Developments to Watch
This Baby-Infection Test Is Ready for Long Pants
Scientists at Stanford University have developed a test for the early detection of sepsis, a bacterial infection of the blood. In newborns, sepsis can be lethal in as little as six hours. Since there has been no way to detect sepsis until it becomes serious, hospitals routinely administer antibiotics to hundreds of thousands of infants--even though only 10% of those treated actually have blood infections. Treating the other 90% is unwise, medically, and costs $800 million per year.
The new test, which takes just 15 to 20 minutes, uses fluorescent antibodies that signal the presence of certain protein markers on the surface of white blood cells called neutrophils. These markers spread rapidly on cells that have been exposed to the bacteria causing sepsis. The test has been licensed to CompuCyte Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., which has begun clinical trials at Boston University Medical Center. CompuCyte hopes to market a drug before 2002.By Petti FongReturn to top
Motherboards Get a Second Childhood
Your Commodore 64 may be obsolete, but many of the materials used to make it aren't. As much as 95% of the parts and materials in junked PCs could be recovered and recycled. But only a small fraction of discarded PCs get rescued before being buried in landfills. The waste is huge and growing: 20 million computers were trashed by Americans in 1998, and that number could triple by 2005.
The main reason recyclers don't target computers more aggressively is that many of the parts are attached to circuit boards with epoxy adhesives that are well-nigh indestructible. But a new formulation could soon make it much easier to mine the gold in high-tech waste. Researchers at Cornell University and the State University of New York at Binghamton have developed a new epoxy that essentially dissolves in an industrial solvent at 190 degrees C. Dubbed Alpha-Terp, the new substance should make it simple to detach parts without damage after a computer is turned off for the last time. "The only other way to break an epoxy's grip is to smash it with a hammer, and that's kind of tough on those delicate components," says John Jir-Shyr Chen, a Cornell graduate student in materials science. He delivered a report on the new fail-on-demand adhesive at the late-August meeting of the American Chemical Society.By Petti FongReturn to top
A Disorderly Plan for Nuclear Waste
The biggest problem with storing radioactive waste isn't finding the space. It's making containers that can last the thousands of years it will take for the stuff inside to decay back into a benign state. Any container would have a hard time enduring incessant pummeling by high-energy radioactive particles. Mother Nature didn't foresee the need for something that could withstand concentrated radiation for millennia. But she came close with fluorite.
Searching for a material to contain nuclear wastes, especially plutonium from dismantled U.S. and Russian bombs, two international research teams have come up with almost the same stuff--ceramic formulations that resemble fluorite, a purplish mineral. Like fluorite, the materials work because they have an unusual internal structure: Their crystals are inherently "disordered," says Kurt E. Sickafus, a materials scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Disorder seems to be the key. Since structural integrity doesn't depend on a rigid crystalline pattern, the ceramics can shrug off a hellish rain of "hot" particles. In fact, computer simulations suggest the zirconate-based ceramics could keep radioactive wastes bottled up safely for as long as 30 million years.By Petti FongReturn to top