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The Only Book You'll Ever Need?

Developments to Watch


MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF Technology researchers are developing an electronic book that looks and feels like an ordinary hardcover. Joseph Jacobson, the physicist heading the project, says the key is "digital" ink particles, 50 microns in diameter, which resemble the toner in laser printers and adhere to a paper-like synthetic substrate. The particles--black on one side, white on the other--flip over when stimulated by an electric charge, just as tiny crystals change position to block or release light in liquid-crystal displays.

The penlight-battery-powered invention will be able to download text from databases on the Internet. Once the data is in the book's memory, the reader will be able to display pages of, say, War and Peace, simply by pressing a button on the book's spine. When one book is finished, a new one can be downloaded and displayed in its place. After five months of development work, Jacobson's five-person team has been able to flip pixels but not form complete letters. A proof of concept prototype is expected next year. The cost of the materials to build one book? About $400.EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top


CRUNCHING MOLECULES TOgether can bring big scientific surprises--and useful new materials. A few years ago, for example, a team of scientists at the Carnegie Institution of Washington used a diamond anvil to squeeze a mixture of helium and nitrogen. Normally, helium won't combine chemically with anything. To the researchers' surprise, the experiment created a solid chunk of a new helium-nitrogen compound.

Now the team has scored another materials coup. The researchers squeezed together hydrogen and methane, expecting to make another new kind of solid substance. Instead, they found no fewer than four new materials, each with a different ratio of hydrogen to methane. Though the materials survive only under presure, "they tell us something about structural chemistry," says staff scientist Russell J. Hemley. They may also exist on giant, gaseous planets such as Jupiter and could offer clues to planetary formation. The materials may have practical benefits on earth, too--such as the ability to store hydrogen, a key step in making it viable as a fuel for cars.EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top


OFFICES AREN'T THE ONLY places where Intel Corp.'s high-speed Pentium chips are sparking a revolution. Dr. Howard Yonas, chief of cerebral vascular surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, says microprocessors and high-speed computer networks have dramatically expanded physicians' ability to monitor blood flow in the brains of stroke victims, using a scanning technology called xenon-enhanced CT (Xe/CT).

Since 1974, doctors have been enhancing CT scans of patients' brains by having them inhale xenon gas, which acts as a contrast agent. Until recently, the procedure called for relatively high doses of xenon, which can cause temporary mental blurring and other side effects. Interpreting the data from the scan required hours of processing time on a minicomputer.

Working with colleagues at Pittsburgh's mathematics department, Yonas developed analytical software that runs on a Pentium personal computer linked to the CT scanner via a fast network. The software reduces the amount of xenon each patient must receive, speeds the analysis, and provides a higher-resolution image. Pittsburgh licensed the software to Diversified Diagnostic Products in Houston, which designed a low-cost system. The company has installed 15 units in U.S. hospitals, and five in Europe. The best part: Results from the test are in the physician's hands within 10 minutes after the exam. At an early stage of the stroke, says Yonas, "the doctor knows whether it is possible to intervene with clot-busting drugs."EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top

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