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December 31, 2006
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December 31, 2006

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Home > 2006 Issues > December 31, 2006

News with a view
By Vaidehi Nathan

French scientist gets her due, 200 years later

Emilie du Chatelet is not a familiar name. She was a great scientist of the 18th century. But her name remained anonymous because she was better than the men of her time. Voltaire, with whom she shared an intellectually invigorating relationship, shunned her when he realised that she had come up with new insights into the nature of light and was pursuing mathematical physics, a rather young science in the 1740s. The story of this extraordinary French woman has been documented by Davis Bodanis, an author who was intrigued by a footnote reference to Du Chatelet in a book he was reading. Du Chatelet after separating from Voltaire, met and fell in love with a young poet, by whom she conceived a child when she was 41. However, he did not take care of her. Throughout her pregnancy, she sat up till late in the night to finish a manuscript she was doing on Sir Issac Newton. She finished her text in August 1749, a few days later gave birth to a girl and within a few days both she and the child died. Though many young scientists used her theory for their work relating to energy and light, they did not acknowledge her contribution. She once remarked on her separation from Voltaire that it was preposterous to think that an intelligent woman needed a man to be happy. Is it her belief that cost her the right to fame?

Who fumes the most?

Americans are the loudest when it comes to preaching. Whether it is human rights, nuclear proliferation, harming environment or global warming. And routinely reports and studies reveal how they are the worst violators of each of these. According to a recent study by a watchdog group, Environmental Defence, Americans, who represent just five per cent of the world population, drive one third of the cars in the world. Worse, these account for half the harmful carbon emissions from vehicles globally. The passenger cars in the US are less fuel efficient than the others and emit nearly 15 per cent more carbon dioxide. A keenly assembled statistics reveal that the distance travelled by the Americans on shopping alone has increased 40 per cent in the last decade or so. The sports utility vehicles (SUVs) have outstripped the small cars in sales, drinking up more gallons of oil and coughing up more carbon dioxide into the air.

Computer blunder costs 400 million pounds

Failure to install a computer system to track down defaulters in fine payments has cost the UK exchequer 400 million pounds. A government report has admitted that the system, which was supposed to be in place to create a national database for court fine dues, may not be in place before 2008. Which means that till December 2007, the offenders who do not pay their court fines would not be tracked, as there is no system to transfer names from one area to another. The project, initially to have been operational in 1998 at a cost of 156 million pounds, would now cost nearly 490 million pounds. And according to an estimate, the court fine defaulters already owe the government over 400 million pounds. Project overruns and cost escalations are not the privilege of Indians it seems!

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