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POPSCI.COM JANUARY 2009 POPULAR SCIENCE 05
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this month’s guide to innovation and discovery
january ’09 VOLUME 274 #1
42
b Concepts &
Prototypes
42 STEALTH REBORN
Inside the Air Force’s secret
plans for a bomber that will
barely register on radar—
and might even fly without a
pilot. By Dawn Stover
b PopSci Predicts
46 YOUR GUIDE TO THE
TOP SCIENCE STORIES
OF 2009
We forecast the major
scientific developments
of the coming year: the
space missions to watch,
the invention prizes you can
win and, oh, a little study
that might show whether
your cellphone is killing you.
b Fieldwork
54 KILLER
CONNECTION
There are far more serial
murderers on the loose than
we think. The Center for
Human Identification uses
powerful DNA techniques
to examine victims—and
closes the coldest, darkest
cases in the process.
By Jessica Snyder Sachs
b the future
of energy
64 THIS MACHINE
MIGHT SAVE THE
WORLD
Two Canadian tinkerers
embark on an improbable
quest to create nuclear
fusion in an office-park
warehouse. By Josh Dean
64
46
54
b How It Works
62 DIGITAL
MAPMAKING
To build the maps for
Google and your GPS gad-
get, a team of hundreds of
drivers trolls the streets
with cameras on their
vans. By Doug Cantor
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06 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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BLOGS AND MORE
FAST FUN: MORE 5-MINUTE PROJECTS
POPSCI’s how-to crew is back with six new videos.
Learn how to make a spectrometer, geek-chic
cuff links, and more—all in less time than it takes to fix
a sandwich. Check out popsci.com/freshfiveminutes.
OOZING ANIMALS
Weak stomachs be warned: We bring you a new
and nauseating gallery of “Nature’s Grossest
Creatures.” Point and stare, at popsci.com/gross.
INVESTIGATING THE INFOMERCIALS
Can that treatment really grow your hair back? Do those electronic pest
repellers actually work? Our new column “As Seen on TV” reveals the
truth behind the late-night ads, at popsci.com/tvtruth.
JOIN US FOR A THRILL RIDE
Resident motorcycle guru Matt Cokeley visited Berlin to ogle the new
Buell 1125CR, grill its designers about bike tech, and take a high-
speed test drive. See video of his adventure at popsci.com/buell.
RETURN OF THE BODACIOUS ‘BOTS
Can’t get enough alluring photos of female robots?
We’ve whipped up another gallery showing how
science-fiction writers, artists and engineers rep-
resent women, at popsci.com/fembot.
78
33
20
REGULARS
©
MEGAPIXELS
14 A blue chicken embryo; a dark hall to nuclear waste.
©
WHAT’S NEW
19 RECREATION
Cooling molten metal faster to build a better motorbike.
20 THE GOODS
A 3-D GPS gadget; a guitar that records itself.
22 HOME TECH
Power tools get more power, thanks to a new motor.
30 GADGETS
What’s next for Google’s groundbreaking cellphone?
©
HEADLINES
33 ENVIRONMENT
Why climate-change models underestimate the problem.
34 DEFENSE TECH
Scanners that check your body to predict criminal acts.
36 WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?
Entrepreneur Elon Musk on Tesla’s new electric sedan.
40 PLANET FIXERS
Making electricity from hot streets, and more.
©
HOW 2.0
73 YOU BUILT ?!
A poker table that turns a card game into a TV event.
76 GRAY MATTER
Powder in a flowerpot becomes titanium metal.
77 CHEAP TRICKS
Connect your Xbox to the Web with an old router.
79 ASK A GEEK
With automated reminders, you’ll never forget anything.
©
FYI
80 The best job on Mars. Plus: Will corn pop in space?
©
OTHER STUFF
10 FROM THE EDITOR
12 THE INBOX
96 PPX: THE POPSCI PREDICTIONS EXCHANGE
LEAN MACHINE
Our bike expert reviews this
ultra-sleek two-wheeler.
WHAT
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Tech
President
POPSCI.COM 10 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
On October 30, just five days before the presidential election, Barack
Obama did something that snapped my head back: He devoted a solid
chunk of an interview on an evening news show to detailing his plans,
if elected, to overhaul the nation’s electrical grid.
“If we’re going to be serious
about renewable energy,” he
said, “I want to be able to get
wind power from North Dakota
to population centers like Chi-
cago. And we’re going to have
to have a smart grid if we want
to use plug-in hybrids and we
want to be able to have ordinary
consumers sell the electricity
that’s generated from those car
batteries back into the grid.”
Wow, I thought, he’s making offhand reference to subtle and sophisti-
cated ideas about renewable energy. What’s more, his analysis is spot-on—
the grid is the often-overlooked key to the successful propagation of any
legitimate new alternative-energy economy. And the fact that he was
spending precious airtime in the campaign’s waning days pushing such a
techno-wonk agenda struck me as a particularly encouraging sign that this
president-elect is serious about innovation. In the lead-up to his inaugura-
tion, there’s talk of everything from creating a more transparent and respon-
sive government with the kind of Web technology that made the Obama
campaign successful, to using a bailout of U.S. automakers as a way of com-
pelling them to build cleaner vehicles.
Those are just a few of the portents suggesting that, as of the 20th of
this month, we’ll have a truly science-minded and tech-savvy president in
the White House. I’m eager to see him get down to business.
MARK JANNOT
mark.jannot@bonniercorp.com
THERE ARE
ENCOURAGING
SIGNS THAT THIS
PRESIDENT-ELECT
IS SERIOUS ABOUT
INNOVATION.
Editor-in-Chief Mark Jannot
Deputy Editor Jacob Ward
Creative Director Sam Syed
EDITORIAL
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Mone, Rena Marie Pacella, Dave Prochnow, Jessica Snyder Sachs,
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Phillip Torrone, James Vlahos, Speed Weed
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Editorial Intern Greg Soltis
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THE
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Corrections
HD radio is not “high-definition” [Coby
HDR 700; “The Goods,” Oct. 2008].
The LHC’s magnet sections each weigh
38.5 tons, not 10 [“Breaking Open the
Unknown Universe,” Oct. 2008].
Beth Noveck is a professor at New York
Law School, not New York University
[“Dear Mr. President,” Nov. 2008].
The Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 component
set [“The Best of What’s New,” Dec.
2008] costs $2,100, not $150.
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THE
FUTURE
NOW
12 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI.COM
LETTERS@POPSCI.COM
Electrified
“Power Struggle” [November
2008], about the quest to
build the Chevy Volt’s massive
battery, really charged up our
readers, becoming one of the
most discussed stories online.
While some questioned the Volt’s
feasibility and cost, most agreed
that its environmental benefits
are well worth the effort. Weigh
in at .
True, a plug-in would make sense for
a majority of commuters, but there
are definitely hurdles to overcome.
The current electric infrastructure
couldn’t handle pumping electricity
to millions of cars. Replacing
today’s gas-distribution process
with electric charging stations
will not be quick, easy or cheap.
Bob
Via e-mail
We need to let carmakers know we
want to get through this “hybrid”
phase—the transition from gasoline
to full electric cars—as soon as
possible and that we want cars that
are designed to have the generators
removed and swapped for batteries.
billdale
Comment on popsci.com
“Power Struggle” states “Americans
burn 390 million gallons of gasoline
every day, each of which pumps 20
pounds of carbon dioxide into the
air.” How is it possible to burn six
pounds of liquid and turn it into 20
pounds of CO
2
?
L.L. Holloway
Vancouver, Wash.
Editor Seth Fletcher responds: Most
of carbon dioxide’s weight comes from
oxygen in the air, which isn’t included
in that 6.3-pound gallon of gas. There
are 5.5 pounds of carbon in each
gallon. When gas burns, the carbon
molecules combine with two oxygen
molecules to form CO
2
, which is 3.7
times as heavy as a single carbon
atom. Multiplying 5.5 pounds of
carbon by 3.7 gives you 20.35 pounds.
popsci.com/powerstruggle
The Sony
®
Organic LED TV
revolutionizes television with
blazing response times, exceptionally
vibrant color reproduction, stunning
contrast levels, high brightness and a
display as thin as three credit cards.
GRAND
AWARD
WINNER
entertainment
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megapixels
the must-see photos of the month
FUNKY
CHICKEN
FOLLOWING BIRD
DEVELOPMENT FROM
EGG TO HEN
To create this image, which won the popular
vote in the 2008 Nikon Small World contest,
22-year-old Tomás Pais de Azevedo, a gradu-
ate student in evolutionary and developmen-
tal biology at the University of Lisbon in Portu-
gal, removed an eight-day-old, two-inch-long
chicken embryo from its egg and stained it
with a dye that binds to cartilage. The process
took three days, after which he photographed
the embryo through a stereo microscope. The
dark-blue areas of the chick indicate where
the cartilage will ultimately solidify into bone.
By tracking how bones develop, and in what
order, it’s possible to see how various genes
control the overall development of vertebrate
organisms. BY STUART FOX
PHOTOGRAPH BY TOMÁS PAIS DE AZEVEDO
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POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 15
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16 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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MEGAPIXELS
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POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 17
TUNNEL
VISION
THE LONG WALK TO
A NUCLEAR-WASTE
STORAGE FACILITY
At the end of this tunnel, which snakes as
deep as 820 feet below the Hungarian coun-
tryside, lies a new long-term nuclear-waste
facility, set to open in 2010. Located on the
outskirts of the village of Bátaapáti, it will
store more than 10.5 million gallons of low-
and intermediate-level waste produced at the
Paks nuclear power plant, which is 40 miles
away. The waste consists of protective clothing
and contaminated tools and materials from
processing. It collectively accounts for 97 per-
cent of the volume of radioactive waste from
the plant. (The high-level waste, including
spent fuel rods, is stored at the power plant.)
After several hundred years, its radioactivity
should decay to the level of the planet’s natu-
ral background radiation. BY GREG SOLTIS
PHOTOGRAPH BY KAROLY ARVAI
See more amazing photos at popsci.com/gallery.
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JANUARY 2009 POPULAR SCIENCE 19
Buell did not break the mold when it made
the 1125CR racing bike. Instead, it washed
the mold away—to create a sturdier body.
The frames of other motorcycles are
formed by pouring molten metal into a mold
of sand and clay. Buell engineers instead
developed a water-soluble bonding agent
to use in place of clay. The new formulation
allows them to start rinsing the mold away
right after the aluminum is poured, rather
than waiting for the cast to solidify and then
breaking the mold. Water cools the alloy
faster and in a controlled manner, preventing
cavities from forming, which can weaken the
structure. Buell used the method to produce
a stronger rear frame that requires one less
pound of metal. It’s even possible to cast the
entire frame that way, using water cooling to
fine-tune the metal’s strength and rigidity for
different components.—Matthew Cokeley
what’s neW
tech that puts the future in the palm of your hand
BUELL
1125CR
POWER: 146 hp
TORQUE: 82 lb.-ft.
WEIGHT: 375 lbs.
TOP SPEED: 154 mph
GET IT: $11,700
buell.com
24
The marriage of point-
and-shoot and SLR
22
A mightier motor
for power tools
26
Porsche rebuilds the
911 from the inside out
A NEW
CASTING
TECHNIQUE
PRODUCES A
STRONGER,
LIGHTER
MOTORCYCLE
FRAME WORK
See a video of the CR in action at popsci.com/buell.
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20 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
WHAT’S NEW
GOODS
THE
12 MUST-HAVE PRODUCTS
RECORDING ARTIST
Save your songs with this acoustic
guitar’s built-in MP3 recorder. A “pickup”
near the strings, like the one in an
electric guitar, converts vibrations into
a voltage signal, and a microphone on
the side captures your crooning. Ovation
iDea Guitar $600; ovationidea.com
MOTOR HEAD
No need to swing a
hammer. Slip this
tool over a nail, and
a small internal
weight vibrates up and
down 2,000 times a
minute. It drives nails
without straining your
arms and makes it
impossible for you to
miss and bust your
thumb. Craftsman
NexTec Auto
Hammerhead
$100; craftsman.com
EASY STEPS
Track your daily calorie burn without
expending extra energy. Fitbit’s pedometer
automatically uploads step counts to
your computer whenever you walk by its
Bluetooth-enabled base
station. Fitbit
Tracker
$100;
fitbit.com
SAFETY LINE
Back up your files just by plugging
one end of this cable into your
PC and the other into any USB
hard drive. A chip inside the cable
holds software that automatically
manages the transfer. ClickFree
Transformer $60; goclickfree.com
LIGHT COLORED
See this MP3 player’s dis-
play clearly even in direct
sun. It’s the first gadget
with Qualcomm’s color Mir-
asol screen, which creates
images by reflecting
light—becoming brighter
as your surroundings do.
Freestyle Audio FA300
$80; freestyleaudio.com
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OVER THE HILL
Other GPS devices show you twisty roads, but finally there’s one that shows you an
upcoming cliff. The 8100T is the first unit to display terrain features all across the
U.S., such as hills, valleys and drop-offs. It uses a built-in 3-D graphics chip to render
topographic data provided by NASA. Navigon 8100T $600; navigon.com
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READY FOR YOUR
CLOSE-UP
Improve your iPhone’s
photos. The built-in lens
on this case slides over the
camera and enables it to
take clear close-up shots—
such as readable pics of
business cards—from
just four inches away.
Griffin Clarifi $35;
griffintechnology.com
UNDER PRESSURE
You won’t accidentally launch an application
by brushing the Storm’s touchscreen. You
tap the display to highlight icons but push
down firmly to select one. This depresses
the entire LCD against a button hidden
underneath. BlackBerry Storm
Price not set; verizon.com
AUTO WASH
The first carpet cleaner with
computerized controls begins
dispensing water with the flick
of a dial, instead of making you
constantly hold a trigger. Sen-
sors alert you when the dirty-
water tank needs to be emptied.
Hoover Platinum Carpet
Cleaner $400; hoover.com
DANCE,
DANCE
EVOLUTION
This standalone
videogame system
lets you virtually
boogie by stepping
or sliding in any
direction, without
having to hit specific
parts of a dance
mat. A camera in
the receiver tracks
the movement
of reflective tags
that you strap on
your feet. Tiger
Electronics
U-Dance $80;
hasbro.com
FASTER FRAMES
This LCD prevents blurry motion
scenes by refreshing images
240 times per second—twice as
fast as any other set. Because
images flash faster, the change
between frames doesn’t appear
abrupt. Sony Bravia KDL-
52XBR7 Price not set; sony.com
PLUG AND PRINT
Connect a printer to this router’s
USB port to send documents to it
from another room. Software on
your computer streams files over
Wi-Fi or Ethernet to the router, which
converts the data to USB signals.
D-Link DIR-825 $190; dlink.com
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For guys on a job site drilling hundreds of holes a day, power
matters—it lets them work faster and blow through knots,
nails and other obstructions. That’s why corded tools, with
their bigger, stronger motors, still reign for contractors, and
why DeWalt challenged its engineers to deliver even more
oomph. Their answer: a motor that squeezes in extra copper
to deliver 40 percent more power.
Electric motors send current though copper coils
embedded in a steel ring, generating a magnetic field that
spins an electromagnetic rotor inside. The ring is typically a
single piece of metal. Copper coils are inserted through a gap
into slots on each side of the ring, and then slid into place.
DeWalt instead uses a four-piece steel ring and assembles
it around larger coils, eliminating the need for a gap and
making room for more power-producing copper.
The motor is now in two new half-inch drills and a
handheld grinder, but it could easily migrate to any tool that
needs some extra kick.—Mike Haney
WHAT’S NEW HOME TECH
S
A
T
O
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H
I
EXTRA-POWER TOOL
A REDESIGNED MOTOR GIVES THIS DRILL A SERIOUS BOOST IN JUICE
̆ STOP GAP
In a crosscut of the new motor [fore-
ground, right], copper coils fill the
crescent-shaped slots on each side
to provide maximum power. The old
design [far left] required leaving a
gap where the coils were inserted.
RYOBI HYBRID SAW
Like the love child of a recip and a
jigsaw, this tool pumps standard jig
blades at 1,850 strokes per minute,
perfect for cutting holes in drywall.
It’s part of an inexpensive set that
includes an impact driver, compact
drill, circular saw and work light.
$150 (set); ryobitools.com
BOSCH MULTI-X
This device can oscillate
different attachments at up to
20,000 times a minute. Use tiny
triangular sanding pads for nooks
and crannies or a miniature saw
blade that will cut in places you
could never cram a hacksaw.
$200; boschtools.com
IN RELATED NEWS: COOL CORDLESS TOOLS
POPSCI.COM 22 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
EXTREME
CLOSE-UP
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Even SLRs are pups next to the big dogs known
as medium-format cameras, which fashion and
fine-art photographers use to capture hyper-
detailed images. Due out this summer, Leica’s S2
packs a medium-format sensor (a 37.5-megapixel
slab that’s one and a half times as large as the
biggest SLR’s) into a compact, rugged body that’s
as portable as an SLR. A chip with two computing
cores processes the giant images. Leica S2
Price not set; en.leica-camera.com
IN RELATED NEWS:
A HANDHELD PHOTO STUDIO
POPSCI.COM 24 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
THIS NEW DESIGN BORROWS
FROM BOTH PRO CAMERAS
AND POCKET MODELS
The big news in cameras is actually
pretty small. A new format with the
wonky name “micro four thirds”
(referring to the image sensor’s
size and 4:3 aspect ratio), combines
the interchangeable lenses of an
SLR with the compact body of a
point-and-shoot. The first model,
Panasonic’s G1, is about the size of
the most petite SLRs but uses even
smaller lenses. A design concept
from Olympus shows the potential for
more-diminutive future models.
To shrink the cameras, the
companies removed a key part of
SLRs—the mirror that sits behind
the lens and reflects images into
the viewfinder. The downside is that
you have to compose shots using an
LCD screen, which isn’t as accurate as
looking right through the lens of an SLR.
On the upside, you get the other
benefits of an SLR in a compact
package. The G1’s 12.1-megapixel
image sensor, though smaller than
most SLR’s, is about six times as large
as a high-end point-and-shoot’s. Bigger
sensors absorb more light to capture
richer details and colors, especially in
dim settings. And the ability to change
lenses lets you shoot anything from
extreme close-ups to wide shots to a
warped fish-eye view. Best of all, you’ll
finally have room to pack all those
lenses in your bag.—Theano Nikitas
GET IT: Panasonic G1
$800 with lens;
panasonic.com
LITTLE SHOT
A concept camera
from Olympus squeezes
the workings of an SLR into
a pocket-sized body.
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Look through the 2009 Carrera S’s familiar
skin, and you’ll find the biggest redesign in
years. The change starts with a dual-clutch
transmission, taken straight from Porsche’s
racecars, that shifts gears in milliseconds.
It’s bolted to a redesigned six-cylinder engine
that uses direct fuel injection (a first for
Porsche) to churn out higher horsepower
while actually getting more miles per gal-
lon. In the cockpit, the company has finally
added modern gadgetry such as Bluetooth,
an iPod cable, and XM Satellite Radio with
real-time traffic updates. What hasn’t
changed? The 911 is still one of the most
powerful cars on the planet.—seth fletcher
WHAT’S NEW AUTO TECH
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SKIN-DEEP
INSIDE, PORSCHE’S 911
IS A WHOLE NEW CAR
EXTREME
CLOSE-UP
Transmission
Like other double-clutch systems, Porsche’s
seven-speed gearbox essentially uses one
transmission for the odd-numbered gears and
one for the even-numbered. While one is in first
gear, the other is already waiting in second.
Switch from automatic to manual mode, and
choose gears with either the shifter or the
buttons on the steering wheel. On the track, we
pulled off brutal shifts—say, from sixth gear
down to second at 60 mph—instantaneously.
Engine
Direct fuel injection sends gasoline straight into
the cylinders, increasing compression ratio and
efficiency. That translates to a 0-to-60 time of
4.5 seconds, a top speed of 178 mph and a 15
percent cut in carbon-dioxide emissions.
Suspension
Select “Sport” mode, and the shocks
compress, bringing the car nearly an
inch closer to the ground to provide more
stability during high-speed turns.
lights
LEDs around the headlamps and tail lamps act
as daytime running lights.
26 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI.COM
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WHAT’S NEW GADGETS
S
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TURNING A
NEW PAGE
GOOD,
BETTER,
BEST
The latest electronic readers let you scrawl in the margins or
swipe your finger to turn a page, just as with a traditional paper
book. Their new realism comes from touchscreens of various
kinds, which replace computer-like buttons. And with E-Ink
displays that look like pigment on paper, these gizmos could
convert even die-hard bookworms.—Sean Portnoy
Weighing just 10 ounces, Sony’s new
reader is about the same size as earlier
versions. But its 4.8-by-3.6-inch screen
packs resistive sensors that respond to
pressure from your finger or a stylus.
Swipe the screen to turn a page, or drag
across a word to highlight and copy it.
You can’t write freehand, but you can
make notes by tapping on a keyboard
that pops up onscreen. $400; sony.com

