-- You might call it extreme mining. While trolling the deep seabed north of Papua New Guinea, scientists aboard the Australian research vessel Franklin recently recovered a giant, intact undersea chimney. These rare "black smokers" form when superheated mineral compounds bubble up from fissures in the earth's crust. But the scientists were more interested in the exotic bacteria that live around the smokers. Living off of the flow of minerals, these "extremophile" microbes may one day be harnessed to process trace elements in mines or to clean up toxic waste.

-- Volunteers in candy-striped smocks are a familiar sight at many hospitals. In time, robots may take over some of their drearier duties. Robotic couriers, a researcher at the University of Arkansas has found, make economical work of the drudgery of delivering specimens, files, and drugs. Following a study in a midsize hospital, Professor Manuel Rossetti concluded that a fleet of six robot couriers were cheaper by some $300,000 a year than a team of humans.

-- Antitheft technology for cars is taking to the high ground: space. Unlike systems that rely on cellular phones, the satellite-based technology used by Israel's SatSmart Ltd. can track stolen cars anywhere. It could also be harnessed to keep tabs on ships at sea or trucks on the road. The basic technology was developed at Technion-Israeli Institute of Technology.

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