[From CASE Reports, Vol. 11, No. 2, May 1996]


IN BRIEF: Science and Technology Notes from Around Connecticut


DISCONNECTING. The Hartford Public Library is severing its ties with Connect, the regional computerized information system that links 35 libraries in the mid-state area. The library will run and manage its own computer system on-site, which will be accessible to the public through the Internet, according to library Director Louise Blalock. Hartford officials say the new system addresses the particular problems of Hartford-accommodating Spanish-speaking users, providing community information and improving administrative functions. The library's Internet address is http://www.hartfordpl.lib.ct.us/.

"OPERATOR, GET ME SEINFELD." In a move that would bring major competition to cable television service in Connecticut, the Southern New England Telephone Co. announced in January that it would seek approval to provide cable television service statewide. The company hopes to offer a 76-channel service to nine towns in Hartford and Fairfield counties. The company, which is already testing a cable-like service in West Hartford, plans to offer service to 22% of the state's homes and businesses by the end of next year. Under the plan, customers would receive both telephone and cable service through the same wire.

VIDEOCONFERENCING LINKS EXPERTS. Without leaving the campus, Yale University School of Medicine faculty talk face-to-face with colleagues in Saudi Arabia about a joint health-care project, and a Yale surgeon guides surgery in Hawaii. These collaborations and others are made possible through Yale video- conferencing, which makes direct video and audio contact possible across cities, countries and even continents within minutes, simply by dialing a preselected network number. The service also enabled Yale physicists to join the team of 439 researchers who recently discovered the "top quark," a subatomic building block of matter.

STORM SYSTEM. Immediate information and incredible detail were two advantages the Internet provided during a tough winter in Connecticut, according to meteorologists in the state. Discussion groups, e-mail exchanges, World Wide Web sites and live chat lines were buzzing with the latest data from professional and amateur weather observers as storm after storm struck the state. The National Weather Service posted winter storm and flood warnings, and the Intellicast weather service offered radar and satellite images, updates on the storms and long-range forecasts.

LANDFILL PAGE. A dump with a home page? The Windsor-Bloomfield Recycling Center and Sanitary Landfill has joined the Internet with a home page on the World Wide Web that offers news of landfill doings, an e-mail address, and a chance to meet the people who make the garbage-gathering operation work. John Hancharyk, a heavy equipment operator at the landfill and an Internet surfer, founded the home page, which attracted about 250 Internet users between October and January. Its services include providing information for residents about recycling procedures, holiday schedules and fee deadlines. The landfill's Internet address is http://webwrite.com/windsor.


REVIVED MUSEUM PLAN. The beleaguered plan for an expanded Science Center of Connecticut on the East Hartford bank of the Connecticut River got renewed support in March. An independent committee of corporate and civic leaders has backed a plan that would include $10 million in bonds from the city and $4.5 million from the state, added to the $10.5 million already put into the project. The project would be scaled back from $57 million, and a shakeup in the center's board of directors is required. The plan also calls for $15 million in private fundraising and $5 million in federal funding. The arrangement was spurred in part by Trinity College's offer to locate a science museum near its campus, an offer which the college agreed to withdraw, at least temporarily, in favor of the East Hartford plan.

TECHNOLOGY STOCK. A gift from the mother of a former Manchester High School teacher will help the school change the way it teaches technology courses. Ruth Ardan, mother of George "Skip" Ardan, a teacher who died in 1994, gave the school 200 shares of Mobil Corp. stock to be sold to pay for a new technology laboratory. The "design and prototype labora-tory" will be set up to interest students in manufacturing, a subject that has not been taught at the high school in years due to lack of interest. The new laboratory will marry computer-aided drafting with manufacturing so students who design things can also make them, according to Rich Gagliardi, the school's Director of Career and Technology Education.