Write or draw directly on a 6.3-by-8-
inch display. Like iRex’s smaller models
(previously the only digital books with
touchscreens), the 1000S uses a sensor
board, placed under the screen, that
reacts to a magnetic signal from an
electronic pen. (It’s the same Wacom tech
that digital artists use.) Navigate pages
with touch-sensitive panels on the
unit’s side. $750; irextechnologies.com
This spring, Plastic Logic will debut the
thinnest e-reader yet—just over a quarter
of an inch—with a screen the same size
as an 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper. Its
E-Ink display sits on a plastic base instead
of glass, making it slimmer, lighter
and more durable; even the transistors
are plastic. The touchscreen relies on
iPhone-style capacitance sensors, which
react to the electrical conductivity of your
fingertips. Price not set; plasticlogic.com
SCREEN SIZE: PAPERBACK SCREEN SIZE: HARDCOVER SCREEN SIZE: OFFICE PAPER
28 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI.COM
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WHAT’S NEW GADGETS
GET IT: T-Mobile G1
$180 with two-year
contract (from $65/
month); tmobile.com
MAKE THIS PHONE
YOUR OWN
THE “GOOGLE PHONE” IS HERE. NOW PROGRAMMERS CAN MAKE IT INTERESTING
PARADIGM
SHIFT
S
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WHAT IT IS
Android, Google’s cellphone operating
system. When we curse at our phones,
the culprit is usually the impenetrable
software that requires five button
presses just to save a number to its
address book. But what if you could
replace the address book with a better
version —or with something completely
different, like a program that links to
your Facebook friends list instead?
That’s the promise of Android,
which premiered with the T-Mobile
G1 in October and this year will
power a variety of phones, from
carriers and manufacturers
including Sprint and Motorola.
(The latter has hired hundreds of
Android programmers in the hope of
reviving its foundering business.)
Why It’s radical
Unlike the Apple, BlackBerry and
Microsoft phone operating systems,
Android is open-source, meaning
anyone is free to reprogram it and offer
improvements to other users through a
download store called the Market. Other
systems let you install programs such
as games. But they don’t allow you to
change the phone itself (like replacing
the address book), or how applications
communicate with each other and
with the phone’s hardware. That’s why
iPhone owners are still waiting for
Apple to add basic functions to the OS,
like cutting and pasting text between
programs or sending music through the
Bluetooth chip to a wireless headset.
For Example
Android also makes it easier to build
complex applications that link programs
and phone components. Take Wikitude.
It uses input from the camera, the GPS
chip and orientation sensors to overlay
links to Wikipedia articles about the
places you see on the phone’s screen,
providing a real-time, annotated view
of the world. That doesn’t just improve
your phone; it turns it into a whole
new kind of device.—John Mahoney
30 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI.COM
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POPSCI.COM JANUARY 2009 POPULAR SCIENCE 33
To predict the unpredictable: That’s the
goal of a new government initiative on
abrupt climate change. As the atmosphere
reels under the influence of greenhouse
gases, scientists fear the growing risk of
dramatic environmental changes occurring
within decades—far faster than current
computer models predict. Ice sheets might
not just melt but collapse wholesale, rap-
idly raising sea levels and flooding entire
coastlines. Regional rain shortages could
cause megadroughts that choke our water
and food supply. William Collins, head of
the climate-science department at Law-
rence Berkeley National Laboratory, calls
the possibility of abrupt climate change “a
huge threat to the security and stability of
our nation and the world.”
Earth is no stranger to the disruptive
forces of sudden climate change. Tree-
ring data show that sudden drying in the
American West from 900 to 1400 induced
one of the most tenacious megadroughts on
record, turning river basins into sheets of
sand and contributing to the collapse of the
agrarian Pueblo “cliff-dweller” civilization.
Scientists suspect that increased green-
house gases may be forcing another shift,
but no computer model is yet capable of
forecasting if, when, and how fast that shift
might be happening. So with a $2-million-a-
year investment by the U.S. Department of
Energy, six national laboratories and a host
of universities are joining forces in a predic-
tion project called IMPACTS (Investigation
of the Magnitudes and Probabilities of
Abrupt Climate Transitions). Led by Collins,
IMPACTS will pinpoint the mechanisms that
drive abrupt climate change and add them
to the Community Climate System Model
[continued on page 35]
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headlines
discoveries, advances and debates in science
THE OTHER BIG MELTDOWN
IS GLOBAL WARMING SHIFTING INTO HIGH GEAR? A FEDERAL PROJECT AIMS TO FIND OUT
Tesla’s new
electric sedan
Turning old elec-
tronics into gold
Vital signs expose
bad guys in a crowd
36 39 34
ON THE BRINK Experts
warn that a rapid shift
in climate could speed
up ice loss, which
would dramatically
raise sea levels and
increase flood risk.
Reduced rainfall in
the American South-
west could also set
off severe drought not
seen since the 1930s .
ENVIRONMENT
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DEFENSE TECH
SECURITY IN THE
“FAST” LANE
Thermal camera
A. Eyes: Cameras detect
slight alterations in
pupil size, blink rate
and direction of gaze.
B. Heart: A laser radar called
BioLIDAR measures heart
rate and changes in the inter-
val between heartbeats.
C. Lungs: BioLIDAR moni-
tors the frequency and depth
of respiration by tracking
micro-movements in the
neck, cheeks and face.
D. Skin: Thermal cameras
gauge changes in skin tem-
perature and texture to
determine stress levels.
E. Body language: Video
cameras capture nonverbal
behavioral cues, such as
gestures and gait changes,
that indicate malicious intent.
Pheromones: Scientists
are working on a sensor to
detect the chemicals the
body expels under stress.
FAST HAS YOU COVERED
As you make your way through the security checkpoint of the 2020
Los Angeles Auto Show, visions of hydrogen sports cars occupy your
mind. Not so for the well-dressed 25-year-old behind you. He plans
to set off a bomb. But minute irregularities in his body temperature,
heart rate and sweat content betray his nefarious intentions and
trigger alarms, alerting security before he even enters the building.
That’s how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security hopes its
new camera- and sensor-based threat monitor, called Future Attri-
bute Screening Technology, or FAST, will work. In September, the
DHS ran 140 volunteers through a scaled-down FAST prototype,
scoring a promisingly high accuracy rate for picking out people with
deceptive or hostile intent, says Bob Burns, the program manager
for the DHS Science and Technology division.
The system operates on the theory that a person planning
a malicious attack will display measurable biological cues that
expose him. “We look for very specific signals,” Burns says. “For
security reasons, I’d rather not get into the nitty-gritty,” he says,
but notes that FAST aims to eventually be able to analyze pupil dila-
tion, speech patterns and even pheromone levels.
What if you’re innocently nervous or angry? Working in concert,
the system’s multiple sensors, including more-conventional bomb
detectors, should be able to discern between someone who’s an immi-
nent threat and a person who’s just having a bad day.—Arnie Cooper
A NEW SYSTEM SCANS CROWDS FOR THE
BIOLOGICAL CUES THAT PRECIPITATE CRIME
A
B
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34 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 35
(CCSM), one of the country’s two leading com-
puter climate models. Accurate predictions
won’t eliminate changes, but they might give
us time to prepare.
Megadrought is a high priority for
IMPACTS. Current models show that global
warming will already make the American
Southwest steadily drier, but changes in plant
life could speed up and inten-
sify the process. During
prolonged drought,
plant roots
deprived of water
cease to grow
longer and tap
deep ground-
water. “The
vegetation may
actually die off,”
says Ruby Leung,
an IMPACTS modeler
at the Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory. Without
plants to transport groundwater to the top
layer of soil, drought conditions could com-
pound, setting the stage for a megadrought.
Another tipping point may be ice sheets,
particularly in the West Antarctic. They’re
disintegrating briskly, but current computer
models don’t take this into account, in part
because the mechanism by which the sheets
crumble is still unclear. History shows that
sea levels are capable of rising 20 times
as fast as the current rate of one tenth of
an inch per year, says New York University
oceanographer David Holland, who is parsing
recent field data on the mechanisms into ice-
sheet equations for the CCSM. “At that rate,”
he says, “you would have a problem in 100
years.” Given that one in 10 people worldwide
live in low-elevation areas, these are impor-
tant numbers to know.
Until recent years, the national research
focus has been to characterize trends in
gradual warming and its long-term effects.
“It’s like learning to drive,” says Richard
Alley, a glaciologist at Penn State Uni-
versity and a leader in bringing attention
to abrupt climate change. “We generally
start by trying to control the car. Then we
learn about evasive maneuvers to avoid
drunk drivers crossing the centerline.”
IMPACTS signals that priorities are shift-
ing. The hope is that they’re shifting faster
than the climate is.—Laura Allen
HEADLINES
(CCSM) one of the country’s two leading
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 33
BioLIDAR
Video camera
“ABRUPT
CLIMATE
CHANGE IS A
HUGE THREAT
TO NATIONAL
SECURITY.”
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POPSCI.COM 36 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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WHY DOT-COM BILLIONAIRE ELON MUSK IS BANKING ON
AMERICAN-MADE ELECTRIC CARS
If there’s a gene for entrepreneurship, Elon
Musk has it. From his first project at age 12
creating and selling a videogame called Blaster
for $500, to his $1-billion-plus sale of PayPal
to eBay in 2002, the 37-year-old South African
is every bit the born mogul. These days he’s
chairman of Solar City, the largest residential
solar-power provider in California. He’s also
the founder and CEO of Space X, a space-
exploration company that made headlines
last September when it launched the first
privately developed rocket into orbit. But lately
it’s Musk’s newly minted role as CEO of the
U.K.-based electric-car start-up Tesla Motors
that is drawing the most attention. In October,
amid global financial tumult, Tesla received
a $40-million cash infusion from private
investors and announced that by 2011 it would
begin selling an electric sedan powered by
lithium-ion batteries with an unthinkable
240-mile range. The Model S won’t
overtake Tesla’s 125mph Roadster, but it
will be nearly half the price, at $60,000,
and made in America. We spoke with
Musk about his push to make affordable
high-perfomance electric cars and why
hybrids have no future.—ARNIE COOPER
Can you be successful selling an
alternative-fuel car now that gas prices
have dipped below $3 a gallon?
Absolutely. The cost difference between
electric and gasoline is gigantic. When
we started Tesla in 2003, gasoline was
around $2.50. It takes 60 kilowatt-hours
to charge the Roadster’s battery. So at
California’s special rate for electric cars,
currently seven cents a kilowatt-hour to
charge at night, it costs roughly $5 to go
250 miles. And we’re zero-emissions.
But gas cars are still more affordable.
Today. Remember, in their early days,
gasoline cars were really “toys for the
rich.” All technology gets optimized. The
typical electric motor is 90 percent more
efficient at converting energy into motion
than the internal combustion engine. You
get an overwhelming advantage in both
carbon emissions and energy per mile.
WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?
HEADLINES
“WHEN THE
ELECTRIC SEDAN
COMES OUT,
I’LL HAND IN MY
PORSCHE.”
u
MAN AND MACHINE
Elon Musk and
his all-electric
Tesla Roadster.
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Q: Why not go hybrid?
A: We looked closely at developing
a hybrid, but we decided it’s a red
herring. If you stay purely electric or
purely gasoline, you’re going to make
a better car. As soon as you try to split
the difference, you have something
that’s neither fish nor fowl. A Prius is
a weak gasoline car with a little bit of
electric charge. And once you’ve used
up the electric charge, you have an
underpowered gasoline engine or a
weak electric car.
Q: How will drivers recharge the
battery pack in the Model S?
A: You’ll head to a battery-swap station,
drive your car onto rails that lock your
car into position like at a car wash, and
a customized forklift device will grab
the pack from beneath the car, pull it
out, and replace it with another pack. It’ll
take roughly five minutes—less time than
filling your gas tank. For a high-speed
recharge, the car will also have onboard
chargers that let you plug into any wall
socket and charge up in 45 minutes.
Q: Tesla has delivered only 50 Roadsters.
How do you plan to get 15,000 Model S
cars out annually?
A: For the Roadster, we made a few
architectural errors and lots of
mistakes in our choice
of suppliers. And we
were developing the
first version of a
new technology.
With the sedan,
we already have
the powertrain in
a rolling prototype,
so there’s much less uncertainty around
the technology. That said, the recent
economic situation has forced us to push
back production six months, to mid-2011.
Q: You run a green company. Would
you say you live a green lifestyle?
A: I’m not too hardcore about being
green. I think it leads to a very constrained
life. I have the Roadster and a Porsche
Turbo. But once the sedan comes out,
I’ll hand in the Porsche. Waste is not
good, but we can’t conserve our way
to a solution. If everyone were a
super-green conservationist, it
would just delay the inevitable.
We have to find sustainable
means of producing and
consuming energy.
HEADLINES
WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA? CONT’D
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UNDER WRAPS A sneak
peek at the Tesla Model S
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Instead of sifting mountain streams
for gold, modern-day prospectors hit the
landfills, “mining” for discarded cellphones
and computers. Electronics contain valu-
able metals, like gold. But reclaiming the
treasure requires melting circuit boards
in acid, scooping up gold with nonbiode-
gradable plastic resins and films, and
burning the plastic to free up the metal.
Looking for a cleaner way to recycle
the metals, Katsutoshi Inoue, a chemist at
Saga University in Japan, extracts metal
from the acid soup using newspapers. First
he grinds the paper into a powder. Then he
laces it with a chemical that binds tightly to
metals, making the paper three times as
effective at recapturing gold from the acid.
You still have to burn the paper to get the
metal, but this requires less energy and
emits less carbon and other noxious gases
into the atmosphere than burning plastic.
Inoue is now in talks with companies look-
ing for an inexpensive alternative to metals
mining.—GRAEME STEMP-MORLOCK
MINING LANDFILLS
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POPSCI.COM 40 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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3 BODACIOUS GREEN INNOVATIONS
SMART WATER
Making seawater drinkable for the millions
without access to freshwater is a noble idea,
but a standalone
desalinator needs
17 gallons of
diesel fuel and
66.5 kilowatts
of electricity to
make 1,000 gallons
of freshwater.
The Solar Cube,
made by Spectra
Watermakers in
California, churns out 1,500 gallons of drinking
water on just 22 kilowatts of its own solar and
wind power. The innovation is a pump that triples
efficiency by recapturing hydraulic pressure
during the filtering process. Solar Cubes are now
bringing freshwater to remote regions of South
Africa, Pakistan, Venezuela, Chile and other
places short on infrastructure and electricity.
ELECTRIC
ASPHALT
You know that saying about frying an egg on
a hot sidewalk? It works, says Rajib Mallick, an
engineer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who
studies the effect of solar radiation on cities.
Now Mallick has devised a way to harness heat
from baking blacktop and turn it into electricity.
His system pumps water—an excellent heat
conductor—through a network of copper pipes
embedded in asphalt. As the water circulates,
it pulls heat from the scorching surface
and produces steam to drive a turbine
that cranks out electricity. Mallick
is partnering with the University of
Massachusetts Dartmouth and the
optics firm Novotech to install a
full-scale system beneath a 10,000-
square-foot parking lot near Worcester,
Massachusetts, next summer. By
supplying electricity to the adjacent buildings,
he expects the $200,000 system to pay for itself
in energy savings in a decade.
Zero to 60 mph in about nine seconds may sound sluggish, but it’s a breakthrough
for a zero-emissions, all-electric car that can travel up to 100 miles on a single
charge and hit speeds of 85 mph. That’s the claim of the i MiEV (for “Mitsubishi
Innovative motor Electric Vehicle”), a new plug-in four-door coupe. The i MiEV runs
on a pack of 22 lithium-ion batteries, but unlike other electric cars, including the
Chevy Volt and Tesla Roadster, the i MiEV doesn’t require a liquid cooling system
to avoid overheating. “Proprietary metals in the battery design let us do away with
it,” says Moe Durand, the communications manager for Mitsubishi Motors North
America. This makes the i MiEV lighter and more efficient, which—combined with
a small, rear-mounted electric motor—gives it plenty of zip and extended range.
The company is also developing a two-door i MiEV Sport [above] with a planned top
speed of 122 mph and a 124-mile range. Still a concept, the sportier version will
have a rootop photovoltaic
panel for extra power, heat-
deflecting windows to save
AC, and an interior made
from polymer-producing
plants. Mitsubishi is now
fleet-testing the four-door
in the U.S. and will sell a
$28,000 model in Japan this
summer.—Michael Behar
HEADLINES
SOLAR SOLUTION The Solar
Cube is the first desalinator
to run on renewable energy.
SUNNY SIDE UP A new type of asphalt
converts the sun’s rays into electricity.
PLUG-N-PLAY CARS
GREEN RACER The i MiEV
Sport will do 122 mph and get
124 miles on a single charge.
DRIVER’S SEAT Look for Mitsubishi’s
lineup to start incorporating the i MiEV’s
energy-saving windows and interior.
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POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 43
THE AIR FORCE WANTS
A NEW BOMBER EQUIPPED
WITH 21ST-CENTURY TECHNOLOGY.
THAT COULD MEAN STEALTHIER
SURFACE MATERIALS AND
LASER WEAPONS—AND
IT MIGHT EVEN
SKIP THE PILOT
BY DAWN STOVER ILLUSTRATIONS BY NICK KALOTERAKIS
The B-2 stealth bomber, assisted by midair
refuelings, can fly a 44-hour mission to the
other side of the world, take out targets
using laser-guided smart munitions, then
sneak out of enemy territory undetected.
Yet it runs on Intel 286 processors—state of
the art in 1982, but these days, not so much.
Yes, the Air Force’s stealth-bomber
fleet is aging. By 2037, the Air Force plans
to build a large, supersonic stealth bomber
that can relieve the B-2 of duty. In the mean-
time, though, the military needs a stopgap,
which is why it wants to build about 100
aircraft like the one you see here: the Next
Generation Bomber, set to arrive in 2018.
BOMB SQUAD A Boeing–Lockheed Mar-
tin coalition is competing with Northrop
Grumman to build the Next Generation
Bomber, a mid-range stealth aircraft set
to arrive in 2018. Northrop’s concept, seen
here, has a kite-like shape similar to the
company’s X-47B Navy attack drone.
u
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44 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
Boeing and Lockheed are currently
working together on a design for the bomber,
in competition with Northrop Grumman.
The Air Force won’t announce the full list of
final specifications for the new plane until
later this year, but the basics are clear. This
should be a subsonic craft capable of flying
up to 2,000 miles before refueling from an
airborne tanker, while carrying between
14,000 and 28,000 pounds of ordnance, pos-
sibly including nuclear weapons.
The bomber will use the same bat-wing
shape of a B-2, which means no tail to reflect
radar signals, and improvements in two key
areas—surface design and surface coating—
could give the new bomber a radar signature
as small as one tenth that of a mosquito.
(Today’s stealth bombers are believed to
appear on radar screens as being about
the size of a small bird.) Advanced com-
puter modeling will make it possible to
design shapes (sure to be kept classified)
that can disappear even more effectively
from radar screens. Then there’s the
plane’s surface. The B-2 uses a rubbery
skin that contains tiny beads coated with
ferrite; radar waves induce a magnetic
field in the coating that converts the radio
energy to heat. The problem is, this coat-
ing is fragile and easily damaged by bad
weather. The Next Generation Bomber
will have a radar-absorbent coating that
can withstand rough flight conditions.
The new craft could also have a major
defensive advantage over today’s bombers—
fighter-jet capabilities drawn from the F-22
Raptor. Air-to-air missiles would defend
the bomber from attacking aircraft. Pos-
sible onboard microwaves or laser weapons
could destroy incoming missiles or radar
stations on the ground. For particularly
dangerous missions in which stealth is less
of a concern, the bomber could fly at the
center of a protective “wolf pack”; this group
of fighter jets, drones and guided missiles
will travel in formation around the bomber,
organizing automatically by sending signals
to one another using radar and satellites.
The most intriguing possibility of all,
though, is the persistent rumor that the
Next Generation Bomber is actually cover
PILOT LIGHT? Boeing has said that it is
“agnostic” about whether the bomber
will be manned or unmanned. Doing away
with a pilot would extend the potential
length of missions—but a robot plane filled
with nuclear warheads is sure to raise
eyebrows among lawmakers.
OFFENSE AND DEFENSE Heavy munitions can take out buried
or hardened targets such as bunkers and weapons caches. The
bomber will carry 14,000 to 28,000 pounds of payload. And unlike
today’s stealth bombers, the new craft could carry air-to-air mis-
siles for self-defense. If necessary, it could even fly at the center
of a “wolf pack” that includes fighter planes and guided missiles.
LOW PROFILE The Next
Generation Bomber
could have a radar sig-
nature one tenth that
of a mosquito thanks
to sleek lines that don’t
reflect radar signals.
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POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 45
The Air Force’s current bomber fleet consists of the three planes shown here—
the B-52, B-1B and B-2. More than half are aging B-52s, some as old as 50. All
three have a greater range and payload than is planned for the 2018 bomber,
but the new bomber is expected to be stealthier and more combat-capable.
for a secret “black” program to develop
an unmanned nuclear-capable bomber.
Last spring, Aviation Week laid out the case:
Funding for the Next Generation Bomber is
nowhere to be found in the most recent Air
Force budget, yet financial results released
by Northrop last April show $2 billion in
new “classified programs” at the company’s
aircraft division. Northrop, which built the
B-2, more recently won the contract to build
the X-47B, a Navy demonstrator drone that
will fly later this year. Because the company
had previously proposed building a bigger
version of the X-47, many experts believe
that the black bomber rumored to be under
development at Northrop is an unmanned
aircraft derived from both the X-47 and the
B-2—like, say, an unmanned variation
on the Next Generation Bomber. For
Boeing’s part, its president of advanced
systems, Darryl Davis, told the Seattle
Times last January that his company
was “agnostic” about whether the plane
would be manned or unmanned.
Why would the Air Force prefer to
skip the pilot? Simple: An unmanned
craft would be smaller, cheaper, and
have almost unlimited endurance.
“Without a pilot, you can remain over
the target area for days at a time,” says
John Pike, director of the Virginia-based
think tank GlobalSecurity.org. “You’ve
always got air power on call.” Pike
says the Air Force “got religion” about
unmanned planes in Iraq, where more
than 1,000 smaller drones have been suc-
cessfully used for reconnaissance and air
strikes. This year marks the first time in
history that the Air Force will buy more
unmanned planes than manned ones.
That said, it’s one thing to have a
small unmanned plane carry conventional
bombs and missiles but quite another to
load up a robot plane with 28,000 pounds
of nuclear weapons. As a recent congres-
sional report put it, a nuclear-equipped
robot bomber is likely to be controversial
at best. If this is what the Air Force has in
mind, no wonder it’s keeping it a secret.
Dawn Stover is POPULAR SCIENCE’s editor-at-large.
CONCEPTS & PROTOTYPES
today’s bomber fleet
The B-2, which can carry nuclear
or conventional weapons, is
today’s only stealth bomber.
The 2018 bomber will be akin
to a mini B-2: smaller, stealthier,
and equipped with newer com-
puters and communications
systems that make it easier to
change missions on the fly.
BOEING’S BOMBER Preliminary designs
for the Boeing-Lockheed bomber show
a large center section, long, slen-
der wings, and slit-like air inlets for
the engines. The plane’s belly is deep
enough for a large weapons bay.
The supersonic B-1B was
designed as a low-altitude, high-
speed bomber. Its speed makes
it less vulnerable to attack than
the comparatively clunky B-52,
but it’s not as stealthy as the
B-2. The B-1B flies faster than
the 2018 bomber and carries
only non-nuclear weapons.
The B-52 is the old workhorse
of the U.S. bomber fleet, with
an average age of more than
45 years. It can carry a wider
range of weapons, and loiter
longer without refueling, than
any other bomber. The B-52
has more than four times the
range of the 2018 bomber.
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POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 47
Nearly five decades ago, Americans
learned that one of their most treasured
habits—smoking—was lethal. This year, we
could get more scary news, when scientists
announce the results from Interphone, the
largest-ever study to investigate whether
cellphones cause cancer.
Interphone researchers are pooling
and analyzing the results gathered from
studies on 6,400 tumors sampled from
patients in 13 countries. If the final results
mirror the preliminary ones, the world’s
three billion cellphone users might
want to dial back their talk time. Israeli
researchers participating in Interphone
found that people who use cellphones
regularly are 50 percent more likely than
non-users to develop brain tumors. And
a joint Interphone analysis from the U.K.,
Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland
reported a 40 percent increase in tumor
risk in people who use cellphones for
more than a decade; the study found no
LAST CALL?
THE MOST DEFINITIVE STUDY YET
COULD FINALLY DETERMINE WHETHER
CELLPHONE USE CAUSES CANCER
SCIENTISTS FOUND THAT REGULAR USERS ARE
MORE LIKELY TO DEVELOP BRAIN TUMORS.
discernable risk for people who have used
cellphones for fewer than 10 years.
No one yet knows specifically how
cellphones could cause cancer. The
radiation they emit has too little energy to
cause genetic damage, but some scientists
believe that it may have indirect effects that
cause cells to proliferate uncontrollably. But
there’s no consensus on these theories.
Scientists like David Carpenter, the
director of the Institute for Health and the
Environment at the University of Albany,
who spoke about cellphone risks at a
Congressional subcommittee hearing in
September, are looking to Interphone for
a definitive ruling on cellphone safety but
have expressed frustration over the two-
years-delayed results.
An answer from Interphone is crucial
for public health, Carpenter says. Although
a handful of studies have been published
on cellphones over the past few years,
most have been statistically useless. For
one thing, they surveyed too few people.
Additionally, the majority of studies
focused on the effects of cellphone use
after several years, but in most cases
brain cancer takes a decade to develop.
Interphone looks at the influence of both
short- and long-term use. That’s not to
say that the study is perfect. Interphone
defines “regular” use as one call, once
a week. It’s possible that this definition
underestimates the risk to people who
use cellphones more frequently.
And what happens if Interphone
reveals a definite link between
cellphones and cancer? Will we find
ourselves dependent on land lines
again? Unlikely. The technology is
probably here to stay, says Siegal
Sadetzki, who ran the Israeli
Interphone study: “We know that there
are car accidents, and we still use
vehicles, right? We’ve just learned how
to do it wisely.”—Melinda Wenner
A Year of Stars
Unesco has designated 2009 as the
International Year of Astronomy to highlight
the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first
use of the telescope to make astronomical
observations.
Darwin’s Birthday Bash
Charles Darwin, the man who brought you the
theory of evolution by natural selection, was born
200 years ago. His hometown of Shrewsbury,
England, and
the Natural
History Museum
in London will
offer the grandest
celebrations.
TV Goes to All-Digital
Television stations switch to
digital signals to broadcast
their current channels,
keeping the spectrum open
for other telecommunication
uses, such as emergency
broadcasts and wireless
broadband.
HEAD-SICK Cancer-
related brain tumors
(yellow-ringed areas)
can take up to a decade
to develop.
AIRBORNE LASERS. THE CELLPHONE-CANCER LINK. BIG
BUCKS FOR X PRIZE WINNERS? HERE, WE GIVE YOU A PEEK
AT WHAT PROMISES TO BE A REVELATORY YEAR OF SCIENCE
January FEBRUARY 12 FEBRUARY 17
PopSci PREDICTS SCIENCE OF ’09
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48 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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Hubble Repair
Astronauts will install two new instruments
and repair two inactive ones in five six-and-a-
half-hour spacewalks during the Hubble Space
Telescope’s final servicing mission. Afterward,
it should be able to study galaxies even farther
away and in three different spectra: near-
ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared. NASA
expects at least another five years of stunning
images from the Hubble.
Sci-Fi Sequels
Techies will flock
to theaters with the
release of Watchmen
(March 6), X-Men Origins:
Wolverine (May 1), Star Trek
(May 8), Terminator Salvation
(May 22) and Transformers 2:
Revenge of the Fallen (June 26).
LHC Restart
Having recovered from an
electrical mishap that led to
helium leaks and mechanical
damage last September, the
Large Hadron Collider at the CERN lab near
Geneva, Switzerland, will start operations again.
Earth’s twin could be waiting for us hundreds of light-years away. In
fact, thousands of Earth doppelgängers may be lurking in the cosmic
distance, orbiting stars just like our sun and maybe, just maybe,
harboring life of their own. Although telescopes have identified more
than 300 planets outside our solar system, most of them are too
harsh to host life. One notable exception to the typical “hot Jupiter”
model is a rocky Earth-like planet discovered in 2007, dubbed Gliese
581 c. This April, NASA’s orbiting Kepler telescope will begin a three-
year effort to scour distant space for more planets like Gliese 581 c.
Kepler won’t look for them directly—Earth-like planets are
too small to see even with the best telescopes. Instead it will hunt
for them based on how they affect the stars they orbit. The Kepler
telescope will focus on one small slice of our galaxy, the wing of
the swan-shaped constellation Cygnus, observing how the region’s
170,000-odd stars change over time. If a star dims once, it could be
because a planet is crossing in front of it, or it could just be a sunspot.
But if a star dims several times, and the same amount of time passes
between each dimming event, a planet must be orbiting it.
Disappointingly, the mission won’t tell us whether any planets
are teeming with little green men. Kepler is a stepping-stone, “a
foundation upon which mankind will find its place in the universe,”
says principal investigator William Borucki. But, he adds,“if we find,
as we expect to, lots and lots of ‘Earths’ in habitable zones, then
there is probably lots and lots of life in space.” With evidence in hand,
NASA will no doubt set out to find it.—M.w.
COSMIC HOUSE-HUNTING
NEW ORBITING OBSERVATORY WILL SEARCH FOR EARTH-LIKE PLANETS
MEANWHILE, CLOSER TO HOME
LOOK FOR THESE NOTABLE LAUNCHES TO EARTH-ORBIT THIS YEAR
SpaceShipTwo
The first flight of Virgin Galactic’s
SpaceShipTwo could take six
customers to 360,000 feet and offer
them weightlessness and 1,000-
mile views in all directions.
Glory
In June, NASA’s Glory satellite will
launch to help predict future climate
change by gauging the magnitude
of the sun’s energy and studying
atmospheric aerosols.
Wide-field Infrared
Survey Explorer
The infrared telescope of the WISE
satellite, launching in November,
will scan space for brown dwarfs
and super-luminous galaxies.
Cryosat-2
Starting in November, the European
Space Agency’s CryoSat-2
interferometric-radar satellite will
circle the planet, measuring the
thickness of polar ice caps.—M.W.
February Spring Spring
SCIENCE IN ’09 PopSci PREDICTS
I SPY The Kepler telescope has
a 4.5-foot-wide mirror. It will
look for small, rocky planets
orbiting distant stars.
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POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 49
Solar Airplane Test Flights
Solar Impulse, the first plane to be powered
by solar energy and to take off under its own
power, will undergo test flights. It can travel up
to 28 mph and cruise at an elevation of 27,900
feet because its cabin is not pressurized.
South Korea’s First Space Launch
South Korea’s Korea Launch Vehicle System
(KLVS-1) will end that country’s dependence on
other nations to power its ventures into space.
Lithium-Polymer Batteries Now in Cars
Hyundai will release the first car in the world
to use lithium-polymer rechargeable batteries.
The Elantra LPI (Liquefied Petroleum
Injected) HEV emits 90
percent fewer emissions
than an equivalent
standard gasoline-
powered Elantra.
NASA will fire up its latest rocket this April for
its first test flight. Ares 1 is designed to haul a
25-ton payload, making it capable of ferrying
either six astronauts to the International Space
Station or four astronauts to low-Earth orbit,
where they can transfer to another vehicle and
head to the moon. The rocket contains two
stages: a reusable solid rocket booster and
an engine powered by liquid oxygen and liquid
hydrogen. If all goes well with Orion, NASA’s
planned crew vehicle, Ares 1 will be whisking
the first crews into space by 2015.—M.w.
HEAVY LIFTER
NASA TEST-DRIVES
A NEW ROCKET
Mars Science
Laboratory
Launching in the fall, this research
rover will collect and examine
Martian soil and rock samples
for traces of carbon, life’s most
common building block. To find that
carbon, ChemCam will fire lasers
at the ground and analyze the vapor
produced by the impact.
Lunar Reconnaissance
Orbiter
NASA is going back to the moon—
after the LRO finds astronauts a
good place to land. Launching on
April 24, the LRO will map out the
moon’s surface and home in on
the poles, where scientists believe
there could be water.—M.w.
BEYOND
EARTH
THIS YEAR’S
MOST POPULAR
DESTINATIONS FOR
UNMANNED LANDERS
Should they cast their eyes skyward
at just the right moment, a few lucky
observers could see something
spectacular this summer: a Boeing 747
splitting open a ballistic missile with a
laser in mid-flight. After 12 years and
$5 billion in R&D, the Missile Defense
Agency’s Airborne Laser (ABL) will
make its first real-world attempt to
shoot down a missile in midair.
The ABL uses a chemical reaction
to generate a megawatt of infrared laser
light. When a missile’s smoke trail from
burning propellant sets off the 747’s
sensors, a tracking laser locks onto the
target’s most vulnerable spot, usually its
fuel tank. Then the main laser fires away.
It’s no simple feat: Robert McMurry,
Jr., the ABL program director for the
Missile Defense Agency, compares the
challenge to “flying over the Washington
Monument while shooting through a
basketball hoop in Central Park.” If this
summer’s demonstration is successful,
further flight tests will help refine
the technology for use in a second,
more powerful and smaller prototype,
expected in 2013.—Melinda Dodd
AIRBORNE LASER
BLASTS OFF
ANTI-BALLISTIC-MISSILE
PLANE GETS FIRST TEST
Spring Summer July
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50 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
PREDICTING THE
HEADLINES
Nanny State Arrives in Vehicles
Ford’s MyKey technology, which will debut in
the 2010 Focus compact car, allows parents to
restrict their teenager’s top speed to 80 mph,
limit stereo volume,
and sound a chime
when the driver is not
wearing a seatbelt or
the car exceeds 45, 55
or 65 mph.
Near-Endless Power
Fuel-cell manufacturer MTI Micro will release
a methanol fuel cell offering 2,700 hours of
continuous run time. Whereas lithium-ion
laptop batteries lose about half their charging
capacity after two years, methanol cells lose
only some 15 percent.
Electric Cars
to Market
Subaru, Mitsubishi
and Mini [right] plan
to introduce their own
plug-in hybrid electric-car
models this year.
ENERGY-EFFICIENT TECH
LIGHTS OUT
On March 1, the Republic of Ireland becomes the first
democratic country in the world to ban the traditional
incandescent lightbulb. Stores there will no longer carry
the century-old technology, which converts only between
5 and 10 percent of electricity into light, losing the rest
as radiant heat. (Compare this with the 40 percent
POLITICAL
SCIENCE
THE HOT-BUTTON RESEARCH ISSUES
FACING THE NEW ADMINISTRATION
Over the past eight years, the rift between the scientific
community and the federal agencies that govern it has
deepened. What opportunities will President Barack Obama’s
administration have to bridge the divide?—Corey Binns
Endangered species
Space exploration
Climate change
THE ISSUE: 281 threatened species have not been given protection.
WHAT NEXT? Let science, not politics, dictate policy. The new adminis-
tration faces lawsuits asking it to review cases in which political interfer-
ence may have played a role in withholding protection and critical habitat.
THE ISSUE: A grandiose 2015 moon mission has been given no money.
WHAT NEXT? Fund the moon initiative or kill it outright. The Orion
crew vehicle is behind schedule and over budget, which will probably push
the space shuttle to continue flying even further past its retirement age.
THE ISSUE: Carbon-dioxide levels are at 385 ppm, up from 360 in 2000.
WHAT NEXT? Look for American participation in international
negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol’s successor, and for automobile
fuel-economy standards to be raised.
dinosaurs’ true colors revealed
Last year, researchers at Yale University discovered
organelles called melanosomes on a 100-million-
year-old dino feather. This year they will examine
the shape and concentration of the melanosomes to
determine the original colors of winged dinosaurs.
feds aim to save ecosystems
A new approach used by conservation biologists at the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service highlights environmental
trends to direct rescue funds toward bigger-picture
causes, such as agricultural runoff, that affect not just
single species but entire ecosystems.
stem-cell science gets rebooted
Several groups have reprogrammed adult skin cells
to behave like embryonic stem cells using genes
ferried by viruses, a method that can cause the cells
to become cancerous. This year’s goal: Replace
viruses with chemicals that can do the job safely.
Mission: Invisible
Last year, scientists demonstrated the first visible-
light metamaterial, a metal-semiconductor hybrid,
paving the way to an “invisibility cloak.” Meanwhile,
metamaterials that work with radio frequencies
could improve cellphone reception.
elusive black hole captured
Next year, astronomers will look into the heavens
for evidence of the rare medium-size black hole.
Studies will try to establish why they’re so scarce
and will combine traditional visible-light astronomy
with x-ray emissions from star clusters.—a.s.
Summer Fall Fall
SCIENCE IN ’09 PopSci PREDICTS
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POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 51
1,000 Human Genomes
After sequencing its first human
genome last July, California-
based Complete Genomics
plans to map 1,000 human
genomes this year and an
additional 20,000 in 2010.
Dreamliner to First Customers
Boeing plans to finally start supplying more than
60 airlines with the Dreamliners they’ve ordered.
The Dreamliner has been Boeing’s most popular
program because the craft, which uses composite
materials for most of the plane’s body, requires
20 percent less fuel than other planes its size.
DIMS EDISON’S BRIGHT IDEA
efficiency of compact fluorescent bulbs.) In its place, hardware stores will
stock shelves with compact fluorescents, halogens and LEDs.
The U.S. is making the switch too, albeit more slowly. By 2014, most light-
bulbs will be 30 percent more efficient than those currently available. “Incandes-
cents aren’t going away,” says Peter Banwell of the Environmental Protection
Agency, “but they will have a minimum efficiency level they’ll need to meet.”—C.B.
POWERED BY SUN,
WIND AND SEA
THE BIGGEST RENEWABLE-ENERGY
PROJECTS OF 2009
Stem cells
research Funding
THE ISSUE: Stem-cell research is hampered by a federal funding ban.
WHAT NEXT? The new administration could end federal restrictions, open-
ing up the coffers. Additionally, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures
Initiative will continue to generate $300 million annually for 10 years.
THE ISSUE: National Science Foundation and National Institutes of
Health budgets are in decline, stifling key research.
WHAT NEXT? Anyone’s guess. In the interim, private foundations could
fund medical, energy and agricultural innovation.
Offshore Wind
Hull, Massachusetts
This resort town,
population 11,000, plans
to moor four 260-foot-tall
turbines a mile and a half
offshore, at a total cost of
$40 million. Along with
Hull’s two existing onshore
turbines, wind power could
generate 14 megawatts,
enough to supply energy to
the entire community.
Solar Farms
Mojave Desert, California
This fall, construction
begins on a five-square-
mile stretch of heliostats,
small moveable mirrors
that follow the sun’s rays
and reflect them onto a
boiler on top of a central
tower. The sunlight heats
water inside the boiler’s
pipes to temperatures above
1,000°F, creating steam that
generates electricity in a
nearby turbine. By 2011, the
plant will produce its first
100 megawatts.
Wave Power
Pembrokeshire, Wales
As part of the U.K.’s goal
of running on 10 percent
renewable energy by 2010,
this summer Wales will
install a Wave Dragon
converter, the world’s
largest wave-energy
generator. The 980-foot-
long device captures waves
in basins. When the water
rushes back into the sea, it
spins turbines, producing
seven megawatts of
electricity.—C.B.
Late Year Late Year
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RIDING THE WAVES
The Wave Dragon will
be moored off Wales.
TREE HUGGER The
wolverine is slated for
protected status.
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52 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
Rwanda and Computing
By the end of the year, Rwanda will have laid
more than 1,400 miles of fiber-optic cable.
It will be the second country in sub-Saharan
Africa to have a strong Internet infrastructure,
after South Africa. The Rwandan government
will also buy 50,000 XO laptops, created for
children in developing countries, by early this
year and intends to have all Rwandan schools
networked by 2013.—Greg Soltis
SHOW
ME THE
MONEY
GET PAID FOR YOUR
BRILLIANT, WORLD-
SAVING INVENTIONS
Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize
PURSE: $10 million GOAL: $7.5 million for a commercially
viable vehicle that gets the equivalent of 100 mpg over 200 miles
STATUS: The first stage of a cross-country race takes place
in New York City in September. The fastest, most efficient
cars move on to the next leg of the race.
Archon X Prize for Genomics
PURSE: $10 million GOAL: Sequence 100 human genomes in
10 days for $10,000 per genome or less
STATUS: ZS Genetics, which is developing an approach
that replaces fluorescent tagging with decodable electron-
microscope images of DNA, is a favorite to win.
Spaceward Space Elevator Games
PURSE: $4 million GOAL: $2 million for a laser-powered
climber; $2 million for the strongest two-meter tether
COMPETITION: Three teams have a shot at winning the $2-
million purse this year for powering climbers one kilometer
into the air using an eight-kilowatt laser on the ground.
google lunar x prize
PURSE: $30 million GOAL: Land an unmanned spacecraft on
the moon, rove 500 meters, and send images back to Earth
STATUS: Teams hope to sign launch contracts this year
with either a foreign space agency or a private company like
SpaceX, securing a rocket ride for their moon rovers.
End of Year
Copenhagen Climate Conference
The Framework Convention on Climate
Change that the United Nations will host in
Copenhagen, Denmark, is the final government-
level meeting for developing a new international
climate policy—a Copenhagen Protocol—
before its predecessor, the 15-year-old Kyoto
Protocol, expires in 2012.
December
SCIENCE IN ’09
ECO-SPEEDSTER The
three-wheeled Fuel
Vapor is an Automotive
X Prize contender.
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PopSci PREDICTS
Nothing inspires innovation like a
seven-figure check, which is why more
and more private and government
sources are offering big money for
creative technologies—and plenty of
Americans are rising to the challenge.
The California company Scaled
Composites won the $10-million
Ansari X Prize in 2004 for its trips to
suborbital space on SpaceShipOne, a
feat that all but launched the private
space industry. And in 2007, Carnegie
Mellon University won the $2-million
Darpa Urban Challenge, bringing us
one step closer to a world in which
cars drive themselves.
This year we could see big
payouts for innovations in genomics
and technology to be used to build
the space elevator. And expect more
challenges to be announced. Dozens
of smaller competitions are promising
impressive bundles in exchange for
breakthroughs in alternative aviation
fuels, cancer research and affordable
health care. Pick a field and prepare
to quit your day job. Here, a tinkering
man’s guide to getting rich this year
and beyond.—Amanda Schupak
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POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 53
MEDICAL KILLERS
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After years of testing in muddy fields,
genetically enhanced flood-resistant rice
is about to hit agricultural markets in
tropical Asia, following Indonesia, with
India and Bangladesh up for approval
later this year. Cambodia, Laos, Nepal,
Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam
are expected to follow suit.
It’s a major step forward for
weatherproof crops, increasingly touted
as essential to the long-term future of
the world’s food supply. Advances in
biotechnology have improved this ancient
grain, which accounts for up to 70 percent
of daily calories for people living in Asian
countries. Imperiled by constant floods,
rising sea levels and natural disasters,
submerged rice survives just four days
when deprived of light and oxygen. These
new varieties last eight to 18 days.
The advance is urgently needed. “At
least [58,000 square miles] of land in
South and Southeast Asia are vulnerable
to flooding, and floods will only increase,”
says Dave Mackill, a senior scientist with
Manila’s International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI). In 2007, Cyclone Sidr
destroyed 1.25 million tons of rice in
Bangladesh; last year, multiple typhoons
RAINY-
DAY RICE
ASIAN FARMERS WILL
GET A DISASTER-
PROOF VERSION OF AN
ESSENTIAL CROP
wiped out rice paddies in Vietnam.
To find a suitable template for the
flood-resistant rice, Mackill turned
to India’s water-tolerant FR13A rice.
Farmers stopped using the strain
because of its poor yield, but its
resilience intrigued him. To pinpoint the
part of the rice genome carrying the
trait, Mackill crossbred a hardy derivative
of FR13A with another rice strain and
derived 4,000 other rice plants from that
cross. Geneticist Pamela Ronald of the
University of California at Davis then
searched the plants’ DNA and unearthed
Sub1A, a gene that triggers the grain to
conserve energy when it is underwater.
To create the final rice strain, Mackill
cross-pollinated a Sub1A-containing
plant with a high-yielding, better-tasting
Indian rice variety.
In the coming years, IRRI re-
searchers will supplement Sub1-class
rice with a gene that resists flooding
during the sensitive germination stage
(something the Sub1 genes can’t do).
Also on the agenda: drought- and salt-
resistant rice, now testing in nearly
every Southeast Asian tropical country
and China. Asia’s inland and coastal
areas often have salt-filled soil, which
stunts rice growth.
The IRRI has already made its
rice seed available to other research
institutions and has been distributing it
to Asian farmers for free. When sold by
other seed growers on the commercial
markets, the price should rival that
of common varieties. “We anticipate
adoption wherever submergence is
a regular problem,” Mackill says.
If the rice is a success, climate-
resistant crops may spread across
the developing world, as well as the
developed.—M.d.
NORMAL RICE SURVIVES JUST
FOUR DAYS UNDERWATER.
PUT A LID ON IT
CURBING CARBON FOR PROFIT
This year, in conjunction with talk about climate change, you’ll probably
hear the words “cap and trade” being tossed around, and President Obama is
expected to sign climate-change legislation that includes a cap-and-trade bill.
But what does the term mean?
A cap-and-trade system will institute a nationwide limit on greenhouse-
gas emissions and fine those companies that produce more than their share.
In the first and most controversial stage of setting up a cap-and-trade system, the
government selects the organizations to monitor emissions and sets a maximum
amount of heat-trapping gases that any company can produce during a given time.
Companies then receive, or buy in auctions, tradable permits to emit a specific
amount of these gases. The setup financially rewards businesses that bring their
emissions below the cap: They profit from selling their allowances to other companies.
Heavy emitters buy these unused credits and avoid even pricier overage fines.
Could it work? Quite possibly. This system has already limited sulfur dioxide
from electric power plants at half the cost of traditional regulation.—C.b.
WET WORK Farmers
plant rice seedlings
in Thailand.
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IKE A COWBOY loosely holding the
reins, Larry Weatherman steers up
Deer Creek Road with his left hand
on the wheel, his right arm
ready at his side. His upper
body rocks with the motion of the
pickup as he navigates the dirt road’s
gauntlet of potholes and rocks. Since
his retirement from the Missoula
County Sheriff’s Department in 2000,
Weatherman has adopted the bushy
white mustache and Stetson of a
gentleman rancher. But on a snowy
Saturday in March, he has driven his
two passengers the 50 miles down
from his 20 acres above Montana’s
Seeley Lake to revisit the forlorn
woods that served, three decades ago,
as the dumping grounds for Montana’s
most notorious serial killer.
A gust of snow hits the windshield.
Through the swirl, Weatherman spots
a narrow break in the pine and fir
trees lining the road. He pulls into
a shallow ditch and opens his door.
“He liked to take his girlfriends up
here to party,” he says.
Weatherman was a young officer
in 1974 when he investigated the
first in a series of gruesome murders
that ended a way of life in Missoula,
a place where people had left their
doors unlocked and women felt
comfortable walking home alone
America is haunted by 100,000 missing persons and 40,000 unidentified
sets of remains. Only one lab can truly connect the lost and the dead—
and it’s revealing the secrets of serial killers in the process
Marci Bachmann at age two. Facing
page: the skull of “Debbie Deer
Creek,” unidentified for decades.
By Jessica Snyder Sachs
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDREW GEIGER
FIELDWORK
54 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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from the local bar. The first
victim was a preacher’s wife
found gagged, bound, and
shot in the basement of her
home, her husband’s handgun
jammed between her legs. In
addition to questioning the
husband, Weatherman briefly
suspected a high-school boy
who neighbors had spotted in the
victim’s backyard that day. A grand
jury found insufficient evidence to
charge either suspect.
Over the next 12 years, the
seemingly random murders
continued. Three teenage girls and
a married couple were killed, and
the town suffered a spate of home
intrusions thought to have been
thwarted rapes. Then the improbable
happened. In 1986 the husband of
a would-be victim, already trussed
and stabbed, managed to break
free and kill 30-year-old Wayne
Nance in a bloody struggle. Nance,
The number of missing-person investigations and un-
identified remains means murders often go unreported.
U.S. criminologists now suspect there could be 1,800
serial killings a year—far more than prior estimates.
A lab at the University of North Texas analyzes DNA to
identify victims, and closes cases in the process.
THREE KEY FACTS
1
2
3
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a baby-faced furniture deliveryman
and part-time bouncer, was the
high-schooler Weatherman had
suspected in 1974. Postmortem
searches of Nance’s bedroom
and his father’s house uncovered
evidence of at least three additional
murders and of other break-ins.
But hope for further information
about the murders died with Nance.
Weatherman was left with the
unidentified remains of two young
victims. One of them was “Debbie
Deer Creek,” a teenager whose skeleton
he had chiseled out of a frozen grave
alongside Deer Creek Road some
21 months before Nance’s death.
Several strands of dyed hair enabled
Weatherman to connect her to a
photo of a dark-haired drifter that bar
patrons knew as “Robin” before she
disappeared a few weeks after moving
in with Nance. Weatherman sent out
scores of bulletins to the FBI and
regional law-enforcement agencies.
But the girl’s picture and street name
failed to locate family.
It would take more than hair
strands and a faded picture to identify
Debbie Deer Creek. It would take
technology—still two decades away—
that could extract minute amounts of
fractured DNA to reveal an indelible
link to a victim’s family. It would
take one brother’s unceasing search
to find out what happened to his
runaway sister. And perhaps most of
all, it would take the U.S. Department
of Justice’s slow but horrifying
realization that there may be far more
serial killers on the loose in America
than anyone had ever expected.
For two decades, a facial
reconstruction made from Debbie
Deer Creek’s skull sat on top of
Weatherman’s bookcase facing that of
another girl, “Christy Crystal Creek,”
discovered by a hunter two miles
farther up the same mountain road
FIELDWORK
56 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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HAUNTED Retired Missoula sheriff
Larry Weatherman [above], who in-
vestigated Nance’s murders. Below:
a topographical map of the scene.
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above Nance’s home. Weatherman is
still troubled when he thinks of the
nameless girls. “I know somebody
once cared for them,” he says.
THE SILENT MISSING
Debbie and Christy are far from alone,
and the same may be said for the likes
of Wayne Nance. In a recent issue of
the scientific journal Homicide Studies,
criminologist Kenna Quinet wrote that
conventional calculations seriously
underestimate the number of serial
murder victims. “The problem may be
10 times worse than we imagined,” she
says. Instead of 180 victims a year in
the U.S., there may be as many as 1,800.
Quinet, a nationally renowned
homicide expert at Indiana-Purdue
University Indianapolis, bases her
conclusions on simple arithmetic.
According to the Department
of Justice, up to 40,000 sets of
unidentified human remains sit in
police-evidence lockers and medical
examiners’ offices across the nation.
If resolved cases are any guide,
the majority are murder victims.
Against this, Quinet factors the
homicides suspected in a significant
proportion—as much as 20 percent—
of missing-person cases, more than
100,000 of which remain open at any
time in this country.
Quinet bolsters her new estimates
with evidence of the lengthy careers
of the serial killers who are eventually
caught and convicted. “Typically,
these killers operate under the radar
for years, even decades,” she explains.
Studies show that male serial killers
average six to 11 victims over a nine-
year period. Female serial killers
(primarily health-care workers)
average seven to nine victims over the
same window. And that’s just those
who get caught. “I would guess that at
any given moment,” she says, “there
are at least two people in each state
committing serial murder”—more
than 100 serial killers on the loose.
Washington State is currently tracking
at least four: the so-called 22-Caliber
Killer, the Index Killer, the Lewiston
Valley Killer and the Snohomish
County Dismemberment Killer.
Meanwhile, other serial killers
are operating too randomly or
infrequently to generate a pattern
or are cunning enough to prey on
those unlikely to be missed. Quinet
calls these possible victims America’s
“missing missing,” the tens of
thousands whose disappearance is not
taken seriously by law-enforcement
agencies. They include those that law
enforcement assumes to be “missing”
by choice: runaways, transients,
prostitutes, and anyone who has an
outstanding bench warrant (the irony,
Quinet notes, is that the warrant can
be for the missing person’s failure to
appear in court).
John Morgan, deputy director
for science and technology at the
National Institute of Justice, the
research arm of the Department
of Justice, believes that part of the
problem is the increasingly transient
nature of American life. “We live in
a more fragmented society,” he says.
“A lot of homicides that occur involve
strangers.” And for a greater number
of the victims, living far from their
hometowns and disconnected from a
social network, their absence won’t be
noticed, or they will be dismissed as
having simply moved on. As a result,
Morgan says, it’s now less likely “that
a particular homicide will be resolved
and the killer brought to justice.”
The first step in solving these
crimes—even before a detective
can start to connect the clues—is
connecting the bodies to the missing.
“After all,” Quinet says, “it’s hard to
conduct a murder investigation when
you don’t know who the victim is.”
High on the back wall of the New
Jersey Poison Center in Newark,
beyond a display case filled with
bottles of ant killer, antifreeze
and other ingredients of note-
worthy cases, hangs an elec-
tronic map of the state. It displays
dozens of glowing red dots. Each
marks the origin of a call received
over the previous 24 hours. Up-
dates sweep down the map every
10 minutes, and the staff knows
where to expect clusters based on
population. “This is one way that
computerization can help us pick
up unexpected hotspots,” says
medical director Steven Marcus.
“But it’s no substitute for the way
a person can recognize suspicious
patterns.”
Marcus is referring to how
toxicologists got wind of New
Jersey’s most infamous serial
killer. In June 2003, a pharma-
cist at Somerset Medical Center
in Somerville called the poison
center after a patient nearly
died of digoxin overdose. The
woman wasn’t supposed to be on
the heart medication at all, and
the pharmacist wanted to know
whether a Korean mushroom tea
she had drunk might contain a
botanical version of the drug. The
poison-center staff ruled out that
possibility. But they remembered
that case when, a short time later,
they got another call from Som-
erset, this time involving another
life-threatening overdose.
“That’s when we asked, ‘What
the hell is going on over there?
Have you had any other unex-
plained overdoses?’ ” Marcus
recalls. The hospital pharmacist
admitted that there had been
two insulin overdoses in the same
intensive-care unit. “We told
them they needed to call the
Killers in
the ICU
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MEDICAL MURDERS
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ONE IN A MILLION
Derek Bachmann was 14 in 1984 when
he helped his 15-year-old sister, Marci,
pack her bags and run away from their
Vancouver, Washington, home. “She
told me my stepfather was touching
her, making her touch him,” he recalls.
“I told her, ‘You’re right, you need to
get the hell out of here.’ ” That was the
last time he saw her. “The fact that I
helped her pack has always haunted
me,” says Bachmann, now a Web
marketer living outside St. Louis. “I
mean, there were five different serial
killers in the Northwest at the time.”
(In fact, there were at least eight.)
In 1991 Bachmann began to search
for his sister, if only to confirm his
fears. “I think I knew that if Marci
was alive,” he says, “she would have
contacted me.” He called and wrote
to scores of homicide task forces and
vice squads across the country, the
latter in case Marci had fallen into
streetwalking. “I tried everything,”
he says. “I tried psychics. I hired a
private investigator, spent $10,000
on him. Got nothing.”
By 2000, Web sites such as the
Doe Network offered Bachmann a
new resource. Maintained by amateur
detectives and families of the missing,
these cyber-bulletin boards feature
case histories and, when possible,
photos or artist re-creations of the
unnamed dead, typically gleaned
from news and police reports. Bach-
mann began spending all-nighters
at his computer. His obsession
put a strain on a short-lived
marriage, he admits with a slow
shake of his head. “The atrocities
I’ve seen looking for my sister.”
Among them was a flower-adorned
memorial page dedicated to a girl
named Robin, with a photo of a
dark-haired girl in glasses under the
banner “Do you recognize this face?”
Bachmann looked again. There was
something familiar about the mouth
and nose. “I showed it to my relatives,”
he recalls. “They said, ‘No way. Marci
never wore glasses.’ ” Besides, the hair
color was wrong. Still, a few months
later, he dialed the number provided
for the Missoula County Sheriff’s
Department and left a message for
Captain Greg Hintz. No return call.
When Marci left home in 1984,
Seattle’s Green River Killer was at the
height of a spree that would eventually
claim the lives of as many as 49
women, mainly prostitutes and teenage
runaways. Bachmann wrote to King
County detective Tom Jensen, head
of the Green River Task Force, who
promised to compare Marci’s dental
records with the impressions taken
from the four unidentified victims in
his custody. But no dental records were
available, and Jensen added Marci’s file
to those jamming his filing cabinets.
In 2001, King County sheriff’s
deputies arrested 53-year-old truck
painter Gary Ridgway for the Green
River killings; two years later, he was
sentenced to 48 consecutive life terms.
The work of the Green River Task
Force was finished. But Jensen still had
more than 100 missing persons and
suspected homicides in his files.
Jensen’s captain assigned three
detectives from the disbanded task
force to review the cases and make a
final effort to close them. And so, in
the summer of 2005, detective Raphael
Crenshaw called Derek Bachmann in
Missouri: Was Marci still missing?
Crenshaw told him about a new
program that attempted to match
family DNA against unidentified
remains. Bachmann was eager to
supply his, but Crenshaw also needed
samples from his parents.
“I knew my dad would take a lot
of convincing,” Bachmann says. But
he did convince his mother, who still
lived in Washington. The next week,
she rubbed a cotton swab against
the inside of her cheek, sealed it in
a plastic baggie, and sent it to the
sheriff, who shipped it on to Texas.
DARK HISTORY Top: Derek and Marci
Bachmann in 1971. Above: the photo
in which Derek identified his lost
sister. Below: Dixie Hybki and Dr.
Rhonda Roby at the University of
North Texas Health Science Center.
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police. They likely had an Angel
of Death on their hands,” Marcus
says. Hospital administrators
waited another four months—
and five more suspicious deaths—
before they reported their fears
about Charles Cullen, the nurse
who later pled guilty to killing 29
patients at medical centers across
New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“Unfortunately, Charles Cul-
len was far from unique,” says
forensic nurse Beatrice Yorker of
California State University–Los
Angeles. In the first tally of its
kind, Yorker and her colleagues
have documented 90 criminal
prosecutions of health-care work-
ers charged with serial killings of
patients between 1970 and 2006
worldwide, 36 of them in the
U.S. To date, 54 of the cases have
resulted in convictions associated
with more than 2,000 deaths.
At Indiana-Purdue University
Indianapolis, criminologist Kenna
Quinet estimates that America’s
serial medical killers murder
between 500 and 1,000 patients
a year. Next to Cullen’s 16-year
killing spree, Quinet cites the
long run of Michael Swango, an
American physician suspected in
as many as 60 murders and con-
victed in 2000 of three.
These dark angels aren’t prac-
ticing euthanasia, adds Katherine
Ramsland, a forensic psycholo-
gist at DeSales University and
the author of Inside the Minds of
Healthcare Serial Killers. They kill
to ease only their own pain. “Cul-
len’s murders clearly increased
whenever he was going through
a difficult situation in his personal
life,” she says. “As with so many
serial killers, he seemed to em-
power himself with his murders.”
Cullen had been fired mul-
tiple times from other hospitals;
each time, he simply moved on
to a nearby facility. Once he was
caught, his case sparked a flurry
CONNECTING DNA’s DOTS
When Nance and Ridgway were going
about their grisly business, no method
was available to connect the missing,
like Marci Bachmann, to the dead. But
there’s now a lab, in Fort Worth, Texas,
that can close the gap.
It’s another March morning, and
a steady rain has Fort Worth’s Trinity
River running high through the city’s
cultural district. On the other side of
Camp Bowie Boulevard, employees
and students are leaping over the
ponds growing in the driveway of
the University of North Texas Health
Science Center. The third floor of
this beige stucco high-rise is home
to the university’s Center for Human
Identification, the only academic
DNA lab in the country dedicated to
identifying human remains.
In 1989, molecular biologist Arthur
Eisenberg began using DNA to settle
questions of identity in cases ranging
from paternity to homicide. For the
next decade, Eisenberg developed
many of the procedures and standards
used in DNA testing today. Around
2000, he began to focus on missing
persons, and in 2001, he and his staff
built a state DNA database. Since then,
the center’s capacity has grown to
handle cases from across the country.
The victim specimens that arrive at
the center range from well-preserved
femurs (thigh bones) to broken slivers
of bone that have been sitting inside
police warehouses for decades. It’s
far easier to extract DNA from recent
samples, and the center prioritizes
easy identifications. Well-preserved or
relatively fresh remains for which a
family connection is already suspected
take precedence over colder cases with
no leads. The center has been able
to solve one in every four of its cases.
Still, it’s the difficult cases—the
shots in the dark—that tantalize, says
the center’s project manager, Rhonda
Roby. She speaks from experience,
having spent her career developing
methods for extracting DNA from
severely degraded remains. In 1991
Roby began working in the Office of
the Armed Forces Medical Examiner,
where she helped develop methods
for identifying the skeletal remains
of American soldiers from Vietnam,
Korea and World War II. In 2001 she
flew to New York City to help set up
protocols for the unimaginable task of
identifying more than 20,000 pieces of
human tissue retrieved from the ruins
of the World Trade Center. She has
also helped identify victims of Chile’s
Pinochet regime and, in a curious
aside, the remains of Nicholas II and
the Romanov family of tsarist Russia.
In 2004, shortly before Roby’s
arrival, the center achieved its first
successful DNA extraction in an
extremely cold case. The remains—a
slender, yellowing femur—had
arrived by FedEx. Forensic analyst
Lisa Sansom cataloged the bone in
the center’s database as F2775.1EC
and carried it into the lab’s bone
room, behind a door flagged “Forensic
Low-Copy Area. AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL
ONLY.” The amount of genetic material
retrieved from old bone tends to be
so small as to be easily overwhelmed
by the ambient DNA of a floating skin
flake or a saliva droplet. Inside the
Low-Copy Room, analysts don full
gowns, face masks and surgical gloves.
A positive-pressure system keeps
“dirty” outside air from flowing in,
and analysts have their genetic profile
entered into the center’s DNA database
so that those will be excluded from
target sequences.
The work differs from the kind of
DNA fingerprinting used to identify
biological evidence left at a crime.
It is extremely difficult—sometimes
impossible—to extract conventional
nuclear DNA markers from an old
bone. The center has become skilled in
extracting and analyzing a hardier but
less-known source of DNA: that of the
mitochondria that reside in our cells.
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Except for identical twins, each
person’s nuclear DNA is unique. But
each of us has another set of DNA
located outside the cell’s nucleus and
inside the mitochondria, the tiny
organs that supply a cell with energy.
We inherit mitochondrial DNA, known
as mtDNA, directly from our mothers,
and we share it with our siblings. It’s
not unique, but mtDNA is enough to
narrow the search for a victim’s family.
Sansom spent almost an hour
scrubbing and sanding the femur’s
surface before attempting extraction.
Few of the bones here contain marrow,
which dissolves in the first two or
three years after death. F2775.1EC had
spent some 20 years in a box inside
a police warehouse, so DNA would
have to come from the scant cellular
material inside the bone’s white
on the first try. She uploaded it to the
center’s DNA database. No hits. Then
she uploaded the data to the FBI’s
national missing-persons database.
Again, no hits. Not yet.
SCALING THE BACKLOG
In 2004 the center received a major
investment to help realize Arthur
Eisenberg’s goal of establishing a
National Center for the Identification
of Human Remains. It was the first
of several National Institute of Justice
grants given over a five-year period
totaling more than $7 million. The
center’s mission was to perform
DNA testing on unidentified skeletal
remains and “family reference”
samples free of charge for any local
or state law-enforcement agency that
requested it. It’s now a clearinghouse
scaffolding. She used a woodworker’s
dremel to cut a rectangular window in
the thickened area of bone just below
the femur’s rounded head, where the
thigh muscles once attached. Next she
chilled, pulverized, and blended the
sample inside a freezer mill loaded
with sterilized ball bearings. Using
an automated chemical process, she
broke open the bone cells, released
their genetic contents, and washed,
concentrated, and purified the extract.
For genetic analysis, Sansom first
had to increase the DNA to detectable
amounts using a process called DNA
amplification. Forensic software
translated the results into a four-color
graph of peaks and troughs. Drawing
on her training and experience, she
translated each graphic peak into one
of the four nucleotide letters in the
DNA alphabet. It took her about a
week to process sample F2775.1EC.
When the amplification signals
aren’t clear, the chances for a reliable
match plummet. In the worst case, the
sequence data prove ambiguous, and
workers must repeat the extraction
and analysis. Sansom got her sequence
at the heart of an effort to address the
thousands of missing persons and
unidentified remains discovered each
year—what the justice department
calls “America’s silent mass disaster.”
“The World Trade Center attack
devastated this country with its
massive loss of life,” Eisenberg
says. “But if people only knew how
many more unidentified murder
victims there are . . . If you go back
even 20 years, there are literally
hundreds of thousands of families
who have missing loved ones.” Even
with generous funding, progress
will ultimately hinge on making
identifications cheaper, faster and
more definitive, he adds. Laboratories
such as the Center for Human
Identification will be swamped
now that more states mandate the
collection of family-reference samples
with missing-person reports. The
center, Eisenberg says, must advance
the technology used to identify human
remains as it goes. By way of example,
he cites a new program that can use
broken bits of traditional nuclear DNA
to identify weathered bones.
MISSING, NOT LOST Marci at age 13
[top]. To analyze a femur [above],
scientists cut into the bone’s interior.
Derek Bachmann [below], who once
helped his sister run away from home,
later helped identify her remains.
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of attention and calls for reform.
New Jersey passed laws mandat-
ing that hospitals report disci-
plinary actions to state medical
boards, and New Jersey senators
Jon Corzine (now the state’s
governor) and Frank Lautenberg
sent a letter to the U.S. Health
Resources and Services Adminis-
tration demanding that it begin
to register such disciplinary
information in a National Practi-
tioner Data Bank. The American
Hospital Association convened a
task force to produce guidelines
to assure greater patient safety.
Yet four years later, the task
force hasn’t produced the prom-
ised guidelines, AHA spokesman
David Allen says. And the Health
Resources and Services Adminis-
tration has drawn up plans but
hasn’t implemented them.
So what’s a hospital—or
patient—to do? Various propos-
als have been floated, such as
“death radar” software that
would flag high death rates as-
sociated with a given employee,
or restrict access to potentially
lethal medications. But Yorker
argues that the best tool is a
well-trained staff. “What I teach
nurses is how hospitals can be
crime scenes,” she says of her
forensic-nursing courses. Adds
Quinet, “It’s quite common for
colleagues to have long-standing
nicknames like ‘Dr. Death’ for
some of these killers. But still
they refuse to believe that the
person is actually capable of
murder.” One even jokingly re-
ferred to himself as an “Angel of
Death” when others noticed that
his shifts appeared jinxed.
As for protecting yourself the
next time you’re in the hospital?
“Call me paranoid,” says Marcus,
“but when I’m in that hospital
bed and someone comes in with
a drug, I want to know what it is
and what it’s for.” í
The tests scan some 40 lengths of
highly fragmented DNA for single-
nucleotide polymorphisms (or SNPs,
pronounced “snips”), one-letter
variations in the genetic code. The
SNPs are then combined to create
unique DNA fingerprints. If the center’s
tests are successful—and Eisenberg
says they’re making rapid progress—
SNPs will allow forensic analysts to
identify old bones more reliably than
they can using mtDNA. “If SNPs pans
out, it will be another revolution in how
we deal with homicide,” the National
Institute of Justice’s Morgan says.
“There will no longer be a reason to
have unidentified remains.”
In addition to testing such systems,
the Center for Human Identification
is collaborating with other institutions
in the effort to improve identification.
and unidentified victims. Make that
database searchable, and it becomes a
profitable tool for homicide detectives.
Open it to the public, and it becomes
a merciful resource for the thousands
who currently spend their nights
combing disturbing Web sites.
In 2005 the U.S. Attorney General’s
office formed a Missing Persons
Task Force to develop the National
Missing and Unidentified Persons
System, or NamUs (identifyus.org). In
2007 the first part of the system—a
searchable database of unidentified
human remains—went live. Last year,
the program opened up a national
database of missing-person reports.
And later this year, NamUs plans
to connect the two, with a cross-
searchable database that automatically
matches the missing and the dead.
It is working with the University
of Tennessee, for example, to
automate DNA analysis and speed up
identifications for all the investigators
and families tortured by a cold case.
Right now, the center’s tests produce
a chart of several hundred peaks and
valleys that a trained forensic analyst
must read one nucleotide “letter” at a
time. A second analyst then reads it
again to verify its accuracy. Although
complete automation of the process
remains a distant dream, Tennessee
scientists have designed a software
program that can read “perfect”
sequences, or unambiguous graphics.
Soon it may be able to replace the
second read and thus slash personnel
costs and turnaround time.
But extracting and reading DNA
from unidentified remains is only
half the challenge. That DNA must
get linked to the right missing person.
What the country has sorely lacked,
Morgan says, is a central repository
for information such as photos,
fingerprints, dental records, DNA
sequences and other identifying
information on both missing persons
THE MATCH
Before the NamUs database is
complete, though, researchers at
Fort Worth’s Center for Human
Identification have to rely on
meticulous information-gathering
and luck. The center has put together
a DNA-collection kit for family
members of the missing, which it
sends out free of charge to the nation’s
police and sheriff’s departments.
Law-enforcement officers mail cheek
swabs collected from the family back
to the center, where workers analyze
them in batches of up to 80 to yield
both nuclear- and mitochondrial-DNA
profiles of parents and siblings.
As each family member’s DNA
fingerprint comes off the line, it
too goes through the databases to
search for approximate matches
among the dead. The process is
spellbinding, claims forensic analyst
Melody Josserand. Any of thousands
of mysteries could be solved at that
moment. “Even though I do searches
30 or 40 times a week, I’ve never
walked away,” she says. “I sit here with
bated breath.”
POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 61
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62 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
your peek inside the mysteries of everyday life
BY DOUG CANTOR
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN B. CARNETT
1. Shooting The Netherlands-based
Tele Atlas is one of two companies that build
and update street maps to feed to GPS-device
makers and Web sites such as Google Maps.
Its raw data: photographs captured by more
than 300 drivers, who collectively covered
350,000 miles last year. They use a fleet of
about 50 minivans, equipped with six to ten
1.3-megapixel still cameras mounted on the
roof and facing in all directions to provide
a 360-degree view. (Recently the company
added stereo cameras, paired to shoot the
same area at different angles, so it can cre-
ate 3-D images of terrain and buildings.) As
the vans drive (as fast as 55 mph), the cam-
eras automatically capture an image about
every 10 feet. An onboard computer makes
sure the image has enough detail, including
a clear shot of street and road signs. If not,
the driver repeats the route. With a highly
accurate type of GPS, a gyroscope and other
equipment continuously calculating the van’s
position, the location of every object in the
photo can be placed to within a foot.
2. Processing Inside each van, dupli-
cate hard drives record thousands of
photos. Every day, drivers send one hard
drive to Tele Atlas’s office in New Hampshire
to evaluate image quality and the other to
a facility in Poland. There, employees use
software to stitch a day’s photos into a high-
resolution mosaic that looks like an aerial
image. The program also picks out every
pattern that resembles a road sign,
traffic light or other object. An editor cat-
egorizes the object and records its exact
location in the database; that’s how, for
instance, your GPS knows the speed limit
and how Google can show one-ways.
Finally, the data goes to offices in New
Hampshire and India to be converted into
standard formats for customers such as
Google, Pioneer and BMW, which then
reformat it for their Web site or device.
3. Updating Tele Atlas estimates
that 10 to 15 percent of the areas it maps
differ from year to year because of
construction and other changes. Since
the company delivers new maps to its
clients every 90 days, it must constantly
update its database. That means not only
re-driving roads but also culling map
data from thousands of other resources,
including aerial imagery, engineering
surveys, and even UPS branches, pizza-
delivery joints and regular GPS users. I
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Laser scanners
measure the dis-
tance between
the van and
nearby objects to
detect and locate
road signs and
exterior walls.
Two stereo cam-
eras at the front
of the van take
pictures that can
be combined to
make 3-D images
of buildings and
landmarks.
Six to 10 1.3-
megapixel
cameras each
shoot a frame
automatically
every 10 feet
to capture a
360-degree view.
A GPS antenna
and fiber-optic
gyroscope calcu-
late the cameras’
exact coordinates
to triangulate the
location of objects
in the photos.
A PC in the van
controls the cam-
eras and alerts
the driver when
there’s a problem
with the qual-
ity of the images
being captured.
The driver (or,
in high-traffic
areas, a partner)
monitors the
equipment and
imagery on a
dash-mounted
laptop.
how a MAPPING VAN works
AGPS antenna A PC in thhe van h The ddriver ((or
See how Tele Atlas turns photos into digital maps, at popsci.com/mapping.
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MIGHT
*

