[From CASE Reports, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1997]

IN BRIEF: Science and Technology Notes from Around Connecticut

UNIVERSITY LINKS. A statewide electronic network could link Connecticut's public universities and colleges within two years, according to a feasibility study approved this fall by the state Board of Governors for Higher Education. The study, prepared by Ernst and Young, proposes building upon the colleges' existing connections to link 33 sites at an initial cost of $2.3 million. The network, which would be used for distance learning (the use of telecommunication resources to offer offsite learning opportunities) and research, could also streamline administrative procedures. While the study only discusses a network that links the public universities and colleges, the state should also plan to eventually include public schools, libraries, and corporations, according to Ernst and Young's Marvin Chartoff.

WIRELESS WINNER. Stamford-based GTE Corp. has won a wireless telecommunications contract from the US General Services Administration's Federal Telecommunications Service. GTE will be providing wireless telecommunications equipment and services to all federal agencies and authorized users. The contract is valued at about $300 million.

HOUSE CALL. A home-monitoring device currently being tested in the Hartford area may allow patients to stay out of hospitals by helping them track their blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and other vital signs in their own houses. The device will then transmit the data over phone lines to nurses at a central VNA station. The Home Telemonitoring System, which will be marketed in Connecticut by SNET Corp., is the first home monitoring device to be approved by the Federal Drug Administration. Each unit, known as HANC, for Home Assisted Nursing Care, costs just under $20,000. It is expected that the units will eventually lower costs by reducing hospital re-admissions.

E-BOOKS. Librarians and professors explored the impact of electronic resources on libraries and scholarship at a November colloquium at the University of Connecticut sponsored by the University Libraries. James O'Donnell, interim vice-provost for information systems and computing at the University of Pennsylvania, pointed out that publishing material on-line allows the material to be updated more easily. But Ann Okerson, founding director of the office of scholarly publishing at the Association of Research Libraries and the associate librarian for collections development and management at Yale University, warned that on-line material may lack the longevity of books.

FIBER PHONE. A $17 million voice and data communications network that links all 114 buildings in the Connecticut State University (CSU) system via fiber-optic cable can support telecommunications and computers, and will allow students to access the Internet at a speed three times faster than most modems allow. "We really are at the forefront of information technology in this state," said CSU Chancellor William J. Cibes, Jr. CSU plans to purchase and install 400 to 700 computer workstations a year and lease 1,500 more, and hopes to provide distance learning and video-conferencing programs statewide by the end of the year.

MATH MEET. Over 250 high school students from the Greater Hartford area competed in a December math meet of the Capital Area Mathematics League. Held at Rockville High School, the contest included teams from Vernon, Manchester, Glastonbury, South Windsor, East Catholic, Windsor Locks, and Somers. Working both individually and in groups, the students solved problems in algebra, calculus, and other mathematics applications; the league's best players will go on to attend a state competition.

GIFTED GIFT. With a $1.5 million gift, Torrington native and University of Connecticut alumnus Raymond Neag has provided funding to create the Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, which will promote research into the teaching of gifted and talented children. The Center will help support teacher training, graduate research, and student programs. The donation, which will be matched by the state under a provision of the UConn 2000 program, will also support a professorship.

SCIENCE FAIR. Students from 18 New Haven schools will have the opportunity to work with researchers from Yale University and the Olin Corporation as they prepare projects for a city-wide science fair to be held at Yale Commons in March. Selected students will be able to work with the scientists in their laboratories; support will also be provided to parents who wish to help their children with a science fair project. This program, which was begun last year, will be cited as an example of industry-university partnerships with public schools in a paper to be presented at the National Science Teachers' Association in New Orleans next spring.

LONG DISTANCE LEARNING. Six employees of United Technologies Corp. (UTC) hope to earn advanced degrees in metallurgy from the University of Connecticut without ever leaving their East Hartford offices. Through PictureTel, an interactive compressed video system, the employees can join classes on UConn's campus. A document camera projects lecture notes to an inset on the screen, and additional cameras allow students at UTC and Storrs to view each other simultaneously.

