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Arsenic And New Antidote

Arsenic is an insidious poison. It appears naturally in groundwater worldwide and can do harm long before any signs are evident. Its worst effects are apparent in Bangladesh, where 30 million people are at risk because of tainted wells. Exposure can destroy the skin, harm internal organs, and cause cancer.

K.J. Reddy, an associate professor and water quality expert at the Univ. of Wyoming, has synthesized a compound that neutralizes waterborne arsenic. Other methods exist, but most are expensive and require pretreatment of the water. Reddy says his secret formula could be used in a sachet -- like a tea bag -- to clean a pitcher of water and could be made affordably in developing countries.

The U.S. could use help as well. The Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that threshold levels for arsenic in drinking water must be cut by 80%, to 10 micrograms per liter, by 2006. Meeting that limit could be especially costly in western states, where levels are high. Reddy has licensed his recipe to HydroFlo in Raleigh, N.C.

Information found on PCs used by terrorists has already unmasked several "sleepers" in the U.S. and Europe. But sifting through the haystack of data on a hard drive can be arduous, especially if info is encrypted. Typically, this task falls to digital forensics labs, which can take days or weeks to probe a PC. Cracking this data vault faster, before the bad guys have time to react, could make a big difference.

Next year, the Pentagon hopes to give Special Forces units and some front-line soldiers a tool to do just that. The software, being developed by IDEAL Technology in Orlando, combines foreign-language software tools, artificial intelligence, and sophisticated search and data-mining algorithms -- all running on a sub-$10,000 laptop. A suspect PC or PDA can be linked to the system and "out the other end comes targeted information," says co-founder Jordan S. Jacobs. "The process can be entirely automated."

TV helicopter crews, your glory days may be numbered. Police in the car-chase capital of the world are getting set to stop fugitives in their tracks.

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Dept. has ordered a high-energy radio wave device developed by Eureka Aerospace in El Segundo, Calif. Troopers will be able to use it to scramble the digital brains -- computer chips that control fuel injection, engine firing, and other functions -- in most cars. With its engine shut down, the targeted car would roll to a stop.

The ray, which proved effective at a range of 160 feet in testing in early July, projects from an antenna that can be mounted on the roof of police cruisers. The company is developing beams that could either permanently fry the car's electronics or simply temporarily disrupt them.

L.A. has averaged over two car chases a day in recent years, causing interminable traffic snarls and nearly 300 collisions. The zapper will probably go into production for Tinseltown cops after a prototype is finished at the end of this year, says James Tatoian, Eureka's chairman and CEO.

-- It's a finding that would please physiognomists of the 1800s, who thought facial attributes revealed human character. Researchers at Ohio State University say that right-left asymmetries in body features can be a marker for aggressive tendencies. Studying fingers, ears, feet, etc., in 100 college students, they calculated an overall index of asymmetry. Students then endured a series of frustrating phone encounters. The most asymmetrical proved to be the most easily provoked. What's the connection? Writing in the July/August American Journal of Human Biology, the authors cite studies showing that stresses such as illness, alcohol use, or smoking during pregnancy can cause asymmetrical fetal development. That affects the central nervous system, which governs impulse control and aggression.

-- Men who receive radiation for prostate cancer often take hormone blockers for up to three years afterward -- with side effects that include hot flashes, impotence, impaired memory, and anemia. But a shorter course of hormone treatment, it turns out, may deliver substantial benefits. In the Aug. 18 Journal of the American Medical Assn., researchers at Brigham & Women's Hospital and Dana-Faber Cancer Institute show that only six months of such therapy boosts by 10% the likelihood of surviving five years. Senior author Dr. Philip Kantoff says this means more patients can benefit from hormone therapy while minimizing the side effects.

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