2012年3月30日 星期五

Conservatives' Trust in Science at All-Time Low

Conservatives' Trust in Science at All-Time Low

A new study suggests a growing partisan divide as science plays an increasing role in policy debates.

A new report suggests the number of conservatives who trust science is at an all-time low
Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images.
This may explain some of the rhetoric we've been hearing in GOP stump speeches of late: The number of conservatives who say they have a "great deal" of trust in science has fallen to 35 percent, down 28 points from the mid-1970s, according to a new academic paper.

The study, which was published Thursday in the American Sociological Review, found that liberal and moderate attitudes toward the topic have remained mostly unchanged since national pollsters first began posing the question in 1974, back when roughly half of all liberals and conservatives expressed significant trust in science.

The peer-reviewed research paper explains: "These results are quite profound because they imply that conservative discontent with science was not attributable to the uneducated but to rising distrust among educated conservatives."

The man behind the study, UNC Chapel Hill's Gordon Gauchat, says the change comes as conservatives have rebelled against the so-called "elite."

"It kind of began with the loss of Barry Goldwater and the construction of Fox News and all these [conservative] think tanks. The perception among conservatives is that they're at a disadvantage, a minority," Gauchat explained in an interview with U.S. News. "It's not surprising that the conservative subculture would challenge what's viewed as the dominant knowledge production groups in society—science and the media."

The sociologist suggested that the shift is also likely tied to science's changing role in the national dialogue. In the middle of the 20th century, science was tied closely with NASA and the Department of Defense, but now it more frequently comes up when the conversation shifts to the environment and government regulations.

"Science has become autonomous from the government—it develops knowledge that helps regulate policy, and in the case of the EPA, it develops policy," he said. "Science is charged with what religion used to be charged with—answering questions about who we are and what we came from, what the world is about. We're using it in American society to weigh in on political debates, and people are coming down on a specific side."

You can read a more of the interview at U.S. News, a more detailed recap of the the study over the Los Angeles Times, or check out the full paper here.

2012年3月23日 星期五

The Seventh Volume of Thomas Edison’s Papers

Edison Illuminated

The Seventh Volume of Thomas Edison’s Papers

The tantalizing thing about electricity, that fundamental force that lights our nights and floods our nanocircuits, is that no one has ever been able to say just what it is. Easy enough to see and feel what it does — even taste it, as schoolboys do when they grab each other’s tongues and touch a battery. But when electricity isn’t going someplace, it has no color, no character.
Capable of experimenting for days at a stretch, neglecting food, sleep and family: Thomas Edison, circa 1884.


Volume 7: Losses and Loyalties,April 1883-December 1884
Edited by Paul B. Israel, Louis Carlat, Theresa M. Collins and David Hochfelder
811 pp. The Johns Hopkins University Press. $95.


