Science is, as many observe, a truly collaborative enterprise. It is also one in which practitioners are unafraid to examine evidence and, if the facts point the way, revise previous notions, even if they have been widely held.
This issue's cover story, “Mind of the Meditator,” is such a case. The authors, Matthieu Ricard, Antoine Lutz and Richard J. Davidson, are, respectively, a Buddhist monk (originally trained as a cellular biologist) and two neuroscientists. The topic is the centuries-old practice of meditation, which has some role in nearly every religion and has been gaining attention in the secular world as a means of promoting well-being and calmness. As it turns out, meditation produces actual changes in the brain, as shown by brain scans and various techniques. People who meditate not only have a greater amount of brain tissue in some regions, but they also can withstand stress better and react faster to certain types of stimuli. Something (dare I say it?) to ponder.
“Virus Therapy for Cancer,” by Douglas J. Mahoney, David F. Stojdl and Gordon Laird, looks at a modern resurgence of an idea dating back to the early 20th century: the use of viruses to treat human cancers. These “oncolytic” viruses replicate extensively inside a tumor, creating an army of virus clones that attack more of the cancerous cells, alone or in combination with other treatments. They can also provoke the body's own immune system to help fight tumors.
While we are contemplating how we rearrange our inner worlds, scientists are also looking into shaping the objects around us. “The Programmable World,” by Thomas A. Campbell, Skylar Tibbits and Banning Garrett, explains how novel materials and 3-D printers could lead to items, such as houses or robots, that can self-assemble and change shape or function on command.
How much will rooftop solar reshape our notions about home energy? Noting the rise of solar panels, associate editor David Biello takes a sweeping look in his feature article, “Solar Wars,” at the issues that have arisen, from utilities' concerns about lost revenue to the need to make sure the right policy frameworks are in place to ensure a reliable electric grid as many homeowners migrate off it. As you will find, although there is a long way to go, if done right rooftop solar could help Americans become energy-independent.