SIFTING SCALLOPS. In an $8 million state-of-the-art building with computerized drafting classrooms, a sophisticated boat-building shop, and a laboratory with holding tanks for breeding fish, 300 high school students from Bridgeport and six surrounding towns are testing a Chinese method of scallop farming under the direction of Luning Sun, a visiting Chinese marine biologist. At the Bridgeport Regional Aquaculture Center, a magnet school focusing on marine studies, the students, who also have their own custom-built research vessel, are working on a project to determine if scallop farming is viable in the western part of Long Island Sound. The scallops are spawned in the school laboratories, and then placed in mesh bags in the Sound to grow to adult size. Initially financed with a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the scallop-farming study is one of two projects linking the school with Chinese researchers.

KEEPING KIDS ON-LINE. Even two-year-olds can send e-mail at the Little People's Junction daycare center in North Branford. According to Susan Shea, the center's director, the children send messages to their parents at work, and their parents e-mail them back. "It gets across that they can communicate with Mommy without seeing Mommy," said Shea. The toddlers have a child-sized mini-mouse and software geared toward their age group, while the older children can use a video-conferencing program to communicate with people in other countries through the Internet.

MODERN CHEM LABS. Through computer simulations, chemistry students at Manchester's East Catholic High School may soon be able to conduct experiments otherwise too dangerous or costly for a classroom. The new system, which is expected to be ready by next fall, will be financed by a $125,000 grant from the Maximilian E. and Marion O. Hoffman Foundation. The grant will also finance a complete renovation of the school's 36-year old laboratories. The improvements are part of a $2 million project by the Archdiocese of Hartford to update science facilities at its high schools in Manchester, Bristol, West Hartford, and Waterbury.

CLEANER COAL. Fairfield-based General Electric Company will be joining with Toshiba Corp to build state-of-the-art, coal-fired power plants. Through its unit, GE Power Systems, General Electric hopes to build and market Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle plants, which, according to a report in the Bloomberg Business News, produce energy more efficiently and with less pollution than standard coal-fired plants.

MORE METHANE. Renewable-energy plants at landfills in Hartford, Manchester, and Canterbury will soon be supplying electricity to the Connecticut Light and Power Co. (CL&P). The plants, which will utilize methane gas from the landfills to produce the electricity, will be developed by Minnesota Methane LLC, which has signed a 20-year contract with CL&P. With its nuclear power plants out of commission, the Connecticut power company is currently spending millions of dollars each month to purchase electricity for its customers.

SHUTTLE SERVICE. Prime Time Shuttle, an Orange-based airport shuttle service, plans to convert its fleet of 30 vans to run on cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas. The company has signed preliminary agreements with the Southern Connecticut Gas Company, and with Trillium USA Inc, which specializes in natural gas conversions and construction of natural gas filling stations. Paul Seeger, president of Prime Time, said that the final agreement may provide for natural gas filling stations in the New Haven area. The conversions, which are expected to begin at the end of year, will cost the company about $7,200 for each vehicle, but will save about a million gallons of gasoline annually.

BROWNFIELDS INITIATIVE. In an effort to reuse environmentally contaminated city properties and to contain suburban sprawl, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued grants of $120,000 to the city of New Haven and $90,000 to the Naugatuck Valley regional planning agency. Part of the $2.2 million New England Brownfields Initiative, the money will be used to clean up abandoned urban industrial sites, which are often polluted with industrial chemicals and heavy metal residues, and to encourage redevelopment projects in these areas.

DANGEROUS BALLAST. In an attempt to protect ocean ecologies from invasive organisms, James T. Carlton, director of the Williams College-Mystic Seaport Maritime Study Program, will conduct a study on the best ways to prevent ballast water from contaminating local shores. Ballast water, carried as a stabilizing weight by empty cargo ships, is typically released into coastal water when the ships are loaded. A total of 103 invasive aquatic species are known to have come to the United States through ballast and other shipborne means, and scientists are concerned about possible effects on Connecticut's $51 million commercial fishing industry. The study is being financed by a Pew Fellowship.

WHO? WHO? A rare glimpse of a boreal owl at Hammonasset State Park last November drew bird watchers from as far away as New Jersey. Usually found in Alaska and Canada, the species had been sighted in Connecticut only once before. Hammonasset State Park is considered one of the best birding areas in the state, with approximately 240 species of birds spotted each year.

RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING... Rainfall in Connecticut has increased by five inches over the past century, according to David R. Miller, professor of meteorology at the University of Connecticut. A study by Miller and his students found that the state's average rainfall of about 44 inches has increased by .05 inches, or .1%, per year between 1895 and 1994. These results are being used by the state to help determine how to control non-point pollution caused by storm-water runoff. Miller's study also found that the state's temperature rose an average of .017 degrees a year during the same period. While the causes of these increases are not clear, they are consistent with the global warming patterns generally predicted by computer simulations.

