Scientific American January 2013
Science Agenda: A To-Do List for Washington (p. 10)
President Barack Obama and the newly elected Congress face a few crucial science- and technology-related decisions in the next four years. On top of their to-do list, write the Editors of Scientific American in this month’s Science Agenda column, should be ensuring a clean and secure energy supply, protecting free speech online and, finally, making our health care system smarter.
For instance, in the case of our energy future, the next generation of energy sources should be focused on guaranteeing the security of the nation’s energy supply and limiting its effects on climate change. To do this, the president and Congress need to level the playing field and set a fixed price on carbon emissions to promote competition and new ideas. Similarly, the Editors give concrete recommendations for how to ensure Internet freedom and a better health care system.
Technology: Over the Horizon (p. 26)
Is the flying car finally ready to make a comeback? In a feature article in this month’s Scientific American, Mary “Missy” Cummings considers this question as part of a special collection of articles exploring the scientific and technological milestones we might reach 50, 100 and 150 years from now.
When the Aerocar was certified in 1956, it seemed likely that the flying car would soon become a regular fixture in the garage of the typical suburban home. Resembling a car with wings, the Aerocar could take off on a short runway but was too expensive to justify mass production, and only six were ever built. More than 50 years later, two flying car models have completed one or more test flights—one consists of an aircraft with foldable wings that can carry two people plus luggage. The anticipated $300,000 price tag is still prohibitive, however, and the additional air traffic could leave the skies in chaos. The U.S. military already use unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, but many technological challenges stand in the way of producing a commercially available and economically viable passenger drone. Yet we could well see, within the next 50 years, the vision of an airplane in every driveway, Cummings concludes.
Other articles in the special feature examine what the future might hold for gene therapy, nuclear weapons and solar geoengineering.
Neuroscience: A Confederacy of Senses (p. 72)
The complex interactions between our many different senses define how we perceive the world, writes Lawrence D. Rosenblum in this month’s Scientific American.
In the feature article, Rosenblum explains how hearing and sight, in particular, are two senses that do not operate in isolation but instead influence one another extensively. The way a person moves her lips changes how we hear her speech as the brain integrates input from the ears and eyes. When people lipread, they activate brain regions responsible for both processing language and sound. When Rosenblum modified silent video footage of people speaking, replacing their lips and cheeks with moving dots, people were still able to lipread the faces because the visual features retained some of the same information transmitted in heard speech. The interplay between our senses also means that learning to lipread a specific individual helps you hear that person’s spoken words better, too.
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