Developments to Watch
MONITORING THOSE E.R. MONITORS
HOSPITALIZED PATIENTS are often hooked up to a clutch of machines to keep them alive or to monitor blood pressure and other vital signs. Confronted with this beeping, flashing array, it's all too easy for doctors or nurses to miss alarms. To simplify things, Dr. Igal Nevo at Philadelphia's Albert Einstein Medical Center created a program called Vigiatrix, which converts a patient's vital signs into several colorful, easy-to-read images on a PC monitor. Instead of duplicating the other devices, it takes their information and generates a new indicator, called Vital Function Status, which appears on the screen in constantly changing line charts. If an emergency develops, Vigiatrix will flash warning lights that direct the doctor to other monitors for more detail. Large-scale tests are planned at Einstein and two other hospitals.By Joseph Weber EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top
SUBATOMIC PHYSICS: QUANTUM THEORY TAKES A LEAP
REMEMBER THE PLANETARY model of the atom, with electrons whizzing in fixed orbits around a nucleus? That's still how most people over age 40 think about atoms, even though physicists trashed that solar-system-in-miniature image decades ago. The newer quantum-physics model has the nucleus enveloped in a fuzzy cloud of electrons.
Now, some scientists may be shocked to find that even that model does not tell the whole story. The results from almost a decade of international research using an atom-smasher in Japan show that the electrons in that quantum cloud are hardly the simple points of negative charge they're cracked up to be. Electrons have their own clouds--populated by "virtual" electrons paired up with virtual opposites, called positrons. These particle pairs don't exist in the normal sense. They pop into reality and are instantly extinguished as their opposite charges cancel each other out. This phenomena can be observed in the artist's rendering above, with electrons (yellow arcs) and positrons (blue arcs) annihilating each other.
Even more surprising, an electron's electromagnetic force--a universal constant when viewed from afar--increases within the electron cloud, says Purdue University physicist David S. Koltick, who headed the research. Near the core, it may equal the strong force that holds subatomic particles together. "At that point," says Koltick, "there ought to be a totally new type of matter--and a totally new realm of physics."
Does this particular finding have real-world implications? Koltick doesn't rule it out. Who could have guessed, he asks, that Sir Joseph J. Thomson's discovery of the electron in 1897 would eventually lead to cathode-ray tubes inside today's television sets?By Otis Port EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top
MORTAR FROM MUCK
FINALLY, THERE COULD BE A use for the noxious muck collecting in New York Harbor. The Institute of Gas Technology in Des Plaines, Ill., and Unitel Technologies, an environmental technology company in Mt. Prospect, Ill., are testing a method for converting waste concrete, sediment, and sludge into high-quality cement. The project is supported by the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. The process, called "cement-lock," melts dredged sediments with limestone at about 3,000F, destroying organic contaminants and locking in heavy metals. The melt is then cooled and drawn into micrometer-size fibers, which are pulverized and blended into building cement. The material costs no more to make than commercial cement. And there's an added plus: Cement-Lock LLC, a sales and marketing affiliate of Unitel, will receive tipping fees for carting away the sludge.EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top