Carbon dioxide from exhaust fumes used to make new chemicals.

To stop global warming, most governments are advocating reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO₂), a greenhouse gas, put into the atmosphere. But some argue that such actionwon’t be enough – we will need to remove CO₂ already present.

The reduction of CO₂ is a big challenge, as it requires large amounts of renewable energy. Until then, short-term solutions to remove CO₂ from fossil fuel power plants is becoming necessary, including and storage (CCS). The other option is to use the storage part, as new research from Korea shows, and to use CO₂ directly from exhaust gases to make new chemicals.

Catch me if you can

Carbon capture involves the “capture” of CO₂, either by a chemical or physical process. Often CO₂ from a exhaust gas stream is captured by nitrogen containing compounds called amines. The reaction results in the formation of solid chemicals. These can be heated, allowing the CO₂ to be released, which can then be compressed, transported and stored in geological features, such as depleted oil fields, or used as raw material in chemical factories.

Although trees and some microbes can capture CO₂ and use it as fuel, humans have struggled to replicate the process on a large scale. Most  involving CO₂ require expensive catalysts, high temperatures, or high pressures to make it react. The most common use of CO₂ as a  is in the formation of urea, which is found in around 90% of the world’s fertilisers.

In the new research, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, Soon Hong and colleagues from the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea have caught CO₂ from exhaust gas and used it for many reactions that make useful chemicals. One type is called alkynyl carboxylic acid, which has many uses such as making food additives. The other, cyclic carbonate, is used to make polymers for cars and electronics. Cyclic carbonates can also be used in place of phosgene, which is a very reactive and highly toxic chemical that is used as a starting material to make a wide variety of useful products.

Hong also used highly pure CO₂, which is sold at a high price and required lots of energy to make, in the same chemical reactions and found there was hardly any difference in the final yield (the amount of product formed minus wastage).

Use me if you do

Like CCS technologies, Hong passes exhaust fumes through a solution of amines, where CO₂ is captured and other gases pass unreacted. Then the resulting salt is heated to yield pure CO₂ for chemical reactions. Hong can recycle the amine solution at least 55 times without loss in yield.

In another research paper just published in Nature Communications, Matthias Beller and colleagues at the University of Rostock in Germany show a new reaction that can use CO₂. The reaction is called alkene carbonylation, and it usually required the use of carbon monoxide (CO), which, as home detectors know well, is a highly toxic and flammable gas.

CO₂ has previously been used in the synthesis of carboxylic acids by using diethylzinc as one of the drivers of the reaction. But diethylzinc is flammable in air. Using the reaction Beller can make chemicals are found in varnishes and paints. The researchers carried out a number of reactions but most importantly confirmed that the source of the newly formed C-O bond was CO₂. This work shows CO₂ can be used as a viable alternative to carbon monoxide in carbonylation reactions and increasing the importance of CO₂ in the chemical industry.

While this is good news, these advances don’t offset the energy needed to trap and use CO₂. They will help increase the demand of CO₂ at industrial scale, and may then drive CCS and  technologies to become cheaper.


Tranquilliser ketamine will be upgraded to Class B.

 Ketamine, the horse tranquiliser that has become a popular party drug, is to be upgraded from a class C to a class B banned substance by the Government in an attempt to deter its increasing use.
The drug, also known as Special K, is being reclassified following warnings about its physical and psychological damage. The maximum penalty for unlawful possession will increase from two to five years in jail following reclassification.

The move came as an inquest in Winchester, Hampshire, heard that Ellie Rowe, 18, died after taking the drug at the Boomtown Fair festival in Winchester last summer.

Her father, Anthony Rowe, from Glastonbury, Somerset, said: “It’s an absolute tragedy, it was one act of stupidity and that can destroy a family.”

Originally an anaesthetic used by vets, an estimated 120,000 people in Britain use ketamine. Between one and two per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds are believed to have tried it.

Two months ago, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommended the upgrading following evidence that long-term use can cause serious bladder damage and in extreme cases require the organ’s removal.

Announcing the reclassification, the crime prevention minister, Norman Baker, said he hoped to send a message that the drug is harmful. But he also signalled his scepticism over effectiveness of the 40-year-old classification system to control drug use.

Speaking at a drug treatment centre in west London on Wednesday, Mr Baker said: “What I do think is in the short term there’s a message that needs to be sent on ketamine. In terms of where we’re going in 20 or 30 years’ time, in terms of the optimum method of minimising drug use then I’m not sure.

“It certainly after all hasn’t stopped drug use by classification. But what it does do is send a message to those who are interested.

“You have to assume some drug users actually care about their bodies, therefore saying to them this is more dangerous than that, what they will take into account and what they will actually do.”

We’re one step closer to nuclear fusion but still miles away.

The National Ignition Facility, USA, has breached an important milestone on the road to achieving sustainable nuclear fusion. On the other hand, it is a partial achievement because it hasn’t got everything right yet.

