[From CASE Reports, Vol. 11, No. 4, 1996]


IN BRIEF: Science and Technology Notes from Around Connecticut


CLASSROOM CABLES. The movement to bring Internet access to schools got another boost in July when a coalition of cable television operators announced plans to wire thousands of schools nationwide. The National Cable Television Association, an industry group, said 15 of its members had committed to wiring 3,000 schools across the country in the next year. The group said it ultimately hopes to wire all the nation's elementary and secondary schools. In Connecticut, TCI Cablevision of Central Connecticut said it would offer Internet access to the estimated 215 schools in Hartford, West Hartford, East Hartford, Bloomfield and Windsor.

CONNECTED. An estimated 500 schools and libraries got their first links in September to the global Internet computer network and the World Wide Web. The massive wiring effort was run by ConneCT '96, a nonprofit group devoted to providing Internet access to state schools. Organizers hope that all schools and libraries in the state will have some form of Internet access by the end of the year. Volunteers and professionals donated time to the wiring effort involved, and state corporations large and small made contributions of money, computer equipment, software or other materials to schools.

REALTOR FAREWELL? New technology and information sources such as the Internet promise to enable homeowners to bypass real estate professionals, and the threat has real estate companies scurrying to adjust to a new marketplace, the Hartford Courant reported. Buyers and sellers, armed with access to information, may be able to search for and market houses themselves, bypassing multiple listing services-the proprietary system run by realtors that for decades was nearly the only way to find houses for sale. Agents and brokers insist that harried clients will continue to pay commissions for the services they provide.


NU DONATION. Northeast Utilities has announced it will donate 700 computers this year to schools and programs in the state serving children. The computers will go to Computers 4 Kids, a nonprofit foundation that channels donations of used computers to schools and programs that may otherwise not be able to afford them.

PROGRAM RESCUED. Federal budget cuts reduced support for High School Research Apprentices, a program giving minority high school students experience with university-level scientific research, but the University of Connecticut (UConn) was able to rescue the six-week summer program by budgeting $15,000 to cover the shortfall lost when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was forced to withdraw its support. The research projects the students are working on include studies in the areas of biotechnology, genetics and pharmaceutical development. The program has been jointly funded for the past 15 years by UConn and NIH.

HIGH-TECH CLASSROOM. Officials of the University of Connecticut Health Center, along with UConn's School of Dental Medicine and the Friends of the School of Dental Medicine, have dedicated a new high-technology classroom at the Health Center in Farmington. The classroom features built-in portals for the students' microcomputers, two computers for video conferencing and a "chalkboard" that reproduces the instructor's writings and a centralized control podium for slide projectors and video machines.

21st-CENTURY SCHOOLS. A $400,000 grant from the federal Department of Commerce will mean more computers in Hartford schools and more training for students and public housing residents. The money will go to establish six "21st Century classrooms" in three Hartford schools, and to support the Hartford Housing Authority's ongoing "campus of learners" program, which offers computer training and promotes use of the Internet throughout the city. The project will be coordinated by the Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program, a group that works to encourage more students from minority groups to study mathematics and science.

COMPUTER TRAINING. As companies and agencies across the state try to address Connecticut's shortage of highly skilled workers in the machine industries, one business in Ellington is offering a response. The company, MACDAC Engineering Inc., will train any unemployed machinist, teacher or engineer to program computer-controlled machines. Companies say that skill is in demand, and that its shortage hinders economic growth.

AN EYE ON EARHART. With help from a NASA satellite and the Internet, middle school students in the state will be able to track a modern-day Amelia Earhart next spring as she flies around the world. Students will also be able to download pictures of the places where Earhart stopped in 1937, and compare them with the sights that the 1997 pilot, Linda Finch of San Antonio, TX, will see as she flies her Pratt & Whitney-powered plane. The students might also provide Finch with weather forecasts, send her notes, and receive computer "postcards." The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Navy, National Geographic and COMSAT Corp., a satellite communications company, are helping with the program.

