Quirks & Quarks for September 23, 2000

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Processing on a pinhead, Quantum Computing Microbiology Column: Toxoplasma gondii Europe goes to Mars Cetacean Centenarians

Processing on a pinhead, Quantum Computing

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Computing is changing. As processors get faster and faster they also get smaller. And if they get small enough, they'll be the size of single atoms.

Down at this scale things get weird, quantum weird.

Dr. Seth Lloyd from MIT thinks there's a big future for quantum computing. He sees the day when people replace their desktop machines with tiny quantum computers. And Dr. Raymond LaFlemme, a Canadian working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico agrees. He's building quantum computers in his lab.

So is Lieven Vandersypen, a Stanford grad student working at IBM Almaden in San Jose, California. Together with mathematicians like Dr. Richard Cleve from the University of Calgary they're developing machines that can solve math problems beyond anything a normal computer can ever do.

Microbiology Column: Toxoplasma gondii

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This week Nicole Johnston, who works at the Antimicrobial Research Centre, McMaster University in Hamilton, introduces us to Toxoplasma gondii. This pesky parasite passes from rats to cats and seems to affect the rats' behaviour. In an experiment reported last summer, scientists were able to show that rats infected by Toxoplasma gondii lost their fear and in some cases actually sought out places where cats might be found.

Europe goes to Mars

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NASA isn't the only space agency determined to explore the red planet. The European Space Agency's Mars Express mission will be launching in 2003 and carrying a lander called Beagle 2.

Professor Colin Pillinger, of the department of Planetary Sciences at the Open University in England, is project leader for the Beagle 2, and he thinks his lander will outdo anything NASA has to offer.

Cetacean Centenarians

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Bowhead Whales, the slow, tubby behemoths of the arctic, may be the oldest animals on earth. Craig George, a Wildlife Biologist with the North Slope Department of Wildlife Management Based in Barrow, Alaska, has found that they can life up to 200 years.

Question of the week: What time is it at the North Pole?

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This week's query comes from Phil Carriere of Timmins, Ontario, who asked: "What time is it at the north Pole?"

Dr. Rob Douglas from the Time and Frequency Standards Group at the national Research Council in Ottawa explained that all the time zones meet at the North Pole so you could face all the times zones by rotating on the spot.

To get around this problem, people at the poles use Universal Coordinated time which is a modern version of Greenwich Mean time. It is really an average of all the atomic clocks around the world.

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