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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 48 - February 2006   
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 TABLE OF CONTENTS
 EDITORIAL
 A scientific conclave and public meeting
 Concerted voices on strings
 Women WISE up for space
 The wild card of distributed production
 Action stations for in vitro
 Wolfgang Heckl’s straight talking
 The added value of mobility
 Analysis of a stalled constitution
 COMMUNICATING SCIENCE
 IN BRIEF
 PUBLICATIONS
 LETTERS
 Agenda
 Calls

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FEATURE
 

The oceans and climate The oceans and climate

The oceans store heat and marine currents distribute it to the four corners of the globe. They store large quantities of atmospheric CO2 while the seabed produces and stores vast quantities of methane. How could climate warming upset this complex ecosystem?

 
 


  Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Max Planck, Paul Langevin, Henri Poincaré, Ernest Rutherford…
Solvay Council
A scientific conclave and public meeting
December 2005 saw the 23rd Solvay Council and what has become a traditional gathering of Nobel Prize laureates and Fields Medal holders. The subject of discussion on this occasion was the quantum structure of time and space. The three days of debate for the scientists were followed – as a fitting culmination to the Year of Physics – by a public meeting that gave rise to passionate exchanges between the public who attended in large numbers and the scientists who were eager to communicate.
  Robbert Dijkgraaf
The Solvay Council
Concerted voices on strings
Quantum mechanics describes the world of the infinitely small, explaining the very special interactions at particle level. Einstein’s theory of general relativity applies to the infinitely big, combining space and time within a single entity (space-time) whose deformation explains the universal gravitational attraction between the large galactic and stellar objects in the universe. The major challenge for contemporary physics is to make the link between these two approaches and formulate a new unified theory – to which scientists have already given the name ‘quantum gravity’. Initiated in the 1970s, the development of the ‘strings’ mathematical approach is raising huge hopes of achieving this. Explanations from Robbert Dijkgraaf, Professor at Amsterdam University (NL), and from Brian Greene, Professor at Columbia University (US), two of the guests at the Solvay Council who spoke at the public conference that closed this scientific meeting.
  Equitest: assessing balance on standing up.
Space research
Women WISE up for space
The mind boggles! A group of women in excellent physical and mental health agreed to spend 60 days in a confined space, cut off from any direct contact with the outside world. During these two months they did not leave their beds once and remained permanently in a near-horizontal position, with the head slightly lower than the feet. They followed a very strict diet, a regime of specially designed physical exercises, and were subjected to daily medical checks. These women volunteers on the WISE(1) international project did it all in the interests of space and medical research, thinking of the cosmonauts which they themselves would never be. RTD info looks at a very unique experience.
  Photovoltaic panels in Austria.
Renewable energies
The wild card of distributed production
The effective liberalisation of electricity production, distribution and marketing, formerly protected by centralised and monopolistic systems, is completely changing the European energy market. Provided it can succeed in offering kilowatt-hours at increasingly competitive rates, renewable energy has an excellent opportunity to win a share of the market as an inherent part of the innovative approach known as ‘distributed production’. Over the past five years, the consortium of 32 partners working on the Dispower (1) European project has been engaged in research that is today making it possible to propose technological solutions and management tools for the opening up of networks, as well as the economic models needed to rise to this challenge.
  Progress in in vitro methodologies.
Alternatives to experiments using animals
Action stations for in vitro
Tuesday 13 December 2005 was an important day for the chemicals sector. It was then that the EU Competition Council gave the green light for the entry into force of the famous REACH legislation. Industrialists are now obliged to organise a vast evaluation and control exercise to ensure the safety for human health and the environment of almost 30 000 chemicals currently available on the market. While REACH is an historic advance for public health and the quality of life, its implementation raises the controversial and far from secondary issue of a massive increase in experiments inflicting suffering on animals. The desire to limit substantially the hecatomb among laboratory animals is serving to shed the spotlight on progress in in vitro tests. In many respects, the latter could even prove scientifically superior in guaranteeing that chemical molecules are without risk to man or nature.
  Wolfgang Heckl
Portrait
Wolfgang Heckl’s straight talking
Recognised as one of Europe’s leading pioneers in the nanosciences and their applications, Wolfgang Heckl has been committed to the cause of sharing knowledge and making it accessible to all since a very young age. A long-standing firm favourite with the German media, today he is also known outside national borders with a reputation that, in 2004, brought him the Descartes Prize for science communication. RTD info presents a profile of a very warm and friendly biophysicist who is Professor of experimental physics at the Ludwig-Maximilians University as well as Director of Munich’s famous Deutsche Museum.
  The added value of mobility
MARIE CURIE ACTIONS – EXCELLENCE AWARDS
The added value of mobility
Through its Marie Curie Actions, the EU makes a significant contribution to the mobility of young people who are attracted to research and want to make it their career. The annual Excellence Awards – or ‘EXA’ for short – are part of this approach and are awarded to researchers who seized the opportunity to work beyond their national borders and made their mark at the highest level of research in their field. At a ceremony in Dublin, in December 2005, a scientific jury chaired by Jocelyn Bell Burnell – the British astrophysicist who was involved in the discovery of pulsars – named the five winners of the 2005 awards. Below are brief profiles of these notable representatives of the up and coming generation of European excellence.
  Analysis of a stalled constitution
Political sciences
Analysis of a stalled constitution
Like the Tower of Babel, it was at the closing stages when the vast political enterprise that was supposed to culminate in a constitution for the European Union ultimately failed, felled by a double French and Dutch ‘no’ in their referendums. The tortuous path that led to the text being drawn up by the ‘Giscard’ Convention, adopted at intergovernmental level after a laborious process of introducing amendments, and then launched perilously for ratification in the Member States is an experience that was studied ‘live’ and in depth by political science researchers with the dosei project (1). they highlight the conflicting and paralysing national preferences against which europe has been struggling for more than a decade in seeking desperately to define its goals and reform its functioning.