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Despite such limitations, researchers are taking advantage of various methods to better discern how anesthetics work at the molecular level. Genetic tools, for example, enable researchers to alter specific protein function and then determine whether this protein can be linked to sensitivity or resistance to anesthetic action 37 SCIENTIFIC AMERIC AN E XCLUSIVE ONLINE IS SUE in lower organisms. Other approaches, including sophisticated structural modeling of anesthetic binding to protein targets, are also showing promise.

These pulses occur on timescales of femtoseconds (10 –15 second) and, more recently, attoseconds (10 –18 second). Femtosecond pulses can function in a manner similar to the flash on a camera used to “freeze” events that are too fast for the eye to register. A source of femtosecond-order light pulses is a mode-locked laser, in which many optical waves cooperate to produce a pulse. It is yet another problem, however, to accurately measure that pulse’s duration. No photodetectors or electronics are fast enough, so scientists commonly employ correlation techniques that translate a temporal measurement 36 SCIENTIFIC AMERIC AN E XCLUSIVE ONLINE IS SUE into a distance measurement.

Ryan, assistant professor at George Washington University and co-author of Defending Your Digital Assets against Hackers, Crackers, Spies, and Thieves, explains: ASK THE EXPERTS Q Why do bags form below our eyes? —K. Davin, Juneau, Alaska Dark circles and bags under the eye occur for several reasons: the skin there is much thinner than it is elsewhere on the body and becomes looser as we age. This very thin skin also sits on top of underlying purple muscle and blood vessels and therefore appears darker.

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