Volume 84 Issue 4 | p. 60 | Newscripts
Issue Date: January 23, 2006

Grand experiment, Robot rescue, Psychedelic centennial, Podcast roundup

Department: Newscripts

Grand experiment

Credit: Courtesy Of Apple
Credit: Courtesy Of Apple

Anyone can contribute and edit items on Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia. This process has led to mistrust by critics. Surprisingly, however, a Nature investigation found that the science items are fairly accurate-nearly as accurate as science articles in the respected Encyclopaedia Britannica, in fact (Nature 2005, 438, 900).

After having 42 entries on science topics found in both encyclopedias peer reviewed, the investigators determined that entries on Wikipedia contained, on average, four inaccuracies, whereas articles in Encyclopaedia Britannica averaged three.

Interestingly, the most error-strewn article was about Dmitri Mendeleyev, the cocreator of the periodic table. Wikipedia's entry contained 19 errors ranging from minor mistakes (such as marriage dates) to major inaccuracies (such as how his work related to chemist John Dalton's). Encyclopaedia Britannica's Mendeleyev entry contained eight errors.

The online encyclopedia has grown quickly since it was founded in 2001, containing more than 2.6 million articles in 200 languages as of December 2005. The English version has over 900,000 articles and more than 45,000 registered users.

Nature also surveyed 1,000 scientists who had submitted articles to the journal. Of those who had heard of Wikipedia (70%), fewer than 10% help to update articles on the site. In a related editorial, Nature encouraged its readers to contribute their expertise in order to "push forward the grand experiment that is Wikipedia."

Robot rescue

"Mighty Mouse" came to save the day at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque last November. Also known as M2, the robot freed a stuck radiation source-about the size of a salt shaker-at a White Sands Missile Range lab and returned it to an insulated base.

The robot withstood enough radiation to kill 40 people in its attempt to accomplish the task. In late October, a cylinder used to irradiate circuit boards and vehicles to test their resistance to radiation became stuck in a pneumatic air sleeve, apparently blocked by a switch. Increased pressure wouldn't budge the stubborn cylinder, shutting down the lab and triggering 21 days of sirens and flashing lights.

M2 was on its way in November and was able to remove a plate covering the switch. A blast of air moved the switch out of the cylinder's way. Like the rodent superhero, M2 got this situation well in hand.

Psychedelic centennial

Albert Hofmann, the chemist who discovered the psychoactive drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), turned 100 on Jan. 11.

Hofmann worked for Sandoz when he discovered the drug in the 1930s. He currently lives with his wife of 70 years in Burg, Switzerland.

While Hofmann did take a few trips down the psychedelic road, he warned against using LSD as a "pleasure drug." Hofmann would, however, like to see a ban on LSD eased for medical use.

At a birthday party, according to AP and Reuters, the chemist expressed his enjoyment of the celebration to guests. "One could say it has been a mind-expanding experience, without the LSD."

Podcast roundup

A newscripts item on downloading recipes to iPods reminded reader Richard Noble of Foster City, Calif., of yet another use for the popular music device (C&EN, Sept. 5, 2005, page 112). Science publications, such as Nature, seem to be catching on to the "podcasting" phenomenon.

Podcasts are automatically delivered audio files available on the Internet. Subscribers to such feeds listen to them on an iPod or MP3 player. Interested in investigating some science-based podcasts? Here are a few suggestions:

The Naked Scientists: www.thenakedscientists.com

iTunes directory of science podcasts

C&EN may begin offering a podcast of its own in the near future. Should you, dear readers, have any comments or suggestions on this topic, e-mail CenWebmaster@acs.org

This week's column was written by Rachel Pepling. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

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