News this Week

Science  01 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5961, pp. 18

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  1. U.S. Space Policy

    Obama Backs New Launcher And Bigger NASA Budget

    1. Andrew Lawler

    President Barack Obama plans to ask Congress to cancel work on a new rocket and instead fund a heavy-lift launcher to take humans to the moon, asteroids, and the moons of Mars. The president outlined the new direction for the U.S. human space flight program on 16 December at a meeting in the White House with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, according to officials familiar with the discussion. NASA would see its 2011 budget grow by $1 billion both to get the new launcher on track and to bolster the agency's fleet of robotic Earth-monitoring spacecraft.

    The current NASA plan for human exploration is built around the $3.5 billion Constellation program, which was intended to provide a way to get humans to the space station and beyond after the space shuttle is retired this year. But its initial launcher, Ares 1, has faced a string of cost and technical problems, and an outside panel chaired by retired aerospace executive Norman Augustine was skeptical of that effort (Science, 25 September, p. 1606). Although NASA has done a good job confronting the rocket's engineering challenges, says Augustine, “the schedule has slipped so badly it doesn't fit into the future program well.” But some lawmakers, such as Senator Richard Shelby (R–AL), are sure to fight any changes to the program.

    According to knowledgeable sources, the White House has decided that scarce NASA funds would be better spent on a simpler heavy-lift vehicle that could be ready to fly as early as 2018. Meanwhile, Europe, Japan, and Canada would be asked to work on a lunar lander and modules for a moon base, a contribution that would save the United States several billion dollars. And commercial companies would take over the job of getting supplies and possibly humans to the international space station.

    “The decision is not going to make anyone gasp,” said one source in the White House, which hopes to ease congressional concerns about the impact of the new plan on existing aerospace jobs by transitioning workers from Ares 1 to the heavy-lift vehicle project. But Shelby and some of his colleagues fear that an Ares 1 cancellation will lead to mass layoffs in their states. Indeed, Shelby inserted language into the 2010 NASA spending bill that requires the agency to gain congressional approval before changing the existing rocket program.

    Change in direction.

    President Obama has told NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (inset) that he wants to replace Ares 1 (above) with a heavy-lift rocket.


    Last month, Shelby also wrote to NASA's inspector general asking his office to investigate alleged conflicts of interest on the Augustine panel. The legislator said that several panel members were registered lobbyists who took “direct advantage of their temporary roles on the Commission to further their personal business.” None of the panel members was actually a registered lobbyist, although Augustine says, “I'd be surprised” if lobbyists had not provided the panel with their input.

    The form that the heavy-lift launcher would take has yet to be decided. But rather than pointing the rocket to the moon, as U.S. President George W. Bush proposed in 2004, this White House is more intrigued by human missions to asteroids, Phobos, and Deimos as a precursor to landing humans on the Red Planet. That option was given particular prominence by Augustine panel members when they testified this fall before congressional committees. To prepare for human visits, NASA may order additional robotic missions to the martian moons and asteroids.

    Before making his decision, Obama reviewed several options presented to him by NASA, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The choices included keeping NASA's budget flat and delaying a new launcher, giving it an additional $1 billion to build a heavy-lift launcher, ramping up NASA's annual budget by $3 billion for an aggressive program, or reducing NASA's budget and abandoning space flight. The president's decision to go with the second option is a major departure from his 2010 budget plan, which called for NASA to receive a 5% increase in 2010 followed by level funding through 2014.

    The Augustine panel concluded that NASA needed a $3 billion annual increase to move ahead with a robust space-flight program. Last month, Congress belatedly completed action on NASA's 2010 budget, boosting it by $1 billion, to $18.7 billion. An additional $1 billion in 2011, combined with support from other countries, would put the agency close to the panel's suggested level. “There are a lot of different ways to reach that level, including help from abroad and increasing NASA's efficiency,” Augustine added.

    It's not clear when the new policy will be formally announced. One White House source said it was imminent, while another hinted that it would wait until Obama's State of the Union address in late January. Another possibility is a 1 February release as part of the president's 2011 budget request to Congress. Given the White House's preoccupation with health care and climate change, however, NASA officials and their industry backers see the new policy as welcome proof that Obama also cares about space flight.

  2. Climate Change

    Senate Looms as Bigger Hurdle After Copenhagen

    1. Eli Kintisch

    President Barack Obama knew the clock was ticking on reaching a climate-change agreement when he barged into a meeting with the leaders of China, Brazil, India, and South Africa on the last day of the deadlocked U.N. convention in Copenhagen. And while Obama called the 18 December deal he brokered an “unprecedented breakthrough” in getting developing countries to agree for the first time to voluntary reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, he knew that it was missing major components that supporters had sought, ranging from mandatory mitigation targets to deforestation. The so-called Copenhagen Accord (see chart) didn't even contain a timetable for deciding when to decide.

    But as hard as it was to negotiate a deal in Denmark, Obama faces an even tougher time in Washington trying to convince the U.S. Senate to pass cap-and-trade legislation. And he's up against another ticking clock: the November 2010 elections that will decide whether his party retains control of Congress. “The closer you get to the election around here, the less policy is going on and the more politics,” says Senator Lisa Murkowski (R–AK). Even so, Murkowski predicts that the Senate will need “months, … not weeks” to debate the complex issue.

    One major obstacle is the Senate's own rules. A supermajority is needed to pass nearly any controversial legislation, because opponents can launch a filibuster that requires 60 votes to bring to an end. Supporters can count on only about half that number, and getting the rest will require deals with some combination of coal-state Democrats, moderate Republicans like Murkowski, and liberals who want a stronger bill. And that means balancing concerns about trade, energy, and the economic effects of the bill. “It's going to be a tough environment to find 60 votes,” says Thomas Gibson of the American Iron and Steel Institute.


    President Obama engaged fellow world leaders on the last day of the Copenhagen meeting.


    For advocates of emissions reductions, the less-than-satisfying outcome of the Copenhagen summit shows how difficult it will be to reach any agreement. In June, the House of Representatives narrowly passed landmark emissions reductions that would bring U.S. emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2020. And such legislation hasn't fared well in the Senate. In 2003, cap-and-trade legislation went down by a margin of 43 votes to 55. Two years later, it secured only 38 votes. In 2008, a procedural vote on a bill that contained more favorable language for nuclear power fell 12 votes short of the 60 required to bring it to a vote—although six senators said they would have voted for the bill had they been present.

