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March/April 2006

Sigma Xi International Newsletter
Volume 5, Number 3/4
March/April 2006

This electronic bulletin is designed to keep subscribers updated on developments in Sigma Xi’s international activities and to provide links and articles on topics of interest to researchers around the world. To submit an item to the newsletter, contact the Manager of the International Program at international@sigmaxi.org. You can also download and print a PDF version of this issue. To subscribe to this newsletter, please use this online form.

Past Issues

In This Issue

Science and Technology News

Cost-Effective Solar Cells

Scientists from the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley Lab and the University of California, Berkeley have announced a breakthrough in the manufacture of inorganic dual-nanocrystal cells. The researchers say that the ultra-thin solar cells are comprised entirely of inorganic nanocrystals and are as cheap and easy to make as solar cells made from organic polymers, but offer the added advantage of being stable in air because they contain no organic materials.

The research paper describes a technique where rod-shaped nanometer-sized crystals of two semiconductors, cadmium selenide (CdSe) and cadmium telluride (CdTe), were synthesized separately and then dissolved in solution and spin-cast onto a conductive glass substrate. The resulting films, which were about 1,000 times thinner than a human hair, displayed efficiencies for converting sunlight to electricity of about 3 percent. While this is comparable to the conversion efficiencies of the best organic solar cells, it is still substantially lower than conventional solar cells.

Traditional silicon solar cells involve a costly manufacturing process. Even the fabrication of the simplest cell is a complex process that has to take place under precisely controlled conditions, such as high vacuum and temperatures of up to 1,400 degrees Celsius. The discovery 20 years ago that organic polymers could be made to conduct electricity encouraged researchers to look at how these materials could be used to make photovoltaic devices. But while organic solar cells can be made in bulk quantities at cheap cost, the efficiency of these devices has always been poor compared to the power-conversion efficiencies of traditional cells made from semiconductors. It's possible that the new nanocrystal method could overcome the cost problems of traditional silicon cells and the stability and efficiency problems of organic cells, thus making the system more cost-effective. Further research is being planned to develop a prototypical system of the new invention. (Source: http://snipurl.com/o0vs).

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Programmable Matter From Artificial Atoms

A bulk substance whose physical and chemical properties can be adjusted in real time through the application of light, voltage, electric or magnetic fields is known as programmable matter. In recent years, with the help of the quantum dot, scientists have discovered an "artificial atom" that could be manipulated to create "programmable matter."

A quantum dot is a device which traps electrons in a very small region of space, forcing them to behave like tiny standing waves, just as they do in atoms. An artificial atom is a cloud of electrons trapped in this way. Although it has no nucleus of its own, the artificial atom behaves in many ways like a real atom does. Producing large numbers of artificial atoms inside a bulk material, such as a semiconductor, will alter its properties dramatically so that, for example, it can be made to appear and behave like a metal, or an insulator. The material's color, transparency, reflectance, thermal and magnetic properties can also be altered in real time.

Although no such programmable matter has been manufactured yet, the researchers have indicated numerous possible applications of this matter. Some of the possible areas are: the manufacture of smart houses and smart vehicles that tune themselves in real-time to manage energy more efficiently; capability of house walls that adjust their transmissivity -- from reflective to opaque to transparent -- in response both to the sun and to the needs of the inhabitants; creation of cars whose bodies dynamically adjust their storage of electrical and kinetic energy; widespread application in infotech- and biotech-related products; creation of novel sensors and computing devices. (Source: http://www.snipurl.com/o0w1).

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UN Declares 'International Year of Planet Earth'
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the year 2008 to be the United Nations International Year of Planet Earth. The Year's activities will span the three years from 2007 to 2009. The aim of the International Year of Planet Earth is to demonstrate new and exciting ways in which Earth sciences can help future generations meet the challenges involved in ensuring a safer and more prosperous world. The achievements of this aim will be supported by two major UN programs, namely, the Outreach Program, which will include educational ventures at all levels; and the Science Program, which will concentrate on "big issues" of complex interaction within the Earth system, and its long-term sustainability. For further information, please visit:
www.yearofplanetearth.org.

