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On Both Sides of the Atlantic, a Mighty Wind Power


Wind energy is set to blow more electricity into homes. Houston's Shell WindEnergy Inc. is building its fifth and biggest U.S. wind farm 90 miles southeast of Lubbock, Tex. There, 160 turbines will rise from the prairie. When completed by yearend, Brazos Wind Farm, a joint venture with Padoma Wind Power in La Jolla, Calif., will generate 160 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 30,000 homes. Up in southwestern Wyoming, FPL Energy of Juno Beach, Fla., expects its 80-turbine wind farm to crank out 144 megawatts by yearend.

Across the Atlantic, Britain is emerging as a wind-power champ. By 2010, it hopes to satisfy 5% to 7% of the country's total electricity demand with wind farms, some sprouting as many as 300 turbines. The scheme aims to add 6,000 megawatts of wind-generated capacity. But funding the $9.75 billion plan may be tricky because the payback on wind-energy investments can stretch to 10 years or more without government incentives. Still, Deutsche Bank (DB) predicts global wind-power capacity will double in four years. With wildfires raging in a dozen states, firefighters are turning to technology to curb the recent, unusually heavy forest-fire tolls: 7 million acres last year -- nearly double the annual average in the 1990s.

Some of the new tools to help the U.S. Forest Service find and fight the blazes are coming from an unexpected source: NASA. Four times a day, NASA satellite images are passed to the Forest Service's fire management center in Salt Lake City. And next summer could bring a new batch of tricks. Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology are developing a remote-sensing system that can spot a foot-wide fire from an aircraft flying at 10,000 feet. NASA is also working to install the gear in unmanned aerial vehicles such as the robot spy planes that flew in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lead was banned from paint and gasoline in the U.S. decades ago. Now, makers of circuit boards and other electronic components aim to get the lead out of the solder in PCs and consumer gadgets, too.

Today, most kinds of solder are 63% tin and 37% lead, a formula that has changed little over the centuries. But by mid-2006, the European Union plans to ban lead from all new electronic equipment. Some of Japan's big electronics companies aren't waiting that long: Sony (SNE) Matsushita Electric (MC) and Fujitsu are telling suppliers they want to go lead-free even sooner.

Three alloys hold promise as substitutes, albeit more expensive ones. Each is 0.5% copper plus 3%, 3.8%, or 4% silver -- with tin making up the rest. In early experiments, all performed equally well, says Anthony Hilvers, a vice-president at IPC, a trade association of circuit-board makers and electronics assemblers. Next comes more rigorous testing. Solectron (SLR) Corp. and Flextronics Internationa (l FLEX)l Ltd. will run sample boards through heating and cooling cycles every half-hour to see if the new solders hold up to 6,000 such tests. -- The magnolia tree may provide cancer patients with more than shade and flowers. Scientists at Emory University School of Medicine have discovered that the tree's seed cones contain a substance that inhibits the growth of new blood vessels, which tumors need to grow. In laboratory tests with mice, the compound -- called honokiol, which is also one active ingredient in the Japanese herbal medicine saiboku-to -- cut tumor growth by half.

-- Scientists have vastly underestimated the number of whales that inhabited the North Atlantic before the advent of whaling, say geneticists at Stanford University and Harvard University. By studying the DNA of whales, the researchers were able to estimate that there were some 2 million great whales in the 18th century -- roughly 10 times more than previously thought. Their findings, published in the July 25 Science, are seen by conservationists as evidence that the ban on whaling should be extended for several more decades.

-- For the 4 million Alzheimer's patients in the U.S., new hope has just surfaced. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center report in the July 31 Nature that an enzyme dubbed Pin1 can prevent the brain's neurons from forming the deviant tangles characteristic of Alzheimer's. Comparisons of Pin1 levels in healthy vs. afflicted human brains, plus laboratory tests on mice, show that the tangles are clearly associated with an absence of Pin1. Using gene therapy to restore the enzyme to normal levels -- although extremely challenging to do -- might therefore arrest the progress of the disease.


Tim Cook's Reboot
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