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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 42 - August 2004   
 What on earth …?
 The war on mycotoxins
 Small country, high standards
 Combative researchers
 The journey of a flying Dutchman
 Rogue waves

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Sustainable energy: The hydrogen fairy Sustainable energy: The hydrogen fairy

Until recently, fuel cells were seen as a solution for ‘the clean car of the future’. The vision now is of a genuine ‘hydrogen economy’. An inexhaustible element found worldwide, hydrogen could become an energy vector as important as electricity. What benefits does it offer? Well, it can be produced initially by reforming hydrocarbons, but also by drawing on renewable energies (with zero CO2 emissions); it is easy to store – which cannot be said for electricity; and it will also give Europe’s energy independence a boost.


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Satellite pictures
What on earth …?
Demography, living standards, hygiene and sanitation, loss of biodiversity, over-exploitation of agricultural land and forests… all is revealed when you view the Earth from the heavens. Scientists and experts use these satellite pictures all the time in their work. Now, thanks to the PlanetObserver team, a much wider public should soon be benefiting from this magnificent geographical tool. This development project – supported by the EUREKA initiative – used advanced computer processes to develop the harmonisation and colouring techniques which make these unique documents so impressive, both for their beauty and their clarity.
  As perverse as they are diverse, mycotoxins are particularly dangerous due to their action at sometimes very low concentrations and their impressive stability. These harmful molecules resist high temperatures and certain industrial processes.
Food safety
The war on mycotoxins
Man has long benefited from the nutritional properties of certain microscopic fungi, such as ferments and yeasts used in making cheese, beer, bread, vinegar and yoghurt. But some moulds of fungal origin are potent poisons, especially the mycotoxin family which has been the subject of increased attention over the past 15 years. European research by the Mycotoxin Prevention Cluster project is currently making a very close study of ways of protecting consumers against these threats which pose a very real problem to food safety and public health.
  Ljubljana University's main building – 'Under Tito, Ljubljana University had as many links with the University of Graz, in Austria, or with Trieste, in Italy, as with institutions in Zagreb or Belgrade.' © Kodia Photo & Graphis/Marko Feist
Small country, high standards
'Our only raw material is our grey matter.' This popular saying in Slovenia sums up the importance awarded to science and technology by this densely forested land of 2 million people, nestling between the Alps and the Adriatic. Following our reports from Hungary and the Czech Republic,(1) RTD info takes the measure of research activity in a small country determined to take its place in the knowledge society – and for which international competition holds no fears. 
  Slovakian Prime Minister Mikulá Dzurinda announcing the results of the referendum on Union membership, on 17 May 2003.
Combative researchers
‘National research funding is pitiful and we don’t expect much from that quarter.’ This total lack of illusions is often apparent when speaking with Slovakian scientists, although that is not to say they have given up the struggle. For those who refuse exile, inclusion in international teams can be the salvation. Several research centres of the highest quality have succeeded in this objective, thereby putting a brake on the exodus of the country’s best young minds.
  André Kuipers
The journey of a flying Dutchman
‘I was bitten by the space bug when I was just a kid.’ In April 2004, at the age of 45, the physician and astronaut André Kuipers completed his first space mission when he returned to Earth after nine days on board the International Space Station. RTD info traces the route of a born adventurer who has lived his dreams to the full.
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Natural hazards
Rogue waves
Sometimes towering to a height of 30 metres, and seemingly coming from nowhere, 'rogue waves' (1) are genuine monsters of the seas. Over the past 20 years, about 200 vessels of over 200 metres in length have been sunk or damaged by an encounter with these freaks of nature which have claimed the lives of 540 sailors. The multidisciplinary team working on the MaxWave European project is now trying to understand how these waves are formed, to analyse their potential to harm, and to suggest an appropriate warning system. It is hoped that shipyards will be able take these data into account to strengthen the resistance of ships and offshore platforms.