New York Times: In a brief article framed by the October news that 68 Nobel science laureates endorsed President Obama, science writer Kenneth Chang predicts that “not much may change in science policy in Mr. Obama’s second term.” He stipulates, however, that the particulars of second-term science goals are not known and that in the fiscal crisis, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and NSF could see budget cuts of 8%, with national laboratory funds also cut sharply. Martin Chalfie, one of the 68 laureates, is reportedly “elated” over the Obama win and the emphasis on science and education in the president’s victory speech. Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society observes that the discretionary budget would have been at risk if Mitt Romney had won. Matthew Hourihan of the American Association for the Advancement of Science expects continuation of first-term priorities, including basic research, especially in energy. Lubell and Nobel laureate David Baltimore both expect to see the president engage climate change.
Technology Review: Kior CEO Fred Cannon announced that the company had begun operations at its new biofuel plant in Columbus, Mississippi, and that the plant was meeting expected production goals. The plant uses wood chips and other biomass to create biocrude, which can be refined into gasoline and diesel fuel. It consumes 500 dry tons of material a day, and it should produce 13 million gallons of biocrude annually. That is lower than current ethanol fuel plants, but the opening of the plant is a big step in the alternative fuels industry, which has failed several times in transitioning from a demonstration plant to a full-scale one. Kior is also planning a plant with three times the capacity as the current one, which it hopes will lower prices. The fuel from the Columbus plant is currently significantly more expensive than petroleum-based fuel.
BBC: Supersymmetry is a term used to describe a set of theories that attempt to explain several failings of the standard model of particle physics. The detection of a specific decay process for the strange B meson is challenging several variations of supersymmetry. Researchers from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN have recently detected the first-ever decay of a strange B meson into two muons. Based on their other observations of strange B mesons, they calculated that this decay route only occurs one time in one billion decays. Many versions of supersymmetry have predicted that this decay route would occur much more frequently. The result is otherwise completely in line with standard model predictions. The signal itself is not yet at the confidence level that is considered conclusive proof for the decay pattern. However, even if the muon–muon decay hasn’t been detected, it still occurs so infrequently that supersymmetry has been dealt a strong blow. Some theorists are already looking for alternatives to the standard model, which doesn’t explain the existence of dark matter. Other theorists believe that other forms of supersymmetry may still be correct.