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See Inside March 2011

Spaces and Places

Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina introduces the March 2011 issue of Scientific American



Andrew Federman

Among the topics that readers tell us they like best are those that explore inner space and outer space. In this issue, we’ve got both places covered—and others as well. The cover story, “The Neuroscience of True Grit,” by Gary Stix, delves into the brain’s astonishing power of resilience and recovery in the wake of mental trauma. After a tragedy such as the loss of a loved one or a terrorist attack, we naturally feel shock. But most of us soon begin to bounce back, restoring our mental balance and moving along with our lives. How do we do that? Researchers on both the brain science and behavioral sides have been getting a better picture of the process in recent years—and this understanding could help improve therapies in cases in which our built-in systems can’t entirely do the job.

As for outer space, we are finally getting a closer look at tiny Mercury, which orbits as close as 29 million miles from the sun. For those of us who remember the tantalizing glimpses from Mariner 10 in the mid-1970s, it’s been a long wait. If all goes well, the MESSENGER space­craft, which swung around the scorched planet in January, will settle into orbit March 18. In “Journey to the Innermost Planet,” Scott L. Murchie, Ronald J. Vervack, Jr., and Brian J. Anderson detail the fascinating findings from the flyby—which showed Mercury to be more active than suspected. I can’t wait to learn what else the mission will reveal.

Back here on Earth, other feature articles look at the science of the near future and the distant past. In “Diseases in a Dish,” Stephen S. Hall explains a creative new use of stem cells made from adult tissues: modeling diseases in the lab, the better to improve drug development. And in “Dinosaur Death Trap,” Paul C. Ser­eno solves a 90-million-year-old mystery about how a group of dinosaurs lived and died.

Here’s a follow-up to something I mentioned last issue: students aged 13 to 18 can now enter the Google Science Fair: www.google.com/science­fair. Scientific American is a participating partner, and I’m pleased to be among the judges of the anticipated 10,000 entries. Best wishes for success to all the young scientists. 

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