    This time around, legislation introduced in October by Senators John Kerry (D–MA) and Barbara Boxer (D–CA) and approved the following month by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has already attracted plenty of ill will. Republicans on the committee boycotted the vote, and Boxer, the chair, bucked precedent by proceeding without them. And hers is the only one of six committees with jurisdiction to have passed the legislation.


    Democrats from states where coal is king will be central to any successful deal. Last month, 92-year-old Senator Robert Byrd (D–WV), their unofficial leader, shocked the coal industry when he declared that “West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it.” He also said he plans to “stay at the table” to make sure his state is “part of any solution,” increasing the chances that the Senate bill would provide more money for clean-coal projects and assistance to industry than the House version. Senator Tom Carper (D–DE), who led a task force on coal for Boxer earlier this year, says he can already see momentum building. “If the House members from a coal state voted for the House bill, it's going to be hard for some senators to ignore what their House members have done,” says Carper.

    Bridging the gap between coal-state lawmakers and environmentalists is not the only difficult task facing the White House. Getting a handful of Republicans to support the bill is another crucial one. One key step in that direction is an outline of cap-and-trade legislation released last month by senators Kerry, Joe Lieberman (ID–CT), and Lindsay Graham (R–SC). Last month, Graham said the legislation, if passed, would “create jobs, protect our national security interests, and improve our environment.”

    Winning Graham's vote might require more support for the nuclear industry than is in the House legislation, including advanced research, regulatory changes, and some type of financial incentives for new nuclear power plants. Graham's role is the “greatest indication that you can reach a 60-vote margin,” says Lou Leonard of the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C. On the other hand, such concessions could cause a mutiny among staunch liberals like Senator Bernie Sanders (I–VT), who says he would consider voting against the bill depending on “how weak it is.”

    One unknown may be fallout from the leaked climate science e-mails (Science, 4 December, p. 1329), which had virtually no effect on negotiations in Copenhagen. Senator James Inhofe (R–OK), an outspoken climate skeptic, believes the scandal spells doom for climate legislation that he's already labeled “dead on arrival.” But two other Republicans—senators Murkowski and Lamar Alexander (R–TN)—told Science that the e-mails have not shaken their confidence in the science behind global warming. Indeed, Boxer told reporters at a press conference this week that the new push by foes to challenge the fundamental facts of global warming will backfire because it will put “new attention on the science—and that's good.”

    It's not clear how the watered-down Copenhagen pact might affect the Senate vote. Before the summit, Boxer said that a political agreement there would “help us move a climate-change bill forward.” But a central issue left unresolved in Denmark is China's refusal to agree to international verification of its reports on emissions reductions. Obama won the support of the China delegation for compromise language that embraces “international consultations.” But without a firmer Chinese commitment, it may be hard to convince leery lawmakers that China and other major emitters from developing nations are willing to carry their share of the burden.

    “There's nothing [in the text] to keep these countries from accelerating their emissions,” says an Inhofe spokesperson, who says the talks “were a complete disaster” in terms of the pending legislation. The spokesperson also criticized the U.S. decision, announced at the talks, to participate in a $100-billion-a-year fund, starting in 2020, for helping the developing world cope with global warming: “It probably made things worse, since the American people aren't going to be happy seeing their tax dollars going abroad to support a global warming fund.”

    Obama will also have to decide how much political capital to spend on an issue that is losing support among Americans, according to opinion polls, when one they care a great deal about—unemployment—is at 10% and could get worse. Some critics note that Obama didn't say in Copenhagen that climate change would be a top priority in 2010. But Daniel Weiss of the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., says that Obama's meetings with world leaders at the conference and with U.S. politicians at home show he is fully engaged. “He's succeeded in Copenhagen at pushing the process forward. Now he has to succeed at getting the Senate to act,” says Weiss.

  3. Research Management

    Protests by Staff, Advisers Rattle Australian Synchrotron

    1. Elizabeth Finkel

    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—Amid media fanfare and the smiles of politicians, the Australian Synchrotron (AS) here unveiled a new tunnel in April that will eventually house a medical beamline. Leaders said it would push the boundaries of synchrotron science, allowing clinicians to image a single cancer cell in a woman's breast or plaques in the artery wall of a beating heart. In June, the $330 million synchrotron won funding for a new science center and a hotel complex. In September, it hosted a major conference. Four months later, the entire facility was in turmoil. Director Robert Lamb had been fired; a majority of the international scientific advisory committee (SAC) had resigned; and staff began a work-to-rule slowdown, demanding that the board chair, attorney Catherine Walter, be removed.

    Happier days.

    Chemist Robert Lamb, former director of the Australian Synchrotron, before his dismissal.


    What went wrong? The crisis erupted shortly after the AS board removed Lamb from his job on 30 October. Lamb and board members have refused to discuss details. But many observers say that a gaping rift developed between the board of directors on one hand and AS staff and SAC on the other over the slow pace of developing long-term plans.

    The AS is one of 17 facilities of its kind in the world. It accelerates a thin beam of electrons around a ring the diameter of a football field, emitting intense x-rays that are filtered through beamlines for customized applications. This third-generation AS was completed in 2007; it has been a “smashing success,” says Jeff Corbett, a synchrotron scientist from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, and an AS adviser. Last year, the AS ranked second in the world in reliability, with a beam availability of 98%. Nine beamlines have been completed or are under way, but there are 29 vacancies and no new lines since 2007.

    In a recent interview, Lamb, chair of chemistry at the University of Melbourne, said his relations with the board of directors and its chair were cordial—right up to the day he was fired. Lamb says that Walter and Rod Hill, board deputy chair and pro vice-chancellor for industry engagement and commercialisation at Melbourne's Monash University, met in Lamb's office: “I thought, amongst other things, I was going to get a pat on the back. Instead, they told me I was gone. The whole thing lasted about 15 minutes.” He claims that he has received “no official explanation as to why.”

    Initially, the board said little. But as concerns mounted among the staff and SAC, Walter, Hill, and a third board member, Sean Gallagher—director of the University of Sydney's United States Studies Centre—met and spoke with the staff on 9 December. According to a text obtained by Science, Walter said that “legal and confidentiality constraints” prevented discussion of Lamb's firing. She spoke of the board's “deep concern about progress with the science and investment cases, which are crucial to obtaining funding for further development and expansion after 2012.” An audit by the Victorian government last year praised AS science but raised a red flag over the lack of long-term science and business plans, according to one insider. In an e-mail response, Walter said that the review “highlighted a priority that was also a concern of the board,” but she denied that it prompted the “scapegoating” of Lamb.