My favourite source of limitless energy lies in fiction, in Arthur Clarke’s The Songs of Distant Earth to be exact. In the book, Clarke describes a spaceship called ‘Magellan’ powered by zero-point energy, where energy is pulled out of nothing (or out of other dimensions – but since those dimensions are otherwise inaccessible, their existence would mean nothing to our dimension).

The Sun is powered by a massive nuclear fusion reaction that's been churning out energy for almost 5 billion years.

Clarke wasn’t entirely wrong – as usual – with his vision: using zero-point energy, or vacuum energy, is a scientifically viable possibility, albeit not in the way he’d imagine it. It requires tremendous advancements in technology to achieve. Perhaps he knew that, too: the novel is set in the late 40th century, a time by which humankind is likely to have at least fully understood how to produce more energy than is consumed in producing it.

In 2014, the only Earth-bound candidate (apart from Frank Wilczek’s time crystals) in a position to lay claim to this honour is nuclear fusion. This is a phenomenon already at work in the hearts of stars, but in laboratories on Earth, scientists are still grappling with getting minute details right so they can achieve sustainable nuclear fusion.

Blowing the fuse

On February 12, a team from the $1.2-billion National Ignition Facility (NIF), California, announced that they’d breached the first step: producing a fusion reaction that released more energy than it consumed, over experiments in September and November, 2013. Viewed against a historical backdrop that started in the early 1980s, this is a remarkable achievement. Viewed against a futuristic ‘frontdrop’, it pales in comparison to what should come next.

At NIF, scientists practice one of two known techniques to achieve nuclear fusion, at least if simulations based on theoretical models are to be believed: inertial containment. The principle is simple. Atoms of hydrogen are heavily compressed inside a very small capsule until they fuse together to form atoms of helium, releasing large amounts of energy. This is how a nuclear fusion reaction is triggered.

But in order to make it practicable, scientists have to make this reaction continue and sustain it. To get there, the reaction has to be controlled in such a way that more atoms of hydrogen and helium use some of the heat produced to compress themselves further, producing another fusion reaction, and so on. Beyond this stumbling block, needless to say, is the panacea to most energy problems conceivable by humankind.

Not exactly the reaction we’re looking for

Before we start speculating, however, it’s important to get some things right about the NIF achievement. For starters, they achieved “fusion fuel gains exceeding unity”, according to their paper. If fusion fuel gain is less than unity, then the amount of fuel produced divided by the amount of fuel consumed is a number less than 1. At unity, the value of the fraction is of course 1. Exceeding unity, therefore, means more fuel was produced than was consumed. The operative clause here is ‘fuel consumed’.

The folks at NIF used strong lasers pulsing for a few nanoseconds to deliver trillions of watts of energy to the contents of the capsule. However, not all the energy is consumed by the atoms but only a fraction. And if they have achieved fusion – which they have – it means the amount of energy produced by fusion was greater than the fraction they consumed, not greater than all the energy they were given. According to their paper published in Nature, the total energy delivered by the lasers was 1.9 megajoules while the reaction produced about 17 kilojoules.

“Only about 0.5 per cent of the laser energy makes it into the DT fuel. Implosions work as pressure amplifiers trading energy away in exchange for higher central pressures.” said Dr. Omar Hurricane, the lead author of the published paper, to The Hindu.

Even so, they were missing something here that’d make the process more efficient. This is where the history comes into play.

To get inertial containment right, scientists have to broadly look out for three things. First, the lasers have to be designed to perfectly deliver specific quantities of energy over carefully described intervals. Second, the lasers produce X-rays inside the capsule that then energise the atoms – the X-rays have to be as symmetrical as possible to act evenly. Third, the contents of the capsule have to be as spherically arranged as possible to minimise instability.

The contents being made to implode are a mixture of deuterium (D) and tritium (T) – both isotopes of hydrogen. They are coated as a fine patina on the insides of the capsule, which is made of gold. When laser pulses strike the gold, it emits X-rays that then driven the isotopes inward at such energy and speed (almost 1.12 million km/hr) that they are forced to fuse. Because the flux of X-rays can’t be possibly perfectly controlled, the focus was mostly on getting…

The perfect shot into the perfect capsule

Earlier, scientists shot laser pulses at the capsule in two stages, totalling four shocks. The first stage, called the “foot”, was used to generate a lower X-ray intensity for a prolonged period of time before rapidly ramping up to a higher energy. As announced in another paper on February 5, Dr. Hye-Sook Park and her colleagues at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where the NIF is housed, changed this.

Instead of a low-foot profile, this team switched to a three-shock high-foot one: the initial X-ray burst was set to a higher intensity.

This step was motivated by a discrepancy in previous experiments. The scientists’ theoretical calculations and computer simulations showed that the low-foot profile should have initiated nuclear fusion… but experiments disagreed. In search of an explanation, they suspected that the contents of the capsule were being blown apart by the slow X-ray delivery before they could get to the compression stage. The simplest way to forestall this premature detonation was to pack in more heat with the fuel before proceeding to compression – ergo, the high-foot profile.

