Friday, August 22, 2008
At the end of a long day do you find yourself dreaming of a big bowl of
iceberg lettuce? I don't either. However, the FDA is finally allowing
lettuce and spinach to be irradiated at levels that protect against
salmonella and E. coli. I don't know what took them so long. The culprit
in the most recent salmonella outbreak, however, wasn't salad greens or
tomatoes, it was jalapeno peppers. That's more serious. Capsaicinoids in
jalapenos trigger the release of endorphins in the brain. Endorphin
junkies are forced to deal with shady jalapeno pushers. Irradiation is
the safest and most effective sanitation technology that isn't used. In
the UK the "natural food" lobby is led by Prince Charles. In the U.S., we
have no such excuse.
This week, according to today's Science magazine, Senator Obama supported
the Bush plan to return humans to the Moon. Replay Apollo? Not exactly;
Obama wants a more international effort. You can see how well that worked
with the ISS. Meanwhile in Cape Canaveral, McCain was backing the Bush
plan to build a successor to the shuttle. Of course, he was in Florida,
and that's what politicians all say when they're in Florida, but he did
not favor returning to the Moon.
Fifty years ago Bell Labs was the greatest basic research lab the world
had ever seen or perhaps ever would see. Enlightened managers
recruited top graduates and enforced an absolute rule: their work had to
be very relevant to the phone business, or it had to be very, very good.
There was no in between. Bell Labs became a national treasure,
capturing 6 Nobel prizes and revolutionizing communications. But as
Geoff Brumfiel observes in yesterday's Nature, relevant work continues but
basic science is all but gone. The cruelest blow came in 2002 at the
hands of young German physicist, Jan Hendrik Schoen. He seemed to be able
to make a thin layer of organic dye molecules assemble an electric circuit
that behaved like a transistor. It's still not clear how much was
illusion and how much was delusion, but it wasn't real.
(WN 27 Sep 02)
It has been pointed out to me that I have twice given the date as 2003,
which isn't even close. He was awarded the prize in 1970. I was assigned
the penance of commenting on the contribution of alcoholic beverage
production to atmospheric CO2. It is not clear that there is a
contribution. CO2 is a product of fermentation, but CO2 was extracted
from the atmosphere to synthesize the sugar.