Fred Guterl

Stories by Fred Guterl

  • SELLING OUT FOR SCIENCE

    By the time Californians go to the polls this week, they will have endured months of Biology 101 lectures from celebrity activists such as eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and producer Doug Wick. Seeing Hollywood and Silicon Valley types pushing their favorite causes--in this case, Proposition 71, a $3 billion research initiative for human embryonic stem cells--is nothing new in California. Seeing scientists do so is another matter. Hans Kierstead of the University of California's Reeve-Irvine Research Center announced shortly before Election Day that he had succeeded in coaxing human embryonic stem cells into producing highly purified brain cells called oligodendrocytes, then injected them into rodents with bruised spines. After nine weeks, the rats regained their ability to walk and run. The results were "thrilling and humbling," said Kierstead. "The humbling part is that the cells are so incredibly powerful."A decade ago not one person in a million had heard of stem cells. Most people...
  • TRAVELING SUPERLIGHT

    Hybrid cars are all the rage, in part because they almost double the miles you can go on a gallon of gasoline. That's no small achievement, but to increase fuel efficiency even more, automakers will have to address another part of the equation: weight. Only 1 percent of a conventional car's gasoline is consumed transporting passengers, says energy guru Amory Lovins. The rest is expended in moving the car itself.One possible solution is to replace the steel in automobiles with carbon composites. These super-lightweight materials, made of carbon fibers held together by a gluelike substance, transformed weekend tennis and golf a few years ago by making racquets and clubs lighter, stiffer and more powerful. The aerospace industry plans to use them in its next generation of passenger airplanes. A car made of carbon composites could weigh less than half of a vehicle made of steel and might get 50 percent better gas mileage.The challenge for automakers is to find a way to manufacture...
  • Power People

    It's not hard to imagine corporate executives treating Terry Penney with skepticism. An engineering manager at the U.S. government's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., he speaks with such enthusiasm that he tends to start on his next thought before finishing the last one. He can, however, see the practical side of the seemingly far-out. Back in 1991, he urged U.S. car companies to develop a hybrid electric car, and now they're all playing catch-up as the Toyota Prius hybrid takes off. Today he's got a new pet idea."Look out in that parking lot," he says with a wave of his hand. "Those are what the utility industry calls stranded assets." The term usually refers to a generating plant that's not working at full capacity. But a car, with a bit of jiggering, perhaps, would make a mighty fine little power plant, he says. If you take all the cars in NREL's parking lot (a few hundred) and plug them into the electricity grid, you'd have a megawatt of power--the...
  • PEOPLE POWER

    THE HYBRID ECONOMY IS GOING TO NEED AN ELECTRICAL GRID THAT CAN ACCOMMODATE EVERY AVAILABLE POWER SOURCE
  • People Power

    The hybrid economy is going to need an electrical grid that can accommodate every available power source
  • THE DEVIL IS IN THE CLOUDS

    Meteorologists routinely tell us what next week's weather is likely to be, and climate scientists discuss what might happen in 100 years. Christoph Schar, though, ventures dangerously close to that middle realm, where previously only the Farmer's Almanac dared go: what will next summer's weather be like? Following last year's tragic heat wave, which directly caused the death of tens of thousands of people, the question is of burning interest to Europeans. Schar asserts that last summer's sweltering temperatures should no longer be thought of as extraordinary. "The situation in 2002 and 2003 in Europe, where we had a summer with extreme rainfall and record flooding followed by the hottest summer in hundreds of years, is going to be typical for future weather patterns," he says.Most Europeans have probably never read Schar's report (not least because it was published in the scientific journal Nature in the dead of winter) but they seem to be bracing themselves for the worst. As part...
  • The Battle Against Bugs Gets Serious

    It's not easy for a workaday bug to turn itself into a deadly human pathogen capable of causing, say, a flu pandemic. In the past few years, plenty of ambitious viruses have knocked themselves out trying. The bird flu of 1997 was particularly deadly--it killed a third of all people infected. But authorities were able to wipe it out (they had to kill more than a million chickens) before it found the right combination of genetic mutations that would have enabled it to spread from humans to humans. The outbreak killed only six people, but it was a close call.What's got flu hunters spooked this season is the persistence with which these new bird viruses keep trying to make the jump to humans. Earlier this year 30 million chickens had to be exterminated in northern Europe because they were infected by a bird virus. In early December yet another new virus killed 20,000 chickens and infected many others in farms near Seoul, forcing South Korean health officials to impose a 10-kilometer...
  • How To Halt Another Outbreak

