Developments to Watch
Coasters Find a Whole New Way to Roll
HOLD ON TIGHT. THE JOKER'S JINX, a new roller coaster at the Six Flags America theme park in Largo, Md., will make its debut this coming May. And its trick piece of technology, the linear induction motor (LIM), is helping redefine the way roller coasters roll. The new beasts are faster, smoother, and scarier than their wooden predecessors.
So far, Premier Rides of Maryland, the roller coaster manufacturer that helped develop the technology, has launched seven LIM coasters. Three more, including The Joker's Jinx, will follow this year.
Conventional roller coasters are dragged by chains or cables--clank, clank, clank--to the top of the first hill. Then gravity causes the cars to accelerate. In contrast, Premier Rides' coasters slingshot passengers out of the loading station, accelerating from zero to 70 miles per hour in less than four seconds. The secret is the high-tech motors, about 200 of which are used in each coaster. When juiced with an alternating current, the motors create an electromagnetic force that accelerates the coaster over the first 200 feet of the ride.
Not daring enough? Lookout for linear induction water rides, which could turn paddleboats into speed demons. To dry out, take a spin in another new coaster: the Ultra Twister.EDITED BY ELLEN LICKINGReturn to top
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This Could Put Biopsies out of Business
AT LAST MONTH'S AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY MEETING, Dartmouth researcher Mary-Ann Mycek described a new laser system that will help doctors identify a malignant tumor without having to do a biopsy. The laser system can detect slight chemical and structural changes in a tissue that may signify the very early stages of cancers. When tested on patients with colon polyps, this new detection method was just as accurate as conventional procedures.
Normally, when a doctor finds a suspicious growth, a piece of the tissue is removed and sent to the laboratory for analysis. Getting the results can take days, even weeks. Mycek's new laser system, however, gives immediate answers, and it's much less invasive than a biopsy. Mycek's team tested the laser system on 17 patients who were undergoing routine colon examinations. Every time a polyp was discovered, doctors took a picture of the tissue's molecular structure with the laser. For comparison, a tissue sample was also biopsied. In nearly every case, the two methods gave similar results. Mycek says this device could be widely available in a few years.EDITED BY ELLEN LICKINGReturn to top
Giving Survivors More Time to Escape
WHEN A PLANE CRASH-LANDS AND CATCHES FIRE, half the people who survive the impact may not get out in time. That's because the plastics in the cabin--the seat cushions, carpeting, walls, and luggage bins--are combustible. And when they burn, they give off flammable gases that, in two minutes, can explode into a fireball.
The Federal Aviation Administration wants to give passengers more time to escape. Four years ago, it launched a $1.4 million, four-year program to find less combustible plastics. With time and money running out, a research team at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has turned up a very promising material. It's called polyhydroxyamide. When it's heated to about 400F, it gives off water vapor and changes into polybenzoxazole, a sturdy polymer that is extremely fire-resistant. Commercial development could begin soon, because several chemical companies, including BP Amoco, DuPont, General Electric Plastics, and Union Carbide, helped support the research.EDITED BY ELLEN LICKINGReturn to top