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News in brief

Mexican telescope gets the president's blessing

Eye on the sky: the Large Millimeter Telescope will study a range of cosmic phenomena.

Mexico's outgoing president Vicente Fox has inaugurated the Large Millimeter Telescope, a 50-metre dish located atop a dormant volcano in the state of Puebla.

The telescope will gather millimetre-wavelength light to study everything from comets to the birth of stars and the cosmic microwave background. Speaking at the ceremony on 22 November, President Fox told the crowd that the telescope would “put Mexico in the scientific and investigative vanguard in this field”.

The US$120-million telescope is a joint venture between Mexico's National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Construction began in 1997. Project scientists hope the commissioning phase will end in 2008, and that the telescope will see first light soon afterwards.

Online tool for Linux software proves popular

Make scientists' lives easier and you can suddenly find yourself in great demand. That's what Urban Anjar, an information-technology systems administrator at Kalmar University in Sweden, discovered this month.

Frustrated with repeatedly telling scientists where they could find software from various scientific fields for use with the Linux operating system, Anjar wrote a graphical interface that lets users automatically install the most widely used packages at the click of a mouse for one of the most popular versions of Linux, Ubuntu.

Anjar put his creation, Scibuntu, on the Internet on 3 November. “Then the craziness began,” says Anjar. “I began to get mail from scientists, students and developers all over the world.” A search on Google turns up almost 100,000 pages that mention Scibuntu. Anjar has now transferred the project to the open-source repository Sourceforge, and hopes to enlist other developers to further improve his software.

Experimental journal puts science in the movies

Molecular biology is riddled with intricate protocols, and fine details can make or break an experiment. Now researchers can get every last bit of information for certain procedures at the newly launched Journal of Visualized Experiments. The online journal, which started publishing submissions this month, consists entirely of videos of scientists demonstrating basic biological procedures.

Some journals already allow scientists to submit videos to supplement the methods sections of their papers, but the new journal is the first to focus exclusively on this. It is the pet project of Moshe Pritsker, a postdoctoral researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Pritsker hopes the journal will help scientists improve the reproducibility of their work, while also providing a window for the public on what researchers really do in the lab.

Max Planck Society plans expansion to United States

Germany's flagship research organization, the Max Planck Society, is planning to open an institute in Palm Beach County in Florida, having been courted by the state's governor Jeb Bush.

The Max Planck Society already has institutes elsewhere in Europe, but the proposed centre for biomolecular imaging at Florida Atlantic University would be its first on US soil. The centre would collaborate with an offshoot of the California-based Scripps Research Institute, which has already set up shop on the university's Jupiter campus (see Nature 442, 729; 2006).

Peter Gruss, the president of the Max Planck Society, announced the plan on 24 November to officials, who will vote on the proposal next year.

Slovenians engineer win in genetics competition

Cells engineered to intercept the immune system's excessive response to bacterial infection seized the grand prize in this year's international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition.

The competition, now in its third year, challenges students to create biological devices using an arsenal of components known as BioBricks (see Nature 438, 417–418; 2005). These are genetic components with well-defined functions that can be assembled, like electronic parts on a circuit board, to perform more complex actions. The competition's aim is to foster the development of new tools for use in synthetic biology.

Students from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia beat 36 other teams to take the top prize earlier this month. Other entries included Escherichia coli with the whiff of mint or banana, and a biological oscillator.

Chinese plant to give solar power a bright future


China is to construct one of the world's largest solarpower plants, according to a report from the state news source Xinhua on 21 November.

The 100-megawatt plant, costing 6 billion yuan (US$760 million), will be built in the city of Dunhuang in northwestern China. It is expected to take five years to complete. Other countries are planning facilities on a similar scale, with Australia last month announcing funding for a 154-megawatt facility.

In January, China implemented a law aiming to make renewable energy account for 15% of the country's total energy consumption by 2020. But even this massive project is dwarfed by China's drive towards using fossil fuels. The nation is opening about 100 coal-powered plants every year, each of which will produce about 600 megawatts of power.

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News in brief. Nature 444, 531 (2006).

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