Biographically speaking, the same might be said of Thomas Edison, the largely self-taught inventor who has done more to irradiate this planet than any other agent save the sun. Many books have been written about him, and a goodly portion of the five million pages of documents in his archive have been published in a series of wrist-cracking volumes. His big head and black brows and easy grin are as vivid in our historical mind’s eye as the features of Abraham Lincoln. His surname attaches to countless schools and institutions, and enrages New Yorkers every time they open their monthly power bill. The incandescent lamp he perfected may soon spiral out of existence, yet cartoonists will continue to draw it when they wish to convey the ignition of an idea.
Edison the man, however, remains elusive. He is legendary for what he did — among other things, patenting 1,093 inventions in such diverse disciplines as telegraphy, cinematography, sonics, metallurgy, chemistry and botany. What he was in person is harder, maybe impossible to say, because he put so much of himself into his work. There were times when his two wives and six children felt there was no self left over for them — loving though he could be on the occasional Sunday off. Even then, his jocular impenetrability precluded intimacy. The near-deafness that had shrouded him since puberty was a frustration for his friends, who got little out of shouting into his right ear. Edison quickened everything he touched, but could not be captured at source.
The scheduled 15-volume series of “The Papers of Thomas A. Edison,” now almost half complete, makes this elusiveness clear. This is not the fault of the team of editors, headed by Paul B. Israel, whose mission is to put much of Edison on paper and even more of his archive online. Their scholarship is admirable, right down to identifying which of the great man’s scribbles are canceled, circled or “obscured overwritten.” Even his changes of ink are noted. No complexity of electrical or chemical engineering goes unexplained, in language that honors Thomas Sprat’s famous admonition to Royal Society scientists in 1684: “Reject all the Amplifications, Digressions and Swellings of Style; . . . return back to the primitive Purity and Shortness, when Men deliver’d so many Things, almost in an equal Number of Words.” But the myriad technological and business records they have published so far, plus a small number of personal documents, do not coalesce, like the facets of a Chuck Close painting, into full-color portraiture.
Volume 7, subtitled “Losses and Loyalties, April 1883-December 1884,” is devoted to Edison’s attempt to reinvent himself in his mid-30s as a businessman in New York. At 811 extra-large pages, it may not sell as well as the equally hefty first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography, which tore so many Christmas stockings in 2010. Nevertheless, as Close has remarked, even an agnosiac can get breadth of perception from the scrutiny of minutiae. In its superabundance of detail — steely facts and figures, great plates of text riveted with nouns and graffitied with cryptic drawings (Edison was an untrained but natural draftsman) — the book has the same kind of physical impact as that which stuns you when you enter his laboratory in West Orange, N.J. (The 21-acre complex is now Thomas Edison National Historical Park.) How, you ask yourself, can any one man have dreamed up and fabricated so many devices, from the first phonograph and first movie studio (rolling and rotatable on rails) to poured-cement houses, fuel cells and an execution harness for elephants? Room after room, floor after floor displays the hard evidence of Edison’s genius. No exhibit is more eloquent than the “New Things” pigeonhole in his desk, still stuffed with ideas he meant to get around to when he had time.
The word “genius” is so overused today it has lost its meaning — witness the lavishness with which it has been applied to Steve Jobs. Tellingly, a eulogist in The New Yorker sought to go beyond it by calling Jobs “the 20th century’s Thomas Edison.” Leaving aside the fact that Edison survived until 1931, and patented his last invention 10 months before he died, there is an almost comical disproportion between the creative achievement of the two men. The science scholar Vaclav Smil has pointed out that for all the sleek efficiency of Apple products, their technology has been derivative, making them at best “second-order innovations.” As for the 313 patents that Jobs claimed, either alone or with others, take his star device, the iPad, download the list of Edison’s successful applications from About.com, and see how many swipes you need to scroll through. (In my case, 49.) You will register, passim, successful applications for automobiles, phonographs, rotary kilns, haulage systems, auditory telegraphs, magnetos, waterproof paint, stencil pens, railway signals, talking dolls and enough variations on the theme of incandescent light to give you photon fatigue.
But screen-stroking is a superficial exercise in more ways than one. “Losses and Loyalties” covers just 21 months of Edison’s life, and conveys his productivity during that period by printing on acid-free paper as much documentary evidence as can reasonably be put between covers.
By the spring of 1883, Edison had more or less closed down his famous laboratory in Menlo Park, N.J., and headquartered himself in New York. He announced that he was going to take “a long vacation” from inventing. His design and construction of the world’s first central power station at Pearl Street, in Lower Manhattan (now considered to be his greatest achievement, eclipsing the phonograph and Edison lamp), had brought orders for similar systems from as far away as Italy and Chile. Enormous wealth stared him in the face. But to capitalize quickly on the most immediate of these opportunities — in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — he wanted to free himself of the corporate drag of the Edison Electric Light Company. That already huge enterprise was, in his opinion, too timid about business risk. He decided to create his own construction department and finance it out of his own pocket.
Ever since his invention of the phonograph in 1877, he had made millions by manufacturing his own products. But the usual benefits of Mammon — luxury, social status, treasure — did not interest him. As fast as profits flowed from the factory, he rechanneled them into research and development. The success of Pearl Street persuaded him that he was as brilliant an entrepreneur as a scientist. “Losses and Loyalties” demonstrates the vanity of this notion. While by no means lacking in commercial or competitive smarts, Edison was overly confident of the technological excellence of his systems. In rushing to throw a necklace of miniature Pearls across the bosom of Eastern states, he did not anticipate the inability of local municipalities to operate them reliably. (Then, as now, the American economy suffered from a shortage of skilled electrical engineers.) Within a year, he found himself nearly bankrupted by the heavy expenses of building stations and coaxing them into profitable ­operation.
Meanwhile Edison’s creative side, as urgent as any poet’s, made him yearn for the laboratory. Consider the following stream of consciousness, jotted in one of his innumerable notebooks. One does not have to be a scientist to sense that this was, in Henry James’s phrase, a “laboratory brain”:
“Licorice seems to Carbonize without any Swelling large amount gas goes off — Might be used as binder or mixed with other things roled into sheets to Cut filiments from . . . paint filiment with Camel hair brush with acetate of mag also Lime, mag 1st= then get vac & gently bring up then b[rea]k vac & paint again etc several times then get life & Phenomenon.”
Edison wrote that in Florida in March 1884, on a river cruise necessitated by the ill health of his wife, Mary. Relieved for a while from business cares, he could happily conduct imaginary experiments. He was unable to look at flora ashore, or machinery in the fields, without conceiving new biochemical and mechanical processes.
Even the presence of a shark in the waters off St. Augustine had to be turned into a demonstration of applied electrophysics. Edison went after it with a mysterious basket stashed on the floor of a hired yacht. Unraveling a long wire insulated with gutta-percha, he dropped a lure of mock meat that, as the shark soon discovered, was entirely the wrong thing to chew. When the line jerked, Edison “worked like an organ-grinder” at a crank handle in the basket (presumably connected to a dynamo), and returned to land triumphant, with a 700-pound trophy to hang in the local museum.
It was the last leisurely moment in an otherwise terrible year. That summer, a lawsuit he had been obstinately fighting, in the face of two court judgments against him, climaxed in the seizure of his house at Menlo Park for a sheriff’s sale. He had no cash left to save it, and had to rely on the pre-emptive bid of a friend. At the same time, with shocking suddenness, Mary died. She was only 29.
Biographers have been incurious about Mary Stilwell, whom Edison married in a surge of sexual desire in 1871. The consensus is that she was the blue-collar girl he should have left behind. Certainly she did not compare intellectually or socially with her successor, Mina Miller, an inventor’s daughter unfazed at being proposed to in Morse code. Mary probably could not have handled the almost godlike celebrity Edison attained by the end of the century, nor the deterioration of his personality as he grew ever more autocratic. But unlike Mina, she could remember him when he was a young, little-known telegraph engineer.
An interview Mary gave shortly before her death, ­discovered and republished in “Losses and Loyalties,” corrects some of the misapprehensions about their marriage. “In the first place, I never worked in any factory. . . . All the stories about his passing along where I was at work Monday evening and proposing to me and setting the wedding for Tuesday morning hasn’t a word of truth in it.” She had been a schoolgirl, not yet 16, who ducked into his Newark laboratory one afternoon during a rainstorm. “I thought he had very handsome eyes,” yet “he was so dirty, all covered with machine oil, &c.” She allowed him to escort her home, though, and for the next five months received his suit as an old-fashioned “gentleman caller.” Thirteen years and three childbirths later, Mary voiced no regrets about becoming the wife of a smelly scientist whom she rarely saw by daylight. Edison was quite capable of experimenting for 95 hours at a stretch, neglecting food and sleep in his obsessive quest for “life & Phenomenon.”
At least he was home, having hurriedly returned from his laboratory in New York, the night she died in Menlo Park. His eldest daughter, Marion, recalled him “shaking with grief, weeping and sobbing” the next morning, hardly able to tell her what had happened. One suspects that Edison’s shock was mixed with guilt, for Mary, like Mina later on, was often cast into depression by his marital neglect.
The Edison Electric Light Company issued a terse statement explaining she was a victim of “congestion of the brain” — that vague ailment cited in so many 19th-century obituaries. Whoever signed Mary’s post-mortem certificate suspiciously left blank the cause-of-death box. Professor Israel and his researchers have, however, uncovered a plausible-sounding newspaper account of the catastrophe. It reports, on the authority of a family friend, that Mrs. Edison was killed by “an overdose of morphine swallowed in a moment of frenzy.”
Apparently she had become addicted to morphine as a relief from uterine pain after the birth of her third child. The article does not imply that she committed suicide. But there is this extraordinary paragraph about how her husband reacted when a physician said that Mary was beyond help: “Mr. Edison silently drew forth a cabinet and instantly a powerful current of electricity responded to his will. For two hours he kept life from fleeting, but at last he appreciated that his science, like that of the doctors, was powerless. Taking his children by the hand he led them into his study. There they remained for a long time and when he came out his blue eyes glistened and the lids were red and swollen.”
One hopes the “cabinet” was not the same one he went shark-fishing with in Florida.
By the end of September 1884, Edison was back at research and development, having resignedly given over his central-station business to the Edison Electric Company. A visit with Marion to the International Electrical Exhibition in Philadelphia (father and daughter hand in hand, gazing at a tower of more than 2,000 light bulbs that dazzlingly spelled out his name) convinced him that his real gift was for innovation. Nearly 600 further inventions, beginning with United States Patent No. 438304, “Electric Signaling Apparatus,” lay ahead of him; another wife, three more children and more millions of dollars than he would ever bother to count. He was not yet 38, and his thick hair was still brown. Beneath it, the laboratory brain was beating, musing new ways to improve the sonics of long-distance telephony: “The induction coil by its Extra Current knocks the talking down nearly 1/2 now if it could be Cut out when receiving it would be good thing. . . . ”

