News media revealed last November that notes and textbooks were found in an abandoned house in Kabul that indicated that a member of the Taliban was pursuing various lines of scientific exploration. His level of expertise was judged to be at best that of an undergraduate student in chemistry and physics, which is still good enough to make stuff blow up. (Trust me. I was a chemistry major. I know.) Particularly shocking to the staff here at Scientific American was evidence that the Talibaner apparently read this magazine: his discarded notes included references to the so-called plasma jet, a propulsion system designed for lengthy space trips that was described in detail in an article entitled "The VASIMR Rocket," in the November 2000 issue.
If his research goal was indeed to lead the Taliban on a voyage away from Earth, well, more power to him. (With the headline on the December day I write this being "Taliban Flees Last Stronghold in Afghanistan," it would appear that many of them already took the trip, courtesy of the U.S. military.)
This article was originally published with the title Kabul Session.