There’s not a fantastic selection of freebies at this year’s AAAS meeting, although there are one or two gems. A brain that sticks to walls, a pen that unfolds at the push of a button and — if you can make it past the dark sunglasses and curly-wired earphones of the agents at the FBI stand — a copy of Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Pocket Guide.
However, the freebie producing the biggest buzz comes from ITER, the project that is desperately trying to get a fusion power plant up and running by 2018. Go to its stand and you can pick up a pair of magnetic bean-shaped “fusion particles”. The idea is that you take one in each hand, throw them up in the air, and gasp in amazement as they stick and flutter together, thus demonstrating the basic principle of fusion.
I tried for a good two minutes earlier today trying to make those fusion particles work, but to no avail. Then, back in the press room, a journalist who wished to remain anonymous revealed the secret. “You have to believe in ITER,” he told me. “They won’t ever work unless you say you believe.”