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Observations

Observations

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

Condoms for the World Cup and other ways to keep HIV at bay

MIAMI—In three months hundreds of thousands of soccer fans are expected to descend on nine South African cities for the 2010 World Cup. But for so many visitors going to a country where more than 10 percent of the population is estimated to have HIV/AIDS, many public health experts are worried that the event will kick off a spike in transmission...

March 12, 2010 — Katherine Harmon

Will the Clean Tech Bubble Burst?

BOSTON—Economic bubbles are now famous, and the collapse of the dot-com business a decade ago made the bursting of bubbles infamous. A panel of experts here at the Going Green East conference yesterday ended up in a lively, entertaining and, at times, contentious debate over whether the growth of so-called clean tech--renewable energy and environmentally friendly technologies--has entered the bubble stage, if that bubble is bursting...or if a bubble has ever existed.Lucky for anyone reading these words, the conference organizers at Always On videotaped the panel and have already posted it online for viewing...

March 11, 2010 — Mark Fischetti

Malaria rates drop in the Americas, but travelers still worry

MIAMI—Malaria continues to be a global scourge, sickening some 300 million to 500 million people annually. Most of the resulting one million to three million malaria deaths occur in regions where it is highly endemic, such as sub-Saharan Africa and parts of south Asia. 

Some parts of the world where malaria was once rampant, however—such as Central and South America—have seen morbidity and mortality rates of the disease cut in half in the past decade, reported specialists here Wednesday at the 14th annual International Congress on Infectious Diseases in Miami...

March 11, 2010 — Katherine Harmon

FCC reveals additional details of its plan to blanket the country with broadband

About a third of all Americans still lack broadband access to the Internet. At its Digital Inclusion Summit, held Tuesday in Washington, D.C., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provided a preview of its upcoming National Broadband Plan (NBP) to provide high-speed Internet access to the estimated 93 million people in the U.S...

March 10, 2010 — Larry Greenemeier

Sunshine is free, so can photovoltaics be cheap?

Here's how to make a solar cell from silicon: take one solid block of doped silicon, saw it into thin wafers, layer said semiconductors beneath a panel of transparent glass, connect them to a metal electrode that can channel away the electrons knocked loose by incoming photons and turn it into a photovoltaic device...

March 10, 2010 — David Biello

Storing megawatts: Liquid-metal batteries and electricity

Making aluminum requires a lot of electricity. That's because the metal bonds tightly to oxygen and it takes a lot of energy to break that bond. In essence, the process of making aluminum is a giant battery with the silvery metal being reduced to purity at the cathode while oxygen bonds with the carbon anode to make, you guessed it, CO2...

March 9, 2010 — David Biello

Chameleons' tongues still snappy in cool temperatures

When the weather cools, ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals slow down, which should be good news for their potential prey. But the colorful chameleon has found a way to keep feeding at top speeds even in lower temps: an elastic-tissue tongue, which unlike regular muscles, can uncoil nearly as fast in lower temperatures as it can in warmer ones...

March 8, 2010 — Katherine Harmon

Another reason vitamin D is important: It gets T cells going

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a rapidly expanding inventory of ailments—including heart disease, cancer and the common cold. A new discovery demonstrates how the vitamin plays a major role in keeping the body healthy in the first place, by allowing the immune system's T cells to start doing their jobs. 

In order for T cells to become active members of the body's immune system, they must transition from so-called "naive" T cells into either killer cells or helper cells (which are charged with "remembering" specific invaders)...

March 7, 2010 — Katherine Harmon

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