Standing room only as German protest lectures go on and on
Passengers on public transport in Berlin last week found themselves with something besides adverts to keep their minds occupied. To protest against budget cuts and poor conditions at the city's three main universities, thousands of striking students and professors held courses in crowded subway compartments, as well as on the capital's icy streets.
Students and faculty of the Humboldt University's physics department displayed particular creativity and stamina. They organized a 72-hour marathon physics lecture on Potsdamer Platz — possibly the longest in the history of the field.
Universities throughout Germany are suffering from a crisis in public finances (see Nature 426, 372; 200310.1038/426372a), but the situation in the capital is particularly grave. Many universities are calling for the introduction of tuition fees, although Germany's Social Democrat–Green government and many students strongly oppose the idea.
California gives red light to sale of transgenic GloFish
The light of a transgenic fish designed as a novelty fluorescent pet will not shine in California in the coming year.
GloFish — a zebrafish that has sea anemone genes stitched into its genome — was created by Yorktown Technologies, a company based in Austin, Texas (see Nature 426, 372; 200310.1038/426372a). The company applied for an exemption to a California law that restricts the sale of transgenic aquatic animals. But on 3 December, the state's Fish and Game Commission rejected the exemption by three votes to one.
The commissioners largely agreed with scientists who say that the GloFish will probably not damage the environment if dumped into the wild. But they also concluded that aesthetic reasons are not sufficient justification for the genetic modification of animals.
GloFish's detractors have welcomed the decision but remain concerned that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refused to consider banning the GloFish outright. They plan to press their case with the FDA in a meeting on 15 December.
Yorktown Technologies plans to start selling the GloFish in every state except California on 5 January.
Cancer centre finally finds its head
Otmar Wiestler, a neuropathologist at the University of Bonn, was last week appointed head of one of Germany's premier biomedical research institutes, the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg.
The appointment by the German cabinet ends a nine-month search for a successor to Harald zur Hausen, who retired in March. A first attempt in April failed after the designated new director, virologist Bernhard Fleckenstein, unexpectedly stood down at the last minute (see Nature 423, 214; 200310.1038/423214a).
Wiestler sparked intense debate in Germany about the ethics of stem-cell research three years ago, when he applied for public funds for research involving human embryonic stem cells.
He says that his main task will be to bring discoveries closer to clinical application. “Biomedical research will remain at the core of our activities,” he says, “but the centre will also need to expand its collaboration with universities, hospitals and industry.”
Mathematicians get fresh formula for web searches
Searching for mathematical formulae on the Internet could soon be as simple as looking for words.
Most web pages are coded in hypertext markup language (HTML), which contains information about a page's appearance, including the text that appears on the screen. Search engines tend to trawl through this information when looking for keywords or phrases. But they usually miss equations, as these are often pasted onto web pages as images that cannot be searched. This problem can be solved by adding an extra layer of information to a web page, using MathML, a language that describes the symbols used in equations and spells out the meaning of equations as a whole.
Researchers will gather at the University of Minnesota next April to discuss how best to make a search engine based on MathML. Such a tool would help researchers discover when equations from their own field are used to describe other phenomena. The project is funded by the US National Science Foundation and led by Design Science, a company based in Long Beach, California.
Nobel protester gets Swedish physics gong
A two-month protest over this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine culminated with two ceremonies on opposite sides of the Atlantic this week.
Physicists Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield, who won the Nobel Prize in October for their work on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), were due to receive their prize in Sweden on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, New York-based physician Raymond Damadian, who claims to have invented MRI and has been campaigning for a share in the prize (see Nature 425, 648; 200310.1038/425648b), has been given an alternative award. A Swedish inventors' group called Idéforum has offered him a gold medal in physics and technology, to be presented on the same day as the Nobel ceremony. “It's not the Nobel but it's sweet of them to come over here,” Damadian says.
The Nobel committee says the decision about the prize will not be changed, because it was carefully researched and because strict statutes forbid it. Damadian says he has not decided whether to continue his protest.
Korea strategy aims to give good scientists a job for life
South Korea is hoping to make science a lucrative and long-lasting career choice.
The Ministry of Planning and Budget last week announced a 50% increase in funding for its science and technology universities to 224 billion won (US$190 million) for next year, featuring more money for scholarships.
“We are having trouble recruiting students into science and technology courses,” says Taeho Bark, vice-chancellor for international affairs at Seoul National University. The extra funds should help to solve that, he says.
South Korea also hopes to hang on to experienced researchers for longer. The ministry says it will offer two-year extension contracts to exemplary scientists to encourage them to remain in their posts beyond the mandatory retirement age of 65 years.
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News in brief. Nature 426, 596 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/426596a