Letters from the March 19, 2005, issue of Science News

Chew on this

As an occasional betel nut chewer, I note that the report “Palm-Nut Problem” (SN: 1/15/05, p. 43) doesn’t touch on possible positive aspects of the habit. Chewing sapari (coarsely powdered, sweetened, and clove-flavored areca nut) at the end of a meal leads to a sense of satisfaction and well-being, induces salivation, and freshens the mouth. Areca nut also contains lots of phenolics that could act as antioxidants and capturers of free radicals. Hence, the nut pieces could be anticancer agents!

S.N. Balasubramanian
Bangalore, India

What’s going on in there?

“Same brain region handles whistles and words” (SN: 1/22/05, p. 61) reports that left brain areas normally associated with language comprehension are activated in shepherds who communicate in a whistled language. I wonder if the same brain regions would respond similarly in people who “speak” American Sign Language or Morse code.

Lisa Lincoln
Brooklyn, N.Y.

In 2000, Science News reported that this area of the brain is active in deaf people while they use sign or watch others do so (SN: 12/9/00, p. 373: Language goes beyond sight, sound in brain).—B. Bower

There go the solar cells

Plastic solar cells may indeed be gaining in efficiency (“Infrared Vision: New material may enhance plastic solar cells,” SN: 1/22/05, p. 53), but here in the Southwest, anything plastic left out in the sun quickly clouds, desiccates, and cracks. Can the new polymer-based material protect against this destruction? It would certainly be cost prohibitive to replace the cells every year.

Stephen Wust
Santa Fe, N.M.

Researchers are well aware that, left alone, plastic solar cells won’t last long in the environment because the combination of light, oxygen, and water vapor degrades polymers. But the solution seems pretty simple. Some kind of transparent sealant or other encapsulating material would block out oxygen and water while letting through light. Companies and academics are working on it.—A. Goho

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