[From CASE Reports, Vol. 12, No. 3, 1997]


IN BRIEF: Science and Technology Notes from Around Connecticut


SIGN HERE. Even kids who are too young to talk can use sign language, say teachers at Creating Kids, a New Haven childcare center where infants as young as nine months communicate by using American Sign Language. While some feel that teaching youngsters sign language may prevent them from speaking, instructors at the school, which teaches all its students to sign, disagree. "I think it puts them ahead," said Dawn Hitch, a teacher at the school, who is deaf. "At this age, children have so much cognitive ability. For babies, it gives them a way of expressing themselves so they don't feel so frustrated. And for kids who are verbal, you can see how much they love the playful part of signing."

FREE INTERNET. Southern New England Telephone (SNET) will continue to provide free Internet access to schools and libraries through the 1997–98 school year. Through a program begun last year, the company donates software and 60 hours per month of free online time to each participant. The company instructs teachers and librarians in using the Internet as an educational tool, and recently opened a free Internet training facility at Science Park in New Haven.

COMPUTERS TO GO. Newly installed cyberbooths-phone booths for the computer age-allow travelers at Bradley International Airport to log onto the Internet. Produced by GTE Corp, of Stamford, and a San Diego firm, the seven-foot-high, obelisk-shaped kiosks provide, at a rate of $20 an hour, a service increasingly critical to business travelers. The booths are currently undergoing a six-month trial period; if the experiment goes as expected, the airport will install them permanently. Bradley is one of only three airports in the country to provide the service.

VIDEO JUSTICE. With the help of Hartford's experimental Video Argument Center, Connecticut attorneys can present cases in New York City without leaving the state. The Hartford center, along with others in Albany and Mineola, NY, provides video-conferencing for the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases throughout New York, Connecticut and Vermont. Lawyers in Hartford argue their cases before a video camera, while judges in New York watch them on monitors. Both judges and lawyers are enthusiastic about the time-saving technology. "We hope it's going to be a regular service," said Jon O. Newman, 2nd Court chief judge.


DESIGNING COMPUTERS. With the help of a $1,000 grant from the Greater Hartford Arts Council and a computer laboratory donated by a teacher, Hartford High School students have created a video gallery to be displayed on the Hartford Public Access Channel. The students, members of the school's Computer Design Club, produced their work using Photoshop software. The project resulted from a collaboration between art teacher Michael Somma and Channel 5 executive director Jerry Clapis, a former Hartford High student. "This is something I've been thinking about for the past couple of years," Clapis said. "Electrical art is a skill that can be used in the classroom and the environment."

WASTE NOT. Through their Middletown-based, nonprofit organization Computers 4 Kids, Wes and Marie Pullen collect out-dated computers from corporations, refurbish them, and donate them to needy schools. By some estimates, between 6 million and 13 million computers are taken out of service each year, of which 75% are stockpiled. The Pullens, who currently give away over 1,000 refurbished computers a year, also have chapters in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, and hope to develop nine regional centers around the nation.

NEW GENES. With the help of Bayer Corporation scientists, sixth graders at the Peck Place School in Orange perform genetic experiments on bacteria. Using a harmless strain of E. coli, the students learn to "insert" new genes into the microscopic cells in order to examine how DNA controls the characteristics of organisms. Researchers from the pharmaceutical company visit the school regularly to lead students at all grade levels in hands-on experiments. "With their presence, they take an ordinary classroom and make it into a laboratory," says teacher Phyllis Flaks.

NUCLEAR AIDES. University of Connecticut (UConn) students will help monitor environmental impacts of the Millstone Nuclear Power Station, thanks to the Marine Environmental Sciences Internship Program, funded by a three-year, $54,000 grant from Northeast Utilities (NU). The students will work at the NU Environmental Laboratory in Waterford, assisting in studies of the commercially valuable fish and seagrass of Niantic Bay. The program, the first of its kind in Connecticut, will enable students to better prepare for entry into today's job market and help them develop a better understanding of the needs of business and industry, said Robert Whitlatch, head of UConn's marine sciences department.

SMARTER THAN EUCLID. Using a simple computer drawing program, two Westport high school students have devised a unique solution to an ancient geometry problem. Proposed by Euclid in 300 BC, the problem, known as "classic partitioning," requires that a geometric method be found to divide a line into any number of equal segments. Euclid's solution involves dropping verticals from a diagonal ray onto a horizontal line, but the two students, David Goldenheim and Dan Litchfield, began with a rectangle, repeatedly dividing it by diagonals in what is called a Fibonacci sequence in order to achieve their results. Their work has been published as a formal treatise in Mathematics Teacher.