    One of the board's critics, Frank Larkins, chief scientist for energy of the Victoria State Government and SAC chair until his resignation on 9 December, says a “clash of cultures” separated the board from the scientific staff and SAC. “Our consistent problem has been the silence in response to our [SAC] recommendations” to the board to get moving on long-term science and business plans, says Larkins. He has urged Victoria to intervene and replace the chair of the board.

    Michael Grunze, a professor of applied physical chemistry at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, another SAC member who resigned on 9 December, also blasted the board in a resignation letter. The SAC's advice, Grunze wrote, “has been either consistently ignored or not acted upon in a timely manner by the leadership of the AS Board.”

    Some critics of the board say that AS management started long-term planning at the beginning of the year but were held back. They accuse the board of micromanagement and choking operations with paperwork. “The board is much more involved in the administration than is necessary or good,” said Janet Smith, a protein crystallographer at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor and a continuing SAC member.

    Walter contests the view that the board did not act on SAC's recommendations. In an e-mail she wrote, “All recommendations from SAC were passed on to the AS management.” And Gallagher said in a telephone interview that paperwork is an inevitable result of the organization's complex structure. Stakeholders include five state governments, the federal government, New Zealand, 32 universities, and 42 other organizations.

    Several SAC members have spoken about their concern for the synchrotron's future. Soichi Wakatsuki, a continuing member and director of the Photon Factory in Tsukuba, Japan, wrote in a 12 December letter to the board that being a member of SAC had been “the most distressing period in my career,” and that the status of AS “as a world class synchrotron” is now “in danger.” Ted Baker, a University of Auckland professor of structural biology and the new SAC chair, also warned the board, “if the level of disclosure and trust are not improved, radically, and fast, the AS will lose key staff and its use base will evaporate.”

    The staff slowdown—which limits work to a standard 9-to-5 day—is ongoing at press time. The State Government of Victoria, which has the largest stake in the project, so far has declined to intervene.


    From Science's Online Daily News Site


    Hand Size—Not Sex— Determines Sense of Touch Sometimes a difference between the sexes is not based on sex at all. Women have a finer sense of touch than men do, but a new study shows that this is simply because their fingertips tend to be smaller.

    Chimps Keep Their Cool With Fire When primatologist Jill Pruetz found herself threatened by wildfires in the savannas of Fongoli, Senegal, in 2006 she had two options: stay with the chimpanzees she was studying, or run. She chose the chimps. The primates were calm, and—with her in tow—they carefully made their way around the blaze. The chimps' actions, Pruetz would later report, set them apart from other nonhuman animals—and they may reveal the evolutionary origins of how we came to master fire.

    Seasick? Try Controlling Your Breathing If you get seasick easily, you may prepare for boat rides with pressure-point bracelets, ginger, or a prescription skin patch. Now there's one more remedy: timing your breathing to counteract the nauseating motion. The technique presumably works because it helps control gravity sensors in the abdomen—a lesser-known input to our fine-tuned balance system.

    Bacteria Can Transform Minerals Electrically Got a messy cleanup problem that requires a molecule-by-molecule fix? Instead of nanotech, how about deploying an array of ready-made, versatile bacteria? Scientists studying a genus of the rock-dwelling bacteria called Shewanella have found out how the organisms can transform minerals by zapping them with tiny electrical currents. The discovery could lead to new types of fuel cells to generate electricity, to better environmental-cleanup techniques, and possibly even to a new generation of organically made materials.

    Read the full postings, comments, and more on

  5. Research Funding

    U.K. Physicists Cry Foul At Major Budget Cuts

    1. Daniel Clery

    It's not been a festive time for many U.K. physicists following the mid-December announcement of a 5-year funding plan for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the British body responsible for particle physics, astronomy, nuclear physics, and space science. Administrative changes and the ravages of the economy have left the council with a gaping hole in its finances, so researchers braced for cuts and even offered advice on how to make them. Although the STFC tried to spread the losses fairly, nuclear physics was pared to the bone, with just £30 million for the next 5 years. This amounts to a cut of 29% over that period, according to nuclear physicist William Gelletly of the University of Surrey. “If the U.K. is serious about nuclear new build and maintaining high standards in nuclear medicine, ... then it should take a very hard look at how much it should be spending on nuclear physics,” he says.

    Although astronomy was cut less severely, by 10%, the U.K. government will withdraw support from a number of projects, including the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory, the Liverpool Telescope, and the U.K. Infra-Red Telescope. And in 2012 it will withdraw from the Gemini Telescopes, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, and the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes. After that, U.K. astronomers will no longer have access to a major observatory in the Northern Hemisphere, their own sky. “We are now seriously concerned at the effect the loss of so many smaller projects will have on the health and morale of physics groups in British universities,” says Andrew Fabian, president of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    Darkening skies.

    STFC threatened to cut U.K. funding to the Gemini telescopes in 2007. Money will now be withdrawn in 2012.


    The STFC's problems date back to 2007, when it was created from the merger of two existing research councils, and nuclear physics moved into it from a third (Science, 21 December 2007, p. 1851). Both of the merged councils had overcommitted themselves to costly international projects, and STFC soon found a £40 million hole in its budget. The situation has since gotten worse as the weakening pound makes subscriptions to international facilities more expensive. And with the poor economy, the STFC expects to get no budget increase in the United Kingdom's next 3-yearly comprehensive spending review.

    Stung by criticism that its 2007 cuts involved no consultation, the STFC carried out an extensive prioritization exercise with the research community before announcing its latest funding plan. For 5 years from fiscal year 2011-12, the STFC will save £115 million by withdrawing from 24 major national and international projects and squeezing the budgets of 38 others. It will also require a 10% cut in grants to university researchers involved in those projects and a 25% cut in new postgraduate studentships and postdoctoral fellowships.

    Particle physics, now mostly focused on exploiting CERN's new Large Hadron Collider, got the largest slice of the 5-year pie, £690 million, and had the smallest cut, 4%. In contrast, nuclear physicists, as STFC's newcomers, feel they've been sidelined by the much bigger communities already in place. “The cuts in nuclear physics will be devastating for the field. The number of academic nuclear physics researchers will drop by at least a factor of 2 from [currently around] 55,” says Paul Nolan of the University of Liverpool. “At this level, they will not be able to make an international impact.”

