Chronicle of Higher Education: In a 245-to-139 vote, the US House of Representatives passed the STEM Jobs Act. The bill, opposed by most Democrats in Congress and by the White House, eliminates a diversity program that provides up to 55 000 green card visas for people from countries with low immigration rates. The visas are instead made available for foreign graduates of US universities with advanced degrees in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math. Opposition to the bill comes mostly from the elimination of the diversity program. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) says, “there’s no reason that giving a green card to one person should mean taking one away from someone else.” Because of the lack of Democratic support, the bill is unlikely to make any progress in the Senate.
Science: Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument package has detected three chloromethane compounds in soil samples. The compounds are three of the simplest possible carbon molecules, made of a single atom of carbon bonded with 1, 2, or 3 chlorine atoms. Principle investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center says the compounds were likely created in SAM. The instrument heats soil samples, so it probably caused the decomposition of several natural compounds in the soil, which resulted in the chlorination of the carbon atoms. NASA’s researchers now have to try to determine whether the original compounds were organic in nature and whether they were originally formed on Mars or deposited there. Similar experiments by the Viking landers in the 1970s also detected chloromethane molecules, but the researchers believed them to be the result of contamination from solvents used for cleaning the landers.
BBC: Renewable energy companies that want to expand into Africa are taking advantage of the falling prices of solar panel technology, which previously had been too high for significant investment. With costs falling by more than 40%, demand for solar energy sources has skyrocketed. A $400 million, 155-MW photovoltaic solar power plant is awaiting final funding, and Mere Power Nzema Ltd hopes to begin construction in the next 12 months. If built, the Nzema project will provide power to more than 100 000 homes and increase Ghana’s electricity-generating capacity by 6%. The plant will use more than 630 000 photovoltaic solar cells and should be operational by 2014, with full capacity reached in 2015. Douglas Coleman, of Mere Power Nzema, says the photovoltaic solar plant is more appropriate for Ghana than a concentrated solar plant like the ones being built elsewhere in Africa. It will allow the company to better maintain steady output from the plant and provide better load balancing control.