Science: Three cities vying to host a €1 billion neutron beam research center called the European Spallation Source (ESS) last week submitted bids to a specially created, independent panel of “wise people.” “Rational criteria are better than the handshake of two powerful people,” says Colin Carlile of Lund University in Sweden, director of the ESS-Scandinavia consortium.
Early in the decade the ESS project foundered and its central project office closed in 2003 due to a lack of political will to get the facility constructed. Meanwhile, the United States built the Spallation Neutron Source in Tennessee, and Japan built a source as part of its nearly complete J-PARC facility at Tokai.
ESS was given new impetus by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), a body tasked by the European Union with drawing up a list of planned large facilities that EU nations should work together on.
ESS was one of 35 projects in the first ESFRI road map released in 2006. Three cities were soon vying to host ESS–Lund in Sweden, Bilbao in Spain, and Debrecen in Hungary–and seeking allies. The Lund team is building an alliance of five Scandinavian nations, the three Baltic states, and Poland. Debrecen is working on its central European neighbors (including Poland) as well as Russia. And the Debrecen and Bilbao teams pledged to support each other should one of them have a face-off with Lund.
Daily Telegraph: Pensioned-off engineers will have to be brought out of retirement if the revival of nuclear power is not to be hit by serious delays, the UK government has been warned by members of the British Nuclear Energy Society.
A shortage of professional engineers and skilled trades is threatening plans to build new nuclear power stations around the country to ensure security of electricity supply and avoid the risk of blackouts, they claimed.
Chronicle of Higher Education: Two years ago, the National Academies sounded the alarm in a widely cited report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” that America was slipping behind other countries in science and technology. On Tuesday leaders from academe and business met here to try to refocus Congress’s attention on the report’s many recommendations that require lawmakers’ action.
One expected topic of discussion on Tuesday is a lobbying effort already under way to persuade Congress to increase federal spending for physical-sciences research significantly this year. The money could be squeezed into a broader supplemental-appropriations bill that legislators are expected to consider in the coming weeks to finance the Iraq war.
Die Spiegel: Nuclear power is too dangerous. Coal is too dirty. Gas involves too much dependence on Russia. And renewables are insufficient. So just where is Germany going to get its power from?
Science: First the bedroom clock reassures you that you’re right on schedule. Moments later, the kitchen clock tells you that you’re running minutes behind. If you find that annoying, pity the geochronologists. For decades, two of their workhorse timepieces–isotopic clocks ticking to the steady decay of two different radioactive elements–have been disagreeing by millions of years.
Now geochronologists have recalibrated one of the clocks, bringing it into agreement with the other. They’ve tried it before, but this time it looks like the fix will stick. “This is a huge step forward,” says geochronologist Mike Villeneuve of the Geological Survey of Canada in Ottawa. “You’d like to see it reproduced, but it looks very solid to me.” The synchronization of clocks lends more support to a link between huge volcanic eruptions and mass extinctions.
National Geographic News: Earth’s jet streams—high-altitude winds that influence storm direction—may be changing due to global warming, possibly making it easier for hurricanes to form, a new study says.
Jet streams in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres have moved toward the poles and are slightly higher now than they were in 1979, according to analyses of data collected between 1979 to 2001.
Researchers also discovered that the jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere, which can affect the formation of hurricanes over the Atlantic Ocean, is a little weaker than it was two decades ago.
More studies are needed to conclusively link the shifts to global warming, the scientists say.
Science: More than 400,000 asteroids have been identified in the solar system to date. These objects are thought to be the surviving remnants of the planetesimals that formed the planets about 4.6 billion years ago. The ages and mineralogical characteristics of these planetesimals can be estimated through high-precision laboratory analyses of the compositional and isotopic properties of meteorites, of which more than 30,000 samples exist.
Until now there has been no way to estimate when an asteroid formed, other than assuming that its age was similar to that of most meteorites. In the 25 April Science there is a new paper that present results of a remote spectroscopic study to show that a number of asteroids are enriched in the oldest known objects in the solar system (calcium-aluminum inclusions or CAIs), thereby making them the most ancient asteroids currently known.
Nature: What do you see if you peer into the exhaust of a jet engine larger than our Solar System? Only astronomers with the largest radio telescopes can see the full picture — and definitive observations are beginning to filter through.
The Guardian: The UK’s Daily Telegraph’s science correspondent, Nic Fleming, is believed to be in negotations over plans to make his role redundant and, should he go, there do not seem to be plans to replace him.
The situation has reinforced the view that the media fail to recognise science’s popularity with, or relevance to, the public. Reporting is either dumbed down, sensationalised, or spiked by executives with humanities degrees and an inability to distinguish one end of a hybrid embryo from another.
While science journalists proudly trace their origins back to the 1920s, doomsayers fear their field is being slowly invaded by technology correspondents (who first appeared in 1985), encroached on by health correspondents and made to seem marginal by the more recent obsession with the environment.
“Science in the daily media is too often reported in the same deferential way as political journalists used to report politics in the 1950s,” says Jonathan Leake, science and environment editor at the Sunday Times. “Many of the tensions, rows and skulduggery in the science community get far less attention than they would in business or politics.”
The main criticism is that respected journals such as Science and Nature – along with active news agencies such as AlphaGalileo, EurekAlert! and a plethora of less rigorous journals – control much of the science correspondents’ output. An onslaught of embargoed, mid-week press releases leaves the Sundays with no choice but to pursue factually thin sensationalism.
“The science correspondents are individually very good but everyone publishes the same stories at the same time and that can make it dull,” says Leake. “Although it would be a serious mistake to do away with expert science writers, any daily editor facing the pinch might wonder if they could get the same stories from the wires.”
This relentless PR churn has another danger, according to Lawrence McGinty, ITV’s health and science editor. “There’s little time to pursue your own ideas when everyone is under pressure from news desks not to miss a story,” he says.
BBC News: An observatory has opened in an area of Northumberland recognised as having the least light pollution in England.
The £450,000 Kielder Observatory will offer astronomers views of the universe uncluttered by intruding light from towns and cities.
The timber structure is perched on a hilltop location on Black Fell and was chosen because the area is famous for having the darkest skies in England.
It is hoped the observatory will be popular with professional and amateurs.
The Kielder Observatory has been funded by the Northumberland Strategic Partnership with help from regeneration agency One NorthEast, the European Regional Development Fund and the Northern Rock Foundation.