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Scientist Richard Smalley.

PHOTO: AP

Nanotechnology pioneer dies

Rice University professor Richard Smalley, who shared a 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery of "buckyballs," has died of cancer at the age of 62, the university said on Friday. Buckyballs, short for buckminsterfullerenes, were a form of carbon that had 60 atoms arranged in a hollow sphere and whose discovery in 1985 opened the way for the development of the field of nanotechnology. Smalley, fellow Rice chemist Robert Curl and British chemist Harold Kroto shared the prize for their work on buckyballs, which were named for architect and geodesic dome inventor Buckminster Fuller. After winning the Nobel, Smalley became a strong advocate for the development of nanotechnology as a means of solving global problems, particularly in the field of energy. "We are about to be able to build things that work on the smallest possible length scales, atom by atom, with the ultimate level of finesse," Smalley told the US House of Representatives in 1999 during testimony in support of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. "These little nanothings, and the technology that assembles and manipulates them -- nanotechnology -- will revolutionize our industries and our lives," he said.

Intelligent design stymies science

A bitter debate about how to teach evolution in US high schools is prompting a crisis of confidence among scientists and some senior academics warn that science itself is under assault. In the past month, the interim president of Cornell University and the dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine have both spoken on this theme, warning in dramatic terms of the long-term consequences. "Among the most significant forces is the rising tide of anti-science sentiment that seems to have its nucleus in Washington but which extends throughout the nation," said Stanford's Philip Pizzo in a letter posted on the school Web site. Cornell acting President Hunter Rawlings, in his "state of the university" address last week, spoke about the challenge to science represented by "intelligent design" which holds that the theory of evolution accepted by the vast majority of scientists is fatally flawed.

Geniuses who liked letters

Einstein and Darwin were not only two of mankind's biggest geniuses, they were also two big letter-writers who sent (and received) thousands and thousands of missives in their respective lifetimes, according to a study in the British science weekly Nature. Charles Darwin (1809 to 1882) sent 7,591 letters to colleagues and received 6,530 in his time -- a true feat of correspondence for the father of the theory of evolution. But everything is relative, as Albert Einstein (1879 to 1955) showed. The man dubbed the greatest scientist of the 20th century surpassed Darwin's output, penning more than 14,500 letters to colleagues and reading 16,200, the study by academics from the universities of Notre Dame in the US state of Indiana and Aveiro of Portugal said. On average, the researchers said, Einstein wrote one letter for each day of his life, while Darwin dashed off one every day and a half, and both generally responded to a letter with 10 days of receiving it.

Sushi lovers help ecosystem

America's growing appetite for exotic sushi may help preserve vanishing beds of seaweed seen as an important part of the ecosystem along the California coastline. Diners in sushi restaurants are eating ever greater amounts of sea urchin roe, known as Uni, creating a US$23 million industry in California for harvesting the creatures, the California Sea Urchin Commission said this week.

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