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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from guest experts and from the editors of Scientific American

Best Countries in Science: SA's Global Science Scorecard

"Global society operates as a network of creativity and innovation."--John Sexton, writing in Scientific American . In the October 2012 issue, we publish our Global Science Scorecard, a ranking of nations on how well they do science—not only on the quality and quantity of basic research but also on their ability to project that research into the real world, where it can affect people’s lives.The United States comes out on top, by a wide margin, followed by Germany, China, Japan, the U.K., France, Canada, South Korea, Italy and Spain...

September 28, 2012 — Fred Guterl

Ode to the Last Neandertal [Video]

On a recent visit to Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar I stood in the dark, damp recesses of the seaside limestone cavern and cried. I had come to see the site of the last known Neandertals, who lived here some 28,000 years ago...

September 28, 2012 — Kate Wong

Electronic Sensors That Dissolve Could Keep Tabs on the Body from the Inside [Video]

Most people appreciate electronics that are durable and can last for years before needing to be replaced. If the device in question is a medical implant or a sensor for monitoring environmental conditions, however, designers might prefer the gadget to simply biodegrade without a trace once its purpose is fulfilled.University of Illinois researchers, working with colleagues at Tufts University and Northwestern University, report in the September 28 issue of Science having developed a way to make "transient" electronics able to do just that by dissolving in small amounts of bodily fluid...

September 27, 2012 — Larry Greenemeier

Silk-Based Electronics Dissolve on Cue for Vanishing Medical Implants

Imagine an electronic medical implant that, like dissolvable stitches, could disintegrate after it is no longer needed. An innovative combination of silk and silicon have now been used to create just such ephemeral but effective devices, including diodes, transistors, mini heaters and stress sensors.A flexible device that is just nanometers thick can fight post-surgical infections or even capture images—until its work is done, when it vanishes right on cue...

September 27, 2012 — Katherine Harmon

Will Humanity Face a Carbohydrate Shortage?

Photosynthesis is the single most important transformation on Earth. Using the energy in sunlight, all plants—from single-celled algae to towering redwoods—knit carbon dioxide and water into food and release oxygen as a byproduct...

September 26, 2012 — David Biello

Can We Shrink Portions (and the Obesity Epidemic) with Psychology?

SAN ANTONIO, Texas—Eating might seem, principally, like a simple, primal act. We get hungry; we eat; we're full. But surprising new research suggests that our habits, previous experiences, and our desire to conform to social norms helps determine not only how much we eat, but also how full we feel later on...

September 26, 2012 — Katherine Harmon

Fractal Kitties Illustrate the Endless Possibilities for Julia Sets

For decades, scientists have been trying to solve a tough question: if the Internet runs out of cat pictures, can we generate more using advanced mathematics?* A paper posted on the arxiv earlier this month by mathematicians Kathryn Lindsey and the late William Thurston calms fears about "peak cat." In the paper, they describe a method of approximating the outline of a cat or other object using the Julia sets of polynomials.What’s a Julia set?...

September 26, 2012 — Evelyn Lamb

Can Personal Technology Stop the Obesity Epidemic?

SAN ANTONIO, Texas—So much of our information from—and interaction with—the world is now mediated by computers, cell phones and tablets that health experts have been practically running themselves ragged trying to find ways to use these conduits to help people make healthier choices.Great success stories have come out of parts of the developing world, where cell phones have been used to improve maternal and infant care and help people adhere to medication guidelines...

September 25, 2012 — Katherine Harmon

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