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See Inside June 2011

Quantum Leap




Nick Higgins

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Get ready for a change of perspective when you read to Vlatko Vedral’s cover story, “Living in a Quantum World." “According to standard physics textbooks, quantum mechanics is the theory of the microscopic world,” Vedral writes. And classical physics, in textbooks, “handles the largest of scales.”

Not so, proclaims Vedral, who calls this idea “a myth.” Quantum effects are harder to observe in the macroworld because of decoherence. But in the past decade experimentalists have seen quantum behaviors persisting on a macroscopic scale—and these effects turn out to be as pervasive as they are profound. Entanglement, a quantum property once seemingly confined only to small sets of particles, has been demonstrated in far larger systems—and even within living organisms.

Scientific American has, of course, covered many such profound discoveries in how the world works with the help of its scientist authors. More than 140 Nobel laureates have written for the magazine, often years before they won the honor. As laureates gather in Lindau, Germany, this month to share wisdom with a new generation of scientists, we mark the occasion with a special section, “A Nobel Celebration.” We present a selection of some our favorite articles in the fields of medicine and physiology from the past 60 years, including George Wald writing about the origin of life, Francis Crick about DNA, and Carol W. Greider and Elizabeth H. Blackburn about telomeres. Enjoy the sweep of science from then through today.

Citizen Science
Gretchen LeBuhn had a problem. The San Francisco State University researcher wanted to study flower visits by bees, given the effects of climate shifts and the destructive illness called colony collapse disorder. But such ecosystem studies are very challenging and expensive because of the large areas involved.

She sent a note to 15 gardening groups asking if they might grow packets of a certain type of sunflower. Once the flowers bloomed, the idea went, the gardeners would spend a few minutes at certain times making observations about bee visits and inputting the data about what they saw into a form on a Web site LeBuhn set up. She hoped she might get at least some help. But now she had a new problem: more than 75,000 volunteers.

LeBuhn told me about the Great Sunflower Project at SciFoo—an annual “unconference” run by Google, O’Reilly Media and Scientific American’s parent Nature Publishing Group. I realized that Scientific American just had to help connect those citizen scientists and researchers such as LeBuhn. There are many kinds of citizen science, among them: making field observations as in the sunflower project, analyzing images and video such as the terrific Zooniverse.org projects, data crunching with spare computing power, and more.

At www.Scientific­Amer­i­can.com, we have launched Citizen Science, which lists the most compelling activities. Soon we’ll add our own. I hope you’ll help make science happen.

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