[From CASE Reports, Vol. 13, No. 2, 1998]


IN BRIEF: Science and Technology Notes from Around Connecticut


STAMP OF APPROVAL. With the help of a Personal Post Office system under development by Stamford-based Pitney Bowes, computer owners will soon be able to print their own postage using inkjet or laser printers. The new software, which will be marketed to small and home-based businesses, will download postage, identify exact postage rates, print the postage on envelopes, and, through an accompanying program, automatically correct addresses. Postage will be encrypted to prevent fraud. Currently being tested by the US Postal Service, the new system could be available to the public by the end of 1998.

THE NOSE KNOWS. Sensitivity to smell varies widely, according to Joseph C. Stevens, 1997 recipient of the Olfactory Research Fund's Scientific Sense of Smell Award for his work on aging and olfaction. Stevens, who founded the Psychographics Group at the John B. Pierce Laboratory, which is affiliated with Yale, has found that some people are 1,000 to 100,000 more sensitive to smell than others. Women, he has found, identify odors better than men. "It's one of the clearest differences between the sexes," he says, although he does not know whether the difference is hereditary or learned.

JUST A MINUTE. Using communications technology being developed at PairGain Technologies, Inc's Wallingford design center, a 160 million-bit file can be downloaded in 72.9 seconds. The same operation would take 92 minutes using a 28,800 baud modem. PairGain's system, known as a digital subscriber line (DSL), works through existing telephone wires, and allows users to have internet access and talk on the phone over the same line at the same time. It can transfer video as well as voice and data. The system, also known as ADSL, is in the early stages of trial at regional telephone companies, such as Pacific Bell and US West.

BOOKS ON LINE. Participating in a growing trend, University of New Haven business professor David Morris has published his latest book, "The Way Of the Corporate Warrior," on the Internet. Offered through Canada-based Tara Publishing, the first 18 pages of the book can be found at the publisher's web site. Those interested in reading the whole thing can download it for $6.95. Electronic publication appeals to publishers because it drastically reduces publication and distribution costs: Tara Publishing estimates that an e-book costs about 40% less than readers would pay for a printed version. E-books can also be produced as multimedia, containing video or movie clips.


FINAL WORDS. Through the Endangered Language Fund, set up four years ago by linguist Douglas H. Whalen, Yale University provides grants for researchers to travel around the world to study and resurrect dying languages. The fund's first projects, financed this year, will examine disappearing languages in places from Alaska to Australia to Connecticut. Linguists predict that about half of the world's 6000 languages will vanish within the next century; currently, there are at least 100 languages spoken by only one person.

BETTER LIVING THROUGH OUTER SPACE. A proposal for making Mars inhabitable by humans has made James Herron, a North Branford high school junior, a regional finalist in a competition sponsored by the National Science Teachers Association and NASA. One of 80 plans selected from 1,250 submissions, Herron's idea involves constructing an above-ground, small-scale greenhouse in a geodesic dome, and excavating a sub-surface cavern with a shielded ceiling. Gases, soil, and water would be added in an attempt to recreate Earth's environment, while cosmic radiation would be blocked with a magnetic field and a thin sheet of lead. The proposal was judged for scientific validity and critical thinking, creativity and originality, organization, clarity, and suitability.

DYSLEXIA SOURCE. Yale researchers have found a distinctive "neural signature" in the brains of those who suffer from the reading disorder dyslexia, providing the strongest evidence so far that differences in reading ability may be neurologically based. The study, headed by Yale pediatrician and researcher Sally E. Shaywitz, used a method known as functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan brain activity in 60 adults. The machine can determine which parts of the brain are working hard by looking for areas with high oxygen levels, which signifies a heightened flow of blood. The study showed that during complex reading tasks, dyslexic readers demonstrated increased activity in the front portions of the brain, with less activity in the rear, while in good readers, the pattern was reversed.

