Volume 14,2

The Institute of Materials Science
UConn Facility Provides Unique Research Opportunities

What is materials science, and why is it so interesting to engineers and scientists? CASE member Harris L. Marcus, professor of metallurgy and materials engineering and director of the Institute of Materials Science (IMS) at the University of Connecticut (UConn), loves to answer that question.

According to Marcus, most of the recent advances in computer technology have been possible because of advances in materials. “Each generation of new computers being developed depends on advances in electronic materials systems and materials processing for its superior performance,” says Marcus.

But it is not just high-technology products such as computers. “Cars are much better than they were 20 years ago, and that’s because of advances in materials,” he adds. “Cars last longer, they are able to withstand wear, heat, and corrosion better. All because of better materials.”

The IMS was established in 1965 after the Connecticut state legislature received a report commissioned by the president of the University of Connecticut emphasizing the need for more materials research in Connecticut. The IMS provides the infrastructure—laboratories, equipment, and staff—so that the faculty can do their research. “We provide the tools so that the faculty can be competitive in this very competitive research world,” explains Marcus. “And we have a strong and active outreach program with industry, which benefits our faculty and students as well as the companies.”

Since its inception, the IMS has grown considerably, until today, according to Marcus, it is one of the major contributors to advances in materials. James P. Bell, professor of chemical engineering and associate director of the IMS, joined the faculty at UConn in 1969. “There were four of us then,” he says. “And now there are 35 or 40 faculty whose research is concentrated in the IMS building.” In total, there are about 110 faculty members who take advantage of the facility capabilities of the IMS.

The IMS is primarily a graduate teaching/research facility, with about 80 graduate students in polymer science and metallurgy and materials engineering; the facilities are used by 50 or 60 more graduate students obtaining degrees in electrical engineering, chemical engineering, chemistry, mechanical engineering, physics, and molecular and cell biology. IMS works closely with the University of Connecticut Health Center in research in biomaterials.

The Polymer Science Program

The polymer science program at UConn is considered one of the top five in the country, according to Bell. “We have about 50 graduate students and 12 full-time faculty, many of whom are internationally known.” he says. “We have just hired three new faculty members. It’s a strong program.”

“We’re very proud of our students,” continues Bell. “We have graduates of our programs all over the world, doing very well. From a student perspective, the IMS has a lot to offer. Any student here can use any piece of equipment, which is not true in some other situations—often a student can use only the equipment in his or her advisor’s lab. Our students leave here knowing how to use a lot of tools—our research is geared towards solving problems, not learning how to use a selected set of instruments.”

“Tougher” Ceramics

In the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering, Nitin P. Padture is investigating the processing, characterization, and mechanical properties of ceramics. “Ceramics have many remarkable properties,” he explains. “They are insulating, resistant to corrosion and oxidation, lightweight, and can be used at high temperatures. But they are brittle. Steel, on the other hand, is strong and tough, but at 700º C it’s toast.”

Some practical applications for ceramics, if they can be made tougher, include automobile engines and airplane parts. “Mercedes is now making ceramic valves,” says Padture. “And several auto manufacturers are working to develop ceramic engines.” Right now, however, a metal car engine is your best bet. “You really wouldn’t be comfortable with a clay engine,” says Padture.

“The only reason your car has a radiator is because the material the engine is made of cannot stand up to high temperatures,” Padture continues. “It’s actually very wasteful—you’re burning fuel, making heat, and then throwing a lot of that energy away by cooling the engine. If you could use that heat it would make the engine more efficient—you would use less fuel and the fuel you did burn could be burned at higher temperatures, producing less emissions.”

The basic principle behind Padture’s work is to make brittle materials tougher. “Ceramics fail because of a phenomenon called crack propagation,” he explains. “Once a crack starts, it moves along through the material until the part breaks. The old way to stop cracks is to introduce fibers into the material that would act as barriers, but this brute-force approach is expensive.”

“Our approach is different,” Padture continues. “By understanding the fundamental mechanisms behind the changes that occur as the material is formed and shaped, we can manipulate the process to allow reinforcing grains to grow right in place.”

Ceramics are good materials for use in places where there is a lot of rubbing, such as bearings, because they are very resistant to wear. But they are still prone to cracking when they take a sharp hit. Another one of Padture’s research projects is to develop ceramic materials that can withstand contact damage.

“We are working on what we call graded-surface ceramics,” Padture explains. “We create a composite material by melting glass into alumina oxide. At the surface there is a lot of glass, which will help dissipate the stresses when the material is struck. As you go farther into the material, the concentration of alumina increases and the glass decreases.”

A third project in Padture’s laboratory involves producing thermal barrier coatings for use in airplane engines, which get very hot. “Zirconium oxide is a good material for coating,” Padture says. “It works beautifully as an insulating material—the inside stays cool while the outside gets hot. But zirconium oxide is also an good oxygen conductor, and once oxygen gets into the metal it produces an oxide layer and the coating falls off.”

“We are working on a new ceramic material with low oxygen conductance and good insulating properties,” Padture continues. “It seems that oxygen conduction and insulation go hand in hand, so as you decrease the oxygen conduction, you also lose some of the insulation. We have partially succeeded in getting around this dichotomy.”

Interdisciplinary Setting Nurtures Scientific Breakthroughs

A good example of the interdisciplinary nature of research conducted within the IMS is the work of James R. Knox, professor of molecular biology and biophysics. “Since my laboratory is situated on the same floor as those of polymer scientists and chemists, we can’t help but work together,” says Knox.

Years ago, IMS polymer scientists were trying to develop plastics that would degrade. “These plastics are actually degraded by enzymes,” explains Knox. “We could explain to the polymer scientists what chemical structures the enzymes would attack—that helped them design polymers that enzymes were more likely to bind to and break down.”

