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Jane PoynterRSS Feed of this column.

Jane Poynter is one of eight people to live sealed inside the artificial world of Biosphere 2 for two years. The three-acre enclosed terrarium was built to replicate the Earth in miniature.

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Scientists at Oxford University have come up with a way to make electricity biologically. It’s not an English version of Ed Begley, pedaling his stationary bike attached to a turbine to make tea and crumpets. Nope, two different enzymes (hydrogenase and laccase) work together to kick start the chemical reactions that make electricity from hydrogen. It’s a biological fuel cell.

Traditional fuel cells generally use platinum to catalyze the reactions. The precious metal is scarce and toxic, making it expensive and hardly eco-friendly. The enzymes in bio-fuel cells are ubiquitous, found in plants and micro-organisms. They are pretty much infinitely renewable and completely biodegradable. They effectively make biological batteries that never run out as long as there is some hydrogen around. And what’s more, the hydrogen stream does not have to be pure, as it does for chemical catalysts. The enzymes simply pick and choose the hydrogen atoms from a smorgasbord of gases that would render the traditional fuel cell utterly impotent.

Ain’t life grand!

The university’s commercialization company, Isis Innovations has a couple of bio-fuel cells running a digital watch as a demo, reminiscent of, but a jot more sophisticated than sticking electrodes into a spud. The company hopes the invention will juice up all kinds of small electronics, and eventually more power-hungry gizmos.

However, the Oxford profs have a nagging little problem in common with traditional fuel cell developers.

This morning, the University of Arizona’s soft spoken Dean of the College of Science, Joaquin Ruiz, stood outside Biosphere 2, the 3.15-acre miniature world-under-glass just north of Tucson. He announced to a small crowd of well wishers and press that the University is taking over. With a new battle cry ‘Where Science Lives’ emblazoned on signs, a team of roughly 50 hopes to perform world-class science relevant to today’s grand challenges and inspire and educate people about them.

Yesterday, the Israeli Air Force took out at least two buildings in Gaza City in response to the previous day’s Palestinian militants’ attack. Not far away, a group of environmentalists called Friends of the Earth Middle East is taking a different tack to quell the violence. By bringing together Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians to work together on environmental issues that affect them all, they hope to build lasting peace.

It seems to be working.

Take the West Bank village of Baqa Al-Sharqiya, for example.