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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS - UN Lowers Population Growth Estimates / Tobacco Control Treaty / U.S. Science Talent Search Winners - 2003-03-17

Broadcast: March 18, 2003



I'm Phoebe Zimmermann with Bob Doughty, and this is the VOA Special English program Science in the News.

VOICE TWO: This week -- the UN lowers its estimates for growth in the world population ... a proposed world treaty to control tobacco moves toward a vote ... and, the winners of this year's Intel Science Talent Search in America.



For the first time, the United Nations has reduced its future estimates for how much the world population will grow. A report by the U-N Population Division says the earlier estimates had to be changed for two reasons. One is falling birth rates. The other is an increase in deaths caused by AIDS.


In the future, the United Nations expects that most developing countries will have birth rates below two-point-one children per woman. That is the birth rate needed to guarantee replacement of a population. U-N researchers have made estimates for the next fifty years. They say three out of four developing countries will have birth rates below two-point-one children per woman.

A drop in birth rates will mean a faster aging of the world population. The U-N report says that by the middle of this century, the number of people sixty years and older will increase almost three-hundred percent. By twenty-fifty, there will be two older people for every child on Earth.


AIDS is the other issue. The U-N says the probability that a person will become infected with the AIDS virus, H-I-V, is expected to drop in the future. However, it says the effects on population will remain serious for the long term.

Over the current decade, an estimated forty-six million people will die from AIDS in the fifty-three countries most effected by the disease. That number is expected to rise to almost two-hundred-eighty-million by twenty-fifty. Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland are likely to see the biggest reductions in population because of AIDS.


Because of AIDS and lower birth rates, U-N population experts have lowered future estimates they made just three years ago. Currently the world population is more than six-thousand-million people. The U-N now estimates the world will have just under nine-thousand-million people by twenty-fifty.

That new number is a drop of four-hundred-million from the earlier estimate.


The recent U-N population report also talks about the movement of people from country to country. It says international migration is expected to remain high during the first half of the century. Developed countries such as the United States, Germany, Canada, Britain and Australia are likely to receive the most immigrants.

The largest numbers of people are expected to come from China, Mexico, India, the Philippines and Indonesia.


Negotiators have agreed to the wording of a proposed international treaty on tobacco control. Delegates from more than one-hundred-seventy countries approved the final wording earlier this month in Switzerland. This came after four years of negotiations.

The proposed treaty is called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. It will be presented in May at the yearly meeting of the World Health Organization, a U-N agency.

The final version approved there will also require individual approval by W-H-O members. Once forty nations have approved it, the treaty will go into effect in those countries.

Member states cannot make any amendments once the W-H-O approves a final version of the treaty. They must either accept or reject the agreement as it is written.


Some governments, however, say they will not agree to the treaty as it is currently written. The United States says some parts are unacceptable or violate its Constitution. Another country, Germany, says it opposes the restrictions placed on marketing tobacco products to the public.

The American cigarette maker Philip Morris says it supports the treaty, especially protections for young people. Philip Morris is the world's largest exporter of tobacco.


The proposed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is part of efforts to reduce deaths and disease from smoking.

The W-H-O estimates that almost five-million people die each year from lung cancer and other tobacco-related diseases. That number could rise to ten-million a year by two-thousand-twenty.

Developing nations are the biggest growth areas for tobacco-related diseases. These nations are calling for the strongest laws possible to control tobacco.

The treaty would ban advertising and other marketing campaigns for tobacco products where doing so would not violate a country's constitution.

It also calls for high tobacco taxes. It would even require companies to make public all the substances they use to make cigarettes.


In addition, tobacco companies would have to place health warnings on at least thirty percent of their products. These warnings could not include information that might lead people to believe that some cigarettes are less harmful than others.

In addition, governments would have to support treatment programs to help people stop smoking. And, there would have to be education campaigns to get people not to start.

The proposed treaty also calls for measures to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke. That is smoke from other people's tobacco.



Ten high school students in the United States have won top honors for excellence in science and mathematics. Winners of the Intel Science Talent Search were announced last week in Washington.

This year's top award went to sixteen-year-old Jamie Rubin of Florida. With it comes one-hundred-thousand dollars for college.

She did her project in molecular biology. She identified small molecules that may be used as treatment for Candida infections. Candida is a yeast normally found in the body. Candida infections can kill people whose defense systems have been damaged by diseases like AIDS and cancer. Mizz Rubin became interested when she helped work with dying patients.


Her science teacher at the Canterbury School in Fort Meyers, Florida, says Jamie often worked on her project all day and all night. She used the biochemistry and molecular biology laboratory at the University of Florida.

At sixteen, Jamie Rubin has already finished all her high school requirements. Later this year she will enter Harvard University.

In addition to her science studies, she likes to play the piano and to run in races.


Second place in this year's Intel Science Talent Search went to Tianhui "Michael" Li. He is eighteen years old and attends the Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, Oregon. The prize for second place is seventy-five-thousand dollars for college.

Michael Li did a three-year study of a method to control nuclear fusion that is different and less costly than traditional ways. Fusion is the process that joins two lightweight atoms to form a heavier one. Energy is released. Fusion powers the sun and the stars -- and helps produce nuclear energy here on Earth.

Michael Li also plays piano. He has performed with the Portland Symphony Orchestra.


Anatoly Preygel won third place in the talent search, and fifty-thousand dollars for college. He is a student at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. He is seventeen.

For his project, Anatoly studied knot theory. That's K-N-O-T. This area of higher mathematics looks at closed curves -- just like a knot in a piece of rope. This area of study has uses in genetic research.

Anatoly Preygel moved to the United States at age six. His family came from the former Soviet republic of Moldova.


Among the projects this year, one student even discovered an area on Venus that had not been identified earlier. This finding could help in understanding how that planet formed. The discovery earned seventh place for Carolyn Tewksbury of Clinton, New York.

The science talent search in the United States began in nineteen-forty-two. It is sometimes called the “Junior Nobel Prize.” Winners have gone on to receive many of the world’s highest honors for science and mathematics.



Science in the News was written by Jill Moss and Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. This is Phoebe Zimmermann.


And this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.