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Developments to Watch
THE RAIN IN SPAIN, PREDICTED BY A PLANE
JETLINERS FERRY PASSENGERS at 30,000-plus feet. But for monitoring weather or sampling atmospheric pollution, aerospace mavens envision a whole new type of high-flying aircraft. Backed by NASA, a squadron of companies led by AeroVironment Inc. of Monrovia, Calif., is testing unmanned, battery-powered planes that will one day glide two to three times higher than airliners, and even park themselves over hurricanes to help weathermen sharpen their storm predictions.
In late summer, over California's El Mirage dry lakebed, AeroVironment tested the latest scale model of a craft called Centurion (picture). It's a feathery, 62.5-foot "flying wing" made of carbon fiber that weighs just 25 pounds. Batteries power 12 evenly spaced propellers for up to an hour at a stretch. Next summer, the company hopes to launch the full-scale Centurion, with an altitude goal of 100,000 feet. Its 210-foot wingspan rivals that of a Boeing 747.
After that, the next big leap will be a flying wing called Helios, to be launched in 2001. It will run on solar batteries, storing extra energy during the day in fuel cells and consuming it at night. That should make possible the ultimate dream--what Centurion project manager Rik D. Meininger calls "eternal flight."EDITED BY NEIL GROSSReturn to top
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BARK BITES CANCER
THE PAWPAW TREE BEARS more than just a funny name and a sweet fruit. Some compounds in its bark are natural insecticides. Others fight drug-
resistant cancers. Now, scientists at Purdue University are beginning to understand how.
Certain cancer cells that survive chemotherapy appear to resist drugs by developing a tiny molecular "pump" that expels anticancer agents before they can kill the cell. Typically, only 2% of a patient's cancer cells develop such a pump. But these cells grow into deadly drug-resistant tumors.
Doctors today try to kill them by flooding the body with other compounds to divert the pump. They then administer high doses of anticancer chemicals. Such treatments, however, can cause severe side effects and even death.
Purdue researcher Jerry McLaughlin says his group has discovered more than 40 potential anticancer compounds in the bark of the pawpaw--a common North American tree that bears the largest fruit of any native species.
In recent laboratory tests, one group of compounds killed off long-surviving cancer cells, seemingly by blocking the energy such cells utilize to operate the pump. Purdue has filed for patents on the use of these compounds and is already gearing up for animal tests.EDITED BY NEIL GROSS Catherine ArnstReturn to top
BUILDING TEENSY TRANSISTORS
LAST YEAR, INTEL CORP. CHAIRMAN ANDREW S. GROVE said microprocessors in 2011 would have a billion transistors, more than 100 times the number on Intel's best chips today. Now, Intel has revealed how these superchips might be made. It's joining rivals Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Motorola Inc., three national labs, and nine suppliers to perfect a light-based system that "prints" circuit lines 0.1 micron wide. That's less than half the size of the thinnest lines now in production.
Until recently, this wasn't considered possible, at least not with light. Then, in 1995, Sandia National Laboratories patched together an experimental system using so-called extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light produced by a unique laser plasma. Such light is invisible--even to glass lenses. So mirrors will focus the light into ultratiny circuit patterns. These mirrors will have to be made with incredible precision: The surface must be smooth to within one atom's diameter.
Intel and its partners, dubbed the Extreme Ultraviolet LLC, figure it will take $250 million and three years to create a commercial EUV tool. That makes Extreme Ultraviolet the biggest partnership ever between industry and the national labs.EDITED BY NEIL GROSS Otis PortReturn to top