American Scientist Update, Vol. 9 No. 8

August 10, 2012

In the September-October Issue of American Scientist:

  • Graphene in High-Frequency Electronics
  • The Complex Call of the Carolina Chickadee
  • Slicing a Cone for Art and Science
  • Classic: The Big Picture

Graphene in High-Frequency Electronics
This two-dimensional form of carbon has unique properties
by Keith A. Jenkins
(The full text of this article is available to the general public.)

The subject of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 was a material that has been in plain sight for many years. Graphene is a form of carbon that looks like chicken wire—a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in rings. But its ability to quickly move around electrical charges has made it a contender to replace some uses of silicon in the world of ever-shrinking electronics. In this fascinating article, Jenkins describes the work he and his colleagues have done to mass-produce enough graphene for specialized integrated circuits with applications in wireless communications.

The Complex Call of the Carolina Chickadee
Can the chick-a-dee call provide lessons about language?
by Todd M. Freeberg, Jeffrey R. Lucas and Indrikis Krams

Chick-a-dee calls—used by chickadees and other members of the parid family to communicate within their group—are intricate, involving up to six discrete notes. The calls thus have the potential to convey a great deal of information through variations in the underlying call structure. How might these calls have evolved? Complex social groups and habitats, containing more than one species, may contribute to an explanation of the benefits the calls might provide.

Slicing a Cone for Art and Science
Albrecht Dürer searched for beauty with mathematics
by Daniel S. Silver

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), master painter and printmaker of the German Renaissance, never regarded himself as a mathematician. Yet he used geometry to uncover nature’s hidden formulas for beauty. In this exploration of the intersection of art and science, Silver explains that Dürer viewed mathematics as a tool to help the artist avoid errors. His efforts would influence mathematicians including Cardano and Tartaglia, as well as scientists such as Galileo and Kepler.

Classic: The Big Picture
Continuing our look back over 100 years of publication, we highlight some of our finest artwork submissions.


In this issue’s Macroscope, Howard Wainer, Distinguished Research Scientist at the National Board of Medical Examiners and an adjunct professor of statistics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, analyzes how the success of the scientific method relies on researchers who relentlessly fit data to theory.

Columnist Bryan Hayes, in this issue’s Computing Science, contemplates the question: If you don’t trust your accountants, can you have them calculate your income tax without allowing them ever to know your income, or the amount of tax they have computed? The task seems impossible, but recent developments in cryptography suggest it can be done.

Also in this issue of American Scientist, Engineering columnist Henry Petroski further explores the influence of an engineering education on artist Alexander Calder. A 1919 graduate in mechanical engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology, Calder went on after earning his degree to create hundreds of stabiles and mobiles known to just about anyone who has visited an art museum.

Dihydrogen—it is nature’s simplest molecule and yet its complexities give author and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann pause in this issue’s Marginalia column. Join him as he dives deeper into the world of dihydrogen in this fascinating piece.

In this installment of Sightings, Cathy Clabby spends some time with the investigators at Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project—who, through the use of infrared imaging, are able to discreetly study reclusive African forest elephants in their native habitats.

In the Scientists’ Bookshelf, Emily Monosson reviews Carl F. Cranor’s Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants. Christine Casson looks into American Georgics: Writings on Farming, Culture and the Land, a volume edited by Edwin C. Hagenstein, Sara M. Gregg and Brian Donahue. Veit Elser considers The Nature of Computation, by Cristopher Moore and Stephan Mertens. In a narrower view of agriculture, Andrea Wills takes the measure of Daniel Chamovitz’s What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses. Elsewhere in the section, Fenella Saunders and David Schoonmaker offer short reviews of, respectively, Wayne Biddle’s A Field Guide to Radiation and David Montgomery’s The Rocks Don’t Lie. Finally, Brian Hayes explores Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius, by Sylvia Nasar.

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American Scientist Update alerts readers to new content and other news from American Scientist, an illustrated bimonthly magazine of science and technology published by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. Complimentary copies of the magazine and electronic copies are available to journalists upon request. Media contact: Hallie Sessoms,

In even-numbered months, American Scientist Update describes each new issue of American Scientist. In odd-numbered months, the Update reports on interviews and other new content posted to the American Scientist Online site, as well as news from Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.


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