LABORATORY RENOVATION. The National Science Foundation has awarded $178,000 to Saint Joseph College for renovation of the Physical Chemistry and Instrumentation Laboratories; these are among the last of the facilities in McDonough Hall remaining to be updated.


FUEL CELL BOOST. Connecticut companies will benefit from $5.4 million in federal Department of Energy grants designed to make fuel cell power plants more cost-competitive with conventional sources of electricity. Connecticut Natural Gas Corp. of Hartford and United Technologies Corp.'s aerospace electronics facility in Farmington each received $200,000 toward the $600,000 purchase price of a 200-kilowatt fuel cell power plant. Fifteen companies, universities and state agencies won the grants that will be used to buy 27 fuel cells from ONSI Corp. of South Windsor, the only company in the world selling a commercial fuel cell power plant.


TURKEYS EVERYWHERE. In the past three years, the wild turkey population in Connecticut has exploded, in numbers far exceeding what the biologists originally thought the state would support, according to a report in the Hartford Courant. In 1975, 22 wild turkeys were released in Canaan. Since 1993, when state biologists estimated the turkey population at 7,500 birds, the population has more than doubled, and may have tripled, to an estimated 18,000 to 25,000 birds. "They are highly adaptable to coexisting with humans, probably more than people would have thought," said Howard J. Kilpatrick, state Department of Environmental Protection project leader for deer and turkey programs.

FRIENDLY FUNGUS. A fungus named Entomophaga maimaiga kept defoliating gypsy moth caterpillars under control this year and appears likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Scientists at The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station discovered the fungus in 1989, but thought it might not be effective during dry years. "Based on the past six or seven years, we're feeling better about the ability of the fungus to keep this pest in check," said Louis A. Magnarelli, State Entomologist.

CANOE CLASSROOM. The state Department of Education has awarded Bloomfield a $68,798 grant to coordinate a program, known as River to the Sea, for ninth- and 10th-graders to learn about two of the state's major rivers and their fish habitats. Sixty-four students, half of them from Bloomfield, will canoe along the Farmington and Connecticut Rivers, take and analyze samples, catalog fish breeds and cultivate salmon eggs that will be released into the river. They will report their findings to parents, school officials and local leaders at the end of the project. Other school districts that are expected to participate are Avon, East Granby, Farmington, Hartford, Simsbury and Windsor.

SOUND STILL UNSOUND. While Long Island Sound is improving in quality, demonstrated by the return of striped bass and harbor seals, many problems are still unresolved, the New York Times reported in July. Citing a report by the American Oceans Campaign, a nonprofit public policy group, the newspaper noted that fewer than half the productive shellfish beds of the Sound can be harvested because of pollution, and beaches are regularly closed to swimmers because of pathogens in the water. Mark A. Tedesco, director of the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Long Island Sound Study, predicted that full restoration of the Sound was still many years away.


BEE KILLERS. The severity of the past winter and infestations of two bloodsucking parasites known as the tracheal and Varroa mites have endangered bee populations in the state. Experts at The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven estimate that more than 70% of wild honeybees in Connecticut have died. Wild honeybees are invaluable to backyard gardeners, pollinating such crops as apples, blueberries, cucumbers, squash, melons and pumpkins. While commercial vegetable growers and orchardists generally rely on domestic honeybees, mites and cold winter temperatures have reduced the supply of these pollinators as well. The losses in Connecticut and throughout New England and the rest of the northern United States represent the worst loss of managed and wild honeybees in the history of American beekeeping, according to Roger Morse, professor of beekeeping at Cornell University.

TAUTOG LAB. Research in farming tautog, or blackfish, far from the ocean for aquaculture and for restocking is being carried out at the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Milford, and has produced one batch of the species, highly sought in the Asian market as well as by recreational fishermen. The fish is vulnerable to dramatic decreases in stocks because of its slow growth and reproduction. The blackfish aquaculture laboratory was set up last year and is the only one in the United States, said Anthony Calabrese, Director of the laboratory.

