The chair of the House Science Committee could probably live without the $250,000 he won in the D.C. Lottery last week. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is the 22nd richest member of Congress, with a net worth of about $8 million. After taxes, the take-home pot is a mere $150,000. But if he were feeling very generous, Sensenbrenner--who this week is in India visiting R&D facilities--could play Santa to researchers who are short on grant money.
For the physicist who had been good all year, the spendthrift lawmaker could purchase three state-of-the-art digital oscilloscopes or 1071 handheld Global Positioning System satellite receivers. For the deserving biomedical researcher, Sensenbrenner could spring for a dozen digital thermometers, a blood chemistry analyzer, and a couple of centrifuges and still have money left over for 348,000 test tubes. Alternatively, the windfall would buy 90 kilometers of fiber-optic cable, more than enough to wire the House and Senate for the terabyte future. But don't count on a privately financed flight in orbit: A space suit alone runs $10 million.
Ultimately, Sensenbrenner might conclude that bestowing gifts on any single researcher or discipline might provoke more squabbling than thanks. Instead, he might have the highest precision countdown to the impending Year 2000 computer crisis by trading the lucky ticket for three state-of-the-art cesium clocks to tick away the final picoseconds of the millennium.