ENERGY ABROAD. A commercial fuel cell built by OSNI Corp., a subsidiary of South Windsor's International Fuel Cells, has been ordered by Gazprom, the largest natural gas company in the world. Gazprom, which serves Russia and Europe, intends to use the cell in a planned environmental community in Moscow.

COOL DOWN. Norwalk architect and energy specialist Adrian Tuluca is conducting a cost/benefit analysis of the first geothermal energy project in New York City. The project, which requires drilling two 1,500-foot, six-inch diameter holes into the bedrock below Manhattan, will provide heat, air-conditioning, and hot water for an $8 million building to be constructed later this year. Geothermal systems work by using circulating water to transfer heat to and from the earth's bedrock, which has a lot of stored heat and a high heat capacity. The US Department of Energy is spending over $100 million to increase the number of new geothermal systems from 40,000 to 400,000 a year over the next five years, according to the unit's designer.

UNDER MANURE MANAGEMENT. By converting manure into methane, Franklin dairy farmer Nathan Cushman hopes to alleviate the odor of cow manure, protect ground water from bacterial contamination, and generate enough electricity to cut his electrical bill by $50,000 annually. With the help of a $150,000 grant from the state Department of Agriculture, Cushman has installed a $440,000 methane digester system, one of the few in New England, to provide power for his farm. While the investment will take at least five years to pay for itself, Cushman hopes that by reducing the amount of manure on the farm, the system will provide an important side-benefit: eliminating complaints-and lawsuits-from neighbors upset about the odor.

SUNNY STEAMERS. Students at Howell-Cheney Regional Vocational-Technical School, using wood, cardboard, copper and Plexiglas, designed and manufactured home-made solar collectors capable of heating 8 ounces of water. With collectors ranging from plastic-covered boxes painted black to a five-foot wooden collector with a concave slab of sheet metal and a Plexiglas-covered pipe, the students were able to heat 68°F. water to 170° F. after 30 minutes. While a minimum of sunny days makes solar energy impractical in New England, teacher Richard Westbrook believes that the use of solar energy concepts like passive energy systems could help reduce dependence on fossil fuels or nuclear energy.


NATURE KNOWS. One goal of the new Journal of Industrial Ecology, edited at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, is to show companies how to use resources as efficiently as they are used in the natural world. "In nature, little is wasted," said Reid Lifset, Yale researcher and editor-in-chief of the new magazine. "We should stop thinking in terms of wastes, and start thinking in terms of byproducts that can be used as raw materials." Lifset cites the example of a Denmark industrial district in which waste gases from an oil refinery are burned as fuel at Denmark's largest power plant, and byproducts from the power plant are used to produce cement and road fill. The journal, a forum for environmental scholars, scientists, policy makers and managers, features articles on both the theory and practice of industrial ecology.

WOODLAND SONGS. Woods along the Connecticut River may provide life-saving nourishment for migrating songbirds each spring, according to the preliminary results of a $250,000 four-year study funded by the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. By examining sites throughout the Connecticut River Valley, including 120 in Connecticut, researchers are documenting the long-held assumption that the Connecticut River serves as a "highway" for tens of thousands of birds heading toward their breeding sites, with riverside forests offering a place to rest and feed.

SICK SNAPPER. Silicon and surgical glue were used to repair cracks in the shell of 30-year-old, three-foot-long, 50-pound snapping turtle found in Chester. The turtle, which was hit by a car, was rescued by licensed wildlife rehabilitator Mary Botti, who coaxed the dangerous animal into a large bucket with rakes. Recuperating in Pattacock Brook after being treated by a local veterinarian with antibiotics and glue, the turtle is living on chicken, scallops, and salmon supplied by local restaurateurs.

KAPOW! A cyclotron that accelerates electrons to 95% of the speed of light can be used to eliminate 90–95% of the carbon dioxide and other pollutants produced by burning oil, coal and wood. Developed by scientists at the Yale Beam Particle Physics Laboratory, the cyclotron autoresonance accelerator-or CARA-works on the same principle as cyclotrons used to study atomic particles, using radio wave pulses to drive electrons around a circular chamber. The Yale device accelerates the electrons until they are three times more massive than normal, then shoots them out in a spiraling path to pulverize combustion pollutants into harmless compounds. The scientists have been awarded an $895,835 US Department of Energy grant to perfect their device.