SAVE THE
WORLD
THIS MACHINE
THE SOURCE OF endless energy for
all humankind resides just off Government
Street in Burnaby, British Columbia, up the
little spit of blacktop on Bonneville Place
and across the parking lot from Shade-O-
Matic blind manufacturers and wholesalers.
The future is there, in that mostly empty
office with the vomit-green walls—and
inside the brain of Michel Laberge, 47,
bearded and French-Canadian.
According to a diagram, printed a
single sheet of white paper and affixed with
tape to a dusty slab of office drywall, his vision
looks like a medieval torture device: a metal
ball surrounded on all sides by metal rods and
bisected by two long cylinders. It’s big but not
immense—maybe 10 times as tall as the little
robot man in the lower right corner of the
page who’s there to indicate scale.
What Laberge has set out to build in
this office park, using $2 million in private
funding and a skeletal workforce, is a
nuclear-fusion power plant. The idea seems
nuts but is actually, he says, not at all far-
fetched. Yes, he’ll admit, fusion is generally
considered the kind of nearly impossible
challenge undertaken only by huge
universities or governments. Yes, fusion has
a stigma to overcome; the image that it is
fundamentally bogus, always and forever
TWO DESKTOP-PRINTER ENGINEERS QUIT
THEIR JOBS TO SEARCH FOR THE ULTIMATE
SOURCE OF ENDLESS ENERGY: NUCLEAR
FUSION. COULD THIS HIGHLY IMPROBABLE
ENTERPRISE ACTUALLY SUCCEED?
BY JOSH DEAN PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN B. CARNETT
*THAT’S A BIG, FAT “MIGHT”
THE FUTURE OF ENERGY
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HOME-BREWED FUSION General
Fusion’s proof-of-concept device in
the company’s austere headquarters,
in Burnaby, British Columbia
POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 65
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20 years away, certainly doesn’t help. Laberge would probably
even admit that the idea of some Canadians working in a
glorified garage conquering one of the most ambitious problems
in physics sounds absurd.
But he will also tell you that his twist on a method known
as magnetized target fusion, or MTF—to wildly oversimplify, a
process in which plasma (ionized gas) trapped by a magnetic field
is rapidly compressed to create fusion—will, in fact, work because
it is relatively cheap and scalable. Give his team six to 10 years and
a few hundred million dollars, he says, and his company, General
Fusion, will give you a nuclear-fusion power plant.
If (and this is a truly serious if) Laberge and his team
succeed, the rewards could be astounding: nearly limitless,
inexpensive energy, with no chemical combustion by-
products, a minimal amount of extremely short-lived
radioactive waste, and no risk of a catastrophic, Chernobyl-
level meltdown. “It’s an astonishing story,” says Mike
Brown, the founder of Chrysalix Energy, the venture-capital
firm that provided the angel funding for General Fusion,
and who now leads the company’s search for backing.
“If Michel makes it work, he’s a Nobel Prize winner.”
ON THE MAD-SCIENTIST appearance scale,
Laberge is maybe a 4 out of 10; he’s a little rumpled and
wears out-of-style wire-rimmed eyeglasses. But get him a little
agitated, and he starts to tug at his hair and slips to maybe
a 5 or 6. Discussion of spending money on something other
than research will do it. Office supplies! Hotel rooms! Human
Resources! These are necessary costs for operating a company
but irritating distractions for a physicist with big dreams and
limited capital.
Laberge and his business partner, Doug Richardson, an
engineer who also studied physics, met at Creo Products, a
Vancouver-based developer of prepress-imaging technology now
owned by Kodak. They worked together for 11 years on thermal
printer heads and other highly precise mechanical devices,
making a very comfortable living, until Laberge found himself
staring at 40 and had a midlife crisis.
“I said, ‘What am I producing here?’ ” he recalls, leading
the way to the warehouse area of General Fusion’s small and
decidedly unfuturistic headquarters. “I am producing a machine
that makes printing so cheap that it can fill your mailbox with
lots and lots of junk mail. The main use of my productivity is to
cut down the forests. And I look at the energy situation, and it’s
going down the drain at pretty high speed. So I knew I had to do
something. Now, I know about fusion because I did my Ph.D. in
fusion physics. So I said, ‘OK, we’re gonna do fusion here.’ ”
It was, to say the least, a questionable career swerve. But after
some soul-searching, Laberge quit Creo, retired to an island off
the coast of British Columbia, and set out to master nuclear
fusion. Four years, several failures and $800,000 later (half
from friends and family and half from matching government
research grants), Laberge surfaced with a contraption that
provided a proof-of-concept for his idea. It’s a shiny steel orb
the size of a basketball from which dozens of cords protrude.
Imagine those cranial caps from old science-fiction movies,
and you’ll get the idea. The cords extend out to two dozen
capacitors, and the whole thing is wired up to a tower of
controls that could have been pulled from a 1950s battleship.
It is the definition of low-tech, and that’s precisely the idea.
The metal sphere is now mostly a showpiece. Laberge
will occasionally fire it up for potential investors, but by and
large, it’s done its job. In 2006 it proved that a shock wave—
created by a massive pulse of electricity, for experimental
purposes—can compress a little bit of plasma quickly and
violently enough to generate a fusion reaction, however tiny.
In place of the hugely expensive high-power electrical systems
used to collapse the plasma in more typical MTF experiments,
Laberge imagines a set of pneumatic rams colliding with the
plasma container’s outer shell to form a shock wave. This is
where his idea is truly different.
But there is much distance to cover before Laberge’s
idea leads to a device that generates electricity. “This is not
making energy,” he says of his machine. “I’m dumping 100
kilojoules of energy, and I’m making about one nanojoule.
But it shows that the technique of crushing the plasma to
high density has some merit to it, and getting a few fusion
neutrons out”—neutrons are a telltale sign of a fusion
reaction—“well, I call them my marketing neutrons.”
Laberge has the same ultimate goal of every fusion
researcher—to achieve “net gain,” which means to put out
more energy than is put in, and not just, say, 1.5:1. To make
a viable power source, you need far more than you put in,
anywhere from 10 to 25 times as much. “We must simulate
star-like conditions for the fuel” in order to make fusion
happen, says Richard Siemon, a professor of physics at
the University of Nevada and a former director of fusion
research at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The hydrogen
isotopes used as fuel have to be held at about 270 million
degrees F. The plasma must then be compressed. As you
might imagine, this requires an enormous amount of
electricity (and an equally enormous infrastructure) or an
alternative method of compressing the plasma.
Laberge believes he has a better shot than the competition
at creating viable fusion power because his approach is
smaller, cheaper and uses so much less electricity. And once
LABERGE’S IDEA IS A “THERMONUCLEAR DIESEL
ENGINE.” COMPRESS FUEL, AND IT BURNS.
66 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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his reactor is operating at net gain, it will power itself. Fuel
for fusion—deuterium and tritium—is plentiful and cheap.
Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen found in seawater; in
theory, one gallon of seawater has the potential energy of 30
gallons of gasoline. Tritium is mildly radioactive and has a 12-
year half-life, so it’s a little harder to find, but it can be derived
from lithium. Conveniently for General Fusion, Canada has
the world’s largest stockpile of tritium.
Laberge’s own energy has now turned toward a long
metal tube lying on the floor nearby, a piece about the size
and shape of a ship’s cannon. That’s the first piston housing
for the theoretical reactor—step 1 of many in the quest
for a commercial fusion power plant. General Fusion’s
reactor will one day rely on 200 of these housings, each
weighing some 2,200 pounds and holding a steam-powered
piston that weighs 220 pounds. Operated by servo-controls
accurate to a millionth of a second, the pistons will fire
simultaneously every second, creating the shock wave that
will trigger the fusion reaction. “Somebody described it
as a thermonuclear diesel engine,” Laberge says, perhaps
undervaluing a potentially awesome marketing phrase. “We
compress the fuel. It burns.”
He walks around the housing and points out the
actual piston, which is about a foot thick and roughly the
circumference of an LP. When I ask how loud this would
be—200 pieces of ultra-hardened steel impacting 200 plates
of equally hard steel at extreme velocity—he says we can fire
this one up and get a sampling, although admittedly it’s not a
test at anything close to full power. “This is one third the travel
and one one-hundredth the pressure,” Laberge says as he flicks a
switch. Nothing happens.
“Hmm. Why is there no power here?” He tugs at two
extension cords, one of them an orange indoor-outdoor
job like the kind you use to plug in a weed whacker. As the
cylinder pressurizes, it sounds like a burbling fish-tank filter.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1—0!” Laberge says, and flicks a switch. The piston
fires. It’s no louder than a kid hitting a tom-tom drum and
is . . . underwhelming, not even remotely the kind of far-out
experiment you’d expect to see when dropping by a nuclear-
fusion start-up. To Laberge, that’s exactly the point.
“It’s pretty basic, boring stuff,” he says. “Look in your car.
There’s no superconducting magnet in there. There’s pipes and
pistons and tubes. That’s what I want. I want to make a fusion
machine at a sort of car level. And that’s why we can make it for
$50 million and they”—government and university coalitions—
“make it for $20 billion. That’s the difference.”
NUCLEAR FUSION: It sounds futuristic, and yet it’s not.
It’s a story as old as the sun, literally; fusion is how it fuels itself.
Two ions collide at such velocity that the electrostatic repulsion
between them is broken. They fuse into a heavier atom and give
off energy as heat. In terrestrial practice, the idea is that a man-
made reaction would produce heat that would then be captured
by a heat exchanger to create steam. The steam would power a
turbine as in any coal plant and—voilà!—energy.
The earliest fusion experiments date back to the University of
POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 67
THE IMPROBABLES Michel
Laberge, left, and his
partner, Doug Richard-
son, with their miniature,
proof-of-concept fusion
reactor. The device looks
unrefined, but it contains
servo-controls accurate to
a millionth of a second.
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Cambridge in the 1930s, but the research gained momentum in
the 1950s during the Cold War, when both sides were primarily
interested in weaponizing fusion. The 1952 American nuclear
test Operation Ivy proved that fusion could work as the core
of a devastating weapon, when the first hydrogen-bomb test
obliterated an entire island in the Pacific.
Two things have conspired to hamper evolutionary leaps in
peacetime fusion research. The first is bad press. To the great
frustration of people like Laberge and Richardson, fusion’s good
name has been besmirched by a handful of highly publicized
failures, most prominently the cold-fusion experiments of
Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann and the “bubble fusion”
experiments Rusi Taleyarkhan conducted at Purdue University.
Pons and Fleischmann announced in 1986 that they had
achieved fusion at room temperature, but later review showed
that faulty equipment had failed to accurately measure the
results. The U.S. Department of Energy all but called them
frauds. In 2002, Taleyarkhan published a paper stating that
he had used ultrasonic vibrations to make bubbles in a liquid
solvent and that, when the bubbles collapsed, they had created
fusion. His results, too, would later be discredited, and last year
he was stripped of his university chair.
The failures were bad for fusion’s public image, but the
larger problem, researchers say, is money. Governments just
have not seen a need to pour resources into an idea that they
perceive as being decades from reality. In 1982, for example,
Congress passed a plan calling for fusion energy in 20 years.
“What happened?” says Glen Wurden, who heads up the
Magnetized Target Fusion program at Los Alamos. “The U.S.
didn’t fund it. In the 1980s the U.S. was the world leader in
fusion research. [Our funding is] a factor of three behind
Europe right now and a factor of two behind Japan.”
These days, there are several large fusion experiments
happening around the globe; the differences among them
have to do with how the plasma is contained. General Fusion
uses what’s considered an “alternative” method, one of a
handful of ideas that lie outside the prevailing model, known
as steady-state fusion. Steady-state is the form practiced at
nearly all the world’s biggest test facilities. It’s also the model on
which the mother of all fusion experiments, the International
Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, will be based.
ITER is funded by a consortium of seven governments: the
U.S., Russia, Japan, China, India, South Korea and the European
Union. Construction is set to begin this year in the south of
France. Like most high-level fusion experiments, ITER uses a
plasma-chamber design called a “tokamak,” a word transliterated
from a Russian acronym meaning “toroidal chamber with
magnetic coils.” It looks like a gigantic doughnut. Huge
superconducting magnets hold the plasma away from the
chamber walls. Then they blast the plasma with radio waves
and beams of neutrons to trigger a fusion reaction.
Yet aside from reactor design (and obvious contrasts
in size and funding), the biggest difference between ITER
and General Fusion is a sense of urgency. Conventional
wisdom among most in the plasma-physics community—
“the tokamak mafia,” as Laberge jokingly calls them—is
that commercially viable fusion is at least 30 to 40 years
away. Richardson and Laberge belong to a splinter cell
of the industry that points out that fusion has been 30
to 40 years away for 50 years now and that, frankly, the
world can’t wait that long. “The s- - - will hit the fan in
10 years,” Laberge predicts. “It’s going to be ugly. As the
gap between fossil-fuel supply and energy demand builds
up, we will need to put new energy sources in the gap.
We may avoid a disaster if we can do that fast enough,
but I don’t think so without some serious breakthrough
in energy production.” They’re convinced that this
breakthrough has to come from private industry.
It’s certainly not going to come from ITER anytime soon.
The experiment has been delayed innumerable times and is
now not expected to go online until 2018. If projections are
correct, sometime after that, it will produce 500 million watts
of fusion power for a period of 300 to 500 seconds, a gain of
10 times the energy put in to create the reaction. Yet ITER is
only a demonstration. A workable power plant is yet another
monumental project that will take at least 20 more years.
That’s plenty of motivation to pursue other approaches,
and General Fusion isn’t alone. Wurden, for example, is
working on a model akin to General Fusion’s: He fills a
container about the size of a large beer can with plasma and
uses electrodes to “crush” the can and condense the plasma.
Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are at
work on a project known as NIF (National Ignition Facility),
in which the world’s biggest laser blasts tiny balls of plasma
encapsulated in glass.
In fact, General Fusion isn’t even the only private-sector
start-up. For a few days in May 2007, the fusion world
was abuzz over a rumor that a company called Tri Alpha,
associated with a noted physicist from the University of
California at Irvine named Norman Rostoker and reportedly
backed in part by Paul Allen, had received $40 million in
venture-capital money to pursue a method called “proton-
WITHOUT FUSION, MICHEL LABERGE
BELIEVES, OUR ENERGY SITUATION IS
DIRE. “IT’S GOING TO BE UGLY.”
68 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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HOW GENERAL FUSION’S PLAN COULD WORK
General Fusion uses a variation on an approach called mag-
netized target fusion. Inside a metallic sphere measuring
approximately 10 feet in diameter, a liquid lead-lithium mixture
spins around the tank fast enough that a cylindrical-shaped
empty spot opens in the middle of the tank. Two injectors send
plasma—ionized gas—into the void at the center of the swirling
liquid metal. Two hundred pneumatic pistons, accelerated to
approximately 100 meters per second by pressurized steam,
slam the outside of the sphere simultaneously. Then, if all goes
as planned, the magic happens (see below).
The impact of the pistons
sends a compression wave
reverberating through the
liquid metal and toward the
the plasma suspended by a
magnetic field in the center.
The compression wave picks
up speed as it hurtles toward
the center, quickly becoming a
shock wave powerful enough
to compress the plasma
quickly and violently.
The shock wave hits the
plasma, a highly energetic
stew of the hydrogen isotopes
tritium and deuterium. The
force is so great that the ions
merge to form helium.
The fusion reaction hurls
neutrons and alpha particles
out through the liquid lead-
lithium, creating heat that
generates steam to power an
electricity-producing turbine.
K
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H
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Pneumatic piston
Liquid
lead-lithium
Plasma
4 3 2 1
POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 69
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boron fusion.” Then the company went into stealth mode.
Laberge thinks that proton-boron fusion, if that is in fact
what Tri Alpha is up to, is a valid idea, but that it requires
much higher temperatures—generated, most likely, with the
same extremely expensive superconductive magnets used in
tokamak reactors—and has other theoretic flaws he feels are far
more challenging than the ones in front of him. “I used to say,
[proton-boron fusion] is like learning to run before you walk.
And I was talking to physicists at some conference, and they say,
‘No, no, it’s like learning to fly before you walk.’ You think we’re
ambitious? I think they’re ambitious.”
“BASICALLY, THEY QUIT their jobs to answer one of the
most complicated problems in physics,” says Mike Brown, whose
venture-capital fund, Chrysalix, allowed General Fusion to get
to its so-far very callow state. Brown’s fund has concentrated on
alternative energy for years. He was the first investor in Ballard, a
Canadian company that helped perfect the fuel cell. And even now,
at age 69, he cares not so much because of the money, though the
potential there is obviously significant, but because of what fusion
would mean for a planet in rapid decline.
At an age when most successful businessmen would be
retired, Brown is more enthusiastic than ever. “I think it took
someone with exceptional talent to do this combination of
mechanics and physics, which is really unusual,” he says
of Laberge (whom he tells me was also once a high-speed
downhill skateboarder and a member of Canada’s national
hang-gliding team). “Europe is particularly ITER-focused. It’s
as if [MTF] never existed. But when you bring in experts—not
a single expert hasn’t said, you know, you guys have a
real shot of doing this.”
Ronald Kirkpatrick, a guest scientist at Los Alamos and
someone who has spent much of his career contributing to
the American fusion program with a particular emphasis
in MTF, was one of the handful of independent scientists
who vetted General Fusion’s plan. And although he’s not
ready to say it will work, he certainly thinks it could. “I see
no problems in principle, but I do see a lot of technical
challenges ahead,” he says. Among them: the potential
for instability between the plasma and the lead-lithium
liner, which could cool the plasma and prevent it from
reaching fusion temperatures. “It’s worth pursuing,
but investors have to know it’s a high-risk affair.”
Richard Siemon hasn’t studied General Fusion’s plan but
knows enough about MTF to say that he’s more optimistic
about it than any of the tokamak projects. “MTF in particular
has the potential to be an approach that could be done on a
small scale by a small group,” he says. “I think it’s an exciting
thing. And there’s an efficiency to the private sector that just
isn’t comparable to government-funded approaches.”
Given another round of financing—roughly $10 million,
$7 million or so of which has been procured—Laberge says
he will build two dozen of those unassuming pistons and use
them to impact a cylinder full of liquid lead-lithium. This will
allow him and his team to study the shock waves as well as
the synchronization of the pistons. That’s two years. A third,
$50-million influx of capital, Brown says, gets them a test
reactor. “By the end of 2012, we’ll have done net gain.” ITER
will still be six years away. “Nobody will have done net gain
at that point. If we do that, we’ll attract a significant amount
of attention.” After that comes the first power plant. That will
cost another $200 million to $500 million, but after net gain,
the money should be easy to raise.
“If the world is waiting for energy from ITER, it’s a lost
70 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
SPARE PARTS From left: The
interior of the proof-of-concept
fusion reactor; the reactor’s
low-tech-looking control tower;
General Fusion plasma specialist
Stephen Howard works on one of
the 200 pistons that will power
the scaled-up reactor.
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cause,” Brown says. “I think sooner or later it could work.
But it’s going to be later, and it’s going to take a lot of money.
If we could do for $500 million what they’ll do for $50
billion—in six years versus by 2035. For electricity!” There’s
no need, really, to complete the thought.
ON THE AFTERNOON of my visit, Doug Richardson
leads us out the back of General Fusion’s offices and through
some trash-strewn woods to a Subway sandwich shop. While
we’re there, he points to a newspaper headline about fuel
prices. “Every day it’s the same thing: cost of fuel and climate
change,” he says. “I think a revolution is coming. I believe it’ll
be for conservation of resources.”
Back at the office, Richardson shows me a climate-change
mug someone gave him. When you add hot water, the places
that will someday be submerged by ocean water if Greenland’s
ice cap melts turn blue. Farewell New York, London, Paris,
Vancouver and the entire Amazon basin. Outside the door,
Laberge is updating the company’s Web site, and the team’s
plasma specialist, a young postgrad named Stephen Howard,
is tinkering with the design of the plasma injector that they
are right now trying to decide if they can afford. Richardson
shows me chart after chart on energy demand, as well as
existing technology that backs up almost everything they’re
building or plan to build. The global demand for power,
he points out, is nearly 4,000 gigawatts today. According to
projections, it will be 7,000 by 2030. The world can’t possibly
meet that number using existing sources.
Does General Fusion really have a chance of filling that
gap? There is the way Glen Wurden sees things—that the
idea is plausible but that the implementation will require
far more work, not because of technology but money:
“Imagine it’s 1910 and you want to fly a 747, and someone
gave you the plans. You’re screwed. You don’t have the
materials. You don’t even know what a jet engine is. You’re
stuck. Having ITER work is like the Wright brothers. Having a
fusion power plant—it’s like having a 747.”
Richardson, not knowing what Wurden had told me, spun
the 747 example a very different way. Flight went from paper
and wood to the 747 in 65 or so years. Laberge adds that nuclear
fission went from proof-of-concept to power plant in a decade.
And that was the 1940s. The difference, of course, was money.
“If we were proposing some funky new microbe or algae to
go down and eat oil in tar sands or something and then burp
it up later?” Richardson scoffs, “I’m sure we would have been
financed by now. Even though it’s probably a more difficult task
than what we’re proposing.”
Sitting around twiddling your thumbs when you could be
building your experimental fusion reactor can make you bitter.
And to step into that room and talk to slightly bitter—or rather,
frustrated—scientists, it’s easy to read them as crackpots. Guys in
rumpled khakis sitting in an office-park warehouse monkeying
around with a piston hooked up to extension cords can easily look
like crackpots. But as Kirkpatrick points out, compared with ITER
or any other current fusion experiment, “the closest to a potential
reactor scheme is what General Fusion is proposing.”
“People”—in particular, politicians and moneymen—“have
to get used to the idea that maybe this is possible,” Laberge says.
How could they fail? Well, they could run out of money. Or “the
laws of physics might fight back in ways we don’t know about
yet,” Brown says, smiling. “We have to find that out.”
Josh Dean is an editor at Play magazine and writes for Outside, Inc.,
Fast Company and Best Life. This is his first story for POPULAR SCIENCE.
POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 71
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POPSCI.COM JANUARY 2009 POPULAR SCIENCE 73
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tips, tricks, hacks and do-it-yourself projECTS
STRAIGHT TO VIDEO
A CARD TABLE THAT TURNS ANY GAME INTO THE WORLD SERIES OF POKER
Every Friday night, about 10 regulars
gather at my place in Perth, Australia,
to play Texas Hold ’Em. I’m the
co-founder of a technology-services
company, L7 Solutions. I’m also a
chronic tinkerer and a poker lover.
Last fall I decided to up the ante, so
to speak, and started planning a table
that could generate a video display
showing what cards each player
has, how much they bet, and their
76
The DIY way
to make titanium
79
Send yourself reminders
by e-mail and text
Get an XBox online wire-
lessly, without an adapter
77
chances of winning the hand. It makes
our humble games look just like the
tournaments you see on TV.
Of course, some of my mates were
skeptical that it wouldn’t come out looking
cool, so I resolved to build something
that would really wow them. I spent three
months on the project, integrating radio-
frequency-ID antennas and a central
reader unit into a custom-built table to
track the movement of tagged cards and
chips. I also hooked up four video cameras
and capture devices to record the action,
and connected it all to my PC. Then I wrote
software to generate graphics from the
game data and lay it on top of a live video
feed. It’s streamed to a high-def big screen,
so the defeated players can watch the
rest of the game in my viewing room—or,
as I call it, the Losers’ Lounge.—andrew
milner (as told to Amanda Schupak)
[continued on next page]
YOU
BUILT
what
?!
KNOW WHEN TO HOLD ’EM The table
Andrew Milner [front left] built gener-
ates a display that shows players’ bets
and chances of winning each hand.
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POPSCI.COM 74 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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capturing the action
Four cameras (two dome, two rail) record
the game, and capture devices convert the
video to MPEG4 format and load it onto the
PC. A custom software application combines
the video files with RFID data from the
tagged chips and cards to create a simul-
cast. (Televised tournaments instead use
concealed cams to peek at players’ hands.)
FOLLOWINg the money
The RFID reader tracks what cards are
played and what chips have been bet. Mil-
ner’s Game Engine program reads that data
and applies the rules of poker to come up
with each player’s chance of winning the
Rail camera
RFID antennas
RFID-reader unit Video-capture devices
hand and to generate graphics to lay over
the video. When a player dumps his cards
over the antenna into the “muck” pile, the
application notes that the player has folded.
putting it onscreen
A commercial library of code called
TVideoGrabber contains instructions for
getting the video from the capture devices
to stream onscreen. The video-processing
engine uses information from the Game
Engine—such as who’s in, who’s out, who’s
up and who’s down—to determine which
camera feed to show during a hand. When
only two players are left, the cameras zoom
in on those players.
HOW THE VIDEO POKER TABLE WORKS
3 months $8,500 for more details, go to popsci.com/pokertable
HOW 2.0
BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME
Losing players watch the rest
of the game in another room.
Dome camera
ON THE SPOT Circles on the
table surface indicate where
to place cards so that the
antennas can read them.
YOU BUILT ?! CONT’D WHAT
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76 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
M
I
K
E

