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See Inside April 2007

News Scan Briefs

VACCINES
Artificial Market Power
On February 9, officials from Italy, the U.K., Canada, Norway and Russia met in Rome, where they announced that their governments will commit $1.5 billion to supply developing nations with vaccines against pneumococcus, the leading vaccine-preventable killer of children younger than the age of five (it claims up to one million every year). These nations are creating a so-called advance market commitment to provide incentives for pharmaceutical companies to introduce next-generation pneumococcal injections more rapidly. This strategy requires donors to pay top dollar for a set number of doses, but once funds dry up, participating vaccine makers must supply them at below cost...

TRANSISTORS
Shrinking by Hafnium
In January, Intel announced that it can further shrink the size of a transistor by replacing oxidized silicon with the metal hafnium in its insulating layer. The insulator regulates the flow of current between a source and sink of electrons and therefore helps to govern how quickly a transistor can switch on or off: the thinner the insulator, the faster the switch. In addition, the tinier the transistor, the more that can fit onto a chip. But as silicon-based insulators have shrunk, they have leaked charge, forcing chips to consume much more power to run...

ENERGY
Hot Rocks
Geothermal power plants could supply the energy needs of the U.S. thousands of times over, concludes an 18-member panel led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Geothermal stations create electricity by relying on liquid or vapor heated deep within the earth. The panel proposes to construct many new geothermal power plants, drilling down into the high-temperature bedrock, creating an open reservoir and pumping liquid into it to be heated...

PALEOANTHROPOLOGY
Evidence from the Shire
Three years ago archaeologists found a skull on the Indo?nesian island of Flores that belonged to a hominin so small that it earned the nickname "Hobbit." A furious debate ensued: the fossil discoverers classify the meter-tall hominin as part of a separate species that lived as recently as 12,000 years ago; others maintain it was a modern human who had microcephaly, in which the brain fails to reach normal size. Fresh evidence has fired up the newspecies camp...

BIOLOGY
Lavender's Hormone Havoc
Lavender and other fragrant oils may cause breast growth in boys. Pediatric endocrinologist Clifford Bloch of the University of Colorado at Denver diagnosed three otherwise healthy boys--ages four, seven and 10-- with prepubertal gynecomastia, a rare condition that leads to breast growth in prepubescent males. They all had used lavender-scented soap and skin lotions, or shampoos or styling products that contained lavender oil and tea tree oil...

PHYSICS
Stop-and-Go Light
In 1999 Lene Hau and her colleagues at Harvard University slowed light traveling at 186,282 miles a second to bicycle speed (38 miles an hour). A few years later the team stopped a beam of light completely. This year Hau's team added another quantum trick: turning light into matter and then back into light again...

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