BURGER BATH. Plants help clean runoff water in a state-of-the-art anti-pollution device being tested at an East Hartford McDonald's restaurant. The rainwater runs down the parking lot into two six-chambered tanks which remove oil, sediment, metals, and other pollutants. The water then travels to a rim outside the tank, where plants growing in small rocks remove even more contaminants. While such storm water treatments are a new technology, they are becoming more common as governments begin to require them. The McDonald's system, the only one in the state to use plants as a filter, was financed by the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

HOWLING HOUNDS. Coyote populations have been increasing steadily in Connecticut over the past two decades, and now about 5,000 are estimated to live in the state, according to Mark Clavette, a state Department of Environmental Protection wildlife biologist. Other estimates range from 2,400 to 2,800.

HELP FOR INDUSTRY. The University of Connecticut's Environmental Research Institute (ERI), which develops technologies to help businesses manage environmental problems, has tailored its research to produce spin-off products and licensing agreements with commercial potential for Connecticut companies. Products and research include an improved lead-paint encapsulant, a process to recycle tin cans, and testing and support for an electrical product that can destroy the cryptosporidium parasite in water supplies. The Connecticut Environmental Entrepreneurial Center (CEEC), the Institute's outreach program, has provided consulting to over 100 small environmental businesses, helping entrepreneurs find public and private resources.


WHAT THIS COUNTRY NEEDS. The resounding popularity of cigars has caused a resurgence of tobacco farming in Connecticut. Tom Rathier, a soil scientist at The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in Windsor, estimated that as many as 3,000 acres of the crop might be planted this year, up from the 1992 harvest of 1,370 acres. In the heyday of tobacco planting in the early 1930s, Connecticut farmers devoted over 30,000 acres to the crop each year. In 1996, labor-intensive shade tobacco, raised under white-net tents and valued as wrappers for high-quality cigars, sold for as much as $25 or more per pound, while broadleaf tobacco, used either as wrappers or as filler within the cigar, sold for $6 per pound, up from $3 per pound in 1995.

TARGETING PESTICIDES. Applebrook Farm in East Windsor, Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, and Bishop Orchards in Guilford are among 14 New England test sites participating in a study to help farmers use pesticides more effectively. The project uses high-tech weather stations mounted in orchards to gather information about air and soil temperature, humidity, precipitation and leaf dryness, all of which affects the likelihood of plant disease and insect infestations. Participants hope to eliminate guesswork in deciding when to spray. By avoiding blanket spraying and using pesticides only when necessary, farmers will save money and avoid contaminating the environment. The two-year project is funded by an $85,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture.

ROASTED IS FINE. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven is part of a regional project to restore the American chestnut tree by finding an Asian-American chestnut hybrid suitable to southern New England. John F. Anderson, director of the Experiment Station, serves as administrative advisor to the group, which coordinates all chestnut research in North America, and which received the 1997 Environmental Award from the US Department of Agriculture for its efforts. The American chestnuts were destroyed by a blight during the first half of the century.

LETTUCE LESSONS. Using three tiers of white plastic tubes on a wooden frame, 15 sixth graders at Illing Middle School in Manchester have built their own ten-foot-high hydroponic lettuce garden, under the guidance of teacher Paul Duva. Seeds are sprouted in 1-inch brown foam cubes on a platform at the base of the structure, while, overhead, water enriched with plant food is pumped through pipes in which the lettuce grows. Chris Blossom, owner of Hartford Farms, a Windsor hydroponic garden store, helped design the garden, and provided starter plants.

FISH TALE. The Quinebaug Valley Trout Hatchery, which supplies 75% of the 800,000 brown, brook, and rainbow trout produced annually and stocked in Connecticut lakes, ponds and streams for the benefit of the state's fishermen, is undergoing a $14.5 million renovation that will transform it into the state's primary hatchery. The project includes four deep-rock water supply wells, a new broodstock building, a bird/predator netting system at the 50-foot outdoor rearing tanks, and a water reuse system with two one-acre aeration lagoons. The hatchery, which is the only available source of disease-free trout eggs, supplies 2.5 million eggs to other state fish hatcheries.

CHOCOLATE/VANILLA/CARBON DIOXIDE SWIRL. Praxair, Inc., of Danbury, has introduced a new technology that can triple the shelf life of dairy products by injecting them with carbon dioxide. The process, which inhibits spoilage by slowing the growth of microbes, is currently available for cottage cheese and ice cream; the company expects its new product to be available for milk within six months. Praxair is the nation's largest provider of carbon dioxide, which is currently used to carbonate drinks, freeze foods, and make dry ice.


