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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS WEEKLY

New Forms of Transportation, and a Working LHC

The Large Hadron Collider is finally up and running after extensive repairs following an electrical malfunction last September. Physicists have orchestrated the machine's first successful collisions among subatomic particles—but the collider is still in a testing phase and operating at a fraction of its potential power. The real experiments should begin in early 2010.

Also in Switzerland, a solar plane that will eventually circumnavigate the globe has taken its first trip down the runway. The plane has the wingspan of a jumbo jet but weighs less than two tons; it has room for the pilot but no passengers. Its first flight is scheduled for February.

Meanwhile, Scientific American took a look at ground transport and the future of trains in the United States. Several states are planning—or hoping—to use federal stimulus money to build European-style high-speed rail routes, but the expense of converting and augmenting the existing rail infrastructure would be tremendous.

And finally, the Boston Globe featured the emerging field of optogenetics—a biotechnology approach that may enable researchers to map the brain and its functions in greater detail. By genetically engineering brain cells of flies, mice or monkeys to contain light-sensitive proteins, and then exposing those cells to light, researchers can zero in on the functions of specific brain cells.


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VIDEO: The Promise and Peril of Drones

CummingsDrones

The automation of tasks at work and at home is just around the corner, including driving cars, piloting planes, delivering packages, and transporting weapons. Unmanned aerial vehicles are rapidly evolving to meet both society’s and the military’s needs in automation and better efficiency.
During her time as one of the first female fighter pilots in the US Navy, Dr. Missy Cummings observed that computers could take off and land a plane more precisely than humans. Because of this breakthrough and her fascination with this growing technology, she began human–drone interaction research.

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