Like fast-moving, quick-witted intelligence agents, free neutrons can penetrate any kind of matter. This is what makes them so interesting for research physicists. In an ultra-cold state they are no longer volatile and can be conserved in steel containers, just like a normal gas. They make it possible to undertake a more precise verification of the forecasts of the big bang model. In the title feature of Ruperto Carola 1/96, the research magazine of the University of Heidelberg, Dirk Dubbers of the Institute of Physics outlines the way neutrons do their under-cover work and the scientific benefits that it brings.
Other topics covered in the new issue are: response times and their relevance in personality research, statistical methods and the potential role they play in campaigns to reduce mass poverty in developing countries, risk of renal failure in kidney donors, and a report on the reorganization of the South-East Asia Institute.
Doing research invariably means breaking new ground. In the Editorial, Prorektor (deputy vice-chancellor) Professor Ernst G. Jung describes how innovative research in particularly sensitive areas such as medicine, biology and technology, its potential exploitation and the possible consequences for society are subjected to internal and external assessment and scrutiny. At present there are four ethics commissions entrusted with this task at the University of Heidelberg. The existing bodies set up by the Medical Faculty in Heidelberg and the Faculty of Clinical Medicine in Mannheim have now been joined by an ethics commission for the natural and social sciences and a Senate Commission on fundamental principles of research ethics. Time-consuming as their activities may be, Prof. Jung regards them as essential in creating an atmosphere of trust imperative for the conduct of research. At the same time he calls for a more objective and far-sighted attitude in this connection from legislators and the media. Innovative research and its exploitation is too often hampered by "restrictive regimentation" by the former and premature, one-sided rejection by the latter. This, says Jung, has a detrimental impact on progress in research applications, locations for new branches of industry and the creation of jobs. Finally Prof. Jung calls for a higher degree of confidence in the responsibility of researchers and the acceptance of assistance in the form of "assessment by independent bodies".
Following the title feature comes an article by Manfred Amelang of the Institute of Psychology on "personality research with the stopwatch". The idea here is to measure the response times of volunteers in reaction to questions about their personality and to use the data thus obtained as a source of additional information. This method is a way of studying the thought processes preceding the response to test questions. For instance, it takes probands longer to respond to questions about character traits that are not particularly pronounced, whereas questions felt to be accurate are answered relatively promptly. Hesitation can mean either that the feature inquired about does not figure prominently in the volunteer's make-up or that the proband is lying, possibly because the characteristic in question is socially undesirable. Response times also tell us a great deal about the accuracy of individual self-assessment.
How can poverty in South-East Asia, South Africa and Latin America be measured from a western perspective? Can reliable data be obtained and if so how can they be systematically exploited for aid purposes? And how do individual people figure in all these calculations? These are the questions posed in the article by Helmut Sangmeiser of the Institute of International Comparative Economic and Social Statistics. 80-year assessments by renowned western institutions on the number of people living in poverty in South America are hugely contradictory. "Methodological uncertainty" runs rampant, meaning that existing data provide a poor basis for economic and development aid strategies designed to alleviate poverty. The title of Sangmeiser's article is at the same time the conclusion that he comes to: "In the auditing of misery individual people are relegated to anonymity.
The podocytes of the kidney are the subject being looked into at present by a research group at the Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology. These particular cells make sure that the kidney does its sorting-out job properly, getting rid of the things that the body has too much of, doesn't want or doesn't need. Once there is any disturbance to this function, podocytes are irreversible and the frequent upshot is kidney failure. The second kidney then steps in to keep things functioning. What is the medical position on this question vis-à-vis kidney donors? Wilhem Kriz and co-workers give some answers in the article "Do we need two kidneys?"
A new departure at the South-East Asia Institute (SAI) of the University. The extensive reorganization of research and internal structure which began five years ago is now moving into its final stages. In late 1991, the Rector's Office set up an independent advisory committee made up of outside academic experts. This committee then came up with a report and a set of recommendations for the future of the institute, which is the only interdisciplinary centre of its kind in Germany. Michael Schwarz' feature outlines the history of the institute, the reorganization itself and the research interests of the newly appointed professors. The appointment process was unique in the history of the University, with "seven faculties agreeing on a 'package' of lists of candidates for professorships in five different disciplines." His conclusion: "Now the new SAI has to show its mettle."The magazine closes with the permanent columns "News from the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation", "External Funding" and "Brief Reports from Young Researchers". In the latter column Johann Anselm Steiger reports on research work he is doing in the Theological Faculty. His team is examining the biography of church father Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) with a view to casting light on the long-forgotten age of Lutheran orthodoxy.
"Ruperto Carola" is published in German and costs 10 DM plus postage per issue, 5 DM for students. Like the special Support Subscription (60 DM for four issues) it can be ordered from:
Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg, Postfach 10 57 60, D-69047 Heidelberg, Germany.