HEARTFELT. Surgeons at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford were the first doctors in Connecticut to perform open heart surgery using only a four-inch incision as a "keyhole" to the heart. Traditionally, open heart surgery requires sawing open the patient's breastbone and prying up the rib cage with a steel retractor. The new procedure, called Port-Access surgery, allows doctors to perform complex heart repairs, such as artery bypasses and valve replacements, without opening up the patient's chest. The technique eliminates pain and scarring, and should save money by allowing open heart patients to leave the hospital sooner.

HEART SAVER. A drug developed by Alexion Pharmaceuticals could prevent up to 90% of the destruction caused by heart attacks. The C5 Inhibitor, an anti-inflammatory drug produced by recombinant technology, prevents the body's immune system from destroying oxygen-starved, but still living, heart cells, a significant source of heart attack damage. Oxygen-starved cells apparently display proteins that instruct white blood cells to destroy them. C5 intervenes by blocking the "complement cascade," a branch of the immune system that summons the attack cells. The drug is currently undergoing trials that assess its ability to lessen inflammation during open heart surgery.

ATTACK OF NERVES. A recombinant protein bioengineered by Alexion Pharmaceuticals, of New Haven, may halt the progress of multiple sclerosis. The disease, which can cause paralysis, occurs when the body kills its own nerve cells by destroying their protective myelin sheath. The new drug, MP4, acts as a decoy, luring the immune cells to attack it instead. Multiple sclerosis, which affects about 300,000 Americans, is the most common disease-related cause of neurological disability in early to mid-adulthood. Clinical trials of MP4 could begin this summer.

CANCER KILLER. Yale scientists have teamed with researchers from New Haven's Vion Pharmaceuticals to create a genetically altered, cancer-fighting version of the salmonella bacteria. Unlike other cancer therapies, which must be injected directly into the tumors, the detoxified salmonella are able to track down cancer cells anywhere in the body. In addition to delivering pre-loaded, cancer-fighting enzymes, the bacteria seem to be able to suppress tumor growth just by their presence. Scientists speculate that this may be because they rob cancer cells of necessary nutrients like proteins and amino acids.

KEEP ON MOVIN'. Treating spinal cord injury victims with the nerve damage drug methylprednisolone for 48 hours instead of the standard 24 hours greatly reduces the extent of the disability, according to a study led by Yale epidemiology professor Michael B. Bracken. Methylprednisolone-the only approved nerve damage drug-works by disrupting oxygen-free radicals, which are produced by the damaged nerves within hours of the accident, and which destroy the undamaged nerve cells by attacking their protective insulation. While methylprednisolone does not repair damaged nerve cells, it does save those that remained intact, greatly increasing the patient's chances for recovery. According to Professor Bracken, laboratory animals can relearn to walk even if only 10% of spinal nerves remain intact.

GLAUCOMA GENE FOUND. A team of University of Connecticut (UConn) researchers, led by UConn professor Mansoor Sarfarazi, has identified a gene that causes glaucoma in children. Known as buphthalmos, the disease, which affects about 1 in 10,000 children, causes a build-up of liquids that increases pressure in the eye and, untreated, results in blindness. The discovery will enable doctors to identify carriers of the disease, and may lead to improved treatments.


PLASTICS FOREVER. Typically, recycled plastics are flimsier than the original product, but by learning to combine normally incompatible plastics, University of Connecticut researchers have found a way to produce a second generation of hard, moldable plastic. By adding a third, soap-like molecule to the plastics, researchers Chris White and Montgomery Shaw were able to combine thermoset (unmeltable) urea-formaldehyde plastics, like buttons, with meltable polyethylene, such as milk containers. Using melted polyethylene as a matrix for ground-up thermoset filler, the scientists can produce a strong, stiff "plastic lumber."

A RINGING SUCCESS. Trinity College senior Nathaniel MacDonald has begun to automate the college's giant carillon bells, in a project that won him top prize among senior engineering students. The project, which leaves the internal mechanism of the bells intact, uses computer programmed external clappers to strike the outside of the bells. To be completed next year, the plan calls for automating 12 of the college's 49 bells-enough to play the college's alma mater. Trinity College pledged $6,000 to the project, and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance donated more than $13,000.

SMALL PACKAGES. Engines only two centimeters in size, with parts only 10,000th of a centimeter, may revolutionize genetic studies. Under development by Branford-based CuraGen, the tiny engine will be used to perform DNA fragment separations like those used to identify disease-causing genes. CuraGen says that the engine could replace current technology in the same way that microprocessors and transistors replaced vacuum tubes. The company has been awarded a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop the machine; it is the first biotechnology company to win such an award, according to company officials.

