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Businessweek Archives

And You Thought Intel's Old Chips Were Fast

Developments to Watch

And You Thought Intel's Old Chips Were Fast

You may think you already have enough power in your desktop or laptop to handle the most demanding computing tasks. But chipmaker Intel Corp. begs to differ. On Aug. 22, the semiconductor giant disclosed technical details of its next family of microprocessors, dubbed the Pentium 4 line. The new processors perform at speeds of 1.4 gigahertz and higher and contain a staggering 42 million transistors--twice as many as 1995's Pentium Pro.

They also have a much faster connection to the memory chips that store software programs. All that extra capability boosts the processor's handling of power-hungry applications such as 3-D graphics, multimedia audio and video, and data encryption. Pentium 4 PCs are expected to be faster than Pentium III versions. But they won't come cheap: Figure $2,500 or more for the first PCs to sport the chip this winter.By Andy Reinhardt; Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

You Look Like a Monkey, and You Smell Like One, Too

Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name smells just as sweet, but what does it objectively smell like? Imagine if we could use chemistry to describe quantitatively the essence of rose--or stinky socks or spoiled meat. Researchers at the University of Illinois report in the Aug. 17 issue of Nature that they have developed such an artificial nose. The technology uses off-the-shelf chemistry to give an answer in half a minute. It works by visualizing odors.

To create the "smell-seeing" device, two chemists, Neal A. Rakow and Kenneth S. Suslick, arranged 11 different vapor-sensitive dyes on a glass plate. When the dyes come into contact with air-borne odor-producing chemicals, the dyes change color--from orange to green, say, or red to blue. Using a scanner and special image analysis software, the color changes are read out as a diagnostic pattern, or "fingerprint," for the chemical being tested. Identifying a mystery chemical is as easy as comparing its test pattern with a library of color fingerprints.

Suslick claims the digital nose is so sensitive that it can detect chemical concentrations as low as 32 parts per billion. That's 10 to 100 times as sensitive as the human nose in most cases. And unlike many other polymer-based technologies, Suslick's artificial sniffer isn't affected by changes in humidity. "It does not matter if you are in the Gobi Desert or downstate Illinois. The color change will be identical," brags Suslick. He and Rakow are now making sniffers loaded with as many as 400 different dyes. That's nothing to sneeze at.Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

Take Two Polymers, and Call Me in the Morning

Standing before her 8 a.m. chemistry class of bleary-eyed students, Rutgers University's Kathryn E. Uhrich was about to tell them to head to the lab for the day's scheduled exercise: making acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin. Then a zany thought popped into her head: How would the class react if she told them to make a polymer instead?

Uhrich didn't change the agenda, but that frivolous notion in 1996 turned into one of those rare "Aha!" moments. "It got me to thinking," she recalls, about the possibility of making a polymeric form of aspirin--using the same techniques that produce plastics. Drugmakers routinely use polymers as carriers that are engineered to release a drug gradually in the body. But Uhrich wasn't aware of any polymer designed to function as a drug. So she produced one and dubbed it PolyAspirin. Human testing could start next year.

In retrospect, the concept is simple: String 100 aspirin molecules together to form a polymeric chain. "As a fancy-schmancy chemist, you always want to do something `interesting'--not this simple," Uhrich admits. But PolyAspirin promises several benefits. First, it won't irritate the stomach because it doesn't break down into regular aspirin until it reaches the intestines. Second, the same approach could be applied to many other drugs--including those nearing the end of their patented life. Construct a polymer from an existing drug, says Uhrich, "and you could win a new patent."By Otis Port; Edited by Ellen LickingReturn to top

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