HIGH SCHOOL GENE RESEARCH. As part of the High School Human Genome Project, students from the Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden are working to sequence DNA templates from Chromosome 5, which is believed to be the location of the gene that causes deafness. According to Wesley Bonds, Jr., a Yale School of Medicine researcher who is helping to train the young women, the high school genome project is similar to the National Human Genome Project, an international effort to map all 3.2 billion pairs of human DNA molecules. The data found by the girls, who are using techniques usually performed by graduate students in genetics, will be added to internet databases.

MOON ROCKS. Second-grade teacher Kathleen Musson brought six moon rocks, on loan from NASA, to Center Road School in Vernon, for the students to study and examine. The dime-size fragments, encased in hard plastic and immersed in nitrogen to prevent rusting, were the highlight of a week-long space exploration program. In addition to investigating the rocks, the students watched space videos, visited a planetarium, and examined a mock-up of a spacesuit manufactured at Hamilton Standard. In order to borrow the rocks, Musson, who attended a NASA conference at Eastern Connecticut State University last summer, took a moon rocks certification course.

RENEWABLE ENERGY STUDY. Two demonstration photovoltaic systems provided by Northeast Utilities will enable students in physical and environmental science courses at Saint Joseph College to obtain and analyze data on electric power generation. Two SunSine 300 AC modules and a data logger were mounted adjacent to the Environmental Science Laboratory and used to power devices in the laboratory. The second system is a DC stand-alone photovoltaic area lighting system operating in one of the college's parking lots. Students will compare solar incidence data, weather and seasonal variables, with electrical output as AC or DC, and related economic considerations.

LEARNER'S BLOCK. Once an animal has learned a conditioned (Pavlovian) reflex, like associating a sound with a puff of air, it cannot be trained to link that same element with a second stimulus, like a flash of light. Yale neuroscientist Jeansok J. Kim has pinpointed the location in brain where this phenomenon, known as "blocking," occurs. His research supports the theory that the nerves connecting the cerebellum and the inferior olive, a brainstem structure, release a chemical that obstructs new associations once learning has taken place. By stopping the action of the chemical, GABA, the researchers were able to prevent blocking, allowing animals to learn new reflexes. Kim believes that in real life, blocking performs an important function: it helps humans and animals perform more efficiently by preventing them from wasting brain space and energy on interpreting events that give them no new information.


POWER UP. An extra powerful battery designed for high-tech users should last up to 50% longer than standard alkaline batteries, according to officials at Duracell Inc., in Bethel. Introduced last February, the Duracell Ultra offers high-conductivity coatings on the electrodes and improved internal construction that increases its efficiency at high currents. The increasing power requirements of high-tech devices like cellular phones and camcorders led the company to offer the new line, rather than to focus on developing longer-lasting, all purpose batteries, according to a company executive.

HIGH PURITY. Hydrogen Proton Energy Systems of Rocky Hill, which plans to produce hydrogen generators and fuel cells, has received $400,000 in venture capital from Connecticut Innovations. The start-up company, which hopes to expand from 17 to 200 employees over the next three years, is in the process of gearing up for production. Its generators provide high-purity hydrogen, which can be used in semiconductor manufacturing and metals processing. Connecticut Innovations has already invested $500,000 in the company.

DEREGULATION DATA. Deregulation of electric, natural gas, and utility companies in the Northeast can be monitored on the internet through a web site set up by Robinson & Cole LLP, a regional law firm with offices in Hartford, Stamford, and Greenwich. The site, http://www.deregulation.com, provides capsule summaries of deregulation news stories, and offers maps detailing the status of utility regulation in the region.


MOSQUITOES AND VIRUSES. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has opened a laboratory in New Haven to test mosquitoes for viruses. The testing, which was previously done at a Yale University laboratory, is a joint program with the Connecticut Departments of Environment (DEP) and Public Health to monitor mosquitoes for the eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus. Thirty-seven sites are being monitored. The mosquitoes are collected weekly and brought to the Experiment Station, where they are identified as to species, pooled into samples by species, and tested for virus. The results are transmitted to the DEP for their mosquito control decisions. The results of the previous week and the cumulative results for the year are available on the Experiment Station's web site at http://www.state.ct.us/caes/mosqintro.htm. For more information on the state's mosquito control program, go to the DEP web site at http://www.state.ct.us/mosquito/mosquito.htm.