FISHING RESEARCHERS. Three southern New England fishing families-two from Connecticut and one from Rhode Island-are exploring the deep sea in the hope of finding new fishery resources. Using Fishing Industry Grants awarded by the National Marine Fisheries Service, they have outfitted their vessels to explore the deep waters off southern New England. Nancy Balcom of the Connecticut Sea Grant advisory program has been serving as scientific advisor and liaison to the Fisheries Service for the grantees.

EASTERN EQUINE ENCEPHALITIS. During September and October, scientists at The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station collected and identified several thousand mosquitoes and arranged for them to be tested by Yale University's Shirley Tirrell for a rare but often fatal disease, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE. The effort was prompted by the discovery in early September of EEE in mosquitoes in Westerly, Rhode Island. A total of 6,768 mosquitoes were collected at 79 stations in 21 Connecticut towns; EEE was isolated from 8 of the 16 species tested, including from three species for the first time in Connecticut and two other species for the first time in North America. The isolations were from nine locations in three towns: Stonington, North Stonington, and Old Lyme. EEE is caused by a virus and has a fatality rate of more than 50% in the human population. Among horses, which are now usually inoculated against the disease, the fatality rate is often 80% or higher. Connecticut has seen sporadic outbreaks in horses and ring-necked pheasants, most often in eastern Connecticut near freshwater swamps. No human cases have ever been confirmed in the state.


CANCER GENE. Scientists at Yale University have isolated the gene that causes the most common kind of skin cancer, opening the way for development of a topical cream to erase tumors and a genetic test for susceptibility. The PTC gene was identified after 12 years of research at Yale, the National Institutes of Health, and collaborating groups in Australia and Sweden. The research was led by Allen E. Bale, Director of the Cancer Genetics Program at the Yale Cancer Center. Basal cell skin cancer is the most frequent form of cancer in the United States.

TOXIC DANGER. New federal standards for pesticide residues do not go far enough to safeguard public health, especially the health of children, Yale University Professor John P. Wargo argues in a new book, Our Children's Toxic Legacy, published by Yale University Press. Children may be exposed to more pesticides in their diets than adults because they consume more foods such as fruits, vegetables and juices. New federal standards signed into law in August fail to take into account the cumulative nature of such exposures, Wargo says.

PATENTED COMPOUNDS. The Yale Office of Cooperative Research and ArQule Inc. of Medford, MA, have announced that Yale has granted the company exclusive license for the development of patent-pending discoveries made by Henry Wasserman, the Eugene Higgins Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Yale and his former post-doctoral associate, Wen-Bin Ho. The discoveries make it possible to rapidly and efficiently synthesize alpha-ketoamide-based compounds, which block enzymes called proteases. Most AIDS medications in clinical trials are classified as protease inhibitors.

DIABETES HOPE. Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine have launched a clinical study to determine if taking a capsule of insulin crystals can prevent or delay the onset of Type I diabetes, also called insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes. The disease is one of the most chronic childhood diseases in the United States, in which insulin-producing cells are mistakenly destroyed by T cells in the body's immune system. "Parents with children affected by diabetes have long hoped for treatments that would prevent the disease in other family members," said William V. Tamborlane, Director of the Children's Clinical Research Center at Yale.

SURGICAL BREAKTHROUGH. In July, pediatric surgeons at the Children's Hospital at Yale-New Haven performed surgery on a newborn before it was completely delivered from its mother for a rare condition that would have made it impossible for the baby to breathe. Only the baby's head and chest had been delivered by Cesarean section when the diagnosis was confirmed and the surgery was successfully performed. It was the first such successful procedure of the kind in the United States for a baby diagnosed with the condition, congenital high airway obstruction. The infant died in October.

MOLECULE TOOL. "Snapshots" of a specialized ribonucleic acid molecule, showing how the molecule folds itself into a complex molecule capable of triggering cell activity, could help scientists design new drugs to fight lethal viruses such as the AIDS virus, and repair genetic errors that cause such diseases as cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia. The discovery was made by a team of Yale University scientists led by biochemist Jennifer Doudna. The specialized molecules, called RNA enzymes or ribozymes, are used in genetic engineering as precision scissors to "snip out" flawed genetic segments and splice in others.

