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IMAGE:  CitationsA big "nano-nano" to tiny wires
What happens when you coat a layer of two basic plastics with silver? Nanoscopic wires assemble themselves in numerous, parallel, and continuous lines. In the December 13 Nature, physics professor Heinrich Jaeger and Ward Lopes, SM'99, PhD'01, describe their discovery and a technique for precisely controlling the wires' growth. The nanowires measure 30 nanometers by 10 nanometers in diameter. (At a billionth of a meter, a nanometer is the width of a double strand of DNA.) The technique could eventually be used to produce high-density computer disks and to make lenses for X-ray lithography, a process for transferring ultrasmall patterns to silicon computer chips.

Journey to the center of the Earth
The chemical makeup of the Earth's center is surprisingly complicated, report doctoral student Jung-Fu Lin and geophysical-sciences associate professor Dion Heinz in the January 11 Science. When the researchers simulated searing subsurface temperatures of 4,200 degrees Fahrenheit and crushing pressures of 840,000 atmospheres (or 12.3 million pounds per square inch), they found that the core consists of two exotic forms of iron-instead of one, as previously believed. The iron forms may be alloyed with silicon, contradicting previous studies that ruled out silicon in favor of another light element such as oxygen, sulfur, hydrogen, or carbon. Lin says the finding makes sense, given silicon's abundance in the solar system, its tendency to alloy with iron, and its ability to lower the density of iron under high pressure.

Sobering statistics
Drunk drivers are at least 13 times more likely to cause a fatal crash than are sober drivers, note economics professor Steven Levitt and Harvard economist Jack Porter in the December Journal of Political Economy. Are some don't-drink-and-drive deterrents more effective than others? Yes, says Levitt: states with stiff mandatory punishments for repeat drunk-driving offenders or a high number of police patrols devoted to catching drunk drivers have great success in lowering alcohol-related fatalities.

Jane Addams as public intellectual
The founder of Chicago's famed Hull-House and the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize has for too long been misunderstood as a mere "do-gooder," argues Jean Bethke Elshtain in Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy (Basic Books, 2001). In fact, Addams was a quintessential "public intellectual," says Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller professor in divinity, political science, and international relations. In Addams's hands, she says, Hull-House was a cultural and intellectual center, a place where "beauty was served."

Spray and sniff
Nasal sprays are more effective than antihistamines when used as needed for seasonal allergies such as hay fever, according to a study by Robert Naclerio, chief of otolaryngology, in the November 26 Archives of Internal Medicine. The finding challenges common prescribing practices, which favor antihistamines over corticosteroid sprays as the first-line treatment for the one in five Americans with seasonal allergies.

A parable of penal reform
Norval Morris, the Julius Kreeger professor emeritus of law, is given to parables. His latest is Maconochie's Gentlemen: The Story of Norfolk Island and the Roots of Modern Prison Reform (Oxford, 2001), a fictionalized account of Alexander Maconochie, a retired naval captain who in 1840 became superintendent of 2,000 twice-convicted prisoners on an island off the Australian coast. In four years Maconochie transformed the brutal convict settlement into a controlled, stable, productive environment whose prisoners came to be called "Maconochie's Gentlemen." Morris's lesson, related in the epilogue: that present-day "supermax" prisons with their harsh conditions are not the only way to control society's "worst of the worst."


  > > Volume 94, Number 3

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Liberal talk, realist thinking
  > >
The winning punch line
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Physics for breakfast
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  > > e-Bulletin: 02/08/02



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