Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Small world

This Thursday (tomorrow!) I start work on a survey of nanotechnology. I have to figure out what the fuss is really all about. Are we going to be eaten by grey goo and have our brains rotted out by nanoparticles? Or maybe nanotech will lead to another stock market boom and bust, shortly after it solves the world's energy problems and creates peace in the Middle East. OK, I lied about the last one.

In a timely fashion, the magazine Wired is about to publish a piece in its October issue saying that the idea of assembling matter from the ground up using molecular assembly is tosh and many scientists now think it is not possible. I may understand too little about all this but I think I discovered proof of principle of molecular assembly a little earlier today by eating a ham sandwich.

The tour starts in Oxford, England and I head for San Francisco on Sunday.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Two hot topics

1. Much excitement in the science department this week as NASA's Genesis probe crashed in Utah just as we were closing the section. We had to pull out an item at the last minute to create the room for something on the probe. A bit of high-speed reportage then followed...

An unflying saucer
Sep 9th 2004
From The Economist print edition
Genesis crashed. But can it be brought back to life?

THE Genesis capsule pictured above was supposed to have been returned to Earth by Hollywood stunt pilots. But the capsule, launched by America's space agency, NASA, suffered a distinctly unheroic fate when it plummeted to the ground in the Utah desert on September 8th. Although the proposal to catch it in mid-air was perfectly feasible, a fault with the probe's parachute system meant that the waiting helicopter pilots stood no chance of making the recovery... (full article here requires subscription)

2. The second piece I wrote this week was about radiation damage to the human germ line. It is a report I picked up from a conference in London on leukemia. Interesting and slightly depressing stuff.

Testing times
Sep 9th 2004
From The Economist print edition

There is now evidence that radiation damage can be passed down the generations

DURING the 1950s, one of the least inviting holiday destinations on the planet would have been Semipalatinsk, in Kazakhstan. It is a mere 150km (about 100 miles) from the Soviet Union's main atomic-bomb testing site and it was subjected to the fallout from 118 tests over 13 years. From this and other grim and inadvertent experiments, it is clear that nuclear radiation is a powerful cause of mutations in human DNA in the ordinary cells (those that are not concerned with reproduction) of the body. Such mutations can, in turn, cause cancers. But evidence supporting another oft-voiced fear—that radiation-induced mutations might affect human reproductive (or “germ-line”) cells—is weak and surprisingly controversial. (full article here requires subscription)

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Marrakesh in August 2004

After the heat of the day, Moroccans perk up and get lively. This is one of a series of photographs taken over a long weekend in Marrakesh in August 2004. Those of you who were there might want to see the other photographs that were taken here
Downtown Marrakesh, August '04