This week's UK news: 13 January 2012
13 January 2012

World-famous scientist celebrates 70th birthday

Professor Stephen Hawking is probably the world's most famous scientist. This is not only because of his work on the early universe and black holes, and his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time.
Professor Hawking is also famous because of his severe disability. He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and told that he had only years to live.
Almost fifty years later, Professor Hawking is confined to a wheelchair and speaks through a computer, which gives him a famous robotic voice and an American accent. He controls his speech through a cheek muscle.
There was a special conference in Cambridge to celebrate Professor Hawking's birthday. He was not well enough to attend personally but watched online.

High speed travel -- but not yet

The UK government has announced that it will build a high-speed rail line linking London with the northern cities of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
The project will cost GDP 32.7bn and work will not start until 2017. It will take at least nine years from then for services to start running. It will also link to the existing high-speed line to the Channel Tunnel, carrying trains to Europe.
Supporters say the service will almost halve journey times between England's biggest cities, and will attract passengers from roads and planes.
But there are likely to be legal challenges to the scheme from people who are angry about the route of the new line.

Will Scotland stay in the UK?

This is a very hot political topic this week. Scotland has its own government and parliament which can make decisions on many things. But Scotland is still part of the UK, and cannot make the more major decisions, such as taxation, defence or immigration.
The Scottish leader, Alex Salmond, wants a vote on independence to be held in 2014. The UK Government has become involved this week and said the vote must be held earlier than that and ask only whether Scots want to remain in the UK or become independent. The major UK political parties are all opposed to Scotland becoming independent.
At the moment it is not clear when a vote would be held or what questions it would ask. It would be very complicated if Scotland were to decide to leave the UK.

Mild winter causes fruit problems

It has been unusually warm in the UK this winter, which has pleased most people. But there is a problem with a particular sort of fruit.
At this time of year the early rhubarb starts coming into the shops. This fruit is the stalks of a leafy plant. The stalks naturally grow later in the year, but "forced" rhubarb is when the roots are brought into sheds to be grown earlier than usual. Candles are used to create the right light levels.
The problem is that rhubarb needs really cold conditions for this process to work properly. Growers are now heating the sheds to see if this will help the rhubarb to grow properly but are worried that the taste will be changed.


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