    The STFC says that the decisions were made by peer-review panels, reflecting the quality of the science. But some nuclear physicists argue that it is hard for such panels to be fair when some fields are poorly represented. “When the going gets rough, most people will tend to mark up the things they know and love. ... So it is no surprise that the big battalions, who make up 90% of the membership of these committees, fared better,” says Gelletly. Others point out that at the end of the 5 years, the STFC has chosen to give its in-house facilities—the DIAMOND x-ray source and the ISIS neutron source—a £25 million increase, while cutting funds to external centers. “There is a major conflict of interest here,” says Nolan.

    Researchers are now talking about whether the STFC should be reorganized, separating facility funding from research grants, and whether it should oversee studentships and fellowships. “These are generally considered essential for the health of the science, and cuts make little sense,” says Robert Cywinski of the University of Huddersfield. “Perhaps it is time that the whole concept of funding research studentships across all research councils should be reviewed and possibly taken out of the hands of the individual councils.”

  6. Scientific Publishing

    Errors in Chemistry Claims Cast Doubt on Reactome Paper

    1. John Travis

    A newly developed research tool called a reactome array, which has attracted widespread interest from biologists, has come under intense f ire from scientists who say the description of the device in the 9 October issue of Science (p. 252) includes “impossible” chemical reactions and makes little sense. The publication drew immediate attention because the array promises to establish the functions of a myriad of enzymes and probe the metabolism of bacteria and other kinds of cells.

    Last week, Science acknowledged the furor, publishing online an “Editorial Expression of Concern” in which the journal's editor-in-chief, Bruce Alberts, notes that “serious questions have been raised about the methods and data presented.” “It was just so obvious the chemistry was flawed,” says biochemist Laura Kiessling of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, editor-in-chief of ACS Chemical Biology.

    While admitting to serious errors in describing the methods used to create the reactome array—which required the synthesis of thousands of compounds representing metabolites and other enzyme substrates, linking them to a fluorescent dye, and fixing them on a glass slide—the study's corresponding authors stand behind the device. “We're confident in the results and technology. Many researchers have used the array without problems,” says Manuel Ferrer of the Spanish National Research Council's (CSIC's) Institute of Catalysis in Madrid. According to Ferrer, at the request of Science, CSIC will conduct an investigation of his lab, and related inquiries will be held at collaborators' labs in Germany and the United Kingdom. He says that Nobel laureate Richard Roberts of New England Biolabs and other researchers have also agreed to conduct blinded tests to verify that the reactome array works. Roberts confirmed that fact, noting that he recently visited the Madrid lab and came away “impressed” after initially thinking the reactome array “was too good to be true.”

    In private chats and online postings, chemists began expressing skepticism about the reactome array as soon as the article describing it was published, noting several significant errors in an initial figure. Some also questioned how a relatively unknown group could have synthesized so many complex compounds. The dismay grew when supplementary online material providing further information on the synthesized compounds wasn't available as soon as promised. “We failed to put it in on time. The data is quite voluminous,” says co-corresponding author Peter Golyshin of Bangor University in Wales, a microbiologist whose team provided bacterial samples analyzed by Ferrer's lab.

    Science is also coming under fire. “It was stunning no reviewer caught [the errors],” says Kiessling. Ferrer says the paper's peer reviewers did not raise major questions about the chemical synthesis methods described; the journal's executive editor, Monica Bradford, acknowledged that none of the paper's primary reviewers was a synthetic organic chemist. “We do not have evidence of fraud or fabrication. We do have concerns about the inconsistencies and have asked the authors' institutions to try to sort all of this out by examining the original data and lab notes,” she says.

    Figured out.

    After spotting errors in this figure and being unsatisfied by supplementary online material, chemists challenged whether the so-called reactome array could work as claimed.

    CREDIT: A. BELOQUI ET AL., SCIENCE 326, 5950 (9 OCTOBER 2009)

    Ferrer says he takes responsibility for all the mistakes and apologizes: “I understand the disappointment of Science and Science's readers.” Yet some chemists, including those who have sought clarifications from the authors, remain unconvinced by supplementary data that has since been posted and the explanations offered so far. Many colleagues “think it must be fraud. I'm trying to keep an open mind,” says chemical biologist Ben Davis of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who wrote a skeptical review of the reactome array article on the Faculty of 1000 Web site. “But clearly there are a lot of unexplained elements.”

  7. ScienceInsider

    From the Science Policy Blog

    Merck has hired the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Julie Gerberding, as its head of vaccine development. The company says the infectious-disease expert will expand the company's vaccine offerings internationally.

    Henrik Thomsen, a Danish clinician who alerted patients and regulators to potential risks of Omniscan, a drug used to improve MRI scans, is facing a libel suit. Manufacturer GE Healthcare says a 2007 presentation by Thomsen was defamatory.

    The National Football League has changed its stance on the issue of concussions and long-term brain-damage risk. Doctors and experts working for the league had dismissed the link before, but now the NFL is exploring a partnership with scientists at Boston University who have been among its harshest critics. The partnership could include funding for the school's research.

    A new report details alleged errors associated with the “Propatria study,” a research trial into the use of “probiotic” therapies in which live microorganisms are administered to patients to treat disease. The Dutch Health Care Inspectorate found that scientific rules were not followed in the study, in which 24 patients receiving the treatment died. By comparison, there were nine deaths among those receiving the placebo.

    In an interview with ScienceInsider, retiring science committee chair Representative Bart Gordon (D–TN) said that science education was among his top priorities for his last year in office. He'll be tackling that as part of a reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act. “One of the things we've been doing is inventorying all the current STEM education programs, and we're finding tens of millions of additional dollars being spent on programs that nobody knew about,” said the lawmaker.

    For more science news and analysis, visit

  8. Higher Education

    Recession Hits Some Sciences Hard At Florida State University

    1. Richard A. Kerr

    Philip Froelich, 63, is the tenured Francis Eppes Professor of Oceanography at Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee. He won't be much longer. Despite a distinguished 31-year career as a researcher and administrator, he will be laid off next May. And despite a positive external evaluation within the past year, his department—much diminished by layoffs—will be no more, folded along with the geological sciences department into a new department dominated by meteorology. “Why would you cut Flip Froelich? It doesn't make any sense,” says geologist Michael Perfit of the University of Florida (UF), Gainesville.

    It's all about money, of course. When the cash-strapped Florida state legislature recently slashed funds for higher education for the third straight year, big across-the-board cuts spilled down through individual state university budgets. But at FSU—one of the “big four” Florida state schools—the fiscal crisis has turned into a ravaging torrent for a few departments, most of them in the sciences.