Dr. Hurricane added that “the instabilities of the imploding capsule have been greatly reduced with the high-foot technique”, but they hadn’t been fully eliminated either.

On the downside, because a lot of the energy would be delivered first-up, the total possible compression is reduced. On the upside, Dr. Park and her colleagues reported that the number of alpha particles released in the first fusion reaction was higher than ever before. These particulate clumps are responsible for initiating a chain reaction, and getting more of them initially means the likelihood of sustainable fusion increases.

As Dr. Hurricane told The Hindu, “We have progress towards ignition as indicated by getting a significant contribution to the yield (a near doubling) coming from ‘self-heating’ where the reaction starts to heat itself, further accelerating the fusion reactions. Without this process, ignition would not occur. Still more work is needed to get closer to an igniting state.”

NIF now knows the high-foot profile is the way to go because, with it, theory and experiment agree. And on this path, what the team will need to get right is removing all the tiniest sources of turbulence as much as they can. This was the subject of another paper, published last week in Physical Review Letters, which reported a 50 per cent increase in yield with an enhanced capsule design against previous designs.

The other fusion projects

As the NIF team moves on, there are other nuclear fusion experiments afoot. The biggest operational one with more funding and international participation – called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, is based out of Cadarache, France. Because of its prodigious scale and relatively lesser research cohesion among participants, its reactor is expected to be built only by 2019. Once operational, its magnetic containment (tokamak) reactor will make it the largest experimental fusion facility of its kind in the world. The European Union is forking out 45 per cent of its $21.87-billion cost while six other countries, including India and the USA, are footing 9 per cent each.

All things considered, the interest in nuclear fusion is alive and kicking despite progress being made at a necessarily tedious pace and at the cost of billions of dollars. After the laser facility at NIF came online in 2009, it set for itself a deadline of September 2012 by which to achieve the ignition of a fusion reaction – and missed, prompting politicians to deprioritise the project and chop funding by $60 million. In the same year, on the other hand, Russia and China announced plans for two ‘superlaser’ facilities to replicate inertial fusion.

Once any of them achieves a sustainable fusion reaction, countries will quickly start designing power plants. Already, engineers at the Naval Research Laboratory, USA, are drawing up plans for a Fusion Test Facility that will let them experiment with nuclear fusion with an aim to generate electric power. Let’s then give ourselves till the end of this century, eh, to earn the license to dream of Clarke’s ingenuity as the stuff of reality?


Dreams of ‘self-discovery’ destroying marriage, claims psychologist

High divorce rates and low marital satisfaction are a direct result of partners’ inability to meet ‘psychological expectations’
  • Unhappy couple lying in bed
‘Suffocation’ model of marriage suggests couples are setting unrealistic goals of personal development. Photograph: Frederick Bass/Getty Images

Time was when a roof over your head, food on the table and occasional bouts of sexual activity were the hallmarks of a successful marriage. Not any more. According to a US psychologist, the modern marriage must fulfil far deeper demands, and most couples are struggling to cope.

Eli Finkel, director of social psychology at Northwestern University in Illinois, said couples today looked to their marriages to help them “grow as individuals”, and support them through “voyages of self-discovery”. But their expectations are rarely met, he said, because of the investment of time and effort involved.

Finkel claims that persistent high divorce rates and low levels of marital satisfaction are a direct result of couples being unable to meet the psychological expectations of their partners. While overall demands on marriages have not changed much over time, he said, the nature of the demands has shifted and they require more time and effort to satisfy.

“In the past, you married someone who helped you meet your basic needs, but over time, love increasingly conquered marriage. Now people are looking to their spouses to help them discover who they are, and to achieve the best version of themselves,” Finkel said.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago, Finkel said that most couples struggle because the change in demands calls for more investment in marriage in an age when many people have less time on their hands.

“People used to marry for basic things like food and shelter. In the 1800s, you didn’t have to have profound insight into your partner’s core essence to tend to the chickens or build a sound physical structure against the snow,” Finkel said. “Back then, the idea of marrying for love was ludicrous.”

“In 2014, you are really hoping that your partner can help you on a voyage of discovery and personal growth, but your partner cannot do that unless he or she really knows who you are, and really understands your core essence. That requires much greater investment of time and psychological resources,” he said.

A blissful minority are in marriages that fulfil these deeper demands, and those marriages are better than the best marriages of yesteryear, Finkel claims. But the average marriage falls short because the time and effort required were impossible for most to meet.

Finkel arrived at his theory – which has not met with universal approval – after reviewing studies on the psychology, history and sociology of marriage. He said marriage had gone through a series of distinct transitions as countries and individuals grew wealthier and cultural transformations played out. Since the 1850s, marriage had become less about basic needs and more about love and companionship.

