Random Samples

Science  10 Dec 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6010, pp. 1459
  1. Superhot, Live, and Just a Click Away


      Fancy yourself an armchair fusion scientist? Forget the half-built tokamak in your garage; now you can experiment with a real fusion reactor called GOLEM and watch the results live via the Web.

      Billy Huang, a doctoral student at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy near Oxford, U.K., and other students at a summer school at Prague's Institute of Plasma Physics (IPP) wanted to make fusion science more widely accessible. They teamed up with Vojtěch Svoboda, an engineer at the Czech Technical University in Prague, who was rigging up remote controls for GOLEM, a small tokamak there. On 1 December, they opened the tokamak for business (http://tokamakglobal.com).

      GOLEM, built in the early 1960s at Moscow's Kurchatov Institute, was one of the world's first working tokamaks. Although tiny compared with today's reactors, its hydrogen plasmas reach approximately 1,000,000°C and can produce a small amount of energy by fusing nuclei.

      Anyone with a physics background, the project organizers say, can register and request an experiment on GOLEM. On its first day, 38 enthusiasts from 10 countries requested a total of 81 fusion shots. Who knows, Huang says, “We could get some interesting results.”

    1. 'Nature and Nurture' Researchers Win Prize

        Husband-and-wife team Avshalom Caspi and Terrie Moffitt's research on how biology influences behavior has often raised controversy (Science, 26 June 2009, p. 1628). Now it has earned them 1 million Swiss francs: At a ceremony in Zurich last Friday, the pair took home the Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize.

        Caspi and Moffitt, who both have joint appointments at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and King's College London, have used a longitudinal study of New Zealanders to link genetic mutations with violence and depression while showing that environmental factors, such as childhood abuse or stress, come crucially into play (Science, 2 August 2002, p. 851). That research opened up “whole new lines of work” in how genetics and environment interact, says Anne Petersen, a biobehavioral researcher at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who headed the jury for the prize. “Too often people say we can't really show [that relationship],” she says. Caspi and Moffitt “keep demonstrating that you can.”

      1. Survivor: Grant Money

          Sadek Qassim and the “Alchemist” (inset).


          Millions of people across the Arab world tuned in 28 November for the final episode of a reality television show. But the contestants on Qatar's Stars of Science weren't vying for pop stardom or trying to steal one another's spouses on a tropical island. Instead, they were young Arab scientists competing for grant money.

          Sixteen researchers out of 7000 applicants were relocated to custom laboratories in Doha, where they worked on their projects for months as the cameras rolled. The top prize, a $300,000 grant, went to Sadek Qassim, a 26-year-old chemical engineer from Kuwait, for his “Alchemist,” an automated system for testing petroleum samples. Three runners-up—swimming goggles that record real-time physiological data, a motorized walker for the elderly, and a versatile robotic joint—received smaller grants.

          The show “has been a big hit throughout the Arab region,” says Farouk El-Baz, an Egyptian geophysicist at Boston University and one of the judges. Seeing scientific role models on Arab television, he says, “gives a boost to the self-confidence of the young in their scientific knowledge and ability.” Applications for next year's show are already pouring in.

        1. Taking Flight


            Everybody knows those super-slow-motion videos on YouTube of an exploding balloon or a bullet shattering a glass of wine. But researchers in the Netherlands think there are far more interesting things to film with high-speed cameras. They're loaning out the costly devices to volunteers willing to shoot videos of flight in nature—whether it's birds, insects, bats, or plant seeds.

            The project, called Flight Artists, won a $130,000 science outreach award in October and so far has registered 800 volunteers. After basic training, participants can borrow a 600-image-per-second Casio EX-F1 for a few days to shoot whatever flying organism takes their fancy. Those with the best videos graduate to a $100,000 Phantom v710 camera, which snaps up to 7500 images per second in high definition. “Amateurs will get to shoot the images you normally see on Discovery Channel,” says project leader David Lentink, a biomechanics researcher at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

            The idea is to share the science and beauty of flying with a broader audience, says Lentink. In return, the team, which rarely takes its cameras outside of the lab, will get a trove of video data, which Lentink expects to raise new research questions.

            The videos will start pouring in next March—and yes, they're going on YouTube.

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