Science and Industry

THE 1958 automobiles have come in on a flood tide of million-dollar advertising campaigns, but one hand-built model launched without fanfare may prove more significant in the long run than all of Detroit’s road chariots. The Cornell-Liberty safety car has a unique distinction: in theory at least, you could crash it at 50 mph and walk away unharmed.

The only one of its kind, the new auto is sponsored by the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, which has a natural interest in cutting down auto fatalities. The builder, Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, designed it after long studies of how to minimize crash casualties in fast-moving vehicles on the road and in the air.

Unlike more sales-minded designers, the lab’s engineers approached their new car on the prosaic level of a package that must deliver its human contents unharmed despite rough handling. Logically, they based their design on four packaging principles:

Use a strong shipping case. The body of the safety car is strengthened to withstand the impact of a crash without collapsing on the passengers. Front and rear “roll-over bars" shield the roof so the car could turn over completely without major damage. Extra bumpers protect the sides while front and rear bumpers wrap around and are designed to turn blows aside. Plastic foam between bumpers and car frame helps absorb crash shock.

Fasten the lid of the package tightly. The doors of the safety car are closed with three bolt bars so they not only stay shut in a crash but add structural strength to the body. To help the passengers get in and out easily, the doors hinge in the middle and fold open like those of a telephone booth.

Pack the contents tightly. Cornell engineers have demonstrated what can be done in this direction by designing an egg box that can be hurled against a wall without cracking a shell. In the car, the passengers are held equally firmly in place in bucket seats that provide maximum support. In the three front seats, a padded panel pulls out like a desk or tray from under the dashboard across the rider’s lap and keeps him from being thrown forward.

The driver’s lap panel contains all the controls. Because the driver has the greatest exposure to accidents, he has been moved front and center to a position slightly ahead of and above the flanking seats, giving him maximum vision and protection. In the rear, only the two outside passengers face forward; the middle passenger sits back to back with the driver. All are held in place by quickrelease safety belts that automatically roll up out of the way when not in use. Nylon head supports minimize dangerous whiplash when a car is struck from behind.

Not only the passengers but their possessions are tightly packed in the safety car. An extra-strong wall between trunk and rear seats keeps heavy packages from smashing through, while the rear package shelf is dropped below the scat backs to keep objects from flying forward.

Remove hard objects from the packing. The car interior has been stripped of knobs, mirrors, and all other sharp protruding objects. Even the steering wheel and supporting shaft — a potential menace when a driver is thrown forward — have been eliminated. The driver steers by two handles, rather like the grips on a rowing machine, which he pulls or pushes to turn the car.

The wrap-around windshield has been carefully designed to avoid distortion at the corners. Airintakes are above the windshield to minimize the threat of carbon monoxide. The vents are shaped to maintain a slight positive pressure in the passenger compartment, preventing dangerous fumes from being drawn in from the engine or exhaust.

Road safety through signals

Some auto industry experts approach safety problems along different lines. Dr. Lawrence R. Hafstad, GM’s vice president in charge of research staff, has declared, “I am convinced that more progress can be made in traffic safety by emphasizing the relations between the driver, the signalling system, and the road, than by undue emphasis on a crash-proof car — which could lead us to a progressive stalemate analogous to the classic conflict between projectile and armor plate. ” Dr. Hafstad thinks that it is impossible to get the public to support an accident reduction program if it involves any effort or inconvenience.

It sometimes takes nine impractical ideas to produce one good one. As a sample, Dr. Hafstad suggests a monitoring system, connected to radar stations along the roadside, that would tell the driver — possibly by playing “Nearer My God to Thee” — when he is exceeding the speed limit. Another suggestion is a speedrecording system on every car. After a crash, the device would bear witness as to whether the driver had handled his car recklessly.

Dr. Hafstad is eager for better instrumentation. There are eight things, he said, that he would like to be told while he is driving, continuously and without taking his eyes from the road: 1) that he is running at a safe speed for that particular section of highway under specific road conditions of snow, ice, and so forth, 2) that he is within the legal speed limit, 3) that he has at least enough gas to reach the next gas station, 4) whether cars are approaching from the rear, right-rear, or left-rear, 5) whether he can safely pass a car ahead in the face of oncoming traffic, 6) whether, if he does pass a closely bunched group of cars just in front, he would find open road ahead, 7) whether he has fallen or is falling asleep, 8) how often this section of road is patrolled to provide aid in case of breakdown.

“With my eyes on the road where they belong, my instruments tell me none of these things.’ Dr. Hafstad declares. “Regarding some I can get partial information with furtive stolen glances. Regarding most, 1 can get no information at all.”

Early cancer detection

The deadliness of cancer lies not merely in its ferocity but in its habit of lodging in obscure parts of the body and lurking undiscovered until it is incurable. With present methods of treatment, early diagnosis is all-important: the cure rate for skin cancers that are quickly discovered is nine times that of internal types. Medical researchers are working hard to find the basic causes of cancer that will point the way to elimination of the disease, but until they succeed, the best hope for reducing the quarter-million U.S. deaths from cancer each year is to find ways to detect cancers at the earliest possible moment.

The exfoliation diagnosis method, developed by world-famed Dr. George N. Papanicolaou, has done much to slash the mortality rate of cervical cancer. It is based on the fact that all cells of the body — cancerous or not — are constantly dying off and being replaced by new ones. Live cancer cells not only multiply more rapidly than normal cells, but they die and drop off more readily too, and when seen through a microscope they are strikingly different in appearance.