PARK BACK ON TRACK. After 15 years and bureaucratic setbacks, developers of the planned technology park at the University of Connecticut (UConn) expect to begin construction this spring. The Mansfield Planning and Zoning Commission gave approval in March for construction to begin. UConn envisions a campus-like park on 390 acres of woods and farmland, where businesses would be able to tap into research expertise at the university. The first building is expected to be a 90,000-square-foot Advanced Technologies Building that would house a conference center and incubator space for small, technology-based businesses.

MACHINES ON DISPLAY. The Industrial Revolution in Connecticut is finally getting its place in the sun-or rather, in the lobbies of several state buildings on Hartford's Capitol Avenue that were formerly owned by the Aetna Life & Casualty Co. The buildings, part of a complex that at various times housed the Sharps Rifle Co., the Weed sewing machine factory, Pratt & Whitney's tool and engine works, and the Columbia Bicycle Co., now house exhibitions of machinery from the state's past that was previously stored in a back room of the Museum of Connecticut History in the State Library. Aetna also donated some artifacts, including an early Pope-Hartford automobile and two machines used to make the first Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines in the 1920s.

MINI MED SCHOOL. The University of Connecticut's (UConn's) Mini Medical School, now in its second year, is a program that targets high school students with an affinity for science and offers lessons to supplement biology classes. The program is taught by top UConn medical school professors at the medical school in Farmington. J. Leonard Brandt, a retired professor and the mini-school's founder, is one of 16 professors who volunteer to give students a taste of the things they could expect to be taught in medical school.

STUDENT SCIENTISTS. At Charter Oak Elementary School in West Hartford, students get a chance to become scientists as part of the school's new "School of Scientific Exploration," one of five new Schools of Talent being developed as Charter Oak becomes a special-themed magnet school. The school will not become a magnet school until 1997, but educators are planning and testing the talent program. The scientific exploration school includes a young scientists' league, an "environmental protection agency" and an invention convention, each of which focuses on a different aspect of scientific endeavor.

CYBER-TERM PAPERS. The World Wide Web, the international network of computer information that includes home pages on thousands of subjects, is becoming a tool for school children across the state. Last fall the General Assembly appropriated $10.4 million to help wire computers for the high-speed modem transmissions necessary for schools in the state to link up with the Web, and eight public schools are receiving free Internet access under Southern New England Telephone's "Links to Learning" program. The Web provides information on geography, literature, science and a wealth of other subjects.

WEATHER WEB. Students at Bridgeport's Park City Magnet School collect weather data and compare it with that at other schools and institutions as part of SchoolNet, a program created by a partnership of WTNH television, Dr. Mel Goldstein, Southern New England Telecommunications Corp., the Connecticut Academy for Education in Mathematics and Science and Automated Weather Source of Gaithersburg, MD. The school, along with others throughout the state, gets weather data from instruments installed at such places as the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport and the Mystic Marine Life Aquarium. The system also allows students to plot weather changes and use the information for science, mathematics, geography, and even art and writing lessons.


NU REORGANIZATION. Northeast Utilities (NU) announced a major division reorganization in January intended to help the company improve its nuclear safety record. Starting in February, the chief nuclear officer of NU's Seabrook plant in New Hampshire heads the new companywide organization that operates Seabrook and four nuclear plants in Connecticut. NU is also creating an office of nuclear safety and oversight that will be headed by a senior vice president with broad, independent authority over the company's plants.


SEWAGE STYMIED. The new Connecticut River relief interceptor in Hartford, part of the Metropolitan District's $80 million "Connecticut River Cleanup" improvements begun two years ago, paid off in January when rain and melting snow sent a huge quantity of sewage toward the district's treatment plant in Hartford's South Meadows. Over two days, the interceptor-a 78-inch-diameter pipe-prevented about 60 million gallons of untreated sewage from reaching the river. The interceptor helps the district deal with "combined sewage" overflows that in the past were routine during wet weather. A 164 million-gallon-a-day storage lagoon at the site is another key part of the improvement program.

