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October 20, 2008

Kevin Bullis, in this issue’s cover story (“Sun + Water = Fuel”), reports on work by MIT’s Daniel Nocera and others to unlock the potential of solar energy through artificial photosynthesis. “Solar power only works when the sun’s out. If it’s ever going to oust fossil fuels, we’ll need a way to store the energy from sunlight cheaply, so we can use it after the sun sets,” Bullis says. “Now chemists, by imitating the way plants store energy from the sun, may have found a way to do this, clearing the way for solar power that works day and night. The advance has ignited intense interest and controversy–making it a fascinating area to report on.” Bullis is Technology Review’s energy editor.

Graham Allison wrote this issue’s essay on the prospect of nuclear terrorism (“Nuclear Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Terrorism”). “By a combination of good sense, great fortune, and grace, we survived and protected both peace and freedom during the Cold War–without a nuclear Armageddon,” says ­Allison. “The 21st century poses new threats that will require new thinking about unthinkables.” This essay extends the argument in his 2004 book, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, which was selected by the New York Times as one of the “100 most notable books of the year.” Allison served as assistant secretary of defense in the first Clinton administration; he currently directs the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he also teaches.

Daryl Gregory, in his short story “Glass”, imagines a drug that can awaken empathy in those who lack it. “Psychopaths are an interesting puzzle,” says Gregory. “About 4 percent of the general population, and about 20 percent of the prison population, simply don’t have a conscience. They don’t feel remorse when they hurt someone, lie, or cheat. Most researchers think that the change is at the neurological level and that, quite simply, psychopaths are wired up differently from the rest of us. This raises ripe questions: what, exactly, is a conscience good for? And what would happen if you could switch it on and off?” Gregory’s stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and several anthologies. His first novel, Pandemonium, was recently published.

Michael Rubenstein photographed portraits for David Talbot’s feature about the Indian startup mChek, whose mobile-phone payment software could help provide banking services to the poor (“Upwardly Mobile”). Rubenstein, who used to live in New York, is now based in Mumbai, where he lives with his fiancée. He travels throughout South Asia photographing stories for clients; his work has appeared in many publications, including the New York Times, Paris Match, Time, and the Wall Street Journal.

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