REMOVAL RESTRAINT. Two cancer specialists at the University of Connecticut Health Center (UConn) want to diminish the potential surgery for women with small breast tumors visible only through mammography. In an article in the journal Surgical Oncology Clinics of North America, UConn doctors Peter J. Deckers and Scott H. Kurtzman recommend against removal of the lymph nodes under the arm for women with very small tumors discovered through mammography. The doctors, whose ideas already have critics, suggest that the change could spare many women from the disabling side-effects of lymph-node removal, while saving millions of dollars in unnecessary health-care costs.

GET THE LEAD OUT. The New Britain Health Department and community organizations are working to reduce lead paint in the city's aging housing. The city has received $2.6 million in federal Housing and Urban Development money to clean up the hazardous paint in some housing units at no charge to property owners. The program began accepting applications in August. "We're currently working with 39 properties, containing a total of 132 units," said Marty Crean, lead financial originator for Neighborhood Housing Services of New Britain, which is handling the applications.


SENIOR ENGINEER. A 1996 Yale graduate in electrical engineering may be converting his senior project into an invention that could expedite three-dimensional television, air traffic control and medicine. Gregg Favorola and Yale have filed a provisional patent for the device. Using mirrors, lasers and lenses, Favorola can project computer images onto a spinning display screen that can be viewed by many people simultaneously from all angles. His prototype can illuminate more than 32,000 light points using a standard personal computer, and can be expanded to many more points. The invention does not require goggles or viewing devices.

SMART GUN. West Hartford's Colt's Manufacturing Co. is working on a "smart gun," a revolver that fires only when the individual who actually owns the gun pulls the trigger. An electronic system built into the firearm's magazine receives radio waves from what is known as a transponder-a gadget that looks like a Dick Tracy watch which is attached to the owner's wrist. Only when codes in the gun and the transponder match can the trigger be pulled. Executives of Colt's introduced a prototype of the gun in September at a press conference in Washington, DC. They were joined by lawmakers touting the prospects for transferring military technologies to law enforcement and civilian uses.

RADAR AWARD. A team of University of Connecticut (UConn) and Raytheon scientists have been awarded a $1.41 million research grant from the federal Office of Naval Research to create a smaller, lighter and more accurate radar system. The project to develop "optically controlled phased array" radar will include the replacement of traditional radiating components with lasers, in order to reduce the weight and space required by selected radar systems without sacrificing tracking accuracy. The grant provides the UConn team, which includes CASE President Anthony DeMaria, with a $510,000, three-year subcontract from Raytheon.

DELIVERY ROBOTS. Robotics has entered Danbury Hospital with the presence of two 600-pound computers on wheels that travel the halls delivering meal trays from the basement kitchen to the patient floors. "They are completely autonomous units that go from one point in the hospital to another without wires on the walls, floors or ceiling," said Sue Taub, Director of Food and Nutrition for the hospital. Visual sensors help the machines avoid collisions. Their manufacturer, HelpMate Robotics of Danbury, has placed robots in 54 hospitals around the country, where they are delivering drugs, laboratory specimens and medical records.

LASER REVAMP. The Center for Biomedical Imaging Technology at the University of Connecticut Health Center is developing a new kind of laser in order to create a user-friendly optical microscope. Nonlinear optical microscopy is a new way to look deeply into biological tissue with high-powered laser pulses, but is expensive and difficult to operate. The imaging center and its partner, the University of Connecticut Photonics Research Center in Storrs, hope the new technology will make the method available to more researchers.

MRI GETS BETTER. The University of Connecticut Health Center's John Dempsey Hospital is offering Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning that provides patients and physicians with important advantages. The hospital's new MRI hardware and software is the most advanced in Connecticut. The hospital is the first clinical site approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for use of the Echo Palnar Imaging software package. The new MRI works faster and has a significant improvement in image quality, said Gale Ramsby, Interim Chairman of the Department of Radiology.

