 2007. “It's a little different from my usual [government] products,” he jokes.


    EPIC BATTLE. On a 2007 trip to South Africa, entrepreneur Phillip Ragon saw the devastation caused by AIDS. Last week, the owner of InterSystems Corp. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced he was giving three Boston-area institutions $100 million to work on an AIDS vaccine.

    “We intend to empower many of the world's best researchers to focus on what they view as the most promising research,” says Ragon about his gift to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The effort will be directed by Bruce Walker, an MGH physician who is also a Harvard professor of medicine. It was Walker who wooed Ragon and took him to South Africa.


    Walker intends to focus on a small group of patients with immune systems that keep the AIDS virus in check and try to reproduce that response. He says the vaccine search has so far proved “elusive” and predicts that interdisciplinary collaborations will improve the odds of success. The new Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Institute will cooperate with the nonprofit International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

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