Friday, August 8, 2008
You may recall that in his 2003 State-of-the-Union Address President
George W. Bush promised energy independence with Freedom Car,
(WN 31 Jan 03) , "powered by hydrogen
and pollution free." He forgot to say where the hydrogen would come
from. MIT chemist Daniel Nocera said last week in Science online that he
has the solution: "artificial photosynthesis." Did he invent artificial
photosynthesis, you ask? Not exactly, evolution "invented"
photosynthesis. Nocera isn't about synthesizing anything; he wants to
break up water using electric power from solar cells. So he invented
solar cells? No, other people did that. Nocera wants to use solar cells
to do electrolysis. Nocera invented electrolysis? Not quite, that was
invented by Lavosier before his beheading in 1794; Nocera found a catalyst
that he says does electrolysis better. Does it? We don't know; it hasn't
been replicated. MIT says it's a "major discovery."
I recommend to everyone the important and courageous guest editorial in
today's edition of Science. The author, Ismail Serageldin, is director of
the Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt. The Muslim world was the
cradle of rationality and tolerance when medieval Europe was mired in the
dark ages. Today the Muslim world is "driven by self-appointed guardians
of religious correctness," Serageldin writes. "They increasingly force
dissenting voices into silence and conformity with what they consider to
be acceptable behavior." He calls on the scientific and academic
communities in Muslim countries to challenge accepted views. And he
points out that a similar battle rages in the U.S over evolution, and I
would add, over contraception, and stem cell research.
Remarkable progress has reportedly been made with induced pluripotent stem
cells (iPS) as an alternative to stem cells derived from embryos (ES).
When a Japanese researcher announced two years ago that he had cultivated
colonies of pluripotent cells from mouse skin cells that mimicked ES
cells, it was believed it would be years before it could be done with
human cells but it was done in a year, which can be taken as a measure of
the pressure from a research community that is making remarkable
progress. For a variety of reasons, researchers would prefer to work with
new human ES lines than any of the 21 aging lines the President has
approved. Both Obama and McCain have vowed to make new lines available,
but why is it an issue for any president to decide?
It took 14 years and $8 billion to build and will accelerate protons to 7
TeV, collide them, and examine the debris. Readers often ask what it will
do for the world. It's the greatest adventure of our lives. It won't
cure disease, or fight wars, or make us wealthy. We are tracing our way
back through the law of cause and effect in a search for the first cause.
Can we tiny specks of matter on an insignificant planet really do that?