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Cartilage is a particularly useful tissue. Tough but flexible, it's a key component of our noses, ears, and joints. But once damaged, it's hard to fix. Unlike skin, it cannot regenerate itself. So today's technology requires invasive surgery and metal or plastic replacements that aren't as effective as the real thing. But researchers at Johns Hopkins University are having success in getting stem cells to grow into a cartilage-like living tissue. So far, the tests have used goats, but the Baltimore scientists are confident the technology will also work in humans.

Led by Jennifer Elisseeff, a biomedical engineer, the Johns Hopkins team mixes the stem cells with nutrients within a polymer. The resulting viscous liquid is injected into the damaged area. An ultraviolet light or visible laser is then used to turn the liquid into a hydrogel, which acts as a scaffold as the stem cells grow into tissue. Only the areas hit by the light form a gel, so surgeons can shape the scaffold as necessary.

And there appears to be no threat that the tissue will continue to grow. "Early tissue engineering research showed how tissue that is produced maintains the shape of the scaffold," Elisseeff says. "If anything, we tend to have the problem of the engineered tissue being smaller than the scaffold." The researchers are also developing hydrogels that will degrade once the tissue is formed.

If the technology works in humans, it could help patients avoid major surgery for repairing joint injuries. Scientists are excited about stem cell research because the cells renew themselves and are metamorphosized into a variety of tissues. Elisseeff's research uses adult cells, thus sidestepping the ethical debate over use of stem cells culled from human embryos and fetuses. It also means patients in need of cartilage or bone repairs could donate their own stem cells for the procedure, minimizing the chances for infection or tissue rejection.



Even before the recent military action to oust Afghanistan's Taliban regime, which harbored the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, the country's infrastructure was a mess. Years of fighting to evict Soviet occupation troops, followed by years of civil war, left Afghanistan in devastation and sorely in need of engineers to work on water, sanitation, and public health projects. But during the Taliban years, one critical resource was left untapped: women engineers. The ultraconservative Islamic government banned women from the workplace and from higher education. That's now changing. Earlier this year, 100 female civil engineers graduated from a two-month refresher course at Kabul University to update their skills. "The women had received a good education and qualified as engineers before the Taliban," explains Zahra Akkerhuys, press officer for the charity Oxfam Great Britain, which co-sponsored the project with Oxfam Germany and German Technical Cooperation. The course was run by a team of four European engineers, who drew up a course plan after discussions with their women students. It focused on such skills as civil and water engineering, project management, interview techniques, and public health and sanitation. Noted Women's Affairs Minister Habiba Sorabi, "It's a great pleasure to see all our sisters ready to participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, ready to work as engineers together with their brothers."



GREAT BRITAIN—Whose research is it, anyway? That's the question being debated at Britain's Cambridge University. Technology born in the university's labs has been credited with creating what's called the Cambridge Phenomenon, a spate of high-technology companies clustered in the flat fenlands of Cambridgeshire. For 80 years, school policy gave academics 100 percent control over whatever intellectual property they generated. But Cambridge is proposing a new policy that, if adopted, would, as of January 2003, equally split patent profits between the faculty member, his or her department, and the university. Academics would also lose control over who the inventions were sold to. Cambridge officials argue the policy is no different from those found at most leading U.K. universities. The school claims it's not seizing ideas or property, nor is it diluting the rewards due inventors. Indeed, it says, the current policy is so unfocused that many potentially profitable patents fail to be commercially exploited.

But Ross Anderson, a Cambridge computer scientist who specializes in security, fears the new policy will pull the plug on the Cambridge Phenomenon by obliterating the monetary motives that underpin it. Other faculty critics dislike the notion that their research could be sold to companies of which they disapprove. Anderson further argues that academic freedom and efforts to recruit and retain faculty will be harmed by the policy. Cambridge academics may not pursue commercially promising research or might take it elsewhere if they feel they're not going to be adequately compensated, he reasons. "The incentives that led to the creation of hundreds of high-tech companies in the area will be destroyed. It seems that civil servants view us not as the goose that lays the golden egg, but as a nail that sticks out and needs to be hammered down."