Edmund Morris, the author of biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Beethoven, is at work on a life of Thomas Edison. A collection of his writings, “This Living Hand and Other Essays,” will be published this fall.

2012年3月21日 星期三

產業標準爭霸: “nano-Sim”,

Apple gears up for Sim standard fight

A battle has broken out between Apple and its rival smartphone makers over the standard industry template for miniature Sim cards for the next generation of slimmer handsets.
Apple is leading a bid against Motorola Mobility – which Google is in the process of buying – BlackBerry parent Research In Motion and Nokia for its technology to be recognised as the standard for the so-called “nano-Sim”, an important technical step in the miniaturisation of smartphones.
Micro-Sims are already common in the latest generation of smart devices, such as Apple’s iPhone 4S and Nokia’s Lumia. The nano-Sim is thinner and about a third smaller than the micro-Sim, and would allow more space for other functions.
Apple is backed by most of the European operators. The two groups have tabled proposals to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

All handset makers would be able to use the design chosen under licence but the Apple-led proposal has caused some concern among its rivals that the US group might eventually own the patents.
The Sim is crucial to the design of future handsets, with one person with knowledge of the committee saying that the Apple-backed nano-Sim could require a “drawer” to protect it. “Phones would need to be re-engineered with this in mind,” the person said. Nokia said that its proposal had “significant technical advantages”.
Apple has considered dropping Sims in the past, although the move has met with opposition from operators that generate revenue from selling cards.
ETSI members will decide on the proposals next week. The voting process within the independent standards body has come under scrutiny this week following a move by Apple to significantly increase its number of votes.
According to documents seen by the Financial Times, Apple has applied to become the largest voting group in the organisation having registered six European subsidiaries to become full members at a meeting in Cannes yesterday. Any subsidiary with revenues of more than €8bn can have up to 45 votes. The decision on membership has been deferred until today.
However, in a document filed on Monday, Nokia asked “whether it is right that one group of companies can obtain a high amount of votes by filing multiple membership applications”. Nokia is the largest voting body with about 92 votes.


这场争斗的一方以苹果为首,另一方包括正被谷歌(Google)收购的摩托罗拉移动(Motorola Mobility)、黑莓手机(Blackberry)制造商RIM(Reasearch In Motion)以及诺基亚(Nokia)。苹果的目标是使自己的技术被承认为所谓的“nano-SIM卡”的行业标准。这种SIM卡是智能手机变得更小型 化过程中的一项重要技术。
Micro-SIM卡在最新一代智能移动设备中已得到广泛使用,比如苹果的iPhone 4S和诺基亚的Lumia。Nano-SIM卡要更薄,尺寸也比micro-SIM卡小了三分之一左右,这样就能为智能移动设备省出空间来实现其他功能。
根据英国《金融时报》看到的材料,昨天在戛纳的一次会议上,苹果在欧洲注册的6个子公司申请成为ETSI的正式会员,如此便可使苹果成为该协会内拥 有最多票数的投票方。任何一家营收超过80亿欧元的子公司都可拥有最多45张票。到今天为止,该协会尚未就苹果子公司的会员资格问题做出决定。

2012年3月14日 星期三




地球暖化日趨嚴重,全球都在努力降低碳排放。建築耗能產生之溫室氣體更是其中之大宗,根據歐盟調查,建物之耗能約占全球各種民生耗能之40%,尤以製造傳 統電力所產生之二氧化碳與室內冷氣空調所產生之氫氟碳化物(HFCs)為兩大主要溫室氣體,因此最新之建築理念為讓建物本身可產生再生能源並降低建築耗 能,也就是說建物所須能源來自本身外殼之太陽能源,並同時降低空調耗能,達到電力自給自足,這才是降低地球暖化之具體展現。