In the 1960s, love and companionship remained central to marriage, but these were joined by other factors, including the personal growth of the couple. In modern marriages, people look to their partners “to help them find themselves, and to pursue careers and other activities that facilitate the expression of their core self”, he said.

Despite naming his theory the “suffocation model of marriage”, Finkel maintains he is optimistic about the institution. He said couples could improve the quality of their marriages by allowing them to breathe, for example by lowering their demands on the relationship in hard times, such as when the couple had young children or faced work or money problems. “Some people will realise they are asking a lot of their marriage given the 30 minutes a week they spend talking to their wife,” he said. “The irony is that asking less of the marriage when resources are scarce will actually make the marriage stronger.”

Lynne Jamieson, who studies the sociology of families and relationships at Edinburgh University, said that the demands on marriages vary hugely over time and between people from different social and economic backgrounds. “The argument that we now spend less time on relationships is not so clearcut,” she said.

Scores of factors come into play. While couples tended to have more children in the past, she said, more households now have two working parents. Both are a demand on time. People today live longer, which also adds to the pressure in marriages. In the past, more families would lose a parent while children were still growing up.

Having a deeper understanding of each other might not be the whole story, Jamieson suggested. “Making somebody a cup of tea as a gesture, especially first thing in morning, is very important to people. Those little gestures can be as important as profound conversation,” she said. “Sometimes actions do speak louder than words.”

Surgeons condemn ‘appalling’ lack of action on cosmetic surgery regulation

Plastic surgeons say government has ignored its own Keogh report and as a result ‘it’s business as usual in the wild west’
  • PIP breast implant
The Keogh report was commissioned in response to the PIP implant scandal, but plastic surgeons say the government has failed to follow through on its recommendations.

Cosmetic surgery will continue to be the wild west of medicine, say professional bodies, because of the government’s failure to bring in the controls recommended by its own NHS medical director.

Plastic surgeons say they are appalled by the government’s response, which stops short of the regulation suggested by Sir Bruce Keogh’s report into cosmetic surgery. It does not clamp down heavily on the use of dermal fillers – substances injected under the skin, usually to plump out the face. Nor does it require that anybody involved in cosmetic procedures is properly trained, qualified and registered.

“Frankly, we are no less than appalled at the lack of action taken – this review, not the first one conducted into the sector, represents yet another thoroughly wasted opportunity to ensure patient safety,” said Rajiv Grover, president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons.

“With all the evidence provided by the clinical community, choosing not to reclassify fillers as medicines with immediate effect or setting up any kind of compulsory register beggars belief. Legislators have clearly been paying only lip service to the sector’s dire warnings that dermal fillers are a crisis waiting to happen.

“Most shockingly of all, the fact that there is no requirement for the actual surgeon involved to obtain consent for the procedure makes a mockery of the entire process. It’s business as usual in the wild west and the message from the government is clear: roll up and feel free to have a stab.”

The Royal College of Surgeons will play a central role in deciding what level of training and qualification cosmetic surgeons should have, but its remit does not extend to other healthcare professionals, such as GPs, dentists and nurses who may be involved in cosmetic procedures.

The issue that appeared to exercise the Keogh review most was the use of dermal fillers. “A person having a non-surgical cosmetic intervention has no more protection and redress than someone buying a ballpoint pen or a toothbrush,” said the report. “Dermal fillers are a particular cause for concern as anyone can set themselves up as a practitioner, with no requirement for knowledge, training or previous experience. Nor are there sufficient checks in place with regard to product quality – most dermal fillers have no more controls than a bottle of floor cleaner. It is our view that dermal fillers are a crisis waiting to happen.”

However, dermal fillers will not be classified as medicines, despite Keogh’s recommendation, and there will not be a statutory register of patients who have received them, nor of those who administer cosmetic procedures.

Plastic surgeons complain that the government has also been unwilling to use compulsion in its register of breast implants, following the PIP scandal – where women were given implants filled with industrial silicone. It set up a voluntary register, but the surgeons say that has not worked in the past and will not again.

The patient safety charity Action Against Medical Accidents said the response from the government was too little, too late. AvMA’s chief executive, Peter Walsh, said it welcomed the fact that the government was taking the issues seriously. “However, we have seen too many people harmed by rogues in this industry already. We are disappointed not to see all providers of cosmetic treatment having to register and be regulated by the Care Quality Commission, or a proper compensation scheme created for victims of the industry. The government had promised its response by last summer and Sir Liam Donaldson’s report in 2005 was ignored. We need to see action not words now. Overall, this is a case of too little, too late,” he said.

Brain finds true beauty in maths.

Maths equations

Brain scans show a complex string of numbers and letters in mathematical formulae can evoke the same sense of beauty as artistic masterpieces and music from the greatest composers.

Mathematicians were shown “ugly” and “beautiful” equations while in a brain scanner at University College London.

The same emotional brain centres used to appreciate art were being activated by “beautiful” maths.

