are using more and more parameters in an attempt to model all the
subtleties of the atmospheric system, taking advantage of the impressive
computing power provided by modern computers. When all the forecasts
agree, Dutch skaters can set off on their famous annual race without
fear of a thaw.
is the point of departure for a huge educational project conducted by
the EPS. This 30-minute video - of which nearly 900 copies(1)
have already been produced and which is available free of charge - was
made for and launched during 'Week 2000'. A committee of European scientists
from private research centres and academic circles was consulted on the
choice of subjects and proposed the concrete examples which illustrate
focuses on five topics in turn to illustrate the lessons man has been
able to draw from natural phenomena as diverse as radioactivity and earthquakes,
animal behaviour, and the human voice and brain. Filmed at universities,
research centres and companies(2) in five countries
(Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and France), Inspired
by Nature is the first in a series of six half-hour programmes provisionally
entitled Bridges from Physics. The EPS hopes that this initiative
to produce popular science programmes inspired by scientists themselves
will encourage European television stations to make a similar effort.
has about 80000 members and we are counting on them to spread the message
and increase awareness among the media, schools and science education
circles and, as a result, reach the widest possible public,' explains
Brian Davies, coordinator of the Leafon project. 'The video is a flexible
educational tool which is ideal for teachers who can either show it in
full or concentrate on certain themes. We are also aiming to follow up
on the subjects covered with developments at our Internet site.'
the Leafon project at the Brussels Royal Museums of Art and History, Sir
Arnold Wolfendale, the EPS' president, showed himself to be an ardent
defender of the cause and a man determined to break out of the ivory towers.
'There is an increasingly urgent need for scientists to meet the obligation
of communicating their work to society,' he points out. 'Not only because
it is partly the public who finance research, but also because science
is increasingly affecting the lives of citizens. It is also essential
to educate young people if we are to avoid the serious shortages predicted
for a number of scientific disciplines.'
day it struck Galileo
the 17th century, ink was made in small batches whose composition
varied from one pot to another. The differences, which can be identified
using this device which emits fast protons and detects the resulting
X-rays, make it possible to date Galileo's manuscripts precisely
by comparing them to his dated household documents. This allows
us to date his writings promoting Copernicus' revolutionary idea
that the earth rotates around the sun to within a day or so.
From neurons to intelligent cars
complex organ, with a fascinating ability to learn, the brain is
a constant source of interest to scientists. Its workings can be
simulated - albeit in a much simplified form - on a computer as
the neural networks modelled on the brain share this capacity to
learn. It is by using such systems that objects as familiar as cars
are likely to become 'intelligent'. Not only will vehicles be able
to recognise situations already encountered, but they will also
adapt to new events or driving behaviour. 'The system will modify
certain vehicle characteristics (consumption, suspension, transmission,
etc.) and could even switch between internal combustion and electric
engines, depending on the performance required in different circumstances,'
explains Werner Huptmann of Siemens' Munich-based neuro-informatics
group in Inspired by Nature. The vehicle of the future will
thus be made in our own image, that is, it will be intelligent.
It will also produce much less pollution than today's cars.
the intensive studies carried out by seismologists are mainly aimed
at detecting the early-warning signs of an earthquake, their understanding
of the physics of shock wave propagation can be valuable in exploring
the substrata. 'By studying the propagation phenomena triggered
by artificial mini-explosions, we can locate possible faults in
the upper levels of the ground which could contain oil deposits,'
explains David Kerridge of the Seismology Centre in Edinburgh. This
technology is particularly useful for optimal exploration of known
monkeys and whales to fibre optics
dawn or dusk, some animals, such as howler monkeys in the tropical
forests and elephants on the savannah, are able to communicate over
surprisingly long distances. They do so by using the physical phenomena
of the reflection and propagation of sound created by small differences
in temperature between relatively homogeneous atmospheric layers.
Whales are able do the same thing as a result of differences in
sea temperature and salinity at different depths.
revolutionary invention of long-distance data transmission with
minimal losses using fibre optic technologies applies the same principles
of reflection and propagation to light.
natural and invisible phenomenon of radioactivity is not just for
the important fields of medical diagnostics and cancer treatment;
this Italian Renaissance painting is benefiting from it too. 'Low
energy a particles which pose no threat to the works of art are
aimed at the material to be analysed,' explains Professor Papparlado,
of the University of Catania (Sicily). 'After half an hour of taking
measurements we are able to determine the composition of a pigment
an altogether different field of art, the world of sound is used
for analyses carried out by physicists and acousticians. An in-depth
knowledge of sound is clearing the way for researchers to develop
new virtual instruments: 'By combining vibrating structures formed
from masses linked according to a certain model, we have created
a sound network which can be controlled by a computer and even linked
to animated images. Computing is opening up a whole new field in
the exploration and creation of virtual audio-visuals,' explains
Claude Cadoz of the Acroe Institute in Grenoble.
examples are among those explained in Inspired by Nature.
This film is currently available in English only, although it has been
designed to allow easy dubbing into other languages.
(2) All the illustrations in this article, except for the one at the top
of page 8, are taken from Inspired by Nature.
obtain a free copy of the video, please contact
European Physical Society Secretariat
34 rue Marc Séguin BP 2136
F-68060 Mulhouse cedex, France
Fax : +33 389 31 94 49