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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 45 - May 2005   
 The logic of the ‘leap forward’
 Profile of the Seventh Framework Programme
 Eastern outpost of the European Research Area
 The agricultural tradition
 Birth of Europe-backed research
 Out of Africa
 Campylobacteria under the microscope
 When distant worlds meet
 Coping with life on the outside
 Researchers take centre stage

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Corvaja’s eye

Corvaja’s eye
Faces, landscapes, moments captured in a crowd, trees, towns… are just some familiar subjects for photographers. But for the Franco-Italian photographer Stéphane Corvaja, fascinated since childhood by space and the machines that explore it, the focus is very different. It all began when he happened to see a film and photographs of the Apollo missions. “I was seven years old and it had a big impact.” Corvaja was enthralled by the immensity of the cosmos and the desire of men to explore and understand it. He decided to become a photographer and in 1989 joined the optical department of the space centre in Kourou, Guyana. This was a time of intense activity for Ariane, with eight missions a year taking 3 000 photos each time. Corvaja is very aware of how one launch can seem very much like another and the subtleties it takes to highlight what is, in fact, a unique moment. A certain angle, a certain light can make all the difference. Negotiating with the security services to be at the right place at the right time is also part of the job: “You have to be constantly on the alert and benefit from every instant to get the shot that makes the difference. You must be patient also. You have to get there early and leave late, or you miss a great deal.” 

Corvaja, currently Head of photography with the ESA, has just won the three first prizes in the space category awarded by the US magazine Aviation week & Space for the best photographs of 2004. Perhaps the most impressive of all is the full vertical shot of the Rosetta launcher, symbolic of so much promise for the future.

Southern research

Leishmaniasis promastigote. © IRD/Christian Bellec
Leishmaniasis promastigote.
© IRD/Christian Bellec
Research, expertise, training: these three missions of the Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD) make this French body a key partner for countries of the southern hemisphere, as well as an intermediary enabling teachers, researchers and the general public to learn more about these regions. Among other things, the IRD makes teaching packs available to teachers on a number of scientific topics of interest to much of the planet, such as volcanic activity, freshwater resources and emerging viral diseases. 

Other topics permit a comparison between different parts of the world, such as an ‘inventory of 19 cities’ which provides insight into the urban phenomena – architecture, mentality of the inhabitants, public policy, segregation, etc. – in such contrasting cities as Sao Paulo and Moscow, Paris and Delhi, and Montreal and Johannesburg. The IRD also produces very clear and comprehensive science news sheets presenting the latest research on phenomena affecting mainly developing regions. One example is Lieshmaniasis, a parasitic disease that affects half a million people every year and requires a hospital treatment that is difficult to provide in most of the regions where it is found. Recent research based on ethnopharmacological studies – carried out in particular by scientists at the CNRS (FR) and researchers at the IRD in South America – is now offering real prospects of progress.

The IRD also launched the Sida@pilote website on Aids which is designed for young people between 15 and 25. Giving them with the opportunity to find answers to their questions, it provides a useful resource for finding out more about the state of research as well as exchanging information and practices. The site has rapidly broadened to fields outside of its initial theme to cover subjects such as poverty-related diseases, the environment, and ways of fighting this scourge.

IRD also published Sciences au sud, a bi-monthly journal that reports on the institute’s principal research work in a language that is easily understood by the non-specialist.

  • To find out more
    (Bilingual French-English site, but with most documents in French)

The dictionary of scientific culture

With 7 000 articles, 5 000 notices, 2 000 biographies, hundreds of illustrations, translations of all terms from the original French into English, and an interactive approach that takes you from one word to the next with numerous links for further exploration, the Dictionnaire interactif des sciences et des techniques is primarily designed for secondary school and university students, while offering special access for ‘professionals’ and the ‘general public’ (scientific culture). Published by Analogie, it is accessible on CD-ROM (€68) and via the internet, on payment of an annual subscription of €25. Purchase of the CD-ROM brings automatic registration to personalised on-line services. 

The dictionary “was born of the desire to apply to the field of science and technology the analogical method implemented by Paul Robert in the French language dictionary of the same name. The method involves the use of associations of ideas or analogies to enrich and link up the articles.” Starting from a concept, it is possible to move to a wider context that lends a genuine cultural dimension to scientific knowledge.   