W
A
L
K
E
R
HOMEMADE
TITANIUM
GRAY
MATTER
Do not try this at home. This reaction is extremely energetic. Flaming
molten metal can be thrown some distance from the pot and will ignite
anything within reach.
ACHTUNG!
An iron crowbar costs
about $8; one made of tita-
nium, $80. Solid-titanium
scissors start at $700, and
don’t even ask about the
titanium socket wrench.
Titanium must be a rare and
precious substance, right?
Actually, as raw ore,
titanium is 100 times as
abundant as copper. Nearly
all white paint is white
because of the titanium
dioxide found in the ore.
Something like four million
tons a year go into paint,
sunscreen, toothpaste,
even paper.
The high price of tita-
nium comes not from the
raw material but from the
difficulty of turning that
ore into wrenches and bike
frames. At temperatures
high enough to melt it,
titanium exposed to air
catches fire. So it has to be
refined, forged, welded,
and cast in a vacuum or
under inert gas, an expen-
sive process.
Yet I was able to make
titanium using equipment
I had lying around. I did it
with thermite reduction,
a process commonly used
to weld train tracks. In an
iron thermite reaction, iron
oxide reacts with aluminum
and comes out as liquid
iron. I just swapped in tita-
nium dioxide instead. But
that reaction, in which tita-
nium dioxide transfers its
oxygen atoms to aluminum,
doesn’t release enough
heat to melt the materials.
So I mixed in drywall
plaster (calcium sulfate)
and more aluminum pow-
der. They react to create
huge amounts of extra
heat, enough to melt the
titanium and allow it to
pool at the bottom of the
container. Adding ground
fluorite powder makes the
molten metals more fluid
and protects the titanium
from air as it cools.
I used clay flowerpots,
as suggested by Gert
Meyer, who developed this
procedure. When nested
with sand between them,
they last just long enough
to let the titanium cool into
beads of solid metal.
Sadly, this is not really
a practical way to make
a lot of titanium, so don’t
get your hopes up about
starting that $700 scissors
business.—Theodore Gray
TITANIUM IN A POT
LIGHT IT UP A fire-
works sparkler is the
fuse for a mixture of
titanium dioxide and
aluminum powder.
HOT STUFF The reac-
tion reaches about
4,200°F, so the metal
remains red-hot for
several minutes.
GROWING METAL Intense heat cracks a flowerpot, revealing liquid
titanium inside. Normally the pot would be nested with sand inside
a second one to trap the molten metal.
THE RESULT
Lumps of solid
titanium extracted
from the pool of
slag in the pot
HOW 2.0
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F
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U
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;

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This 50-foot Ethernet cable snaking all the way
through my apartment from the router in the
bedroom to my Xbox 360 in the living room? That’s
how I used to play videogames online. The Xbox
doesn’t come with wireless capability built in, and
I didn’t want to shell out the extra $100—a third
the price of the console itself—for Microsoft’s
wireless adapter. Third-party wireless bridges
cost a bit less but are still pricey. Finally, though, I
found a way to ditch the giant wire with a solution
that cost me only 40 bucks. If you already have a
wireless network set up in your home, you can
make a second, cheap router function as an Xbox
adapter by replacing its firmware with free soft-
ware called DD-WRT. As long as you download
the right version, almost any brand of router will
work. I bought an older model on Amazon, but you
can get a used one on eBay for $15 or less—well
worth it for the pleasure of blasting annoying
teenagers in Denmark in Halo 3.—Doug Cantor
CHEAP
TRICKS
b time: 30 minutes b cost: $15–$50 b easy hard
POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 77
1
Before buying a router for this
project, check dd-wrt.com to
make sure the specific model is
supported. If so, download the
right version of the software to
your computer.
2
Follow the installation instruc-
tions on dd-wrt.com for your
specific router model. This may
require you to change your com-
puter’s network settings. Connect
the router to your modem and your
computer with Ethernet cables.
Update the router’s firmware with
the DD-WRT software.
3
Enter the router’s IP address
in your computer’s Web
browser, which should now bring
up the DD-WRT interface [below].
Change the router's settings to
“client mode.” This enables it to
receive an Internet signal from
your original router.
4
Disconnect the cables, and
restore the original network
settings on your computer. Place
the router near the Xbox 360 con-
sole, and connect it with a short
Ethernet cable. Turn on the con-
sole, and connect to Xbox Live.
DIY WIRELESS FOR YOUR XBOX
UNWIRE
YOUR
XBOX
GET YOUR XBOX 360
ONLINE WIRELESSLY
WITH AN OLD ROUTER
AND FREE SOFTWARE
TOTALLY FREE WIRELESS
If a $15 router is still more than you want to invest to get
your Xbox online wirelessly, you can instead configure
your network to use your laptop as an adapter. You’ll still
have to connect the computer to the console
with an Ethernet cable, but you won’t have to
buy any additional equipment. For instructions
on setting it up, search for user “walamoon-
beam” on . instructables.com
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78 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
F
R
O
M

T
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P
:

L
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S

B
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U
N
O

(
3
)
;

I
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E
A
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A
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K
E
R
.
B
L
O
G
S
P
O
T
.
C
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;

P
A
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R
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S
C
H
U
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BUILD OF THE MONTH
Needing a space divider in his office,
Dutch product designer Patrick Schuur
built a giant cabinet intended to “remind
people of how good-looking technology
used to be.” Schuur and his co-workers
began by making a large wooden frame
and then created the retro exterior by
screwing on, one by one, 918 old cassette
tapes. The painstaking build, which also
included the addition of a mosaic tile
top and metal legs, took more than 500
hours to complete.

IKEA HACKER
Who says you have to put together your IKEA
furniture exactly the way the Swedish instructions
tell you to? IKEA Hacker ( )
is a showcase of ingenious ways people have
assembled things from the store to change their look
and function—from installing a Linux computer clus-
ter into a Helmer cabinet, to
making a terrarium out of
a Benno TV unit, to adding
a comic-book top to an
Alleby stool [pictured].
WEB SITE OF THE MONTH
likeahacker.blogspot.com
INTEGRATED-CIRCUIT CUFF LINKS
*




Thread a small piece of wire through a button.
Strip the ends of the wire, and solder it to
an integrated circuit.
Flash some cuff for the ladies.
*
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r
i
g
i
n
a
l
l
y

p
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f
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T
A
D
O
WHAT’S A
GOOD WAY
TO SEND MYSELF
REMINDERS?
It’s a fine time to ditch paper for good and move to an all
e-mail- and SMS-based system. Start with Google’s online
calendar (google.com/calendar), which lets you set up multiple
alerts for one event—for example, a text message one week
before Mother’s Day, then another the day before in case you
still managed to put off sending flowers. New event pop up while
you’re away from a computer? Add it to GCal from your cell-
phone by texting the event details to GVENT (48368).
If you’re not interested in calendar functions, the Web site
Sandy (iwant sandy.com) is a free virtual personal assistant
whose sole purpose is to help you remember things. Just
send it an e-mail such as “Remind me to move my car in 45
minutes,” and Sandy will e-mail or text you. It’s especially
useful for recurring events like bills and birthdays. Add tags
like “@weekly,” “@quarterly” or “@yearly” to your e-mail,
ASK A
GEEK
ADAM PASH is an editor at Lifehacker ( ). lifehacker.com
GOT A QUESTION FOR OUR GEEK CHORUS?
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and it will ping you every time the event comes up.
Or skip the typing altogether with the voice-to-text
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There’s a little bit of water
inside each kernel of popcorn,
and if you can heat the kernel
above 212°F, that water should
boil, turn into high-pressure steam, and
pop the kernel. But in orbit, things aren’t so
simple. First off, the cold vacuum of space
would suck all the water out of the kernel
before it could pop the corn. So any ordi-
nary kernels would drop, not pop. But let’s
say we figured out a way to keep the kernel
watertight. In that case, it all depends.
Anything falling through the atmo-
sphere has what’s called a terminal
velocity. This is the speed at which the
upward force, or drag, from air resistance
equals the downward force of gravity. Typi-
cally, a falling object, like a skydiver, speeds
up until it reaches terminal velocity. If
something like the space shuttle starts out
IF YOU DROPPED A CORN
KERNEL FROM SPACE, WOULD
IT POP DURING REENTRY?
Bosco Daude, via e-mail
G
A
R
Y

C
.

K
N
A
P
P
/
A
P

P
H
O
T
O
FYI
sometimes you just need to know
A
Q
in the airless vacuum of space, it can reach
a speed higher than its terminal velocity.
But as soon as it starts passing through the
atmosphere, friction will slow it down. This
friction generates heat—about 3,000° for the
space shuttle. Just how much heat depends
on how fast the object is going, as well as its
size, shape and mass.
If an astronaut were to throw a water-
tight kernel out of that space shuttle moving
at 17,000 mph, would the kernel reach
hot enough temperatures to pop as it flew
through the atmosphere? It’s possible, says
Kenneth Libbrecht, a physics professor at the
California Institute of Technology, but he can’t
run the numbers to say for sure, because no
one has measured how much friction a kernel
generates when it moves through the air. “Of
course, the other possibility is that it will heat
too quickly and the outer husk will burn off
before the kernel has a chance to pop,” Lib-
brecht says. And so, for now at least, there’s no
way to know. Note to the guys on the ISS: Let
loose a pan of Jiffy Pop.—STUART FOX
What’s the difference between
artificial and natural flavors?
Bill Wehe, via e-mail
Picking barbecue-flavor potato chips over
salt-and-vinegar can be tough enough with-
out having to choose between brands made
with “natural flavors” and ones that are “arti-
ficially flavored.” Natural flavors, you might
think, are derived from the pure essence of a
food’s flavor, and as such are more authentic.
But the term “natural” is misleading.
The Food and Drug Administration
requires that natural flavors come from
a natural material, but that’s a broad
category. It usually means developing flavors
from plant or bacteria by-products, or chemi-
cally treating naturally occurring molecules.
Chemists then tinker with these to enhance
their taste. The sweet strawberry taste of
your naturally flavored ice cream? That
probably started out as a bacterial protein.
Artificial flavors, on the other hand, are
just what you’d expect: taste-bud-stimulating
chemicals concocted from scratch in labs.
Although natural flavors have the poten-
82
Jobs on Mars:
Choose the most
profitable career path
80 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
TASTE TECHNI-
CIAN Chemists
control every
step of flavor
creation.
Got questions? Send them to . fyi@popsci.com
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FYI
M
I
C
H
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E
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C
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L
DO I HAVE A DEAL
FOR YOU Strike
it rich selling
yet-to-be terra-
formed land.
tial to be more accurate and have layers of
flavor, mucking with bacteria is expensive
and the results are inconsistent. Control-
ling every step of a flavor’s development,
as chemists do with artificial flavors, costs
less and often hits closer to the mark.
Flavor chemists can further enhance
artificial flavors by stimulating your nose.
“Aroma is often the dominant factor in fla-
vor perception,” says Anuradha Prakash,
a professor of food science at Chapman
University and a spokesperson for the
Institute of Food Technologists. “Fla-
vorists can mix compounds with similar
tastes but different aromas to maximize
artificial flavor.” And despite the healthy
sound of the phrase, natural flavors aren’t
any better for you than man-made ones.
In fact, in most cases your body can’t even
differentiate between the two.
Those barbecue chips? You’ll save a
few cents with the artificially flavored
variety, and they might even taste more
like the real thing.—AMY GEPPERT
You’ve just landed on the Red Planet and are looking for a fresh start. Sure, that job
selling respirators at the local space-hardware store sounds cozy, but it’s a dead-end
career. Mars will be ripe with opportunity; you just have to figure out how to tap it. So
here’s the secret: Go into construction. You’ll learn useful skills and be out on the sur-
face, where the real action is. Explore the landscape on coffee breaks. All you need to
do is stumble upon a nice deposit of precious material—like platinum or deuterium, a
hydrogen isotope that could fuel fusion reactors—and you’ll have it made.
Next, buddy up with the engineers working to terraform the Martian hillsides. It's
their job to turn all that red dust into Earth-like soil that can support robust vegetation
and seed the atmosphere to rain and form lakes and oceans. Figure out where future
beachfront property will be, buy it, and auction off lots to the highest bidder.
Of course, this prosperous career path has its risks. You’ll be outdoors a lot, and
Mars’s atmosphere is pretty thin, so cosmic radiation could fry your DNA. Things could
fall on you on construction sites. And you’d probably go prospecting alone (why split
the profits?), so no one could help you if you got lost or fell into a crater. You could play
it safe in the colony, working at the Spacemart. But you’re on Mars—take a chance!
Robert Zubrin is president of the Mars Society and author of How to Live on Mars.
Ask a Mars
Career
Counselor
What would be the
best job to have in
a Mars colony?
p
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Josserand remembers the day in
March 2006 when Unidentified Person
F2775.1EC flashed across her screen.
She had just uploaded family-reference
sample F3352.1US, submitted by the
King County Sheriff’s office. Like the
reels of a slot machine, twin columns of
numbers rolled down her monitor. The
rows for six out of six mitochondrial-
DNA base pairs flashed green. A
perfect match. But mtDNA alone, she
knew, wasn’t definitive. Fortunately,
back in 2004, Sansom was able to pull
seven markers for nuclear DNA from
the victim’s bone sample. Josserand
compared the family-reference sample
with that. All of them matched.
Josserand retrieved the folder for
Unidentified Person F2775.1EC and
checked it against the file for the family-
reference sample. “The metadata all
matched,” she says of Debbie Deer
Creek’s physical descriptors: female;
approximate age, 17; weight, 125;
height, 5'7". Estimated date and place of
death: 8/19/1984, Missoula, Montana.
From the missing-person report,
Josserand read the name: Marcella
Bachmann. Last contact: 5/1984,
Vancouver, Washington. “All I could
think was, ‘I wonder how this poor
girl got from here to there?’ ” she
says. Still, certainty depended on
more family samples, ideally from the
biological father. So the call went out
to Derek Bachmann through Detective
Crenshaw in King County. Crenshaw
didn’t say anything about the bone
from Missoula. “I gave him the spiel I
give everyone, so as not to get hopes
up,” he says. “ ‘The lab wants more DNA
samples to make sure that if there’s
a hit, they can narrow it down.’ ”
“I called up my dad,” Bachmann
says, “and flat-out told him, ‘You
have to do this. I have to know.’ ”
On March 22, 2006, the Center for
Human Identification received two
FedEx envelopes, one containing a
cheek swab from Bachmann, the other
from his father. The father’s nuclear
DNA matched all of Debbie Deer Creek’s
FIELDWORK
KILLER CON
[continued from page 61]
84 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009
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nuclear-DNA markers. To underscore
the identification, Derek’s mtDNA, like
that of his mother, proved identical.
Following protocol, the Center for
Human Identification relayed the news
to the National Center for Missing and
Exploited Children, which in turn called
Missoula and Captain Hintz, who had
submitted Debbie Deer Creek’s femur
after Larry Weatherman’s retirement.
“I’ll never forget his call,” Bachmann
says. “I was in a poker tournament and
had to step outside.” As Hintz spoke,
Bachmann suddenly realized that he
didn’t want “closure” after all. “I instantly
grasped the idea that he was finally
calling back about the Web-site photo. I
told him I’d been thinking about it, that
the picture couldn’t have been my sister,”
he recalls. “Well, he disabused me of that.”
THE FINAL IDentification
Almost exactly two years later, on
this snowy March day in Missoula,
Weatherman waits for Derek
Bachmann to step out of the county
truck they have borrowed for their
second visit to the place where
Weatherman unearthed Marci’s frozen
remains on Christmas Eve 1984.
Bachmann shivers inside his
leather jacket. The snow quickly
saturates his sneakers as he follows
the retired lawman a quarter of a
mile through the woods to a bluff
above the Clark Fork River. A grove
of spindly conifers still surrounds
the mossy depression that once held
Marci’s body. “It was a lot harder the
first time,” Bachmann says of the visit.
“Yeah,” Weatherman acknowledges.
“That was a hard one for you.”
From beyond the bluff comes the
rumbling sound of construction—or
rather, deconstruction—echoing up
from the Milltown Dam below. A
strip of orange and yellow surveyor
flags marks a path past Marci’s
gravesite to what will be a viewing
platform directly above a river-
restoration project. In addition
to tearing out the old dam, the
county plans to build a small park.
Construction is due to begin in the
spring. Bachmann has come back,
in part, to ensure that nothing
desecrates Marci’s spot. Perhaps he
can even persuade the county to
raise a small memorial, he proposes.
Weatherman nods in agreement.
“I suppose you’re ready to put
all this behind you,” Bachmann
offers as the men head back to the
truck. “I don’t suppose it ever will
be,” Weatherman says, “until we get
Christy identified.” At press time,
DNA from Christy’s femur had been
entered into the Center for Human
Identification’s database of cold-case
remains, as well as the national DNA
database. She’s ready to be found.
Jessica Snyder Sachs is the author of
Good Germs, Bad Germs, now out
in paperback.
NECTION
g
j
s
h
o
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c
a
s
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www.freedowns.net & www.journal-plaza.net©®
www.freedowns.net & www.journal-plaza.net©®

this month’s guide to innovation and discovery
january ’09
VOLUME 274 #1

b Concepts &
Prototypes

42 STEALTH REBORN
Inside the Air Force’s secret plans for a bomber that will barely register on radar— and might even fly without a pilot. By Dawn Stover

b PopSci Predicts

46 YOUR GUIDE TO THE TOP SCIENCE STORIES OF 2009
We forecast the major scientific developments of the coming year: the space missions to watch, the invention prizes you can win and, oh, a little study that might show whether your cellphone is killing you.

42
54 64

b Fieldwork
ON THE COVER: NICK KALOTERAKIS; THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: NICK KALOTERAKIS; JOHN B. CARNETT; JOHN B. CARNETT AND PAUL WOOTTON; COURTESY X PRIZE FOUNDATION; COURTESY MISSOULA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

54 KILLER CONNECTION
There are far more serial murderers on the loose than we think. The Center for Human Identification uses powerful DNA techniques to examine victims—and closes the coldest, darkest cases in the process. By Jessica Snyder Sachs

b the future
of energy

64 THIS MACHINE MIGHT SAVE THE WORLD
Two Canadian tinkerers embark on an improbable quest to create nuclear fusion in an office-park warehouse. By Josh Dean

b How It Works

62 DIGITAL MAPMAKING
To build the maps for Google and your GPS gadget, a team of hundreds of drivers trolls the streets with cameras on their vans. By Doug Cantor

46

POPSCI.COM

JANUARY 2009 POPULAR SCIENCE 05

www.freedowns.net & www.journal-plaza.net©® www.freedowns.net & www.journal-plaza.net©®

20

33

78

REGULARS
© WHAT’S

NEW
LEAN MACHINE Our bike expert reviews this ultra-sleek two-wheeler.

19 RECREATION
Cooling molten metal faster to build a better motorbike.

20 THE GOODS
A 3-D GPS gadget; a guitar that records itself.

22 HOME TECH
Power tools get more power, thanks to a new motor.

30 GADGETS
What’s next for Google’s groundbreaking cellphone?

JOIN US FOR A THRILL RIDE
Resident motorcycle guru Matt Cokeley visited Berlin to ogle the new Buell 1125CR, grill its designers about bike tech, and take a highspeed test drive. See video of his adventure at popsci.com/buell.

© HEADLINES

33 ENVIRONMENT
Why climate-change models underestimate the problem.

RETURN OF THE BODACIOUS ‘BOTS
Can’t get enough alluring photos of female robots? We’ve whipped up another gallery showing how science-fiction writers, artists and engineers represent women, at popsci.com/fembot.

34 DEFENSE TECH
Scanners that check your body to predict criminal acts.

36 WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?
Entrepreneur Elon Musk on Tesla’s new electric sedan.

40 PLANET FIXERS
Making electricity from hot streets, and more.

© HOW

2.0

BLOGS AND MORE OOZING ANIMALS
Weak stomachs be warned: We bring you a new and nauseating gallery of “Nature’s Grossest Creatures.” Point and stare, at popsci.com/gross.

73 YOU BUILT WHAT ?!
A poker table that turns a card game into a TV event.

76 GRAY MATTER
Powder in a flowerpot becomes titanium metal.

77 CHEAP TRICKS
Connect your Xbox to the Web with an old router.

79 ASK A GEEK
With automated reminders, you’ll never forget anything.

INVESTIGATING THE INFOMERCIALS
Can that treatment really grow your hair back? Do those electronic pest repellers actually work? Our new column “As Seen on TV” reveals the truth behind the late-night ads, at popsci.com/tvtruth.

