Innovations

-- When an underground power line fails, finding the break can be tougher than actually fixing it. So researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., trained a "neural network" program to track down breaks, using data from Consolidated Edison Co. of New York. The software quickly learned to pinpoint which manhole a repair crew should head for.

-- Will tomorrow's teenagers be pimple-free? William F. Wood, a chemist at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., has discovered that glands in the split of deer hooves produce a potent antimicrobial agent. The substance not only protects deer--it's highly effective against the bacteria that cause facial acne.

-- The high temperatures used in manufacturing can annihilate ordinary thermometers. But Thermosonics Inc. in Tucson, Ariz., has developed a device that measures temperatures as high as 3,000C with a sound wave that is transmitted down a rod made of various metals or ceramics.

Since the speed of sound varies with the rod's temperature, a microprocessor can calculate that temperature by measuring in nanoseconds how long it takes the sound wave to return.