Developments to Watch
PRIVATE ROADS FOR BUSY WEB SITES
WHEN LUCASFILM LTD. BEGAN rereleasing the Star Wars trilogy last year, fans didn't swarm just to movie theaters. About a million people immediately mobbed the films' official Web site, hosted by startup Organic Online Inc. in San Francisco. For help, Organic turned to Seattle-based InterNAP Network Services Corp., which set up a special bank of routers that it calls a "private network access point," or P-NAP, on its Seattle premises.
InterNAP then arranged for MCI Communications Corp. and other operators of high-speed Internet "backbones" to assign special priority to all traffic to and from the Star Wars site. Requests for Star Wars Web pages arriving at any of MCI's routers were sent speeding along private leased lines directly to Organic's P-NAP in Seattle. And thanks to a technique InterNAP calls "symmetrical routing," the requested Star Wars pages were zapped back along exactly the same route, instead of getting bounced among crowded public interchanges. This enabled Organic's site to handle some 5 million hits a day. It also caught the attention of Hambrecht & Quist Venture Capital, Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures, and others. In early November, these investors pumped nearly $20 million into InterNAP. The company is now leasing lines from eight of the world's largest backbone operators. And it will soon construct P-NAPs in as many as 36 American cities.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNST Seanna BrowderReturn to top
CAN DAMAGED BRAINS BE FIXED?
BRITISH SCIENTISTS HAVE discovered a way of replacing damaged brain cells that could offer hope to sufferers of neurological disorders caused by heart attacks, strokes, and Huntington's disease. Scientists at Maudsley Hospital in London found that rats that suffered brain damage from heart attacks recovered completely if they were injected with embryonic brain cells. The implanted brain cells, called neuroepithelial stem cells or NESCs, found their way to the damaged brain cells and took over their functions. The rats, which earlier had total amnesia and learning problems, were able to perform complex tasks such as negotiating a maze after the implants.
Researchers Jeffrey Gray, Dr. John Sinden, and Dr. Helen Hodges spent 12 years developing the method, which they liken to repairing a tear in a finely woven carpet. They grew millions of fetal brain stem cells in the lab by injecting mouse brain cells with a cancer cell that switches on only at very low temperatures. The same technique should work for humans, they say, with one human fetal cell able to provide millions of NESCs. The research team says tests on humans could begin in three years and, if successful, a therapy to restore neurological functions could be available in less than a decade.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNSTReturn to top
KNOCKING OUT FACTORY BROWNOUTS
BY WINDING 45 MILES OF HIGH-TEMPERATURE SUPERCONDUCTOR wire around a magnetic core, American Superconductor Corp. (ASC) in Westborough, Mass., has created an energy-storage device that provides backup power for factories. Each device can hold a huge charge--3 million watts--because electricity that enters it continues to flow indefinitely through the superconducting wires, with no loss of power along the way. When the power grid has a momentary hiccup, the pent-up power is released instantly, keeping factory operations humming during brownouts of up to one second.
That may not sound like much, but the Electric Power Research Institute says 80% to 90% of all power disruptions last no more than one second. Yet such outages cost more than $12 billion in ruined products and startup costs. Before Cyanco installed ASC's first prototype system in 1993, the Nevada producer of cyanide rarely had a month without a shutdown caused by a power dip, says Production Manager Tobin D. Kueper. Such disruptions are now a dim memory, he adds.EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNST Otis PortReturn to top