    At this time of the year, the animal markets in southern China's Guangdong province are usually crowded with civets, raccoon dogs, turtles, snakes and even kittens, all destined for local restaurants. Entrees in this part of the world are traditionally kept alive until moments before they land on the dinner table. The practice would be nothing more than a cultural curiosity if it weren't so bad for the world's health. Animals and humans living in such close quarters pass viruses around like business cards at a sales convention. Last year one virus happened to cause severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. By the time the world took notice--in March--this new bug had slipped out into the countryside, through the airports of Beijing and Hong Kong and on to North America.Now southern China, the world's most efficient virus factory and ground zero for most of the globe's influenza epidemics, is revving up for another cold and flu season. This year, though, SARS has lost the element...
  • In Search Of Really Small Tweezers

    How do you put an atom to work? Unlike, say, a bowling ball, which has three holes for your fingers, atoms are hard to get a handle on. When scientists from Caltech set out to fashion a laser from a single atom, a big challenge was how to keep the atom still. In a recent paper in Nature, they describe rigging up an elaborate contraption of laser beams and mirrors merely to hold a cesium atom in place long enough--about 100 thousandths of a second--to perform their experiment.This masterful balancing act shows how difficult atoms can be. But dealing with them is becoming a top priority in research labs. The reason is simple: as machines get smaller, the parts are smaller still, and they're getting hard to handle. Computer chips (a kind of electrical machine) already contain wires that are only a few atoms wide. And if scientists ever figure out how to make a quantum computer, which would use atoms or molecules as computing elements, they're going to need a way to assemble it.A...
  • The Global Makeover

    When the ancient Indian poet Kalidasa wrote his epic tale of love between Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati, his vision of female beauty had little to do with the half-starved waifs of Western catwalks or the lean-muscled athletes of cereal boxes. To Kalidasa, Parvati was a soft, voluptuous temptress. In the centuries since, ampleness has remained a great female virtue in India. This classical image of beauty is inscribed on temple walls and depicted in sculpture, paintings and literature, including the famous treatise on esthetics, the Kama Sutra. The ideal Indian beauty, says Alka Pande, author of "Indian Erotica," has always been "heavy breasted, with a languorous gait, large child-bearing hips, full--in every sense of the term--luscious lips." The ideal has been expressed, too, in crude but simple measurements of chest, waist and hips, most often in inches: 36, 24, 36.Those are precisely Preeti Singh's measurements. She also happens to have a luscious-lipped, round face that...
  • Overloaded?

    Back in the dark ages, when comic books were the rage, South Korean kids would gather excitedly at the corner shop to get a look at the latest translation of "Slam Dunk," a Japanese series about high-school basketball players. Now they congregate at places like PC Bang, a dimly lit room filled with smoke and the bleating of videogames. Choi Mun Gwon, 13, sits intently in front of a monitor, leading wizards and warriors in battle against the forces of hell in the action game Diablo. When he isn't at PC Bang, he's usually instant-messaging his friends. "My parents don't mind," he says. "I don't have that much homework yet."The world that today's kids inhabit is very different from the one their par-ents grew up in. Unlike other generation gaps, this one isn't about music or fashion--it's about technology. In South Korea and around the world, teenagers make up and break up with a few strokes of a cell-phone keypad.Today's kids aren't just wired--they're wired and rewired as technology...
  • Too Much Information?