The researchers suggest there may be a neurobiological basis to beauty.

The likes of Euler’s identity or the Pythagorean identity are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the best of Mozart, Shakespeare and Van Gogh.

The study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience gave 15 mathematicians 60 formula to rate.

One of the researchers, Prof Semir Zeki, told the BBC: “A large number of areas of the brain are involved when viewing equations, but when one looks at a formula rated as beautiful it activates the emotional brain – the medial orbito-frontal cortex – like looking at a great painting or listening to a piece of music.”

The more beautiful they rated the formula, the greater the surge in activity detected during the fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans.

“Neuroscience can’t tell you what beauty is, but if you find it beautiful the medial orbito-frontal cortex is likely to be involved, you can find beauty in anything,” he said.

A thing of great beauty

Euler's identity
Euler’s identity: Does it get better than this?

To the untrained eye there may not be much beauty in Euler’s identity, but in the study it was the formula of choice for mathematicians.

“Start Quote

At first you don’t realise the implications it’s a gradual impact, perhaps as you would with a piece of music and then suddenly it becomes amazing as you realise its full potential.”

Prof David PercyInstitute of Mathematics and its Applications

It is a personal favourite of Prof David Percy from the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications.

He told the BBC: “It is a real classic and you can do no better than that.

“It is simple to look at and yet incredibly profound, it comprises the five most important mathematical constants – zero (additive identity), one (multiplicative identity), e and pi (the two most common transcendental numbers) and i (fundamental imaginary number).

“It also comprises the three most basic arithmetic operations – addition, multiplication and exponentiation.

“Given that e, pi and i are incredibly complicated and seemingly unrelated numbers, it is amazing that they are linked by this concise formula.

“At first you don’t realise the implications it’s a gradual impact, perhaps as you would with a piece of music and then suddenly it becomes amazing as you realise its full potential.”

He said beauty was a source of “inspiration and gives you the enthusiasm to find out about things”.

Paul Dirac
The hugely influential theoretical physicist Paul Dirac said: “What makes the theory of relativity so acceptable to physicists in spite of its going against the principle of simplicity is its great mathematical beauty. This is a quality which cannot be defined, any more than beauty in art can be defined, but which people who study mathematics usually have no difficulty in appreciating.”

Mathematician and professor for the public understanding of science, Marcus du Sautoy, said he “absolutely” found beauty in maths and it “motivates every mathematician”.

He said he loved a “small thing [mathematician Pierre de] Fermat did”. He showed that any prime number that could be divided by four with a remainder of one was also the sum of two square numbers.

So 41 is a prime, can be divided by four with one left over and is 25 (five squared) plus 16 (four squared).

“So if it has remainder one it can always be written as two square numbers – there’s something beautiful about that.

“It’s unexpected why should the two things [primes and squares] have anything to do with each other, but as the proof develops you start to see the two ideas become interwoven like in a piece of music and you start to see they come together.

He said it was the journey not the final proof that was exciting “like in a piece of music it’s not enough to play the final chord”.

He said this beauty of maths was missing from schools and yet amazing things could be shown with even primary school mathematical ability.

In the study, mathematicians rated Srinivasa Ramanujan’s infinite series and Riemann’s functional equation as the ugliest of the formulae.

Nuclear fusion breakthrough: US scientists make crucial step to limitless power.

A metallic case called a hohlraum holds the fuel capsule for NIF experiments (Image from metallic case called a hohlraum holds the fuel capsule for NIF experiments.
A team of scientists in California announced Wednesday they are one step closer to developing the almost mythical pollution-free, controlled fusion-energy reaction, though the goal of full “ignition” is still far off.

Researchers at the federally-funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory revealed in a study released Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature that, for the first time, one of their experiments has yielded more energy out of fusion than was used in the fuel that created the reaction.

In a 10-story building the size of three football fields, the Livermore scientists “used 192 lasers to compress a pellet of fuel and generate a reaction in which more energy came out of the fuel core than went into it,” wrote the Washington Post. “Ignition” would mean more energy was produced than was used in the entire process.

“We’re closer than anyone’s gotten before,” said Omar Hurricane, a physicist at Livermore and lead author of the study. “It does show there’s promise.”

The process ultimately mimics the processes in the core of a star inside the laboratory’s hardware. Nuclear fusion, which is how the sun is heated, creates energy when atomic nuclei fuse and form a larger atom.

“This isn’t like building a bridge,” Hurricane told USA Today in an interview. “This is an exceedingly hard problem. You’re basically trying to produce a star, on a small scale, here on Earth.”

A fusion reactor would operate on a common form of hydrogen found in sea water and create minimal nuclear waste while not being nearly as volatile as a traditional nuclear-fission reactor. Fission, used in nuclear power plants, works by splitting atoms.

Hurricane said he does not know how long it will take to reach that point, where fusion is a viable energy source.