© FYI

80 The best job on Mars. Plus: Will corn pop in space?
© OTHER

STUFF

FAST FUN: MORE 5-MINUTE PROJECTS
POPSCI’s how-to crew is back with six new videos. Learn how to make a spectrometer, geek-chic cuff links, and more—all in less time than it takes to fix a sandwich. Check out popsci.com/freshfiveminutes.

10 FROM THE EDITOR 12 THE INBOX 96 PPX: THE POPSCI PREDICTIONS EXCHANGE
06 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009

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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: COURTESY OVATION GUITARS; MIKE DICKBERND/AP PHOTO; IKEAHACKER.BLOGSPOT.COM; COURTESY TOM RILES; ISTOCK; G.K. AND VIKKI HART/GETTY IMAGES

© MEGAPIXELS 14 A blue chicken embryo; a dark hall to nuclear waste.

“I want to be able to get wind power from North Dakota to population centers like Chicago. Berger Executive Assistant Christopher Graves Marketing Director Mike Gallic Business Manager Connie Lau Vice President. Theodore Gray. Consumer Marketing Bruce Miller Vice President. his analysis is spot-on— the grid is the often-overlooked key to the successful propagation of any legitimate new alternative-energy economy. “If we’re going to be serious about renewable energy. Jenny Smith Digital Sales Development Manager Brian Glaser Sales Development Managers Kerri Levine.COM www. automakers as a way of compelling them to build cleaner vehicles. Abby Seiff Tech President THERE ARE ENCOURAGING SIGNS THAT THIS PRESIDENT-ELECT IS SERIOUS ABOUT INNOVATION. Or you may write to POPULAR SCIENCE. Preston Lerner.net & www. Albaum 404-892-0760 Classified Advertising Sales Patrick Notaro 212-779-5555 Direct Response Sales Marie Isabelle 800-280-2069 Interactive Sales Director Rob Pfeiffer Digital Account Managers Jessica DeBiase. Those are just a few of the portents suggesting that. Nick Kaloterakis. there’s talk of everything from creating a more transparent and responsive government with the kind of Web technology that made the Obama campaign successful.freedowns. P. Mike Spinelli. Walker Corporate Counsel Jeremy Thompson . Chris Young 212-779-5148.” Wow. You can also call 800-289-9399.journal-plaza. he’s making offhand reference to subtle and sophisticated ideas about renewable energy.D. for Canadian and foreign. just five days before the presidential election. FL 32142-0235.jannot@bonniercorp. Bjorn Carey Editorial Assistant Amy Geppert Editor at Large Dawn Stover Contributing Technology Editor Steve Morgenstern Contributing Editors Eric Adams. James Vlahos. Bartley 248-282-5545 Ad Assistant Diane Pahl San Francisco Advertising Office: Jill Stankoski 415-496-2700 Digital Account Manager Jacqueline Boyl 415-496-2700 Southern Regional Advertising Office: Manager Jason A. please use our Web site: popsci. as of the 20th of this month. Kalee Thompson. What’s more. Jessica Snyder Sachs. Speed Weed Contributing Troubadour Jonathan Coulton Contributing Futurist Andrew Zolli Editorial Intern Greg Soltis ART AND PHOTOGRAPHY Art Director Matthew Cokeley Photo Editor Kristine LaManna Staff Photographer John B. Paul Wootton Photo Intern Ilona Lieberman POPSCI. Corporate Sales and Marketing Pete Michalsky Northeast Advertising Office: Alex DeSanctis 212-779-5129.com For service anytime. to overhaul the nation’s electrical grid. Eric Hagerman. Jesse Parker.journal-plaza. POPULAR SCIENCE PROPERTIES Group Publisher Gregg R. CARNETT Chairman Jonas Bonnier Chief Executive Officer Terry Snow Chief Operating Officer Dan Altman Chief Financial Officer Randall Koubek Vice President. Bob Sauls.O. Joseph Hooper. Corporate Communications Dean Turcol Brand Director John Miller Publishing Consultant Martin S.net©® www. Gregory Mone. I’m eager to see him get down to business. Carnett Senior Designer Stephanie O’Hara Contributing Artists Kevin Hand. we’ll have a truly science-minded and tech-savvy president in the White House. And the fact that he was spending precious airtime in the campaign’s waning days pushing such a techno-wonk agenda struck me as a particularly encouraging sign that this president-elect is serious about innovation. Rena Marie Pacella. Lauren Rosenblatt. Graham Murdoch. Box 420235. Rebecca Skloot. Seth Fletcher.” he said. Phillip Torrone.COM Digital Content Director Megan Miller Acting Digital Content Manager Taylor Hengen Associate Web Editors Paul Adams. Dave Prochnow. Alexis Smith Creative Services Director Mike Iadanza Marketing Art Director Shawn Woznicki Promotions Manager Eshonda Caraway Consumer Marketing Director Bob Cohn Associate Directors Thomas Mathew. Production Lisa Earlywine Vice President. And we’re going to have to have a smart grid if we want to use plug-in hybrids and we want to be able to have ordinary consumers sell the electricity that’s generated from those car batteries back into the grid. Palm Coast. Barack Obama did something that snapped my head back: He devoted a solid chunk of an interview on an evening news show to detailing his plans.freedowns.S.net & www. E-Media Howard Roth Vice President. I thought.net©® JOHN B. 10 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI. On October 30. Human Resources Cathy Hertz Vice President.THE FUTURE NOW Editor-in-Chief Mark Jannot Deputy Editor Jacob Ward Creative Director Sam Syed EDITORIAL Executive Editor Mike Haney Articles Editor Michael Moyer Editorial Production Manager Felicia Pardo Senior Editor Nicole Dyer Senior Technology Editor Seán Captain Copy and Research Director Rina Bander Senior Associate Editors Doug Cantor. Elizabeth Svoboda. Alfonso Production Assistant Erika Hernandez Group Production Director Laurel Kurnides Prepress Manager José Medina MARK JANNOT mark. if elected. Martha Harbison Associate Editors Lauren Aaronson. Taryn Young 212-779-5030 Midwest Advertising Office: Manager John Marquardt 312-252-2838 Ad Assistant Krissy Van Rossum Los Angeles Advertising Office: Manager Robert Hoeck 310-227-8958 Digital Account Manager Kate Gregory Detroit Advertising Office: Manager Edward A. Suzanne Kantra Kirschner. please call 386-597-4279. Logan New Business Manager Cliff Sabbag Retention Manager Gayle Fisher Single Copy Sales Director Vicki Weston Publicity Manager Kendra Romagnola Human Resources Manager Kim Putman Senior Production Director Tere B. to using a bailout of U. Enterprises Systems Shawn Larson Vice President.com/ customerservice. In the lead-up to his inauguration. Andrew Schulman Senior Planning Manager Randall J. Hano Associate Publisher Advertising Wendi S.

. but there are definitely hurdles to overcome.5 tons. 12 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 MAIN OFFICE 2 Park Ave.” How is it possible to burn six pounds of liquid and turn it into 20 pounds of CO2? L. Comments may be edited for length and clarity. 2008]. Bob Via e-mail We need to let carmakers know we want to get through this “hybrid” phase—the transition from gasoline to full electric cars—as soon as possible and that we want cars that are designed to have the generators removed and swapped for batteries. high brightness and a display as thin as three credit cards. The Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 component set [“The Best of What’s New.7 gives you 20. Replacing today’s gas-distribution process with electric charging stations will not be quick.7 times as heavy as a single carbon atom. The Sony ® Organic LED TV revolutionizes television with blazing response times. each of which pumps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. While some questioned the Volt’s feasibility and cost.3-pound gallon of gas.com/subscribe SUBSCRIPTION INQUIRIES Report changes of address and subscription problems to: POPULAR SCIENCE P.net©® www.com. POPSCI.” Dec. not $150.COM www.O. the carbon molecules combine with two oxygen molecules to form CO2.100.COM Electrified “Power Struggle” [November 2008]. exceptionally vibrant color reproduction. Holloway Vancouver.” Oct. When gas burns.net & www.net©® . stunning contrast levels. please contact syndication@popsci. a plug-in would make sense for a majority of commuters.freedowns.com/manage INTERNATIONAL EDITIONS For inquiries regarding international licensing or syndication. Wash. LETTERS Send letters to the editor to letters @popsci.journal-plaza. INN OV A HE YEAR OF T ON TI GRAND A ARD W WINNER entertainment True. which is 3. 2008]. We regret that we cannot answer unpublished letters.L. The current electric infrastructure couldn’t handle pumping electricity to millions of cars.net & www.” Oct.5 pounds of carbon by 3. There are 5.” Nov.com NEW SUBSCRIPTIONS Phone: 800-289-9399 Web: popsci. 2008] costs $2. most agreed that its environmental benefits are well worth the effort. The LHC’s magnet sections each weigh 38. not New York University [“Dear Mr. Editor Seth Fletcher responds: Most of carbon dioxide’s weight comes from oxygen in the air. “The Goods. Send science questions to fyi@popsci. which isn’t included in that 6. easy or cheap. FL 32142-0235 THE FUTURE NOW Phone: 800-289-9399 Web: popsci. Weigh in at popsci.freedowns. NY 10016 Fax: 212-779-5108 Web: popsci. 2008].com/powerstruggle. Box 420235 Palm Coast.com “Power Struggle” states “Americans burn 390 million gallons of gasoline every day. becoming one of the most discussed stories online.com. 9th Floor New York.5 pounds of carbon in each gallon. really charged up our readers. Beth Noveck is a professor at New York Law School. about the quest to build the Chevy Volt’s massive battery.journal-plaza.com. President. Corrections HD radio is not “high-definition” [Coby HDR 700. not 10 [“Breaking Open the Unknown Universe. Multiplying 5. billdale Comment on popsci.35 pounds.LETTERS@POPSCI.

after which he photographed the embryo through a stereo microscope. The process took three days. BY STUART FOX PHOTOGRAPH BY TOMÁS PAIS DE AZEVEDO COLLEGE OF SCIENCES/UNIVERSITY OF LISBON/COURTESY NIKON SMALL WORLD FOLLOWING BIRD DEVELOPMENT FROM EGG TO HEN 14 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www.freedowns. 22-year-old Tomás Pais de Azevedo.journal-plaza.net & www.megapixels the must-see photos of the month FUNKY CHICKEN To create this image. By tracking how bones develop.freedowns. a graduate student in evolutionary and developmental biology at the University of Lisbon in Portugal.net & www. removed an eight-day-old. The dark-blue areas of the chick indicate where the cartilage will ultimately solidify into bone.journal-plaza. it’s possible to see how various genes control the overall development of vertebrate organisms. two-inch-long chicken embryo from its egg and stained it with a dye that binds to cartilage. which won the popular vote in the 2008 Nikon Small World contest.net©® www. and in what order.net©® .

POPSCI.journal-plaza.freedowns.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 15 www.net & www.journal-plaza.freedowns.net©® www.net & www.net©® .

journal-plaza.net & www.freedowns.net & www.freedowns.MEGAPIXELS 16 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www.journal-plaza.net©® www.net©® REUTERS .

Located on the outskirts of the village of Bátaapáti. which is 40 miles away. POPSCI.) After several hundred years.net©® www.freedowns.THE LONG WALK TO A NUCLEAR-WASTE STORAGE FACILITY TUNNEL VISION At the end of this tunnel. The waste consists of protective clothing and contaminated tools and materials from processing. is stored at the power plant. set to open in 2010.journal-plaza. lies a new long-term nuclear-waste facility.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 17 www.freedowns. its radioactivity should decay to the level of the planet’s natural background radiation. including spent fuel rods.net & www.net©® . (The high-level waste. BY GREG SOLTIS PHOTOGRAPH BY KAROLY ARVAI See more amazing photos at popsci. which snakes as deep as 820 feet below the Hungarian countryside.5 million gallons of lowand intermediate-level waste produced at the Paks nuclear power plant. it will store more than 10. It collectively accounts for 97 percent of the volume of radioactive waste from the plant.journal-plaza.net & www.com/gallery.

com/buell.com FRAME WORK A NEW CASTING TECHNIQUE PRODUCES A STRONGER. preventing cavities from forming.wha neW t’s tech that puts the future in the palm of your hand 22 A mightier motor for power tools 24 The marriage of pointand-shoot and SLR 26 Porsche rebuilds the 911 from the inside out BUELL 1125CR POWER: 146 hp TORQUE: 82 lb.journal-plaza. Instead. rather than waiting for the cast to solidify and then breaking the mold. LIGHTER MOTORCYCLE SATOSHI Buell did not break the mold when it made the 1125CR racing bike. WEIGHT: 375 lbs.freedowns.net & www. TOP SPEED: 154 mph GET IT: $11.net©® www. it washed the mold away—to create a sturdier body. It’s even possible to cast the entire frame that way.net©® .net & www. which can weaken the structure.700 buell. Buell used the method to produce a stronger rear frame that requires one less pound of metal. The new formulation allows them to start rinsing the mold away right after the aluminum is poured.-ft. using water cooling to fine-tune the metal’s strength and rigidity for different components.freedowns.journal-plaza. The frames of other motorcycles are formed by pouring molten metal into a mold of sand and clay.—Matthew Cokeley See a video of the CR in action at popsci. Buell engineers instead developed a water-soluble bonding agent to use in place of clay. JANUARY 2009 POPULAR SCIENCE 19 www. Water cools the alloy faster and in a controlled manner.

journal-plaza.WHAT’S NEW EASY STEPS Track your daily calorie burn without expending extra energy. and a small internal weight vibrates up and down 2. Ovation iDea Guitar $600. ovationidea.com MOTOR HEAD No need to swing a hammer. converts vibrations into a voltage signal. fitbit. Craftsman NexTec Auto Hammerhead $100.com 20 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www. Fitbit Tracker $100.net & www. Slip this tool over a nail. A “pickup” near the strings. It drives nails without straining your arms and makes it impossible for you to miss and bust your thumb. A chip inside the cable holds software that automatically manages the transfer.000 times a minute.com RECORDING ARTIST Save your songs with this acoustic guitar’s built-in MP3 recorder.com LIGHT COLORED See this MP3 player’s display clearly even in direct sun. and a microphone on the side captures your crooning. freestyleaudio. craftsman. like the one in an electric guitar. Fitbit’s pedometer automatically uploads step counts to your computer whenever you walk by its Bluetooth-enabled base station.freedowns.net©® .journal-plaza.net & www. goclickfree. It’s the first gadget with Qualcomm’s color Mirasol screen. ClickFree Transformer $60.freedowns.com GOODS THE 12 MUST-HAVE PRODUCTS SAFETY LINE Back up your files just by plugging one end of this cable into your PC and the other into any USB hard drive. Freestyle Audio FA300 $80.net©® www. which creates images by reflecting light—becoming brighter as your surroundings do.

com OVER THE HILL Other GPS devices show you twisty roads. sony. instead of making you constantly hold a trigger. You tap the display to highlight icons but push down firmly to select one. Sony Bravia KDL52XBR7 Price not set. dlink.journal-plaza. griffintechnology. hoover.S. which converts the data to USB signals.net©® www. verizon.com UNDER PRESSURE You won’t accidentally launch an application by brushing the Storm’s touchscreen. the change between frames doesn’t appear abrupt. Software on your computer streams files over Wi-Fi or Ethernet to the router.net & www.. Tiger Electronics U-Dance $80. The 8100T is the first unit to display terrain features all across the U.net©® POPSCI PICK OF THE MONTH . such as hills. D-Link DIR-825 $190. Navigon 8100T $600.freedowns. without having to hit specific parts of a dance mat. hasbro. navigon.net & www. BlackBerry Storm Price not set. The built-in lens on this case slides over the camera and enables it to take clear close-up shots— such as readable pics of business cards—from just four inches away. DANCE EVOLUTION This standalone videogame system lets you virtually boogie by stepping or sliding in any direction. This depresses the entire LCD against a button hidden underneath. Sensors alert you when the dirtywater tank needs to be emptied. Because images flash faster. A camera in the receiver tracks the movement of reflective tags that you strap on your feet.DANCE.com FASTER FRAMES This LCD prevents blurry motion scenes by refreshing images 240 times per second—twice as fast as any other set.com PLUG AND PRINT Connect a printer to this router’s USB port to send documents to it from another room.com AUTO WASH The first carpet cleaner with computerized controls begins dispensing water with the flick of a dial. Hoover Platinum Carpet Cleaner $400. It uses a built-in 3-D graphics chip to render topographic data provided by NASA.com www.journal-plaza. Griffin Clarifi $35. but finally there’s one that shows you an upcoming cliff.com READY FOR YOUR CLOSE-UP Improve your iPhone’s photos. valleys and drop-offs.freedowns.

com This device can oscillate different attachments at up to 20. stronger motors. with their bigger. perfect for cutting holes in drywall. copper coils fill the crescent-shaped slots on each side to provide maximum power.freedowns. The ring is typically a single piece of metal. Their answer: a motor that squeezes in extra copper to deliver 40 percent more power. Electric motors send current though copper coils embedded in a steel ring.net & www. and then slid into place. That’s why corded tools. The motor is now in two new half-inch drills and a handheld grinder. power matters—it lets them work faster and blow through knots. Use tiny triangular sanding pads for nooks and crannies or a miniature saw blade that will cut in places you could never cram a hacksaw. Copper coils are inserted through a gap into slots on each side of the ring. It’s part of an inexpensive set that includes an impact driver. eliminating the need for a gap and making room for more power-producing copper. The old design [far left] required leaving a gap where the coils were inserted.COM www.net©® www. 22 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI. $200. this tool pumps standard jig blades at 1. still reign for contractors.—Mike Haney A REDESIGNED MOTOR GIVES THIS DRILL A SERIOUS BOOST IN JUICE For guys on a job site drilling hundreds of holes a day. $150 (set). ryobitools.journal-plaza. boschtools. generating a magnetic field that IN RELATED NEWS: COOL CORDLESS TOOLS BOSCH MULTI-X RYOBI HYBRID SAW Like the love child of a recip and a jigsaw. compact drill.com STOP GAP In a crosscut of the new motor [foreground. DeWalt instead uses a four-piece steel ring and assembles it around larger coils.000 times a minute. but it could easily migrate to any tool that needs some extra kick. circular saw and work light.850 strokes per minute. right]. and why DeWalt challenged its engineers to deliver even more oomph. nails and other obstructions.WHAT’S NEW HOME TECH EXTREME CLOSE-UP EXTRA-POWER TOOL spins an electromagnetic rotor inside.net©® SATOSHI .freedowns.journal-plaza.net & www.

which fashion and fine-art photographers use to capture hyperdetailed images. which isn’t as accurate as looking right through the lens of an SLR.journal-plaza. you get the other benefits of an SLR in a compact package. combines the interchangeable lenses of an SLR with the compact body of a point-and-shoot.journal-plaza. Due out this summer. COURTESY LEICA. On the upside. especially in dim settings. en.net©® www. The G1’s 12. panasonic.COM www. COURTESY PANASONIC LITTLE SHOT A concept camera from Olympus squeezes the workings of an SLR into a pocket-sized body.THIS NEW DESIGN BORROWS FROM BOTH PRO CAMERAS AND POCKET MODELS The big news in cameras is actually pretty small. The first model. is about six times as large as a high-end point-and-shoot’s.freedowns.net©® . rugged body that’s as portable as an SLR. though smaller than most SLR’s. you’ll finally have room to pack all those lenses in your bag. the companies removed a key part of SLRs—the mirror that sits behind the lens and reflects images into the viewfinder.net & www. is about the size of the most petite SLRs but uses even smaller lenses.1-megapixel image sensor.net & www. Bigger sensors absorb more light to capture richer details and colors. Leica S2 Price not set.—Theano Nikitas IN RELATED NEWS: A HANDHELD PHOTO STUDIO Even SLRs are pups next to the big dogs known as medium-format cameras. Leica’s S2 packs a medium-format sensor (a 37. A chip with two computing cores processes the giant images. And the ability to change lenses lets you shoot anything from extreme close-ups to wide shots to a warped fish-eye view. Best of all. The downside is that you have to compose shots using an GET IT: Panasonic G1 $800 with lens.com 24 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI.com CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: COURTESY OLYMPUS. A design concept from Olympus shows the potential for more-diminutive future models. LCD screen.freedowns.leica-camera. To shrink the cameras.5-megapixel slab that’s one and a half times as large as the biggest SLR’s) into a compact. Panasonic’s G1. A new format with the wonky name “micro four thirds” (referring to the image sensor’s size and 4:3 aspect ratio).

WHAT’S NEW AUTO TECH MORE THAN SKIN-DEEP EXTREME CLOSE-UP INSIDE. bringing the car nearly an inch closer to the ground to provide more stability during high-speed turns. The change starts with a dual-clutch transmission.journal-plaza. a top speed of 178 mph and a 15 percent cut in carbon-dioxide emissions.journal-plaza. from sixth gear down to second at 60 mph—instantaneously. Switch from automatic to manual mode.—seth fletcher lights LEDs around the headlamps and tail lamps act as daytime running lights. What hasn’t changed? The 911 is still one of the most powerful cars on the planet.net©® www. Engine Direct fuel injection sends gasoline straight into the cylinders. taken straight from Porsche’s racecars.freedowns. 26 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI.freedowns. Suspension Select “Sport” mode. Porsche’s seven-speed gearbox essentially uses one transmission for the odd-numbered gears and one for the even-numbered.net©® COURTESY PORSCHE CARS NORTH AMERICA .net & www.COM www. that shifts gears in milliseconds. the other is already waiting in second. the company has finally added modern gadgetry such as Bluetooth. It’s bolted to a redesigned six-cylinder engine that uses direct fuel injection (a first for Porsche) to churn out higher horsepower while actually getting more miles per gallon. and the shocks compress. PORSCHE’S 911 IS A WHOLE NEW CAR Look through the 2009 Carrera S’s familiar skin. While one is in first gear.net & www. and XM Satellite Radio with real-time traffic updates. In the cockpit. That translates to a 0-to-60 time of 4. we pulled off brutal shifts—say. Transmission Like other double-clutch systems. and choose gears with either the shifter or the buttons on the steering wheel.5 seconds. On the track. and you’ll find the biggest redesign in years. increasing compression ratio and efficiency. an iPod cable.

just as with a traditional paper book. But its 4.net©® SATOSHI Weighing just 10 ounces. Sony’s new reader is about the same size as earlier versions.freedowns. which replace computer-like buttons.com .freedowns. Swipe the screen to turn a page. You can’t write freehand. that reacts to a magnetic signal from an electronic pen. placed under the screen.COM www.net©® www. Its E-Ink display sits on a plastic base instead of glass. lighter and more durable. the 1000S uses a sensor board. And with E-Ink displays that look like pigment on paper.6-inch screen packs resistive sensors that respond to pressure from your finger or a stylus. Their new realism comes from touchscreens of various kinds.com This spring. these gizmos could convert even die-hard bookworms. Like iRex’s smaller models (previously the only digital books with touchscreens).8-by-3. but you can make notes by tapping on a keyboard that pops up onscreen. which react to the electrical conductivity of your fingertips.net & www. even the transistors are plastic.journal-plaza.com Write or draw directly on a 6. $750.) Navigate pages with touch-sensitive panels on the unit’s side. sony.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper. (It’s the same Wacom tech that digital artists use. BEST TURNING A NEW PAGE The latest electronic readers let you scrawl in the margins or swipe your finger to turn a page. The touchscreen relies on iPhone-style capacitance sensors.—Sean Portnoy SCREEN SIZE: PAPERBACK SCREEN SIZE: HARDCOVER SCREEN SIZE: OFFICE PAPER 28 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI. or drag across a word to highlight and copy it.journal-plaza.net & www. Price not set. Plastic Logic will debut the thinnest e-reader yet—just over a quarter of an inch—with a screen the same size as an 8. irextechnologies. BETTER. $400. making it slimmer. plasticlogic.WHAT’S NEW GADGETS GOOD.3-by-8inch display.

COM www. like cutting and pasting text between programs or sending music through the Bluetooth chip to a wireless headset.net & www. Take Wikitude. Google’s cellphone operating system. It uses input from the camera. When we curse at our phones. meaning anyone is free to reprogram it and offer For Example Android also makes it easier to build complex applications that link programs and phone components.freedowns. providing a real-time. tmobile. the culprit is usually the impenetrable software that requires five button presses just to save a number to its address book.net & www.com 30 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI. from carriers and manufacturers including Sprint and Motorola. Other systems let you install programs such as games.WHAT’S NEW GADGETS PARADIGM SHIFT MAKE THIS PHONE YOUR OWN G1 in October and this year will power a variety of phones. But they don’t allow you to change the phone itself (like replacing the address book). which premiered with the T-Mobile Why It’s radical Unlike the Apple.journal-plaza.) improvements to other users through a download store called the Market. or how applications communicate with each other and with the phone’s hardware. THE “GOOGLE PHONE” IS HERE. like a program that links to your Facebook friends list instead? That’s the promise of Android. it turns it into a whole new kind of device. Android is open-source.journal-plaza.net©® www. But what if you could replace the address book with a better version—or with something completely different. That’s why iPhone owners are still waiting for Apple to add basic functions to the OS.—John Mahoney GET IT: T-Mobile G1 $180 with two-year contract (from $65/ month). (The latter has hired hundreds of Android programmers in the hope of reviving its foundering business.net©® SATOSHI . the GPS chip and orientation sensors to overlay links to Wikipedia articles about the places you see on the phone’s screen. That doesn’t just improve your phone.freedowns. NOW PROGRAMMERS CAN MAKE IT INTERESTING WHAT IT IS Android. BlackBerry and Microsoft phone operating systems. annotated view of the world.

advances and debates in science 34 ENVIRONMENT Vital signs expose bad guys in a crowd 36 Tesla’s new electric sedan 39 Turning old electronics into gold THE OTHER BIG MELTDOWN IS GLOBAL WARMING SHIFTING INTO HIGH GEAR? A FEDERAL PROJECT AIMS TO FIND OUT To predict the unpredictable: That’s the goal of a new government initiative on abrupt climate change.freedowns.journal-plaza.COM www.net & www.net©® .freedowns. JANUARY 2009 POPULAR SCIENCE 33 POPSCI.net©® www. Regional rain shortages could cause megadroughts that choke our water and food supply. which would dramatically raise sea levels and increase flood risk. IMPACTS will pinpoint the mechanisms that drive abrupt climate change and add them to the Community Climate System Model [continued on page 35] CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: MARCO SIMONI/GETTY IMAGES. six national laboratories and a host of universities are joining forces in a prediction project called IMPACTS (Investigation of the Magnitudes and Probabilities of Abrupt Climate Transitions).net & www. Ice sheets might not just melt but collapse wholesale.headlines discoveries. turning river basins into sheets of sand and contributing to the collapse of the agrarian Pueblo “cliff-dweller” civilization. Department of Energy. Scientists suspect that increased greenhouse gases may be forcing another shift. MIKE DICKBERND/AP PHOTO ON THE BRINK Experts warn that a rapid shift in climate could speed up ice loss. Reduced rainfall in the American Southwest could also set off severe drought not seen since the 1930s .S. William Collins. As the atmosphere reels under the influence of greenhouse gases. calls the possibility of abrupt climate change “a huge threat to the security and stability of our nation and the world. rapidly raising sea levels and flooding entire coastlines.journal-plaza. but no computer model is yet capable of forecasting if. MARSH ALBUM/NOAA. So with a $2-million-ayear investment by the U. Treering data show that sudden drying in the American West from 900 to 1400 induced one of the most tenacious megadroughts on record. Led by Collins. and how fast that shift might be happening. scientists fear the growing risk of dramatic environmental changes occurring within decades—far faster than current computer models predict. GEORGE E. when. head of the climate-science department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.” Earth is no stranger to the disruptive forces of sudden climate change.

cheeks and face.journal-plaza.net©® www. The system operates on the theory that a person planning a malicious attack will display measurable biological cues that expose him. that indicate malicious intent. visions of hydrogen sports cars occupy your mind. Department of Homeland Security hopes its new camera. Body language: Video cameras capture nonverbal behavioral cues.” Burns says. He plans to set off a bomb. scoring a promisingly high accuracy rate for picking out people with deceptive or hostile intent.S. the system’s multiple sensors. such as gestures and gait changes.freedowns. called Future Attribute Screening Technology. alerting security before he even enters the building. Eyes: Cameras detect slight alterations in pupil size.—Arnie Cooper Thermal camera A B C D FAST HAS YOU COVERED A. blink rate and direction of gaze. Not so for the well-dressed 25-year-old behind you. heart rate and sweat content betray his nefarious intentions and trigger alarms.freedowns. Lungs: BioLIDAR monitors the frequency and depth of respiration by tracking micro-movements in the neck. including more-conventional bomb detectors. should be able to discern between someone who’s an imminent threat and a person who’s just having a bad day.journal-plaza. the program manager for the DHS Science and Technology division.net & www. says Bob Burns.net & www. or FAST. Skin: Thermal cameras gauge changes in skin temperature and texture to determine stress levels. “For security reasons. Pheromones: Scientists are working on a sensor to detect the chemicals the body expels under stress. I’d rather not get into the nitty-gritty. That’s how the U.net©® GRAHAM MURDOCH . “We look for very specific signals.DEFENSE TECH SECURITY IN THE “FAST” LANE A NEW SYSTEM SCANS CROWDS FOR THE BIOLOGICAL CUES THAT PRECIPITATE CRIME As you make your way through the security checkpoint of the 2020 Los Angeles Auto Show.” he says. will work. What if you’re innocently nervous or angry? Working in concert. But minute irregularities in his body temperature. E. E 34 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www. D. speech patterns and even pheromone levels. B. Heart: A laser radar called BioLIDAR measures heart rate and changes in the interval between heartbeats. but notes that FAST aims to eventually be able to analyze pupil dilation. the DHS ran 140 volunteers through a scaled-down FAST prototype. In September.and sensor-based threat monitor. C.

COM POPULAR SCIENCE 35 www.” he says.” Given that one in 10 people worldwide live in low-elevation areas.” POPSCI. “you would have a problem in 100 years. During prolonged drought. an IMPACTS modeler at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. in part because the mechanism by which the sheets crumble is still unclear. a glaciologist at Penn State University and a leader in bringing attention to abrupt climate change. plant roots deprived of water cease to grow longer and tap deep groundwater.” says Richard Alley.” says Ruby Leung.freedowns. the national research focus has been to characterize trends in gradual warming and its long-term effects. The hope is that they’re shifting faster than the climate is. particularly in the West Antarctic.net©® www.HEADLINES Video camera CONTINUED FROM PAGE 33 (CCSM) (CCSM). “It’s like learning to drive. but changes in plant life could speed up and intensify the process. Then we learn about evasive maneuvers to avoid drunk drivers crossing the centerline. setting the stage for a megadrought. “At that rate. Accurate predictions won’t eliminate changes. History shows that sea levels are capable of rising 20 times as fast as the current rate of one tenth of an inch per year. one of the country’s two leading computer climate models. who is parsing recent field data on the mechanisms into icesheet equations for the CCSM. “The vegetation may actually die off.journal-plaza. Without plants to transport groundwater to the top layer of soil. Current models show that global warming will already make the American Southwest steadily drier. Another tipping point may be ice sheets.net & www. They’re disintegrating briskly. these are important numbers to know. but they might give us time to prepare. drought conditions could compound.net©® .” IMPACTS signals that priorities are shifting. Until recent years. “We generally start by trying to control the car. Megadrought is a high priority for IMPACTS.freedowns. says New York University oceanographer David Holland.net & www. but current computer models don’t take this into account.—Laura Allen BioLIDAR “ABRUPT CLIMATE CHANGE IS A HUGE THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY.journal-plaza.

net©® JOHN B. When we started Tesla in 2003.K. a spaceexploration company that made headlines last September when it launched the first privately developed rocket into orbit.000. But lately it’s Musk’s newly minted role as CEO of the U. It takes 60 kilowatt-hours to charge the Roadster’s battery.net & www. Elon Musk has it. Tesla received a $40-million cash infusion from private investors and announced that by 2011 it would 36 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 begin selling an electric sedan powered by lithium-ion batteries with an unthinkable 240-mile range. These days he’s chairman of Solar City. I’LL HAND IN MY PORSCHE. the largest residential solar-power provider in California. The cost difference between electric and gasoline is gigantic. CARNETT . and made in America.net & www. So at MAN AND MACHINE Elon Musk and his all-electric Tesla Roadster. it costs roughly $5 to go 250 miles. He’s also the founder and CEO of Space X. gasoline cars were really “toys for the rich.50. at $60.” WHY DOT-COM BILLIONAIRE ELON MUSK IS BANKING ON AMERICAN-MADE ELECTRIC CARS If there’s a gene for entrepreneurship. But gas cars are still more affordable. From his first project at age 12 creating and selling a videogame called Blaster for $500. You get an overwhelming advantage in both carbon emissions and energy per mile. gasoline was around $2.—ARNIE COOPER Can you be successful selling an alternative-fuel car now that gas prices have dipped below $3 a gallon? Absolutely.freedowns. the 37-year-old South African is every bit the born mogul. And we’re zero-emissions. to his $1-billion-plus sale of PayPal to eBay in 2002. currently seven cents a kilowatt-hour to charge at night. In October. California’s special rate for electric cars. u POPSCI. The typical electric motor is 90 percent more efficient at converting energy into motion than the internal combustion engine.net©® www. amid global financial tumult. in their early days.freedowns.HEADLINES WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA? “WHEN THE ELECTRICSEDAN COMES OUT. Today.journal-plaza.COM www. The Model S won’t overtake Tesla’s 125mph Roadster. We spoke with Musk about his push to make affordable high-perfomance electric cars and why hybrids have no future.journal-plaza.” All technology gets optimized.-based electric-car start-up Tesla Motors that is drawing the most attention. but it will be nearly half the price. Remember.