    Today's kids are the most wired in history. What does that mean for their brains?
  • Troubled Seas

    Scientists aboard the research ship Tangaroa had set out from Australia in search of a particular underwater mountain. It was located in the Norfolk Ridge, out in the middle of the Tasman Sea, and sonar maps suggested that it was just what they were looking for: gentle slopes free of rocks and crags, and a peak that rose to within 2,000 meters of the water's surface. But on day five of the voyage, the seas were rough and the seamount was nowhere to be found. Reluctantly, they decided to explore another underwater mountain. They lowered their "dredge"--a metal box with a net lining--and began dragging it up the slope. Immediately it snagged. "The bottom is very hard and deceptively flat but fractured with fissures and valleys that are nearly impossible to tow our gear over," reads the log entry for 11 a.m. on May 14.That day the crew managed to pull up a small haul of creatures--spider fish and long-legged crabs and others known to frequent seamounts. Two of them looked especially...
  • To Build A Baby

    The extraordinary thing about Molly Nash is that she seems like a typical second grader in Englewood, Colorado. "She can be as stubborn as an ox," says Lisa Nash, her mother, "and she smarts off now and then." But like most 8-year-olds, she has redeeming qualities--a round, cheeky face, a toothy smile, brown bangs. She also takes dance lessons and plays soccer, and she's a whiz in reading and math. "She's a bit small for her age," says Nash. "But not extremely small. There are kids in her class who are smaller."Smallness is a vestige of Molly's tentative start in life. For a while Molly grew far too slowly, and the odds were good that she wouldn't live much beyond the age of 6. She had been born with a rare disorder called Fanconi's anemia, which was causing cells in her bone marrow--the ones that produce white blood cells and other defenses against infection--to fail. Molly needed new ones from a donor who was an almost exact genetic match. That meant that her parents needed to...
  • Ouch! That Feels Better

    Lei Dao is lying on his stomach with his trousers pulled down. His doctor, Hong Na, twists and turns one needle into his hip, then another into his backside. "It hurts," cries Lei--then gives a clench-jawed laugh at what he's gotten himself into. This discomfort, though, is nothing next to the pain that brought him to Wangjing Hospital in Beijing in the first place. As a writer for a legal publication, he spends long hours working at his desk, which often leaves him with agonizing pain in his right leg. When it comes to most of his ailments, Lei prefers drugs and other conventional treatments, but nothing he's found alleviates muscle pain better than acupuncture. "Western medicine can do nothing about my pain," Lei says, "and acupuncture works."Numerous scientific studies have confirmed this judgment, and it's now widely accepted in medical circles that acupuncture is an effective treatment for most types of pain. But Lei may be mistaken in one respect: the distinction between...
  • Crazy Speed Demon

    When Joao Magueijo signed up for a graduate fellowship at Cambridge University in England in 1990, he thought he would be joining the rich tradition of Isaac Newton and his intellectual heirs, the ideal place for a young scientist to plumb the mysteries of the cosmos. What he found instead was a weird social life. The English students and professors were eccentric, bratty, prone to striking absurd aristocratic poses even when giving directions to the local pub. It didn't help that Magueijo was a foreigner. He had been born and educated in Portugal--about as far from England, culturally, as you can get and still be in Europe. Until he was 7 a fascist governed the country, and even by the late 1980s people still half expected punishment for expressing their views. "My first year at Cambridge was very depressing," he says. "I was in one of the biggest, snobbiest colleges. Everybody was trying to show off. It was a very bad environment."Magueijo eventually fled the claustrophobic campus...
  • A Delicate Reprieve

    When the storm of January 2002 struck, the small group of scientists who monitor the return of the monarch butterflies to the Trans-Volcanic Mountains in central Mexico each winter didn't think it was any big deal. A bit of snow and freezing rain is normal for the region. So why would a storm bother the hardy and migratory monarchs, who after all are tough enough to make the 2,000-mile trip from southern Canada and the United States? This time, though, cold, wet rain had soaked the butterflies hanging on the branches of the oyamel fir trees. When the weather cleared and temperatures dropped, they froze. On the ground, a thick carpet of monarchs lay dead. "We were wading in butterflies up to our knees," says Lincoln Brower, an entomologist at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. He and his colleagues estimated that 500 million monarchs had died from the storm--five times more than they thought had even existed in the colony.That spring only about 20 percent of the usual number of...
  • The Human Factor