FAST FISH. Through transgenic engineering, University of Connecticut biotechnology professor and CASE member Thomas Chen has developed a fast-growing strain of fish that Connecticut Agriculture, Inc., a Willimantic company, hopes to produce and market commercially. By inserting carp and trout growth hormone genes into the embryos of tilapia, Professor Chen has created a strain of fish that grows twice as fast, and up to five times as large, as naturally occurring varieties. Currently, the aquaculture industry in Connecticut is worth $61 million a year; experts hope that a tilapia "fish farms" industry will help diversify the state's agricultural base.

OYTSTER STUDY. The Regional Aquatic Animal Health Program, a partnership between the University of Connecticut and the state Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Aquaculture, will research two parasites that threaten the oyster industry in Long Island Sound and New England. The two parasites, which do not directly harm humans, can kill oysters or hamper their ability to reproduce; they have already infected oysters in the Delaware and Chesapeake Bay. The program will seek to control the problem by monitoring oysters at a new diagnostic laboratory in Milford, by studying the oyster's own inadequate defense system, and by researching the parasites to determine the mechanism by which they invade the oysters. The program is funded by a grant from the US Department of Agriculture.

BIOTECH CENTER. A new $20 million Agricultural Biotechnology Laboratory, scheduled for construction next summer at the University of Connecticut, will serve as a center for university departments involved with food safety, plant biotechnology, and transgenic technology; it is also expected to provide technological help for developing companies. Financed by state and federal funds, the proposed 80,000 square-foot laboratory is the result of a partnership of the state, the university, and the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service Agency of the US Department of Agriculture.

LYME VACCINE. A vaccine for Lyme disease may be available to the public late next year, according to an December article in the New York Times. The vaccine, which is now in the final stage of evaluation, has been tested on approximately 20,000 people, and the results of the studies will soon be sent to the federal Food and Drug Administration. According to Robert Schoen, a director of Yale's Lyme Disease Clinic in New Haven, and one of the scientists evaluating the data, the trials were encouraging. "Based on previous studies of this vaccine, and based on our own experiences with this study, we're excited and optimistic," he said.

LUPUS AID. Patients suffering from inflammatory immune-system diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis may be able to treat themselves at home by injecting a bioengineered protein developed by the Alexion Company of New Haven. The product, known as C5 Inhibitor, has already been shown to protect mice against a lupus-like disease. C5 works by disrupting a series of enzyme reactions in the body's immune system before the system can trigger the production of destructive antibodies. Unlike current treatments for lupus, C5 leaves the body's immune system intact while still preventing an autoimmune inflammatory response. Alexion expects to begin testing C5 on humans in 1997.

SEROTONIN FOR AUTISM. A study performed at the Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, which is affiliated with Yale University, suggests that autism may be caused in part by a defect in the brain's ability to use the neurotransmitter serotonin. By administering fluvoxine, a drug that increases serotonin levels in the brain, Yale researchers were able to reduce aggression and other abnormal behaviors in 15 autistic adults. The drug was tested on autistic patients because it effectively treats obsessive compulsive disorder, which, like autism, includes such symptoms as repetitive behavior.

Bacterial Cancer Killer. Vion Pharmaceuticals of New Haven hopes to fight cancer with bacteria that are genetically altered to invade cancer cells and then produce enzymes that kill them. According to one analyst, Vion's new technology, called TAPET, is a unique and powerful approach because it "both targets tumor cells and allows for rapid expansion of the therapeutic agent directly within the tumor." Vion plans to begin Phase I trials of TAPET in 1997.

For Women Only. A new health center devoted solely to women veterans opened last October at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in West Haven. Currently, the clinic offers a variety of services, including a breast clinic, psychiatric services, neurology, nutrition, rehabilitation, and substance abuse screening, and it plans to increase its programs. Staff members also hope to involve women in ongoing medical research, which currently tends to be geared toward men.

Children's Research. On the 75th anniversary of the Yale School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics last October, a new $4.5 million Yale Child Health Research Center was dedicated. With five individual laboratories, academic offices and a conference room, the building will house about eleven principal researchers. Among other projects, the scientists will study how the brain sets and regulates its internal clocks, how infants develop immunities, and how genes are passed from parents to children. "This will be leading edge research," said CASE member Joseph B. Warshaw, deputy dean for clinical affairs at Yale's School of Medicine.