000 Model S cars out annually? A: For the Roadster. we already have the powertrain in a rolling prototype. to mid-2011. I have the Roadster and a Porsche Turbo.freedowns. drive your car onto rails that lock your car into position like at a car wash.0/5). but we can’t conserve our way to a solution.net©® www. the car will also have onboard chargers that let you plug into any wall socket and charge up in 45 minutes. We have to find sustainable means of producing and consuming energy.0/&:#"$. you have something that’s neither fish nor fowl. pull it out.HEADLINES WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA? CONT’D Q: Why not go hybrid? A: We looked closely at developing a hybrid. you have an underpowered gasoline engine or a weak electric car. How do you plan to get 15.freedowns. And once you’ve used up the electric charge.1QMBZFSBOEVTF3PTFUUB4UPOFPOUIFHP www. you’re going to make a better car.journal-plaza. With the sedan.net & www. Q: Tesla has delivered only 50 Roadsters. I’ll hand in the Porsche. p UNDER WRAPS A sneak peek at the Tesla Model S t PVMMFYQFSJFODF : BTZPVNBUDISFBMXPSMEJNBHFTUPXPSETTQPLFOCZ OBUJWFTQFBLFSTTPZPVMMGJOEZPVSTFMGFOHBHFE BOEMFBSOZPVSTFDPOEMBOHVBHFMJLFZPV t VSQSPQSJFUBSZ 0 FWBMVBUFTZPVSTQFFDIBOEDPBDIFT ZPVPONPSFBDDVSBUFQSPOVODJBUJPO:PVMMTQFBLOBUVSBMMZ t OEPOMZ3PTFUUB4UPOFIBT " OFFEJUNPTU GPSNPSFFGGFDUJWFQSPHSFTT UIBUCSJOHTCBDLNBUFSJBMUPIFMQZPVXIFSFZPV 4*9. As soon as you try to split the difference. Waste is not good. That said. I think it leads to a very constrained life. A Prius is a weak gasoline car with a little bit of electric charge. 1MVT 3PTFUUB4UPOFOPXPGGFST"VEJP$PNQBOJPO UPIFMQZPVNBLFFWFOGBTUFSQSPHSFTT4JNQMZ EPXOMPBEUIF$%TUPZPVSBVEJPPS.net©® ALAN LEVENSON . it would just delay the inevitable. and a customized forklift device will grab the pack from beneath the car.net & www. but we decided it’s a red herring. But once the sedan comes out. It’ll take roughly five minutes—less time than filling your gas tank. we made a few architectural errors and lots of mistakes in our choice of suppliers. If everyone were a super-green conservationist. so there’s much less uncertainty around the technology.journal-plaza. and replace it with another pack. Q: How will drivers recharge the battery pack in the Model S? A: You’ll head to a battery-swap station. Would you say you live a green lifestyle? A: I’m not too hardcore about being green. Q: You run a green company. If you stay purely electric or purely gasoline. And we were developing the first version of a new technology. the recent economic situation has forced us to push back production six months. For a high-speed recharge.

Inoue is now in talks with companies looking for an inexpensive alternative to metals mining.freedowns. and = OLD ELECTRONICS burning the plastic to free up the metal. making the paper three times as GOLD MINE effective at recapturing gold from the acid.JOH-BTFS XXXFQJMPHMBTFSDPNQPQTDJIUN www.net & www. scooping up gold with nonbiodegradable plastic resins and films. extracts metal from the acid soup using newspapers.net©® www.THE EQUATION MINING LANDFILLS A SMARTER WAY TO PULL PRECIOUS METALS FROM TRASHED ELECTRONICS FROM LEFT: NARVIKK/ ISTOCK. Katsutoshi Inoue. but this requires less energy and emits less carbon and other noxious gases into the atmosphere than burning plastic. “mining” for discarded cellphones and computers. Looking for a cleaner way to recycle the metals. Then he laces it with a chemical that binds tightly to metals. ISTOCK + NEWSPAPER Instead of sifting mountain streams for gold.net & www. Electronics contain valuable metals.net©® . First he grinds the paper into a powder. a chemist at Saga University in Japan. modern-day prospectors hit the landfills. like gold.journal-plaza.journal-plaza.freedowns. You still have to burn the paper to get the metal. But reclaiming the treasure requires melting circuit boards in acid. FREUDENTHAL VERHAGEN/GETTY IMAGES.—GRAEME STEMP-MORLOCK 5IF"MM/FX .

but unlike other electric cars. You know that saying about frying an egg on ELECTRIC ASPHALT 3 BODACIOUS GREEN INNOVATIONS GREEN RACER The i MiEV Sport will do 122 mph and get 124 miles on a single charge. Mitsubishi is now fleet-testing the four-door in the U. an engineer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who studies the effect of solar radiation on cities.5 kilowatts of electricity to make 1.000 system to pay for itself in energy savings in a decade.000square-foot parking lot near Worcester. Cube is the first desalinator made by Spectra to run on renewable energy. next summer. PLUG-N-PLAY CARS Zero to 60 mph in about nine seconds may sound sluggish. The i MiEV runs on a pack of 22 lithium-ion batteries.journal-plaza.freedowns.net©® CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: ISTOCK. he expects the $200. COURTESY MITSUBISHI MOTORS NORTH AMERICA (2) . and an interior made from polymer-producing plants.net©® www. and will sell a DRIVER’S SEAT Look for Mitsubishi’s $28. That’s the claim of the i MiEV (for “Mitsubishi Innovative motor Electric Vehicle”). “Proprietary metals in the battery design let us do away with it.net & www. COURTESY SPECTRA.journal-plaza. 40 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI. the i MiEV doesn’t require a liquid cooling system to avoid overheating. Solar Cubes are now bringing freshwater to remote regions of South Africa. says Rajib Mallick. all-electric car that can travel up to 100 miles on a single charge and hit speeds of 85 mph.000 gallons of freshwater. As the water circulates. including the Chevy Volt and Tesla Roadster. but a standalone desalinator needs 17 gallons of diesel fuel and 66. churns out 1.S.000 model in Japan this lineup to start incorporating the i MiEV’s summer. the communications manager for Mitsubishi Motors North America. SOLAR SOLUTION The Solar The Solar Cube. heatdeflecting windows to save AC. it pulls heat from the scorching surface and produces steam to drive a turbine that cranks out electricity. Chile and other places short on infrastructure and electricity. the sportier version will have a rootop photovoltaic panel for extra power. a new plug-in four-door coupe.COM www. By supplying electricity to the adjacent buildings. Watermakers in California.500 gallons of drinking water on just 22 kilowatts of its own solar and wind power. but it’s a breakthrough for a zero-emissions.freedowns. Pakistan. Mallick is partnering with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and the optics firm Novotech to install a full-scale system beneath a 10. a hot sidewalk? It works. Venezuela. His system pumps water—an excellent heat conductor—through a network of copper pipes embedded in asphalt.” says Moe Durand.—Michael Behar energy-saving windows and interior. This makes the i MiEV lighter and more efficient.HEADLINES SUNNY SIDE UP A new type of asphalt converts the sun’s rays into electricity. The innovation is a pump that triples efficiency by recapturing hydraulic pressure during the filtering process. rear-mounted electric motor—gives it plenty of zip and extended range. The company is also developing a two-door i MiEV Sport [above] with a planned top speed of 122 mph and a 124-mile range. Massachusetts.net & www. which—combined with a small. SMART WATER Making seawater drinkable for the millions without access to freshwater is a noble idea. Now Mallick has devised a way to harness heat from baking blacktop and turn it into electricity. Still a concept.

net©® www.net & www.net & www.freedowns.net©® .journal-plaza.journal-plaza.tomorrow’s technology today www.freedowns.

supersonic stealth bomber that can relieve the B-2 of duty. though. assisted by midair refuelings. a mid-range stealth aircraft set to arrive in 2018. which is why it wants to build about 100 aircraft like the one you see here: the Next Generation Bomber. take out targets using laser-guided smart munitions. u POPSCI. set to arrive in 2018.freedowns.freedowns. seen here. has a kite-like shape similar to the company’s X-47B Navy attack drone.BOMB SQUAD A Boeing–Lockheed Martin coalition is competing with Northrop Grumman to build the Next Generation Bomber. Northrop’s concept. the Air Force’s stealth-bomber fleet is aging. THE AIR FORCE WANTS A NEW BOMBER EQUIPPED WITH 21ST-CENTURY TECHNOLOGY. then sneak out of enemy territory undetected. not so much.net & www.journal-plaza. the military needs a stopgap.journal-plaza. the Air Force plans to build a large. By 2037. Yet it runs on Intel 286 processors—state of the art in 1982.net©® . Yes. In the meantime.net & www.net©® www. but these days. can fly a 44-hour mission to the other side of the world. THAT COULD MEAN STEALTHIER SURFACE MATERIALS AND LASER WEAPONS—AND IT MIGHT EVEN SKIP THE PILOT BY DAWN STOVER ILLUSTRATIONS BY NICK KALOTERAKIS The B-2 stealth bomber.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 43 www.

Boeing and Lockheed are currently working together on a design for the bomber. The bomber will use the same bat-wing shape of a B-2. drones and guided missiles will travel in formation around the bomber.net©® .PILOT LIGHT? Boeing has said that it is “agnostic” about whether the bomber will be manned or unmanned. The Air Force won’t announce the full list of final specifications for the new plane until later this year.net & www. The new craft could also have a major defensive advantage over today’s bombers— fighter-jet capabilities drawn from the F-22 Raptor. but the basics are clear. If necessary.journal-plaza. Possible onboard microwaves or laser weapons could destroy incoming missiles or radar stations on the ground. while carrying between 14.000 pounds of payload. The B-2 uses a rubbery skin that contains tiny beads coated with ferrite. which means no tail to reflect radar signals. possibly including nuclear weapons. And unlike today’s stealth bombers. Then there’s the plane’s surface. LOW PROFILE The Next Generation Bomber could have a radar signature one tenth that of a mosquito thanks to sleek lines that don’t reflect radar signals.000 and 28.) Advanced computer modeling will make it possible to design shapes (sure to be kept classified) that can disappear even more effectively from radar screens.freedowns.000 miles before refueling from an airborne tanker. The most intriguing possibility of all. radar waves induce a magnetic field in the coating that converts the radio energy to heat. OFFENSE AND DEFENSE Heavy munitions can take out buried or hardened targets such as bunkers and weapons caches. The bomber will carry 14.freedowns. this coating is fragile and easily damaged by bad weather. though. Air-to-air missiles would defend the bomber from attacking aircraft. the bomber could fly at the center of a protective “wolf pack”.net & www.000 to 28. the new craft could carry air-to-air missiles for self-defense. is the persistent rumor that the Next Generation Bomber is actually cover www. Doing away with a pilot would extend the potential length of missions—but a robot plane filled with nuclear warheads is sure to raise eyebrows among lawmakers.journal-plaza. The Next Generation Bomber will have a radar-absorbent coating that can withstand rough flight conditions. organizing automatically by sending signals to one another using radar and satellites.net©® www. The problem is. this group of fighter jets. This should be a subsonic craft capable of flying up to 2. and improvements in two key areas—surface design and surface coating— could give the new bomber a radar signature as small as one tenth that of a mosquito. in competition with Northrop Grumman. it could even fly at the center of a “wolf pack” that includes fighter planes and guided missiles. 44 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 (Today’s stealth bombers are believed to appear on radar screens as being about the size of a small bird. For particularly dangerous missions in which stealth is less of a concern.000 pounds of ordnance.

COM POPULAR SCIENCE 45 www. today’s bomber fleet The Air Force’s current bomber fleet consists of the three planes shown here— the B-52. Aviation Week laid out the case: Funding for the Next Generation Bomber is nowhere to be found in the most recent Air Force budget. many experts believe that the black bomber rumored to be under development at Northrop is an unmanned aircraft derived from both the X-47 and the B-2—like. “Without a pilot. Northrop. it’s one thing to have a small unmanned plane carry conventional bombs and missiles but quite another to load up a robot plane with 28.freedowns. POPSCI. GETTY IMAGES (2) unmanned planes in Iraq. The supersonic B-1B was designed as a low-altitude.000 smaller drones have been successfully used for reconnaissance and air strikes. and loiter longer without refueling. an unmanned variation on the Next Generation Bomber. bomber fleet. The B-2. Its speed makes it less vulnerable to attack than the comparatively clunky B-52. slender wings. say. As a recent congressional report put it.S. More than half are aging B-52s. The B-1B flies faster than the 2018 bomber and carries only non-nuclear weapons. a Navy demonstrator drone that will fly later this year.net©® www. more recently won the contract to build the X-47B.journal-plaza.” says John Pike. AIR FORCE. but it’s not as stealthy as the B-2. All three have a greater range and payload than is planned for the 2018 bomber. Why would the Air Force prefer to skip the pilot? Simple: An unmanned craft would be smaller. That said. which built the B-2. highspeed bomber. The 2018 bomber will be akin to a mini B-2: smaller.CONCEPTS & PROTOTYPES BOEING’S BOMBER Preliminary designs for the Boeing-Lockheed bomber show a large center section. The plane’s belly is deep enough for a large weapons bay. This year marks the first time in history that the Air Force will buy more unmanned planes than manned ones. some as old as 50. director of the Virginia-based think tank GlobalSecurity.freedowns. you can remain over the target area for days at a time. B-1B and B-2. which can carry nuclear or conventional weapons. no wonder it’s keeping it a secret.S. “You’ve always got air power on call. is today’s only stealth bomber. and slit-like air inlets for the engines. yet financial results released by Northrop last April show $2 billion in new “classified programs” at the company’s aircraft division. It can carry a wider range of weapons. for a secret “black” program to develop an unmanned nuclear-capable bomber. Last spring. stealthier. For Boeing’s part. cheaper. than any other bomber. long.net©® .net & www.journal-plaza. Dawn Stover is POPULAR SCIENCE’s editor-at-large. where more than 1. The B-52 has more than four times the range of the 2018 bomber. but the new bomber is expected to be stealthier and more combat-capable.” Pike says the Air Force “got religion” about FROM TOP: AP PHOTO/U. told the Seattle Times last January that his company was “agnostic” about whether the plane would be manned or unmanned. If this is what the Air Force has in mind.org. Because the company had previously proposed building a bigger version of the X-47. and equipped with newer computers and communications systems that make it easier to change missions on the fly. with an average age of more than 45 years. its president of advanced systems. a nuclear-equipped robot bomber is likely to be controversial at best.net & www. and have almost unlimited endurance. Darryl Davis. The B-52 is the old workhorse of the U.000 pounds of nuclear weapons.

they surveyed too few people. The radiation they emit has too little energy to cause genetic damage. the study found no discernable risk for people who have used cellphones for fewer than 10 years.net©® www. the world’s three billion cellphone users might want to dial back their talk time. That’s not to say that the study is perfect. Additionally. THE CELLPHONE-CANCER LINK. the majority of studies focused on the effects of cellphone use after several years. Norway. WE GIVE YOU A PEEK AT WHAT PROMISES TO BE A REVELATORY YEAR OF SCIENCE LAST CALL? THE MOST DEFINITIVE STUDY YET COULD FINALLY DETERMINE WHETHER CELLPHONE USE CAUSES CANCER Nearly five decades ago. when scientists announce the results from Interphone. And a joint Interphone analysis from the U.”—Melinda Wenner SCIENTISTS FOUND THAT REGULAR USERS ARE MORE LIKELY TO DEVELOP BRAIN TUMORS. who ran the Israeli Interphone study: “We know that there are car accidents.400 tumors sampled from patients in 13 countries. And what happens if Interphone reveals a definite link between cellphones and cancer? Will we find ourselves dependent on land lines again? Unlikely. No one yet knows specifically how cellphones could cause cancer. If the final results mirror the preliminary ones. we could get more scary news. But there’s no consensus on these theories. and the Natural History Museum in London will offer the grandest celebrations. Interphone researchers are pooling and analyzing the results gathered from studies on 6. one thing. Interphone defines “regular” use as one call. This year. BIG BUCKS FOR X PRIZE WINNERS? HERE. January A Year of Stars ILLUSTRATION: PIXELGARDEN. but in most cases brain cancer takes a decade to develop. right? We’ve just learned how to do it wisely. the largest-ever study to investigate whether cellphones cause cancer.and long-term use. An answer from Interphone is crucial for public health. Denmark.SCIENCE OF ’09 PopSci PREDICTS AIRBORNE LASERS.freedowns. Sweden and Finland reported a 40 percent increase in tumor risk in people who use cellphones for more than a decade. but some scientists believe that it may have indirect effects that cause cells to proliferate uncontrollably.net©® .COM FEBRUARY 12 Darwin’s Birthday Bash Charles Darwin.journal-plaza. keeping the spectrum open for other telecommunication uses. are looking to Interphone for a definitive ruling on cellphone safety but have expressed frustration over the twoyears-delayed results. once a week. the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany. such as emergency broadcasts and wireless broadband. the man who brought you the theory of evolution by natural selection. most have been statistically useless. was born 200 years ago.net & www. Unesco has designated 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy to highlight the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of the telescope to make astronomical observations.net & www. The technology is probably here to stay. It’s possible that this definition underestimates the risk to people who use cellphones more frequently. Although a handful of studies have been published on cellphones over the past few years. England.freedowns. His hometown of Shrewsbury. Interphone looks at the influence of both short.journal-plaza. FEBRUARY 17 TV Goes to All-Digital Television stations switch to digital signals to broadcast their current channels.. and we still use vehicles.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 47 www. Israeli researchers participating in Interphone found that people who use cellphones regularly are 50 percent more likely than non-users to develop brain tumors. For HEAD-SICK Cancerrelated brain tumors (yellow-ringed areas) can take up to a decade to develop. Scientists like David Carpenter. POPSCI. Carpenter says. says Siegal Sadetzki. Americans learned that one of their most treasured habits—smoking—was lethal.K. who spoke about cellphone risks at a Congressional subcommittee hearing in September.

NASA’s orbiting Kepler telescope will begin a threeyear effort to scour distant space for more planets like Gliese 581 c. thousands of Earth doppelgängers may be lurking in the cosmic distance. he adds.net & www. it could be because a planet is crossing in front of it. lots and lots of ‘Earths’ in habitable zones. harboring life of their own. Instead it will hunt for them based on how they affect the stars they orbit.journal-plaza. Cryosat-2 Starting in November. just maybe.net©® CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: COURTESY KEPLER MISSION/NASA AMES RESEARCH CENTER. If a star dims once. Afterward. orbiting stars just like our sun and maybe.000mile views in all directions. I SPY The Kepler telescope has a 4. Kepler won’t look for them directly—Earth-like planets are too small to see even with the best telescopes.freedowns. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: LIVING ART ENTERPRISES/PHOTO RESEARCHERS. February Hubble Repair Astronauts will install two new instruments and repair two inactive ones in five six-and-ahalf-hour spacewalks during the Hubble Space Telescope’s final servicing mission. observing how the region’s 170. the wing of the swan-shaped constellation Cygnus. Star Trek (May 8). Disappointingly. NASA expects at least another five years of stunning images from the Hubble. or it could just be a sunspot. a planet must be orbiting it. EVERETT COLLECTION. In fact. the mission won’t tell us whether any planets are teeming with little green men. “a foundation upon which mankind will find its place in the universe. Kepler is a stepping-stone. CERN. CLOSER TO HOME SpaceShipTwo The first flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo could take six customers to 360. It will look for small.000-odd stars change over time.“if we find. Switzerland. then there is probably lots and lots of life in space. measuring the thickness of polar ice caps. the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN lab near Geneva. Terminator Salvation (May 22) and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen (June 26). TOM SCHIERLITZ/GETTY IMAGES.net©® www. Although telescopes have identified more than 300 planets outside our solar system. launching in November.w. 48 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 Spring Sci-Fi Sequels Techies will flock to theaters with the release of Watchmen (March 6). the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 interferometric-radar satellite will circle the planet. it should be able to study galaxies even farther away and in three different spectra: nearultraviolet.” With evidence in hand. most of them are too harsh to host life. This April. MEANWHILE. One notable exception to the typical “hot Jupiter” model is a rocky Earth-like planet discovered in 2007. NASA’s Glory satellite will launch to help predict future climate change by gauging the magnitude of the sun’s energy and studying atmospheric aerosols.000 feet and offer them weightlessness and 1. Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer The infrared telescope of the WISE satellite. NASA will no doubt set out to find it.journal-plaza. rocky planets orbiting distant stars.” says principal investigator William Borucki.freedowns.—M.—M. www. PRECEDING PAGE.5-foot-wide mirror. But. will scan space for brown dwarfs and super-luminous galaxies.PopSci PREDICTS SCIENCE IN ’09 Earth’s twin could be waiting for us hundreds of light-years away. LOOK FOR THESE NOTABLE LAUNCHES TO EARTH-ORBIT THIS YEAR Glory In June. visible and near-infrared.net & www. But if a star dims several times.W. will start operations again. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (May 1). as we expect to. The Kepler telescope will focus on one small slice of our galaxy. dubbed Gliese 581 c. and the same amount of time passes between each dimming event. COURTESY HITACHI . Spring LHC Restart Having recovered from an electrical mishap that led to helium leaks and mechanical damage last September. ISTOCK COSMIC HOUSE-HUNTING NEW ORBITING OBSERVATORY WILL SEARCH FOR EARTH-LIKE PLANETS .

The rocket contains two stages: a reusable solid rocket booster and an engine powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.net©® www.journal-plaza. Jr. NASA’s planned crew vehicle. more powerful and smaller prototype.journal-plaza. It can travel up to 28 mph and cruise at an elevation of 27.net & www.net©® . When a missile’s smoke trail from burning propellant sets off the 747’s sensors. making it capable of ferrying either six astronauts to the International Space Station or four astronauts to low-Earth orbit. The Elantra LPI (Liquefied Petroleum Injected) HEV emits 90 percent fewer emissions than an equivalent standard gasolinepowered Elantra. COURTESY HYUNDAI MOTOR CO. Launching on April 24. To find that carbon. life’s most common building block. the Missile Defense Agency’s Airborne Laser (ABL) will make its first real-world attempt to shoot down a missile in midair.w. usually its fuel tank.freedowns. the ABL program director for the Missile Defense Agency. AIRBORNE LASER BLASTS OFF ANTI-BALLISTIC-MISSILE PLANE GETS FIRST TEST Should they cast their eyes skyward at just the right moment.—M. HEAVY LIFTER NASA TEST-DRIVES A NEW ROCKET NASA will fire up its latest rocket this April for its first test flight. where they can transfer to another vehicle and head to the moon. expected in 2013. Spring Solar Airplane Test Flights Solar Impulse. Summer South Korea’s First Space Launch South Korea’s Korea Launch Vehicle System (KLVS-1) will end that country’s dependence on other nations to power its ventures into space. If all goes well with Orion.freedowns. SOLAR IMPULSE/EPFL/CLAUDIO LEONARDI THIS YEAR’S MOST POPULAR DESTINATIONS FOR UNMANNED LANDERS Mars Science Laboratory Launching in the fall. further flight tests will help refine the technology for use in a second. the LRO will map out the moon’s surface and home in on the poles. July Lithium-Polymer Batteries Now in Cars Hyundai will release the first car in the world to use lithium-polymer rechargeable batteries. It’s no simple feat: Robert McMurry. The ABL uses a chemical reaction to generate a megawatt of infrared laser light. the first plane to be powered by solar energy and to take off under its own power.—M. Then the main laser fires away. compares the challenge to “flying over the Washington Monument while shooting through a basketball hoop in Central Park. a few lucky observers could see something spectacular this summer: a Boeing 747 splitting open a ballistic missile with a laser in mid-flight.net & www.. this research rover will collect and examine Martian soil and rock samples for traces of carbon. will undergo test flights. After 12 years and $5 billion in R&D. Ares 1 will be whisking the first crews into space by 2015. COURTESY BOB FERGUSON/USAF/BOEING. ChemCam will fire lasers at the ground and analyze the vapor produced by the impact. where scientists believe there could be water. NASA.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 49 www. POPSCI. a tracking laser locks onto the target’s most vulnerable spot.” If this summer’s demonstration is successful.w.900 feet because its cabin is not pressurized..—Melinda Dodd Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter NASA is going back to the moon— after the LRO finds astronauts a good place to land. Ares 1 is designed to haul a 25-ton payload.BEYOND EARTH CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: COURTESY MSFC/NASA.

What opportunities will President Barack Obama’s administration have to bridge the divide?—Corey Binns THE ISSUE: 281 threatened species have not been given protection. feds aim to save ecosystems A new approach used by conservation biologists at the U.journal-plaza. LIGHTS OUT ENERGY-EFFICIENT TECH On March 1.freedowns.—a. such as agricultural runoff. a metal-semiconductor hybrid.journal-plaza. that affect not just single species but entire ecosystems. The new administration faces lawsuits asking it to review cases in which political interference may have played a role in withholding protection and critical habitat. WHAT NEXT? Look for American participation in international negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol’s successor. scientists demonstrated the first visiblelight metamaterial.net©® . 55 or 65 mph. Studies will try to establish why they’re so scarce and will combine traditional visible-light astronomy with x-ray emissions from star clusters. up from 360 in 2000. losing the rest as radiant heat. WHAT NEXT? Let science.net & www. and sound a chime when the driver is not wearing a seatbelt or the car exceeds 45.freedowns. not politics. which converts only between 5 and 10 percent of electricity into light. POLITICAL SCIENCE Endangered species THE HOT-BUTTON RESEARCH ISSUES FACING THE NEW ADMINISTRATION Over the past eight years. (Compare this with the 40 percent elusive black hole captured Next year. Summer Nanny State Arrives in Vehicles Ford’s MyKey technology. Stores there will no longer carry the century-old technology. limit stereo volume. THE ISSUE: A grandiose 2015 moon mission has been given no money. the Republic of Ireland becomes the first democratic country in the world to ban the traditional incandescent lightbulb. researchers at Yale University discovered organelles called melanosomes on a 100-millionyear-old dino feather.S. The Orion crew vehicle is behind schedule and over budget. WHAT NEXT? Fund the moon initiative or kill it outright. which will debut in the 2010 Focus compact car. the rift between the scientific community and the federal agencies that govern it has deepened. and for automobile fuel-economy standards to be raised. Mitsubishi and Mini [right] plan to introduce their own plug-in hybrid electric-car models this year. 50 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 Fall Near-Endless Power Fuel-cell manufacturer MTI Micro will release a methanol fuel cell offering 2.net©® www. Mission: Invisible Last year.net & www. allows parents to restrict their teenager’s top speed to 80 mph. www. Fall Electric Cars to Market Subaru. Fish and Wildlife Service highlights environmental trends to direct rescue funds toward bigger-picture causes. metamaterials that work with radio frequencies could improve cellphone reception. paving the way to an “invisibility cloak. dictate policy. a method that can cause the cells to become cancerous.” Meanwhile. This year they will examine the shape and concentration of the melanosomes to determine the original colors of winged dinosaurs. methanol cells lose only some 15 percent.700 hours of continuous run time. This year’s goal: Replace viruses with chemicals that can do the job safely. Whereas lithium-ion laptop batteries lose about half their charging capacity after two years. Climate change THE ISSUE: Carbon-dioxide levels are at 385 ppm.PopSci PREDICTS SCIENCE IN ’09 PREDICTING THE HEADLINES dinosaurs’ true colors revealed Last year.s. which will probably push the space shuttle to continue flying even further past its retirement age. Space exploration stem-cell science gets rebooted Several groups have reprogrammed adult skin cells to behave like embryonic stem cells using genes ferried by viruses. astronomers will look into the heavens for evidence of the rare medium-size black hole.

000°F. requires 20 percent less fuel than other planes its size. The sunlight heats DIMS EDISON’S BRIGHT IDEA efficiency of compact fluorescent bulbs. Wales As part of the U. population 11. The 980-footlong device captures waves in basins.000. BMW NORTH AMERICA . enough to supply energy to the entire community. PHANIE/PHOTO RESEARCHERS.freedowns.RIDING THE WAVES The Wave Dragon will be moored off Wales.journal-plaza. water inside the boiler’s pipes to temperatures above 1. research Funding THE ISSUE: National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health budgets are in decline.000 in 2010. By 2011. albeit more slowly. “but they will have a minimum efficiency level they’ll need to meet. When the water rushes back into the sea.net & www. THE BIGGEST RENEWABLE-ENERGY PROJECTS OF 2009 Offshore Wind Hull. TREE HUGGER The wolverine is slated for protected status. it spins turbines. The U. Massachusetts This resort town.net©® www. The Dreamliner has been Boeing’s most popular program because the craft.”—C. the plant will produce its first 100 megawatts. WHAT NEXT? The new administration could end federal restrictions. Late Year 1. POWERED BY SUN. construction begins on a five-squaremile stretch of heliostats.net©® CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: JAMES WARWICK/GETTY IMAGES. Additionally. which uses composite materials for most of the plane’s body. California This fall. “Incandescents aren’t going away.000 human genomes this year and an additional 20.’s goal of running on 10 percent renewable energy by 2010.000 Human Genomes After sequencing its first human genome last July. is making the switch too. energy and agricultural innovation. the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative will continue to generate $300 million annually for 10 years.K. hardware stores will stock shelves with compact fluorescents. stifling key research.BIZ.—C. opening up the coffers. Californiabased Complete Genomics plans to map 1. the world’s largest wave-energy generator. plans to moor four 260-foot-tall turbines a mile and a half offshore. WHAT NEXT? Anyone’s guess. Solar Farms Mojave Desert. In the interim. creating steam that generates electricity in a nearby turbine. POPSCI.freedowns. WIND AND SEA Stem cells THE ISSUE: Stem-cell research is hampered by a federal funding ban. this summer Wales will install a Wave Dragon converter. Along with Hull’s two existing onshore turbines. at a total cost of $40 million.” says Peter Banwell of the Environmental Protection Agency. By 2014. private foundations could fund medical. most lightbulbs will be 30 percent more efficient than those currently available.) In its place.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 51 www.S. Wave Power Pembrokeshire. wind power could generate 14 megawatts. Late Year Dreamliner to First Customers Boeing plans to finally start supplying more than 60 airlines with the Dreamliners they’ve ordered.journal-plaza. producing seven megawatts of electricity.B.B.net & www. small moveable mirrors that follow the sun’s rays and reflect them onto a boiler on top of a central tower. halogens and LEDs. COURTESY EARTH-VISION.

journal-plaza.—Amanda Schupak ECO-SPEEDSTER The three-wheeled Fuel Vapor is an Automotive X Prize contender. is the final governmentlevel meeting for developing a new international climate policy—a Copenhagen Protocol— before its predecessor.PopSci PREDICTS SCIENCE IN ’09 SHOW ME THE MONEY GET PAID FOR YOUR BRILLIANT.net©® www. by early this year and intends to have all Rwandan schools networked by 2013. after South Africa.freedowns.400 miles of fiber-optic cable. Spaceward Space Elevator Games PURSE: $4 million GOAL: $2 million for a laser-powered climber. Denmark. SHIZUO KAMBAYASHI. The California company Scaled Composites won the $10-million Ansari X Prize in 2004 for its trips to suborbital space on SpaceShipOne.—Greg Soltis 52 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www. and send images back to Earth STATUS: Teams hope to sign launch contracts this year with either a foreign space agency or a private company like SpaceX. The Rwandan government will also buy 50. RYAN MCVAY/GETTY IMAGES. And in 2007. a tinkering man’s guide to getting rich this year and beyond.freedowns.net & www.journal-plaza. Carnegie Mellon University won the $2-million Darpa Urban Challenge. Archon X Prize for Genomics PURSE: $10 million GOAL: Sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days for $10. google lunar x prize PURSE: $30 million GOAL: Land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. Here. ISTOCK.000 XO laptops.net©® PRECEDING PAGES LEFT. This year we could see big payouts for innovations in genomics and technology to be used to build the space elevator. It will be the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to have a strong Internet infrastructure. cancer research and affordable health care. Dozens of smaller competitions are promising impressive bundles in exchange for breakthroughs in alternative aviation fuels. WORLDSAVING INVENTIONS Nothing inspires innovation like a seven-figure check. Rwanda will have laid more than 1. Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize PURSE: $10 million GOAL: $7. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: COURTESY JAKOB VINTHER/YALE UNIVERSITY.net & www. $2 million for the strongest two-meter tether COMPETITION: Three teams have a shot at winning the $2million purse this year for powering climbers one kilometer into the air using an eight-kilowatt laser on the ground. most efficient cars move on to the next leg of the race. December Copenhagen Climate Conference The Framework Convention on Climate Change that the United Nations will host in Copenhagen. DAVID M. a feat that all but launched the private space industry. which is why more and more private and government sources are offering big money for creative technologies—and plenty of Americans are rising to the challenge. securing a rocket ride for their moon rovers. expires in 2012. End of Year Rwanda and Computing By the end of the year. Pick a field and prepare to quit your day job. The fastest. DARRYL LENIUK/GETTY IMAGES . rove 500 meters. created for children in developing countries. the 15-year-old Kyoto Protocol.000 per genome or less STATUS: ZS Genetics.5 million for a commercially viable vehicle that gets the equivalent of 100 mpg over 200 miles STATUS: The first stage of a cross-country race takes place in New York City in September. is a favorite to win. PHILLIPS/PHOTO RESEARCHERS. which is developing an approach that replaces fluorescent tagging with decodable electronmicroscope images of DNA. NASA HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE COLLECTION. And expect more challenges to be announced. bringing us one step closer to a world in which cars drive themselves.

which stunts rice growth. but its resilience intrigued him. you’ll probably hear the words “cap and trade” being tossed around. The advance is urgently needed. MEDICAL KILLERS PHILIP BLENKINSOP/GETTY IMAGES.net & www. Laos. “We anticipate adoption wherever submergence is a regular problem.b. If the rice is a success. Advances in biotechnology have improved this ancient grain. multiple typhoons wiped out rice paddies in Vietnam. FROM TOP: COURTESY X PRIZE FOUNDATION (2). rice with a gene that resists flooding during the sensitive germination stage (something the Sub1 genes can’t do).net©® www. as well as the developed. To create the final rice strain. a senior scientist with Manila’s International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The IRRI has already made its rice seed available to other research institutions and has been distributing it to Asian farmers for free. better-tasting Indian rice variety. In 2007. the price should rival that of common varieties. In the first and most controversial stage of setting up a cap-and-trade system. following Indonesia. or buy in auctions.journal-plaza.RAINYDAY RICE ASIAN FARMERS WILL GET A DISASTERPROOF VERSION OF AN ESSENTIAL CROP After years of testing in muddy fields. To pinpoint the part of the rice genome carrying the trait. These new varieties last eight to 18 days. submerged rice survives just four days when deprived of light and oxygen. JOHN MACNEILL. Farmers stopped using the strain because of its poor yield. Mackill cross-pollinated a Sub1A-containing plant with a high-yielding.net©® . COURTESY X PRIZE FOUNDATION. This system has already limited sulfur dioxide from electric power plants at half the cost of traditional regulation. Thailand. Nepal. Companies then receive. with India and Bangladesh up for approval later this year.—C. Cambodia. In the coming years.” Mackill says. PRECEDING PAGE. VOISIN/PHOTO RESEARCHERS. Mackill turned to India’s water-tolerant FR13A rice.journal-plaza.d. which accounts for up to 70 percent of daily calories for people living in Asian countries. Also on the agenda: drought. Heavy emitters buy these unused credits and avoid even pricier overage fines. To find a suitable template for the flood-resistant rice. genetically enhanced flood-resistant rice is about to hit agricultural markets in tropical Asia.freedowns.and saltresistant rice.000 square miles] of land in South and Southeast Asia are vulnerable to flooding. the government selects the organizations to monitor emissions and sets a maximum amount of heat-trapping gases that any company can produce during a given time. rising sea levels and natural disasters. Geneticist Pamela Ronald of the University of California at Davis then searched the plants’ DNA and unearthed Sub1A. the Philippines and Vietnam are expected to follow suit. climateresistant crops may spread across the developing world.—M. Imperiled by constant floods. IRRI researchers will supplement Sub1-class WET WORK Farmers plant rice seedlings in Thailand. Asia’s inland and coastal areas often have salt-filled soil.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 53 www. a gene that triggers the grain to conserve energy when it is underwater. increasingly touted as essential to the long-term future of the world’s food supply. When sold by other seed growers on the commercial markets. and floods will only increase. and President Obama is expected to sign climate-change legislation that includes a cap-and-trade bill.25 million tons of rice in Bangladesh. It’s a major step forward for weatherproof crops. POPSCI.freedowns. The setup financially rewards businesses that bring their emissions below the cap: They profit from selling their allowances to other companies. tradable permits to emit a specific amount of these gases. Mackill crossbred a hardy derivative of FR13A with another rice strain and derived 4. Could it work? Quite possibly. But what does the term mean? A cap-and-trade system will institute a nationwide limit on greenhousegas emissions and fine those companies that produce more than their share. now testing in nearly every Southeast Asian tropical country and China.” says Dave Mackill.000 other rice plants from that cross. last year. “At least [58. PUT A LID ON IT CURBING CARBON FOR PROFIT This year. COURTESY ONE LAPTOP PER CHILD NORMAL RICE SURVIVES JUST FOUR DAYS UNDERWATER. in conjunction with talk about climate change.net & www. Cyclone Sidr destroyed 1.

freedowns. His upper body rocks with the motion of the pickup as he navigates the dirt road’s gauntlet of potholes and rocks.000 unidentified sets of remains.FIELDWORK America is haunted by 100.” he says. But on a snowy Saturday in March. Weatherman was a young officer in 1974 when he investigated the first in a series of gruesome murders that ended a way of life in Missoula. he has driven his two passengers the 50 miles down from his 20 acres above Montana’s Seeley Lake to revisit the forlorn woods that served. as the dumping grounds for Montana’s most notorious serial killer.net & www.000 missing persons and 40. He pulls into a shallow ditch and opens his door. Weatherman has adopted the bushy white mustache and Stetson of a gentleman rancher. A gust of snow hits the windshield.net©® www.journal-plaza.journal-plaza.freedowns. Since his retirement from the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department in 2000. Weatherman spots a narrow break in the pine and fir trees lining the road. “He liked to take his girlfriends up here to party. Only one lab can truly connect the lost and the dead— and it’s revealing the secrets of serial killers in the process By Jessica Snyder Sachs PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDREW GEIGER IKE A COWBOY loosely holding the reins.net & www. three decades ago.” unidentified for decades. Larry Weatherman steers up Deer Creek Road with his left hand on the wheel. Facing page: the skull of “Debbie Deer Creek. 54 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www. his right arm ready at his side.net©® . Through the swirl. a place where people had left their doors unlocked and women felt comfortable walking home alone Marci Bachmann at age two.

freedowns.net©® www. Over the next 12 years. A grand jury found insufficient evidence to charge either suspect. Three teenage girls and a married couple were killed. In addition to questioning the husband. and shot in the basement of her home.net©® . U.journal-plaza. THREE KEY FACTS 1 2 3 The number of missing-person investigations and unidentified remains means murders often go unreported. the seemingly random murders continued. The first victim was a preacher’s wife found gagged. www. already trussed and stabbed.freedowns.net & www. A lab at the University of North Texas analyzes DNA to identify victims.journal-plaza. In 1986 the husband of a would-be victim. managed to break free and kill 30-year-old Wayne Nance in a bloody struggle. bound.S.from the local bar. and closes cases in the process.800 serial killings a year—far more than prior estimates. Weatherman briefly suspected a high-school boy who neighbors had spotted in the victim’s backyard that day. and the town suffered a spate of home intrusions thought to have been thwarted rapes. Then the improbable happened. Nance. criminologists now suspect there could be 1. her husband’s handgun jammed between her legs.net & www.