GREEN CARDS. Monk parakeets, native to South America, are establishing colonies on the Connecticut shore. The green birds, imported into the United States as pets in the 1960s and 1970s, can survive the New England climate because they tolerate a temperature range of -5° to 95°. They live in colonies, in giant condominium-like nests about 3 feet by 8 feet, with separate entrance holes and chambers for each pair. Unlike most birds, they use the nests year-round. Research conducted by Audubon volunteers Linda Pearson and Allison Olivieri indicates that the birds seem to be a benign addition to the Connecticut ecosystem.

BUGGING THE FOREST. Black ladybugs the size of poppyseeds may save Connecticut's hemlock forests from the woolly adelgid, according to research conducted by Mark McClure of The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in Windsor. The ladybugs, which are natural predators of the adelgid, were discovered by McClure in Japan in 1992; since 1995, more than 18,000 ladybugs have been released in Connecticut and Virginia. The bugs have reduced adelgid densities by 47% to 100% in five months, and, promisingly, have been able to establish themselves in the forest. McClure believes it may be possible to turn the experimental control program into a fully operational one within a year or so.

DAM EAGLES. The birth of two eagle chicks in the spring of 1997 brought to twelve the number of bald eagles that have been produced and banded in Connecticut by the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Wildlife Division since 1992, according to DEP officials. However, as many as 100 eagles have been spotted at the Shepaug Eagle Observation Area near the Shepaug Dam on the Housatonic River. In winter, the dam appeals to the birds because the hydroelectric station keeps the water from freezing, making it easy for the eagles to catch fish.

ROCKY OBSERVATION. By measuring the size of patches of lichens, geologists can locate and date earthquakes that occurred up to 800 years ago. Developed by Yale geologist Mark Brandon and a colleague, the new technique, lichenometry, uses the known growth rates of lichens to measure exactly when rock surfaces were exposed. For example, if a species of lichen grows at a rate of .375 inches every 100 years, a patch 3.75 inches across indicates a rock face exposed 1000 years ago. Rock surfaces are commonly exposed in landslides caused by severe earthquakes. Lichenometry is more accurate than radiocarbon-dating, says Brandon, and can also detect earthquakes invisible to standard observations, such as those that take place under the ocean floor.


APPLE BREATH. Apples hold the key to sweeter breath, according to Stratford-based Breath Appeal LLC. The firm has won a patent for a product that uses the natural acids in apples and cranberries to fight bad breath. Its system uses fruit acids as a catalytic pre-conditioner to activate sodium chlorite, which is used in a mouth rinse. The sodium chlorite forms Sulfoxate, a group of oxidizing agents that destroy the sulfurous odor molecules associated with halitosis. The treatment, which should be performed twice daily, is effective in one to three days, said Breath Appeal president Mark Goroff.

FOOD CHECK. Waterbury's IGC Advanced Superconductors, which makes the superconducting wires used in MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) devices, hopes to find another market by supplying its wires to MRI machines that can be used to check for spoiled or contaminated food. "It's the logical choice for examining food," said Ian Pykett, vice president of technology development with Intermagnetics General Corp, IGC's parent company. While some obstacles, such as cost (an MRI machine typically starts at $1 million) and speed (an image can take as long as 30 minutes to obtain), still must be overcome, many agree that MRI offers much potential in this area. Because it does not contaminate the foods it examines, explains Pykett, it will not be subject to same regulatory scrutiny as the other potential methods.

