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Businessweek Archives

From Bats To Boats Wings Take To The Water

Developments to Watch

From Bats to Boats--Wings Take to the Water

Before Orville and Wilbur Wright, many early airplane designs looked like giant birds. Some even had flapping wings. Now, Richard Dryden, a biology lecturer at England's University of Plymouth, has returned to nature for inspiration--but for a new type of sail. The concept has just won a $70,000 grant from Britain's National Endowment for Science, Technology & the Arts. Dryden plans to spend next year working full-time on his wing sail, which looks more like the wing of a bat than that of a bird.

Dryden believes the bat-wing sail may prove useful for all manner of watercraft, from sailboards to oil tankers that exploit wind power to reduce fuel consumption. His system's key feature is that the mast and sail automatically adapt to changing winds. The mast has joints, like the bones of a wing. In strong winds, the joints bend to reduce the sail's size. This trimming of the sail lowers its "center of effort"--the area where most of the wind's force is concentrated--to avoid excess pressure at the top, which can shred the sail or capsize the boat.Edited by Otis PortReturn to top

Keeping a Check on Foot-and-Mouth Disease

How fast can a little virus travel? If it's foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), which can afflict pigs, cattle, and sheep, the answer is devastatingly fast. FMD is more contagious than the flu. The last U.S. outbreak was in 1929, but experts fear that expanded foreign trade could bring FMD back with a vengeance. "I think we've just been lucky," says Joseph F. Annelli, head of emergency programs at the U.S. Agriculture Dept.

Last month, to boost preparedness for FMD, the agriculture departments of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico staged a mock emergency. The first FMD victims were piglets in Edinburg, Tex., that ate contaminated and undercooked feed from South America. Taken to market, some infected pigs spread the bug to a truckload of Mexican steers destined for a rodeo. From there, it spread to a rodeo in Alberta on cowboys' clothes, while the contaminated truck returned through the U.S. to Mexico.

In the week it took to identify FMD in this drill, the scourge spread thousands of miles. More drills are planned, in order to speed up response time.By Janet Ginsburg; Edited by Otis PortReturn to top

How to Tell When You're Done in the Sun

You never know when the light bulb of inspiration will click on. University of Alberta physicist Stuart A. Jackson had just finished developing small labels that signal when bags of blood have been treated with enough gamma radiation to be safe for transfusions. That sparked an idea: Could the same approach produce a sticker for people to measure exposure to the sun's UV-B rays--the ultraviolet radiation that can lead to skin cancer? If so, then kids and sun-worshipers could tell when they've gotten enough sun for the day.

The challenge for Jackson, who is also chief scientist for Indico Technologies Corp. in Edmonton, Alberta, was to find a material that responds only to UV-B light. "With a little luck and lot of work," he recalls, Indico found a chemical that sheds hydrogen ions when struck by UV-B. Embedding that chemical in a plastic film, along with a dye that is affected by the hydrogen ions, yielded a patch that changes from clear to orange when the suggested daily limit has been reached.

Indico sold the technology to startup SunSpots Inc. in Bellevue, Wash., which plans to launch the product next spring. After testing the stickers on family and patients, Yale University School of Medicine skin-cancer expert Dr. David J. Leffell signed on as head adviser to SunSpots. The price of protection? About $6 for 30 stickers.By John Carey; Edited by Otis PortReturn to top

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