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Committee Advises USAID to Enhance S&T Capacity
A committee of the National Research Council, the branch of the US National Academies of Science that carries out independent studies of government agencies, recommends that the United States, and particularly the US Agency for International Development (USAID), should increase its support for building science and technology capacity in developing countries, including more support for graduate education and broadband Internet access. The group wants USAID to reverse steep declines in the number of scientists and engineers it employs, and in its support for students from developing countries studying technical subjects at US universities. It further advises that the agency should recruit senior officials with strong scientific and management credentials. The committee also urges USAID to coordinate the science and technology-related activities that other US government departments and agencies undertake in developing countries. (Source:
http://snipurl.com/o0wj).

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ASEAN Countries Established Virtual Institute
ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries have established the ASEAN Virtual Institute of Science and Technology (AVIST) for continuing professional development and advanced studies in science and technology with opportunities for practical experience at participating universities. AVIST courses are developed using the Virtual Class (VClass) platform. VClass is an open source e-learning platform developed by the Distributed Education Center at the Asian Institute of Technology. It is specifically designed for delivering online courses by two different methods - through "virtual classroom learning" or "virtual class on demand."

ASEAN was established in 1967, its 10 member countries encompassing about half a billion people in Southeast Asia. Considering the urgent need to improve the knowledge and skill of its workforce, especially in the fields of science and technology, ASEAN established AVIST to achieve this objective without workers having to interrupt their working routine. Collaborative efforts among ASEAN countries ensure that the subject matters of the courses offered are relevant to the needs of the region. Accredited courses on selected subjects in science and technology will also enhance graduate education in participating institutes. Some of the courses being offered by AVIST are: Hyper Course on Bioinformatics, Sustainable Ecotourism Development, Technology and Innovation Management. It also provides a limited number of partial scholarships from UNESCO to applicants from ASEAN Member Countries and the Asia and Pacific Region. For additional information, please visit the Web site: http://www.avist.org. From there you can access AVIST links to its branches in the ASEAN member countries.

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Research Results Lost in Translation
Could the results of valuable research activities be lost in translation? This happened with genetic research carried out in China. A recent study published in the journal PLoS Medicine suggests that genetic research conducted in China often fails to reach the international scientific community.

The study identified 161 results on 12 gene-disease associations when they searched Chinese medical database. However, only 20 of the above 161 studies were found indexed in PubMed, a popular US government medical database. Moreover, the study revealed that the first Chinese study appeared with a time lag of 2 to 21 years after the first non-Chinese study on the topic. The study calls for capturing the research output of Chinese and other non-English speaking researchers by establishing a common network of all investigators working on the genetics of a specific disease (Source: http://snipurl.com/nxdm).

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Journalists in Developing Countries Confused on Climate Change
Although developing countries are more vulnerable to the potentially devastating affects of climate change, journalists in these countries have a poor understanding of the subject, and they place low priority in reporting the issue in the media. A recent survey conducted in four developing countries by UK-based organization Panos London revealed that climate change is rarely covered in their print and broadcast media. This might be attributed to the poor understanding of science by the journalists, editors and general public, and very low priority on climate change by the respective governments. The survey included 47 journalists from Honduras, Jamaica, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. In order for the media to be more sensitive to this important issue, the survey report urges training for both journalists and editors. It also recommends steps to raise awareness on climate change through constant interaction among researchers, policymakers, the media and those affected by it. The 18-page report is available on-line as a PDF file (Source:
http://snipurl.com/o0wh).