Knox has also worked on biodegradable matrices for drug delivery.“The trick was to link the drug to a polymer backbone using a linkage that would be broken by an enzyme found in the blood,” he says.

Another aspect of Knox’s work, which involves trying to understand how bacteria develop resistance to various anti-
biotics, seems to be quite different, but it involves the same basic principles and tools as does his polymer science research.

“Antibiotics such as penicillin work by affecting bacterial enzymes,” explains Knox. “Bacteria use enzymes to make their cell walls—enzymes called transpeptidases join together growing strands of sugars and amino acids to form the cell wall. Penicillin resembles a molecule that the enzyme uses to build the wall, so the enzyme grabs on to penicillin by mistake, and stays bound to the penicillin for hours, long enough for the bacterium to die because its cell wall is incomplete.”

Some bacteria develop resistance to penicillin. “These bacteria can produce another enzyme that binds penicillin and chemically changes it to an inactive form,” explains Knox. “This process happens quickly—the enzyme binds the penicillin, inactivates it, releases it, and then binds another molecule of penicillin. The drug is essentially useless.”

Penicillin resistance became less of a problem when the related drug, vancomycin, became available. But then, at the end of the 1980s, vancomycin-resistant bacteria began to show up.

“We were the first lab in the world to see the structures of these enzymes and how they bind the drugs,” says Knox. Knox uses a technique called x-ray diffraction to determine the structure of the enzymes involved in these processes. “X-ray diffraction is a powerful tool—it allows us to see things that are too small even for the electron microscope,” he explains. But it is not all that easy, he continues. The x-ray diffraction instrument provides a picture with a pattern of dots that represent the atoms in the enzyme but is not really comprehensible, even to an expert.

“It takes years of work and high-level mathematical calculations to translate that data into a structure that resembles the actual enzyme,” Knox says. “And sometimes it can’t be done at all. But it is amazing when it works. We can determine the structure of the enzyme and then see how the drug fits into the binding site.”

Knox’s work with bacterial enzymes will have some important practical applications. “Drug companies are very interested in seeing the structure of these enzymes so they can design better drugs. They need the atomic-level data provided by x-ray diffraction.”

The interdisciplinary collaboration of scientists is a hallmark of the research programs in IMS and its greatest strength, according to Marcus. “When you have scientists from such diverse fields working shoulder to shoulder, sharing equipment, really good things can happen,” he says.

Equipment Key to IMS Success

The equipment is extremely important to the work being conducted at the IMS, says Marcus. “It is an endless battle, here and everywhere, to maintain state-of-the-art equipment. Old labs are good—you can do 90% of your work with older equipment—but to be really competitive you need state-of-the-art equipment.” The IMS maintains central laboratories in electron and optical microscopy, ion implantation, mechanical testing of materials, polymer rheology, thermal analyses, characterization and modification, x-ray diffraction, nuclear magnetic resonance, and a wide range of surface and bulk spectrometers. The IMS recently upgraded the equipment in their x-ray laboratory, their scanning electron microscope facility, and purchased a Raman spectrophotometer, among other equipment purchases.

“Purchasing the equipment is just the beginning,” says Marcus. “After it’s in place, you have to maintain it.” The IMS finds it more economical to do their equipment maintenance themselves, rather than paying for service contracts. “We take good care of the equipment to start with, and we have outstanding electronics and machine shops in the IMS to help when things go wrong,” Marcus explains. “So far, this has worked well for us.”

Funding for the IMS comes from several different sources, including the federal and state governments and industry. “We receive some funding through grants from the government,” says Marcus, “but we are really trying to reach out to industry in Connecticut, to build strong relationships with companies right here. And we are succeeding.” The IMS is currently working with about 50 companies in Connecticut.

Outreach Programs A Success

One of the successful outreach programs at the IMS is the Associates Program. “This program comprises 35 companies that pay an annual fee to the IMS,” explains Marcus. “They then have access to IMS capabilities. If they have a problem that someone here can solve, they can call us up, arrange a meeting, and we’ll help them. Companies can look upon us as a source of technical know-how. We hope that they will think of this as an good investment for them.”

Other ways that the IMS interacts with industry is through direct industrial support for research projects being performed by individual IMS faculty members; joint grants between the IMS and industry funded by the government; and consortia of companies organized to fund research.

Bell is involved in a project with a consortium of five companies: United Technologies, Ford, 3-M, the electronics division of Tyco, and the chemical division of Elf. Secrecy is not a big problem within the consortium, according to Bell. “The idea of the consortium is to develop a general technique that each company would then use for its own particular applications,” he explains.

This project, to develop a new, IMS-patented technique for coating materials, called spontaneous polymerization or S-P for short, is partially funded by NASA as well as the consortium. “The goal is to put a high-performance coating on materials to increase their resistance to corrosion,” says Bell. “The obvious application is to coat aluminum for use in the space program, but it can also be used to coat metal parts for many other industries.”

“We dip the metal parts in a solution of monomers, which then polymerize on the surface of the metal,” Bell explains. “It sounds simple, but the trick is to use materials for which the monomers will remain dissolved in the solvent but the polymer won’t. Otherwise the polymer would just rinse off the metal.” The resultant coating is thinner than a coat of paint, according to Bell, and provides a light-weight, corrosion-resistant material that performs at high temperatures.

The companies in the consortium provide funding, and also do some of the experimental work in-house, a system that is working very well, according to Bell. “This is an excellent example of a collaboration between academia and industry to develop real-time products,” he says.

A New Building and A Bright Future

As part of UConn 2000, the state-funded building program at the university, IMS will soon have a new addition to the 82,000- square foot facility they currently occupy. The 15,000-square foot new building will house various non-laboratory units, including the electronics laboratory, instrument repair facility, and offices, freeing up some of the space in the original facility for more laboratories.

