Science  29 Aug 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5637, pp. 1167

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  1. Berg to Head General Medical Sciences

    The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) has a new director: Jeremy M. Berg, a structural biologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. Berg, 45, will take up the reins of the $1.8 billion NIGMS in early November. He now heads Hopkins's Institute for Basic Medical Sciences, which includes eight basic research departments.

    Berg succeeds Marvin Cassman, who left in May 2002 to head a University of California quantitative biology consortium. An expert on the structure of zinc-finger proteins and their role in gene activation, Berg expects to maintain a lab at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He says he first needs to “get up to speed on what's happening” at NIGMS, but one of his interests is “training issues” and “the struggles of new investigators” to win their first grant. A recent suggestion from a National Academies committee to explore whether the genome institute should be merged with NIGMS is “sensible,” he says, but “one has to look at it very carefully.” He's also “very excited” about working with NIH Director Elias Zerhouni on a road map for trans-NIH initiatives.

    Stanford biophysicist Steven Block, incoming head of the Biophysical Society, says he knows Berg only “by reputation” but is pleased with the appointment: “It's absolutely wonderful to have someone with that background” as chief of NIH's basic research institute, he says.

  2. Infrared Telescope Blasts Off

    The last of NASA's four great space-based observatories soared into space 25 August from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The oft-delayed $1.2 billion Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) will use its 85-centimeter mirror to peer at the universe in the infrared, allowing researchers to see through dust clouds and gather data on cooler objects—such as brown dwarfs and distant galaxies—not as visible to the Hubble Space Telescope (Science, 6 December 2002, p. 1870). Unlike Hubble, SIRTF will fly beyond Earth's orbit, where it cannot be serviced by astronauts, so researchers are keeping their fingers crossed that all systems will work properly. The first data from the spacecraft are slated to be released by the end of the year.

  3. Pacific Lab Debuts Fastest Unclassified U.S. Computer

    Chemists and biologists who need massive computing power now have access to a new unclassified machine that rivals those available to nuclear weapons scientists. This week, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington, brought online a Hewlett-Packard machine with a peak performance of 11.8 teraflops (trillion operations per second). That's a couple of trillion faster than IBM's Seaborg machine at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center in Berkeley, California, although it trails Japan's Earth Simulator (Science, 1 March 2002, p. 1631).

    Any project that fits PNNL's missions in environmental and biological chemistry is eligible. Built from 2000 processors connected by 80 km of cables, the $24.5 million computer eats up problems such as modeling protein folding and underground pollutants. “Chemistry is our bread and butter here,” says Scott Studham of PNNL's Environmental and Molecular Sciences Lab.

    The PNNL machine's reign as top U.S. unclassified peak performer promises to be brief, however. This fall, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Champaign, Illinois, will roll out a cluster that peaks at 17.7 teraflops.

  4. FCC to Probe Role of Towers in Bird Deaths

    Bowing to pressure from bird advocates, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has launched a major inquiry into the impact that the nation's 100,000 communications towers are having on bird populations. The agency last week began collecting public comment on everything from the quality of existing studies to ideas for new research.

    Bird researchers estimate that towers—from short cell phone antennae to towering TV spires—kill at least 4 million birds per year (Science, 11 October 2002, p. 357). But it is not clear what factors, such as tower height and lighting, cause the deadly collisions. “There does not appear to be systematic research … regarding exactly how and to what extent, if at all, these factors contribute to any risk to migratory birds,” says FCC, which is accepting comments until late this year with an eye toward better construction regulations.

    Some observers are skeptical that the review will lead to more money for research. “Unless they generate new data, it's not answering the question,” says Ellen Paul, executive director of the Ornithological Council in Washington, D.C.