最新之建築理念為降低建築仰賴外來能源,轉向再生能源並降低建物耗能,達到電力自給自足。個人所主持之太陽能與節能建築研究團隊,獲教育部頂尖計畫補助, 成功研發出世界第一片結合自潔、隔熱與發電三機一體之太陽能玻璃。首先,此光電玻璃之外部表面塗佈奈米光觸媒,可分解表面污染物,住戶不必再為玻璃不易清 洗而煩惱。其次,還能有效隔絕太陽光產生之輻射熱,減少冷氣使用。且其紫外線穿透率為零,可保護室內之人員與傢俱不受紫外線傷害;紅外線穿透率亦為零,有 效隔絕室外熱源。加上還能發電,可大幅降低對臺電之供電需求。此研發之關鍵技術在於將“Off-module Power Enhanced”(高效率反射膜)之技術應用於光電模組,以最低之成本達到最高之發電效率,此技術目前可提升8%之發電效率,最大發電量為晴天正午 106 W/m2。因為有隔熱效能,所以屋內不會熱,節省冷氣之耗電,經實體屋試驗可節省40%之冷氣耗電,冬天亦有保暖作用,可省30%之暖房耗電。同時開源 (提升發電力)與節流(節省冷房空調),不僅兼顧環保與節能,某種程度還具備電力自足概念,已為綠建築注入新的應用元素。

此一技術深受日本光電產業重視,而有日本翠光株式會社與臺科大簽署技轉合約,並在2009年東京光電展中,榮獲最有潛力之太陽能產品。進而引起 Discovery頻道之注意,分別於2009年與2011年製播專輯報導。已實地應用在工程建築方面的,國外有馬來西亞之光電牌樓,國內有建研所EAG HOUSE,陽明山私人別墅,捷運大安森林公園站,2010臺北國際花博美國館與高雄龍興國小等。


如前所述,本研發之關鍵技術在於應用高效率反射膜技術,用最低之成本達到最高之發電效率。我們利用光反射原理,將高反射率之隔熱膜置於透光光電模組後方, 使發電模組產生二次發電,以提升發電效率與同時達到隔熱功能。如圖1所示,在戶外太陽光照射下可提升8%之發電效率,同時更降低4倍之輻射熱,證明能強化 太陽能模組之電力並降低輻射熱之進入室內,同時增加再生能源與降低耗能,達到雙重效果。



如圖2所示,本光電玻璃之透光度10%時,在戶外量測之最高發電效率為106 W/m2。

圖2:研發之光電玻璃在戶外量測之最高發電效率為106 W/m2。




如圖4所示,本光電玻璃在監測屋中進行冷房試驗,與10mm厚之傳統強化玻璃屋相較,傳統玻璃屋冷房耗電 3.29 度,而太陽能節能玻璃屋只耗電2度,顯見太陽能節能玻璃可降低冷房耗電之40%,有效達到節能。





2008年11月5日 Discovery頻道至本校專訪太陽能節能玻璃,並於2009年10月開始在全世界各地以不同語言播出(圖6)。2011年6月19日《科技新亞洲第3 集》,介紹日本、韓國、臺灣、新加坡等國的先進發明時,本團隊「太陽能節能玻璃」也成為本集節目中的亮點。(圖7)。




本技術於2008年發 表後,已技轉並陸續應用於多項工程,如表1與表2所示。其中新加坡之案例原為BCA新加坡建研所之ZERO ENERGY BUILDING 採用傳統單多晶式之太陽能模組作為立面玻璃,但發現隔熱與視覺效果不佳,後來改採我們之太陽能節能玻璃,已製成3片送往新加坡太陽能研究中心進行安裝前檢 測。另外,美國University of New Mexico之零耗能展示屋的採用,則是該校Prof. Olga在Discovery Channel看到報導,特地搭機來臺參觀並選定,已進入廠商報價與製作階段。(本期專欄策畫/化工系陳文章教授&土木系呂良正主任)




成功大學土木工程系畢 業(1981),臺灣工業技術學院營建工程技術系碩士(1986),臺灣大學土木工程學博士(1990)。於University of Cambridge的Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy擔任博士後研究,Industrial Research Limited, Crown Research Institute, N.Z的Engineering Dynamics擔任Visiting Research後回臺,獲聘臺灣科技大學營建工程系副教授,現任教授。主持太陽能與節能建築研究,卓有成果。

2012年3月10日 星期六

Can Airline Food Be Tasty?

Beyond Mile-High Grub: Can Airline Food Be Tasty?

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The chef Michael Chiarello prepares a lamb chop at a recent gathering of Delta executives, chefs and catering representatives.

ONE of the world’s busiest airports, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, lies a mere 1,026 feet above sea level. Which, it turns out, is perfect for your taste buds.


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Robert Graves/Associated Press

The catering of a jet in Houston. To lure high-paying customers, airlines are upgrading meals in their upper-class cabins, despite many logistical challenges.

Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times

Our chefs are like portrait painters,” says Peter Wilander at Delta. “They can get pretty creative. But we need to translate that into painting by numbers.”

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

An airline cooking demonstration by the celebrity chef Michael Chiarello.

At low elevations, the 10,000 or so taste buds in the human mouth work pretty much as nature intended. With an assist from the nose — the sense of smell plays a big role in taste — the familiar quartet of sweet, bitter, sour and salty registers as usual. Tomato juice tastes like tomato juice, turkey Florentine like turkey Florentine.

But step aboard a modern airliner, and the sense of taste loses its bearings. This isn’t simply because much airline food is unappetizing, although that doesn’t help. No, the bigger issue is science — science that airlines now want to turn to their advantage as they vie for lucrative business- and first-class travelers.

Even before a plane takes off, the atmosphere inside the cabin dries out the nose. As the plane ascends, the change in air pressure numbs about a third of the taste buds. And as the plane reaches a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, cabin humidity levels are kept low by design, to reduce the risk of fuselage corrosion. Soon, the nose no longer knows. Taste buds are M.I.A. Cotton mouth sets in.

