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Thursday 21:00-21:30
Leading Edge brings you the latest news from the world of science. Geoff Watts celebrates discoveries as soon as they're being talked about - on the internet, in coffee rooms and bars; often before they're published in journals. And he gets to grips with not just the science, but with the controversies and conversation that surround it.
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LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 23 February
Geoff Watts
Thursday 23 February 2006
Gateway Arch, St Louis (c) Owaki-Kulla/Corbis

This week Geoff Watts reports from the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting held in St Louis, Missouri USA

NASA and the Terrestrial Planet Finder

Geoff Watts speaks to Jill Tartar, Director of the Centre for SETI Research at the SETI institute about how NASA is committed to going back to the Moon and has subsequently postponed funding for the Terrestrial Planet Finder. This is a project that aims to make an image of a tiny rocky earth, which is very difficult to do as planets are dim and the light from the stars surrounding is very bright. The telescope in the TPF would try to block out the brightness of the star so that you can make an image of the feint planet in orbit close to it. The project has been delayed from the original schedule of launching in 2016 and, as yet, it's not clear when the funding will restart. 
Studying Emerging Diseases from Animals

Prof Mark Woolhouse, is an epidemiologist from Centre of infectious Diseases at the University of Edinburgh and is on the search for the next zoonotic disease to jump between man and beast. With bird flu and the H5N1 strain moving ever closer, there is great interest in knowing which will be the next disease to make the move between animal and human and Mark and his team are studying many different animals in different environments to find clues which could suggest the next threat. 
Autism and Theory of Mind

Geoff also speaks to Morton Gernsbacher from the University of Wisconsin who has been doing a lot of work with children in the Autistic Spectrum. Her tests have focussed on whether these children have a 'theory of mind'. This is easily tested by showing someone a familiar box of say crayons, and then opening them to find the box has unexpected contents - such as paper clips. If you then shut the box and ask the child what they thought was in it - if they answer with 'paper clips' then it shows they do not have a theory of mind. However, Morton Gernsbacher suggests that maybe the question is too difficult to understand, as when a control test was done on children who were not autistic yet had language problems, the same result was found.

The Architect's Secret Weapon

As the AAAS meeting was held in St Louis, Missouri this year, Geoff spent some time, in the cold, looking at the magnificent Gateway To The West arch, on the banks of the Mississippi River . In conversation with Assistant Professor of Building Technology, John Ochsendorf, they discuss how arches can be easily designed by using a chain - a simple chain. Hold the ends of the chain, one in each hand, and see how the chain falls to make an inverted arch. If you were to then to build a replica of that arch you would find it would be as successful and as graceful as the one in St Louis! 
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