In the world of supercomputers, speed is of the essence. And the current world champ is the Earth Simulator in Yokohama, Japan, which models terrestrial climate and plate tectonics. Since 1993, computer scientist Jack Dongarra at the University of Tennessee, with colleagues at Germany's University of Mannheim, has published a twice-yearly list of the world's 500 fastest supercomputers ( To rank them, Dongarra uses the Linpack benchmark—he feeds each computer a set of linear equations and sees how quickly it can solve them. The Earth Simulator, built by NEC, can perform 35.86 trillion calculations per second, or 35.86 teraflops. That amazing speed allowed it to zoom past the former number one, the ASCI White at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which has a speed of 7.23 teraflops. The Japanese machine is five times faster than the ASCI White, now at No.2 Indeed, so fast is the NEC computer that it's speedier than the combined operating speeds of the next 12 computers on the list. IBM has five computers in the top 10 and Hewlett-Packard has three, while NEC and Intel have one each. Eight of the top 10 are in the United States. But then again, those eight put together are still slower than the reigning champ from Japan.


Yokohama, Japan
Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Calif.
Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, Pa.
France's Atomic Energy Commission
National Energy Research Scientific
Computing Center, Calif.
Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M.
Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Calif.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tenn.
Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Calif.
IBM pSeries 690 Turbo
U.S. Army Research Lab, Md.



Next time you're about to dig into a platter of steaming mussels in garlic butter, you might want to first give thanks for the potential medical breakthrough that the tasty little molluscs have spawned. Mussels are very efficient at clinging to hard surfaces. That's because they excrete a glue that works even in salt water—an environment that renders most glues useless. Researchers believe that a synthesized version of that glue could be used as an internal adhesive by surgeons. Doctors use glues to patch up external incisions, but they would be toxic if used internally.

They're not much different from household glues, but a glue that works inside the body could be used to not only close internal wounds but repair smashed bones. Chemical engineers at Holland's Delft University of Technology have finally figured out the mussel glue's physics. The key is a protein named Mefp-1 that needs a certain amount of oxygen and a low-acidic environment to work. Lead researcher Mieke C. van der Leeden is now working with polymer experts to invent a synthesized version of mussel glue in the lab. It's difficult work because the solution involves volatile amino acids. Researchers must also ensure that the bioengineered glue can last for an average of eight weeks to allow for full healing. Moreover, it must be biodegradable. And forget about harvesting mussels and extracting the glue on a commercial basis. Obtaining a mere milligram of glue would require a small mountain of mussels. That could jeopardize the world's mussel population. And make a lot seafood aficionados very unhappy.



ZURICH—When countries as conservative as Switzerland start tossing big bucks at nanotechnology, it's clear that it has become a serious area of research.
Earlier this year the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) opened a $19 million micro- and nanotechnology laboratory. The new facility—called FIRST-Lab, for Frontiers in Research, Space, and Time—took ETH's far-flung nanotech facilities and put them under one roof. It also provides scientists and engineers cutting-edge equipment and the type of pristine labs needed for nano-research. FIRST-Lab has a number of "clean rooms" in which there are fewer than 300 dust particles in each cubic meter of air. The facility takes a multidisciplinary approach, as well. Professors from a variety of departments will work there, including those from physics, mechanical and process engineering, information technology, electrical engineering, and materials science.

Nanotechnology is the manipulation of nanoparticles or the addition of them to other materials to improve them. For instance, shorter laser pulses permit fiber-optic cables to handle more data; smaller but more powerful chips will provide drastic improvement in medical technology and car production; new ways of processing information can be developed using quantum mechanics principles. Nanotechnology also may revolutionize energy. One possibility is helping to transform coal into liquid fuels, including diesel and gasoline.

This big trend in all things small has motivated governments to start spending heavily on nanotech research and development. The European Commission just earmarked $1.27 billion for upcoming nanotech research. Five years ago, the United States was spending $432 million on nanotechnology R&D; this year the estimated expenditure is around $600 million. Welcome to the N-generation.



Congress wants the nation's 74,000 institutions of higher learning to keep better track of their foreign students in the wake of last year's terror attacks. And the schools agree that's a good idea. But they are not happy with the January 30, 2003, deadline set by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to have its new computerized system for tracking foreign students fully operational. Sevis—which stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System—should help schools keep closer tabs on international students. But it's a new database and as of late September, the INS was only just readying a test platform.

Currently, schools fill out visa-eligibility forms, called I-20 and send them to students, who take them to a U.S. consular officer in their countries to obtain a visa stamp. The I-20s are then handed to INS officers at the port of entry when the students arrive. They're then shipped to a processing center and the information is tapped into the INS database. Under Sevis, the schools will fill out e-versions of the I-20s, then zap them to the INS for review. The INS will give each registrant a bar code and file number and send it back to the school. The school will print a hard copy, then mail that to the student. Moreover, under current regulations, the schools are not required to keep track of such things as students' private addresses, whether they switch majors, or where their financial aid is coming from. That will change under Sevis.