    In the end, unlike at other universities, FSU administrators balanced their budget by firing many faculty members, including many tenured professors like Froelich. That decimated the geological sciences, oceanography, and anthropology departments. “The layoffs at FSU have truly devastated faculty morale across the campus,” says anthropologist Cheryl Ward of Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, who left FSU before the cuts. They “caused lasting harm to science programs.”

    But to the FSU administration, slashing small departments that were far from supporting themselves was the only way to avoid permanently undermining education across the university. The deep, targeted cuts were unfortunately the best option, says FSU Provost Lawrence Abele. “I don't believe in cutting across the board; that weakens everything,” he says.

    There's no disagreement on the 39,000-student FSU campus that the budget situation has gone from serious to dire. The big, tax-generating housing bubble burst early in Florida, which has no state income tax to cushion the loss. The Florida legislature cut the state university system's annual $380 million budget by $82 million over 2007 to 2010—$55 million of it in this academic year. That budget, plus tuition, pays all salaries in the state system. And at slightly over $3100 last year (up 15% this year), tuition at Florida state universities was the lowest in the nation, notes Joseph Travis, FSU's dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We're trying to run a Major League Baseball operation on a AAA or AA [minor league] budget,” he says.

    Heavy FSU layoffs.

    The majority of faculty firings in the Florida State University System came at Florida State University (left), where about 80% of “tenure-line” layoffs occurred (right).


    Across-the-board cuts “could cripple the institutional missions, starving everybody,” says Travis, so “you do elaborate cost-benefit analyses. Which of the programs are the weakest?” FSU President T. K. Wetherell made the criteria for judging the strength of a department or program explicit: student credit hours generated, degrees awarded, contract and grant expenditures, and tuition collected, all on a per-faculty as well as an absolute basis.

    The state legislature funds FSU “based on enrollment,” Travis notes. The departments of geological sciences, meteorology, and oceanography came in at the bottom of 15 Arts and Sciences departments with about 6000 student credit hours per year each, according to Travis. Anthropology was fourth from the bottom with 11,000 hours; English, for example, had 50,000. “Sciences never pay for themselves,” says Travis. “There's always a subsidy arrangement” in which larger departments in effect help support smaller ones. But in the third straight year of budget cutting, “the subsidy gets harder to find,” says Travis.

    Targeted departments and programs within departments took heavy hits. Geological Sciences and Oceanography will be merged with Meteorology at the end of this academic year to form a new department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. Froelich thinks the merger is a reasonable idea but says “the university should have done it 2 to 5 years ago,” when more favorable economic conditions would have given any merged department better prospects. Anthropology barely survived elimination but will be diminished and restructured.

    The numerous and often focused faculty firings have been much more controversial. Of the faculty laid off from 2007 to 2010 in the 10,700-faculty Florida State University System, 60% were laid off from FSU's approximately 1750 faculty alone, according to data collected by FSU faculty members and provided by Froelich. Approximately 43 tenured or tenure-track faculty were laid off across the system. But according to FSU English professor and Faculty Senate President Eric Walker, 35 of those 43 “tenure-line” faculty were lost at FSU.

    Of about 21 tenured faculty let go across the system, all or all but one were at FSU. The College of Education was hit hard, but 10 of that 21 came out of the College of Arts and Sciences, all of them scientists in the relatively small departments of geological sciences, oceanography, and anthropology. Oceanography, at least, had just this spring received a “glowing” evaluation from the university that included an external reviewer, according to Froelich.

    Elsewhere in the Florida state system, faculty fared better. At UF, “we did not cut a lot of existing people,” says Provost Joseph Glover. “We did cut a lot of vacant and newly vacant positions. And we've spread [the cuts] over a period of time, [so] this year we only have left a small amount to do.” The geological sciences department was on the block for a while, notes Perfit, its chair. The problem, as he sees it, was that “we were just small. Some of the best [geoscience] schools in the nation are being cut just because they're small” and would therefore seem to create only small losses to the university. His department survived, though for now the university is using stimulus money to pay everyone in the department.

    FSU was the only university in the system to lean so heavily on faculty layoffs, but FSU's Travis still sees no way around that. As to Oceanography in particular, “the discussion was never about ... value of research,” he writes in an e-mail. “The discussion was always about whether we could continue to afford to subsidize” a department generating so few undergraduate credit hours and relatively few graduate degrees. And in 40 years the legislature has never come back and restored funds it cut from the budget, he says. Other Florida universities like UF may be using stimulus money to avoid extensive faculty firings until budget cuts are restored or tuition increases accumulate, he says, but “we at FSU chose not to take this kind of chance.”

  9. Ireland

    Embryo Ruling Keeps Stem Cell Research Legal

    1. Gretchen Vogel

    A ruling from the Irish Supreme Court has reignited that country's debate over the legal status of human embryos, confirming the legality of research with human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) but leaving such work in a regulatory limbo that may not be resolved soon. On 15 December, the court ruled that human embryos outside the womb are not “unborn” and therefore are not protected under the country's constitution. The case before the court, in which a woman wanted to implant frozen embryos against the wishes of her estranged husband, does not directly involve stem cell research, but an opposite ruling could have made such work unconstitutional. “It's not a green light” for hESC research, says Siobhán O'Sullivan, director of the Irish Council for Bioethics. However, the ruling means “that certainly hES cell research is not banned in Ireland.”

    Ireland, a largely Catholic country that has experienced a growth in biomedical research over the past decade, has no laws governing human embryos outside the womb. Abortion is illegal, but assisted reproduction and research with hESCs, which are derived from lab-grown embryos, are both unregulated. Scientists have been uncertain, however, whether the Irish Constitution, which “acknowledges the right to life of the unborn,” prohibits derivation of hESCs or even work with ones derived elsewhere. Public funding agencies have been similarly perplexed about whether they could fund hESC research. No such work has so far been funded.

    O'Sullivan says that because of the legal vacuum, it is difficult to say if any hESC research is going on in Ireland. “If you were using them, you wouldn't want to publicize the fact,” she says. But several scientists in Ireland have said they would like to work with the cells, and Science Foundation Ireland acknowledges that a few, whose names have not been revealed, have applied for public funding to do so. Frank Barry, head of the Regenerative Medicine Institute at the National University of Ireland, Galway, says he has not submitted a grant involving hESCs, but he would welcome the chance to work with the cells. The ruling “is a major milestone for Ireland in terms of research with human ES cells,” he says. “However, I think it also puts Ireland in a place where it does not want to be, where hESC research is both legal and unregulated.”