CFC BREAKTHROUGH. Scientists at Yale University have taken a major step in breaking down one of the most stable and potentially destructive classes of chemicals on earth-chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which destroy the ozone layer that shields the earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. The discovery involves a simple chemical process that could turn large stockpiles of Freon and other CFCs into harmless carbon, everyday table salt and sodium fluoride, which is found in toothpaste. "This discovery could speed the shift to the use of more environmentally friendly refrigerants, solvents and cleaning agents," said Robert H. Crabtree, Professor of Chemistry, who has applied jointly with Yale for a provisional patent.

FISH BYPASS. The state Department of Environmental Protection has asked the owner of a dam on the Naugatuck River at Seymour to install a fish passageway around it to allow returning fish species such as American shad, blueback herring and alewives to make their way upstream to spawn. The fish have returned after a 150-year absence resulting from the Industrial Revolution in the Naugatuck Valley. Restoration of the river, where toxic wastes were routinely dumped, is the result of the combined effects of declining manufacturing and environmental legislation. The dam owner, Kinneytown Hydro Co. Inc., and the state are negotiating over the design of the passageway.

CLEANING UP ON CLEANUPS. Connecticut is becoming a recognized leader in the expanding field of environmental cleanup, according to experts in the state. The industry accounts for 2% of the gross state product and employs more than 14,000 people, according to Dean Nichols, Director of the Connecticut Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Connecticut. Growth, spurred by environmental laws in the past decade, has been evident in such areas as underground fuel tank removal, wastewater purification and asbestos abatement. It is also an export business, as Eastern European countries struggle to correct huge pollution problems resulting from decades of lax or nonexistent environmental controls in communist societies.

OIL AFTERMATH. Natural processes seem to have minimized the effect of the oil spill that spread over Block Island Sound after the barge North Cape ran aground in January. Although wildlife managers estimated that the spill killed or injured more than 12,000 lobsters, hundreds of seabirds and millions or billions of tiny maritime organisms, scientists at the end of January concluded that no further damage would be done and that the long-term effect on the coastal ecosystem would be negligible. Oil not cleaned up by workers had apparently either evaporated into the atmosphere or was consumed by bacteria. Lucky environmental breaks included the fact that the spill was in the winter, rather than in spawning season, and that the No. 2 fuel oil spilled is light and breaks down more quickly than crude oil.

POLLUTION PILOT. Cytec Industries Inc. of Wallingford, a manufacturer of plastic industrial parts, has become the second company in the nation chosen for a federal pilot project linking pollution and the application process for air emissions permits under the federal Clean Air Act. If the pilot is successful, the program will be applied to other companies and industries. The project is administered jointly in Connecticut by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection. "We are looking to use pollution prevention in the permit process, so it is part of their requirements," said DEP spokesman Lauren Pelletier. Formerly, individual permits were required for different processes at the plant; the new process requires that the whole facility obtain a permit at once.


WASTE NOT, WANT NOT. Gregory J. Bugbee of The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has found that the nursery plants rhododendron, arbovitae and Rudbeckia grew equally well in 0 to 100% composted sewer sludge. Also at the Station, Abigail A. Maynard found that all of the fertilizer requirement of vegetables could be supplied by chicken manure and spent mushroom compost for three successive years before nitrate accumulations approached the limits of contamination in groundwater. These results add to the mounting evidence that municipal and other wastes can be composted and otherwise used safely in nurseries and on farms. (See article, page 9.)


COCAINE URGE REPRESSED. A discovery by researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine could help in the development of new treatments to curb cocaine addicts' cravings for the drug. Eric J. Nestler, Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology and Director of the Division of Molecular Psychiatry, said the Yale team focused its investigations on dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that plays an important role in cocaine addiction. In experiments with laboratory rats, the team found that activating a particular dopamine receptor system suppressed the rats' cocaine-seeking behavior. "This research illustrates how a strong foundation of basic neuroscience can facilitate the development of new and effective treatments for addictive disorders," Professor Nestler said.

