Wetenschap - 27 september 2001

English Summary

Alterra biologist Gerard Jagers Op Akkerhuis has come up with a model which uncovers the hidden structure of evolution and predicts the fall of the human race.

Jagers' model is based on the patterns of the building blocks that evolution uses to make cells, beings and machines. In the model humans belong to the Memons, but the fact that we require a long time to acquire knowledge means that we will be taken over by artificial intelligence, the Technical Memons which will have complex knowledge ready made in their neural network. It won't stop there, as this form will be superseded by Multi Memons and then Module Memons. Sounds like something out of science fiction? Don't worry, according to Jagers we will understand less of these successors than our domestic pets do of us.

That the sense of taste of the elderly declines is already known, but researchers from ATO and Unilever have now narrowed down the sufferers: men are worse off than women.

A group of young people and a group of elderly people were given beakers of water containing different flavourings: sweet, sour, bitter, salt and 'umami', the taste of savoury dishes, typified by monosodium glutamate. Men were less sensitive to taste than women, and it was above all the ability to taste sour and salty flavours that declined. Although it is possible to improve your tasting ability through training, unfortunately it is the men who are also the worst at learning.

Wageningen hydrologists are making use of information provided by two new NASA satellites to trace ground water.

The 'GRACE' satellites (Gravity Recover and Climate Experiment) were launched to help geophysicists gather more information on the structure of the earth's layers. The differences in mass of the different layers, however, also give a good indication of the amount of water present under the ground. Ruben IJpelaar of the Sub-department of Water Management is testing the method by collecting information on the amount of underground water in the river basins of the Danube and the Rhine. Although it is a challenge to distil the information on water from the mass of data collected, it will be useful for anticipating peak flow of these rivers. Other applications include being able to assess the amount of ground water available in arid desert areas, and the amount of moisture in soil.

While the new undergraduate degree course in International Development Studies had an unusually high number of enrolments last year (41) it is now showing an exceptionally high dropout rate.

This year there are only 29 students left over, a reduction of 30 percent. Mascha van der Meer is one of those who stopped: she felt she was a guinea-pig for the new course, and that promises made were not lived up to. "Timetables were a mess and kept on changes. Graduation subjects that were still available at the beginning of the year were cancelled without notice, the level of some subjects was far too low and lecturers were generally not well prepared." Van der Meer has voted with her feet and has taken up Development Studies at the University of Nijmegen.

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