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Applied sciences and engineering/Energy resources/Fuel

University of Ottawa chemistry student Steven Maquire explains time in his winning entry for the Flame Challenge. [Courtesy of Science Isn't Scary]

Alan Alda today announced the winners of Stony Brook University’s Flame Challenge contest, in which scientists had to explain “what is time?” in a way that would interest and enlighten 11-year-olds.

AAAS this week sent letters to President Barack Obama and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Ohio), urging them to “work together to achieve a bipartisan compromise that avoids the fiscal cliff and moves the country on to solid fiscal footing without sacrificing our nation’s crucial investments in science and technology.”

Despite a general consensus that highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel should be stored in underground repositories, finding appropriate sites for such repositories has been so politically fraught that none exist worldwide, panelists at a AAAS-organized Capitol Hill briefing explained.

With about 240,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel in storage at the end of 2009 and approximately 10,500 tons of spent fuel generated annually, the need for a long-term solution for spent fuel storage is growing quickly.

When Ken Hess was in ninth grade, he was lucky. His teacher wanted him to do a science project, and he knew exactly what it would be. He talked his dentist into letting him come to the dental office on Saturdays, when it was closed, so Hess could use the X-ray machine to bombard various objects with radiation, observing the results with a “cloud chamber” he had built. The young Hess’s research involved observing the trails made by radioactive particles traveling through the chamber.

Fuels made from plants, such as algae or wood pulp, may be among important solutions to energy and climate change challenges as we proceed further into the 21st century. However, despite that fact and other potential benefits offered by plants, our photosynthetic friends often get overlooked in school in favor of animals, according to studies of science classrooms.

A world without nuclear weapons, widely considered a desirable if challenging goal over the long term, could pose new uncertainties and risks, experts from the United States and Japan said during a day-long symposium at AAAS.

The legal framework does not yet exist that would allow the pursuit of a nuclear-free world, they said. Nor has there been enough clear-headed analysis of the potentially de-stabilizing impact of a world with zero nuclear weapons where terrorists or rogue states might not play by the rules.

Despite solid gains in the quest to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, the world is not yet on track to secure all such materials in four years as advocated by the Obama administration, a Harvard University specialist on nuclear security says.

Matthew Bunn, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, told a AAAS-organized briefing on Capitol Hill that nuclear terrorism is an urgent issue that must be addressed at the highest levels of government.