Things look very good for the IMS, according to Bell. “The future looks really bright—with four new faculty members coming in (three in polymer science and one in metallurgy) and the new building—this is a very exciting time for us.”— Lisa Christenson, Medical Communications.

CASE Council Endorses Five-Year Strategic Plan

Ad Hoc Panel Urges New Direction; Recommends Expanded Programming, Staffing & Funding

On April 6, in a memorable CASE event at the state capitol, all seven voting members of Council who were present enthusiastically accepted the report of the ad hoc Committee for a Strategic Plan for CASE, and thanked the committee members for their service.

This plan, requested by Connecticut Innovations, Inc. and four months in the making, provides CASE with a road map for the next five years. It includes significantly expanded programmatic responsibilities, staffing, and funding. The new direction remains consistent with an expanded interpretation of CASE’s legislative charter. The strong and specific views of various state officials, who were interviewed as a part of the planning effort, provided some of the motivation for change. The expanded interpretation of the charter consists of four elements (see box, page one).

In order to implement these goals, Council agreed to six objectives that are to provide the programmatic basis for fulfilling the goals. These six objectives are:

1. Promote sound public policy in the areas related to science and technology, and an appreciation of longer-term implications of such policy:

2. Become more active in science, engineering, and technology education in Connecticut:

3. Continue to expand CASE’s role within the industrial clusters in the state of Connecticut:

4. Encourage discourse, and by example set the highest standards therefor, for the purposes of:

5. Develop closer relationships with local, regional and national groups in science, engineering, and technology.

6. Strengthen CASE’s resources and public image

Some of these objectives are simply expanded statements of present activities derived from the original purposes of the organization: for example, studies on science-based public policy for state government. As many readers will know, this has been our bread and butter for most of our existence.

Other objectives reflect new directions for CASE, notably involvement in K-12 education. While CASE has always supported exceptional achievement by students in science and engineering fields, and plans to expand that support, our involvement in the areas of teacher preparation and curriculum development will have to be guided by collaboration with organizations more expert in those activities.

Workforce development is another educational area to which CASE can contribute. It has been cited as a major concern by member companies of the governor’s cluster initiative; these firms have surprised many by emphasizing improved education as an important factor in enhancing the state’s competitiveness.

Our consultants particularly emphasized CASE’s role—derived from its membership and legislative charter—as a “convening authority.” CASE is thus in a position to encourage diverse and unrelated actors to the table for discussions of cooperation and collaboration on a relevant topic of public concern. It is a role that has been played sparingly in the past.

In order for CASE to be responsive to these many expansions of its original charter, a considerable increase in staff support—and therefore of funding—will be required. A base of general state support, plus foundations and federal funding, will be sought. In a major change of policy, CASE will now seek funding from agencies and legislative committees for the performance of individual studies.

Beyond changes in staffing and funding, we are being advised also to change the “appearance” of our membership, so as to include—in some relationship not yet identified—two new types of individuals. One type would be public leaders whom I would describe as “in but not of the technical community”; the other type, distinguished younger scientists and engineers. It may even be possible to include participation by high school and college students in the activities of the Academy, perhaps through the creation of some form of “junior” academy.

Two significant areas for improvement were identified by the study: development and communications. As most readers are aware, scientists and engineers make poor fundraisers, for the most part, and will resist strenuously any service on committees or other endeavors for that purpose. A similar statement can be made about service in any public relations capacity. It did not surprise the Academy management to be told, therefore, that its public support and public image were considerably lacking.

Thus, one of the first steps that we will have to take (after we get some promise of funding) is to hire a full-time executive director. Moreover, the principal talents of this person will need to lie in fundraising and communication skills, although we would hope the successful candidate would at least be “in” the technical community, if not “of” it.

It remains to be said that this strategic plan is meant to be a living document, subject to improvement when we have the wisdom to improve it (and the wisdom to leave it alone otherwise). — D. M. Wetstone, Secretary

CASE’s Vision for Connecticut

By the year 2010, Connecticut will be a leading place in the country to live, work and produce for all its citizens, who will continue to enjoy economic well being and a high quality of life.

A Vision for CASE

CASE will foster an environment in Connecticut where scientific and technological
creativity can thrive and contribute to CASE’s Vision for Connecticut.

A Mission Statement for CASE

CASE will provide expert guidance on science and technology to the people and to the state of Connecticut, and promote its application to human welfare and economic well being.

Goals for CASE

Provide information and advice on science and technology to the government, industry and people of Connecticut.
Initiate activities that foster science and engineering education of the highest quality, and promote interest in science and engineering on the part of the public, especially young people.

Provide opportunities for both specialized and interdisciplinary discourse among its own members, members of the broader technical community, and the community at large.

Unique Fire-Fighting Competition Fosters Enthusiasm for Robotics

Two decades ago, many people believed that the Age of Robotics was about to dawn.

Jake Mendelssohn was one of them. A chemical engineer, he started a robotics company, but like his pioneering colleagues, soon discovered how difficult it was to construct a fully functioning autotron—in fact, he found it to be “many orders of magnitude” more complex than building a computer.

Mendelssohn remained fascinated with the field, yet frustrated at the slow pace at which it was progressing. Wanting to accelerate that pace, he and an associate, Bob Content, then director of the Science Center of Connecticut, decided to create a competition. “Many technological advances have resulted from contests,” Mendelssohn points out, citing examples from the Wright Brothers to the US-Soviet race to the moon. “Why not robotics?”

“Designed to be Unique”

The first competition took place in the spring of 1993. Sponsored by the Science Center, it was hosted by Hall High School in West Hartford, where it drew spectators like David Ahlgren, dean of engineering at Trinity College. Ahlgren has helped organize the event ever since, coordinating the mechanics of it, raising funds (Motorola and Watts Industries are key sponsors), and serving as the faculty advisor for his school’s robotics team. In 1994, the competition moved to the Trinity campus, which is now its permanent home.