BABY FOOD. Yale medical student Obi Ugwanali has identified a hormone-like compound found in the Nigerian white yam which may explain why Nigeria, where the yam is a staple, has the highest rate of multiple births in the world. Rats fed the yam, Dioscorea rotundata, have been shown to release more eggs at estrus than control animals. The yams may contain an estrogen-like chemical, which would act as an anti-estrogenic, tricking the body into producing more follicle stimulating hormones, which would in turn cause more than one egg to be released at a time. Yale scientists are also seeking a "fertility gene," which would explain why some, but not all, women are susceptible to the yam-produced chemical.

CLONED PLANTS. Through nonprofit Connecticulture, University of Connecticut professor Mark Bridgen hopes to make micropropagation available to nurseries throughout the state. Micropropagation involves cloning by placing scrapings of plant shoot tips in a sterile, nutrient- and hormone-rich medium. After crowns and shoots multiply, the "plantlets" are transferred to a new medium where they grow roots. According to Pierre Bennerup, owner of Sunny Border Nurseries of Berlin, the chief advantage of micropropagation is that it allows nurseries to quickly grow large quantities of rare, and therefore profitable, plants. Also, because micropropagated plants are clones, they are uniform and free of mutations. Raised in a sterile environment, they are also disease free.

CHESTNUTS RETURN. Hoping to recreate the chestnut industry for Connecticut farmers, Old Lyme resident Phil Gordon, who is associated with The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, hopes to use three one-acre sites in Madison as a cutting edge research center to evaluate different types of chestnut trees. Some seedlings are already being tested at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, but using the Madison site would allow researchers to test the cultivars, which are crosses between the American chestnut and resistant oriental varieties, in a different environment. "We have a new crop we know a great deal about," said Gordon. "We can develop it very quickly, in four or five years, from actual seedlings to developing nuts." The project would be conducted by the New Haven Soil and Water Conservation District.


IMPERFECT MATCH. Bone marrow transplants, used to treat patients with leukemia and lymphoma, have always worked best between relatives whose antigens are a perfect match. But, with the help of a new technique, the Yale Cancer Center (YCC) will soon be able to perform these transplants between relatives whose antigens are only similar. Since only 30% of patients have a relative with identical antigens, the new technique, Haplotype MisMatch Transplants, opens up the possibility of bone marrow transplantation "to almost everyone with a living parent, sibling, or child," said Joseph McGuirk, of the YCC. The center is among only a handful of places in the country prepared to perform the transplants.

CANCER TOOL. By using antibodies to carry radioactive markers to cancer cells, physicians at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington can detect metastasizing prostate cancer. The markers, viewed through a gamma camera, can pinpoint the location of cancer cells even when the tumor is too small to be detected by other means. Used to detect spreading prostate cancer after radical prostate surgery, the ProstaScint test enables doctors to find tumors early, allowing timely intervention and expanded treatment options.

SELF SUFFICIENT. A Yale study shows that nearly one-third of the disabled elderly regain the ability to care for themselves over a two-year period. This contradicts the common perception that once an elderly person becomes disabled, he or she must enter a nursing home. However, the researchers found that those aged 85 or younger were eight times more likely to recover than those 86 or older. Those who had intact cognitive function, high mobility, and good nutrition were also more likely to bounce back. By the year 2050, the number of Americans over 85 is expected to be five times what it is today.

A PLACE IN THE SUN. A synthetic form of melanin discovered by Yale dermatologist John Pawelek provides the basis for a skin cream that blocks ultraviolet radiation as well as producing a natural-looking artificial tan. In its natural form, melanin is insoluble in water, and therefore can't be used in lotions. "One day, however, we noticed that the melanin in one enzyme assay remained dissolved in water," said Pawalek. At a colleague's suggestion, he began to "search for the right combination of ingredients and methods to produce cosmetic melanin." Known as Melasyn, the substance has been licensed to Vion Pharmaceuticals through the Yale Office of Cooperative Research.

