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Iris Scans That Work In The Blink Of An Eye


In the 2002 sci-fi film Minority Report, cameras in office buildings, train stations, and other public places keep tabs on people by scanning their irises from a distance. While a version of this technology is available today, its use is limited by the range and speed at which cameras can capture detailed images. Now Sarnoff is introducing a system that speeds up the process -- potentially clearing the way for widespread use in security systems.

First-generation iris-scanning systems required individuals to stand 9 to 22 inches from the camera and hold still for 3 seconds. Sarnoff's Iris on the Move can identify 20 people per minute as they walk through a security portal. It can capture an iris as far as 10 feet away and within a wider range of view than earlier systems. The camera then hands off the images to a computer, which matches them against stored images in a database. Sarnoff says a few government facilities are currently using the scanners.

Patients with depression usually suffer through four to six weeks on an antidepressant before they can tell if it's doing its job, and that can lead to months of trial and error before doctors hit on the drug and dosage that works best. Aspect Medical Systems (ASPM) has developed a brain-wave reader that, based on early tests, could determine efficacy in a week.

Aspect CEO Nassib Chamoun says his device uses patented software to interpret signals picked up by an array of sensors strapped to the patient's forehead. Changing patterns in brain waves signal a drug's activity, if any. The Newton (Mass.) company is hoping to win marketing approval by the end of 2008.

The technology may have other uses. Boston Scientific (BSX), which owns 24% of Aspect, has given the company $25 million to determine whether it can detect Alzheimer's disease before symptoms are apparent.

Will sprinkler heads be replaced by audio speakers? It's possible, according to students at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton. Next month in Minneapolis, Dmitriy Plaks plans to wow the Acoustical Society of America's annual meeting with a report on his team's success in extinguishing flames with sound waves from ordinary speakers.

His paper will be tinged with mystery, however: He's not sure exactly how sound waves quench a flame. Plaks, a senior, says his Prometheus Project team needs to run more experiments and hopes to propose a theory next summer. So far, low-frequency sounds, ranging in intensity from an ambulance siren to a jet engine at take-off, are consistently effective.

The research is currently aimed for use in spacecraft, where fire extinguishers are not effective. But the group is also thinking about earthly situations in which fire extinguishers and water might cause almost as much damage as a fire itself.

-- The never-ending debate about the differences between men and women has been subjected to some scientific rigor -- and it turns out they aren't much different after all. A meta-review of 46 large gender studies over the last 20 years found that the sexes are far more alike than different in almost all psychological variables and mental skills. Janet S. Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, examined how gender influences cognitive abilities, verbal and nonverbal communications, social or psychological traits such as aggression and leadership, self-esteem, motor behaviors, and moral reasoning. Gender appeared to affect only certain motor skills, such as the ability to throw a ball, some aspects of sexuality, and states of heightened aggression. Hyde's review appears in September's American Psychologist.

-- People who are overweight typically have high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a molecule linked to a heightened risk of heart disease and stroke. CRP is produced only in liver cells and blood vessel walls. But researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center have found that fat cells produce chemical signals that can trigger the production of CRP. The good news: When fat cells are exposed to aspirin and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, CRP production declines. The report, based on studies of cultured fat cells, appears in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.


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