    In 2008, University College Cork (UCC) became the first major university in Ireland to explicitly allow work with hESCs. The university's governors voted 16 to 15 to require scientists who want to work with hESCs to get approval from the university's ethics board. UCC also established a subcommittee to examine the proposed source of the cells, the goals of the intended research, and the applicant's expertise in the relevant fields. The move sparked widespread debate in Ireland, and no UCC researcher has publicly acknowledged seeking approval for hESC work.

    Controversial move.

    University College Cork (above) issued regulations on research with hESCs, prompting a billboard campaign by opponents of such work.


    So far, other universities have not followed UCC's lead. The Irish legislature, the Oireachtas, has also avoided dealing with the controversial issue, although ethical and law experts as well as scientists have been urging lawmakers to take action for years. A government Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction in 2005 recommended legislation to regulate fertility treatments. And in 2008, O'Sullivan's Council for Bioethics said in a paper that the government's failure to act “undermines the moral value of the embryo,” and it recommended that a national regulatory body oversee embryo research.

    That could be the council's final word on the subject. On 16 December, the government announced that the body would no longer be funded—a victim of severe budget cuts in Ireland. “There is now a vacuum in terms of ethical oversight,” Barry says. But O'Sullivan says that the expertise that went into the council's report will still be available to politicians as they wrestle with the issue.

    In the Supreme Court ruling, the judges urged the country's lawmakers to address the legal status of in vitro human embryos, calling Ireland's lack of regulation of fertility treatments “disturbing” and “undesirable.” One judge cited hESC research as an example of how science has gotten ahead of the law. Health Minister Mary Harney responded by promising that the government would propose legislation in 2010 to regulate assisted reproduction, but she failed to reference hESC research.

    O'Sullivan says speedy action in any case is unlikely, given that a lengthy public consultation period will be necessary. “I'd be very surprised if we have regulation in 2010,” she says. But O'Sullivan hopes the process moves forward as quickly as possible. “The fact that the government has not yet regulated this area is absolutely incredible and very unfortunate indeed,” she says. “It doesn't actually matter which side of the debate you sit on; what we have right now is cowboy territory.”

  10. In the Afterglow Of the Big Bang

    1. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

    Toiling behind the Iron Curtain under a tough mentor, a Russian astrophysicist uncovered secrets of the universe that have led to discoveries 4 decades later.

    Cosmic quest.

    Sunyaev's contributions have revolutionized cosmology.


    In 1960, at the height of the Cold War, Rashid Sunyaev left his home in Tashkent, the capital of Soviet Uzbekistan, to study physics in Moscow. He was then 17 years old, with exceptional mathematical talent—the kind of student the Soviet government would have liked to groom into a weapons scientist. With genuine apprehension, Sunyaev's grandmother asked him to make a promise: Could young Rashid stay away from work that might help in the building of missiles and bombs?

    Half a century later, she would have been proud of her grandson, who now directs the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, and is a chief scientist at the Space Research Institute in Moscow. Not only did Sunyaev manage to keep his word about avoiding secret military programs, but he also helped unlock secrets of the universe that are now pillars of modern cosmology.

    Sunyaev's best-known work dates back to the late 1960s, when he and his legendary mentor—Yakov Zel'dovich, one of the fathers of the Soviet hydrogen bomb—predicted a phenomenon that causes massive clusters of galaxies to make an imprint upon the cosmic microwave background (CMB). But the impact of the so-called Sunyaev-Zel'dovich (SZ) effect is only now being fully realized. In the past decade, the effect has enabled cosmologists to measure astronomical distances precisely and determine the expansion rate of the universe, independent of other techniques such as the observation of Type 1A supernovae. And in the past 2 years, thanks to advances in detection technology, astronomers have begun using the phenomenon to discover distant clusters of galaxies. “The SZ effect has gone from being ‘Gee, good for you, Sunyaev’ to a powerful tool for probing the universe,” says Robert Kirshner, an astronomer at Harvard University.

    Sunyaev's scientific journey from Tashkent to the astrophysical hall of fame is one that most researchers in the West would find difficult to imagine. Although he wasn't involved in military projects, Sunyaev's early career as a researcher was constrained by the culture of secrecy and paranoia that prevailed in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Like most of his contemporaries, he was practically forbidden from traveling outside the U.S.S.R. and didn't have access to English-language journals until a year after they were published.

    In compensation, he had the mentorship of Zel'dovich, regarded as one of the most brilliant physicists of the 20th century. A father figure to his juniors, Zel'dovich inspired Sunyaev with his extraordinary analytical abilities and a dose of tough love, at times refusing to acknowledge him in the hallways if his protégé had no new results to report. “I was so lucky to meet him in my life,” Sunyaev says of the legend, who died in 1987.

    The other good fortune for Sunyaev—and for astrophysics—was that the Iron Curtain did not block scientific exchanges entirely. Sunyaev's contact with a visiting scholar from the University of Cambridge helped spark the West's interest in the SZ effect, initiating a decades-long effort by experimental physicists in the United Kingdom and the United States to validate and then exploit the phenomenon. In 2008, when a team of U.S. astrophysicists reported the first galaxy clusters discovered using the SZ effect, the result represented the bridging of two divides: between theory and application, and between two scientific cultures that until 2 decades ago had been isolated from each other by secrecy and mutual distrust.

    “Useless science”

    Once restricted from making trips overseas, Sunyaev is now a globetrotter, flying frequently between Garching and Moscow and speaking at conferences around the world. Last October, he flew to Austin for an invited talk at the University of Texas (UT). He got there 2 days later than planned because of a last-minute snafu: He kept the passport bearing his multiple-entry U.S. visa in a bank locker and forgot to collect it before the bank closed for the weekend.

    The incident seems consistent with Sunyaev's image as a man totally absorbed in his work, immersed in science 24/7 except when he's tending to his garden and unable to pull himself away from the computer even at mealtimes without some prodding from his wife. Sunyaev is stocky, with a square face and silver hair, and a shy manner that manifests an affable, teddy-bearish personality. One of his default expressions is of childlike wonderment, which he sported at the Texas conference while picking out greens from the salad bar and later as he listened to a talk in the auditorium, chewing the end of a pen.

