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In brief
October 29, 2010   
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Polish Physicists Help Build Thermonuclear Reactor

Polish physicists are taking part in an international project involving the construction of an experimental thermonuclear reactor called Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) in Greifswald, Germany.

Some of the reactor’s components are being assembled by scientists from the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Nuclear Physics in Cracow, while physicists from the Andrzej So速an Institute for Nuclear Studies in 安ierk near Warsaw and the Wroc豉w University of Technology have helped build a neutral beam injector to heat up plasma.

Structural calculations for the reactor are being carried out by engineers from the Warsaw University of Technology, while researchers at the Institute of Plasma Physics and Laser Microfusion are working on neutron diagnostics and soft X-rays. Researchers from the Opole University of Technology are working on spectroscopic diagnostics, and a team at the University of Szczecin is taking care of wave diagnostics.

Once completed, the 2-billion-euro W7-X reactor will be the largest facility of its kind in the world. The reactor’s chamber will weigh some 800 tons and the magnetic field induction generated by solenoids surrounding the chamber will reach 15 teslas. To compare, the induction of the magnetic field of the Earth, which makes compasses point north, is several hundred thousand times lower.

The W7-X reactor is expected to start operating in 2014.

Water-Purifying Light

A research team led by Prof. Maria Nowakowska at the Jagiellonian University’s Faculty of Chemistry in Cracow has developed a new method to remove toxic compounds from water with the use of non-toxic, hybrid photocatalysts based on layered aluminosilicates.

According to the researchers, the method is efficient and more environmentally friendly than other methods used so far. It has passed laboratory tests and now the researchers want to check how well it can work in sewage treatment plants, for example.

Given the large amount of pollutants in the environment—from heavy metals to organic compounds (pesticides, chlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons, antibiotics) to bacteria—it is extremely hard to invent a universal and cheap method to purify water, the researchers say. Conventional methods based on processes such as osmosis, adsorption, ultrafiltration, distillation and photooxygenation have many limitations, including high energy consumption and low efficiency.

Photocatalysts are reagents that trigger a response to light in substances normally insensitive to light. The Jagiellonian University researchers have designed a new type of photocatalysts, using a special variety of compounds called aluminosilicates. These are layered aluminosilicates whose atoms are arranged in layers. One example is montmorillonite. The distance between two atom layers is 1-2 nanometers (1 nm is one billionth of a meter) and the empty spaces between the layers can be filled with molecules of organic, sunlight-absorbing compounds.

The photocatalysts are not soluble in water and instead they form a suspension, as a result of which it is easy to remove them from the water after the reaction is complete. Alternatively, they simply settle at the bottom. The photocatalysts absorb sunlight with no need for extra ultraviolet rays and do not harm the environment because they are made of non-toxic aluminosilicates. The photocatalysts can be produced with the use of natural polymers such as polysaccharides, including starch, chitozan and derivatives of cellulose.

Hybrid photocatalysts can be used in industrial facilities that generate sewage containing toxic organic compounds such as phenols and dyes. They can also be used in hospitals, which discard sewage contaminated with pharmaceuticals.

Bones of Domesticated Camels

While investigating giant burial mounds in the Jebel Barkal region in northern Sudan, archeologists from the University of Warsaw’s Center for Mediterranean Archaeology have found bones of domesticated camels dating back to the 5th century A.D.

The archeologists have also unearthed dozens of old vessels and ornaments. The people buried in the mounds were members of nomadic tribes that came to Sudan after the fall of the Sudanese Kingdom of Meroe in the 3rd century A.D.

Offerings laid in the tombs included meat, mainly pieces of young sheep and cattle, but the archeologists have also found remains of young camels inside the largest mounds. The camels were offered not as riding animals, but as food, which is evidenced by the way they were cut up into pieces, the archeologists say. There were no heads or hooves, but parts of shoulder blades, ribs and legs.

Porpoise Count

Researchers from several European countries including Poland will place some 300 detectors across the Baltic Sea to count the population of the harbor porpoise, an endangered marine mammal species.

The project is led by marine scientists from the Kolmarden dolphinarium on the east coast of Sweden, who have obtained a grant of 22 million Swedish kroner (2.4 million euros) for the porpoise count as part of the European Union’s LIFE+ environmental program.

While counting the porpoises, the Swedish researchers will be aided by colleagues from the Hel Marine Station of the University of Gda雟k in Poland as well as research centers in Finland and Denmark.

According to Prof. Krzysztof Sk鏎a, head of the Hel Marine Station, this will probably be the largest project of this kind in the world. It will most likely begin in February next year and is scheduled to continue for five years.

The detectors will help the scientists not only track and count the porpoises, but also find out why the mammals tend to populate some areas while avoiding others. The detectors will be placed in different parts of the sea at a depth of 5 to 50 meters. They will record sounds that porpoises make to communicate with one another.

The harbor porpoise is classified as an endangered species. It has been protected in Sweden since 1973. Nobody knows exactly how many porpoises live in the Baltic Sea. Unlike dolphins, to which porpoises are related, the animals are timid and thus hard to spot. Adult porpoises grow to 180 centimeters in length and weigh up to 75 kilograms.

New Method to Treat Wrinkles and Scars

Two Polish researchers—Andrzej Ignaciuk, a doctor who graduated from the Medical University of Lublin and studied medicine in Rome, and Pawe Surowiak, an assistant professor at the Wroc豉w Medical University—say they are conducting experiments on the proliferation and transplantation of autologous (patients’ own) fibroblasts, or cells of mesodermal origin that synthesize fiber and the extracellular matrix of the connective tissue.

The researchers want to use the results of their experiments in esthetic medicine, which has reached a new stage of development in which cells, including stem cells, are obtained from patients, proliferated in special laboratories and then retransplanted to remove skin defects such as wrinkles, scars and stretch marks.

Wrinkles are the result of decreased activity of fibroblasts. The main advantages of fibroblast autotransplantation include the absence of side effects, and there is no risk of infection or severe response from the immune system, and the effects of the procedure last up to seven years.

Moose Research

Biologists from the University of Bia造stok in eastern Poland are preparing to launch a research project to protect the country’s moose population and prevent these animals from causing road accidents.
Moose are the cause of a growing number of road accidents in Poland and they are also notorious for damaging forest nurseries.

The research project has been commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment and funded by the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. It will continue until October next year. Partners in the project include the State Forest Authority, the Polish Hunting Association, and the Forest Research Institute.

As part of the project, the researchers will count the moose population based on footprints in the snow this winter. They will also explore sites inhabited by moose and check their migration routes.

The project will also involve genetic tests to see how moose inhabiting the Biebrza Valley differ genetically from those living in other regions.

The eastern province of Podlaskie has Poland’s largest population of moose. Data gathered so far indicates that the Biebrza National Park alone is inhabited by around 600 moose and the nearby August闚 Forest by around 500.

Compiled by Tadeusz Belerski
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