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Gazing into a Cold Universe

Modern astronomers have a whole panoply of new instruments at their disposal enabling them to probe ever more accurately into the hidden secrets of the universe. On the one hand there are the satellites and extraterrestrial telescopes that capture X-ray, ultraviolet and infrared light from the depths of the cosmos before it passes through the Earth's atmosphere. Equally versatile are the ultra-modern earthbound optical telescopes with apertures of anything up to ten yards. The Max Planck Institute of Astronomy is as active on the ground as it is up in the reaches of outer space. The Calar Alto observatory in Andalusia, an outpost of the Heidelberg Institute, is the largest of its kind on the European continent. The latest extra-terrestrial commitment entered into by the Institute is its involvement in the European Infrared Satellite (ISO). In the title feature of the latest edition of “Ruperto Carola”, Heidelberg University's research magazine, Hans Elsaesser of the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy describes how “new methods get you answers to old questions”. Other topics covered by the magazine are radio-active scaffolding to combat heart attacks, the liberalization of India's economic policy, a comparison of immigrant literature by Turks in Germany and North Africans in France, life-saving by means of an artificial lung, and the new Biochemistry Center.

Only a few weeks back the Baden-Wuerttemberg economics ministry gave the go-ahead for the establishment of a new Biochemistry Center. In his editorial, Rector Peter Ulmer emphasizes the successes already achieved by the existing research centers, the Interdisciplinary Center for Scientific Computing, the Molecular Biology Center, and the South-East Asia Institute. Both with regard to establishing and maintaining a high-profile research image and in purely economic terms, the high concentration of expert know-how in one place is an eminently sensible way of optimizing the use of existing resources and attaining top-flight standards in research and teaching.

The title feature is followed by an article from Christoph Hehrlein on radio-active “scaffolding” that can prevent cardiac infarctions. So-called “stents” are delivered into the coronary arteries to ensure patency after anti-stenosis treatment by the “balloon dilatation” method. This method, although successful in almost all cases, is unfortunately anything but long-lasting in its effects. In 30% to 50% of all patients the vessel re-occludes within three to six months, thus necessitating a new operation. At the Department of Cardiology of Heidelberg University's Ludolf Krehl Clinic a method has now been found of preventing the re-occlusion of arteries. In collaboration with a research center in Karlsruhe, surgeons at the hospital have been investigating a way of activating metals that has hitherto only been employed in machine corrosion detection. The stents are subjected to radio-activity in the Karlsruhe cyclotron and this minor dose of radiation then suffices to stop the dilated arteries from “re-clogging”.

Dietmar Rothermund of the South-Asia Institute has been observing the “Liberalization of India” at close quarters. After a recent research sojourn in that country, he is in an excellent position to elucidate the background of the present reform drive. For decades India has all but cut itself off from the global market. Since Independence its share in world trade has been dwindling alarmingly, contributing factors being the emphasis on domestic economic development, import substitution, and the neglect of exports. After a balance of payments crisis in 1991, the Indian government embarked on a dramatic about-face in its economic policy. For the historian this is as an epoch-making decision, the conditions and effects of which are eminently worth looking into even though the archives are as yet devoid of any material on the subject.

There's a language barrier dividing France and Germany: on one side of it they speak Turkish, on the other Arabic. The symmetry implicit in this bon mot realy does exist. In the mid-eighties, there were about as many Turks living in Germany as there were North Africans in France, some 1.4 million in each case. In this age of mass migration that represents about a third of all foreigners living in the two countries and that makes them the largest group of non-nationals in both instances. The Turks and Maghribi in question come mainly from poor rural areas, for example Anatolia or the East Atlas Mountains. Are there parallels in the literatures produced by these immigrants? Or are they more notable for their differences? In “Turks in Germany, Maghribi in France”, Arnold Rothe reports on a comparative study undertaken at the Department of Romance Studies.

When the phone rings at the “ECMO Standby Unit” of the Intensive Care Ward at Heidelberg University's Hospital Mannheim announcing a patient who can only be saved by extracorporeal oxygenation of the blood, there are four anesthetists on call, ready to swing into action. Within an hour they have rigged up the “ECMO” system, an artificial lung consisting of pumps, tubes and oxygenators and connected the patient up to the machine. In this race to save a life, speed is of the essence. Some 50 such phone-calls reach the Unit every year. In the majority of cases, the doctors' specific expertise enables them to master the situation without having to operate. There is however a definite increase in the use of the artificial lung to help young patients suffering from ultra-severe forms of pneumonia that can turn fatal within 48 hours. Michael Quinterl of the Institute of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine reports on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

The final article again revolves around the new Biochemistry Center. Its presence will mean a further improvement in the teaching facilities available for students majoring in the natural sciences and also create favorable conditions for interdisciplinary research ventures. Six biocemistry chairs are to be manned from the various faculties with a view to providing as broad a range of teaching as possible in the fields of biology, chemistry and medicine.

The magazine closes with the permanent columns “News from the Stiftung Universitaet Heidelberg Foundation”, “External Funding”, and “News and Views”. In the latter, German Studies professor Helmuth Kiesel takes a probing look at the comparatively long time Arts students take to complete their doctorates. What's behind this, real constraints or megalomania?


”Ruperto Carola” is published in German.You find the full text version under http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/uni/presse. The printed version 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 Universitaet Heidelberg, Postfach 10 57 60, D-69047 Heidelberg, Germany. e-mail. presse@urz.uni-heidelberg.de


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