BANNER YEAR: Sig Hecker will step down on a high note.
Weary of political fights over timber-harvesting practices and policy, Jack Ward Thomas, the chief of the United States Forest Service, announced earlier this month that he would be leaving his post. In 1993, Thomas, the first research scientist to head the service, was appointed to run the agency by President Bill Clinton. Environmental researchers were heartened by his appointment, saying it boded well for an agency in the midst of transition from a timber commodity-based outlook to an ecosystem-based approach, although timber officials and some environmentalists disagreed with the choice (K.Y. Kreeger, The Scientist, Jan. 10, 1994, page 3). In a news conference announcing his resignation on October 11, Thomas labeled the Forest Service's mission "somewhat confused," according to an Associated Press report (New York Times, Oct. 11, 1996, page A22). He expressed hope that "after the elections there will be time for everyone to sit down and talk about giving the Forest Service a clear mission." It remains doubtful, however, that he will be part of those discussions. Thomas now plans to teach at the University of Montana.
ELECTRIFYING: Clay Armstrong works with cell-membrane channels.
UPSURGE: Bertil Hille notes the rise in ion channel papers.
MR. PINK: Plastic flamingo won inventor an Ig Nobel Prize.
GOOD, BAD & UGLY: AIR's Marc Abrahams
Under a proposal announced recently by President Bill Clinton's administration, Internet communication speeds between selected universities and national laboratories could increase up to 1,000 times. As reported by FYI, the American Institute of Physics' online bulletin of science policy news, the "Next-Generation Internet" initiative would spend $100 million-$30 million from the National Science Foundation and the departments of Energy, Commerce, and Education, and $70 million from the Department of Defense-during fiscal year 1998 as part of the High Performance Computing and Communications program. Speaking in Knoxville, Tenn., education secretary Dick Riley, White House press secretary Mike McCurry, and Greg Simon, Vice President Al Gore's chief domestic policy adviser, stated that details still had to be developed and that funding beyond 1998 would not be pledged until the program is evaluated. The plan would increase 'Net speeds between at least 100 universities and national labs by a factor of 100 to 1,000. It describes Next-Generation Internet capabilities as "an increased ability to handle real-time multimedia applications . . . sufficient bandwidth to transfer and manipulate huge volumes of data . . . the ability to access remote supercomputers . . . and the ability to collaborate with other scientists and engineers in shared, virtual environments, including reliable and secure remote use of scientific facilities." The cyberbug apparently has hit both men campaigning for the presidency this year. GOP candidate Bob Dole closed his first debate with Clinton by urging young people to check out his Web site, and the president himself, in making the Next-Generation Internet announcement, referenced the home page of his cat, Socks (http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/kids/html/home.html), also known as the White House for Kids.
A team of researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Yale University have identified major areas in the brain that are activated during drug craving by cocaine addicts. Edythe London, director of the Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Center at NIDA, and her colleagues for the first time have seen changes in the brain that are triggered by environmental cues associated with past drug use and that lead to drug craving. Using PET scanning, the researchers measured how fast different parts of the volunteers' brains metabolized glucose, indicating how fast they are working. They put 13 cocaine abusers and five control volunteers in two situations. One was neutral; the other situation provided stimuli in which they would be reminded of drug use. The researchers gave a questionnaire to the volunteers to report their urges for cocaine. "The idea was to map the brain activity during craving, not only to find which areas are turned on, but also to see if there was a correlation between brain area activity and how much a person says he craves the drug," she says. Stimuli in the situations consisted of drug paraphernalia, cocaine powder, and a video of people snorting cocaine. Stimuli in the neutral situations were arts-and-crafts tools and a video of someone using the tools. The scientists saw several areas of the brain activated when the drug abusers were exposed to the drug-related material, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the cerebellum, regions involved in aspects of memory. "When control volunteers were put in similar situations, there was no activation, indicating the relevance of the environmental stimuli," London explains. The researchers reported their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (S. Grant et al., 93:12040-45, Oct. 15, 1996). The work may enable scientists to test new addiction medications. "We have a paradigm now to test anti-drug-craving medication," she notes. "We can monitor quantitatively, rather than relying on what a patient says, whether or not a medication can affect a specific area of the brain and affect craving. These regions-such as the amygdala, which mediates emotional aspects of memory-and their neurotransmitter pathways could offer new therapeutic targets. It's a real breakthrough."
Dragonfly, a new "magazine of investigation" for kids, aims to "take some of the mystery out of science and of scientists," according to project coordinator Lynne Born Myers. The magazine, developed by Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and the Arlington, Va.-based National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and published bimonthly during the school year, debuted last month. Its audience is children three to six years of age. Myers explains that instead of hearing from scientists about their work in progress and the scientific process, children only read about results. "Kids have less of an appreciation of the creative and scientific process that way," she says. Myers and her husband and collaborator, Chris Myers, an associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at Miami and the magazine's editor-in-chief, "thought kids would have a clearer idea of what science and scientists are all about if we had a magazine in which scientists wrote in first person about their research directly to the kids," she explains. Students can also write about their experiences in science in the classroom and at home. "We have Web pages and a mailing list in which the kids send in their questions." The magazine is unique, Myers believes: "We haven't found any other national publication that includes both scientists and student contributions." The theme of Dragonfly's first issue is flight. The magazine is published by NSTA every other month during the school year. The project is sponsored by a National Science Foundation grant for $1.7 million for three years. To receive a free issue, call (800) 722-NSTA.