“Picture yourself halfway up a mountain, but the mountain is covered in clouds,” he told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “And then someone calls you on your satellite phone and asks you, ‘How long is it going to take you to climb to the top of the mountain?’ You just don’t know.”

The beams of the 192 lasers Livermore used can pinpoint extreme amounts of energy in billionth-of-a-second pulses on any target. Hurricane said the energy produced by the process was about twice the amount that was in the fuel of the plastic-capsule target. Though the amount of energy yielded equaled only around 1 percent of energy delivered by the lasers to the capsule to ignite the process.

“When briefly compressed by the laser pulses, the isotopes fused, generating new particles and heating up the fuel further and generating still more nuclear reactions, particles and heat,” wrote the Washington Post, adding that the feedback mechanism is known as “alpha heating.”

Debbie Callahan, co-author of the study, said the capsule had to be compressed 35 times to start the reaction, “akin to compressing a basketball to the size of a pea,” according to USA Today.

While applauding the Livermore team’s findings, fusion experts added researchers have “a factor of about 100 to go.”

“These results are still a long way from ignition, but they represent a significant step forward in fusion research,” said Mark Herrmann of the Sandia National Laboratories’ Pulsed Power Sciences Center.“Achieving pressures this large, even for vanishingly short times, is no easy task.”

Livermore is the site of the multi-billion-dollar National Ignition Facility, funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration. Fusion experiments aren’t the only function of the lab; for example, it also studies the processes of nuclear weapon explosions.

Long-pursued by scientists dating back to Albert Einstein, fusion energy does not emit greenhouse gases or leave behind radioactive waste. Since the 1940s, researchers have employed magnetic fields to contain high-temperature hydrogen fuel. Laser use began in the 1970s.

“We have waited 60 years to get close to controlled fusion,” said, Steve Cowley, of the United Kingdom’s Culham Center for Fusion Energy. He added scientists are “now close” with both magnets and lasers.“We must keep at it.”

Stewart Prager – director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, which studies fusion using magnets – told the Post he was optimistic about fusion energy’s future.

“In 30 years, we’ll have electricity on the grid produced by fusion energy – absolutely,” Prager said. “I think the open questions now are how complicated a system will it be, how expensive it will be, how economically attractive it will be.”

Adrenal mass with macroscopic fat found during routine imaging.

A 55-year-old obese man was referred for the evaluation of a right adrenal mass. A CT of the abdomen was performed for abdominal pain and chronic constipation. The CT of the abdomen showed a round well-circumscribed suprarenal lesion measuring 3.8 cm x 3.2 cm x 3 cm. The mass was heterogeneous with internal areas of hypoattenuation consistent with fatty tissue and did not enhance with IV contrast (Figures 1A,B).


His physical exam showed normal vital signs with a blood pressure of 124 mm Hg/76 mm Hg. Laboratory testing showed a serum sodium 142 mmol/L, blood urea nitrogen 16 mg/dL, creatinine 0.85 mg/dL, potassium 4.5 mmol/L, chlorine 102 mmol/L, C02 32.1 mmol/L, aldosterone 7 ng/dL with a non-suppressed plasma renin activity of 0.41 ng/mL/hour. A plasma-free metanephrine was normal at <25 pg/mL. An overnight 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test shows a normal morning cortisol of 0.2 mcg/dL. An MRI scan demonstrated the mass contained both microscopic intracellular and macroscopic fat deposits in the right adrenal gland diagnostic of an adrenal myelolipoma.

Fatty tissue, hematopoietic cells

An adrenal myelolipoma is a rare benign tumor. Adrenal myelolipoma is composed of mature fatty tissue with variable amount of hematopoietic cells. Tumor size varies from a few millimeters to >30 cm. Adrenal myelolipoma is typically not hormonally active but can coexist with other hormonally active tumors of the adrenal gland to produce excess adrenal cortical hormones and catecholamines.

Coronal CT scans of the abdomen before (A) and after (B) IV contrast. The adrenal malignancy (blue arrow) is located above the right kidney in the location of the adrenal gland. Macroscopic deposits fat is shown by the areas of hypoattentuation (yellow arrows). The adrenal malignancy in this patient did not show significant enhancement with contrast.

Coronal CT scans of the abdomen before (A) and after (B) IV contrast. The adrenal malignancy (blue arrow) is located above the right kidney in the location of the adrenal gland. Macroscopic deposits fat is shown by the areas of hypoattentuation (yellow arrows). The adrenal malignancy in this patient did not show significant enhancement with contrast.

The diagnosis of adrenal myelolipoma is usually based on abdominal CAT scan or MRI scan. The mass is typically a well-encapsulated heterogeneous suprarenal mass of low density (–20 to –30 HU) equivalent to mature fat interspersed by denser myeloid tissue on CT scan. Although adrenal adenomas have low attenuation values, the density is not usually less than –20 HU. If the mass contains a lot of hematopoietic elements, the mass will appear more heterogeneous.

