Science  12 Dec 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5908, pp. 1617

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  1. THREE Q'S

    Solomon with Academy Vice President Jean Salençon. CREDIT: B. EYMANN/ACADEMIE DES SCIENCES

    U.S. atmospheric scientist Susan Solomon has won this year's Grande Médaille from the Institute of France's Academy of Sciences for her contributions to both ozone chemistry and climate. In the 1980s, Solomon—a senior scientist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado—helped link the growing ozone hole to pollutant chlorofluorocarbons. CFCs are also potent greenhouse gases, and the loss of stratospheric ozone can alter climate. So more recently, she co-chaired the science working group of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

    Q: What prompted your career shift?

    I realized how important chemistry can be in climate. The [1987] Montreal Protocol [controlling CFC emissions] did more to benefit climate than the [1992] Kyoto Protocol has. Montreal is five to six times Kyoto.

    Q: Why would an atmospheric chemist spend years leading a climate assessment?

    A moment of madness, I suppose. But all these things have to be looked at together, and I learned a terrific amount about climate.

    Q: Any benefits to IPCC from having its first woman working group co-chair?

    A woman's perspective is at times a little different, and different is good.


    NEW UNAIDS HEAD. The United Nations has chosen an economist instead of a medical scientist to lead its efforts to slow the spread of HIV and help infected people. Michel Sidibé, originally from Mali, will take the helm in January at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Sidibé, who has worked at UNAIDS since 2001 and currently is deputy executive director of programmes, replaces Belgian epidemiologist Peter Piot, who will leave the job at the end of the year (Science, 31 October, p. 657).


    Sidibé expects his background to serve him well given the current global financial crisis. “We have to pay more attention to accelerated implementation with a need for results and more accountability,” he says. “One of the first things we need to do is reduce the cost of doing business. The unit cost is not sustainable; let us be honest.” Sidibé, who speaks several African languages, says he hopes to use his knowledge of the region “to create a pressure for producing results.”


    NEW BOSS AT NIEHS. Linda Birnbaum, a longtime government toxicologist, has been named director of the $730 million National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Birnbaum succeeds David Schwartz, who left in February amid ethics concerns (Science, 22 February, p. 1021).


    Birnbaum, who takes over next month, is an expert on the health effects of dioxin and other hormonelike pollutants. She has spent nearly 29 years in government, first at NIEHS and more recently at the Environmental Protection Agency's research lab near NIEHS. Some researchers are worried that Birnbaum might be less supportive of investigator-initiated research than of studies to support regulations. On the other hand, her research has bridged both because “it's been very focused on [biological] mechanisms,” says toxicologist David Eaton of the University of Washington, Seattle, who says Birnbaum “is well-prepared to lead NIEHS.” Birnbaum says any concerns about a decline in blue-sky basic research are “unfounded” and adds that “it's still going to be extremely important.”

    Birnbaum sees “a lot of opportunities for improvement” at the institute. For example, she wants to look more closely at whether the trace levels of pollutants in most Americans are harmful.


    CROSSING THE POND. Stephen Hawking is at the head of what officials at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics hope will be a parade of 40 prominent scientists coming to the 7-year-old center in Waterloo, Canada.


    Hawking is retiring next year from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. after reaching the school's mandatory retirement age of 67. Starting in July, he will spend 6 weeks a year as a “distinguished research chair” at the Perimeter Institute. “It was really easy to persuade him” to accept the appointment, says Neil Turok, executive director of the institute, because Perimeter focuses on quantum theory and the physics of spacetime, Hawking's precise field of interest.

    In addition to naming the 40 distinguished research chairs, officials also hope to double Perimeter's 10-person faculty and contingent of 65 postdocs and graduate students over the next 5 years. The institute is funded in part by business tycoon Mike Lazaridis, whose company makes BlackBerry electronic devices, and Canada's national and regional governments. Turok says Perimeter will be able to support the expansion with existing funds.