Edible and comBUStible

Recycle cooking oil… in an engine.
Recycle cooking oil… in an engine.
In Valencia (ES), one in two municipal buses (200 vehicles) runs on used cooking oil. This is one of the innovations brought by the Ecobus project, supported by the Life-Environment programme. Vegetable oil collectors make a round of 600 establishments, visiting 528 cafés, restaurants and caterers, 42 hotels, 30 schools and hospitals. All these ‘donors’ display the Ecobus logo and receive a container. After collection and processing, these food oils are used in a diesel/ecodiesel mix in concentrations of between 5% and 30%. Regular and very strict checks are made on their emissions (CO, CO2, HG, NOx, etc.) and performances, especially consumption. This pilot project is being studied from three angles: environmental effects, cost and profitability. 

The operation’s success owes much to a lively awareness-boosting campaign aimed at the city’s inhabitants. The slogan is a play on words which can be translated as ‘used oils make comBUStible’ – the latter meaning fuel. Information sessions were held in schools, posters placed in bus shelters, buses were painted in the Ecobus colours and exhibitions explained the usefulness of the operation. This prompted many possible ‘donors’ to come forward, yielding much more potential fuel (comBUStible!) than expected.

The project promoters’ aims do not stop at the Valencia city limits, however. What proves a success here could also work elsewhere, mainly in the Mediterranean countries where vegetable oil is part of the culinary tradition.  

Einstein or the adventure of discovery

Albert Einstein and Oskar von Miller, founder of the Deutsches Museum, Berlin, 1930.
Albert Einstein and Oskar von Miller, founder of the Deutsches Museum, Berlin, 1930.
As well as being World Year of Physics, 2005 is also the 100th anniversary of the ‘wonder year’ (annus mirabilis), during which Albert Einstein published four major articles. The first, which earned him the Nobel Prize for physics in 1921, is a revolutionary analysis of light that he believed functioned both as a wave and a particle flow. The second, on the Brownian movement, provided theoretical proof of the existence of atoms and molecules. The third formalised the break with Newtonian physics by viewing space and time as relative. The fourth, on limited relativity, revealed the universally known formula of E=mc2.

The exhibition at the Deutsches Museum traces the path of Einstein’s scientific adventure through the intuitions, discoveries and studies that led to the development of the theory of relativity and quantum theory. The exhibition does not stop at Einstein, however, and also presents the new understanding of time, space and causality that was generated by his thinking. Einstein is still very present today, not only in the way we understand the universe, but also in fields such as laser technology and microelectronics, GPS and research into the atom. Although Einstein was cremated, his brain was conserved and analysed – but failed to reveal any special features! 

"I am a loner with a love of humanity,” said this genius who was very much a scientist of his age. The Munich exhibition shows how he saw himself in a historical context, was interested in politics and rejected convention and accepted ideas (“it is more difficult to destroy a prejudice than an atom”). Suffering from dyslexia as a child and considered to be a bad influence, he left college to prepare on his own for the entrance exam to the already famous Zurich polytechnic. His first job was at the Berne patents office whose limited demands on his energies left him free to explore his ideas. A Jewish pacifist in 1930s Germany (when he was President of the Human Rights League), he left for the United States under Nazism, becoming a US citizen in 1940. Ben Gourion had asked him to be President of Israel but he viewed the challenge as impossible: “without the honest co-operation of the Arabs there can be neither peace nor prosperity”. 

He is also known for his love of the violin, low regard for women, and flair for a well-turned phrase – many of which can be found today on numerous internet sites. To cite just one: “Coincidence is God incognito”. 

The Adventure of Discovery. Albert Einstein and 20th Century Physics.

Deutsches Museum – Munich – 7 May to 31 December 2005

The CIRS: a portal to science

Four languages open the doors to research: English, Spanish, French and Arabic. The information and links are gathered by the International Centre for Scientific Research (CIRS) which describes itself as "the only public utility service, entirely free and open to all, providing scientific information at the international level”. The information is organised into very clear ‘chapters’ in the form of brief texts reporting scientific news, information on researchers (prizes, discoveries), references to newspapers and scientific works, and links to scientific organisations, science academies, universities, research centres and specialised libraries. The CIRS operates in ‘real time’ at global level, continuously updating its database and drawing on a worldwide network of partners for input. Information on all research subjects is welcome, in all fields and in all languages, the sole condition for inclusion being “to have a purely scientific activity”. The aim is to facilitate access to information sources of a nature to assist experts, researchers, students or simply those who are curious about science.