CLOTTING MOLECULES. Yale scientists and their collaborators have made a fundamental discovery about how blood clots form that could lead to new ways to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Yale researchers, including William H. Konigsberg, Professor of Molecular Biochemistry and Biophysics, as well as scientists from Hoffman-LaRoche Ltd., the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, and the Mount Sinai Medical Center, have mapped the molecular structure of the protein complex that triggers clotting. By understanding clotting in molecular detail, scientists hope to design molecules to block or inhibit harmful clotting. The findings were published in early March in the British journal Nature.

POISON CENTER RECOGNIZED. The Connecticut Poison Control Center at the University of Connecticut (UConn) Health Center in Farmington has become one of the nation's 40 accredited Regional Poison Control Centers, obtaining the recognition through a peer review process that certifies the facility meets strict requirements of staffing, training, education, community service and general excellence. In 1995, the poison control center answered more than 38,000 calls for help or information, with medication taken in error and overdoses cited as the most frequent topics. Marc J. Bayer, Professor of Medicine and Medical Director of the center, noted that the center contributes to cost-effective management of medical care, having saved the public about $6.25 million in emergency room visits during fiscal 1994.

WORLD HEALTH. A new office to assist Yale medical, epidemiology and public health and nursing faculty interested in inter-national health issues such as tropical disease control has been established by the Yale University Schools of Medicine and Nursing. "Common concerns about the effects of disease, changes in our health-care systems, the need for meaningful taxonomies which capture the effects of nursing care, the aging of our world population, and changing roles for nurses are just a few of the issues which lead us to craft worldwide approaches to health care," said Judith B. Krauss, Dean of the nursing school. The office will maintain a database of international health activities, serve as a clearing house for information about research and training opportunities abroad, and assist faculty and students in networking for overseas opportunities.

BACTERIA RESIST. Pfizer Inc., with its research center in Groton, and Microcide Pharmaceuticals Inc. of California have entered into a major research collaboration to develop a new approach to finding drugs to treat resistant bacterial infections. The program, a five-year collaboration which applies modern, gene-based technology to drug research, pairs Microcide's essential genes and genomic technologies with Pfizer's discovery and development experience in infectious diseases. In recent years, many bacteria have developed resistance to standard antibiotic medicines, leaving fewer lines of defense against life-threatening infections.


DNA DATA. The state's new DNA databank for sex offenders, which began accepting blood samples from convicted sex offenders in 1994, is overwhelming the resources of the State Police Forensic Laboratory. Three criminalists work full-time in the laboratory's DNA division, which has accepted 903 blood samples from sex offenders, most of them involved in homicides or rapes, since it opened. It takes three months to fully process each blood sample into a legible DNA code.

BUCKYBALL TRACER. Chemists at Yale University have created a new category of unusual chemical compounds made from hollow molecules called "buckyballs" with noble gas atoms imprisoned inside. Some of the compounds could prove useful as tracers, either for tracking sources of water pollution or as a safer alternative to radioactive tracers in diagnostic medicine. Martin Saunders, Professor of Chemistry, and his collaborators report studies of new compounds made by inserting atoms such as helium and argon into the interior of the hollow molecules. Mass spectroscopy can detect the labeled balls at a density compared to that of one milligram mixed thoroughly into an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

SUITABLE ALTERATIONS. Hamilton Standard engineers monitored the spacewalk of two astronauts in January on the shuttle Endeavour, eager to see if they got cold in the -104° temperatures outside the spacecraft. Hamilton Standard, which designs shuttle spacesuits for NASA, has been modifying the suits over the past 18 months, providing gloves with heated fingertips, devising a system for turning off the flow of water in coils running through the suit, and improving suit insulation. NASA will review the results of the tests in space before deciding whether to make the modifications a permanent part of the suit.