From the beginning, the competition, now called the Trinity College Fire-Fighting Home Robot Contest, was designed to be unique.

First, the competitors have to solve a real-life problem: tracking down and putting out a fire inside a home. This practical application of robotics differs from most other contests, where the charge may be to stack several toy blocks; follow a beacon; or pick up a ball, carry it ten feet, then drop it in a circle.

Second, the robots are true robots in that they’re intelligent, artificial life forms. “Other competitions use joysticks and radio controls,” remarks Ahlgren, “while in ours, the units have to think themselves through a maze.” Adds Mendelssohn: “It’s like comparing puppets to human beings—once our robots are turned on, no one touches them throughout their runs.”

Third, the competition is open to everyone, and fairly inexpensive to enter. MIT, for example, has an annual contest, but you have to be an MIT student enrolled in the robotics class; another contest carries a $100,000 entrance fee. In the fire-fighting challenge, the entrance fee is only $20. Anyone can compete, and because of the way the rules are written, anyone can win. This makes it attractive to everyone from fifth-graders up to toy makers from Mattel and rocket scientists from NASA.

To level the playing field a bit, the contest has two divisions, “junior” and “senior. There are also qualifying trials. The trials, notes Mendelssohn, usually eliminate about a third of the contestants: “Before you can enter the race, you must prove that your robot can function.”

While the contest is charged with a competitive spirit, it’s also imbued with a sense of community and cooperation. Vying for the prizes—with a total value of $5,000—seems secondary to sharing knowledge, says Mendelssohn. “People want to win,” he says. “But they also come to learn and have fun. They trade ideas: an innovation shows up one year, and the following year, you’ll see that it’s been borrowed by other contestants.”

A Double Challenge

Accomplishing the task—that is, extinguishing the fire—is a two-part puzzle. The robot must first travel through the rooms inside the model home looking for the flame (represented by a candle), then reach it (within a foot) and snuff it out. To raise the bar, the contest is timed; what’s more, the harder the mode of operation—adding obstacles such as furnishings or unlevel floors—the more discounts contestants are awarded. Entries that can navigate their way back out of the maze reap bonus points, while those that bump into walls receive penalties.

Everyone gets three chances to perform, explains Mendelssohn. “If a robot extinguishes the fire three out of three times, it earns more discounts. Reliability is a critical factor—after all, actual fire-fighting equipment must be highly dependable.”

Through the years, the robots have grown increasingly sophisticated. At first, to detect the candle, many simply used visible light sensors; then, realizing that candles also emitted other wavelengths, infrared and ultraviolet devices were also incorporated into the units. Ion detectors have recently been added, as candles give off ionized gas as well.
Getting the robot to move is a feat in itself. In 1993, there were only two entries that were mobile (one was devised by a fifth-grade team); this year, the number jumped to 73. For those who master the mechanics of movement, improving their speed is the next hurdle. In the 1999 competition, some units found and put out the candle in under 10 seconds—again, Mendelssohn notes, time is critical when battling a real burning building.

The improvements are more subtle with each contest; this year, a popular upgrade was the use of multiple sensors, which helped units to negotiate quickly around walls and other objects, or to tell exactly when the flame would be doused. Still, though state-of-the-art, no unit has yet attained perfection, says Mendelssohn. “We’re not quite ready for a commercial application.”

When that happens, robotic firefighters could become a common fixture in the average home, just as smoke detectors are now. The technology could benefit us in other ways, too, says Mendelssohn, such as helping to find missing children.

Gaining momentum

The contest, now in its sixth year, has captured the imagination of robot enthusiasts the world over. It was covered in Popular Science and Robot Digest, and to boost participation, satellite competitions are being set up in Seattle, Calgary and Philadelphia. Ahlgren is even working with students on a cyberspace robot—”one that can be controlled from sites across the Internet,” he explains.

This year, 250 contestants with 87 robots flocked to the Trinity campus for the two-day event on April 17–18. The competitors hailed from all parts of the United States, as well as Argentina, Canada, Switzerland, Israel and Thailand. Mendelssohn says he’s definitely pleased with the growing turnout, as well as the rising numbers of international entrants, yet feels that one group is still underrepresented: “I would love to see more contestants from Connecticut.”

Despite their passion for robotics, most of the competitors won’t necessarily pursue careers in the field, observes Mendelssohn. “The robots, however, do serve as a tool for teaching other disciplines—mechanics, physics and logic, for example.” Ahlgren agrees: “The contest is a wonderful medium for education—it spawns open-ended problems that must be solved.”—Louise Petraitis, Indelible Ink.

FASTER INTERNET. SNET Corp. has begun testing high-speed Internet service in New Haven, Waterbury and Bristol. Intended to compete with the high-speed access already offered by some cable television services, the ASDL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line) will connect customers to the Internet at speeds 50 times faster than most common analog modems. A single ASDL telephone line can be used simultaneously for internet, telephone, and fax connections. The new service is expected to be offered to increasing numbers of customers during the course of the year-long trial, but it will not be available statewide until the year 2000, according to SNET officials. The trials, which were mandated by Connecticut regulators as a condition of approving SNET’s sale to SBC Communications last fall, are part of an SBC effort to deploy ASDL service in seven states by the end of the this year.

NONSMEAR INK. Wallingford’s TransAct Technologies has joined with Hewlett-Packard (HP) to develop an ink-jet printer that can be used at checkout counters. TransAct plans to produce the printer components, while engineers from Hewlett-Packard will provide guidance in developing the cartridge and ink composition. A nonsmearing ink must be developed because customers cannot linger in the checkout line while receipts dry. The new device should be ready to market by early 2000. TransAct Technologies hopes eventually to produce printers that can provide color graphics on receipts for items such as coupons.