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International Cooperation, Fellowships and Scholarships

NSF Initiates PIRE Program
The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has taken a new initiative to enable US scientists and engineers to build strong, long-lasting international research collaborations and to develop a new pool of globally engaged U. scientists and engineers. NSF recently awarded its first grant under the new Partnership for International Research and Education (PIRE) program. The PIRE awards support research on various NSF-funded disciplines, such as distant galaxies, nanoscience for clean drinking water, computer speech recognition and language translation, patterns of learning by children of immigrants, seismic activity in the Earth's mantle under Africa, and plants and animals unique to Patagonia, to name a few. The projects under this program may cover areas such as close integration of research and education, extensive student preparation for foreign experiences and strong mentoring during international research, as well as activities that will contribute to developing an international community of scholars at U.S. universities. Some of the examples of PIRE projects are: the use of IT resources for distance learning, virtual transcontinental lab meetings, and international webcast seminars; developing research, education and recruitment links with minority-serving institutions; taking advantage of culture and language training to put scientific research in a cross-cultural context; combining scientific research training with a Peace Corps International Master's program; developing international curriculum units for students who do not travel; involving outreach to integrate international research findings into K-12 activities, including offering high-school students research internships in the PIRE laboratories; and undertaking efforts to enhance public understanding of the international dimensions of science. Please see:
http://snipurl.com/o0xh.

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Canadian Fellowships and Scholarships for International Applicants
Various Canadian agencies have offered fellowships and scholarships for international research and training. These agencies include the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, National Research Council of Canada, Canadian Institute of Health Research, The Canada Council and others. The programs support foreign students, scientists and researchers to undertake graduate studies, postdoctoral research or other kinds of research collaboration in various fields of natural and health sciences. The activities supported and application deadlines differ from program to program. For detailed information, please see:
http://snipurl.com/nxkw. From there you can link to the site of the fellowship program that you are interested in.

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Graduate Program on Physics for Students from Developing Countries
The International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and Faculty of Science of the University of Trieste, Italy have joined together in the education of physics for graduate programs from developing countries. Under this program, in 2006 scholarships and travel grants will be awarded to qualified selected students from developing countries that are members of the United Nations, UNESCO or IAEA. After successful completion of the program, the prospective students will be awarded "Laura Magistralis in Fisica" and "Astrofisica e Fisica Spaziale," the equivalent to a Master in Physics or in Astrophysics. The application deadline is April 30, 2006. All applications should be sent to ICTP-TRIL Programme, Starda Costiera 11, 34014 Trieste, Italy. For additional information, you can visit the Web site:
http://snipurl.com/o0xp.

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2006-2007 Short-term Fellowship Programs in Japan
The Japan Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS) has announced its fellowship programs for research in Japan for 2006-2007. Funded by a subsidy from the Japanese government, these fellowship programs are meant to promote international cooperation and mutual understanding through scientific research. The programs allow the Japanese scientists to invite their foreign colleagues to Japan to participate in cooperative work and other academic activities.

Every year 242 fellows will be invited for its short-term fellowship program with a visit duration of 14 to 60 days. The fellowships will cover round-trip air ticket, stipend and domestic travel allowance. Application deadline is May 12, 2006. For more information, you may contact the Overseas Fellowship Division of JSPS or visit the Web site: http://snipurl.com/nxkt.

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Call for Essay Competition Papers
The Global Forum for Health Research and
The Lancet are sponsoring their first joint essay competition on the occasion of Forum 10, the 2006 annual meeting of the Global Forum for Health Research to be held in Cairo, Egypt, from October 29 to November 2, 2006.

Entries are invited from young professionals working in or interested in the broad spectrum of health research on some aspect of the overall theme of Forum 10: Combating disease and promoting health. The authors of the essays should be 30 years old or younger on January 1, 2006. Essays should be written in English and should be no more than 1,500 words. The winning essay will be published on the Lancet website and its author invited to take part in Forum 10 with all expenses paid. The deadline for receipt of entries is June 1, 2006. For additional information, please contact: http://snipurl.com/o13t.