LIFE STREAMS. Yale computer scientist Eric Freeman is developing a natural, easy way to store and retrieve data on a computer. His system, called "Lifestreams," has its origins in the "chronicle streams" described by Yale computer scientist David Gelernter. A new approach to data management, Lifestreams is based on the premise that the standard desktop/file folder method of storing information is clumsy, outdated, and impractical for organizing unwieldy masses of data. Seeking a method more like the ones humans use naturally, Lifestreams stores all information-e-mail, documents, memos, financial records-chronologically, displaying it as a cascade of cards, each card representing a separate document. The Yale researchers believe that ultimately people will store their archives on the Internet, enabling them to access the files anywhere, anytime.

STICKY FINGERS. Frustrated by an inability to lift clear fingerprints from drug dealer's plastic bags, West Haven police detective John Brunetti found a better way. While traditional methods allows glue fumes to contaminate the plastic, obscuring individual prints, Brunetti places the bag directly into a photographic enlarger, filtering light through it to develop a clear photograph with minimal distortion. This technique, which has already helped to convict at least one murderer, has been featured in the Journal of Forensic Evidence.


GERM KILLER. Researchers at the University of Connecticut's (UConn's) Center for Grinding and Research Development, have analyzed the functioning of pyrithione, a biocide that kills anaerobic bacteria living in metalworking fluids in factories. The bacteria, which destroy the lubricant properties of the fluids, can produce toxic fumes that endanger workers. UConn professor Robert Vinopal's research has shown that pyrithione disrupts the energy of the cells and causes them to leak the metal ions that they need to grow. Professor Vinopal's work allowed Olin Chemicals of Stamford, which developed the biocide, to achieve ways to make it effective at lower concentrations.

LARGEST LASER. Middlefield's Zygo Corp. has agreed to provide large optical components to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The components will help build the world's largest laser, as part of a US Department of Energy project for nuclear fusion research.

BREATH CHECK. Novatrix Medical Systems, of Wallingford, which builds sensors to non-invasively assess the oxygen, carbon dioxide, and respiratory mechanics of critically-ill patients, has received federal Food and Drug Administration approval to market the world's first hand-held respiratory monitor. Known as VentCheck, the device independently assesses ventilator settings for hospital patients, a function previously performed by expensive bedside monitoring systems. VentCheck is the third new Novametrix product approved by the FDA since January; the company recently signed an agreement to provide a Wisconsin company with medical monitoring equipment.

LOOK AT THIS. The University of Connecticut's Institute of Materials Science has received a $114,000 grant from the Wesley-Jesson Co., a national contact lens manufacturer, to create a more effective bifocal contact lens. Versions currently on the market provide a blurry, unreliable image, especially in low light, when the eye dilates. Institute researchers are also seeking materials that allow contacts to be used as "drug delivery devices," permitting medications to be released into the eye at a controlled rate, instead of the single huge dose supplied by eye droppers.


SOLAR SPEEDER. Yale engineering undergraduates havedesigned a 900-pound solar car that can reach a speed of 65 miles per hour using only an array of silicon cells that produce the same amount of energy needed by a hair dryer. The car, named Lux Aeterna, consists of an 18-foot-long fiberglass shell over a three-wheeled base; a teardrop shaped plastic canopy shields the driver. The car, which carries only one person, is powered by 920 solar cells, which provide energy for both an electric motor, mounted on the rear wheel, and for the 290-pound, 12-volt battery.

AIRPLANE TECHNOLOGY. Pratt and Whitney, of East Hartford, and Howmet Corp., of Greenwich, will team up to develop Howmet's patented Spraycast-X process, a one-step conversion of melted alloys to semi-finished rings which will be used in Pratt's jet engines. The process speeds up manufacturing and lowers costs, according to Howmet president David L. Squier. The new company, known as Sprayform Technologies International, will be based in Michigan.

DE-ICE IS NICE. The Connecticut Department of Transportation hopes to begin construction this fall on a 12-acre concrete pad to collect glycol sprayed on plane wings during winter to prevent ice from forming. The pad would catch the glycol that drips from the wings, preventing it from entering the environment. Ethylene glycol can cause kidney damage in humans, and has caused birth defects in laboratory animals. The de-icing facility, which has been in the works since 1992, is expected to cost approximately $14 million.

FASTEST FERRY. The Pequot River Shipworks in New London, run by the Mashantucket Pequots, has completed its first boat: a state-of-the-art, tri-hulled turbine catamaran seating 302 passengers. Built at a cost of $11.5 million, the boat is one of the most expensive ferries for its size and, with the ability to travel at 47 knots (54 mph), one of the fastest. The Pequots will use the ferry to bring gamblers from New York City to their Foxwoods casino, a trip that takes an hour less by boat than by car.

--Compiled and edited by Karen Miller


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