Clean Cells. With the help of a $250,000 grant from the Richard D. Frisbee III Foundation in New Canaan, Yale University plans to build a super-clean, high-tech laboratory in which scientists can develop new ways to treat cancer by improving current methods of separating and maintaining marrow and stem cells, which are often used to repair the immune systems of cancer patients. The new facility will be built with special walls and filters to assure no more than 10,000 airborne particles per cubic foot of air, an extreme degree of cleanliness necessary to prevent the contamination of extracted stem and marrow cells. Additional funds for the center will come from Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Yale School of Medicine.

Medicine From Worms. Yale University researcher Peter Hotez and former MicroGeneSys president Frank Volvovitz have formed a biotechnology company to research the medical potential of the hookworm. Through their new company, BioMedisyn Corp, they hope to develop an anticoagulant based on hookworm proteins that can prevent dangerous clotting in heart patients. Anti-coagulant proteins have evolved naturally in hookworms, enabling them to feed freely on their hosts' blood. Hookworm proteins may also suppress the growth of tumors. The company also seeks to find a hookworm vaccine, which could protect third-world children against the parasite.

MUTATED BACTERIA. In an attempt to thwart penicillin-resistant bacteria, University of Connecticut professor of molecular and cell biology Judy Kelly is working with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to develop a synthetic form of the drug. Through the use of the enzyme acyclase, the scientists can split a penicillin molecule into pieces, then add a side chain structure to the nucleus of the molecule. This creates a new form of penicillin which bacteria do not recognize, allowing treatment of the increasing number of diseases resistant to known varieties of penicillin.

NEW WHEELS. ABK International Corp. of East Haven plans to market a device that can turn a standard wheelchair into a motorized one for a cost of about $4,000. Typically, motorized wheelchairs, which usually house their motors under the seat, sell for $12,000 to $15,000. Because ABK's design places the motorizing mechanism directly on the wheels, the chairs are also lightweight, and can be folded, eliminating the need for the expensive chairlift system often required by conventional motorized wheelchairs.

STARS IN THEIR EYES. An exciting renovation of the Gengras Planetarium at the Science Center of Connecticut in West Hartford allows museum-goers to enjoy a new audiovisual system that provides the latest in programming. Originally intended for the proposed East Hartford Science Museum, the system is being used to help revive the West Hartford facility. Its $94,000 installation cost was financed by Northeast Utilities and Duracell.

STOP, THIEF! Using a piece of film as small as a dot made by a pen, Bahram Javidi, professor of electrical and systems engineering at the University of Connecticut, has developed a unique optio-electronic security system known as a "coded phase mask." The system relies on millions of microscopic pixels, arranged in unique patterns that must be read by a laser. The patterns, which cannot be counterfeited by using a digital scanner or high-resolution copier, can also be combined with biometric information such as fingerprints or retina scans.

ANCHORS AWEIGH. Stamford's Marine Management Systems was awarded a second DARPA grant for the development of the $2 million Ship Life Cycle Support Infrastructure Project. By using an operating environment that integrates electronic data systems aboard a ship, and by providing access to these data through satellite communications, the SLCSI project will allow shipyards and equipment vendors to monitor the condition of a vessel from a remote location. The SLCSI project is expected to be completed within two years.

SCAN JOB. With the help of computer technology that can match a computer-generated sketch of a crime suspect with digital photographs, the East Windsor Police Department hopes to eliminate much of the comparison work now required of police. The proposed system would scan a data bank and rank mug shots in order of probable matches, producing identifications that would enable police officers to apprehend criminals more quickly. The police department, which has submitted a grant request to the US Justice Department's National Institute of Justice, hopes to be the first in the nation to develop this technology. It plans to share the system with Bloomfield, Avon, Canton, Granby, Simsbury, Windsor, Suffield, and Wethersfield.

DRUGGED ROBOTS. Using a newly-installed, computerized, 3-armed robot, Neurogen, a Branford bioengineering firm, will be able to screen 100,000 possible drugs a week. The company, which seeks to develop drugs for neuropsychiatric disorders like anxiety, obesity, and schizophrenia, maintains a library of more than 700,000 molecules that could be developed into useful drugs. The robot, directed by a computer, mixes test compounds produced from these molecules with possible targets, giving off a burst of light if a mixture is good.