” discovered by a hunter two miles farther up the same mountain road HAUNTED Retired Missoula sheriff Larry Weatherman [above]. it would take the U. BACHMANN . Below: a topographical map of the scene. One of them was “Debbie Deer Creek. It would take technology—still two decades away— that could extract minute amounts of fractured DNA to reveal an indelible link to a victim’s family.journal-plaza.freedowns. Postmortem searches of Nance’s bedroom and his father’s house uncovered evidence of at least three additional murders and of other break-ins.net & www.FIELDWORK a baby-faced furniture deliveryman and part-time bouncer. Several strands of dyed hair enabled Weatherman to connect her to a photo of a dark-haired drifter that bar patrons knew as “Robin” before she disappeared a few weeks after moving in with Nance. It would take one brother’s unceasing search to find out what happened to his runaway sister. Weatherman was left with the unidentified remains of two young victims. But hope for further information about the murders died with Nance.net©® PRECEDING PAGES (LEFT): COURTESY DEREK M. 56 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www. It would take more than hair strands and a faded picture to identify Debbie Deer Creek. Weatherman sent out scores of bulletins to the FBI and regional law-enforcement agencies. But the girl’s picture and street name failed to locate family. Department of Justice’s slow but horrifying realization that there may be far more serial killers on the loose in America than anyone had ever expected.net & www.S.net©® www.freedowns. was the high-schooler Weatherman had suspected in 1974.” a teenager whose skeleton he had chiseled out of a frozen grave alongside Deer Creek Road some 21 months before Nance’s death. For two decades. a facial reconstruction made from Debbie Deer Creek’s skull sat on top of Weatherman’s bookcase facing that of another girl. who investigated Nance’s murders.journal-plaza. “Christy Crystal Creek. And perhaps most of all.

other serial killers are operating too randomly or infrequently to generate a pattern or are cunning enough to prey on those unlikely to be missed. more than 100. The woman wasn’t supposed to be on the heart medication at all.” Quinet says. If resolved cases are any guide. the Lewiston Valley Killer and the Snohomish County Dismemberment Killer. Meanwhile.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 57 www. it’s now less likely “that a particular homicide will be resolved and the killer brought to justice. But they remembered that case when. criminologist Kenna Quinet wrote that conventional calculations seriously underestimate the number of serial murder victims.freedowns. ‘What the hell is going on over there? Have you had any other unexplained overdoses?’ ” Marcus recalls. the majority are murder victims. believes that part of the problem is the increasingly transient nature of American life. “A lot of homicides that occur involve strangers. Instead of 180 victims a year in the U. And that’s just those who get caught. there may be as many as 1. living far from their hometowns and disconnected from a social network. According to the Department of Justice. It displays dozens of glowing red dots. and the same may be said for the likes of Wayne Nance. a pharmacist at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville called the poison center after a patient nearly died of digoxin overdose. Weatherman is still troubled when he thinks of the nameless girls. their absence won’t be noticed.” the tens of thousands whose disappearance is not taken seriously by law-enforcement agencies. “it’s hard to conduct a murder investigation when you don’t know who the victim is. deputy director for science and technology at the National Institute of Justice. “there are at least two people in each state committing serial murder”—more than 100 serial killers on the loose. and the pharmacist wanted to know whether a Korean mushroom tea she had drunk might contain a botanical version of the drug. is that the warrant can be for the missing person’s failure to appear in court).net©® . “But it’s no substitute for the way a person can recognize suspicious patterns. this time involving another life-threatening overdose.journal-plaza. The hospital pharmacist admitted that there had been two insulin overdoses in the same intensive-care unit. Morgan says. these killers operate under the radar for years. “After all. Quinet calls these possible victims America’s “missing missing.” Marcus is referring to how toxicologists got wind of New Jersey’s most infamous serial killer. Female serial killers (primarily health-care workers) average seven to nine victims over the same window. up to 40. Studies show that male serial killers average six to 11 victims over a nineyear period. “The problem may be 10 times worse than we imagined.” says medical director Steven Marcus. transients.. “We told them they needed to call the POPSCI.” And for a greater number of the victims. The poison-center staff ruled out that possibility. Updates sweep down the map every 10 minutes.” MEDICAL MURDERS Killers in the ICU High on the back wall of the New Jersey Poison Center in Newark. and the staff knows where to expect clusters based on population.” she says. they got another call from Somerset. “I would guess that at any given moment. or they will be dismissed as having simply moved on. prostitutes.” she explains. In a recent issue of the scientific journal Homicide Studies.000 of which remain open at any time in this country. “I know somebody once cared for them.net & www. In June 2003.net©® www. “Typically.” she says.” he says. John Morgan.S.net & www. Each marks the origin of a call received over the previous 24 hours.” he says.800. As a result. the Index Killer. and anyone who has an outstanding bench warrant (the irony. antifreeze and other ingredients of noteworthy cases. Quinet bolsters her new estimates with evidence of the lengthy careers of the serial killers who are eventually caught and convicted. THE SILENT MISSING Debbie and Christy are far from alone. Against this.000 sets of unidentified human remains sit in police-evidence lockers and medical examiners’ offices across the nation. “We live in a more fragmented society. “That’s when we asked.freedowns. Washington State is currently tracking at least four: the so-called 22-Caliber Killer.journal-plaza. a nationally renowned homicide expert at Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis. bases her conclusions on simple arithmetic. “This is one way that computerization can help us pick up unexpected hotspots. Quinet factors the homicides suspected in a significant proportion—as much as 20 percent— of missing-person cases. beyond a display case filled with bottles of ant killer. They include those that law enforcement assumes to be “missing” by choice: runaways. the research arm of the Department of Justice. hangs an electronic map of the state. even decades.above Nance’s home. a short time later. Quinet.” The first step in solving these crimes—even before a detective can start to connect the clues—is connecting the bodies to the missing. Quinet notes.

journal-plaza. Marci never wore glasses. photos or artist re-creations of the unnamed dead. who shipped it on to Texas. who promised to compare Marci’s dental records with the impressions taken from the four unidentified victims in his custody.” he says. “I knew my dad would take a lot of convincing.’ ” That was the last time he saw her. Seattle’s Green River Killer was at the height of a spree that would eventually claim the lives of as many as 49 women. Still. pack her bags and run away from their Vancouver. the hair color was wrong. Marci. sealed it in a plastic baggie. she rubbed a cotton swab against the inside of her cheek.’ ” Besides. detective Raphael Crenshaw called Derek Bachmann in Missouri: Was Marci still missing? Crenshaw told him about a new program that attempted to match family DNA against unidentified remains. who still lived in Washington. Above: the photo in which Derek identified his lost sister. in the summer of 2005. Got nothing.” he says. COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS HEALTH SCIENCE CENTER DARK HISTORY Top: Derek and Marci Bachmann in 1971. His obsession put a strain on a short-lived marriage. “I showed it to my relatives. And so. “she would have contacted me.000 on him. But Jensen still had more than 100 missing persons and suspected homicides in his files. “I think I knew that if Marci was alive. Web sites such as the Doe Network offered Bachmann a new resource. Rhonda Roby at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. King County sheriff’s deputies arrested 53-year-old truck painter Gary Ridgway for the Green River killings. he admits with a slow shake of his head. Louis. Bachmann was eager to supply his.freedowns. “The fact that I helped her pack has always haunted me. “The atrocities I’ve seen looking for my sister. There was something familiar about the mouth and nose. “I mean. a few months later. if only to confirm his fears. and sent it to the sheriff. mainly prostitutes and teenage runaways. now a Web marketer living outside St.freedowns.” Among them was a flower-adorned memorial page dedicated to a girl named Robin.journal-plaza. ‘You’re right. spent $10. . The work of the Green River Task Force was finished. there were at least eight. with a photo of a dark-haired girl in glasses under the banner “Do you recognize this face?” Bachmann looked again. home. he was sentenced to 48 consecutive life terms. you need to get the hell out of here. Jensen’s captain assigned three detectives from the disbanded task force to review the cases and make a final effort to close them. making her touch him. Bachmann wrote to King County detective Tom Jensen. two years later. The next week.” He called and wrote to scores of homicide task forces and vice squads across the country.net©® FROM TOP: COURTESY DEREK M. typically gleaned from news and police reports. No return call. When Marci left home in 1984.net & www. ‘No way. the latter in case Marci had fallen into streetwalking.net & www. Maintained by amateur detectives and families of the missing. COURTESY MISSOULA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE.” he recalls. but Crenshaw also needed samples from his parents. BACHMANN. “They said. “I tried everything. I hired a private investigator. head of the Green River Task Force. Washington. Below: Dixie Hybki and Dr. “She told me my stepfather was touching her.” says Bachmann. “I tried psychics.” Bachmann says. there were five different serial killers in the Northwest at the time.” By 2000. But he did convince his mother. these cyber-bulletin boards feature case histories and. In 2001.” (In fact.) In 1991 Bachmann began to search for his sister.FIELDWORK ONE IN A MILLION Derek Bachmann was 14 in 1984 when he helped his 15-year-old sister.net©® www. and Jensen added Marci’s file to those jamming his filing cabinets. But no dental records were available. “I told her. Bachmann began spending all-nighters at his computer. when possible. he dialed the number provided for the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department and left a message for Captain Greg Hintz.” he recalls. 58 POPULAR SCIENCE www.

Rhonda Roby. he and his staff built a state DNA database. and analysts have their genetic profile entered into the center’s DNA database so that those will be excluded from target sequences. having spent her career developing methods for extracting DNA from severely degraded remains. To date. each time. molecular biologist Arthur Eisenberg began using DNA to settle questions of identity in cases ranging from paternity to homicide. in Fort Worth. “As with so many serial killers. the only academic DNA lab in the country dedicated to identifying human remains. where she helped develop methods for identifying the skeletal remains of American soldiers from Vietnam. Around 2000. These dark angels aren’t practicing euthanasia. criminologist Kenna Quinet estimates that America’s serial medical killers murder between 500 and 1. he began to focus on missing persons. In 1989. in a curious aside. In 1991 Roby began working in the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner. it’s the difficult cases—the shots in the dark—that tantalize. shortly before Roby’s arrival. Eisenberg developed many of the procedures and standards used in DNA testing today. and in 2001. he seemed to empower himself with his murders. Well-preserved or relatively fresh remains for which a family connection is already suspected take precedence over colder cases with no leads. the center’s capacity has grown to handle cases from across the country. A positive-pressure system keeps “dirty” outside air from flowing in. “Cullen’s murders clearly increased whenever he was going through a difficult situation in his personal life. Hospital administrators waited another four months— and five more suspicious deaths— before they reported their fears about Charles Cullen. Texas.1EC and carried it into the lab’s bone room. But there’s now a lab.CONNECTING DNA’s DOTS When Nance and Ridgway were going about their grisly business. says the center’s project manager. Charles Cullen was far from unique. his case sparked a flurry POPSCI. no method was available to connect the missing. that can close the gap. an American physician suspected in as many as 60 murders and convicted in 2000 of three. In 2001 she flew to New York City to help set up protocols for the unimaginable task of identifying more than 20.000 patients a year. The victim specimens that arrive at the center range from well-preserved femurs (thigh bones) to broken slivers of bone that have been sitting inside police warehouses for decades. analysts don full gowns. employees and students are leaping over the ponds growing in the driveway of the University of North Texas Health Science Center. In the first tally of its kind. Korea and World War II.net & www. Quinet cites the long run of Michael Swango. like Marci Bachmann. The work differs from the kind of DNA fingerprinting used to identify biological evidence left at a crime. Yorker and her colleagues have documented 90 criminal prosecutions of health-care workers charged with serial killings of patients between 1970 and 2006 worldwide. At Indiana-Purdue University Indianapolis. They likely had an Angel of Death on their hands. the nurse who later pled guilty to killing 29 patients at medical centers across New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Forensic analyst Lisa Sansom cataloged the bone in the center’s database as F2775. the center achieved its first successful DNA extraction in an extremely cold case. It’s far easier to extract DNA from recent samples. The center has been able to solve one in every four of its cases. It’s another March morning. For the next decade.” says forensic nurse Beatrice Yorker of California State University–Los Angeles. They kill to ease only their own pain. the remains of Nicholas II and the Romanov family of tsarist Russia.freedowns.journal-plaza. AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. and a steady rain has Fort Worth’s Trinity River running high through the city’s cultural district. She speaks from experience. yellowing femur—had arrived by FedEx.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 59 www. Next to Cullen’s 16-year killing spree. Still.” The amount of genetic material retrieved from old bone tends to be so small as to be easily overwhelmed by the ambient DNA of a floating skin flake or a saliva droplet.” Cullen had been fired multiple times from other hospitals. adds Katherine Ramsland. The third floor of this beige stucco high-rise is home to the university’s Center for Human Identification. behind a door flagged “Forensic Low-Copy Area.S. he simply moved on to a nearby facility.journal-plaza. The center has become skilled in extracting and analyzing a hardier but less-known source of DNA: that of the mitochondria that reside in our cells. “Unfortunately. Inside the Low-Copy Room.freedowns. Once he was caught. On the other side of Camp Bowie Boulevard. It is extremely difficult—sometimes impossible—to extract conventional nuclear DNA markers from an old bone. a forensic psychologist at DeSales University and the author of Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers. In 2004. and the center prioritizes easy identifications.” Marcus says.000 deaths. to the dead.” she says. 54 of the cases have resulted in convictions associated with more than 2. 36 of them in the U.000 pieces of human tissue retrieved from the ruins of the World Trade Center. MEDICAL MURDERS (CONT’D) police. face masks and surgical gloves. She has also helped identify victims of Chile’s Pinochet regime and.net©® www.net & www.net©® . Since then. The remains—a slender.

If you go back even 20 years. F2775. It’s now a clearinghouse 60 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www.1EC. Sansom got her sequence at the heart of an effort to address the thousands of missing persons and unidentified remains discovered each year—what the justice department calls “America’s silent mass disaster. It took her about a week to process sample F2775. directly from our mothers. where the thigh muscles once attached. The center’s mission was to perform DNA testing on unidentified skeletal remains and “family reference” samples free of charge for any local or state law-enforcement agency that requested it. But each of us has another set of DNA located outside the cell’s nucleus and inside the mitochondria. and purified the extract. which dissolves in the first two or three years after death. she translated each graphic peak into one of the four nucleotide letters in the DNA alphabet.freedowns. faster and more definitive. Not yet.net & www. no hits.” Eisenberg says. She used a woodworker’s dremel to cut a rectangular window in the thickened area of bone just below the femur’s rounded head. By way of example. . BACHMANN. concentrated. . so DNA would have to come from the scant cellular material inside the bone’s white on the first try. Using an automated chemical process. “But if people only knew how many more unidentified murder victims there are . The center. UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS HEALTH SCIENCE CENTER. For genetic analysis. Sansom first had to increase the DNA to detectable amounts using a process called DNA amplification. Eisenberg says. Drawing on her training and experience.net©® www. there are literally hundreds of thousands of families who have missing loved ones.1EC had spent some 20 years in a box inside a police warehouse. and workers must repeat the extraction and analysis. the sequence data prove ambiguous.journal-plaza. ANDREW GEIGER MISSING. she broke open the bone cells. scientists cut into the bone’s interior. Laboratories such as the Center for Human Identification will be swamped now that more states mandate the collection of family-reference samples with missing-person reports. Next she chilled. In the worst case.journal-plaza. Then she uploaded the data to the FBI’s national missing-persons database. SCALING THE BACKLOG In 2004 the center received a major investment to help realize Arthur Eisenberg’s goal of establishing a National Center for the Identification of Human Remains. Sansom spent almost an hour scrubbing and sanding the femur’s surface before attempting extraction. known as mtDNA.” “The World Trade Center attack devastated this country with its massive loss of life.” Even with generous funding. who once helped his sister run away from home. each person’s nuclear DNA is unique. pulverized.net©® FROM TOP: COURTESY DEREK M. .FIELDWORK Except for identical twins. later helped identify her remains. It’s not unique. We inherit mitochondrial DNA. he cites a new program that can use broken bits of traditional nuclear DNA to identify weathered bones. NOT LOST Marci at age 13 [top]. Forensic software translated the results into a four-color graph of peaks and troughs. the chances for a reliable match plummet.freedowns. progress will ultimately hinge on making identifications cheaper.net & www. but mtDNA is enough to narrow the search for a victim’s family. he adds. To analyze a femur [above]. It was the first of several National Institute of Justice grants given over a five-year period totaling more than $7 million. Again. and blended the sample inside a freezer mill loaded with sterilized ball bearings. and we share it with our siblings. No hits. released their genetic contents. She uploaded it to the center’s DNA database. Derek Bachmann [below]. scaffolding. must advance the technology used to identify human remains as it goes. When the amplification signals aren’t clear. the tiny organs that supply a cell with energy. Few of the bones here contain marrow. and washed.

” the National Institute of Justice’s Morgan says. The process is spellbinding. Yet four years later. The American Hospital Association convened a task force to produce guidelines to assure greater patient safety. where workers analyze them in batches of up to 80 to yield both nuclear. to automate DNA analysis and speed up identifications for all the investigators and families tortured by a cold case.freedowns.” [continued on page 84] POPSCI. Attorney General’s office formed a Missing Persons Task Force to develop the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. “If SNPs pans out. Last year. Health Resources and Services Administration demanding that it begin to register such disciplinary information in a National Practitioner Data Bank. DNA sequences and other identifying information on both missing persons THE MATCH Before the NamUs database is complete. New Jersey passed laws mandating that hospitals report disciplinary actions to state medical boards. the Center for Human Identification is collaborating with other institutions in the effort to improve identification. MEDICAL MURDERS (CONT’D) of attention and calls for reform.net & www.journal-plaza.net©® www. Law-enforcement officers mail cheek swabs collected from the family back to the center. such as “death radar” software that would flag high death rates associated with a given employee. “It’s quite common for colleagues to have long-standing nicknames like ‘Dr. with a crosssearchable database that automatically matches the missing and the dead.” In addition to testing such systems.” says Marcus. Death’ for some of these killers. In 2007 the first part of the system—a searchable database of unidentified human remains—went live. What the country has sorely lacked. for example.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 61 www. or restrict access to potentially lethal medications. fingerprints.net©® . one-letter variations in the genetic code. pronounced “snips”). “I sit here with bated breath. Soon it may be able to replace the second read and thus slash personnel costs and turnaround time. the task force hasn’t produced the promised guidelines. Morgan says. I’ve never walked away. I want to know what it is and what it’s for. “There will no longer be a reason to have unidentified remains. though. it will be another revolution in how we deal with homicide.” she says of her forensic-nursing courses. Adds Quinet. or unambiguous graphics. In 2005 the U.S. “What I teach nurses is how hospitals can be crime scenes. But still they refuse to believe that the person is actually capable of murder.freedowns. But extracting and reading DNA from unidentified remains is only half the challenge. And the Health Resources and Services Administration has drawn up plans but hasn’t implemented them.” í It is working with the University of Tennessee. researchers at Fort Worth’s Center for Human Identification have to rely on meticulous information-gathering and luck. and it becomes a profitable tool for homicide detectives. is a central repository for information such as photos.” One even jokingly referred to himself as an “Angel of Death” when others noticed that his shifts appeared jinxed. Make that database searchable. “Even though I do searches 30 or 40 times a week.The tests scan some 40 lengths of highly fragmented DNA for singlenucleotide polymorphisms (or SNPs. Right now. Tennessee scientists have designed a software program that can read “perfect” sequences. NamUs plans to connect the two. the program opened up a national database of missing-person reports. dental records. If the center’s tests are successful—and Eisenberg says they’re making rapid progress— SNPs will allow forensic analysts to identify old bones more reliably than they can using mtDNA. Open it to the public. But Yorker argues that the best tool is a well-trained staff. it too goes through the databases to search for approximate matches among the dead. The SNPs are then combined to create unique DNA fingerprints. As each family member’s DNA fingerprint comes off the line. Although complete automation of the process remains a distant dream.net & www. AHA spokesman David Allen says.journal-plaza.org). claims forensic analyst Melody Josserand. and unidentified victims. And later this year.and mitochondrial-DNA profiles of parents and siblings. Any of thousands of mysteries could be solved at that moment. That DNA must get linked to the right missing person. which it sends out free of charge to the nation’s police and sheriff’s departments. As for protecting yourself the next time you’re in the hospital? “Call me paranoid. “but when I’m in that hospital bed and someone comes in with a drug.” she says. or NamUs (identifyus. So what’s a hospital—or patient—to do? Various proposals have been floated. and New Jersey senators Jon Corzine (now the state’s governor) and Frank Lautenberg sent a letter to the U. The center has put together a DNA-collection kit for family members of the missing. and it becomes a merciful resource for the thousands who currently spend their nights combing disturbing Web sites.S. the center’s tests produce a chart of several hundred peaks and valleys that a trained forensic analyst must read one nucleotide “letter” at a time. A second analyst then reads it again to verify its accuracy.

They use a fleet of about 50 minivans.your peek inside the mysteries of everyday life BY DOUG CANTOR PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN B. who collectively covered 350. .net & www. 3. including a clear shot of street and road signs. If not. There. Since the company delivers new maps to its clients every 90 days. (Recently the company added stereo cameras. engineering surveys. which then reformat it for their Web site or device. equipped with six to ten 1. Pioneer and BMW.journal-plaza. your GPS knows the speed limit and how Google can show one-ways. With a highly accurate type of GPS. and even UPS branches.) As the vans drive (as fast as 55 mph).journal-plaza. The program also picks out every pattern that resembles a road sign. a gyroscope and other equipment continuously calculating the van’s position. An editor categorizes the object and records its exact location in the database. An onboard computer makes sure the image has enough detail. that’s how.3-megapixel still cameras mounted on the roof and facing in all directions to provide a 360-degree view. it must constantly update its database. including aerial imagery. paired to shoot the same area at different angles. so it can create 3-D images of terrain and buildings. Processing Inside each van. CARNETT 1. Updating Tele Atlas estimates that 10 to 15 percent of the areas it maps differ from year to year because of construction and other changes. the location of every object in the photo can be placed to within a foot.net & www. the cameras automatically capture an image about every 10 feet. traffic light or other object. Finally.000 miles last year. for instance. the driver repeats the route. the data goes to offices in New Hampshire and India to be converted into standard formats for customers such as Google.net©® www.freedowns. dupli- image. Shooting The Netherlands-based Tele Atlas is one of two companies that build and update street maps to feed to GPS-device makers and Web sites such as Google Maps. That means not only re-driving roads but also culling map data from thousands of other resources. pizzadelivery joints and regular GPS users. employees use software to stitch a day’s photos into a highresolution mosaic that looks like an aerial 62 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www.net©® ILLUSTRATION: PAUL WOOTTON 2. cate hard drives record thousands of photos. Every day. Its raw data: photographs captured by more than 300 drivers.freedowns. drivers send one hard drive to Tele Atlas’s office in New Hampshire to evaluate image quality and the other to a facility in Poland.

net & www. The driver (or h driver (or. at popsci. in high-traffic areas. Two stereo cameras at the front of the van take pictures that can be combined to make 3-D images of buildings and landmarks.journal-plaza.net©® www.com/mapping. A PC in the van the h controls the cameras and alerts the driver when there’s a problem with the quality of the images being captured. A GPS antenna and fiber-optic gyroscope calculate the cameras’ exact coordinates to triangulate the location of objects in the photos.how a MAPPING VAN works Laser scanners measure the distance between the van and nearby objects to detect and locate road signs and exterior walls. Six to 10 1.journal-plaza.net & www. www.3megapixel cameras each shoot a frame automatically every 10 feet to capture a 360-degree view.net©® . See how Tele Atlas turns photos into digital maps. a partner) monitors the equipment and imagery on a dash-mounted laptop.freedowns.freedowns.

not at all farfetched. COULD THIS HIGHLY IMPROBABLE ENTERPRISE ACTUALLY SUCCEED? BY JOSH DEAN PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN B. fusion has a stigma to overcome. he says. is a nuclear-fusion power plant. Yes.journal-plaza. CARNETT THE SOURCE OF endless energy for all humankind resides just off Government Street in Burnaby. always and forever www. The idea seems nuts but is actually.net©® www.freedowns.net & www.net & www. What Laberge has set out to build in this office park. printed a single sheet of white paper and affixed with tape to a dusty slab of office drywall.net©® . Yes.THE FUTURE OF ENERGY * MIGHT *THAT’S A BIG. British Columbia. According to a diagram. bearded and French-Canadian.journal-plaza.freedowns. It’s big but not immense—maybe 10 times as tall as the little robot man in the lower right corner of the page who’s there to indicate scale. he’ll admit. in that mostly empty office with the vomit-green walls—and inside the brain of Michel Laberge. using $2 million in private funding and a skeletal workforce. fusion is generally considered the kind of nearly impossible challenge undertaken only by huge universities or governments. 47. his vision looks like a medieval torture device: a metal ball surrounded on all sides by metal rods and 64 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 bisected by two long cylinders. The future is there. up the little spit of blacktop on Bonneville Place and across the parking lot from Shade-OMatic blind manufacturers and wholesalers. FAT “MIGHT” THIS MACHINE SAVE THE WORLD TWO DESKTOP-PRINTER ENGINEERS QUIT THEIR JOBS TO SEARCH FOR THE ULTIMATE SOURCE OF ENDLESS ENERGY: NUCLEAR FUSION. the image that it is fundamentally bogus.

net©® www.net©® .net & www.freedowns. British Columbia POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 65 www.freedowns. in Burnaby.journal-plaza.journal-plaza.net & www.HOME-BREWED FUSION General Fusion’s proof-of-concept device in the company’s austere headquarters.

THE FUTURE OF ENERGY
20 years away, certainly doesn’t help. Laberge would probably even admit that the idea of some Canadians working in a glorified garage conquering one of the most ambitious problems in physics sounds absurd. But he will also tell you that his twist on a method known as magnetized target fusion, or MTF—to wildly oversimplify, a process in which plasma (ionized gas) trapped by a magnetic field is rapidly compressed to create fusion—will, in fact, work because it is relatively cheap and scalable. Give his team six to 10 years and a few hundred million dollars, he says, and his company, General Fusion, will give you a nuclear-fusion power plant. If (and this is a truly serious if) Laberge and his team succeed, the rewards could be astounding: nearly limitless, inexpensive energy, with no chemical combustion byproducts, a minimal amount of extremely short-lived radioactive waste, and no risk of a catastrophic, Chernobyllevel meltdown. “It’s an astonishing story,” says Mike Brown, the founder of Chrysalix Energy, the venture-capital firm that provided the angel funding for General Fusion, and who now leads the company’s search for backing. “If Michel makes it work, he’s a Nobel Prize winner.” some soul-searching, Laberge quit Creo, retired to an island off the coast of British Columbia, and set out to master nuclear fusion. Four years, several failures and $800,000 later (half from friends and family and half from matching government research grants), Laberge surfaced with a contraption that provided a proof-of-concept for his idea. It’s a shiny steel orb the size of a basketball from which dozens of cords protrude. Imagine those cranial caps from old science-fiction movies, and you’ll get the idea. The cords extend out to two dozen capacitors, and the whole thing is wired up to a tower of controls that could have been pulled from a 1950s battleship. It is the definition of low-tech, and that’s precisely the idea. The metal sphere is now mostly a showpiece. Laberge will occasionally fire it up for potential investors, but by and large, it’s done its job. In 2006 it proved that a shock wave— created by a massive pulse of electricity, for experimental purposes—can compress a little bit of plasma quickly and violently enough to generate a fusion reaction, however tiny. In place of the hugely expensive high-power electrical systems used to collapse the plasma in more typical MTF experiments, Laberge imagines a set of pneumatic rams colliding with the plasma container’s outer shell to form a shock wave. This is where his idea is truly different. But there is much distance to cover before Laberge’s idea leads to a device that generates electricity. “This is not making energy,” he says of his machine. “I’m dumping 100 kilojoules of energy, and I’m making about one nanojoule. But it shows that the technique of crushing the plasma to high density has some merit to it, and getting a few fusion neutrons out”—neutrons are a telltale sign of a fusion reaction—“well, I call them my marketing neutrons.” Laberge has the same ultimate goal of every fusion researcher—to achieve “net gain,” which means to put out more energy than is put in, and not just, say, 1.5:1. To make a viable power source, you need far more than you put in, anywhere from 10 to 25 times as much. “We must simulate star-like conditions for the fuel” in order to make fusion happen, says Richard Siemon, a professor of physics at the University of Nevada and a former director of fusion research at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The hydrogen isotopes used as fuel have to be held at about 270 million degrees F. The plasma must then be compressed. As you might imagine, this requires an enormous amount of electricity (and an equally enormous infrastructure) or an alternative method of compressing the plasma. Laberge believes he has a better shot than the competition at creating viable fusion power because his approach is smaller, cheaper and uses so much less electricity. And once

ON THE MAD-SCIENTIST appearance scale,
Laberge is maybe a 4 out of 10; he’s a little rumpled and wears out-of-style wire-rimmed eyeglasses. But get him a little agitated, and he starts to tug at his hair and slips to maybe a 5 or 6. Discussion of spending money on something other than research will do it. Office supplies! Hotel rooms! Human Resources! These are necessary costs for operating a company but irritating distractions for a physicist with big dreams and limited capital. Laberge and his business partner, Doug Richardson, an engineer who also studied physics, met at Creo Products, a Vancouver-based developer of prepress-imaging technology now owned by Kodak. They worked together for 11 years on thermal printer heads and other highly precise mechanical devices, making a very comfortable living, until Laberge found himself staring at 40 and had a midlife crisis. “I said, ‘What am I producing here?’ ” he recalls, leading the way to the warehouse area of General Fusion’s small and decidedly unfuturistic headquarters. “I am producing a machine that makes printing so cheap that it can fill your mailbox with lots and lots of junk mail. The main use of my productivity is to cut down the forests. And I look at the energy situation, and it’s going down the drain at pretty high speed. So I knew I had to do something. Now, I know about fusion because I did my Ph.D. in fusion physics. So I said, ‘OK, we’re gonna do fusion here.’ ” It was, to say the least, a questionable career swerve. But after

LABERGE’S IDEA IS A “THERMONUCLEAR DIESEL ENGINE.” COMPRESS FUEL, AND IT BURNS.
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THE IMPROBABLES Michel Laberge, left, and his partner, Doug Richardson, with their miniature, proof-of-concept fusion reactor. The device looks unrefined, but it contains servo-controls accurate to a millionth of a second.

his reactor is operating at net gain, it will power itself. Fuel for fusion—deuterium and tritium—is plentiful and cheap. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen found in seawater; in theory, one gallon of seawater has the potential energy of 30 gallons of gasoline. Tritium is mildly radioactive and has a 12year half-life, so it’s a little harder to find, but it can be derived from lithium. Conveniently for General Fusion, Canada has the world’s largest stockpile of tritium. Laberge’s own energy has now turned toward a long metal tube lying on the floor nearby, a piece about the size and shape of a ship’s cannon. That’s the first piston housing for the theoretical reactor—step 1 of many in the quest for a commercial fusion power plant. General Fusion’s reactor will one day rely on 200 of these housings, each weighing some 2,200 pounds and holding a steam-powered piston that weighs 220 pounds. Operated by servo-controls accurate to a millionth of a second, the pistons will fire simultaneously every second, creating the shock wave that will trigger the fusion reaction. “Somebody described it as a thermonuclear diesel engine,” Laberge says, perhaps undervaluing a potentially awesome marketing phrase. “We compress the fuel. It burns.” He walks around the housing and points out the actual piston, which is about a foot thick and roughly the circumference of an LP. When I ask how loud this would be—200 pieces of ultra-hardened steel impacting 200 plates of equally hard steel at extreme velocity—he says we can fire this one up and get a sampling, although admittedly it’s not a

test at anything close to full power. “This is one third the travel and one one-hundredth the pressure,” Laberge says as he flicks a switch. Nothing happens. “Hmm. Why is there no power here?” He tugs at two extension cords, one of them an orange indoor-outdoor job like the kind you use to plug in a weed whacker. As the cylinder pressurizes, it sounds like a burbling fish-tank filter. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1—0!” Laberge says, and flicks a switch. The piston fires. It’s no louder than a kid hitting a tom-tom drum and is . . . underwhelming, not even remotely the kind of far-out experiment you’d expect to see when dropping by a nuclearfusion start-up. To Laberge, that’s exactly the point. “It’s pretty basic, boring stuff,” he says. “Look in your car. There’s no superconducting magnet in there. There’s pipes and pistons and tubes. That’s what I want. I want to make a fusion machine at a sort of car level. And that’s why we can make it for $50 million and they”—government and university coalitions— “make it for $20 billion. That’s the difference.”

