Airy answer

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 December, 1997, 12:00am

American researchers claim to have found a way of doubling the speed of computer chips by using air.

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York have produced prototype circuits in which microchips or transistors are linked by wires surrounded by a gel that is up to 90 per cent air. The team hit on the idea of surrounding the tiny wires with 'aerogels' because air does not conduct electricity and is therefore an efficient insulator.

Aerogel absorbed hardly any of the signal compared with currently used silicon dioxide, so the signal travelled quicker, said researcher Joel Plawsky.

Wasted beauty Coral reef watchers are alarmed by a jump in the number of corals being attacked by pathogens not seen before. One worrying example is rapid wasting disease, which, true to its name, can spread many centimetres in one day, causing outer living tissue to die and the skeleton to crumble.

Coloured algae have been evacuating corals for 15 years in increasing numbers, leaving corals white and crumbling. Apart from pollution, changes in salinity and sedimentation, researchers have found land fungi now colonising the sea.

Professor Gary Ostrander of Maryland says it has spread from the Caribbean throughout the Indo-Pacific.

'Ninety per cent of the coral around the Galapagos Islands has gone. I have seen 200-year-old coral colonies bleached in a matter of days into dead rock.' Proof and pain A panel of experts convened by the United States National Institutes of Health has declared that acupuncture can help relieve some kinds of pain after surgery and nausea in pregnancy or after chemotherapy.

The panel based its conclusion on a review of published clinical trials. Chairman David Ramsay, a physiologist and president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, said the best of the trials showed that patients receiving acupuncture had raised levels of the body's natural painkillers.

But critics complain that the panel fails to show how therapy based on the theory of chi - energy that flows through channels of the body - can be reconciled with Western medical science. Many researchers also feel the panel has stepped beyond the scientific evidence in endorsing the treatment.

The science page is edited by Elisabeth Tacey. Tel: 2565-2264, fax: 2562-2485