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New Scientist 16-mar-19

New Scientist covers the latest developments in science and technology that will impact your world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields from all over the world. Our editorial team provide cutting-edge news, award-winning features and reports, written in concise and clear language that puts discoveries and advances in the context of everyday life today and in the future.

United Kingdom
New Scientist Ltd
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51 Issues


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wood, glorious wood

DURING the first oil crisis in 1973, Saudi oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani famously (and possibly apocryphally) said that “the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones”. His point was that the oil age might come to a close not through resource depletion, but because a superior technology would supersede it – something he and his fellow petrostate officials were keen to head off. They succeeded, and the oil age is still pumping strong. But in laboratories and start-ups across the world, the seeds of what could grow into a post-oil future are being sown. The identity of the superior technology may surprise you: wood (see page 33). Essentially everything that oil can do, wood can too. Handled smartly, it can be used as a biofuel and as an…

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a note from the editor

Tickets are now on sale for New Scientist Live 2019, which kicks off in London on Thursday 10 October. If you haven’t been to the show before, do consider it. Spanning four days, it is a unique mixture of talks from the world’s most fascinating scientists and technologists, combined with a packed show floor of sciency fun for people of all ages. The 2018 show was a highlight of my year. The talks I went to see were truly inspirational, whether they were about the nature of time, how to get the best out of your vegetable garden or the secrets of being a good surgeon, and the all-round experience for both me and my family was fantastic. This year, we are changing how we do the tickets in order to reward…

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plane crash mystery

A BOEING 737 Max 8 airliner crashed soon after take-off from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia last Sunday, killing all 157 people on board. When New Scientist went to press, the plane’s operator, Ethiopian Airlines, had grounded its fleet of 737 Max 8s, and the UK, Australia and some other countries had banned the plane from flying in their airspaces. Details of the crash are still scarce and an investigation is taking place. This is the second fatal crash for this kind of plane. The first was Lion Air flight 610, which plunged into the sea 12 minutes after take-off from Jakarta, Indonesia, in October 2018, killing 189 people on board. The 737 Max 8 involved in the Ethiopian crash was only registered in November, and is one of 350 currently in operation. The…

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black hole coin for stephen hawking

A NEW 50p coin will honour the legacy of Stephen Hawking, who died last year at the age of 76. The coin features his name, concentric circles representing a black hole, and one of Hawking’s most famous creations: an equation giving the entropy of a black hole, a measure of its internal randomness or disorder. The discovery that a black hole’s entropy depends on its surface area was one of Hawking’s most important scientific contributions. It means that when anything falls into a black hole, its surface area and entropy increase. This led to a breakthrough by Hawking: if a black hole can gain entropy from outside, it should also be able to radiate some away into the universe. It does this by slowly losing energy, now called Hawking radiation. Black hole evaporation –…

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power outages in venezuela

MILLIONS of Venezuelans remain without electricity nearly a week after a power substation failed. At the time of going to press, the blackout, which began on 7 March, had entered its sixth day. It has led to looting, hospital deaths and communication outages across the country. The power failure is affecting 16 states. In the capital, Caracas, electricity has returned intermittently, and the metro system is out of service. Although oil rich, the country relies on hydropower for electricity. The government has attributed the blackout to a fault at the Guri hydropower plant, which provides 80 per cent of the nation’s power. Disputed president Nicolás Maduro blamed the fault on politically motivated sabotage, but critics say years of underinvestment in infrastructure has led to deteriorating dams and chronic power shortages. Sporadic blackouts are…

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prisoner brain zap experiment on hold

GOVERNMENT officials in Spain have suspended tests to see if zapping the brains of prisoners can make them less aggressive, after New Scientist’s exclusive report on the experiment last week. The research, involving inmates at Huelva prison, was scheduled to begin this month. The Spanish government now says that permission for the experiments was given by the previous government and it wants to find out more about the study before it proceeds. The interior ministry says the move is a precaution, and that it has asked its office for prison health to investigate and report back. The trial was going to test transcranial direct current stimulation on volunteer inmates and had been approved by prison officials and a university ethics committee. Andrés Molero Chamizo, the psychologist at the University of Huelva who leads…