Broadcast: September 23, 2003
I’m Bob Doughty with Faith Lapidus and this is the VOA Special English program, SCIENCE IN THE NEWS.
This week -- a timely look at an astronomical event ... a report on the winners of the Lasker Awards for medical research ... and, a look back at the life of atom-bomb scientist Edward Teller.
Two times every year, night and day are equal. The first equinox happens in late March, the second in late September. The equinox is the exact time when the path of the sun crosses the equator.
This year the second equinox happens -- today! September twenty-third, at ten hours forty-seven Universal Time.
Equinox is a Latin word. It means “equal night.” If you live in the southern half of the world, this week’s equinox marks the beginning of spring. If you live in the north, autumn has begun. Night will start to grow longer than day.
Two times a year, the sun’s path reaches a point that is farthest from the equator. That is called the solstice. It happens in late June and in late December.
Together these astronomical events, the equinox and the solstice, mark the beginning of the four seasons.
Thirty years of research has helped scientists to better understand the process that turns genes in the body "on" and "off." This process is called transcription. It is how cells "read" their genetic directions to build the different proteins needed to form life. The scientist most responsible for these discoveries is Robert Roeder (RAY-der) of Rockefeller University in New York. His work includes the genes of cancer and viruses such as H-I-V, the AIDS virus.
For his work, Mister Roeder of is one of the winners this year of the Lasker Awards. The judges said his work will lead to new treatments that target tissues and genes. The Lasker Awards are among the highest scientific honors in the United States.
This year's Lasker Award for clinical medical research is shared by two scientists at Imperial College in London. Marc Feldmann and Sir Ravinder Maini developed a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, a painful disease. The treatment is also for other diseases that cause the body’s defenses to attack normal tissue.
There is also a Lasker Public Service Award. This year's winner is Christopher Reeve. The actor broke his neck when he was thrown from a horse in nineteen-ninety-five. The Lasker committee called his support for medical research and victims of disability "heroic."
Mister Reeve is best known for the movies in which he played "Superman." Currently he is chairman of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. He has been undergoing experimental treatments to help him breathe on his own. And he has been able to do some acting and directing.
For those in medical science, the Laskers are often called America's version of the Nobel Prizes. Sixty-six Lasker winners have also received Nobels. The Lasker Awards are given each year by a private organization, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. The program began in nineteen-forty-six.
The awards for research both come with fifty-thousand dollars.
One of the best known scientists in the United States died earlier this month. Edward Teller was ninety-five years old. He had suffered a stroke days before his death.
Edward Teller was often called the "father of the hydrogen bomb," although stories about him say he did not like that name. Mister Teller helped develop the first nuclear weapons. Later, he was an activist for a strong national defense.
Edward Teller was born in Budapest, Hungary, in nineteen-oh-eight. His parents and teachers recognized at an early age that he was gifted in mathematics.
Yet his father was unhappy when Edward said he wanted a job in mathematics. His father was a lawyer. He told his son that mathematicians had trouble earning money.
So the young Edward Teller agreed to study chemistry. He went to Germany for his university education. But he later said that he "cheated." By that he meant that he studied mathematics, too. He completed his studies at the University of Leipzig in nineteen-thirty.
Then Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party came to power, and with them the increasing oppression of Jews and other minorities. Edward Teller and a number of other top scientists fled Germany. Mister Teller and his wife came to the United States in nineteen-thirty-five. They became American citizens.
By the late nineteen-thirties, scientists were learning how to split atoms. This creates huge amounts of energy. American and other scientists were concerned that Germany would be the first to use atomic power as a weapon.
In nineteen-thirty-nine, Edward Teller and other scientists urged Albert Einstein to warn the president about atomic power. Einstein’s warning to Franklin Roosevelt led to a secret program that developed the atomic bomb. This program was called the Manhattan Project.
Edward Teller joined the Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico, in the American Southwest. There, he and other scientists developed the atomic bomb. Mister Teller was among the scientists who gathered to see the world’s first atomic explosion.
In July of ninety-forty-five, a huge cloud shaped like a mushroom rose from the New Mexico desert. That August, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and later on Nagasaki.
Japan surrendered within days to end almost four years of World War Two.
After the war, Edward Teller went to work for the University of Chicago. Many scientists who helped develop the bomb wanted to return to civilian jobs. Some were troubled by moral issues.
In recent years, Mister Teller wondered if the United States could have shown Japan the power of the atom without destroying cities. He said he regretted that he and other scientists did not seek to demonstrate the power of the bomb some other way.
In nineteen-forty-nine, the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb. Now the United States faced its own threat of nuclear attack.
Edward Teller believed the country needed a hydrogen fusion bomb for defense. President Harry Truman agreed. Mister Teller returned to Los Alamos and worked on the hydrogen bomb. A test took place in the Pacific Ocean in nineteen-fifty-two.
Later, Mister Teller appeared at government hearings into accusations that Robert Oppenheimer was a Soviet spy. Mister Oppenheimer was the scientist who had directed the Manhattan Project. Teller did not question Oppenheimer’s loyalty, but he did question his judgment.
In the end, Oppenheimer lost his security clearance to work on secret projects. And Teller's comments angered many other scientists for years to come.
As the United States and the Soviet Union built more nuclear bombs, Edward Teller called for a second national laboratory. The Lawrence Livermore Laboratory opened in California.
Mister Teller worked as an advisor there. He served as director between nineteen-fifty-eight and nineteen-sixty. Then, he joined the University of California at Berkeley.
In the nineteen-eighties, Edward Teller argued for a missile-defense system for the country. President Ronald Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative. It called for satellites armed with lasers to destroy missiles headed for the United States.
This program became known as Star Wars. Critics said it would cost too much and would not work. It was never built. But President Bush has renewed the idea of establishing a missile-defense system to protect the United States.
Edward Teller died on September ninth at his home on the campus of Stanford University in California. He was a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Until his last days, Edward Teller continued to support the idea of a system to defend the country against a danger he helped create.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Mario Ritter, Nancy Steinbach and George Grow. Our producer was Cynthia Kirk. This is Bob Doughty.
And this is Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.