BODY DESIGN. Ten employees of Group Four Design in Avon have been involved in a top-secret project over the past few years-designing a body for Eastman Kodak's new Advanced Photo System camera for amateurs, marketed as the Advantix 2000 Auto and being released this spring. Kodak hopes that the system, which features drop-in film loading and a choice of print formats, will dominate the $12 billion-a-year amateur photo market. From 1992 to 1994, Kodak narrowed Group Four's possible designs to six. Secrecy was necessary because Kodak was still developing the technology, a Kodak spokesman said.

POWER VENTURE. Pratt & Whitney is involved in the first joint venture in the history of China's aviation manufacturing industry. The new company, Chengdu Aerotech Manufacturing Co. Ltd., will make commercial jet engine components, and is being formed with the Chengdu Engine Co. division of Aviation Industries of China. Chengdu Engine has been producing parts for Pratt since 1981; the new venture will give Pratt more control over the production of parts, according to company officials.

HIGH VOLUME, HIGH-TECH. High-technology factories producing high volumes continue to have the lowest assembly and acquisition costs in their industry, according to a new study by Pittiglio Rabin Todd & McGrath of Stamford. The study examined 150 high-tech factories' capabilities in the areas of personal computers, servers and mainframe computers, telecommunications equipment, medical electronics and other electronic equipment. The management consulting firm, which serves technology-based companies, found that the high-tech industries have recognized the importance of volume and have been able, for example, to reduce the median cost for replacement of a printed circuit board by 20% since 1992.


RAIL EXTENDED. The state Department of Transportation has extended the Shoreline East commuter rail service, which makes stops between New Haven and Old Saybrook, to New London. The new service is a two-year pilot project with a goal of reducing congestion on Interstate 95. A $250,000 advertising and marketing campaign is being aimed at new riders. The project will add about $124,000 to $150,000 to operating costs under the current agreement with Amtrak, which runs Shoreline East.

BUS TO THE MALL. Connecticut Transit presented a study to the state Department of Transportation in February that is expected to serve as a blueprint for future transit changes in the Hartford, New Haven and Stamford markets served by the state-subsidized bus service. While the service is widely used in these urban areas, the increasing suburbanization of shopping and jobs requires more direct service to malls and other suburban centers, the study says. The current "hub-and-spoke" system of determining bus routes, geared towards urban commuting, is a remnant of the days when downtown was a region's dominant retail and employment center, according to the study.

FOXWOODS EXPRESS. The Mashantucket Pequot tribe has released tentative plans to build a transportation center in Norwich, possibly on property now owned by Norwich State Hospital. The site, near Interstate 95, the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge, a railroad right-of-way and a pier on the Thames River, would include a terminal for high-speed ferries arriving from New York and Boston and a large parking area connected by monorail to Foxwoods Casino and Resort. The Pequot tribe has already signed agreements with Cross Sound Ferry Services, Inc. of New London for high-speed catamaran ferry service between Long Island and Foxwoods.

LIGHT RAIL ENDANGERED. A 50% cut in federal mass transit funding is endangering the Griffin Line light-rail project, which would connect the Griffin Office Park in Bloomfield with downtown Hartford. Work on a three-mile light-rail extension from downtown Hartford to the city's North Meadows is underway, but so far no federal money has been forthcoming toward the $250 million needed to reconstruct the system on a former railroad bed. Hartford is seeking $6.4 million in federal funds for preliminary engineering costs, but competition for money under the federal New Starts program for light rail is stiff, according to Connecticut Urban Transit officials.

HIGH-SPEED TRAINS. A team of French and Canadian firms will build America's first high-speed trains, scheduled to begin service in the Northeast by 1999, it was announced in March. The new 150 mph Amtrak trains will be known as the American Flyer and will operate between Washington and Boston. "It stands for a new erato make the 21st century the high-speed rail century for America," said federal Transportation Secretary Federico Pena. Vice President Al Gore announced that Amtrak has picked the consortium of Bombardier and GEC Alsthom for the $754 million project. Bombardier, with several plants in the United States, is headquartered in Montreal. The French firm GEC Alsthom manufactures that country's high-speed train, the TGV.

--Compiled and edited by Steve Courtney


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