All of which helps explain why, for instance, a lot of tomato juice is consumed on airliners: it tastes far less acidic up in the air than it does down on the ground. It also helps explain why airlines tend to salt and spice food heavily and serve wines that are full-bodied fruit bombs. Without all that extra kick, the food would taste bland. Above the Atlantic, even a decent light Chablis would taste like lemon juice.

“Subtlety is not well served at altitude,” says Andrea Robinson, a sommelier who has selected wines for Delta Air Lines since 2008.

The science of airline food, which Delta, Lufthansa and other airlines have studied assiduously for years, has opened a new front in the battle for passengers in the upper-class cabins. Until recently, airline food seemed in terminal decline — another victim of widespread cost cuts in this long-troubled industry. Industry experts trace the problem back to 1987, when American Airlines removed a single olive from its salads to save a little money.

Anyone who has flown coach in recent years knows what happened next. Catering budgets were cut drastically. Free meals disappeared from cattle class. It might seem hard to believe, but flight attendants once whisked racks of lamb down the aisles on silver trays. Today, they hawk chips and soda.

But after years of belt-tightening, airline executives are investing again to attract business passengers willing to pay a premium for tickets, and food is a big part of that effort. This includes devising new menus and even hiring celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay, of “Hell’s Kitchen” fame, to consult. The motivation is obvious: business and first class account for about a third of all airline seats but generate a majority of the revenue. Keeping high-end customers is crucial to the bottom line.

THE industry can’t afford missteps. Airlines suffered mightily as travelers pulled back after the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks. In the decade that followed, domestic carriers lost a combined $60 billion as competition intensified and fuel prices rose. For many carriers, bankruptcy was the only option. American Airlines was the most recent major airline to do so, last November.

After so much turbulence, airlines are trying to chart a more profitable course through mergers and a renewed focus on business and first class. Many have installed flat-bed seats on some domestic flights, fancier entertainment systems and Wi-Fi.

But in the kitchen, science is still working against airlines. To crack the taste code, Lufthansa, the German airline, went as far as enlisting the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, a research institute near Munich. Among other things, the airline wanted to know why passengers ordered as much tomato juice as beer — about 423,000 gallons of each annually. The answer was that for many passengers, tomato juice apparently has a different taste in different atmospheric conditions.

“We put a lot of effort in designing perfect meals for our clients, but when we tried them ourselves in the air, the meals would taste like airline food,” says Ingo Buelow, who is in charge of food and beverages at Lufthansa. “We were puzzled.”

So are many other people.

Ice cream is about the only thing I can think of that tastes good on a plane,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “Airlines have a problem with food on board. The packaging, freezing, drying and storage are hard on flavor at any altitude, let alone 30,000 feet.”

The journey from recipe book to industrial kitchen to a plane in midflight is fraught with peril. It’s not just a culinary feat — it’s also a logistical nightmare. The $13-billion-a-year airline catering industry serves millions of meals daily worldwide. It must maintain supply chains, standards and quality under a variety of local conditions.

“The cooking is the easy part,” says Corey Roberts, a chef based in New York with LSG Sky Chefs, the biggest catering company. “What we have to worry about is the logistics of getting the correct meal on the correct flight, on the right trays, into the right galley, at the right time. It’s a logistical puzzle of juggling all these meals, every day, for hundreds of flights.”

Catering facilities are part restaurants, part industrial production halls where thousands of workers grill, fry, bake, simmer, boil, poach, beat and braise. Food safety standards require all meals to be cooked first on the ground. After that, they are blast-chilled and refrigerated until they can be stacked on carts and loaded on planes.

In 2010, LSG Sky Chefs produced 460 million meals for 300 airlines in 200 flight kitchens in 50 countries. GateGourmet, the No. 2 caterer, served 9,700 daily flights in 28 countries.

Once all the food is aboard, airlines face another hurdle: planes don’t have full kitchens. For safety, open-flame grills and ovens aren’t allowed on commercial aircraft. Flight attendants can’t touch food the way a restaurant chef might in order to prepare a dish. Galley space is cramped, and there’s little time to get creative with presentation.

So attendants must contend with convection ovens that blow hot, dry air over the food. Newer planes have steam ovens, which are better because they help keep food moist. Either way, meals can only be reheated, not cooked, on board.

“Getting any food to taste good on a plane is an elusive goal,” says Steve Gundrum, who runs a company that develops new products for the food industry.

STILL, there was a time not so long ago when airline food could seem very special. Mr. Gundrum recalls, for example, that he had his best airline meal aboard a British Airways Concorde 25 years ago. It was grouse cooked in a wine reduction, accompanied by little roasted potatoes.

Today, airlines want to recreate some of those glory days in their upper-class cabins, with American carriers — trying to bounce back from years of financial cutbacks — aiming to catch up with foreign rivals’ international service.

And some of those foreign carriers have been raising the stakes. The menu at Air France, for instance, includes Basque shrimp and turmeric-scented pasta with lemon grass. The dishes were created by the chef Joël Robuchon, who has collected a total of 27 Michelin stars in his career. The airline’s roster of chefs also includes Guy Martin, the chef at le Grand Véfour, and Jacques Le Divellec, who runs a restaurant that bears his name in Paris.

Air France isn’t alone in reaching out to celebrity chefs. Lufthansa teams with chefs from the luxury hotel chain Mandarin Oriental to prepare meals for its flights between the United States and Germany. Singapore Airlines, meanwhile, has published a book of in-flight recipes from 10 chefs, including Mr. Ramsay. Its business- and first-class passengers can pick their meals from an online menu 24 hours before takeoff. The airline offers a braised soy-flavored duck with yam rice — a specialty from Singapore — or a seafood thermidor with buttered asparagus, slow-roasted vine-ripened tomatoes and saffron rice.

Korean Air owns a farm where it raises beef and organic grains and vegetables for its in-flight meals, including bibimbap, a Korean classic of rice, sautéed vegetables and chili paste that the airline serves in coach. The farm has more than 1,600 head of cattle and more than 5,000 chickens destined for meals in first class.