The INS shrugs off complaints that the January 30 deadline is too much of an imposition. Not all students need to be registered by then, it says, only current students who change their status or those registering for the spring term if it starts before January 30. The rest don't need to be put into the system until the next term.

But Catheryn D. Cotten, director of Duke University's international office, says the INS is missing the point. For some schools, like those on a quarterly system, the next term could come as early as April. Moreover, she says, the additional information the new system requires will mean culling from many databases. "It's going to hit some schools very hard," says Cotten, who's regarded as an expert on Sevis. Moreover, she adds, the INS isn't taking into account the likelihood that Sevis, like all new computer systems, will inevitably have snags that will need correcting.

s "Batch submissions require a lot of trial and error," Cotten says. It would be best to slowly test the system by initially submitting I-20s by the handful, not in batches of hundreds or thousands. But Congress told the Justice Department, of which the INS is a unit, that it wanted "full implementation" by January 30. The schools are pushing for a definition of "full implementation" to mean that all schools are enrolled and online, but not required to have students registered. Cotten argues the feds should give colleges a year to fully register all foreign students if they want the job done properly. "This push to do it all at once will not give us what we need for national security."



TOKYO—The spread of electronic commerce and new focus on homeland security have raised the capital of the emerging field of biometrics, which seeks to convert our idiosyncratic biological traits into personal ID cards. These biosecurity devices typically zero in on fingerprints, irises, or retinas, distinct facial features, handwriting, or hand geometry. Now a Japanese electronics company offers a new wrinkle on the art of palm reading—it has launched a device that it claims can distinguish people by the pattern of their blood veins.

Fujitsu Laboratories says the web of veins branching through each palm remains unchanged, except for size, throughout a person's lifetime. The vein pattern is unique not only to each individual but even to each hand. As with other security systems, palm reading involves registering the user portrait in a database; in this case, a square chunk of the web pattern from the center of the user's palm. At the checkpoint, the user is authenticated by throwing an infrared light on his palm, which renders the veins black and allows the program to look for a match among the patterns in its memory.

The firm has built a prototype computer mouse equipped with the palm vein reader, which it says worked in an experiment on about 700 people. Envisioned uses include not only guarding access to PCs and proprietary sales or technical information but also protecting other electronic devices and secure facilities and checking attendance.

Biometric devices, for all their Hollywood glamour, are notoriously easy to foil, even by rank amateurs. Fujitsu said it turned to vein reading in an attempt to augment its existing array of fingerprint, voice, facial, and other ID devices. Requiring users to pony up not just an index finger or an eyeball but many distinguishing physical features, the company contends, boosts the odds of reducing identity fraud.



AUSTRALIA— Cheap, cheesy, corny? Maybe, but some Australian schools have taken to using catchy slogans to woo foreign students to their campuses. Overseas students are big business down under. They pumped almost $2 billion (in U.S. dollars) into the country's economy in 2000, and the number from overseas has increased since then. Last year, just over 188,000 foreign students were registered with Australian education providers, with some 40,000 of them enrolled either online or at satellite campuses the schools operate in other countries.
And phrases such as "Think, learn, lead" and "Are you ready?" may be helping to drive the numbers higher. The University of Southern Queensland has latched on to "WWWStudy" with the three Ws standing for what you want, where you want it, and when you want it. "It's a powerful and popular marketing device that tells people what we're about—since the majority of our students are off-campus and many study online," says school spokesman John Austin. Southern Queensland has a strong engineering program and offers the country's only agricultural engineering degree.

Marketing departments say that first impressions are vital, making that kind of advertising necessary. But critics of the practice—who are mostly from top-ranked universities—are dismissive. Among those shunning slogans is prestigious Monash University, which has one of the nation's best-regarded engineering program. "We don't need a slogan,"says Meredith Jackson, executive director of marketing at Monash.

Australian universities spend huge sums on advertising in Asia and farther afield. Singapore, Hong Kong, and Indonesia are their three biggest sources of students, but there has been impressive growth from countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and the Czech Republic.

Jackson acknowledges that slogans may be a necessary evil for schools that need to position themselves, but still regards them as "cheesy". Besides that, she questions whether an all-purpose phrase has the same appeal to potential engineering students as it would to, say, business types.

Still, she acknowledges that slogans are here to stay.