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Theory And Experiment Meet, And A New Form Of Boron Is Found

Boron is a simple atom: five protons, five or six neutrons, five electrons. It is not as ubiquitous as hydrogen. It does not, as helium does, make your voice sound like Donald Duck. It is not as famous as carbon, its neighbor to the right on the periodic table.

Perhaps it is held back by its name — sounds like boring.

Yet it remains an element of mystery.

For more than two centuries, boron has confounded scientists, resulting in what Artem R. Oganov, a professor of geosciences at Stony Brook University, calls “a stream of discoveries and misdiscoveries.”

Now researchers led by Oganov have added to the actual discoveries. They have found a form of boron that is nearly as hard as diamond.

This discovery even illustrates the power of the idea of evolution, using a so-called genetic algorithm to decipher the structure of the new boron crystal.

“This work is a beautiful example of cooperation between theory and experiment,” said Aitor Bergara, a physicist at the University of the Basque Country in Spain. Bergara was not involved with the research, which appears in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Boron has a long history. Mentions of boron compounds like borax date back millennia. In 1808, within a week and a half of each other, two research efforts, led by the great chemists Sir Humphrey Davy in London and Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and Louis-Jacques Thenard in Paris, announced that they had isolated boron. They had not. Another great chemist, Henri Moissan, later showed that the two earlier groups had made a compound consisting of 60 percent boron.

Moissan also claimed to have isolated boron. He too was wrong, although he did do better: a compound with 90 percent boron.

Not until 1909 was a sample of 99 percent pure boron produced.

Just as pure carbon can come as diamond or graphite, boron comes in multiple forms — as many as 16 have been reported. But even tiny amounts of impurities can alter the structure, and it seems that the element has only three pure forms, Oganov said.

California Releasing Donor List For Gay Marriage Vote

Nearly 14,000 donors — including homemakers, priests and a former member of the Los Angeles Dodgers — poured millions of dollars into the last two weeks of the campaign to pass Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in California. According to a campaign finance report made public on Monday, in all, both sides spent more than $83 million.

The report came just days after supporters of the ballot measure lost a suit in U.S. District Court in Sacramento that sought to prevent the names of donors from being revealed. The suit argued that past disclosures had led to donors’ receiving harassing e-mail, death threats and boycotts of businesses. The court rejected that plea, saying the release of the names was particularly important in such expensive campaigns.

Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for Protect Marriage, the leading group behind Proposition 8, said he had received no reports of harassment on Monday.

A summary report of opponents’ donations, meanwhile, showed the losing side spent $43.1 million. A more detailed report of those names — which ran some 7,600 pages — was still being formatted by the office of the California secretary of state.

The report on the ban’s supporters, which covered the closing days of the campaign, shows a wide variety of backers. They include Jeff Kent, the recently retired second baseman for the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, who donated $15,000, and a janitor from Cupertino, Calif., who donated $99.

Jeff Klein, a lawyer for Kent, said he had no comment on his client’s donation.

The report also showed about $35,000 in late, nonmonetary contributions by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church is under investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission on accusations that it underreported its contributions to the campaign.

Macy’s Cuts 7,000 Jobs In Overhaul

Macy’s, one of the nation’s largest department stores, said Monday that it would cut 7,000 jobs, or 4 percent of its work force, making it the latest retailer to streamline operations. The steps will save cash, but like other companies, Macy’s is also using the economic downturn as a moment to make broad changes.

“Our history has been regional department stores with regional names and regional managements,” Terry J. Lundgren, chairman, president and chief executive of Macy’s, said in a telephone interview on Monday.

No more. Macy’s four hulking divisions — East, Central, West and Florida — will be consolidated into one single organization for the first time in the company’s history.

It is a radical move, but one Lundgren said would position Macy’s for 2010, or whenever the consumer feels good enough to reach for her wallet again.

“We want to be in place, we want to have our people trained, we want to have our structure set, we want to have the right brands in the store,” Lundgren said. “Now I think is the time to address all of those structural changes that are required.”

Indeed, Lundgren said in a conference call with investors and retailing analysts that this is a time “when nothing should be considered a sacred cow.”

Last spring, Macy’s began testing an initiative it calls “My Macy’s,” in which the merchandise in stores is tailored to appeal to the particular preferences and needs of customers in a specific region of the country. Macy’s said Monday that the program, which was tested in 20 markets, would be rolled out across the nation.

Macy’s is also taking steps to cut costs, including eliminating merit salary increases for executives’ performance in 2008, and reducing its matching amount to employee 401(k) retirement contributions.

The company cut its 2009 capital expenditure budget to about $450 million — $100 million to $150 million less than previously announced.

And it cut its quarterly dividend to 5 cents a share, from 13.25 cents a share. The retailer is also planning to buy back $950 million in bonds maturing this year.

Macy’s executives said the changes will save the company $250 million this year, and $400 million a year beginning in 2010.