And the catering business of Emirates Airlines, in Dubai, handles 90,000 meals a day and bakes its own bread, crumble cake and pecan pie. It also prepares nearly 130 different kinds of menus daily. It offers Japanese and Italian dishes, for instance, and has 12 regional Indian cuisines. Eighteen workers spend their days just making elaborate flower designs out of fruit.

American carriers, while elevating their international food service, have generally shunned such refinements on domestic flights. But Peter Wilander, managing director of onboard services at Delta, wants to bring some glamour back.

Last year, Delta hired Michael Chiarello, a celebrity chef from Napa Valley, to come up with new menus for business-class passengers flying on transcontinental routes — New York to Los Angeles and New York to San Francisco. It was not the first time that Delta had worked with a renowned chef. The airline has served meals created by Michelle Bernstein, a Miami chef, since 2006 in its international business class.

“Our chefs are like portrait painters,” Mr. Wilander says. “They can get pretty creative. But we need to translate that into painting by numbers.” That process began last May, when Mr. Chiarello met with executives and catering chefs from Delta at a boxy industrial kitchen on the edge of the San Francisco airport to demonstrate some of his recipes. Among the dozens of dishes he tried were an artichoke and white-bean spread, short ribs with polenta, and a small lasagna of eggplant and goat cheese.

“I am known for making good food, and airlines generally are not,” says Mr. Chiarello, who is also the author of a half-dozen cookbooks, the host for a show on the Food Network, and a former contestant on “Top Chef Masters” and “The Next Iron Chef.” “I probably have a lot more to lose than to gain doing this.”

Huddled around him, white-toqued chefs from Delta and its catering partners weighed each ingredient on a small electronic scale, took scrupulous notes and pictures and tried to calculate how much it would cost to recreate each dish a thousand times a day.

It took Mr. Chiarello six months to come up with the menu. He tested recipes, picked seasonal ingredients, considered textures and colors and looked at ways to present his meals on a small airline tray. Then Delta’s corporate chefs had to learn his way of cooking and serving. Bean counters — the financial kind — priced each item. Executives and frequent fliers were drafted to taste his creations.

There were a lot of questions. How should cherry tomatoes be sliced? (The answer: Leave them whole.) What side should a chicken fillet be grilled on? (Skin first.) How many slices of prosciutto can be used as appetizers? (Two large ones, rather than three, struck the balance between taste and price.)

FOR airlines like Delta, these are not trivial matters. A decision a few years ago to shave one ounce from its steaks, for example, saved the airline $250,000 a year. And every step of kitchen labor increases costs when so many meals are prepared daily. An entrée accounts for about 60 percent of a meal’s cost, according to Delta, while appetizers account for 17 percent, salads 10 percent and desserts 7 percent.

Delta also calculated that by removing a single strawberry from salads served in first class on domestic routes, it would save $210,000 a year. The company hands out 61 million bags of peanuts every year, and about the same number of pretzels. A one-cent increase in peanut prices increases Delta’s costs by $610,000 a year.

Others are catching on. United Airlines said in February that it would upgrade its service to first- and business-class passengers and would change the way it prepares meals “to improve the quality and taste.” It also said it would start offering a new ice cream sundae option with a choice of six toppings on international flights. On domestic flights, premium passengers will get new snacks, including warm cookies.

At Bottega, his high-end restaurant in Yountville, Calif., Mr. Chiarello specializes in modern Italian flavors, with a focus on fresh ingredients and an obsessive attention to detail in the kitchen and in the dining room. His staff is meticulously trained and has an intimate understanding of the dishes and wines served. And Mr. Chiarello is the undisputed boss of his kitchen.

Translating that in an airline setting is arduous. Delta sent some of its flight attendants based in New York to Mr. Chiarello’s Napa restaurant, and organized Webcasts so others could hear him talk about his food. It also introduced new silverware and trays in time for his new three-course meals.

Delta hopes that passengers will come back if they have a good meal. But for chefs like Mr. Chiarello, airline cooking will always pose challenges.

“If I put a sauce on a plate at my restaurant, I bark at the waiters to hold the plate straight so it doesn’t spill,” he says. “But you can’t bark at the pilot to fly the plane straight, right?”

2012年3月7日 星期三

Amateurs Are New Fear in Creating Mutant Virus

Amateurs Are New Fear in Creating Mutant Virus

Na Son Nguyen/Associated Press

WORRY An outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu virus was reported in Vietnam in February.

Just how easy is it to make a deadly virus?

This disturbing question has been on the minds of many scientists recently, thanks to a pair of controversial experiments in which the H5N1 bird flu virus was transformed into mutant forms that spread among mammals.

After months of intense worldwide debate, a panel of scientists brought together by the World Health Organization recommended last week in favor of publishing the results. There is no word on exactly when those papers — withheld since last fall by the journals Nature and Science — will appear. But when they do, will it be possible for others to recreate the mutant virus? And if so, who might they be and how would they do it?

Scientists are sharply divided on those questions, as they are on the whole complex of issues surrounding the mutated virus known as mutH5N1.

On the question of who, while terrorists and cults have long been a concern in biosecurity circles, some scientists also fear that publication may allow curious amateurs to recreate the mutated virus — raising the risk of an accidental release.

Over the past decade, more amateur biologists have started to do genetic experiments of their own. One hub of this so-called D.I.Y. biology movement, the Web site DIYbio.org, now has more than 2,000 members.

“I worry about the garage scientist, about the do-your-own scientist, about the person who just wants to try and see if they can do it,” Michael T. Osterholm of the University of Minnesota said last week at a meeting of biosecurity experts in Washington.

Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who along with Dr. Osterholm is a member of the scientific advisory board that initially recommended against publishing the papers, agreed. “Mike is right,” he said in a telephone interview. “Humans are very inventive.”