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Course on Modern Technologies in Gene Expression
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), through its international programs, is supporting the development of a course on modern technologies in gene expression detection and data integration. The course will be held in Hungary July 18-26, 2006. The deadline of application for attending the course is April 28, 2006. The course will explore technologies for detecting and quantifying gene expression in mammalian cells and tissues, such as DNA microarrays, real-time PCR, chromatin immuno-precipitation (ChIP)-on-chip technologies, and bioinformatics of integrated datasets. The course will cover such topics as transcription factor-regulated gene networks, epigenetic modifications, the role of siRNA and microRNAs, and novel methods for visualizing gene expression. In order to apply for the course, please visit: http://snipurl.com/o0y1.

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Sigma Xi News

Five Scientists and Journalists Selected for Sigma Xi Awards
Three scientists and two science journalists have been selected to receive Sigma Xi's prestigious annual awards in 2006. Susan Lindquist, Alan Lightman and W. Raphael Hix will receive the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement, John P. McGovern Science and Society Award, and Young Investigator Award, respectively. Journalists Claudia Dreifus and Richard Hill will be inducted as honorary Sigma Xi members. The award ceremony will be held at the Society's annual meeting in Detroit next November 2-5. For additional information about the awards and their recipients, please see Sigma Xi Today:
http://snipurl.com/o0yb.

Science Café Workshop
A full-day Workshop on Science Cafés was organized on February 7, 2006 at the Sigma Xi Center. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the workshop was jointly organized by Sigma Xi and NOVA ScienceNow and was attended by 39 participants from all over the United States. The purpose of the workshop was to exchange experiences of the science cafés operating under different environments, and incorporate the relevant lessons into participants' own science café operation. Science Cafés are hosted around the country and based on Café Scientifique, which began in the UK in 1998 and consists of gatherings of people to discuss the latest developments in science in non-academic environments such as a local bar or café. For additional information, please contact Martin Baucom, Manager, Public Understanding of Science Program, Sigma Xi.

New Manager for International Programs
Syed Ahmad joined in the Sigma Xi staff in January, 2006 as the new Manager for International Programs. Ahmad acquired an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering and Ph.D. in Economics from Friendship University in Moscow. He possesses more than 17 years of experience in program and project management at the national and international level. For more, please see: http://snipurl.com/o0yb.

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Upcoming Events
The Lancet Asia Medical Forum; Singapore; May 3-4, 2006;
http://www.asiamedicalforum.com/index.html

IST-Africa 2006 conference and exhibition; Pretoria, South Africa; May 3 - 5, 2006 http://snipurl.com/nxj1

Workshop on Earthquake Science; Berlin, Germany; May 4-5,2006; http://snipurl.com/nxiw

Global Health Council's 33rd Annual International Conference on Global Health: Excellence, Innovation and Influence: Pathways to Results; Washington, D.C., U.S.A.; May 30-June 2, 2006 http://www.globalhealth.org/conference

IEEE International Conference on Cybernetics and Intelligent Systems (CIS 2006); & IEEE International Conference on Robotics, Automation and Mechatronics (RAM 2006) Bangkok, Thailand; June 7 - 9, 2006; http://snipurl.com/nxka

Infection and Immunity in Children 2006: The Oxford Course; Oxford, United Kingdom; June 26-28, 2006; http://www.bpaiig.org/iic.html

8th World Congress on Gastrointestinal Cancer; Barcelona, Spain; June 28-July 1, 2006; http://www.worldgicancer.com/WCGI

XVI International AIDS Conference; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; August 13-18, 2006 http://www.aids2006.org/

International Conference on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development; York, United Kingdom; August 23-27, 2006; http://sustsci.harvard.edu/events.htm

Science, Technology and Innovation Policy; Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A; November 12-17, 2006; http://snipurl.com/nxjn

African Science Communication Conference; Port Elizabeth, South Africa; December 5-7, 2006; http://www.fest.org.za/ascc/

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For more information on any of the programs mentioned in this newsletter, please contact:

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society
P. O. Box 13975, 3106 East NC Highway 54
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709 USA
Telephone: +1-919-549-4691
Fax: +1-919-549-0090
E-mail: international@sigmaxi.org

 

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