    Imagine being Ron Dittemore. For the past week, NASA's shuttle program manager has been the point man on the worst spaceflight disaster in 17 years. He's had to deal with grief for his lost colleagues, and guilt, perhaps, over not ensuring their safety. At the same time he's had to endure daily briefings before reporters hungry for quick answers. And then there's the question of whether a hunk of foam that fell on the shuttle's left wing at liftoff (captured on video) might have damaged fragile heat-shielding tiles, causing the accident. NASA engineers, under Dittemore's direction, had met during Columbia's voyage and decided the foam posed "no safety of flight issue." When the shuttle streaked across the sky on Feb. 1 like a meteorite, it seemed to demonstrate to all the world how dead wrong the engineers had apparently been.As much as Dittemore may have wanted to defend NASA's original assessment, he couldn't. The physical constraints of manned spaceflight may be harsh and...
  • The Fear Of Food

    Tony Hall's career has always depended on his command of certain facts about corn. For instance, did you know that last year the United States produced more than 9 billion bushels, 42 percent of the world's supply? And that a year's worth of U.S. exports would fill a train of hopper cars from Paris to Beijing, by way of Calcutta? Back in 1984--when Hall was a U.S. congressman from the corn-belt state of Ohio--he went on a fact-finding mission to Ethiopia, which had been suffering from famine, so he could better argue the case in Washington for increasing U.S. food aid. Hall found more than facts. When he and his entourage drove to the plateau north of the town of Alamata, "I walked upon a scene of about 50,000 people just very peacefully lying around, moaning--and dying," he recalls. "When I came home, I decided that there's lots of things you can do in Congress that really don't amount to much. But this was important."...
  • Attack Of The Clones

    During Christmastime in Italy, there's always a whiff of immaculate conception in the air. But this year Italians found themselves waiting for a wholly different kind of miracle birth--one that has nothing to do with religion. Back in November, Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori announced that one of his patients was carrying a cloned embryo and would give birth "by the first of the year." Because of Antinori's track record--back in 1994, a 63-year-old post-menopausal patient of his became the oldest woman ever to give birth to a baby--the claim elicited a firestorm of condemnation. "This is lunacy," an aide to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told Parliament. "Antinori speaks of contributing to the scientific and cultural progress of humanity--he's got a fine idea of progress."Before Antinori could secure his place in infamy, members of the Raelian sect announced the birth of "Eve," an alleged clone of her 31-year-old American mother, on Dec. 27 (following story). The...
  • Potatoes No More!

    Albert Chung had raced the five-mile track in Mugello, Italy, so many times he knew just what the other motorcyclists competing against him were going to do--before they did it. That's because they weren't real motorcyclists; they were virtual ones in the videogame MotoGP. Despite all the artificial-intelligence tricks programmers have at their disposal, players of even modest skill and experience can suss out videogames not long after tearing off the shrink wrap. Recently, Chung, a 20-year-old employee at Electronic Boutique in Phoenix, who doubles as a videogame tester for Xbox Live, got his hands on a not-yet-released version of MotoGP that's certain not to get stale. Rather than relying on AI, it's designed so that 16 players, each from the comfort of his own television set, can compete in the same game. The difference was dramatic. Since each motorcyclist jockeying for position around the turns was a virtual proxy for one of Chung's friends, Chung hadn't the slightest idea what...
  • The Truth About Smog

    Devra Davis peered into the South African bush trying to find a lion she had been told was no more than 20 feet away. No matter how hard she looked, she couldn't see it--until it suddenly roared and charged her vehicle at a seemingly impossible speed. (Fortunately, the beast was bluffing and pulled back at the last moment.) For Davis, this fright has come to epitomize the human capacity for looking without seeing. Davis, an epidemiologist, has spent most of her professional life examining reams of data on pollution and public health and trying to discern patterns.One of the things that makes "When Smoke Ran Like Water," her book on the battle against pollution, so powerful is that Davis hasn't merely studied the data, she's lived them. She grew up in Donora, a small town nestled in the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania where everybody relied for their living on the local steel mill. She never wondered why the landscape beyond her one-story cinderblock home was barren and brown,...
  • What Freud Got Right

