Every month, Scientific American—the longest-running magazine in the U.S. and an authoritative voice in science, technology and innovation—provides insight into scientific topics that affect our daily lives and capture our imagination, establishing the vital bridge between science and public policy.
>> Key information from this month’s issue:
• Genetically Modified Crops
In the U.S., more than 90 percent of soybean and cotton crops, and more than 80 percent of corn plants, are genetically engineered to resist herbicides and insects. Roger Beachy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, says that without genetically modified crops, farmers would need to return to older practices, producing lower crop yields and higher prices and increasing the use of agrochemicals harmful to health. See Sustainability: Food Fight
• Earthquake Detection
Tragedies like the March 11 magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan highlight the importance of earthquake detection systems. By integrating improved detection methods with modern communications technologies, authorities could receive warnings tens of seconds before an earthquake strikes. Seismic sensors, already in use in Japan and Mexico, have sent warning messages to shut down power plants and railway stations, automatically open elevator doors and alert emergency crews. See Seismology: Seconds before the Big One
• Web Extra: The essential lesson from the Japan earthquake for the U.S.
In the 2008 financial crisis in the U.S. and around the word, big banks such as Lehman Brothers acted as “superspreaders”—infected organisms who endanger entire networks through their web of connections. To prevent another similar meltdown, financial regulators may need to focus on the health of the financial networks, not just individual banks. See Advances: Too Contagious to Fail
• Criminal Justice
Brain scans and other neurological-based evidence could someday be as common in the courtroom as fingerprint and DNA evidence. Based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 Roper v. Simmons ruling, neurological insights might upend traditional ideas about lie detection, personal responsibility and just punishments. But the courts—and society— should proceed with caution, rather than too quickly embrace such early neurological evidence. See Imaging: Neuroscience in the Courtroom
• Law Enforcement
A newly patented device, the StunRay, can render an assailant helpless with a beam of high-intensity light. This new device has several advantages over guns and Tasers, including a high level of safety and efficiency. See Advances: Patent Watch
• Antibiotic Resistance
Overreliance on antibiotics helps to foster drug resistance across bacterial species and has produced a deadly new threat in the form of gram-negative bacterial infections. With no medications in development, this new strain of resistant bacteria could make many common infections untreatable. See Medicine: The Enemy Within
At the recent Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-e), the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Energy announced a partnership to test energy storage technologies that could turn ARPA-e’s scientific advances in energy storage into deployable technologies for the military. Inventing the future of energy like this may be the key to improving our national security, economic prosperity and health. See Web extra: www.ScientificAmerican.com/apr2011/arpae