MAP TIME. To make it easier to access map records, cross-reference information, and make photocopies, the Manchester town clerk’s office plans to transfer copies of its subdivision maps into a new $25,000 computer imaging system. Currently, the 24x36 inch maps are stored in desk-size heavy binders, making it awkward to locate and copy sections. With the new imaging system, people will be able to use the computer to zoom in, highlight sections, and print maps on standard 8.5x11 inch sheets. Nearly half the 6,000 maps have already been indexed on the computer, although the maps themselves still remain to be scanned. Eventually, the town hopes to convert land records and vital records to the new system, and to make the information available on the town’s web page.

. University of Connecticut engineering professor Marty Fox hopes to help breast cancer researchers find useful information by developing an Internet search engine that allows them to request a scientific hypothesis rather than a generic keyword. “It’s taking the Internet to a whole new level,” he says. The new concept, which Fox calls the “knowledge harvest,” has been under development for several years, and requires that researchers parse through scientific papers to determine what information should be saved for the “harvest.” Fox expects that his system will spur the next generation of search engines.

MORE SMARTS. At Highland Park School in Manchester, teachers emphasize eight separate categories of “intelligence.” The new approach derives from a theory by Harvard professor Howard Gardner, which expands the understanding of intelligence beyond linguistics and mathematics, and calls upon the teacher to nurture, recognize and identify the intelligences in each student, according to school principal Diane Novak. “Intelligences” include, for example, the ability to read (linguistic intelligence), to excel at sports (kinesthetic intelligence), and to get along with others (interpersonal intelligence). In an attempt to nurture all these qualities, the same mathematics problems could be solved repeatedly over the course of a week, using a different method and tools each time: an abacus one day, and music the next.

NEW ADVENTURES. Students from Hartford's Wish School are among those participating in “Adventures in Science,” a hands-on program at St. Joseph College that offers after-school science workshops as well as field trips for fourth-grade students from Hartford and West Hartford schools. The program is designed to generate an interest in science among female and minority students. For the 18 students from Wish School—which has no science laboratory—the program offers not only exposure to a laboratory setting, but opportunities to conduct experiments as well. Funding for the program, financed by a grant from Phoenix Home Life Mutual Life Insurance Co., was recently renewed through the year 2004.

OF NOTE. The Connecticut-based medical journal Neurological Research recently published data extending the theory that listening to classical music makes students smarter. The researchers found that taking piano lessons and solving mathematics puzzles on a computer improves the mathematics skills of elementary students: second-graders participating in the study were able to solve sixth-grade level mathematics problems. The researchers speculate that piano keyboard training enhances the brain’s ability to visualize and transform objects in time and space. The Connecticut legislature is considering a bill that would require high school students to study the arts before they graduate.

NEW READERS. A new program created by software developer Lew Robins, of Fairfield, appears to be able to teach kids to read even if they suffer from severe neurological impairments such as Downs syndrome. The “Everybody Can Read” software, which Robins distributes for free, can help those with minor reading difficulties, but it is intended for the estimated 17–20% of the nation’s youngsters that have serious problems learning to read. Currently being tested in Norwalk, the program features an uncluttered black and white screen like a page in a book. The program’s voice patiently repeats problem words as often as the child requests.

NEW PIPES. In an effort to improve the quality of the Hockanum River, the Metropolitan District Commission plans to install a new 3,000-foot pipe that will redirect treated waste water from the Hockanum to the much larger Connecticut River. During the summer, about 50% of the water in the Hockanum River below East Hartford is effluent from the water treatment plant, according to East Hartford council chairman Richard Kehoe, and, although that effluent is considered “95% clean,” it is not completely pure. The new pipe, which is part of a series of improvements to the facility, will start as a single tube. Once it gets to the river, it will branch into several smaller pipes with holes so that the waste water can be diffused over a broader area.

SILVER POISON. Speaking at a conference in Cromwell last winter, Governor John Rowland warned that as much mercury as possible must be eliminated from the environment. Rowland reiterated the commitment made by New England states and Canada’s eastern provinces to virtually prevent human-caused releases of mercury, with a 50% reduction by the end of 2003. Even in amounts as low as 0.5 parts per million, mercury can harm the nervous system and impair brain function; without action, levels of the metal will continue to rise in New England’s fresh water fish, according to health and environmental experts. Much of the mercury in the waterways comes from coal-burning power plants and from trash such as discarded batteries and electrical switches burned in incinerators.

POISON EATERS. Scientists already know that some microbes can neutralize pollutants, says University of Connecticut environmental engineering professor Barth Smets. Smets hopes to use genetic engineering to redesign the microorganisms to work faster and more efficiently by identifying the genes that cause microbes to react to particular toxins and then transferring those genes into other, more aggressive microbes. “We know that a horizontal exchange of genetic information among bacteria occurs,” he says. “We want to see how it happens, short-term. If we can see that the exchange is important, we can then find a way to improve the transfer or increase the speed of the transfer.”

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY. Hydrologic models developed by University of Connecticut environmental engineering professor Fred Ogden could help save lives by predicting how much rain will fall in any given downpour, where the runoff will collect, and how the moisture will settle in the soil. Begun as an effort to tell Army officials when they could schedule training exercises with heavy equipment without destroying the land, Ogden is now initiating a project that will model runoff throughout the entire Mississippi Basin. The simulations, which may take five to ten years to develop, will be used to determine how best to move people out of the paths of potential floods.

GOING BATTY. To protect the state’s most important bat hibernation site, an old iron mine in Roxbury, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plans to replace a protective gate; 2,570 bats use the mine, according to the DEP’s biennial bat census. Despite the loss of many of the animals’ traditional hibernation sites, the bat populations in Connecticut seem to be thriving. They appear to be increasing by about 10% a year, estimates Robert E. Dubos, who has been surveying bat nesting sites for 20 years. Eight bat species are thought to be native to the state, and they play an important role in controlling insect populations. The new $40,000 gate will be funded jointly by the state and private donations.