    Sigmund Freud has been out of the scientific mainstream for so long, it's easy to forget that in the early-20th century he was regarded as a towering man of science--not, as he is remembered today, as the founder of the marginalized form of therapy known as psychoanalysis. At the start of his career, he wanted to invent a "science of the mind," but the Victorian tools he had were too blunt for the task. So he dropped the "science" part and had his patients lie on a couch, free-associating about childhood, dreams and fantasies. This technique yielded the revolutionary notion that the human mind was a soap opera of concealed lust and aggression, of dark motives, self-deception and dreams rife with hidden meaning. The problem was, Freud had lots of anecdotes but almost no empirical data. With the invention of tools like the PET scan that can map the neurological activity inside a living brain, scientists discounted the windy speculations of psychoanalysis and dismissed Freud himself as...
  • Terror: Assessing The Threat

    As the country makes contingency plans for a smallpox attack, bioterrorism experts are trying to assess the real risk that terrorists might be able to unleash the deadly virus. Labs in the United States and Russia keep samples under lock and key; whether anyone else has it is the crucial question. No longer found in nature, smallpox can't be made in a lab and would probably require a suicidal carrier to deliver it. The threat is remote, but still terrifying. Here are NEWSWEEK's answers to frequently asked questions:Who's got smallpox?Before smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1980, doctors used to take cultures routinely and save them for study. The WHO collected these samples in 1979 and locked them away at the CDC in Atlanta and at Russia's Vector lab. But it wouldn't have been difficult for any country to retain clandestine samples. In the 1970s the Soviets also kept a 20-ton stockpile of smallpox on hand for weapons. Although most of that stuff would have long ago...
  • Battle Against The Bugs

    Nomthandazo Ngwenya's reaction upon learning one day last week that she had contracted malaria was to chastise herself for not figuring it out. "For 10 days I had diarrhea, stomach pains, no strength, sweats and cold shivers, and a splitting headache," she says. "I don't know why I didn't realize I had malaria." Ngwenya, 18, took an ambulance to Mosvold Hospital in Ingwavuma, a tiny town in northeastern South Africa, where doctors administered quinine. It's not the most effective antimalarial medicine--the parasite has developed resistance to it--but it's the only available treatment that's safe for Ngwenya, who is five months pregnant. This will be her first child and her second bout with malaria. "I had it before, in 1997," she says.That was the year malaria returned to the flatlands of South Africa after an absence of 50 years. The disease came roaring back after the government stopped spraying with the pesticide DDT in favor of more environmentally friendly--and less effective-...
  • Primates: Family Report

    The news on our cousins the primates is decidedly mixed. Monkeys and apes have been declining in population for years, and the latest survey by Conservation International confirms the worst. Since January 2000, the number of threatened species has swelled from 120 to 195; 55 are on the verge of extinction. Many of the newest names on the list live in Asia, where efforts to fight forest destruction and poaching have made little headway. Three years ago only 100 golden-headed langurs were left on Cat Ba Island off Vietnam; now there are about 50. At this rate, one in three primates is headed for extinction. But there's some cause for optimism. Conservationists have put protections in place for several species in Latin America; they could do the same in Asia, given enough funds. The alarming numbers are also partly due to the discovery of new species--38 since 1990. "We have a few more in cages waiting to be described," says CI director Russell Mittermeier. The animals are so shy they...
  • The Nerds Of Weather

    The sun is just poking over the hills of central Pennsylvania. The cars in the parking lot are thick with dew. For hours now, Elliot Abrams, the chief meteorologist at AccuWeather, has been sitting in his cramped, windowless office, working the phones like a stockbroker during a crash. Every five minutes or so, he's patched in to a different local radio station somewhere in the U.S.A. The hard part isn't keeping the local weather for Milwaukee and Boston straight in his head. The hard part is remembering which persona he's supposed to use. Is it the New York all-business "Elliot Abrams with the 1010 WINS AccuWeather forecast" who must squeeze his report into 45 pithy seconds? Or the Huskers football booster he pretends to be for KKAR in Omaha, Neb.? How about the chatty neighbor of WKZO's Kalamazoo, Mich., who likes bad weather puns, complete with sound effects? "In these dog days of summer"--woof! woof!--"the thunderstorms can be truly terrierizing."As the summer heat waves...
  • Special Report: Futurology