The Papanicolaou technique consists of obtaining dead cells from body fluids, staining and fixing them in specially developed ways, and examining them through a microscope. A doctor or technician trained in the method must be familiar with the characteristics of normal cells of the organ under study as well as with abnormalities and eccentricities of various kinds. When a skilled cytologist sees large cells with greatly enlarged, deeply stained nuclei, clustered in peculiar formations, he is reasonably sure he has found a case of cancer.

The body fluids containing castoff cells from cervical tissue are readily accessible: samples can be easily obtained in a doctor’s office without discomfort. Now a variety of ways is being found to gather sloughed-off cells from less accessible organs. Stomach cells are obtained by inflating a balloon inside the digestive tract so that it rubs cells off the stomach lining. In another method, developed at the University of Washington and the University of Michigan, the patient drinks a solution containing the enzyme chymotrypsin. This enzyme dissolves the mucus that lines the stomach, causing cells to drop off. The liquid is then drawn off by suction and examined. In one study, this method revealed nineteen out of twenty stomach cancers expertly used, it never gives a false positive report.

Lung cancer cells can be found in sputum coughed up by patients, according to doctors at Albany Medical College. Similar research on lung cancer is being done at the University of California, where 88 per cent of the cancers later found to exist were first diagnosed correctly by cell studies. Lung cancer is one of the most deadly because it rarely shows itself until too late.

These are only some of the areas investigators are exploring. Centrifugation of fresh urine produces bladder cells for the microscope. Prostatic secretions may be obtained by massage. Researchers have found tumors in the pancreas — extremely hard to detect — by stimulating the pancreas intravenously with a chemical that causes the gland to shed cells into the duodenum, whence they can be washed out with a saline solution. University of Washington scientists are working on techniques for obtaining exfoliated cells from other hard to reach places such as the small intestine, liver, and gall bladder.

The need for technicians

There are some big if’s in this hopeful picture. The public is still slow to seek precautionary examinations — and these are expensive. An even bigger obstacle is the shortage not only of doctors and personnel trained in these techniques, but also of laboratory facilities for handling slides. It takes a year, Dr. Papanicolaou points out, to train a good cytotcchnologist in his technique. Both the Public Health Service and the American Cancer Society are supporting special education for technicians, but Dr. Papanicolaou declares that additional financial help is needed.

Two technical developments will help. Dr. Papanicolaou and his associates have introduced the use of a resin solution, called diaphane, that covers the slide with a diaphanous film and keeps it from drying out. Previously slides had to be kept in a wet solution and delivered to a nearby laboratory — if there was one. Now a doctor in a remote village can take smears, protect them with diaphane, and mail them to a competent laboratory.

A machine called the cytoanalyzer, which automatically and tirelessly scans slides of cell specimens, may help with the technician shortage. Two such machines are being used experimentally to weed out negative specimens — normal cells. Positive ones must still be examined in the laboratory. Not yet perfected, the cytoanalyzer has been used so far only for cervical smears.

Now seventy-four, Dr. Papanicolaou is emeritus professor of clinical anatomy at Cornell Medical College, but he is still hard at work directing studies in new applications of his technique. Already thousands of women owe their lives to the detection methods he pioneered. There is hope that these techniques may help extend the lives of many thousands more.

Safety gadgets

Unlike an automobile driver, an airplane pilot cannot always tell when any or all of his wheels are skidding during a braked stop. This undetected skidding often leads to tire damage or blowouts, reduced control of the plane, and costly repairs. Now Goodyear’s Aviation Products Division has invented a device that warns a pilot of an impending skid by thumping his foot through a hole in the brake pedal.

The “foot thumper,” called Skid Warning, is triggered by a device in the wheel axle that detects abnormal wheel slowdown during a braked stop. The plunger keeps tapping the pilot’s foot until he eases brake pressure enough to let the wheel turn freely again. By increasing the pilot’s “feel” of the craft, the device permits him to bring it to a halt more quickly, shortening landing runs.

A railroad warning lamp that needs no power source, never has to be refueled, and can serve for ten years or more without maintenance is one of the first consumer products of the atomic age. Developed by United States Radium Corporation, the lamp uses radioactive krypton 85, a gas which is sealed inside the lamp and there reacts with treated phosphor crystals coating the inside of the lens to produce luminescent light.

Since the lamp can never run out of fuel or be cut off from its power supply, there is no danger of the warning system’s failing unobserved. Another advantage is the elimination of the need for thousands of feet of expensive cable. Atomic lamps are being tested and used by the New York Central, the Denver and Rio Grande Western, and the Burlington railroads.

Spot proofing

A colorless liquid developed by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing protects fabrics by keeping them from soaking up oil or water. Scotchgard is derived by electrolysis from fluorspar rock. Applied to fabrics during the finishing process, it enables them to resist stains from such things as coffee, ink, olive oil, fruit juice, whisky, and many others. Liquids roll right off the fabric. Whatever remains can be blotted with cloth or tissue.

Even if the stain should dry, household cleaning agents will remove it without leaving a trace. Its protective effect is said to last through five dry cleanings. Already in use on men’s suits, Scotchgard will be available on some women’s clothing this spring.