Advocates of D.I.Y. biology say such fears not only are wildly exaggerated, but could interfere with their efforts to educate the public.

“I am really sick and tired of folks waving this particular red flag,” said Ellen D. Jorgensen, a molecular biologist who is president of Genspace, a “community biotechnology lab” in Brooklyn.

There are many ways to make a virus. The simplest and oldest way is to get the viruses do all the work. In the 19th century, doctors produced smallpox vaccines by inoculating cows with cowpox viruses. The viruses replicated in the cows and produced scabs, which were then applied to patients, protecting them from the closely related smallpox virus.

By the turn of the century, scientists had discovered how to isolate a number of other viruses from animals and transfer them to new hosts. And by midcentury scientists were rearing viruses in colonies of cells, which made their study far easier. (Viruses have to infect host cells to reproduce; they cannot replicate on their own.)

More recently, scientists discovered how to make new viruses — or at least new variations on old ones. The biotechnology revolution of the 1970s enabled them to move genes from one virus to another.

Flu vaccines can be made this way. Scientists can move some genes from a dangerous flu strain to a harmless virus that grows quickly in chicken eggs. They inject the engineered viruses into the eggs to let them multiply, then kill the viruses to prepare injectable vaccines.

Scientists have also learned how to tweak individual virus genes. They remove a portion of the gene and then use enzymes to mutate specific sites. Using other enzymes, they paste the altered portion back into the virus’s genes.

Another way to make altered viruses is to harness evolution. In a method called serial passage, scientists infect an animal with viruses. The descendants of those viruses mutate inside the animal, and some mutations allow certain viruses to multiply faster than others. The scientists then take a sample of the viruses and infect another animal.

Viruses can change in important ways during this process. If it is done in the presence of antiviral drugs, scientists can observe how viruses evolve resistance. And viruses can become weak, making them useful as vaccines.

At the biosecurity meeting in Washington last week, Ron Fouchier, who led the Dutch team that created one of the mutant H5N1 viruses, described part of the experiment.

The scientists used well-established methods: First they introduced a few mutations into the H5N1 flu genes that they thought might help the bird flu infect mammals. They administered the viruses to the throats of ferrets, waited for the animals to get sick and then transferred viruses to other ferrets. After several rounds, they ended up with a strain that could spread on its own from one ferret to another in the air.

If trained virologists could see the full details of the paper, there would be several ways they could make mutH5N1 for themselves. The most sophisticated way would be to make the viruses from scratch. They could take the publicly available genome sequence of H5N1 and rewrite it to include the new mutations, then simply copy the new sequence into an e-mail.

“It’s outsourced to companies that do this for a living,” said Steffen Mueller, a virologist at Stony Brook University on Long Island, who regularly synthesizes flu viruses to design new vaccines.

A DNA-synthesis company would then send back harmless segments of the flu’s genes, pasted into the DNA of bacteria. The scientists could cut out the viral segments from the bacteria, paste them together and inject the reconstructed virus genes into cells. If everything went right, the cells would start making mutH5N1 viruses.

The synthesis companies are on the lookout for matches between requested DNA and the genomes of dangerous pathogens. But some experts say such safeguards are hardly airtight. “You could imagine a determined actor could cleverly disguise orders,” Dr. Casadevall said. “I have a lot of respect for human ingenuity.”

Synthesizing viruses has a high-tech glamour about it, but trained virologists could use a simpler method. Knowing the mutations acquired by mutH5N1, they could simply alter ordinary H5N1 viruses at the same sites in its genes to match it.

Virologists might even be able to figure out how to make mutH5N1 from the few details that have already emerged. According to reports, there were only five mutations in the Dutch viruses, and these were most likely at key sites involved in getting viruses into host cells.

Matthew B. Frieman, a virologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said that a review of the scientific literature could point to where the mutations were inserted. “It’s not like nuclear fission,” he said.

Some of the equipment that scientists use to work on viruses has grown so inexpensive that it is no longer limited to university labs. Devices for duplicating pieces of DNA sell for a few hundred dollars on eBay, for example.

Those falling costs have spurred the rise of the D.I.Y. biology movement; they have also generated concerns about what a do-it-yourselfer might be able accomplish.

D.I.Y. biologists sometimes laugh at the sinister powers people think they have. “People overestimate our technological abilities and underestimate our ethics,” said Jason Bobe, a founder of DIYbio.org.

Todd Kuiken, a senior research associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington who specializes in the movement, points out that typical D.I.Y. projects are relatively simple, like inserting a gene into bacteria to make them glow. Producing viruses involves much more expensive equipment to do things like rearing host cells. “It’s not going to happen in someone’s basement,” he said.

Nor do these amateurs have the years of training it takes to grow viruses successfully. “It’s like I say, ‘I want to be a four-star chef,’ ” said Dr. Jorgensen, the president of Genspace, who worked with viruses for her Ph.D. “You can read about it, but unless someone teaches you side by side, I don’t think you’re going to get far.”

It is hard to predict how the future evolution of biotechnology will affect the risk of homegrown pathogens.

“There ought to be oversight down the road,” Mr. Bobe said. But he and others question whether holding back scientific information can reduce the risk. While it might be challenging to make one particular flu virus, like mutH5N1, it is not hard to try to breed new flu viruses.

“If you are a farmer somewhere in China, you could do it,” said Dr. Mueller, the virologist at Stony Brook. All that would be necessary is to bring some sick chickens in contact with ferrets or other mammals. “Without knowing what you’re doing, you could do it anyway.”

Of course, someone trying to make a new flu this way might well end up its first victim.

And some experts say that regardless of how a lethal virus might arise, the important thing is to be able to defeat it when it appears, so that we can avoid a global catastrophe like the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed 50 million people.

“The only thing that can be done, and to my mind should be done,” said Ron Atlas, a University of Louisville microbiologist and expert on bioterrorism, “is to have a vaccine that protect against this. We need an urgent program for a generalized influenza vaccine. We would take off the table another 1918-type event.”

