Science: The revolt is spreading against a plan by US National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins to create a new center on translational medicine by reassigning existing pieces of the $31 billion agency, writes Jeffrey Mervis for Science. On 28 January, the top advisory body to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), the component scheduled to inherit many of those pieces, agreed to draft a letter expressing its unhappiness with Collins’s plan, which would bust up the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) in the course of creating the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. And NIGMS director Jeremy Berg, who opposed the new center when an NIH management board recommended it last month, thinks breaking up the NCRR is a bad idea.
Scientific American: The risk of a new earthquake may have increased in an area of Chile’s Pacific coast that last year suffered a massive quake and tsunamis, which killed more than 500 people, a team of scientists said on Sunday. The magnitude-8.8 quake had only partly broken stresses, deep in Earth’s crust in an area south of Santiago, that have been building up since an 1835 quake witnessed by British naturalist Charles Darwin. “We conclude that increased stress on the unbroken patch may in turn have increased the probability of another major to great earthquake there in the near future,” the team wrote in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Los Angeles Times: Los Angeles sanitation officials have been talking to companies about an idea they think could reduce the confusion concerning what can and cannot be recycled: Get products marked with dots in green (compost), black (garbage), or blue (recycle). And in several cities, more attention is being paid not just to recycling but also to producing and buying products that more easily return to the earth. Mary MacVean, writing for the Los Angeles Times, describes the progress made so far.
Nature: A Viking legend tells of a glowing “sunstone” that, when held up to the sky, revealed the position of the Sun even on a cloudy day, writes Jo Marchant for Nature. It sounds like magic, but scientists measuring the properties of light in the sky say that polarizing crystals—which function in the same way as the mythical sunstone—could have helped ancient sailors to cross the northern Atlantic. A review of their evidence is published today in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
Economist: A Florida company, Planar Energy of Orlando, is about to complete a pilot production line that will print lithium-ion batteries onto sheets of metal or plastic, like printing a newspaper. Thin-film printing methods of this sort are already used to make solar cells and display screens, but no one has yet been able to use them on anything like an industrial scale with batteries. The process promises smaller, cheaper, more powerful batteries for consumer electronics and, eventually, for electric cars.
New York Times: Researchers at Colorado State University said Wednesday that they were working on developing a plant-kingdom early warning system: plants that subtly change color when exposed to minute amounts of TNT in the air. The research, published in the peer-reviewed online science journal PLoS One, and financed mostly by the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, shows that plants are uniquely suited by evolution to chemical analysis of their environment, in detecting pests, for example. The trick, still in refinement, writes the New York Times‘s Kirk Johnson, is how to make sure the plant’s signal is clear enough and fast enough to be of use.
New Scientist: James Urquhart, writing for New Scientist, describes a camera inspired by the operation of the human eye. The camera can zoom without the need for bulky lenses, making it more compact than conventional cameras. The device builds on a non-zooming eyeball camera developed in 2008 by John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Now he has given the technology a twist by building in a stretchable lens and a flexible photodetector whose shape alters as the magnification of the lens changes. The technology could be used in such devices as night-vision cameras and endoscopes.
Science: The team behind Japan’s IKAROS solar sail mission confirmed Wednesday that it completed all the performance tests set for it during its planned 6-month life, writes Dennis Normile for Science. So the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has extended the mission to March 2012. Launched 21 May 2010, IKAROS used centrifugal force to unfurl its sail and relied on the pressure of photons streaming from the Sun for acceleration. While sailing, the craft’s suite of scientific instruments caught gamma-ray bursts, collected data on space dust, and participated in very long baseline interferometry observations of celestial objects.
Los Angeles Times: Carol Browner, President Obama’s controversial climate and energy czar, will step down soon, White House officials said Tuesday, in a move that some energy lobbyists saw as another signal that the administration wants to make amends with an alienated business community by reconsidering environmental regulation, writes Neela Banerjee for the Los Angeles Times. Many environmentalists said that Browner’s resignation in itself did not signal a retreat from environmental protections, however.
Nature: After years of struggle on behalf of ocean science, Wang Pinxian—a marine geologist at Tongji University in Shanghai—is taking a key role in China’s plans to expand marine research. With China facing an increasing need for energy and minerals, it is now taking an interest in the deep sea. In its next five-year budget, which will be announced in March, the country will boost funding for oceanography, particularly in exploration, research, and deep-sea technologies. As a result, Wang was awarded a US$22 million grant from China’s National Natural Science Foundation to lead studies into the geology and biology of the South China Sea.