Month: March 2007

Juice Up Your Cell Phone, and Other News of the Week

greenland
Let’s look for the perfect spot

In this week’s issue of Science News I have three articles, one short and two very short.

In Is Your Phone Out of Juice? I describe a new type of experimental fuel cell (aren’t all fuel cells experimental) that can run on any sugary drink and in principle could be mass-produced to be completely biodegradable.

How Smart Are Amoebas? tells about a bug’s hunting strategies. This bug is in fact a very unusual kind of slime mold, which can spend its entire life as a single-cell creature but in times of hardship can band together with its peers to form a multi-cellular one.

And just to prove that not all my articles have questions in their headlines, I wrote Meet Me at 79°50′ N, 56° W. This is about a proposal for one of the most bizarre physics experiments I have ever heard of: only twice a year, at two very precise locations — one in Greenland, one in Antarctica — the conditions will be just right for a small experiment that could overturn Newtonian physics and Einstein’s relativity in one swoop. To do this, you’ll have to locate the right spot with a precision of 7 centimeters and make sure to be there during an equinox.

Unfortunately, the latter two articles require a subscription. But hey, this could be a good time for you to subscribe to Science News and help support our reporters’ lavish lifestyles. (Alfred, get the limo ready please, I’m done writing.)

Harry Potter in Flatland

Last year, physicists demonstrated technology that might someday hide you from radar. That’s still a long shot from Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, but an experiment published in this week’s Science gets closer to performing same trick with visible light rather than a radar’s microwaves. For now, though, the trick will only hide you if you are a two-dimensional character living in a two-dimensional world…

Read more in my Science News article: Closer to Vanishing: Bending light as a step toward invisibility cloaks.

My First Story in Science News

science news

On Monday I started my new job at the weekly magazine Science News. I will be covering physics and technology. In this week’s issue I have a short article about a recent experiment that probed for the first time how matter transitions into a very unusual state called a Bose-Einstein condensate.

In theory at least, Bose-Einstein condensates had been discovered in the 1920s. But it took 70 years before physicists would manage to create one in the lab, mostly because they can only exist at ridiculously low temperatures — only a fraction of a degree above absolute zero. At any given time, many of the atoms in a condensate are literally at their lowest possible temperature. It seems very unlikely that such a state of matter can exist anywhere in the universe, outside of the lab.

Read my story on the Science News web site:
Warming Up to Criticality: Quantum change, one bubble at a time

X Chromosomes and Choices

bouquet
The crux of the matter

Humans have two versions of each chromosome — one inherited from each parent — with one exception: Men don’t have two X chromosomes. Instead, they have an X and a Y. The (few) genes on the Y chromosome are what make a man develop into a man.

But what makes a woman a woman, rather than the presence of two X’s, is the lack of a Y. A woman’s cells don’t need the extra X, and in fact, if the genes on both X chromosomes of a woman’s cell were just as active as those on a man’s single X, the cell would probably die.

This presents women — in fact, females in all placental mammals — with a problem: to be healthy, their cells must completely shut down one, and only one, of their X chromosomes. Geneticists have discovered in recent years that the shut-down happens in the early-embryo stage, and that when cells duplicate, the daughter cells will keep the same version of the X shut down.

Continue reading “X Chromosomes and Choices”