    Sunyaev might never have ended up as an astrophysicist if it hadn't been for a meeting with Zel'dovich in March 1965, when Sunyaev was a graduate student at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology planning a Ph.D. in elementary particle theory. Snowed under with coursework and itching to do real research, Sunyaev went to see Zel'dovich, who was looking for students to join his research group at the Institute of Applied Mathematics. He told Sunyaev that he would have to work on astronomy. Sunyaev, who had heard his department chair say that astronomy was “an absolutely useless science,” told Zel'dovich that he'd prefer to study elementary particles. “Zel'dovich was a little amused,” Sunyaev says. “He said, ‘Please help me solve one or two problems in astrophysics, and after that we will work on what you want.’”

    Zel'dovich's “after that” really meant “never,” but it didn't matter. Sunyaev was immediately taken with astrophysics, in no small part because of Zel'dovich's brilliance and charm. “He was like mercury, very fast,” Sunyaev says. “I would spend 5 days solving an equation; he would take 10 minutes to understand it.”

    It was a grueling apprenticeship. One in 10 students survived. “There were 4-5 of us living in a small room in the dormitory. We came only to sleep for a few hours,” Sunyaev says. “You had to work in the night because the next day you had to show that you were solving problems.”

    In late 1965, the group received word of a discovery that would revolutionize cosmology. Researchers at Bell Labs had detected the CMB, the leftover radiation from the big bang that confirmed that the cosmos had originated as a fireball. Zel'dovich, a proponent of an alternative cold model—in which the starting point was a very low temperature—accepted right away that he had been wrong and began suggesting ways in which this fossil radiation could be used as a marker and a backdrop for studying the evolution of the universe. “The consequences of the CMB were immediately obvious to him,” says Sunyaev.

    Cold skies.

    Using the South Pole Telescope (above), John Carlstrom (right) and his colleagues have discovered new galaxy clusters revealed through the SZ effect.


    As his first assignment, Sunyaev began to work out the physics of the first few seconds after the big bang. If the universe began as a fireball, as the CMB suggested, it was a soup of photons, protons, and electrons sharing the same temperature at the moment of birth. As the universe cooled down, some of the protons and electrons came together to form hydrogen. Working with Zel'dovich and Dima Kurt, Sunyaev calculated the rate at which this process had occurred. “It was groundbreaking work,” says Eiichiro Komatsu, a researcher at UT Austin. But the best was yet to come.

    Heavy artillery

    After Sunyaev completed his Ph.D. in 1966, his future was uncertain. Under government rules, he needed a special residence permit and a place to live in order to work in Moscow. “Moscow was considered paradise, so you could get permission to live there only if you agreed to do work that nobody else agreed to,” he says. “Or you had to be very accomplished, like being the best ballet dancer or something.”

    Zel'dovich, who had been decorated with three stars from the government for his contributions to bombmaking projects, was able to get Sunyaev a small room in an apartment shared with another family. “It was tiny compared to our house in Tashkent, but I called my mother to tell her; I was so proud,” Sunyaev says.

    But there was another obstacle. The chief of the KGB at the institute called Sunyaev to his office and told him to look for work elsewhere. “He said, ‘Don't tell Zel'dovich why you are leaving. Just tell him you don't want to work with him,’” Sunyaev says. The reason was that his family, which had been prominent under the Tsars, was viewed as a political threat, and intelligence officials were uneasy about letting Sunyaev work at an institution where many people were working on military programs. “I said I cannot lie to Zel'dovich,” he says. The KGB finally left him alone.

    Between 1966 and 1970, Sunyaev worked on two fundamental ideas related to the CMB. The first was an analytical determination of how sound waves rippled through the fireball of radiation and matter in the moments following the big bang, shaping cosmic structure on large scales. These so-called baryonic acoustic oscillations, Sunyaev predicted, must have left a signature in the CMB. (James Peebles, an astronomer at Princeton University, reached the same conclusion independently around the same time.) The balloon-borne BOOMERANG and MAXIMA experiments finally measured the oscillations some 35 years later (Science, 28 April 2000, p. 595; 4 May 2001, p. 823).

    The second idea is what led to the discovery of the SZ effect. In 1967 or 1968, Sunyaev heard about an astronomical mystery that had puzzled physicists since the 1930s: why the mass of galaxy clusters, as estimated from their light, seemed lower than the estimate from a measurement of the motion of galaxies within them. Although this “missing matter” is now believed to be dark matter, which puts out no light but exerts a gravitational effect on stellar motion, in the '60s, researchers wondered whether the missing matter could in fact be intracluster gas.

    The question led astrophysicists to focus attention on the physics of this gas, and Sunyaev decided to analyze how it might interact with the CMB radiation. Every so often, he found, an energetic electron bouncing around inside the hot gas would slam into a CMB photon, boosting its energy and raising its frequency.

    Shadow in the CMB.

    A new galaxy cluster imaged by the South Pole Telescope as a distortion in the cosmic microwave background (left). The telescope has 966 energy detectors (center) arrayed on six wedges (right).


    As a result, Sunyaev figured, astronomers observing a cluster would see a greater number of CMB photons above a certain frequency—around 218 GHz—and a smaller number below it. In other words, the CMB would appear fainter than normal at centimeter and millimeter wavelengths, as if it were a shadow of the galaxy cluster, and would be brighter at submillimeter wavelengths. Only objects as massive as clusters of galaxies could cause such a distortion in the CMB. The most exciting thing about the effect was that it was independent of redshift: The distortion in the CMB would be just as great whether a galaxy were close or far away.

    Most Soviet astrophysicists were not convinced, however. At one talk Sunyaev gave in Moscow, he recalls, a white-haired professor told him the theory was nonsensical. “He said, ‘I have been teaching thermodynamics for 35 years, and I've never heard of radiation decreasing in brightness that way.’ I became very upset, and I was trying to explain that I have three techniques to prove this and so on, but nobody was listening to me.”

    The reaction changed when Zel'dovich, late for the talk, walked in. “He said, ‘Rashid's right and everything is correct,’” Sunyaev says with a chuckle. “And everybody began to say ‘Yes, yes, yes … everything is correct.’ I realized what it meant to have such heavy artillery behind me.”

    Worlds apart

    In 1968, a 27-year-old Scottish astronomer named Malcolm Longair ar rived in Moscow to spend a year with Soviet scientists as part of an exchange program between the Royal Society and the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences. The Royal Society had warned him to mind his words and actions during his visit because the KGB would be watching him at every step.