Fat has high signal intensity on T1- and T2-weighted images. Water and fat are additive on “in phase” sequences but cancel each other in “out of phase” sequences. This patient’s liver and right adrenal gland contain microscopic or intracellular fat and are hyperintense compared with the spleen in “in phase” (Figure 2A) and hypointense (signal dropout) compared with the spleen in “out phase” sequences (Figure 2B). Macroscopic fat is hyperintense on T1 images and hypointense on T2 MRI images with fat suppression sequences. The macroscopic fat is seen as a hyperintense band in Figure 3A in the adrenal gland but is hypointense (suppressed) with fat suppression imaging (Figure 3B).

  • Macroscopic fat in the adrenal mass on CT or MRI imaging is diagnostic for adrenal myelolipoma. Endocrine function of the mass should be performed to exclude exercise cortisol, aldosterone, adrenal androgens and catecholamines. In radiologically doubtful cases, a CT-guided fine needle aspiration will show fat and hematopoietic tissue, which is diagnostic for adrenal myelolipoma. It is important to exclude a pheochromocytoma before needle or open biopsy.
Axial MRI. T1 images of the abdomen show an enhancement of signal in the adrenal mass compared with spleen on the “in phase” images but signal dropout of both the liver and adrenal mass on “out of phase” images consistent with intracellular fat in a fatty liver and an adrenal malignancy.

Axial MRI. T1 images of the abdomen show an enhancement of signal in the adrenal mass compared with spleen on the “in phase” images but signal dropout of both the liver and adrenal mass on “out of phase” images consistent with intracellular fat in a fatty liver and an adrenal malignancy.

Other characteristics

Myelolipomas primarily are found in the unilateral adrenal gland, but they have been reported in bilateral adrenal glands and in extra-adrenal sites such as the retroperitoneal, pelvic, renal, hepatic and gastric locations. In most cases, the tumors are asymptomatic and found — as with this patient — incidentally on abdominal images for other indications.

The size of the adrenal myelolipoma does not correlate with symptoms or risk for malignancy. Unlike other causes of asymptomatic adrenal incidentalomas, removal is not mandatory when the mass is >6 cm because the risk of malignancy is very low. Some papers recommend removal of asymptomatic adrenal myelolipoma when >10 cm to prevent hemorrhage or symptoms. When symptomatic, patient will complain of abdominal and flank pain and, with large tumor size, have a palpable mass causing compression of surrounding structures or necrosis/hemorrhage.

Axial MRI of the abdomen. A. A T1 image shows hyperintense linear macroscopic deposits of fat (red arrows). Enlarged image of the adrenal is indicated by the yellow arrow. B. In the T2 fat-suppression image, the signal of the macroscopic fat (red arrows) is suppressed with signal drop out. Enlarged image of the adrenal is indicated by the yellow arrow.

Axial MRI of the abdomen. A. A T1 image shows hyperintense linear macroscopic deposits of fat (red arrows). Enlarged image of the adrenal is indicated by the yellow arrow. B. In the T2 fat-suppression image, the signal of the macroscopic fat (red arrows) is suppressed with signal drop out. Enlarged image of the adrenal is indicated by the yellow arrow.

Adrenal myelolipoma can be confused with an adrenal malignancy especially if large (>6 cm). Surgery should be considered for abdominal or flank pain, large tumor size (>8, up to 10 cm), atypical radiologic appearance, and/or inferior vena cava compression. Large tumors can be excised surgically but are amenable to laparoscopic adrenalectomy.

Are You Vain Enough to Get Ahead?

You don’t have to be a total narcissist to be a successful executive – but a solid dash of ego can help.

Self-aggrandizing individuals with a need for impact and power are slightly more likely to become leaders than the general population, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and personality testing firm Hogan Assessment Systems. But while a dose of self-confidence is necessary to raise your hand for the top job and steer a big corporation, too much can cause a leader and company to falter.

The study, set to be published in the journal Personnel Psychology, analyzes 54 prior studies touching on narcissism. Some of those studies relied on surveys, which asked leaders whether they identify with statements like, “If I ruled the world, it would be a much better place” or “I think I’m a special person.” Others analyzed clues in shareholder letters: the number of self-references, for example (is it just a string of “I, I, I”?), or the size of the executives’ photos.

It’s helpful to think of narcissism as distributed along a spectrum.  On one end, self-doubt isn’t a useful characteristic in a leader—they can look weak or have trouble making decisions, according to Peter Harms, one of the study’s authors and a management professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. But individuals on the other end don’t take feedback well and can make reckless choices, he says.

Examples of too much self-confidence abound in the world of politics. Harms cites Jonathan Edwards, the former North Carolina senator and presidential candidate who spent lots of time grooming his hair and had an extra-marital relationship on the campaign trail, as displaying the vanity and self-centered nature emblematic of narcissists.

