Extreme prospects

High gold prices are making it worthwhile to look for gold in some unusual places.

Demand has never been higher, but nearly all the easy gold has already been mined. So, to maintain production, mining companies are turning to more difficult sources that would have been left in the ground if gold prices had been lower. From the depths of TauTona in the South African veldt, all the way up to Pierina in the Peruvian Andes, 4,100 metres above sea level, miners are digging deeper than ever before, going to more remote locations and politically volatile regions. Read more in Nature.

Canada launches first asteroid-hunting space telescope

The first satellite designed to search for and keep track of asteroids and space debris was launched into orbit today.

The Canadian Space Agency’s suitcase-sized Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) will circle the globe every 100 minutes, scanning space to pick out asteroids that may one day pose a threat to Earth. Read more in Nature.

Canadian Space Agency chief quits unexpectedly

While Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has been captivating the Internet with his live updates and photos from the International Space Station, his colleagues back on Earth are having a tough time.

On Tuesday the president of the Canadian Space Agency, former astronaut Steve MacLean, announced he would be leaving the agency on 1 February. Read more in Nature.

The single life

Sequencing DNA from individual cells is changing the way that researchers think of humans as a whole.

All Nicholas Navin needed was one cell — the issue was how to get it. It was 2010, and the postdoctoral fellow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York was exploring the genetic changes that drive breast cancer. Most of the cancer-genome studies before then had ground up bits of tumour tissue and sequenced the DNA en masse, giving a consensus picture of the cancer’s genome. But Navin wanted to work out the sequence from individual cells to see how they had mutated and diverged as the cancer grew.

He ran into trouble almost immediately. Read more in Nature.

On the record

The open science movement is just the latest development in the long history of scholarly communication.

The essence of science has always been communication. Nothing gets entered into the scientific record until it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal so that it can be explained to the scientific community at large, allowing them to examine and critique the work. And the roots of those journals go back to the letters that the first natural philosophers of the enlightenment wrote to one another to share their ideas and the results of their experiments.

So it is fitting that as new communications technologies are developed, scientists are among the first to adopt them and make use of them in their work. Read more in Materials Today.

Brace for impact

With public finances tight, governments around the world are demanding a return on their investment in science. Researchers should get used to it.

When the financial crisis hit in 2008 it became clear that the good times of the previous decade were not going to last. Researchers, who had gotten used to 10 years of steadily increasing budgets, immediately began making the case that investment in science and technology was the best way to ensure economic recovery.

In many countries, it worked. Despite plunging national revenues, governments around the world included extra funding for science and technology in their stimulus budgets.

But often the money came with strings attached. Read more in Materials Today.

BIS axes annual survey of industry R&D

Last one shows UK corporate spending holds up in recession.

The government will no longer produce its annual R&D Scoreboard, which analyses R&D spending among the top 1,000 UK and top 1,000 global corporate investors in R&D. The latest edition, which analyses corporate R&D spending in 2009, will be the last.

“While this useful tool has helped us to track progress on investment, both domestically and overseas, today’s companies better understand the importance of R&D to their long-term success. At the same time, unprecedented financial pressures have made it necessary to reduce public spending,” science minister David Willetts wrote in the foreword to the report. Read more in Research Fortnight.

Open Sesame

A synchrotron under construction in the Middle East brings hope for both science and peace.

“It’s like a parallel universe,” says Eliezer Rabinovici, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, of the complex of buildings in the Jordanian desert near Amman. Rabinovici is a string theorist, so he knows a thing or two about parallel universes.

The Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (Sesame) project, modeled on the Cern particle physics lab in Switzerland, is a unique scientific collaboration in the middle of a politically fraught region. The nine members—Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey—are not natural allies, indeed this is the only organization outside of the UN that can count both Israel and Iran as members. Read more in Materials Today.

Is industry walking away from academia?

Recession-hit companies scale back university liaison offices.

Universities could find it more difficult to find industry research partners as hi-tech companies look to scale back or close their academic liaison departments in the wake of the financial crisis.

The defence technology company QinetiQ, spun out of the government’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency in 2001, has closed its central academic liaison department. And within the past few months, the mobile telecoms company Vodaphone has moved its academic cooperation work into a single office in Germany. Previously, academic liaison was handled by a team scattered across different countries including Germany, the UK and Spain. Read more in Research Fortnight.

Industry and academics square off over future of Framework

The negotiations on Framework 8, the EU’s research funding programme scheduled to begin in 2014, are now well and truly underway.

With the mid-term review of Framework 7 now out of the way, attention will quickly turn to its successor. The European Commission will present its first communication on Framework 8 in early 2011, and an impact assessment next summer.

Already the debate has broadly divided into two camps, those who favour support for near-market research and innovation, and those who want European funding to concentrate on scientific excellence. Read more in Materials Today.

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