Latest research news

July 3, 2002

RAE review asks critics for ideas
Major changes to the controversial research assessment exercise were signalled last week when the funding councils announced a review of how university research is assessed. They have appealed to critics of the RAE to come forward with ideas.

Scientists capture massive solar eruption
A massive solar eruption, more than 30 times the length of Earth's diameter, has been captured by satellite instruments as it blasted away from the Sun. The eruption was revealed by the Solar and Helioscopic Observatory (Soho) satellite, a joint venture between Nasa and the European Space Agency.

Clinics urged to halt multiple births
Fertility doctors yesterday (1 July) urged clinics to stop producing test tube twins and triplets, warning that multiple pregnancies were putting babies and women in unnecessary danger. A French team, led by Professor Jean-Luc Pouly of University Hospital in Clermont-Ferrand, found that IVF triplets were five times as likely to die as single babies, while twins had two and a half times the risk of fatal complications.
(Telegraph, Mail, Guardian, Independent)

Caesareans 'slow new conceptions'
Giving birth by caesarean section could make it harder for women to get pregnant again, researchers from Bristol University warned today.
(Telegraph, Times, Mail, Guardian, Independent)

Pioneering biochemist dies
Erwin Chargaff, one of the giants of world biochemistry who pioneered our understanding of DNA, has died aged 96.

Straw dogs video ban lifted
Britain's film censors have lifted the ban on the video release of Sam Peckinpah's notorious 1970's film, Straw Dogs, about an American university researcher (played by Dustin Hoffman) who erupts into violence when drunken Cornish villagers assault him and his wife (played by Susan George).
(Independent, Guardian)

Crucial asthma-causing cell identified
New drugs that target cells lining the airways to the lung could help relieve dangerous asthma symptoms, work on mice suggests. David Erle of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues discovered that genetic activation of this one cell type in mice was enough to trigger airway constriction and mucus overproduction, both of which can lead to breathing difficulties. (New Scientist)

Small word network
Word association can link just about any two common words in the English language using an average of three steps, says a team of scientists in Arizona. The semantic links between English words make the thesaurus a 'small world', much as the network of human social interactions connect us all by six degrees of separation, according to Adilson Motter and colleagues at Arizona State University in Tempe. The researchers expect languages other than English to have the same properties, even if their syntactic structure is very different. (Nature)

Making best of a bad job
Two Oxford University physicists have figured out how to make the best of a bad job. They have shown that a device made of faulty components, such as a computer circuit made from error-prone transistors, can still function, as long as the components are combined in the right way. This realisation could, in principle, lead to manufacturing processes in which there is essentially no waste. Challet and Johnson calculate it should be possible to combine a subset of components to make a reliable device while recycling the others into the pot from which the next batch are drawn. (Nature)

Shake-up for climate models
Models that simulate and forecast global climate do not produce the right wobbles, a new study from the University of Giessen, Germany, has found. Despite immense complexity and sophistication, these computer models fail to capture the fluctuations of atmospheric temperatures over months and years. The study supports the contention that models that take into account the effects of dust and other small atmospheric particles or 'aerosols' on the sunlight that the atmosphere reflects and absorbs are more accurate. (Nature)

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