2012年3月5日 星期一


日本╱上萬蜘蛛絲 打造小提琴弦

〔編譯林翠儀/綜合報導〕用蜘蛛絲做成的小提琴琴弦,究竟能拉出什麼音色呢?日本有一名 學者花了2年時間,以上萬根蜘蛛絲做成琴弦,據說拉出來的音色比羊腸弦或金屬弦更厚重、柔和。這項創舉將發表在最新一期的「物理評論快報」 (Physical Review Letters)。




2012年3月1日 星期四

Smart concrete: “ultra-high performance concrete” (UHPC).


Smart concrete

Iran makes some of the world’s toughest concrete. It can cope with earthquakes and, perhaps, bunker-busting bombs

A DUAL-USE technology is one that has both civilian and military applications. Enriching uranium is a good example. A country may legitimately do so to fuel power stations. Or it may do so illegitimately to arm undeclared nuclear weapons. Few, however, would think of concrete as a dual-use technology. But it can be. And one country—as it happens, one that is very interested in enriching uranium—is also good at making what is known as “ultra-high performance concrete” (UHPC).

Iran is an earthquake zone, so its engineers have developed some of the toughest building materials in the world. Such materials could also be used to protect hidden nuclear installations from the artificial equivalent of small earthquakes, namely bunker-busting bombs.

To a man with a hammer…

Leon Panetta, America’s defence secretary, seems worried. He recently admitted that his own country’s new bunker-busting bomb, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP, pictured above being dropped from a B-52), needs an upgrade to take on the deepest Iranian bunkers. But even that may not be enough, thanks to Iran’s mastery of smart concrete.

UHPC is based—like its quotidian cousins—on sand and cement. In addition, though, it is doped with powdered quartz (the pure stuff, rather than the tainted variety that makes up most sand) and various reinforcing metals and fibres.

UHPC can withstand more compression than other forms of concrete. Ductal, a French version of the material which is commercially available, can withstand pressure many times higher than normal concrete can. UHPC is also more flexible and durable than conventional concrete. It can therefore be used to make lighter and more slender structures.

For this reason, Iranian civil engineers are interested in using it in structures as diverse as dams and sewage pipes and are working on improving it. Mahmoud Nili of Bu-Ali Sina University in Hamadan for example, is using polypropylene fibres and quartz flour, known as fume, in his mix. It has the flexibility to absorb far heavier blows than regular concrete. Rouhollah Alizadeh of the University of Tehran may do better still. Dr Alizadeh, a graduate of the University of Tehran, is currently working at Ottawa University in Canada on the molecular structure of cement. That could pave the way for a new generation of UHPC with precisely engineered properties and outstanding performance.

One way to tamper with the internal structure of concrete is to use nanoparticles. Ali Nazari and his colleagues at Islamic Azad University in Saveh have published several papers on how to do that with different types of metal-oxide nanoparticles. They have worked with oxides of iron, aluminium, zirconium, titanium and copper. At the nanoscale materials can take on extraordinary properties. Although it has been demonstrated only in small samples, it might be possible, using such nanoparticles, to produce concrete that is four times stronger than Ductal.

All of which is fine and dandy for safer dams and better sewers, which threaten no one. But UHPC’s potential military applications are more intriguing—and for many, more worrying. A study published by the University of Tehran in 2008 looked at the ability of UHPC to withstand the impact of steel projectiles. These are not normally a problem during earthquakes. This study found that concrete which contained a high proportion of long steel fibres in its structure worked best. Another study, published back in 1995, showed that although the compressive strength of concrete was enhanced only slightly by the addition of polymer fibres, its impact resistance improved sevenfold.

Western countries, too, have been looking at the military uses of UHPC. An Australian study carried out between 2004 and 2006 confirmed that UHPC resists blasts as well as direct hits. The tests, carried out at Woomera (once the British empire’s equivalent of Cape Canaveral), involved a charge equivalent to six tonnes of TNT. This fractured panels made of UHPC, but did not shatter them. Nor did it shake free and throw out fragments, as would have happened had the test been carried out on normal concrete. In a military context, such shards flying around inside a bunker are a definite plus from the attackers’ point of view, but obviously not from the defenders’.

Those people who design bunker-busters no doubt understand these points and have their own secret data to work with. Nevertheless, during the Gulf war in 1991 the American air force found that its 2,000lb (about a tonne) bunker-busters were incapable of piercing some Iraqi bunkers. The bomb designers went back to the drawing board and after two generations of development the result, all 13 tonnes of it, is the MOP. So heavy is it that the weapon bays of B-2 stealth bombers have had to be strengthened to carry it. It can, reportedly, break through over 60 metres of ordinary concrete. However, the bomb it is less effective against harder stuff, penetrating only eight metres into concrete that is just twice as strong. It is therefore anyone’s guess (at least, anyone without access to classified information) how the MOP might perform against one of Iran’s ultra-strong concretes.

America’s Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the organisation that developed the MOP, has been investigating UHPC since 2008. This investigation has involved computer modelling and penetration testing. The agency’s focus appears to be on the idea of chipping away at a target with multiple hits. However, this approach requires great precision; and the air force is ordering only 20 MOPs, so there is little room for error.

Deep bunkers can be tackled in other ways. The DTRA has looked at what is known in the jargon as functional defeat, in other words bombing their entrances shut or destroying their electrical systems with electromagnetic pulses. They are also working on active penetrators—bombs which can tunnel through hundreds of metres of earth, rock and concrete. Development work is also under way on esoteric devices such as robot snakes, carrying warheads, which can infiltrate via air ducts and cable runs.

In the meantime, though, the Pentagon is stuck with the “big hammer” approach. The question is how reliably that hammer would work if the order were given to attack Iran’s underground nuclear facilities. It would be embarrassing if the bunkers were still intact when the smoke cleared.