HOT STUFF. By accurately measuring the number of solar neutrinos that reach the earth, University of Connecticut professor of physics Moshe Gai, who pioneered a method of counting neutrinos by monitoring their decomposition, hopes to help resolve a 30-year controversy concerning the core temperature of the sun. Traditional methods of measuring neutrinos may undercount the particles; correct data are needed to evaluate a still unproved, but fundamental theory known as the standard solar model of physics. With the data he has gathered, and additional information obtained at advanced solar neutrino collectors in Canada and Japan, Professor Gai believes he can resolve the dispute within five years.

ANNUAL REPORT. West Haven residents can now obtain copies of their town's annual report on CD-ROM. Believed to be the first Connecticut community to publish its report using interactive technology, West Haven, which produced about 500 CDs at a cost of roughly $3,500, plans to distribute the disks to the public for free. In addition to the annual report, the CD includes information about the city's schools, police services, recreational programs, and development priorities.

HIGH FLYERS. International Aero Engines, of East Hartford, has received a contract from Dragonair to power two Airbus A230s, with an option to power five additional planes. This would double the size of Dragonair's IAE-powered fleet. The contract is potentially worth $100 million to IAE.

ATM ONLY. In an attempt to encourage customers to bank by ATM rather than by teller, Connecticut banks have begun to offer a variety of incentives that reward customers for banking electronically. Incentives range from lowered fees, to a $100,000 prize drawing, to giving away $2 coupons. Over the past two years, ATM use has increased by 5%, and now accounts for 27% of all transactions. A recent study by Bridgeport-based People's Bank showed that its new accounts, which provide financial incentives to those who agree to use only ATMs for routine transactions, are especially popular among college students.

DYE DEAL. Fluorescent Ciencia, Inc, of East Hartford, has won a $750,000 contract from the Office of Naval Research. The photonics company will be developing fluorescent dyes, which will be used in biosensors and other biomedical applications.

UP IN THE AIR. Pratt and Whitney, of East Hartford, has delivered its first F119 jet engine to the US Air Force. The engine, which will be installed in the new Lockheed Martin F-22 fighter, is scheduled for 3 months of flight-testing at the Arnold Engineering and Development Center in Tennessee. In addition, Pratt has received its first JT8D engine maintenance contract. Aerocar Aviation Corp, of Miami, will send 15 of its JT8D engines to Pratt's new engine overhaul center in Georgia over the next year.

GENE SEQUENCE. In a deal which is expected to double its revenue, BIOS Laboratories, of New Haven, has sold the rights to its patented DNA sequencing method to Toronto-based Visible Genetics. The BIOS technique, known as CAS, enables researchers to read DNA sequences more quickly and accurately than conventional methods allow. Visible Genetics, which already owns a gene-sequencing system, will attempt to market CAS for diagnostic purposes.

HEAT TRANSFER. Techxperts, Inc., of Tolland, has been awarded a $600,000 contract from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The engineering company, which obtained the contract as part of NASA's Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program, will use the money to study heat transfer processes.

FOOT-POWER. With the completion of the Captain John Bissell Greenway, bicyclists can now travel from Manchester to Windsor, crossing the Connecticut River by way of the Bissel Bridge. The 2.5-mile greenway is part of a proposed 50-mile trail that will link Hartford to nine surrounding communities, enabling cyclists to ride from Willimantic to the Farmington Valley. Sections of the trail have already been completed in Cheshire, Hamden, Avon, Farmington, and Simsbury.

AND AIR POWER, TOO. A 2-year, $7.4 million construction project now underway at Bradley International Airport will dramatically increase the airport's ability to handle air traffic. Currently, Bradley's control tower, which manages air traffic at 12 other airports within its airspace, handles about 350,000 landings and departures annually, a number which is expected to triple over the next 25 years. The new facility will include a 150-foot control tower, which is 80 feet higher than the existing one, and an automation program that will enable the airport to detect signals from as far away as 100 miles.

ELECTRIC TRAINS. The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved an Amtrak plan to electrify 68 miles of railroad track between New Haven and Stonington. The electrification will allow trains, which currently travel at about 90 mph, to reach a maximum speed of 125 mph. This project is part of $1.7 billion venture to electrify track between Boston and Washington, and should reduce the length of travel time between Boston and New York by 90 minutes.

--Compiled and edited by Karen Miller

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