WET AND WILD. Connecticut’s largest inland wetland, 33,000-acre Robbins Swamp near Norfolk, will be used to showcase a new Nature Conservancy conservation strategy centered on natural communities. Rather than simply buying a property that harbors an endangered species and hoping that the organism will survive, the Conservancy intends to study the ecosystem as a whole, researching which conditions are key to preserving the diversity of a site—soil chemistry, geology and hydrology as well as the relationships among plants and animals. Robbins Swamp is home to about 70 species of plants and animals that are endangered, rare, or uncommon in Connecticut.

THE ROOT OF THE MATTER. By genetically altering tomato plants so that they ignore stress, University of Connecticut plant science professor Yi Li has shown that it may be possible for astronauts to grow their own food. Li’s modified plants no longer respond to the hormone ethylene, which is produced under the strain of weightlessness and can prevent or harm growth. In an experiment conducted aboard the space shuttle Discovery, crew members germinated 30 modified and 30 unmodified seeds. They found that the roots of the genetically altered plants were 50% longer those of normal seeds. The next step, Li says, is to continue the experiments on a more extensive scale.; he is currently awaiting word from NASA as to whether his seeds can be placed aboard a longer shuttle mission early next year.

JUST CHICKEN FEED. Researchers at DEKALB Genetics Corp., in cooperation with the University of Connecticut (UConn), hope to develop a variety of corn that prevents chicken influenza. UConn professors Margaret Sekellick and CASE member Philip Marcus have isolated the gene that produces chicken interferon, a protein that can protect chickens from avian influenza. Scientists at DEKALB, located in Mystic, hope to insert the gene into the corn, so that the food itself provides the animals with medical protection. The new technique is expected to be even more effective than the vaccines currently used to treat domestic fowl because interferon offers a far more broad-based attack, protecting animals from the disease even after the viruses have entered the cells.

BY VALVE. By inserting a thin-fiber optic camera into living shellfish, University of Connecticut marine scientist J. Evan Ward has found a less intrusive and more accurate way to observe the way mollusks feed. With endoscopy, Ward can track not only the way particles are captured, but the way they move along the gills and palps into the mouth. Ward has investigated the ability of some species to reject low-quality particles and adjust their feeding rates in response to the amount of good food available. A recently awarded $135,000 NSF grant will be used to investigate how bivalves distinguish good food from bad. “Do they taste food the way you and I can tell carrots from peas,” said Ward, “or is it something about the surface of the food that signals its quality?”

ODOR EATER. By developing an innovative computer algorithm that searches fruit fly gene sequences for proteins able to penetrate cell membranes, a team of Yale scientists has located 16 of the insects’ odor receptor gene sequences. This marks the first time such genes have been identified in any insect; the sequences have already been provided to scientists studying olfaction in moths, mosquitoes, honeybees, and lobsters. The Yale team, headed by biology professor John R. Carlson, is now trying to determine how the genes influence neuron behavior. The team’s research may eventually be used to turn off olfactory neurons in insects, preventing them from damaging crops or even from finding mates.

FAKE PHOTOSYNTHESIS. Through photosynthesis, plants create the oxygen that we breathe. But the exact method by which they split oxygen molecules from water molecules has long been a puzzle. Now, for the first time, Yale chemists have designed a simplified version of photosynthesis that may help decipher the process. While natural photosynthesis relies on a four-manganese cluster, graduate students Julian Limburg and John S. Vrettos were able to use a simpler, two-atom cluster, activated by bleach, as a catalyst to split the oxygen from water. Eventually, this research may provide ways to generate electrical power more efficiently from solar energy.

POOH ON THIS. Locally produced honey could successfully treat allergies, according to the preliminary results of a study being conducted by University of Connecticut Health Center professor T.V. Rajan. Rajan bases his work on a theory of “oral tolerance” which holds that bodies will not have allergic reactions to substances to which they are familiar. Since local honey is rich in the pollens that irritate sufferers, Rajan believes that eating the honey will accustom patients to the pollens, thus preventing allergy symptoms. Most study participants have found the treatment—a daily tablespoon of locally grown honey—to be markedly effective. Rajan hopes to complete his research next winter.

DOUBLE CHECK. A new test to find women at risk for cervical cancer is now available through the Yale School of Medicine. Rather than searching for signs of cancer directly, the exam looks for human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer in 95% of the cases. The new test can determine the best treatment for women with slightly abnormal PAP smears: those with positive HPV results are at high risk for cancer and should be treated aggressively. Recent tests also show that women with high-risk HPV and normal Pap smears have a 10% chance of developing a cervical lesion within two years. More than 10 million American women are infected with HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, but since it lacks obvious symptoms, most are unaware they carry the infection. Yale is the first site in the state to offer this new test.

STICKING TOGETHER. Hartford’s St. Francis Hospital will be among the first in the area to close wounds with glue instead of stitches. Dermabond, a non-toxic chemical relative of superglue, offers many advantages over the traditional sutures and staples. The glue holds as well as stitches, the treatment does not require an anesthetic, and patients don’t need to come back later to have their stitches removed. That means cost savings as well as less distress for patients. Glues are already being developed as bandage replacements for home use.

SLEEP TIGHT. The Nutmeg Intensive Rehabilitation center, in Tolland, is the first facility in Connecticut to offer a one-day heroin detoxification procedure performed under general anesthesia. In the patented Intensive Narcotic Detoxification (IND) program, the patient is given a drug called nalfamene, which displaces heroin from the opiate receptors of the brain. Normally such a procedure is accompanied by painful withdrawal symptoms, but with IND, the peak withdrawal occurs while the patient is asleep, leaving only residual symptoms which are treated with medications. David L. Simon, of the Nutmeg center, who developed the program, has detoxified about 300 people. A study of the first 162 found that 75% claimed to be opiate free four months later; in conventional treatments, the relapse rate is an estimated 80–85%.