    He changed the future without ever winning a vote or commanding an army. All Albert Einstein did was have an idea. It's not a particularly easy one to grasp in all its ramifications, but the basic insight he expressed in his 1905 paper on special relativity is almost childlike in its simplicity. And yet it ushered in a new golden age of physics and did much to shape the course of the 20th century. It also transformed the way the future is made: not with wars and revolutions but with scientific insights. That much is still true. But Einstein has also come to represent an obsolete stereotype. This disheveled, socially challenged scientist with the wild hair and the shabby cardigan epitomizes the popular notion that science proceeds in great leaps at the hands of the occasional lone genius, who reinterprets everything and achieves, in one bold stroke, what science philosophers like to call a "paradigm shift." There's no doubt that Einstein did exactly that. Physics was never the same,...
  • Pondering The Future's Future

    He changed the future without ever winning an election or commanding an army. All Albert Einstein did was have an idea. It's not a particularly easy one to grasp in all its ramifications, but the basic insight he expressed in his 1905 paper on special relativity is almost childlike in its simplicity. And yet it ushered in a golden age of physics and did much to shape the course of the 20th century. It also transformed the way the future is made: not with wars and revolutions but with scientific insights. But Einstein has also come to represent an obsolete stereotype. This disheveled, socially challenged scientist with the wild hair and the shabby cardigan epitomizes the popular notion that science proceeds in great leaps at the hands of the lone genius, who reinterprets everything and achieves, in one bold stroke, what science philosophers like to call a "paradigm shift." There's no doubt that Einstein did exactly that. Physics was never the same, and his insights cleared the way...
  • Put Out The Dung Fires

    Forty years ago Rachel Carson published "Silent Spring," an environmentalist's view of industrial society and the havoc it was wreaking on the natural world. The thrust of the book was, to many people at the time, novel, and the tale it told was vivid. The issue of the day was pesticides, particularly DDT, and the unintended damage they were causing to wildlife and human health. DDT was an "elixir of death" dispensed by industry, concerned with the pursuit of profits at the expense of the Earth and its people. (In the retelling, industrial nations were sometimes cast as the villains and developing nations the victims.) The book struck home so forcefully that it kick-started the environmental movement. DDT was banned around the world.The tale that world leaders and environmentalists will try to tell at this week's summit in Johannesburg is much less riveting. As storytellers, they have the added burden of experience. Although the past few decades have brought some environmental...
  • All In The Family

    Ahounta Djimdoumalbaye awoke before sunrise with his three fellow hunters. It was July 19, 2001, and they had driven nine days through the Djourab desert, a vast, primordial desolation in the central African country of Chad where renegade former soldiers roam in search of plunder, and daytime temperatures would clock 136 in the shade--if any existed. The previous day, the party had reached its destination--a site dubbed TM266--and at dusk had viewed a flat stretch of land covered with the objects of their hunt: ancient fossils. Now, after sleeping on cots downwind of their pickup trucks to protect themselves from blowing sand, they began their search in the relatively frigid 90-degree dawn, looking less like academics than extras in a "Mad Max" sequel.Of the three Chadians and one Frenchman in the party, Djimdoumalbaye, 31, was the acknowledged master of fossil spotting. "You have to be curious, and touch everything that lies on the ground," he told NEWSWEEK. "If there's a crust, it...
  • Traveling Sharks

    The huge shark in "Jaws" liked to hang around Martha's Vineyard. But it turns out that great whites prefer to roam. Marine biologist Peter Pyle attached electronic tags to four great whites off the coast of northern California two years ago. "We kind of had an idea they'd head south to Baja," where there's a feeding ground off the coast, he says. Pyle was shocked to find the sharks heading due west instead, eventually ending up in Hawaii, 2,500 miles away.The trip has biologists astonished. Since the sharks cruise at a poky 2mph, the journey took months. And there were no snack stops; great whites feed on mammals, not fish. Even in Hawaii, endangered monk seals are few and far between. Why did the sharks make the trip? Reproduction isn't a likely motive: pregnant females have been seen only in the far western Pacific (scientists now suspect these may be the sharks' only spawning grounds). Here's another odd thing: the creatures all seemed to spend a few days at an empty patch of...