June 24, 2002
For more information on these science news and feature
story tips, contact the public information officer
listed at (703) 292-8070.
Editor: Amber Jones
Contents of this News Tip:
Hunt for Faint Ripples From Space
The search for gravitational waves reaching Earth from
space will begin in earnest June 29 when the nation's
foremost detector starts scientific operations. The
Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory
(LIGO), which is also the world's largest optical
instrument, is expected to help scientists identify
events in the universe not observable by any other
Albert Einstein, in his general theory of relativity,
predicted that gravitational waves are faint ripples
in the fabric of space-time believed to be produced
by the gravitational effects of black holes, collisions
and other violent events. They have never been directly
The LIGO detectors in Livingston, La., and Hanford,
Wash., are designed to detect these faint signals.
Laser beams reflecting from mirrors inside the instruments
will be able to measure mirror displacements as small
as one-thousandth of a proton's diameter, a design
goal expected to be reached within a year.
LIGO's first science run is scheduled to last two weeks.
The project is funded by the National Science Foundation
(NSF) and headed by a team from the California Institute
of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For more information on LIGO, see: http://www.ligo.caltech.edu/
NSF Fact Sheet: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/02/fsligo.htm
Top of Page
Traces Gamma Rays, Receives Astronomy Honor
A recognized, NSF-supported astrophysicist has identified
explosions from dying stars as the source of some
For years astronomers have sought to confirm the cosmic
source of the mysterious gamma rays that have been
detected for 30 years but about which little is known.
Now, Shri Kulkarni of the California Institute of Technology
and colleagues have tied a gamma-ray burst directly
to a supernova, or exploding massive star. Through
space-based and ground-based observations, the astrophysicists
detected remnants of an exploded star in the "afterglow"
of a gamma-ray burst first discovered in November
2001 in a galaxy five billion light years from Earth.
The results were published in the June 10 Astrophysical
NSF support, through Presidential Young Investigator
and Alan T. Waterman awards, helped Kulkarni launch
his early career - groundbreaking research in pulsars,
neutron stars and gamma-ray bursts. In June, Kulkarni
was named to conduct the honorary Karl G. Jansky lecture
series at the NSF National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
For a schedule of the Jansky lectures, see: http://www.nrao.edu
Top of Page
U.S. and Russia
Sign Agreement to Foster Materials Research Collaboration
NSF and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research signed
an agreement June 3 to collaborate in programs to
fund materials research. The signing ceremony took
place at a meeting at the Russian Academy of Science's
Shubnikov Institute for Crystallography in Moscow.
Representatives of the two government agencies and
scientists from both countries attended.
The agreement will enable jointly funded programs to
benefit materials researchers both in Russia and in
the United States. Scientists anticipate working out
details of the program during the December 2002 meeting
of the U.S. Materials Research Society in Boston,
Mass., and hope to announce them in early 2003.
Adriaan de Graaf, executive officer of NSF's Directorate
for Physical and Mathematical Sciences, signed the
agreement on behalf of the United States. According
to de Graaf, the two countries intend to issue a coordinated
call for proposals and conduct a coordinated proposal
review. [Amber Jones]
Top of Page
can Help Battle Terrorism, NSF Director Urges
NSF Director Rita Colwell urged scientists to apply
their experience, wisdom, research and measured debate
to help the nation combat terrorism in a June 19 speech
to the Brookings Institution's Center for Public Policy
Noting that the "new era marked by the watershed events
of 9/11 presents new directions for science and technology,"
Colwell called on scientists to help improve predictions
and to apply their foresight as "a kind of early warning
system-a guard against unintended consequences."
"If we can predict, we frequently can prevent. . .
. The research community needs to find more effective
methods to use its capacity to predict to meet the
real world needs through prevention," Colwell said.
She also emphasized the need for a broader knowledge
base. "Every discussion about airline safety, contamination
by disease, failure of communication links, poisoning
of food and drinking water, assessment of damaged
infrastructure and countless other concerns depends
on our scientific and technical knowledge," she said.
She warned that narrow knowledge could become incorrect
knowledge, reminding scientists that much is still
unknown, and she cautioned against arrogance.
Referring to the anthrax episodes of fall 2001 and
her own research into cholera, Colwell noted that
health threats are real and serious both abroad and
at home. "Since September 11, deadly disease scenarios
are no longer implausible in our own backyard," she
Colwell emphasized the need for increased science literacy
and an educated workforce to "promote good judgment"
and to serve "as a strong defense against threats
as well as delusions of safety." Scientists, she added,
must help meet those goals. [Mary Hanson]
Top of Page