FLY AWAY. By inserting human tumor suppressor genes into fruit flies, Yale School of Medicine researchers were able to show what they believe is the first direct evidence of a link between tumor suppressor genes found in fruit flies and those found in humans. Tumor suppressor genes produce proteins that normally stop cell proliferation, and when they malfunction, cells reproduce without limit, causing cancers. The scientists found that inserting the human “large tumor suppressor” (LATS1) gene into insects lacking the fly version of the gene (lats) prevented tumor formation. By showing that the process of tumor formation in flies is related to that in mammals, the study suggests that flies could provide a model to study cancer biology.

MUSCLE RIGHT IN. A half-million dollar grant from the Donaghue Foundation will allow Wesleyan biology professor Stephen Devoto to expand his research into muscle fiber development in mutant zebrafish. Devoto is studying the way slow muscles, which control consistent, regular motion, and fast muscles, which control sudden infrequent motion, develop in the first 24 hours. Devoto studies zebrafish, he says, in part because the fish are clear in their early stages, so it is easy to observe the development of a particular muscle. Also, cells can be easily moved from one fish to another to determine whether a signal from one particular cell is triggering a change. Devoto currently keeps approximately 1,500 fish; he plans to double that number by the end of the academic year. It will be, he says, “like a library where you can pick out a mutant and test your model.” His findings may eventually be used to treat muscular dystrophy, heart disease and birth defects.

ATTRACTIVE IDEA. A powerful field of focused magnetic rays demonstrably relieves pain, according to Yale School of Medicine professor Lloyd Saberski, but that kind of energy can only be generated with a large apparatus. Saberski, a pain management expert, plans to conduct a double-blind study to determine whether small magnetic wearable pads also have an effect. He will study the effects of magnets on people with non-disk-related lower back pain. Patients, he says, are increasingly interested in magnetic therapy because conventional medicine concentrates on surgical solutions. “If magnetic rays could be developed, that would revolutionize medicine,” he said. One theory speculates that small magnets may ease discomfort by disrupting the flow of ions that triggers electro-chemical communications among nerves.

A MODEL PROJECT. A University of Connecticut research team has recently been awarded a $4 million federal grant to develop “The Virtual Cell,” a 15- to 20-year project that will produce a computer model of the inner workings of a cell. “This will be the natural next step after the genome projects tells us about the identities of all the genes and proteins. Now we have to figure out how they all work together,” said Leslie Loew, director of the Center for Biomedical Imaging Technology, who heads the team. Intended to simulate cell reactions on the computer screen, the project will help scientists organize and interpret the vast amounts of biological information currently being generated. Although still in development, the project is already being used to design and conduct experiments, and has been able, for example, to investigate the way cell geometry influences a nerve’s ability to transmit signals. The Virtual Cell web site is at www.nrcam.uchc.edu.

LIGHT CELLS. Ciencia Inc, of East Hartford, is one of only 125 companies whose proposals have been accepted by NASA’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program; the company will build a device that monitors the fate of cells during prolonged weightlessness. To be used on the International Space Station—a 16-nation project scheduled for completion in 2004—the device will label the cells with a fluorescent probe and monitor the changes. Ciencia’s work will help augment the scant scientific data on how cells respond to space. “Cell growth might be accelerated, or it could be deterred—we don’t know, but we want to find out,” said Warren Ahtye, who works at the Ames Research Center, where Ciencia’s proposal was reviewed. ”If we are going to put human beings into space for 10 to 15 years, we have to know the effects of cell growth in micro-gravity.”

STAR WORKER. Yale astrophysicists Bradley E. Schaefer and Eric P. Rubenstein reported that superflares have occurred during the past century on nine stars disturbingly similar to the Sun in size, age, luminosity, and rotation speed. Fortunately, the scientists agree, our Sun shows little evidence of such explosive behavior, which would burn out all orbiting satellites, black out power grids worldwide, and destroy Earth’s ozone layer, possibly causing the collapse of the food chain. Schaefer speculates that the superflares might occur when a star’s strong magnetic field interacts with a nearby Jupiter-size planet, causing the buildup and release of vast amounts of energy. The scientists hope to find more examples of superflares with the help of a telescope in Venezuela, which scans more than a million solar type stars every night.

SHOW TIME. The VA Connecticut Healthcare System will soon be one of only two veterans’ facilities in the nation to check on patients at their homes through their televisions. Financed by a $400,000 federal grant, the medical home telemonitoring system will allow patients to communicate with healthcare providers at the medical center simply by turning on their TVs. The system lets patients get weighed, obtain a glucose reading, have their pulse taken and have their blood pressure read. The grant should allow the hospital to serve about 100 people at home.

ONE AT A TIME. New Haven-based Genaissance Pharmaceuticals has received a patent for a new system with which human genes can be identified, extracted, and placed into laboratory animals for testing. It will be used to help the company develop drugs tailored to a patient’s individual genetic makeup—critical because each patient responds differently to medications. “The Clasper System provides Genaissance with the ability to target and analyze entire genes from individual chromosomes directly from genomic DNA,” said CASE member Frank Ruddle, co-inventor of the process. The Clasper System can also be used in agriculture to identify genes that hold specific desirable traits, such as drought tolerance, or resistance to disease, according to the company.

HEART FELT. A new cardiac monitor that eliminates the need to insert a catheter into the patient’s heart has just been released by Novametrix Medical Systems, of Wallingford. The NICO (Non-Invasive Cardiac Output) technology simply measures the patient’s breathing, analyzing carbon dioxide concentration, airflow, and airway pressure. It will be used to track the heart performance of sedated patients during operations. Because the traditional catheter method is both expensive and potentially dangerous, doctors tend to use it only on critically ill patients. NICO’s safer, less costly process should allow doctors to monitor many patients; one analyst expects that the machine will eventually be used in 5 to 6 million surgeries each year.

