August 2014

Date:23 July 2014 Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

World Science Festival: a feast for curious minds

I’ve always enjoyed New York. I first visited it as a young, prematurely blasé journalist many years ago, when it was an edgy (read slightly dangerous) city with scant regard for cleanliness, user-friendliness or the niceties of good manners. Okay, perhaps that’s a generalisation, not to mention shamelessly anthropomorphic, but it has to be said that today’s New York is a very different place – more inclusive, a little softer and a whole lot friendlier.

A recent visit revealed the best face of America’s biggest city as we joined thousands of similarly curious people at the World Science Festival, an annual celebration of all that’s good and exciting about science in the 21st century. Cofounded in 2008 by theoretical physicist and bestselling author Brian Greene and his partner, the TV producer and Emmy Award-winning journalist Tracy Day, the event seeks to “cultivate a general public informed by science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future”. It certainly worked for us; read about our experiences in this month’s issue (“How to unlock curious minds”).

This month’s cover story, “Fighting smarter”, takes a two-pronged look at the US military, one part focusing on the technologies of war and the second on an amazing breakthrough in the fight against chemical weapons. Writer Joe Pappalardo explains why America has developed a new set of “tools” as it deals with a world of shifting alliances and constantly evolving strategies. Among its high-tech strategies: autonomous sub-hunting ships, drones that jam enemy communications, robotic fighting machines, tracking scopes for rifles, exoskeletons for boosting the leg strength of US soldiers… it’s the stuff of sci-fi .

Reporting on an entirely different sort of breakthrough, we introduce Greg Aberdeen and Mark Collins, two farsighted people who are about to turn the beekeeping industry on its head with their revolutionary design for a composite hive (in fact, the process has already started). In a series of interviews, associate editor Sean Woods learnt a lot about bees, their preferred habitats and living conditions, and came away with a new respect for these busy pollinators.

Finally, we expect to trigger a frisson of unease with our revelation about so-called “superhackers” – computer security experts who do their best to keep our data safe. If they were so inclined (and we fervently hope they escape the clutches of the Dark Side), they could all too easily snatch confidential information from under our noses, perhaps while we’re sitting in a local coffee shop and catching up on our e-mails.

Okay, now relax – and try to think up a new password that doesn’t include the word “password” or the name of your spouse.

Are you an inventor?
Popular Mechanics is looking for genuinely fresh ideas in its annual Inventor of the Year competition for 2014 – and substantial cash prizes are up for grabs. For entry forms and the “rules of engagement”, click here

– Alan Duggan (aland@ramsaymedia.co.za)