    A lover of Russian music and theater, Longair hit it off with Sunyaev. He met with Zel'dovich's group often, but never at the Institute of Applied Mathematics, which was closed to outsiders. He quickly discovered what a different scientific environment he had entered. Western journals like Nature and The Astrophysical Journal routinely arrived more than a year late, with all advertisements clipped out by censors. Rarely, a recent issue would find its way to scientists with friends in the West.

    But the quality of the research blew Longair's mind. “Rashid and the others were fantastically well trained, and they were under tremendous pressure to solve problems very fast,” he says.

    Another Western visitor, cosmologist R. Bruce Partridge—then at Princeton—witnessed the intensity on a visit to Zel'dovich's house in August 1968. “There was a large room with a table in the middle and blackboards at either end,” he says. Zel'dovich himself, Partridge says, was “a Santa Claus without the beard; almost entirely bald, utterly vibrant, with shining eyes.” After a midmorning snack, the researchers grilled Partridge for 2 hours about what experimental and theoretical physicists in the United States were up to. “It was the single most draining and exhilarating experience I have ever had,” Partridge says. “It made my Ph.D. look like a walk in the park.”

    For Sunyaev, Longair was “an ambassador from another world” with a style of discussing science and writing papers that was much freer than anything he had seen. Sunyaev's first awareness of the world of science outside the Soviet Union had come a year before, when Zel'dovich took him and some of his colleagues to an International Astronomical Union meeting in Prague. “The impact on me was unbelievable; … it was the same as when a child goes to kindergarten for the first time and sees other children who have their own fathers and mothers,” he says. “I realized how much we were losing by being cut off.”

    The isolation didn't just prevent Sunyaev and his colleagues from learning about developments overseas; it also created hurdles in publishing both in Soviet and Western journals. All research papers authored were reviewed by special committees that would take months to approve them and would edit out words such as “nuclear.” Partridge recalls that one preprint from Zel'dovich arrived in the mail long after it had been written, with a coffee stain and crumbs on it: “Somebody had literally eaten their lunch on the paper.”

    Ironically, it was the challenge of getting published in a timely way that in part prompted Zel'dovich to drive Sunyaev and the others so hard. “He told me several times that I had to identify a problem and solve it at least a year prior to my Western colleagues,” Sunyaev says.

    Sunyaev was keen to have radio astronomers in Europe and the United States begin efforts to detect the SZ effect, which he knew would be a technological challenge unlikely to be met in the Soviet Union. After returning to the United Kingdom, Longair gave talks about the phenomenon at different universities and urged colleagues to try to detect it. Meanwhile, Zel'dovich heard a rumor that a Russian astronomer named Yuri Pariiski had detected the effect. Sunyaev says Zel'dovich quickly scolded him for not having written up a separate paper about the topic. They co-authored the first one in 1972.

    A rare mingling.

    Sunyaev and Zel'dovich (right) had little contact with Western scientists. One exception was a 1968 meeting in Tbilisi, where R. Bruce Partridge, Sunyaev, Vladimir Dashevsky, and Malcolm Longair (left to right) posed for a photo.


    The hunt is on

    In 1976, a graduate student at Cambridge named Mark Birkinshaw decided to make the detection of the SZ effect his Ph.D. project. It was a risky topic for a dissertation; everybody knew that the effect would be difficult to detect with instruments available at the time. “I took it up because it was a brand-new thing,” says Birkinshaw, now an astronomer at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

    Building on efforts by his thesis adviser, Birkinshaw made an attempt using the 25-meter radio telescope at Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire. After 2 years of work on minimizing statistical noise from clouds, “I was able to detect the effect in two or three clusters, but it needed further confirmation,” he says. Birkinshaw and his colleagues reported a “cast-iron” detection in 1984 with the help of the 40-meter dish at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO) near Bishop, California.

    Over the next decade, researchers got better SZ images of clusters by combining signals from multiple radio telescopes. In 1995, John Carlstrom and Marshall Joy at the California Institute of Technology made another significant improvement by mounting centimeter-wavelength receivers on the OVRO millimeter array.

    Soon, Carlstrom's group and a group led by Lyman Page at Princeton were hatching plans to survey the entire sky for the SZ effect. “We decided we wanted to do SZ science big-time,” says Carlstrom, who is now at the University of Chicago in Illinois.

    Because millimeter- and centimeter-wavelength radiation can be absorbed by water vapor, both teams sought to find a cold, dry place with calm, clear skies. Carlstrom chose Antarctica, where his group built the South Pole Telescope (SPT)—a 10-meter instrument with an array of 966 energy detectors designed at the University of California, Berkeley, that make it many times more sensitive to the SZ effect. It saw first light in February 2007. In its first year of operation, the SPT helped spot four galaxy clusters, three of them new discoveries. Since the October 2008 results, the survey “has found many more clusters,” says Carlstrom. Still more are expected from Page's group, working at the 6-meter Atacama Cosmology Telescope on Cerro Toco in northern Chile. How these clusters are distributed will help cosmologists get a better picture of large-scale cosmic evolution and answer questions about dark energy and the expansion of the universe.

    After the fall

    In the years following the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, Sunyaev received job offers from institutes around the world. It would have made perfect sense to quit, as many Russian scientists were doing, but he was reluctant to leave the Space Research Institute. “Many of my friends asked me why I would not move to the West,” he says. “But I was very afraid to leave because I knew if I left, my research group in Moscow would die.”

    Sunyaev's acquaintances say he went to great lengths to keep his group together. In 1992, while having lunch with Partridge at a food court in Washington, D.C., Sunyaev reflected guiltily on how much the meal had cost. “He said, ‘What I've just eaten here would pay a Russian scientist for a month,’” recalls Partridge, now a professor at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. On more than one occasion, he says, Sunyaev used money from his prizes to pay salaries for some of his colleagues.

    Since taking his appointment at Max Planck, Sunyaev has promoted collaborations between his Moscow lab and his new institute, as well as the rest of the world. “He is still just enormously productive and motivational,” says Carlstrom. One product of those collaborations is eROSITA—an x-ray telescope being built in Germany, which will be dispatched into space on board a Russian spacecraft named Spectrum-X. The telescope's primary goal is to investigate dark energy by surveying up to 100,000 galaxy clusters.

    For Sunyaev, eROSITA and other international scientific projects represent a quest for knowledge that binds humanity together. “I think astronomy is very useful,” he says, contradicting his department chair's comment from 47 years ago. “What we are studying has great importance for understanding our place in the universe”—regardless of what one's place may be on the geopolitical map.