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Volume 488 Issue 7411, 16 August 2012

The maser is the microwave-frequency precursor of the now ubiquitous laser � or ‘optical maser�, as it was once known. But it has had little technological impact compared with the laser, in large part because of inconvenience: masers typically require vacuum and/or low-temperature operating conditions. Overcoming these obstacles would pave the way for significant maser-based innovations, including drastically more sensitive measurements across a range of scientific disciplines, from molecular biology to radio astronomy. And, if the history of the laser is any indication, applications not yet dreamt of. Mark Oxborrow, Jonathan Breeze and Neil Alford have now developed a solid-state room-temperature maser, based on an organic molecular crystal, that should enhance the potential of the maser as a tool for science and technology. On the cover is their maser crystal inside its sapphire ring.


  • Editorial |

    With plagiarism seemingly endemic in Romania, as well as rife among Europe's political class, a bid by academics to root out misconduct deserves widespread support.

  • Editorial |

    Lax management of Fukushima clean-up intensifies concerns over Japan's nuclear future.

World View

  • World View |

    The problem isn’t the public’s reasoning capacity; it’s the polluted science-communication environment that drives people apart, says Dan Kahan.

    • Dan Kahan

Research Highlights

Seven Days

  • Seven Days |

    The week in science: US declares hottest month ever recorded; CERN physicists make hottest-ever plasma; and Indian politicians look coldly on GM crop trials.



News Feature


  • Comment |

    Advanced construction technologies promise huge energy savings, says Philip Farese. Investment is needed to bring them to market and to encourage their use.

    • Philip Farese

Books & Arts

  • Books & Arts |

    Josie Glausiusz strolls through an evanescent 'cabinet of wonders' exploring the surreal side of technology.

    • Josie Glausiusz
  • Books & Arts |

    Maja Matarić, a computer scientist and neuroscientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, makes robots that assist people with disabilities, children with autism and elderly people — a phenomenon explored in the film Robot and Frank (2012). On the eve of its release, she talks about the future of socially assistive machines.

    • Jascha Hoffman


News & Views

  • News & Views |

    Some mutations in tumour cells play no part in causing cancer, but they generate cellular weak spots that may allow tumour cells to be selectively killed by drugs. See Article p.337

    • Ben Lehner
    • Solip Park
  • News & Views |

    The technological potential of masers — the microwave equivalents of lasers — has been thwarted by their impractical operating conditions. A solid-state maser that works at room temperature may change that. See Letter p.353

    • Aharon Blank
  • News & Views |

    Fat cells are usually thought of as being either energy-storing white fat cells or food-burning brown fat cells. The identification of a third type of fat cell in mice and humans might open up new avenues for combating obesity.

    • Barbara Cannon
    • Jan Nedergaard
  • News & Views |

    The chemical content of a star that was born relatively shortly after the formation of the Milky Way calls into question conventional understanding of how stars formed in the early Universe.

    • John Cowan
  • News & Views |

    Neurons of the same type can show functional differences. It turns out that this diversity is in part the result of the cells' adaptation to their specific neural networks. See Letter p.375

    • Nathaniel Urban
    • Shreejoy Tripathy
  • News & Views |

    Past studies have suggested that the ocean's nitrogen budget has a deficit of fixed nitrogen. This view may now change, thanks to upward revisions of the rate of nitrogen input through biological activity. See Letter p.361

    • Angelicque E. White



Review Article


  • Article |

    The ‘collateral’ homozygous deletion of essential redundant housekeeping genes in cancer genomes is shown to confer therapeutic vulnerability on cancer cells with the deletion, without affecting genomically intact normal non-cancerous cells, suggesting new therapeutic opportunities.

    • Florian L. Muller
    • Simona Colla
    • Ronald A. DePinho
  • Article |

    Use of a two-way optical system to activate subclasses of inhibitory neurons, while simultaneously monitoring responses in target cells within cortical circuits in vivo, reveals that parvalbumin-expressing and somatostatin-expressing neurons exert distinct effects on cellular responses across the network.

    • Nathan R. Wilson
    • Caroline A. Runyan
    • Mriganka Sur


  • Letter |

    Using an organic molecular crystal as gain medium allows a maser to be operated in pulsed mode in air, at room temperature and in the terrestrial magnetic field, so avoiding many of the obstacles that have previously hindered the application of masers.

    • Mark Oxborrow
    • Jonathan D. Breeze
    • Neil M. Alford
  • Letter |

    The South Pacific convergence zone is a region of high precipitation spanning a vast swath of the Pacific Ocean that can shift northwards and become longitudinally oriented; such extreme zonal events have severe weather and climatic impacts and are predicted to become more frequent under greenhouse warming conditions.

    • Wenju Cai
    • Matthieu Lengaigne
    • Matthew J. Widlansky
  • Letter |

    A survey of genetic variation in Native American and Siberian populations reveals that Native Americans are descended from at least three streams of gene flow from Asia: after the initial peopling of the continent there was a southward expansion facilitated by the coast, with sequential population splits and little gene flow after divergence, especially in South America.

    • David Reich
    • Nick Patterson
    • Andrés Ruiz-Linares
  • Letter |

    Functional heterogeneity within a class of neurons is investigated by comparing the intrinsic properties of pairs of mitral cells belonging to either the same or different glomerular circuits; this shows that neuronal excitability is stereotypic for mitral cells from the same olfactory network, indicating that local circuits are functionally adapted to process subtly distinct information.

    • Kamilla Angelo
    • Ede A. Rancz
    • Troy W. Margrie
  • Letter |

    Optogenetic activation of parvalbumin-expressing versus other classes of interneurons is found to have distinct effects on the response properties of individual and populations of excitatory cells, as well as on visual behaviour in awake mice, providing evidence that this specific interneuron subtype has a unique role in visual coding and perception.

    • Seung-Hee Lee
    • Alex C. Kwan
    • Yang Dan
  • Letter |

    APJ is shown to be a bifunctional receptor for both mechanical stretch and the endogenous peptide apelin, a finding that is important for the development of APJ agonists to treat heart failure.

    • Maria Cecilia Scimia
    • Cecilia Hurtado
    • Pilar Ruiz-Lozano
  • Letter |

    During inflammation neutrophils roll along the vascular endothelium; here, previously unknown structures called ‘slings’, which appear and persist at the front of rolling cells in vivo and in vitro, are described.

    • Prithu Sundd
    • Edgar Gutierrez
    • Klaus Ley
  • Letter |

    The X-ray crystal structures of trypanosome and mammalian quiescin sulphydryl oxidase are determined; these structures and follow-up biochemical studies show that large conformational changes occur as the enzyme relays disulphide bonds through its redox-active sites.

    • Assaf Alon
    • Iris Grossman
    • Deborah Fass


  • Feature |

    Seminars on career alternatives and soft skills can provide crucial tips for advancement. But some workshops are more helpful than others.

    • Trisha Gura



  • Q&A |

    Cardiologist is first winner of award supporting clinical research.

    • Charlotte Schubert

Career Brief

  • Career Brief |

    Academics sponsored by large firms have lower publication rates than those with other funding sources.

  • Career Brief |

    Programme aims to boost scientific participation for women from 81 developing nations.

  • Career Brief |

    Report pans scheme meant to boost competitiveness of German universities.


  • Futures |

    An old-fashioned night out.

    • Sue Lange


  • Insight |

    Chemistry and energy

    The world cannot continue to rely on fossil fuels for its energy needs. Alternative cost-effective and sustainable sources must be identified. Of the various methods being explored, this Insight focuses on the developments in solar energy, water-based methods of electricity generation and the production of biofuels.

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