How should Senator Kennedy’s seat be filled?

On, UC Davis constitutional law expert Vikram Amar discusses the issues around filling the late Senator Kennedy’s seat. The Seventeenth Amendment permits, but does not require, state legislators to authorize governors to appoint someone to fill a vacant seat until a new election can be held. Massachusetts, like most states, did have this system until 2004, but changed it that year apparently to block a Republican Governor from filling Sen. John Kerry’s seat, had he won the Presidential election that year.

The New Delta is coming, like it or not: leadership needed

A new Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta is coming, one way or another, write UC Davis water experts Jay Lund, Peter Moyle, Jeff Mount and  Richard Howitt, with Ellen Hanak from the Public Policy Institute of California in an opinion article in last weekend’s Sacramento Bee. (Scroll down the page for the article; it’s prefaced by a column by Daniel Weintraub).

The new Delta will have more open and sometimes saltier water in its central and western portions, with diverse, wildlife-friendly farmland nearby. The estuarine ecosystem will likely be healthier. And regions relying on Delta exports may receive somewhat reduced, but cleaner and more stable water supplies. This transition will cause disruptions, but in the long term it can create a healthier and more stable economy for the Delta region, with more recreation and an attractive, productive agricultural landscape.

Biological transistor created

Nanoelectronic biotransistorTiny biological transistors have been created by researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UCLA. The team coated a silicon nanowire, 20-40 nanometers across, with a lipid bilayer membrane (the same kind of membrane that wraps a living cell) and inserted proteins that form channels through the membrane. Living things use such membrane proteins to transmit signals, the authors note in the abstract of their paper, and can control signal transduction to a degree unmatched by manmade devices.

A Big Wave after the Big Bang?

Mathematicians Blake Temple from UC Davis and Joel Smoller from the University of Michigan have published a new theory to explain why the universe appears to be expanding at an accelerating pace, without invoking “dark energy.”

About a decade ago, astronomers realized that the universe is not only expanding — the expansion appears to be speeding up. To explain this, they came up with the concept of dark energy: a force that pushes the galaxies apart. No one knows what dark energy actually is; one idea is that is a sort of energy that bubbles out of the fabric of space as it expands. Physicists’ calculations, though, show that it should make up about 70 percent of the universe. (Roughly another 30 percent is made of dark matter, which is nearly as mysterious: matter and energy that we can feel and touch make up a trivial portion of the universe).

Andy Frank on the Chevy Volt: A move in the right direction

Last week GM unveiled the new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid electric car, claiming it could get 230 mpg in typical use. The Volt is expected to hit the market in 2010.

Like the Toyota Prius, the Volt will have an electrical motor and a gasoline engine to drive the wheels. Unlike current hybrids on the road, the Volt will have a large battery pack that can be recharged from a domestic outlet, allowing it to travel a significant distance on electrical power alone. Commuters who drive short distances around town, for example, might not use the gasoline engine at all.

Can health care make Americans healthy?

The US spends a lot of money on health care, but does badly on measures like life expectancy, childhood illness and maternal mortality compared to other developed countries. Will reforming the health care system make Americans healthier?

Probably not much, according to a number of experts in this article by Carrie Peyton Dahlberg in the Sacramento Bee. Providing universal health coverage and easier access to primary care will probably have some effect — especially for populations that have little access to health care now. But the biggest differences come from factors like income, crime, family structure, exercise and nutrition.