Category Archives: Datelines

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Recopilando el testimonio genético de los muertos de la Guerra Civil española

En una zanja profunda hasta la cintura junto con la Autovía 1 de España, una docena de voluntarios con guantes de goma cepillan arcilla oscura que cubre restos de huesos humanos. Sus rodillas se apoyan sobre cojines de espuma, y una carpa blanca los protege del sol del verano boreal. Es julio de 2011; 75 veranos después de que en España estallara una guerra civil que llevó a los huesos de 59 personas a ese suelo.

A pocos pasos de la zanja, los voluntarios sostienen micrófonos frente al murmullo de los ancianos de la localidad de Gumiel de Izán, en la región centro-norte de Castilla y León. Esos ancianos, que albergan recuerdos de ejecuciones sumarias en ese sitio, bien pueden ser los hermanos menores, los vecinos y los hijos de los que están en esa tumba. Pero al momento de la exhumación, nadie lo sabe a ciencia cierta. En lugar de ello, los voluntarios documentan y recogen los restos físicos, y consiguen y graban las memorias imperfectas que fueron suprimidas durante cuatro décadas de dictadura.

Tales sitios se encuentran esparcidos por toda España, desde las Islas Canarias hasta La Mancha y las Islas Baleares. Las estimaciones recientes sugieren que alrededor de 2.000 fosas comunes pueden guardar los restos de hasta 150.000 víctimas de apresuradas ejecuciones durante la guerra.

El resto del reportaje está disponible en Scientific American en Español: [html] [pdf].

Originalmente publicado por Sapiens en inglés: [html] [pdf] y republicado en Scientific American: [html] [pdf].

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Unburying the Spanish Civil War

In a waist-high trench alongside Spain’s national Highway 1, a dozen volunteers wearing rubber gloves brush tan clay from crumbling human bones. Their knees rest on foam cushions, and a white tent shades them from the summer sun. It’s July 2011—a full 75 summers after Spain erupted in the Civil War that put the bones of 59 civilians in the ground here.

A few steps away from the trench, volunteers hold microphones up to the murmuring mouths of elders from the town of Gumiel de Izán, in the north-central region of Castilla y León. The elders, who harbor memories of summary executions at the site, may well be the younger siblings, neighbors, and children of those in the grave. But at the moment of exhumation, nobody knows for sure. Instead, the volunteers document and collect the physical remains, coaxing out and recording imperfect memories that were suppressed during four decades of dictatorship.

Such sites are scattered throughout Spain, from the Canary Islands to La Mancha to the Balearic Islands. Recent estimates suggest that some 2,000 mass graves may hold the remains of up to 150,000 victims of hasty wartime executions.

Read the full feature in Sapiens: [html]  [pdf].
It is also syndicated to Scientific American: [html] [pdfand Scientific American en Español: [html] [pdf].

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India’s energy subsidy slowdown

The hum of Gurumoorthy Sethuraman’s 10-horsepower (7.46 kW) irrigation pumps joins the murmur of nearby rivers in Arayapuram, India. Sethuraman, an experienced and successful farmer, plants alternating crops of rice and pulses each year in the southeast Indian state of Tamil Nadu. This bounty has enabled his family to send several of his grandchildren to study abroad in the United States and United Kingdom. Yet, by law, he and other commercial agriculture enterprise owners are not required to pay the utility that powers the 60 or so wells that irrigate his 15 hectares of land.

Sethuraman is representative of the fortunate few around the world —the International Monetary Fund reported in 2013 that the top 40% of the population in most developing countries received six times the energy subsidy received by the bottom 40% (http://go.nature.com/w1qdII). In the short run, he and others are direct beneficiaries, but in the long run, misdirected energy subsidies undermine economic development, according to economists at the International Energy Agency (http://go.nature.com/rPzFNR), the World Bank (http://go.nature.com/RJMxmO) and the International Monetary Fund (http://go.nature.com/E2wjfP). Such policies amount to an undeclared regressive tax that undermines investment in infrastructure, health and education for the poorest citizens. Of 40 countries examined during a Council on Foreign Relations workshop last year, for example, the average energy subsidy approached 30% of government revenue and was often greater than health or education spending (http://go.nature.com/pt37o7).

Yet India is in the midst of an energy subsidy reform. It began reducing its own energy subsidies in 2010 and has earned outside recognition for its progress so far (http://go.nature.com/qAbZkw). Its path to an energy policy that supports its poorest people will be long and complex, but it may now be experiencing a remarkable moment of opportunity to widen access to energy.

Read the full feature in Nature Energy: [html] [pdf].

Julius Rix works on systems that will be used to drill through ice to extract samples.

The Ice Stuff

There is no visible horizon in the waters beneath the Ross Ice Shelf. So electrical engineer Jim O’Sullivan built an artificial one for the pilot of the submersible remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that he and a team of scientists were testing there in 2008. The team didn’t lack for data: The ROV’s orientation, speed, and depth were numerically displayed on the pilot’s screen. But it is difficult to convert numbers into spatial awareness. The ROV was at risk of crashing into the delicate creatures, such as sea spiders, that it was supposed to be observing.

Fortunately, O’Sullivan had come across a similar problem in a different setting: aviation. As a pilot, he had an instrument rating, “which was useful for understanding how to navigate without being able to see,” he recalls. When flying blind, pilots use half a dozen different instruments to maintain their situational awareness, including an artificial horizon. O’Sullivan found open-source software that could convert the ROV’s telemetry data to display an artificial, underwater horizon. This example of engineering on (and under) “the Ice,”—as Antarctica is known—demonstrates the need for ingenuity and improvisation beyond anything training can provide. Continue reading