Another researcher went on the hunt for CEOs that display humility. Analyzing earnings call transcripts – comparing the number of times executives said “me” and “mine” versus “we” or “our,” for example – an Australian management expertcompiled a list of the least narcissistic American CEOs. The line-up included Target’s Gregg Steinhafel, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi and Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan.

Rodney Warrenfeltz, who administers personality tests to high-level leaders as a managing partner at Hogan Assessments, uses what he calls “the bold scale” to measure where the corporate executives he works with fall along the continuum. The test incorporates statements that participants have to check off as true or false, such as, “I could get this country moving in the right direction.”

Warrenfeltz says a bold score of 70 to 90 on the 100-point scale signifies someone is truly confident. Anything above that can indicate arrogance or entitlement.

“When things go wrong, they blame other people,” he says of those who score at the very top of the scale. “When things go right they take the credit.”

In addition to narcissism, Harms, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor, studies other “dark traits” like Machiavellianism and psychopathy. A 2010 study found that psychopaths are more likely to be found in the corner office than on the street.) At lower levels, these attributes can be useful in the corporate setting, he says—a little psychopathy often translates to being brave. A bit of Machiavellianism is really just political skill, being able to manipulate coworkers or sell people on an idea.

Harry Kraemer, a former CEO of the health-care company Baxter International Inc., says being able to influence people is a crucial part of effective leadership. He also thinks executives need “true self confidence,” a mentality where positive thoughts abound: “I know I’m good, I know I can add value, I’m going to make good decision, I’m going to get a lot of stuff done.”

But he also says humility is key. If an executive’s ego gets out of hand, employees won’t follow him or her.

Unless, of course, you’re someone like former Apple chief Steve Jobs– so intelligent and brilliant that the rules don’t really apply.

“If you’re that one-in-10-million person, even though you’ve got a mammoth ego, even though you don’t treat people very well, you’re so unusual that maybe people are willing to put up with it,” Kraemer says.

Fast food regulations could slow prevalence of obesity.

Government regulations could delay the spread of fast food consumption, thus affecting the prevalence of obesity, research published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization suggests.

  • “Unless governments take steps to regulate their economies, the invisible hand of the market will continue to promote obesityworldwide with disastrous consequences for future public health and economic productivity,” Roberto De Vogli, MPH, PhD,of the department of public health and sciences at the University of California, Davis, said in a press release.

De Vogli and colleagues investigated the effect of fast food consumption on mean population BMI and assessed the role of government policies.

They used the number of per capita fast food transactions (local and transnational) among 25 high-income countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Between 1999 and 2008, the average number of annual fast food transactions per capita increased from 26.61 to 32.76, according to data. The age-standardized mean BMI increased from 25.8 to 26.4 during the same time period, researchers wrote.

After adjustments for covariates, each 1-unit increase in annual fast food transactions per capita was associated with an increase of 0.033 kg/m2 in age-standardized BMI (95% CI, 0.013-0.052), researchers wrote.

Furthermore, only consumption of soft drinks appeared to resolve this association by reducing the effect size of the association after covariates (beta level=0.03; 95% CI, 0.0101-0.0504), according to data.

Data indicate the index of economic freedom was an independent predictor of fast food consumption (beta level=0.27; 95% CI, 0.16-0.37), researchers wrote. When used as a variable, the association between fast food and BMIlessened but remained statistically significant (beta level=0.023; 95% CI, 0.001-0.045).

Further research is warranted to determine whether deregulation would contribute significantly to the body weight of a particular population and what types of government interventions would adequately address obesity.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

Robert Lustig, MDRobert H. Lustig
  • Processed high energy-dense fast food — high in calories, fat, salt, sugar and caffeine, and in super-size portions — must be a driver of obesity, right? But if “a calorie is a calorie,” then why should it matter whether you get those calories at McDonald’s, Outback Steakhouse or as a home-cooked meal?To address this question, De Vogli and colleagues regressed the change in age-adjusted BMI in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries over 9 years against the number of fast food transactions (using the EuroMonitor database) while controlling for gross domestic product, urbanization and an index of economic freedom. They found a robust association between fast food transactions and BMI increase over time.But it doesn’t stop there. They used the line items of each fast food transaction to determine the nutritional mediators of weight gain. When adjusted for either total calories or animal fats, the effect of fast food on BMI change disappeared. But when adjusted for soft drinks, the effect was reduced but not obviated. While this doesn’t prove anything, it argues that soft drinks were the prime mover of weight gain. Lastly, the authors found that the degree of economic freedom was also a modulator of BMI increase, arguing that economic policies of each country play a role in either fomenting or inhibiting weight gain.While correlation cannot prove causation, this study nonetheless argues for directionality — that fast food “drives” the weight gain, rather than obese people eat fast food more often. And while not powered to determine mechanism that soft drinks and national economic policy appear to drive the effect certainly argue that public policy efforts to curb soft drink consumption (eg, taxation) are certainly well-placed.
    • Robert H. Lustig , MD, MSL
    • Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology
      University of California, San Francisco