NewsReport Online
E D U C A T I O N   &   R E S E A R C H

Surface of Europa, showing fractures and
ridges in its icy crust. The area pictured is
about 7,050 square miles; NASA photo

Exploring Jupiter’s Moon

Europa, one of Jupiter’s largest moons, has captured the imagination of researchers and casual observers alike since the year 1610, when Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei published his account of "stars in the heavens moving about Jupiter, as Venus and Mercury around the Sun."

Nearly four centuries later, much about this moon remains a tantalizing mystery. Images from NASA spacecraft and from Earth-based telescopes show that Europa’s surface is made mostly of frozen water. Whether liquid water is or ever has been present under the satellite’s icy surface is a question of keen interest to scientists, because a watery environment is thought to be an important if not essential precursor to the formation of life.

A new National Research Council report recommends that future exploration of Europa should have a priority as high as that given to the exploration of Mars. The most important scientific goals for exploratory missions to Europa, says the report, are to determine the past and current distributions of liquid water on the moon, if any, and to understand chemical processes that may have occurred within the water and the resulting potential for life.

Scientists have found microorganisms in terrestrial environments once considered hostile or even deadly, such as hot springs, deep-sea thermal vents, and within polar ice. Finding evidence of life on Europa would help show whether theories for the origin of life on Earth are correct, and whether life might be widespread beyond our solar system.

A detailed investigation of the potential for life on Europa likely will take one or two decades to complete, the report notes. Although the temptation is strong to launch a spacecraft mission that will immediately search for Europan life, an incremental approach involving a series of missions would be more productive in the long term. — Craig Hicks & David Schneier

A Science Strategy for the Exploration of Europa. Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration, Space Studies Board, Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications (1999, 120 pp.; available free of charge from the board, tel. 202-334-3477).

The study committee was chaired (until Dec. 31, 1998) by Ronald Greeley, professor of geology at Arizona State University, Tempe, and John A. Wood, staff scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. (from Jan. 1, 1999). The study was funded by NASA.

IPR and Innovation

Intellectual property rights — in the form of patents, copyrights, and penalties for misappropriating trade secrets — have been strengthened in this country and elsewhere since the early 1980s by a series of legislative actions and judicial interpretations. These safeguards are increasingly important in serving as incentives for innovation and investment in some sectors, such as biotechnology. But concerns have been growing about effects on competition and industry structure, the conduct and communication of academic research, and the mobility of highly trained people between companies.

In an effort to sort out various issues and guide policy decisions about whether intellectual property protections should be extended even further, the Research Council has begun a two-phase study. As part of the project, participants at a national conference will assess the legal framework and identify whether there are new problems of inadequate or excessive protection. If so, an expert committee will be formed to analyze and propose solutions.

The National Academies have recently addressed some aspects of intellectual property rights — focusing on the effects of expanded rights on university research and the technological aspects of protecting information on the Internet. The new, broader assessment will examine the potential effects of various protections on innovation and technological advance in several industrial sectors — electronics and computing, software, agriculture, and biotechnology. The conference report is expected to be available by the end of next year. — Barbara Rice (See listing under New Projects.)

© Pat Lanza/Folio Inc.
Linking Tests & Learning

State education departments and school districts face an important challenge in implementing the law that requires disadvantaged students to be held to the same standards as other students. The requirements come from provisions of the 1994 retooling of Title I, the federal government’s largest K-12 program aimed at helping economically disadvantaged students by providing extra funds to their schools.

Over the past five years, many states have adopted higher standards for what students should know and be able to do, developed tests to measure student performance against those standards, and imposed penalties against schools and districts that have consistently failed to reach achievement goals. Although these improvements are laudable, the reforms have not addressed the need to assist teachers in developing the skills they need to improve student performance.

In a recent report, a Research Council committee provides a practical guide to help states and school districts develop assessment and accountability plans called for in the 1994 legislation, with an eye toward extending the overall depth of student learning, and shrinking the achievement gap between low-income Title I students and their peers from middle-income families.

The guidelines, which include examples of successful initiatives from states across the country, lay out criteria for an effective education-improvement system that is integrated at the school, district, and state levels, emphasizing both teaching and learning. The system should closely monitor the quality of instruction, set high standards for all students, and rely on a range of testing strategies, the report says. In addition, such a system should hold everyone accountable for doing their part to improve achievement, from teachers and administrators to education policy-makers. — Vanee Vines & Cheryl Greenhouse

Teaching, Testing, and Learning: A Guide for States and School Districts. Committee on Title I Testing and Assessment, Board on Testing and Assessment, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (1999, 136 pp.; ISBN 0-309-06534-8; available from National Academy Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $19.95 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies).

The committee was chaired by Richard F. Elmore, professor of education and chair, department of administration, planning, and social policy, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. The study was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Spencer Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education.

Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.