Go back

US news roundup: 8-14 October


This week: reactor failure concerns, racism in Stem organisations, high-risk grants and peanut butter espionage

In depth: The Inspector General of the United States’ largest non-medical government research funder has said her office has been “overwhelmed” by allegations about researchers who have apparently failed to disclose links to foreign countries.

Full story: NSF ‘overwhelmed’ by allegations of undisclosed foreign ties

Also this week from Research Professional News

NIH extends childcare support to trainees—Move will make help available to postdocs and graduate students with training awards

Here is the rest of the US news this week…

NIST reactor incident linked to staffing problems

An investigation into the failure of a nuclear reactor’s fuel cladding has revealed a series of concerns, including inadequate training of those in charge of operating it. On 3 February, a fuel failure set off alarms at the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Center for Neutron Research in Gaithersburg. Submitting evidence to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the centre admitted that staff had a “culture of complacency” and that training was “not on par with programmatic needs”. Corrective actions have already been taken, a director added.

Academies start Stem racism study

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is to conduct a study into institutional racism and inequality within science, technology, engineering and mathematics organisations. The study was requested by House science committee chair Eddie Bernice Johnson in 2020 and will be led by an interdisciplinary committee of nominated individuals. Johnson said the study’s findings should guide best practices to increase diversity and inclusion.

NIH awards $329m in high-risk, high-reward grants

The National Institutes of Health has awarded 106 grants to support high-risk, high-reward research that would otherwise struggle to pass traditional peer review. Projects awarded funding through the scheme this year touch on subjects including health disparities in drug development and social determinants of suicide. A total of $329 million will be awarded to the 106 projects over a five-year period.

Nuclear engineer ‘spied using peanut butter’

The Department of Justice says a nuclear engineer in the United States Navy and his wife have been arrested in an FBI sting for attempting to pass sensitive information to a foreign power. Jonathan and Diana Toebbe from Maryland were arrested on 9 October and charged with violations of the Atomic Energy Act. According to the Department of Justice, Jonathan Toebbe passed SD cards containing data related to submarine nuclear reactors to an undercover FBI agent on two occasions. The SD cards were concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich and in a packet of chewing gum, it said.