HARD STUFF. University of Connecticut engineering professor Ranga Pitchumani has invented a better way to harden the liquid resins from which polymer composites are formed. Lightweight, corrosion resistant, and strong, the composites are used for products as diverse as bridges, bulletproof vests, and submarine hulls, but they can be tricky to work with. Typically, the fiber-filled polymers have been hardened from the outside, in a costly process that could take up to six hours per piece, and risked burning the outer shell before the inside was fully “cooked.” Pitchumani discovered a way to embed the resin with small carbon mats which release heat when an electric current is passed through them. In this new process, electrical impulses are fired through the composite, heating and hardening the interior while conventional methods are used for the outer shell. Pitchumani has also developed methods to control the flow of the polymer liquid into its mold.

STICKING AROUND. At its Rapid Response Small Scale Manufacturing Center in Rocky Hill, Loctite Corp. can produce new adhesives in 45 days or less—twelve times as fast as the company’s usual 18 months. The center, which opened in January, represents Loctite’s entry into the fast-growing field of microelectronics. The center produces adhesives that act as a buffer between the microelectronic chip and the board to which it is attached. The center combines two functions that have traditionally been separated: it both formulates adhesives, and develops ways of making them. This team process is what allows the system to move so quickly, according to Donna Sutkaitis, manager of process technology. The center also supports research, and is currently investigating projects that include an epoxy that can be remolded after it cures and an adhesive tape that conducts electricity in only one direction.

A BIT OF A LIFT. A prototype of the world’s most advanced medium-lift helicopter has successfully completed its maiden flight. Designed by an international team led by Stratford-based Sikorsky Aircraft, the new S92 helibus employs a main rotor blade that is wider and has a longer radius than those of earlier models. The blade tip sweeps back and angles downward, which reduces noise and increases lift. Intended to serve both passenger and commercial needs, the S92 should also provide increased cabin size and reduced operating costs. Certification is expected in the year 2001.

ENGINE STARTER. Pratt and Whitney, based in East Hartford, has won a $39.9 million US Air Force contract to produce engines for a series of fighter planes, marking the start of production for a major new military program. The F119 engines are intended for F-22 fighters, planes that are almost invisible to radar. The engines are also being modified to power a new single engine fighter under development by the Pentagon. Pratt’s initial contract calls for six engines, including two spares; the Air Force plans to buy 339 of the planes and 777 engines over the next 16 years. The new F-22s, which are expected to begin service in 2004, will each cost $187 million.

AHOY THERE. With the help of software meant to analyze the flow of air around the fan blade in a jet engine, aerospace engineers at United Technologies Corporation, in East Hartford, are trying to design AmericaOne—a yacht that can win next year’s America’s Cup race in Auckland, New Zealand. Two dozen engineers are working to produce sails, hulls, and masts with the most efficient air and water flow possible, but the yacht’s skipper, Paul Cayard, is expecting “evolutionary changes” rather than a huge breakthrough. Even a tiny improvement can be enough to give a boat a winning advantage; typically, victory is determined by less than the length of a single boat. The first version of the yacht is expected to be launched in May.
HERE'S THE DIRT. A high-end motocross motorcycle developed by Cannondale Corp., a Bethel-based company known for its top-of-the-line aluminum alloy bicycles, features “radical new innovations” according to the editor of MX Racer magazine. “The motor is basically backward,” he said. “The carburetor is in front and the exhaust in the rear.” The dirt bike’s unique design, which incorporates the engine’s air intake into the steering head, increases combustion efficiency by supplying cool, clean air to the engine.

CYBERCOPS. A $4.5 million Hartford-based cyberspace system provides officers on the road with nearly instant access to critical state and federal databases. With the new system, officers can independently call up data that range from car registrations to mug shots. In addition, they can download information between departments and communicate with each other via email. Information is transmitted through a 19.2 kilobyte per second cellular modem located on the top of the police car. Branford, Madison, and Clinton recently become part of the Hartford system.

FAST TRACK. Amtrak recently unveiled its long-awaited high-speed Acela trains, which are designed to compete with airlines for passengers traveling between Washington and Boston. The trains can reach a speed of 150 miles per hour. The Acela uses independently swiveling axles and a hydraulic tilt mechanism to allow the train to take curves at high speeds; it also plans to offer seats with audio and power jacks, and dining cars with meeting tables. Expected to begin service next winter, the project has been under construction since 1992. It has involved a massive overhaul of the rail bed, and the installation of a computerized signaling system. Nearing completion is the electrification of the New Haven-Boston section of the Northeast Rail Corridor. — Compiled and edited by Karen Miller

Who are CASE’s members?

As readers may know, CASE was chartered in 1976 to be an organization patterned after the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), both in structure and purpose. Thus, the members elect the new members from those who work or live in Connecticut and are distinguished scientists or engineers.

These members then make up the study committees (along with non-members) that perform the public policy tasks requested of us by state government. The stature of the study committee participants (members or not) then validates the authority of the findings. This is identical to the NAS.

In our recent strategic planning process (see page 1), however, we have been told that our criteria of membership are too restrictive, that we need to involve in our operations at least two other categories of persons.

The first is senior members of the business, government, and academic communities who are not necessarily practicing scientists and engineers, but have great influence on science and engineering policies within our state. The other category consists of younger scholars showing great promise, perhaps including even college or high school students.

The second idea might even lead to forming a “junior” CASE, an idea that first was considered at the very beginning of our founding.

The challenge is to find a way to expand the types of association with CASE while preserving the special distinction of the members who provide credence to the findings of our studies and our advice to state government.

Two special committees of our governing Council are undertaking this charge, and we hope to have some answers for our members and other readers by fall. —D. M. Wetstone, Secretary

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