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Seven days: 30 September–6 October 2011

The week in science: farewell to the Tevatron; UK geoengineering project on hold; and duelling over NIH budget.

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Policy|Research|Events|Business|People|Trend watch|Coming up

Policy

NIH-budget duel A bill released on 29 September by the spending committee of the US House of Representatives would boost the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by US$1 billion, or 3.3%, in 2012. That puts it in direct conflict with a Senate bill cutting the agency's budget by $190 million, to $30.5 billion, next year. The two bills must be resolved in the coming weeks. The Senate bill also establishes and funds a proposed translational medicine centre at the NIH, but the House bill does not mention it.

Energy priorities The US Department of Energy released its inaugural Quadrennial Technology Review on 27 September, laying out a multi-year agenda that sets priorities in six areas, including vehicle efficiency, alternative hydrocarbon fuels and cleaner electricity. It is modelled on the Quadrennial Defense Review, an analysis that sets the tone and direction of US defence policy. The first energy-technology review made no radical recommendations, mostly keeping to the agency's current course. See go.nature.com/uyabvv for more.

Research

SPICE on ice A UK experiment to test climate-engineering technology by spraying water from a balloon 1 kilometre above Earth was put on hold this week — owing partly to protests from environmentalists. The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) project aims to trial technology for spraying sulphate aerosols at heights of up to 25 kilometres, to cool Earth by reflecting sunlight. Protesters said that the test would violate a decision by the Convention on Biological Diversity not to undertake large-scale geoengineering experiments. SPICE scientists say that the halt followed a consultation which raised concerns that there had not been enough engagement with environmental groups. See go.nature.com/hmuljg for more.

Jackson expands The Jackson Laboratory, a medical research centre based in Bar Harbor, Maine, is hoping to set up a major satellite facility for personal genomics research at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. The lab had previously tried for more than a year to site its facility in Florida, but had to pull out in June (see Nature 474, 133; 2011) after Florida politicians said that the state could not afford to invest in it. But Connecticut is prepared to contribute US$291 million towards the $1.1-billion lab, governor Dannel Malloy announced on 30 September. The deal depends on agreement from the state's legislature.

Mouse phenome An ambitious effort to work out the function of all of the approximately 21,000 protein-coding genes in the mouse genome has the funds it requires for the initial phase of its mission. After a meeting in Washington DC last week, the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium, which was launched last year (see Nature 465, 410; 2010), announced that research agencies in eight countries will analyse 5,000 mouse genes by 2016, with part of the work being financed by the US National Institutes of Health. The work involves inactivating a particular gene and then investigating how the mouse's characteristics change.

Global eco-network Plans for a global network to monitor agricultural areas came a step closer to being realized last week, as scientists, philanthropic organizations and big businesses met at Columbia University in New York to discuss the idea. Researchers described pilot sites in Africa that collect data on soils, nutrients and land cover, but also track changing agricultural practices and socioeconomic trends. Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia's Earth Institute, said he hoped that — with industrial funding — the network might grow to some 500 sites in two or three years. See go.nature.com/yu5qdt for more.

Graphene cash The UK government is investing £50 million (US$78 million) to create a research and technology hub focusing on graphene, the one-atom-thick sheets of carbon for which physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, based at the University of Manchester, UK, won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics. British scientists — still smarting from broad funding cuts — welcomed the 3 October announcement, which also included £145 million to build infrastructure for high-performance computing. See go.nature.com/7pzaio for more.

Credit: CHINAFOTOPRESS/GETTY IMAGES

China space lab Tiangong-1, a test module for China's space station, was launched on 29 September (pictured). The 10.4-metre cylinder is orbiting alone and unmanned for now, but in a few weeks' time China will try to dock it in orbit with an unmanned spacecraft. Two missions carrying Chinese astronauts will follow in 2012, with more test modules over the subsequent three years. If all goes to plan, China will launch further modules to be assembled into a space station by 2020 (see Nature 473, 14–15; 2011).

HIV prevention Hopes of preventing HIV by giving drugs to uninfected women were dented last week when part of a large clinical trial testing the idea was halted. The Microbicide Trials Network said that it will no longer give out tenofovir antiretroviral tablets in the VOICE study — involving 5,029 women across South Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda — after an independent monitoring board found that, on the basis of results so far, it wasn't possible to show that the tablets were better than placebo. Other arms of the trial, involving a gel and another antiretroviral tablet, continue. Previous trials have yielded contradictory results on whether the practice works for women, although it has been shown to reduce HIV risk for men.

Events

Credit: R. HAHN/FERMILAB

Farewell to the Tevatron After more than 25 years of colliding particles, the massive Tevatron accelerator at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, was turned off for good on 30 September. The collider helped to confirm the standard model of physics — it was where the top quark was found in 1995 — and it spent its final years restricting the possible mass range of the Higgs boson. Scientists are still analysing those data, and Fermilab is shifting to smaller-scale experiments (see Nature 477, 379; 2011).

Business

Amazon dam halted Construction of the Belo Monte Dam — a massive 11.2-gigawatt hydroelectric plant on a tributary of the Amazon in Brazil — has for the second time this year been put on hold by a federal judge, who ruled that it could damage fish stocks. The dam, on the Xingu River in the state of Pará, is opposed by environmental campaigners and indigenous people, but the government is strongly behind it, and the environment agency IBAMA has already granted a construction licence. The Norte Energia consortium of companies building the dam will appeal against the ruling.

People

US science medals Cloning pioneer Rudolf Jaenisch, a biologist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of seven researchers to be awarded the US National Medal of Science this year. The White House announced the list of recipients — along with five awardees of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation — on 27 September. The medals are the highest honours that the United States bestows on its scientists and engineers. See go.nature.com/j78ggo for more.

Nobel prizes This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Bruce Beutler, Jules Hoffman and Ralph Steinman, for their work on the immune system. The physics prize was won by Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess, for discovering the accelerating expansion of the Universe by observing distant supernovae. See pages 13 and 14 for more. Nature went to press before the chemistry prize was awarded, but full details will be available at go.nature.com/uio77d.

Trend watch

NASA said on 29 September that it had spotted 911 of the estimated 981 near-Earth objects larger than 1 kilometre across, using infrared data to recalculate the relationship between asteroid reflectivity and size. The agency has now met the US Congress's 1998 mandate to find more than 90% of 'killer' asteroids. A 2005 mandate extended that to asteroids down to 140 metres across; so far, NASA thinks it has found 35% of the estimated 13,200 such objects.

Coming up

9–12 October

The Geological Society of America meets in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

go.nature.com/5vvlxp

10–21 October

Delegates from 194 countries will gather in Changwon, South Korea, to discuss progress and targets to tackle desertification at the 10th meeting of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

go.nature.com/8zq4jl

11–15 October

The 12th International Congress of Human Genetics takes place in Montreal, Canada.

www.ichg2011.org

Click for larger version. Credit: SOURCE: NASA/JPL
Credit: R. HAHN/FERMILAB

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Seven days: 30 September–6 October 2011. Nature 478, 10–11 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/478010a

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