SEEING IN THE SMOKE. Firefighters from Hartford and surrounding communities gathered in September to try out a new device that allows them to see through smoke and locate trapped victims. They took turns entering a smoke-filled burn house at the Hartford Fire Training Academy with the thermal-imaging device, called CairnsIris, attached to a helmet. Instead of having to touch walls and grope through the smoke, the firefighters were able to walk upright through the smoky structure as they looked through two eyepieces, and could see clear black-and-white images before them. Several Connecticut fire departments are seeking donations to buy the devices, which cost $25,000 a unit.

HIGH LIFT. Engineers at Otis Elevator Co. have devised a way of shuttling people four times higher than the world's tallest buildings. The system, known as Odyssey, may solve the main obstacle facing architects designing super-tall buildings: how to carry people to the top without filling the structures with elevator shafts and heavy cables. Odyssey combines vertical and horizontal movement with elevator cars sharing the same shaft by moving horizontally to get out of each others' way. Otis unveiled the system at its Farmington headquarters in July.

TRANSGENIC FISH. Research perfomed by Thomas Chen, Director of the University of Connecticut's Biotechnology Center, has yielded a fast-growing transgenic strain of fish that can be developed in recirculating aquaculture systems. The fish, talapia, have a taste similar to flounder and grow almost twice as large and fast as talapia in the wild. A Pennsylvania aquaculture company, AquaClear, is relocating its operations to Connecticut to take advantage of Dr. Chen's new technology (see CASE Reports, 11,3).

SAFER BRAKES. Stonington Bus Service Inc., which provides transportation for West Hartford's public and private schools, has installed a safety system on 38 of their 49 vehicles. The Checkmate Brake System is designed to automatically apply the brakes when special sensors detect anything near the wheels, such as a child who has fallen. The Checkmate system, paid for by the school district, is hooked up under the front bumper of each bus as well as in front of the rear wheels on each side.


TOUGHER ENGINE. Pratt & Whitney has developed a more durable version of its engine for F-15 and F-16 military fighters, gearing up for competition with General Electric Co. for overseas sales and retrofits of US jets. The new engine, an advanced model of the F100, could be in production by 1998 at Pratt's Middletown assembly plant. Both GE and Pratt build engines for the F-16, a Lockheed fighter. Pratt alone powers the F-15, built by McDonnell Douglas, but GE hopes that the Air Force will qualify its engine for that jet later this year.

BIOTECH PROMISE. Connecticut's biotechnology industry could generate $36 million in new taxes and create 2,567 new direct and indirect jobs in the next five years, according to a report released in June by Connecticut United for Research Excellence (see CASE Reports, 11,3). Given the proper incentives, the industry could grow by 35% each year, said the report, which recommends a $35 million state loan program for companies to build research facilities and a $5 million matching grant program for academic research. "We want to create an atmosphere that will nurture companies and make them grow," said Gregory Gardner, Director of Yale's Office of Cooperative Research and a member of the committee that produced the report.

CII RECEIVES NATIONAL SBIR AWARD. This summer, Connecticut Innovations, Inc. (CII), the state's quasi-public technology development corporation, was awarded the federal Small Business Administration's first annual Tibbetts Award, which recognizes state Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs which have made technology a vehicle for distinct economic and social impact.

Nationally, the $1 billion SBIR program funds small, growing technology companies performing quality research and development. This research is utilized by federal departments and agencies such as the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and NASA.

CII has made $2.3 million in SBIR matching awards since 1987. These awards, which can be as large as $50,000 per project, assist with commercialization activities including market research, beta site testing, and the hiring of marketing personnel.


AMTRAK STEAMS AHEAD. The state virtually cleared the way for high-speed rail service through Connecticut in August, announcing tentative approval for Amtrak to electrify its rail lines between New Haven and Boston. The state Department of Environmental Protection said Amtrak had over the past two years addressed environmental, recreational and freight service concerns the state had raised. The project is intended to reduce the trip from New York to Boston to three hours-90 minutes less than it now takes. It has aroused opposition from shoreline groups.

--Compiled and edited by Steve Courtney


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