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See Inside September 2011

City Lights




Andrew Federman

Everywhere I look are the skeletal steel beams of new skyscrapers rising in a Dr. Seussian jumble of shapes. Everywhere I go is the sound of hammering, the tang of asphalt, the sight of construction workers masked against choking dust and intimidating heat—peaking at 116 degrees Fahrenheit during my visit.

For me, burgeoning Doha, Qatar, on the Persian Gulf beside the punishing Arabian Desert, evoked humankind’s continuing hope for a better future against the harsh realities we are grappling with today. Faced with water scarcity and reliance on food imports—and flush with oil wealth that the nation knows can’t last forever—Qatar sees science and a “knowledge-based economy” as the ways forward. The country intends to harness its abundant solar energy with photovoltaics, powering both desalination and irrigation of the sandy surroundings. The plan is ambitious. But as this special issue on cities makes clear, the gathering of inventive humans into this urban setting will likely help spur advances. To learn why, click here for an introduction to the features.

One way to improve our odds for a better future is to foster a love of science in young people. I saw a reassuring amount of that at the first annual Google Science Fair, where I was chief judge and master of ceremonies for the awards on July 11 in Mountain View, Calif. Students from 91 countries had submitted some 7,500 entries, which were winnowed to 15 finalists in three age categories. My fellow judges—who included Nobel laureate biochemist Kary Mullis, co-inventor of the Internet Vint Cerf, Segway inventor Dean Kamen and New York University nutritionist Marion Nestle—had the difficult challenge of picking the winners.

Three girls drew top honors. In the 13- to 14-year-old age category, Lauren Hodge won for examining different marinades’ effects on the production of carcinogenic compounds in grilled chicken. Naomi Shah’s studies on common indoor air pollutants’ effects on asthma patients got her the award for the 15- to 16-year-old group. Top honors for both the 17- to 18-year-old category and the grand prize went to Shree Bose, who discovered that an energy protein of the cell, AMP kinase, plays a role in developing resistance to a drug commonly used to treat ovarian cancer. Click here to read our interview with her. (Full details are available at www.google.com/sciencefair.) Congratulations to the all the participants, as well as to the winners. Looking at these young people during the event, I couldn’t help but think: our future is in good hands. 

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