Science: Update

NEXT WEEK sees the start of the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the biggest science festival in the country, which this year is to be held at Cardiff University. The event begins on Sunday and runs until Friday, and will include hands-on science demonstrations including the properties of "exploding custard", which always proves popular.

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BLACK HOLES really are not the way to "tunnel" through space, say Israeli scientists who have the computer simulations to prove it. For some years hopeful people (often devotees of Star Trek) have suggested that by passing into a spinning black hole, one might somehow escape the incredible forces inside to avoid being torn apart - and then emerge in another part of the universe, having effectively travelled faster than light. But the team showed that as you move towards a black hole, its apparent mass increases towards infinity - and eventually you are ripped to atomic shreds.

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DEGENERATIVE neurological disorder such as Alzheimer's disease might be treated with nose drops, according to research reported in this week's New Scientist. William Frey at the Alzheimer's Research Center in St Paul, Minnesota, realised that the olfactory nerves run directly from the nasal cavity to the brain's olfactory "bulb". Tests in rats showed that this nasal route can surmount the problem of getting drugs across the blood- brain barrier, which usually excludes most large molecules.

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Bad weather is expected as a byproduct of global warming, but might it also contribute to it? In a study in Nature, scientists at the Bermuda Station for Biological Research suggest that hurricanes may themselves contribute to global warming by cooling the sea - meaning it can absorb less carbon dioxide - and hurling large amounts of that freed gas into the atmosphere.

In 1995 the team at the BSBR measured the increased carbon dioxide levels generated by three hurricanes in the Sargasso Sea (a normally placid part of the Atlantic): with Hurricanes Felix, Luis and Marilyn, the ocean surface cooled while the winds, of more than 100mph, whipped up the sea to exchange carbon dioxide. The three events increased the total amount of carbon dioxide transfer in that region that summer by 55 per cent.

However, it is still unclear what effect the ten or so hurricanes occurring annually could have on the bigger picture of climate change: that is still being investigated.

Charles Arthur

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