A Library Of Mug Shots Of Cancer Cells

Steven G. Morton has an entrepreneur's unshakable belief in his own ideas. To start Oxford Computer Co. in 1987, he took a second mortgage on his Oxford (Conn.) home and cashed in his retirement plan from a stint as a researcher with ITT Corp. His fixation was an "intelligent memory chip"--for which he won a patent in 1991--that combines data storage and processing on the same piece of silicon.

That technology is now taking off for such jobs as document scanning and sorting. But with Oxford still short of breaking even--until late last year--Morton roped in an unlikely backer: the National Cancer Institute. He wanted to develop a way to print microscopic, ultrahigh-resolution images for use as optical memory chips. To catch the eye of the NCI, he proposed printing life-size images of cancer cells in Pap smears for use as a reference by lab technicians and researchers.

The just-completed Pap Smear Micro Library costs considerably more than the $50,000 put up by the NCI. But now, Morton has the means to print images with unprecedented resolution: 25,000 dots per inch. By comparison, most laser printers operate at 300 dpi. Next, Morton wants to marry his supersharp micro-images with computer chips in systems that would automatically screen Pap smears--or diagnose metallurgical X-rays of aircraft parts.

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