RINGING SUCCESS. People who suffer from ringing in their ears can be helped through a retraining device developed by Natan Bauman, director of the Hearing, Balance and Speech Center in New Haven. Tinnitus is most often caused by damage to the cilia, a part of the ear that helps convert noise into nerve impulses. When cilia break, they still report sound to the brain, just as an amputated limb continues to report sensation. But the brain, accustomed to real sound, cannot control the volume of the phantom sound properly, and this can cause the sensation of a loud ringing sound. Bauman's device produces a sound that competes with the tinnitus, causing the brain to, in effect, lower the volume. With counseling, the device is 80 to 85% effective in reducing tinnitus to tolerable levels.

SHOCKING SYSTEM. A cancer vaccine based on proteins produced by stressed-out cells is being developed by Pramod Srivastava, director of the Center for Immunotherapy at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. Known as heat-shock proteins (HSPs), the proteins are able to recognize the peptides (amino acids) found in cancer cells. Srivastava's technique involves collecting the HSPs, purifying them, and injecting them back into the patient's body. This stimulates the patient's immune system by alerting it to the presence of the cancer. Srivastava's method has produced cure rates of 80% to 100% against 15 different tumors in mice and rats; tests on humans will begin this summer.


FLOOD FLASH. A computer system, installed in Wallingford last April by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), demonstrated its accuracy during the town's flood watch this past spring when it correctly modeled the level to which the Quinnipiac River would rise. The system, which monitors potential flood sites across the state, uses river gauges hooked up to devices that transmit signals to the DEP in Hartford. Information given by the models is charted on a graph, and warning signals sound at dangerous levels. Wallingford Fire Chief Wayne Lefebvre said that the new system allows firefighters to give people in selected areas of town a three- to four-hour flood warning.

TAXING SYSTEM. For the first time, this year some Connecticut taxpayers were able to file their state taxes over the telephone. Through the pilot "telefile" program, which was available to 400,000 state residents, residents could call in information on a special tax form, letting the state's computer perform all the necessary calculations and determine the amount of taxes owed. The system is expected to save the state money and labor while eliminating most mathematics and tax table errors. State Tax Commissioner Gene Gavin says he hopes to expand the system to all 1.3 million taxpayers within the next few years.

SEEING RED. With their new Nightside Thermal Imaging Camera, Milford police will be able to "see things that would normally be invisible to the human eye," said police spokesman Edward Kelly. The infrared, heat-seeking camera allows users to see through solid objects like walls, trees, and cars. Designed to be mounted on top of police cruisers or held by hand, the camera converts heat emitted by a person or an object into light. The $16,800 device, which was paid for mostly through a federal grant, will serve a variety of uses, tracking lost hikers as well as escaping felons.

ASTEROID ORIGINS. A gamma ray "eye" developed in part by University of Connecticut physicist Jeffrey Schweitzer will help analyze the composition of a 25-mile long asteroid. The eye will travel aboard the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft (NEAR), scheduled to spend a year orbiting the asteroid Eros. Schweitzer's device can collect gamma rays emanating from the object and transform them into visible light, which then will be measured, converted into digital signals and beamed back to Earth. Because each element emits its own kind of gamma ray, researchers can use the information to learn which kinds of matter make up the asteroid.


NO GREASE. A unique Teflon-based coating developed by Bloomfield-based Kamatics to line high-stress bearings eliminates the need for greasy lubricants, cuts friction, and decreases wear. Developed in an attempt to produce helicopter rotors that could withstand salt water spray, the coating, KAron, is used in devices that range from submarines to hydroelectric dam turbines. Unlike most companies, which produce a protective coating by weaving Teflon-like threads and nylon into a fabric that can be attached to metal parts, Kamatics immerses particles of Teflon in a resin and applies that to the metal. Kamatics is a subsidiary of Kaman Corp.

