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Technology and Science, Around the World

TRcover.gifThis month's Technology Review has a fascinating set of stories about how technological development and problems are viewed in seven different countries: China, Chile, Brazil, the United States, South Africa, Germany and the Netherlands. The articles are written by locals (or regional authors), sometimes even people involved in the technological efforts described. The introductory piece, What Matters Most Depends On Where You Are, features a nifty set of maps displaying technological aspects of different parts of the world, from Internet and mobile phone use to production of genetically modified crops. Some of the statistics may be a bit surprising -- were you aware that Argentina was the second largest producer of GMOs? -- while others will confirm suspicions -- the map of Internet access per capita is very nearly the precise opposite of the map of cost of Internet access.

And, you know, there's something about the issue's cover that seems strangely familiar...

Some interesting tidbits:


A solar-energy collecting tube invented by a professor at Tsinghua University could make solar power more practical. The glass vacuum heat collector has an aluminum nitride coating that absorbs solar energy. Each of the coatings multiple layers absorbs a different wavelength of light, turning it into heat. The collector can capture 50 to 60 percent of incoming solar energy, which can then be used to heat water or air. Tsinghua has applied for more than 30 patents on the device, which is already offered commercially in China, Switzerland, Japan, and Germany.


For years, Chilean copper miners have used microbes to extract copper and other metals from low-grade mineral concentrates. The organism most commonly used is a bacterium called Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, which breaks the bonds between copper and sulfur. But researchers at Biosigma isolated a new set of bacteria that work better than this old standby. The company sequenced the bacterias genomes and applied for patents on some of the genes it found. (Biosigma has not disclosed the identity of the bacteria.) The process looks so promising that this year Biosigma will receive an additional $16 million from its parent companies to continue operations. Biosigma plans to field-test the new bacteria by years end.


In energy, the center of the greatest activity is biodiesel, a fuel made from the oil of seeds such as soybeans, castor beans, and cottonseed. Biodiesel could become an attractive, domestically produced alternative to petroleum-based fuels. Brazil has enacted a law requiring diesel oil sold in the country to be 2 percent biodiesel by 2008 and 5 percent biodiesel by 2013. Because the country has huge amounts of land that is unsuited for food crops but that can easily grow oil seeds, Brazil can become a global biodiesel power, says Maria das Graas Foster, secretary of oil, gas, and renewable energy at the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

United States

Recent funding of defense and security has already produced technologies for civilian use. Lincoln Laboratory, a research institution at MIT that works mainly with the Department of Defense, has created several interesting dual use technologies. Using luminescent proteins produced by a jellyfish gene, for instance, the lab has developed a biosensor that glows in the presence of biowarfare agents. In 2003, the device, known as Canary (which stands for cellular analysis and notification of antigen risks and yields), was licensed to Innovative Biosensors in College Park, MD. The company believes it may be useful for medical diagnosis, too.

South Africa

South Africas other major area of innovation involves communication of another sort: the collaborative process that is the heart of the open-source-software movement. More than 80 percent of the countrys six-billion-rand (about $1 billion) annual spending on software and licensing goes to foreign companies, according to the Shuttleworth Foundations Go Open Source campaign. This reliance on proprietary hardware and software hinders the development of South Africans information technology skills and closes off opportunities for economic growth.


Although they have introduced prototypes of hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles, carmakers in Germany are betting on the longer-term vision of fuel cell cars that consume hydrogen. DaimlerChrysler, for example, has said it will bring such vehicles to the market by 2010. And in what has the makings of a startling turnaround, the demand for hydrogen that would result could help bring about a nuclear renaissance in Germany. In the late 1990s, after massive antinuclear protests, the government coalition of Social Democrats and Greens decided to shut down Germanys nuclear power plants by 2020. The country committed itself instead to developing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.
Weather and climate systems, like shifting sediments and the currents of rivers and seas, are impossible to describe accurately using linear models. Research by Dutch mathematicians on nonlinear systems has produced computer models of these phenomena that are of vital importance to the countrys survival. Thanks to these models, the pumping stations that keep the Dutch lowlands from flooding can anticipate prolonged rain spells, and mechanical storm-surge barriers can be closed in time when massive storms approach.

(Thanks, Adrian Cotter!)

Comments (3)


science mag is doing something similar:


"During 2005, Science celebrates the 125th anniversary of the publication of its first issue with a special essay series, inviting researchers from around the world to provide a regional view of the scientific enterprise."

here's one from india :D



Jamais Cascio:

Indeed it is, Glory -- that's why I linked to it here:


...and even gave you a shout-out for suggesting it!


silly me :D



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