Developments to Watch
CARTONS THAT COULD JUICE UP JUICE
FINE WINES AND BRANDIES GET BETTER AS TIME GOES BY, and the same might soon be true of grapefruit juice. In the case of grapefruit, the secret is in the packaging. Joseph H. Hotchkiss, a professor of food science at Cornell University, has devoted years of research to so-called active packaging. He dreams of packages that not only hold products but also improve them.
One packaging supplier is evaluating a carton that might make grapefruit juice as popular as orange juice. The paperboard carton is lined with a cellulose polymer impregnated with naringinase, an enzyme. Developed with the help of grad student Nelda de Fatima Soares, the coating breaks down the two ingredients responsible for the tartness of grapefruit juice: naringin, a natural component of citrus fruits, and limonin acid, a byproduct of pasteurization. The cellulose absorbs the limonin, while the enzyme "detarts" the naringin. In just a few days, the packaged juice tastes sweeter than the fresh-squeezed kind, says Hotchkiss.
Next, Hotchkiss hopes to find a sponsor for his microbe-killing packages. These shrink-wrap films and plastic bags would contain antimicrobial agents to deter spoilage of meats, cheese, and produce.Nellie AndreevaReturn to top
ARE THESE CHIPS ON THE BALL?
HAVE THE FOLKS AT BALL SEMICONDUCTOR INC. lost their marbles? That was the reaction in 1996 when the Allen (Tex.) startup announced it planned to cover silicon balls with computer circuits. There's less snickering now.
In mid-July, Ball Semiconductor revealed it has printed crude semiconductor devices on balls 1 millimeter in diameter. "And we'll be making integrated circuits in a month or two," asserts Ram K. Ramamurthi, vice-president for research and development. "They seem to be getting on with it," says Jack S. Kilby, co-inventor of the integrated circuit.
Ball chips are the brainchild of Akira Ishikawa, a former senior manager at Texas Instruments Inc. He believes drastically cheaper ways of making chips are essential to sustain the march of semiconductor innovation. And the time is ripe, because the next generation of chip plants may cost up to $10 billion, pricing many companies out of the business.
To avoid the need for big, superimmaculate factories, Ishikawa dreamed of balls rolling through narrow tubes, so only the insides of the tubes would need to be cleaner than hospital operating rooms. The equipment for processing sturdy balls also would be cheaper than that for handling fragile dish-size wafers. As a result, the cost of a chip factory could be slashed 90%.
Since leaving TI, Ishikawa has raised $52 million--and expects to begin volume production in 2000. Whether customers will buy is the big unknown. But Ball figures it holds a trump: Its chips will be smaller than flat chips, so cell phones and other small gadgets could shed more inches.EDITED BY OTIS PORTReturn to top
A SIX-LEGGED CHEMISTRY LAB
DRUG COMPANIES UTILIZE SO-CALLED COMBINATORIAL chemistry to create millions of compounds Mother Nature never dreamed of. But nature also has a few secrets up her sleeve, which could aid scientists.
In the July 17 issue of Science, a research team led by Cornell University chemist Frank C. Schroeder describes how the immature pupal forms of the squash beetle, E. borealis, secrete droplets that contain a rich brew of chemicals from glandular hairs along their bodies. Like chemists, the beetles work with a small "library" of molecular building blocks--just three closely related compounds of varying lengths.
To create the brew, cells in the bugs' glands continuously and randomly mix up different combinations of the molecules, then spin them into large polymer rings. "We don't know another biological system that achieves that sort of chemical production," says chemistry professor Jerrold Meinwald. He speculates that the bugs may require this complex mixture to hold a variety of enemies at bay.Neil GrossReturn to top