News at a glance: Weather radar, solar energy beamed from space, and an ode to Europa


Tweak of shape clinches discovery of nonrepeating tiling

This time it’s final: Mathematicians have found a single shape for an abstract 2D tile that, in theory, can cover an infinite plane without leaving any gaps and without producing a repeating pattern. The first such “aperiodic tiling” was discovered in the 1960s and comprised 104 different shapes. In 1977, famed British mathematician Roger Penrose discovered two shapes that could do the trick. Then in March, David Smith, a hobbyist in England, and colleagues produced an aperiodic tiling using a single 13-sided shape they called a “hat.” But the proposed tiling contained some tiles that were mirror reflections of the hat—like puzzle pieces laid face side down—and some critics argued this meant two different tiles had been used. Now, Smith and colleagues have tweaked the shape to create one they call a “Spectre.” It produces a tiling that includes no mirror images, they reported last week in a preprint posted on arXiv—leaving no space for objections.


NIH fellows move to unionize

Early-career researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) last week took a step toward forming a union, which would be the first to represent research fellows working at a federal agency. Organizers gathered signatures in support from roughly 3000 of the 4800 postdocs, graduate students, and other junior researchers who would be represented by the union and submitted the petition to the U.S. Federal Labor Relations Authority, which oversees federal employee unions. A majority of the 4800 would need to approve the union in an election. Researchers pushing for the union, NIH Fellows United, say they hope to obtain better pay and working conditions.


NSF funds better airborne radar

The National Center for Atmospheric Research has been awarded $92 million to build a next-generation airborne radar to provide a sharper view of large storms, including hurricanes, the U.S. National Science Foundation announced last week. The Airborne Phased Array Radar (APAR) can scan in multiple directions at once, replacing existing instruments that record data in just one fixed direction. Mounted on a C-130 cargo airplane, APAR can distinguish between rain, ice, and snow—critical for understanding storm evolution in cooler climates—and it may improve predictions of a storm’s intensification. APAR will be a main instrument on the National Weather Service’s new fleet of hurricane-hunter planes, expected in 2030.


Defamation claim against NAS axed

A court last month dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by Peruvian archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters against the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and its president, Marcia McNutt. NAS ousted Castillo Butters in 2021 after an investigation at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru found evidence of sexual harassment, charges Castillo Butters denies. However, when NAS ejected him, it stated only that he had breached its code of conduct and did not cite sexual harassment. A U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia concluded this undermined the defamation claim. In an email to Science, Castillo Butters said he intends to file a revised U.S. claim and to continue to fight in Peruvian courts, where he has sued one of his accusers. In January, an appeals court judge ordered a new trial in that case after a lower court convicted her of defamation.


Columbia co-worker’s suit settled

A long-running gender discrimination lawsuit involving two Columbia University researchers has been settled out of court on undisclosed terms. It was filed in 2017 against virologist Ian Lipkin and Columbia by Lipkin’s former collaborator, Mady Hornig, a physician who, like Lipkin, studies the possible role of viruses in chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalopathy and other neurologic diseases at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. Hornig told Science in an email: “I am very pleased with the resolution of this matter and look forward to continuing my research unimpeded.” Lipkin’s attorney and Columbia declined to comment.

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We, too, are made of wonders, of great and ordinary loves, of small invisible worlds …


Chaco Canyon sites protected

President Joe Biden’s administration last week banned new leases for oil and gas drilling in a 16-kilometer, archaeologically rich zone around New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historic Park. The action will safeguard 4700 archaeological sites outside the park, only some of which have been studied. The order is limited to 20 years and applies only to federal lands and mineral holdings in the 1419-square-kilometer zone, about two-thirds of which is owned by state, tribal, and private entities. A bigger challenge remains, advocates and archaeologists say: protecting sites in the 21,000-square-kilometer Greater Chaco region, of which the park and buffer zone are a small part. In February, a federal appeals court halted nearly 200 drilling permits in this larger region, calling the environmental reviews inadequate. Drilling continues under other permits.


Chemist to lead Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s parliament this week approved a new government under a power-sharing agreement that will see two officials with science and research expertise serve as prime minister in succession. Under the agreement, Nikolai Denkov, a physical chemist at Sofia University and former minister of education and science, will serve initially. Mariya Gabriel, a politician who in May resigned as the European Commission’s science chief, will be deputy prime minister. After 9 months, their roles will reverse. Despite the leaders’ backgrounds, the government is not expected to prioritize science policy legislation.


Corals support vast microbiome

Cauliflower coral underwater
Cauliflower coral (Pocillopora meandrina, right) was among three coral species sampled for microbial diversity. DOUG PERRINE/NPL/MINDEN PICTURES

Coral reefs, bastions of marine biodiversity because of the abundant fish, invertebrates, and algae they support, are also home to Earth’s greatest microbial diversity, according to a new estimate. From 2016 to 2018, an international team aboard the sailing ship Tara studied 99 reefs off 32 islands across the Pacific Ocean, sequencing DNA from more than 5000 samples of three coral species, two fish species, and plankton. The team then extrapolated the half-billion kinds of microbes, mostly bacteria, found off these islands to the entire Pacific, home to 80% of the world’s coral species. This ocean’s microbial diversity is equivalent to that previously estimated for all of Earth, they reported last week in Nature Communications. The researchers expect this high microbial diversity helps make the reefs more resilient in the face of heat waves and other stressors.


Space solar power demonstrated

Researchers have taken a small step toward realizing a long-standing dream: harvesting solar energy in space and beaming it down to Earth. An experimental satellite launched in January has for the first time transmitted power in a microwave beam, steered the beam onto targets, and sent some of that power to a detector on Earth, the California Institute of Technology announced last week. By some recent estimates, giant orbiting generators will soon be competitive with earthbound nuclear plants, if launch costs continue to decrease.


Scientists help free imprisoned woman

Jailed 20 years on charges of killing her four children, Australian Kathleen Folbigg received a pardon this week and was set free, in large part thanks to recent genetics research, the lobbying of scientists, and the work of the Australian Academy of Science. Folbigg’s 2003 conviction stemmed from circumstantial evidence, such as ambiguous writings in her diary and the apparent unlikelihood of four children in one family dying naturally. But starting about 5 years ago, researchers recruited to reexamine Folbigg’s case identified a mutation that her two daughters inherited from their mother, and further studies indicated it most likely explains their sudden deaths. Another mutation, implicated in dangerous epilepsy, was found in both sons who died, prompting authorities to reconsider the criminal case. The academy, which served as an independent science adviser in the probe, applauded the pardon, issued by New South Wales’s state government.