NUCLEAR FUSION: It sounds futuristic, and yet it’s not. It’s a story as old as the sun, literally; fusion is how it fuels itself. Two ions collide at such velocity that the electrostatic repulsion between them is broken. They fuse into a heavier atom and give off energy as heat. In terrestrial practice, the idea is that a manmade reaction would produce heat that would then be captured by a heat exchanger to create steam. The steam would power a turbine as in any coal plant and—voilà!—energy. The earliest fusion experiments date back to the University of
POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 67

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THE FUTURE OF ENERGY

WITHOUT FUSION, MICHEL LABERGE BELIEVES, OUR ENERGY SITUATION IS DIRE. “IT’S GOING TO BE UGLY.”
Cambridge in the 1930s, but the research gained momentum in the 1950s during the Cold War, when both sides were primarily interested in weaponizing fusion. The 1952 American nuclear test Operation Ivy proved that fusion could work as the core of a devastating weapon, when the first hydrogen-bomb test obliterated an entire island in the Pacific. Two things have conspired to hamper evolutionary leaps in peacetime fusion research. The first is bad press. To the great frustration of people like Laberge and Richardson, fusion’s good name has been besmirched by a handful of highly publicized failures, most prominently the cold-fusion experiments of Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann and the “bubble fusion” experiments Rusi Taleyarkhan conducted at Purdue University. Pons and Fleischmann announced in 1986 that they had achieved fusion at room temperature, but later review showed that faulty equipment had failed to accurately measure the results. The U.S. Department of Energy all but called them frauds. In 2002, Taleyarkhan published a paper stating that he had used ultrasonic vibrations to make bubbles in a liquid solvent and that, when the bubbles collapsed, they had created fusion. His results, too, would later be discredited, and last year he was stripped of his university chair. The failures were bad for fusion’s public image, but the larger problem, researchers say, is money. Governments just have not seen a need to pour resources into an idea that they perceive as being decades from reality. In 1982, for example, Congress passed a plan calling for fusion energy in 20 years. “What happened?” says Glen Wurden, who heads up the Magnetized Target Fusion program at Los Alamos. “The U.S. didn’t fund it. In the 1980s the U.S. was the world leader in fusion research. [Our funding is] a factor of three behind Europe right now and a factor of two behind Japan.” These days, there are several large fusion experiments happening around the globe; the differences among them have to do with how the plasma is contained. General Fusion uses what’s considered an “alternative” method, one of a handful of ideas that lie outside the prevailing model, known as steady-state fusion. Steady-state is the form practiced at nearly all the world’s biggest test facilities. It’s also the model on which the mother of all fusion experiments, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, will be based. ITER is funded by a consortium of seven governments: the U.S., Russia, Japan, China, India, South Korea and the European Union. Construction is set to begin this year in the south of France. Like most high-level fusion experiments, ITER uses a plasma-chamber design called a “tokamak,” a word transliterated
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from a Russian acronym meaning “toroidal chamber with magnetic coils.” It looks like a gigantic doughnut. Huge superconducting magnets hold the plasma away from the chamber walls. Then they blast the plasma with radio waves and beams of neutrons to trigger a fusion reaction. Yet aside from reactor design (and obvious contrasts in size and funding), the biggest difference between ITER and General Fusion is a sense of urgency. Conventional wisdom among most in the plasma-physics community— “the tokamak mafia,” as Laberge jokingly calls them—is that commercially viable fusion is at least 30 to 40 years away. Richardson and Laberge belong to a splinter cell of the industry that points out that fusion has been 30 to 40 years away for 50 years now and that, frankly, the world can’t wait that long. “The s- - - will hit the fan in 10 years,” Laberge predicts. “It’s going to be ugly. As the gap between fossil-fuel supply and energy demand builds up, we will need to put new energy sources in the gap. We may avoid a disaster if we can do that fast enough, but I don’t think so without some serious breakthrough in energy production.” They’re convinced that this breakthrough has to come from private industry. It’s certainly not going to come from ITER anytime soon. The experiment has been delayed innumerable times and is now not expected to go online until 2018. If projections are correct, sometime after that, it will produce 500 million watts of fusion power for a period of 300 to 500 seconds, a gain of 10 times the energy put in to create the reaction. Yet ITER is only a demonstration. A workable power plant is yet another monumental project that will take at least 20 more years. That’s plenty of motivation to pursue other approaches, and General Fusion isn’t alone. Wurden, for example, is working on a model akin to General Fusion’s: He fills a container about the size of a large beer can with plasma and uses electrodes to “crush” the can and condense the plasma. Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are at work on a project known as NIF (National Ignition Facility), in which the world’s biggest laser blasts tiny balls of plasma encapsulated in glass. In fact, General Fusion isn’t even the only private-sector start-up. For a few days in May 2007, the fusion world was abuzz over a rumor that a company called Tri Alpha, associated with a noted physicist from the University of California at Irvine named Norman Rostoker and reportedly backed in part by Paul Allen, had received $40 million in venture-capital money to pursue a method called “proton-

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accelerated to approximately 100 meters per second by pressurized steam.net & www.net©® . Pneumatic piston Plasma Liquid lead-lithium 1 2 3 4 KRIS HOLLAND The impact of the pistons sends a compression wave reverberating through the liquid metal and toward the the plasma suspended by a magnetic field in the center. The compression wave picks up speed as it hurtles toward the center.freedowns.HOW GENERAL FUSION’S PLAN COULD WORK General Fusion uses a variation on an approach called magnetized target fusion. The shock wave hits the plasma. a liquid lead-lithium mixture spins around the tank fast enough that a cylindrical-shaped empty spot opens in the middle of the tank. The fusion reaction hurls neutrons and alpha particles out through the liquid leadlithium. quickly becoming a shock wave powerful enough to compress the plasma quickly and violently.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 69 www. Two hundred pneumatic pistons. a highly energetic stew of the hydrogen isotopes tritium and deuterium. POPSCI. Then.journal-plaza. the magic happens (see below).net©® www. The force is so great that the ions merge to form helium. Two injectors send plasma—ionized gas—into the void at the center of the swirling liquid metal. if all goes as planned. creating heat that generates steam to power an electricity-producing turbine. slam the outside of the sphere simultaneously.freedowns.net & www.journal-plaza. Inside a metallic sphere measuring approximately 10 feet in diameter.

with the same extremely expensive superconductive magnets used in tokamak reactors—and has other theoretic flaws he feels are far more challenging than the ones in front of him. you guys have a real shot of doing this.” Then the company went into stealth mode.’ You think we’re ambitious? I think they’re ambitious. That’s two years. “Nobody will have done net gain at that point. He was the first investor in Ballard. the money should be easy to raise. we’ll have done net gain. “By the end of 2012. a Canadian company that helped perfect the fuel cell. he certainly thinks it could. he cares not so much because of the money.net©® www. At an age when most successful businessmen would be retired.freedowns. but after net gain. at age 69. you know.net & www. Among them: the potential for instability between the plasma and the lead-lithium liner. but investors have to know it’s a high-risk affair.” he says. “MTF in particular has the potential to be an approach that could be done on a small scale by a small group. “I see no problems in principle.” Richard Siemon hasn’t studied General Fusion’s plan but knows enough about MTF to say that he’s more optimistic about it than any of the tokamak projects. no.journal-plaza. Brown’s fund has concentrated on alternative energy for years. but that it requires much higher temperatures—generated. which is really unusual. “It’s worth pursuing.” Ronald Kirkpatrick. “If the world is waiting for energy from ITER. it’s a lost www. but I do see a lot of technical challenges ahead. whose venture-capital fund. but because of what fusion would mean for a planet in rapid decline. if that is in fact what Tri Alpha is up to. though the potential there is obviously significant. allowed General Fusion to get to its so-far very callow state. most likely. $7 million or so of which has been procured—Laberge says he will build two dozen of those unassuming pistons and use them to impact a cylinder full of liquid lead-lithium. If we do that. And although he’s not ready to say it will work.” After that comes the first power plant.journal-plaza. “I think it’s an exciting thing. “Europe is particularly ITER-focused. which could cool the plasma and prevent it from reaching fusion temperatures. But when you bring in experts—not a single expert hasn’t said.” “BASICALLY. a guest scientist at Los Alamos and 70 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 someone who has spent much of his career contributing to the American fusion program with a particular emphasis in MTF. And I was talking to physicists at some conference. A third. And even now. boron fusion. “I used to say.net©® .” ITER will still be six years away. Brown is more enthusiastic than ever. This will allow him and his team to study the shock waves as well as the synchronization of the pistons. was one of the handful of independent scientists who vetted General Fusion’s plan. Laberge thinks that proton-boron fusion. Chrysalix. THEY QUIT their jobs to answer one of the most complicated problems in physics.” says Mike Brown. and they say. we’ll attract a significant amount of attention. ‘No.net & www. That will cost another $200 million to $500 million. General Fusion plasma specialist Stephen Howard works on one of the 200 pistons that will power the scaled-up reactor. “I think it took someone with exceptional talent to do this combination of mechanics and physics.” he says of Laberge (whom he tells me was also once a high-speed downhill skateboarder and a member of Canada’s national hang-gliding team). the reactor’s low-tech-looking control tower.” he says.freedowns. is a valid idea. gets them a test reactor. It’s as if [MTF] never existed.THE FUTURE OF ENERGY SPARE PARTS From left: The interior of the proof-of-concept fusion reactor. it’s like learning to fly before you walk. $50-million influx of capital. [proton-boron fusion] is like learning to run before you walk.” Given another round of financing—roughly $10 million. And there’s an efficiency to the private sector that just isn’t comparable to government-funded approaches. Brown says.

” he says. Laberge is updating the company’s Web site. “We have to find that out. According to projections. of course. Or “the laws of physics might fight back in ways we don’t know about yet. is nearly 4. “I think sooner or later it could work.net & www. And that was the 1940s. ON THE AFTERNOON of my visit. “If we were proposing some funky new microbe or algae to go down and eat oil in tar sands or something and then burp it up later?” Richardson scoffs. Doug Richardson leads us out the back of General Fusion’s offices and through some trash-strewn woods to a Subway sandwich shop. Richardson shows me chart after chart on energy demand. is tinkering with the design of the plasma injector that they are right now trying to decide if they can afford. a young postgrad named Stephen Howard. When you add hot water. How could they fail? Well. “I think a revolution is coming. And to step into that room and talk to slightly bitter—or rather. it will be 7.” “People”—in particular. I believe it’ll be for conservation of resources. “Every day it’s the same thing: cost of fuel and climate change. Richardson shows me a climate-change mug someone gave him. If we could do for $500 million what they’ll do for $50 billion—in six years versus by 2035. Does General Fusion really have a chance of filling that gap? There is the way Glen Wurden sees things—that the idea is plausible but that the implementation will require far more work. But as Kirkpatrick points out.net & www. The world can’t possibly meet that number using existing sources. and someone gave you the plans.” Laberge says. The difference. You’re screwed. he points out. and the team’s plasma specialist. he points to a newspaper headline about fuel prices. While we’re there. Outside the door. The global demand for power.” Brown says. not knowing what Wurden had told me. politicians and moneymen—“have to get used to the idea that maybe this is possible.cause. Fast Company and Best Life.freedowns. compared with ITER or any other current fusion experiment. You don’t even know what a jet engine is.. You’re stuck.journal-plaza. Having ITER work is like the Wright brothers. really. not because of technology but money: “Imagine it’s 1910 and you want to fly a 747. Having a fusion power plant—it’s like having a 747. Paris. Flight went from paper and wood to the 747 in 65 or so years. was money. frustrated—scientists. Guys in rumpled khakis sitting in an office-park warehouse monkeying around with a piston hooked up to extension cords can easily look like crackpots.” Brown says.net©® www. “I’m sure we would have been financed by now. “the closest to a potential reactor scheme is what General Fusion is proposing. Farewell New York. the places that will someday be submerged by ocean water if Greenland’s ice cap melts turn blue.net©® .” Sitting around twiddling your thumbs when you could be building your experimental fusion reactor can make you bitter. POPSCI.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 71 www.000 gigawatts today. For electricity!” There’s no need. and it’s going to take a lot of money. But it’s going to be later. spun the 747 example a very different way. they could run out of money.” Back at the office. Laberge adds that nuclear fission went from proof-of-concept to power plant in a decade. Vancouver and the entire Amazon basin. as well as existing technology that backs up almost everything they’re building or plan to build.” Josh Dean is an editor at Play magazine and writes for Outside. Inc. to complete the thought.” Richardson. it’s easy to read them as crackpots. You don’t have the materials. London. This is his first story for POPULAR SCIENCE.freedowns. smiling.journal-plaza. Even though it’s probably a more difficult task than what we’re proposing.000 by 2030.

net©® . how much they bet.freedowns. so I resolved to build something that would really wow them.tips. so the defeated players can watch the rest of the game in my viewing room—or.net & www. Then I wrote software to generate graphics from the game data and lay it on top of a live video feed. tricks.journal-plaza.freedowns. so to speak. Of course. It’s streamed to a high-def big screen. and connected it all to my PC. as I call it. integrating radiofrequency-ID antennas and a central reader unit into a custom-built table to track the movement of tagged cards and COURTESY JASON KIELY chips. without an adapter 79 Send yourself reminders by e-mail and text KNOW WHEN TO HOLD ’EM The table Andrew Milner [front left] built generates a display that shows players’ bets and chances of winning each hand. some of my mates were skeptical that it wouldn’t come out looking cool. to play Texas Hold ’Em.net©® www. I also hooked up four video cameras and capture devices to record the action. I’m also a chronic tinkerer and a poker lover. and started planning a table that could generate a video display showing what cards each player has. about 10 regulars gather at my place in Perth. It makes our humble games look just like the tournaments you see on TV.net & www. hacks and do-it-yourself projECTS 76 The DIY way to make titanium 77 Get an XBox online wirelessly.—andrew milner (as told to Amanda Schupak) [continued on next page] JANUARY 2009 POPULAR SCIENCE 73 www. I spent three months on the project. I’m the co-founder of a technology-services company. Australia.COM STRAIGHT TO VIDEO chances of winning the hand. L7 Solutions.journal-plaza. and their POPSCI. YOU BUILT what ?! A CARD TABLE THAT TURNS ANY GAME INTO THE WORLD SERIES OF POKER Every Friday night. Last fall I decided to up the ante. the Losers’ Lounge.

who’s up and who’s down—to determine which camera feed to show during a hand.net©® ILLUSTRATION: PAUL WOOTTON.) hand and to generate graphics to lay over the video. 74 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 POPSCI. Milner’s Game Engine program reads that data and applies the rules of poker to come up with each player’s chance of winning the BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME Losing players watch the rest of the game in another room.com/pokertable capturing the action Four cameras (two dome.net & www.500 for more details.journal-plaza.freedowns. go to popsci.net©® www. When only two players are left. (Televised tournaments instead use concealed cams to peek at players’ hands.COM www.journal-plaza. When a player dumps his cards over the antenna into the “muck” pile.0 YOU BUILT WHAT ?! CONT’D Rail camera Dome camera ON THE SPOT Circles on the table surface indicate where to place cards so that the antennas can read them. two rail) record the game. the cameras zoom in on those players. FOLLOWINg the money The RFID reader tracks what cards are played and what chips have been bet.freedowns. and capture devices convert the video to MPEG4 format and load it onto the PC. A custom software application combines the video files with RFID data from the tagged chips and cards to create a simulcast. who’s out. RFID antennas Video-capture devices RFID-reader unit HOW THE VIDEO POKER TABLE WORKS 3 months $8.HOW 2. PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY JASON KIELY . the application notes that the player has folded. putting it onscreen A commercial library of code called TVideoGrabber contains instructions for getting the video from the capture devices to stream onscreen.net & www. The video-processing engine uses information from the Game Engine—such as who’s in.

200°F. I used clay flowerpots. an expensive process. sunscreen. So I mixed in drywall plaster (calcium sulfate) and more aluminum powder. Flaming molten metal can be thrown some distance from the pot and will ignite anything within reach. Titanium must be a rare and precious substance. $80. Nearly all white paint is white because of the titanium dioxide found in the ore. a process commonly used to weld train tracks. as suggested by Gert Meyer. welded. so the metal remains red-hot for several minutes. forged. When nested with sand between them. In an iron thermite reaction.freedowns. Something like four million tons a year go into paint. in which titanium dioxide transfers its oxygen atoms to aluminum. Solid-titanium scissors start at $700. Adding ground fluorite powder makes the molten metals more fluid and protects the titanium from air as it cools. and don’t even ask about the titanium socket wrench. revealing liquid titanium inside. But that reaction. Yet I was able to make titanium using equipment I had lying around. even paper. The high price of titanium comes not from the raw material but from the difficulty of turning that ore into wrenches and bike frames.journal-plaza. Normally the pot would be nested with sand inside a second one to trap the molten metal.—Theodore Gray GROWING METAL Intense heat cracks a flowerpot. this is not really a practical way to make a lot of titanium. titanium exposed to air catches fire. At temperatures high enough to melt it.net & www. and cast in a vacuum or under inert gas. as raw ore. who developed this procedure.net©® MIKE WALKER ACHTUNG! LIGHT IT UP A fireworks sparkler is the fuse for a mixture of titanium dioxide and aluminum powder.net©® www. So it has to be refined. titanium is 100 times as abundant as copper.freedowns. 76 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www. This reaction is extremely energetic. so don’t get your hopes up about starting that $700 scissors business.0 HOMEMADE TITANIUM GRAY MATTER An iron crowbar costs about $8. I did it with thermite reduction. toothpaste. iron oxide reacts with aluminum and comes out as liquid iron. one made of titanium. I just swapped in titanium dioxide instead. Sadly.HOW 2. they last just long enough to let the titanium cool into beads of solid metal. HOT STUFF The reaction reaches about 4.journal-plaza.net & www. enough to melt the titanium and allow it to pool at the bottom of the container. THE RESULT Lumps of solid titanium extracted from the pool of slag in the pot . right? Actually. doesn’t release enough heat to melt the materials. TITANIUM IN A POT Do not try this at home. They react to create huge amounts of extra heat.

If so.net©® www.COM This 50-foot Ethernet cable snaking all the way through my apartment from the router in the bedroom to my Xbox 360 in the living room? That’s how I used to play videogames online. hard 1 3 2 Enter the router’s IP address in your computer’s Web browser. POPSCI.com for your specific router model.freedowns. and connect to Xbox Live. cheap router function as an Xbox adapter by replacing its firmware with free software called DD-WRT.journal-plaza.CHEAP TRICKS UNWIRE YOUR XBOX GET YOUR XBOX 360 ONLINE WIRELESSLY WITH AN OLD ROUTER AND FREE SOFTWARE FROM TOP: LUIS BRUNO.journal-plaza. check dd-wrt. Place the router near the Xbox 360 console. Third-party wireless bridges cost a bit less but are still pricey. but you won’t have to buy any additional equipment. FROM TOP: COURTESY MICROSOFT. almost any brand of router will work. Finally. and restore the original network settings on your computer. you can make a second. Turn on the console. As long as you download the right version. 4 TOTALLY FREE WIRELESS If a $15 router is still more than you want to invest to get your Xbox online wirelessly. you can instead configure your network to use your laptop as an adapter. download the right version of the software to your computer. Disconnect the cables. I bought an older model on Amazon.com. The Xbox doesn’t come with wireless capability built in.net & www.com to make sure the specific model is supported. SCREEN IMAGES.freedowns. You’ll still have to connect the computer to the console with an Ethernet cable. but you can get a used one on eBay for $15 or less—well worth it for the pleasure of blasting annoying teenagers in Denmark in Halo 3. and I didn’t want to shell out the extra $100—a third the price of the console itself—for Microsoft’s wireless adapter. though. This may require you to change your computer’s network settings. which should now bring up the DD-WRT interface [below]. If you already have a wireless network set up in your home. and connect it with a short Ethernet cable.COM POPULAR SCIENCE 77 www. Follow the installation instructions on dd-wrt.net©® . For instructions on setting it up.net & www. COURTESY DD-WRT. search for user “walamoonbeam” on instructables. COURTESY APPLE.—Doug Cantor DIY WIRELESS FOR YOUR XBOX b time: 30 minutes b cost: $15–$50 b easy Before buying a router for this project.” This enables it to receive an Internet signal from your original router. Update the router’s firmware with the DD-WRT software. Change the router's settings to “client mode. I found a way to ditch the giant wire with a solution that cost me only 40 bucks. Connect the router to your modem and your computer with Ethernet cables.

and solder it to an integrated circuit. Thread a small piece of wire through a button.freedowns. to making a terrarium out of a Benno TV unit. which also included the addition of a mosaic tile top and metal legs.net©® . i WEB SITE OF THE MONTH IKEA HACKER Who says you have to put together your IKEA furniture exactly the way the Swedish instructions tell you to? IKEA Hacker ( likeahacker.HOW 2.journal-plaza.com FROM TOP: LUIS BRUNO (3).freedowns.net & www. 3.com) is a showcase of ingenious ways people have assembled things from the store to change their look and function—from installing a Linux computer cluster into a Helmer cabinet. BUILD OF THE MONTH THE CASSETTE CLOSET Needing a space divider in his office. The painstaking build.0 *originally posted by Alex Beharrell on flickr. IKEAHACKER. one by one. 918 old cassette tapes. 78 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www. 2.com. to adding a comic-book top to an Alleby stool [pictured].com. Flash some cuff for the ladies. took more than 500 hours to complete.journal-plaza.” Schuur and his co-workers began by making a large wooden frame and then created the retro exterior by screwing on. PATRICK SCHUUR INTEGRATED-CIRCUIT CUFF LINKS*TO COMPLETE YOUR GEEK-CHIC LOOK: 1. HAVE AN IDEA FOR A 5-MINUTE PROJECT? SEND IT TO US AT h20@bonniercorp. T h20@bonniercorp.COM. Dutch product designer Patrick Schuur built a giant cabinet intended to “remind people of how good-looking technology used to be.BLOGSPOT.net©® www.net & www.blogspot. Strip the ends of the wire.

It’s especially useful for recurring events like bills and birthdays. say “reminder.freedowns.” and Sandy will e-mail or text you.WHAT’S A GEEK GOOD WAY TO SEND MYSELF REMINDERS? ASK A It’s a fine time to ditch paper for good and move to an all e-mail.).net & www. TADO GOT A QUESTION FOR OUR GEEK CHORUS? SEND IT TO US AT h20@bonniercorp. Or skip the typing altogether with the voice-to-text service Jott. What time? 8 a. the Web site Sandy (iwant sandy.com/calendar). Add tags like “@ weekly.journal-plaza.m. www. you’ll receive text and e-mail reminders 15 minutes before the appointment.” “@quarterly” or “@yearly” to your e-mail. Just send it an e-mail such as “Remind me to move my car in 45 minutes.net©® www. ADAM PASH is an editor at Lifehacker (lifehacker. and it will ping you every time the event comes up.freedowns.com) is a free virtual personal assistant whose sole purpose is to help you remember things.” and answer the subsequent prompts (What day? Tomorrow. which lets you set up multiple alerts for one event—for example. New event pop up while you’re away from a computer? Add it to GCal from your cellphone by texting the event details to GVENT (48368). a text message one week before Mother’s Day.com). Once your reminder is set.com. Call 866-JOTT-123.and SMS-based system.journal-plaza. then another the day before in case you still managed to put off sending flowers. If you’re not interested in calendar functions.net & www. Start with Google’s online calendar (google.net©® .

This friction generates heat—about 3. not pop.freedowns. on the other hand. Typically. are just what you’d expect: taste-bud-stimulating chemicals concocted from scratch in labs. a falling object.net & www. But in orbit. WOULD IT POP DURING REENTRY? Bosco Daude.net & www. speeds up until it reaches terminal velocity. But as soon as it starts passing through the atmosphere. KNAPP/AP PHOTO .—STUART FOX What’s the difference between artificial and natural fl avors? Bill Wehe. it can reach a speed higher than its terminal velocity. a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology. The Food and Drug Administration requires that natural flavors come from a natural material.com. Anything falling through the atmosphere has what’s called a terminal velocity. for now at least. or drag.net©® www. via e-mail There’s a little bit of water inside each kernel of popcorn. “Of course. but that’s a broad category. Artificial flavors. www. This is the speed at which the upward force. that water should boil. things aren’t so simple. shape and mass.000 mph. the other possibility is that it will heat too quickly and the outer husk will burn off before the kernel has a chance to pop. The sweet strawberry taste of your naturally flavored ice cream? That probably started out as a bacterial protein.FYI 82 Jobs on Mars: Choose the most profitable career path TASTE TECHNICIAN Chemists control every step of flavor creation. but he can’t run the numbers to say for sure. And so. from air resistance equals the downward force of gravity.000° for the space shuttle.journal-plaza. Note to the guys on the ISS: Let loose a pan of Jiffy Pop. It usually means developing flavors from plant or bacteria by-products.journal-plaza. because no one has measured how much friction a kernel generates when it moves through the air. like a skydiver. Although natural flavors have the potenGot questions? Send them to fyi@popsci. But the term “natural” is misleading. would the kernel reach hot enough temperatures to pop as it flew through the atmosphere? It’s possible. So any ordinary kernels would drop. it all depends. First off.freedowns.” Libbrecht says.net©® GARY C. and as such are more authentic. In that case. as well as its size. are derived from the pure essence of a food’s flavor. you might think. and if you can heat the kernel above 212°F. and pop the kernel. the cold vacuum of space would suck all the water out of the kernel before it could pop the corn. or chemically treating naturally occurring molecules. there’s no way to know. via e-mail Q A IF YOU DROPPED A CORN KERNEL FROM SPACE. says Kenneth Libbrecht. If an astronaut were to throw a watertight kernel out of that space shuttle moving at 17. friction will slow it down.” Natural flavors. sometimes you just need to know in the airless vacuum of space. Just how much heat depends on how fast the object is going. turn into high-pressure steam. But let’s 80 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 say we figured out a way to keep the kernel watertight. Chemists then tinker with these to enhance their taste. If something like the space shuttle starts out Picking barbecue-flavor potato chips over salt-and-vinegar can be tough enough without having to choose between brands made with “natural flavors” and ones that are “artificially flavored.

so no one could help you if you got lost or fell into a crater. this prosperous career path has its risks.615 The typical ROM purchaser goes through several stages: 1. “Flavorists can mix compounds with similar tastes but different aromas to maximize artificial flavor. And you’d probably go prospecting alone (why split the profits?).+/)>#>-'#1>0(>(#+5*>#/&>3'/5+/) #>>(03>. so cosmic radiation could fry your DNA. as chemists do with artificial flavors.+/65'4 2.'5+. #. where the real action is. So here’s the secret: Go into construction. Things could fall on you on construction sites. You’ll learn useful skills and be out on the surface. Controlling every step of a flavor’s development.” And despite the healthy sound of the phrase.'4>*045+-' 26'45+0/+/)>#/&>3+&+%6-' 3. that job selling respirators at the local space-hardware store sounds cozy. you just have to figure out how to tap it. but it’s a dead-end career. in most cases your body can’t even differentiate between the two. Flavor chemists can further enhance artificial flavors by stimulating your nose. All you need to do is stumble upon a nice deposit of precious material—like platinum or deuterium. a professor of food science at Chapman University and a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists. buy it. 05#->&+4$'-+'(>5*#5>5*'>>%#/ &0>#-->5*+4>+/>0/-:> >. Explore the landscape on coffee breaks. *'503+%#->#/&>40. working at the Spacemart. Of course. '#&+/)>5*'>>-+5'3#563'>#/& 3'-6%5#/5-:>6/&'345#/&+/)>+5 4. mucking with bacteria is expensive and the results are inconsistent.FYI tial to be more accurate and have layers of flavor. and auction off lots to the highest bidder. But you’re on Mars—take a chance! Robert Zubrin is president of the Mars Society and author of How to Live on Mars. Mars will be ripe with opportunity. a hydrogen isotope that could fuel fusion reactors—and you’ll have it made. It's their job to turn all that red dust into Earth-like soil that can support robust vegetation and seed the atmosphere to rain and form lakes and oceans. and Mars’s atmosphere is pretty thin. and they might even taste more like the real thing. You’ll be outdoors a lot. Those barbecue chips? You’ll save a few cents with the artificially flavored variety. costs less and often hits closer to the mark. “Aroma is often the dominant factor in flavor perception. In fact. MICHAEL CARROLL You’ve just landed on the Red Planet and are looking for a fresh start. Sure. natural flavors aren’t any better for you than man-made ones. Figure out where future beachfront property will be.—AMY GEPPERT p Ask a Mars Career Counselor What would be the best job to have in a Mars colony? DO I HAVE A DEAL FOR YOU Strike it rich selling yet-to-be terraformed land. Next. buddy up with the engineers working to terraform the Martian hillsides. DAY XERCISE EHow can this be trueIN EXACTLY 4 MINUTES PERcardio? when experts insist that you need at least 30 minutes for $14. You could play it safe in the colony.” says Anuradha Prakash.

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The father’s nuclear DNA matched all of Debbie Deer Creek’s Q  Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q Q 84 POPULAR SCIENCE JANUARY 2009 www. wasn’t definitive. ‘I wonder how this poor girl got from here to there?’ ” she says. “All I could think was. Montana. 125. the other from his father. submitted by the King County Sheriff’s office. “ ‘The lab wants more DNA samples to make sure that if there’s a hit. they can narrow it down. ‘You have to do this.FIELDWORK [continued from page 61] KILLER CON Josserand remembers the day in March 2006 when Unidentified Person F2775. 5'7". Fortunately. Josserand compared the family-reference sample with that.1EC flashed across her screen. She had just uploaded family-reference sample F3352. Last contact: 5/1984. Washington.’ ” “I called up my dad.net©® www.freedowns. Missoula.net©® .” he says. twin columns of numbers rolled down her monitor. Josserand read the name: Marcella Bachmann. one containing a cheek swab from Bachmann. “The metadata all matched. the Center for Human Identification received two FedEx envelopes. So the call went out to Derek Bachmann through Detective Crenshaw in King County.1US. I have to know. Still.’ ” On March 22. height.journal-plaza.” Bachmann says. “and flat-out told him. Like the reels of a slot machine. A perfect match. Estimated date and place of death: 8/19/1984.1EC and checked it against the file for the familyreference sample.journal-plaza. 2006. The rows for six out of six mitochondrialDNA base pairs flashed green. ideally from the biological father. so as not to get hopes up. weight. certainty depended on more family samples. But mtDNA alone. All of them matched.net & www. approximate age. back in 2004. Crenshaw didn’t say anything about the bone from Missoula. 17.net & www. Sansom was able to pull seven markers for nuclear DNA from the victim’s bone sample. “I gave him the spiel I give everyone.freedowns. she knew. Vancouver. From the missing-person report. Josserand retrieved the folder for Unidentified Person F2775.” she says of Debbie Deer Creek’s physical descriptors: female.

She’s ready to be found. I told him I’d been thinking about it.” At press time.” he recalls.” From beyond the bluff comes the rumbling sound of construction—or rather. Following protocol. Bachmann has come back. as well as the national DNA database.journal-plaza.” As Hintz spoke. proved identical.net©® .” Weatherman says. which in turn called Missoula and Captain Hintz. DNA from Christy’s femur had been entered into the Center for Human Identification’s database of cold-case remains. to ensure that nothing desecrates Marci’s spot. “It was a lot harder the first time. “I was in a poker tournament and had to step outside. that the picture couldn’t have been my sister.NECTION nuclear-DNA markers. To underscore the identification. Weatherman waits for Derek Bachmann to step out of the county truck they have borrowed for their second visit to the place where Weatherman unearthed Marci’s frozen remains on Christmas Eve 1984.” Bachmann offers as the men head back to the truck. Bad Germs. “I instantly grasped the idea that he was finally calling back about the Web-site photo.” Bachmann says. A strip of orange and yellow surveyor flags marks a path past Marci’s gravesite to what will be a viewing platform directly above a riverrestoration project. like that of his mother. on this snowy March day in Missoula. Bachmann shivers inside his leather jacket.” THE FINAL IDentification Almost exactly two years later. “Yeah. “Well.” Bachmann says of the visit. “I suppose you’re ready to put all this behind you. “That was a hard one for you. Weatherman nods in agreement. in part. Perhaps he can even persuade the county to raise a small memorial. A grove of spindly conifers still surrounds the mossy depression that once held Marci’s body. “I’ll never forget his call.freedowns. “until we get Christy identified.freedowns. www. Construction is due to begin in the spring.journal-plaza. In addition to tearing out the old dam. the Center for Human Identification relayed the news to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Jessica Snyder Sachs is the author of Good Germs.net©® www. The snow quickly saturates his sneakers as he follows the retired lawman a quarter of a mile through the woods to a bluff above the Clark Fork River. he disabused me of that. Bachmann suddenly realized that he didn’t want “closure” after all. the county plans to build a small park.net & www.net & www. deconstruction—echoing up from the Milltown Dam below. “I don’t suppose it ever will be.” Weatherman acknowledges. now out in paperback. who had submitted Debbie Deer Creek’s femur after Larry Weatherman’s retirement. Derek’s mtDNA. he proposes.