Lauren Gravitz reports, for our annual feature selecting 10 important emerging technologies, on a technique for rapidly isolating long pieces of DNA very inexpensively–a boon to the nascent field of personalized medicine (“$100 Genome”). “I thought I had some idea of how cool this technology is, but I had no idea how powerful until I saw it in action,” says Gravitz. “Over the course of 15 minutes, they took a sample of commercial DNA, broke it up into long fragments, labeled it, loaded it into one of their chips, and placed the chip on a normal microscope with a camera attached. Suddenly, on the monitor attached to the camera, strands of DNA started flying through the chip, and I realized it was the first time I had ever actually seen molecules of DNA. They were no longer just images in a book.” Gravitz also wrote this issue’s Demo (“Laser Show in the Surgical Suite,” p.88), on a laser technique that can prompt wounds to stitch themselves closed. “It was pretty incredible to watch. With just a laser and a bit of dye, the skin appeared to be healing itself,” she says. Gravitz is a freelance science writer whose work has appeared in Discover, the Christian Science Monitor, the Economist, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other publications.
Gino Segrè’s essay on becoming indoctrinated into the “family” of physics traces in fascinating detail the intertwined ties of famed physicists (“The Family Business”). “In physics, the concept of family can be explored on so many different levels: personal, professional, and institutional,” Segrè observes. “My brother, nephew, uncle, father-in-law, brother-in-law, and many cousins all are or were physicists,” he says. “Physics has also provided a kind of family feeling to me and others working in the profession, complete with rifts, feuds, and accusations, as well as the more traditional expressions of warmth, trust, and support. I wonder how this family atmosphere has evolved over the past century, as physics has gone from a profession practiced by perhaps a few hundred people, mostly in Northern Europe, to a global enterprise pursued by tens of thousands.” Segrè is a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics and A Matter of Degrees: What Temperature Reveals about the Past and Future of Our Species, Planet, and Universe. He is currently working on a new book, but its topic is “a family secret.”
Matthew L. Wald reports on a development that might help revitalize the nuclear-power industry (“Traveling-Wave Reactor”). The traveling-wave reactor could allow a small bit of fuel to power a plant for hundreds of years without the need to refuel. “The underlying idea is analogous to cooking a Thanksgiving turkey breast-side down,” says Wald. “Sometimes using the standard ingredients but in a different way can produce a better result. In this case, the raw ingredient is still likely to be uranium, but if this reactor runs as advertised, it would make much of its fuel as it operated, cutting the cost of preparing fuel and stretching uranium supplies.” Wald is a reporter for the New York Times, where he has written about nuclear power since 1979.
Olivier Asselin shot the photographs for a TR10 story about a way to store Web pages that is cheaper and uses less energy than current methods (“HashCache”). The advance could provide faster access to Web content in countries with limited bandwidth. “Technology is quickly changing things in Africa,” he says. A Canadian photographer based in Ghana, Asselin has had work in Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, and other periodicals.
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