AUTOIMMUNE TREATMENTS. Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc, of New Haven, has asked the US Food and Drug Administration to allow it to begin clinical trials of a drug that can eliminate disease-causing T-cells in people suffering from multiple sclerosis. The drug, MP4, limits attacks on the brain by the T-cells, possibly preventing paralysis and weakness in MS patients. If approved, the trials will represent Alexion's fourth clinical development program and the third clinical program targeting the treatment of autoimmune disorders. Alexion is also seeking to begin trials of a drug to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

EXTRA CREDIT. New software developed by Open Solutions, Inc, of Glastonbury, allows small banks to compete efficiently with huge international banks. Rather than requiring a mainframe, which has been standard practice for bank software, OSI links personal computers into a network. The OSI system provides small lenders with an affordable information system that is powerful enough to fill their data processing needs, but flexible enough to allow them to offer the sophisticated financial products that the larger banks can provide, such as debit and credit cards, PC banking that lets customers bank from home, and customized loans.

HIGH WIRE. Specialty cable producer BICC Brand-Rex Co., of Willimantic, which developed the IBM data cabling system, is once again branching out into new cable technologies. While Brand-Rex's parent company produces a basic commodity cable, the Willimantic factory, which produces 30,000 different kinds of electrical cables, concentrates on the fast-growing area of highly engineered lines. The company recently announced the production of a new generation of computer cables, and it is also promoting safety cables, which do not emit toxic smoke when they burn.


SPEEDY MISSILE. A new propulsion system under development by Pratt & Whitney will enable missiles to accelerate from 4 to 8 times the speed of sound, allowing them to cover 750 miles in about 12 minutes. The "storable fuel scramjet flowpath concept" could eventually be used to increase the speed of manned aircraft. The company, which hopes to ground test a prototype of the new technology in 2003, has received a $44 million contract from the US Air Force to continue its development. The system will be the centerpiece of the Air Force's hypersonic propulsion program for the next few years, according to the company.

JUST PLANE CONTROLLING. A variable displacement vane pump developed by West Hartford's Chandler Evans will be used to help control the X-31, a high performance experimental fighter aircraft developed by the United States and Germany. The device will meter and pump fuel to the actuators that operate the variable exhaust nozzle for thrust vectoring. Thrust vectoring uses the thrust of a jet's exhaust to control the direction of flight, which makes the plane more maneuverable.

HOLEY AMTRAK. A section of the foundation holes needed for Connecticut's portion of the high-speed electric New York to Boston rail service has finally been completed. Running from Southington to the Branford-New Haven border, the foundation holes will accommodate the 30-foot poles that hold the wires that bring electric power to the trains. Amtrak's new service, expected to begin in two years, will carry state-of-the-art trains that can go 150 mph.

WOVEN WINGS. Wing spars for Boeing's F-22 fighters are being made of advanced composites developed at DOW-UT in Wallingford. The composites are formed, in most cases, from layers of woven carbon, quartz, or glass fabric that have been compressed, injected with resin and heated into a super-hard fabric. The company has developed a new molding process that increases the ways in which composites, which are lighter than conventional materials, can be used, and is working to produce composites that can survive high temperatures, so they can be used in the hotter sections of jet engines where their light weight would be a significant advantage.

LARGER GEARBOX. An innovative Pratt and Whitney-designed engine, expected to be available in 2002, should provide greater efficiency, more reliability, and less pollution than competing models. The PW8000 uses a modified gearbox that allows an enlarged fan, which provides 90% of the plane's thrust, to turn at its optimal speed. According to Pratt, the new design, which requires half the blades and vanes of a conventional engine, will burn 9% less fuel, and will cut airline operating costs by as much as 10%. The engine will be used to power single aisle 120- to 180-passenger jets, expected to be the fastest growing segment of the aircraft market, according to Boeing.

ROYAL SWITCH. Queen Elizabeth II and her royal household will trade their current Royal Air Force Wessex helicopter for an S-76 made by Stratford-based Sikorsky. The royal household has signed a 10-year lease for the helicopter, which can fly 178 mph, or 40 mph sideways. According to Buckingham Palace, replacing the two RAF helicopters will save the queen $3 million annually.

- Compiled and edited by Karen Miller


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