The breakup of the Soviet Union is having a devastating impact on science there. Top researchers can't work for lack of supplies, and many labs may shut down. "The situation is deteriorating fast," says Marcel Bardon, head of international programs at the National Science Foundation. Western countries and Japan have proposed donating more than $60 million to help. But it will take months of negotiations to set up an organization to dole out the money effectively.
That's why the NSF has hatched a scheme to provide immediate aid. By early April, it plans to give $1 million to American scientists who are already involved in joint research projects. The Americans will buy supplies--everything from chemical reagents to modems and fax paper--then ship them to their colleagues in Russia and other republics. "This is not a solution to the problem, but it is the one thing that can be done right away," says Bardon. "Psychologically, it will have a big impact. That may help sway Russians who are wondering whether to go to Iraq or Libya."