NASA launches new science Web site

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently unveiled a new Web site designed to provide information about its scientific endeavors and achievements, United Press International reports. The new Web page, available at, will provide in-depth coverage of NASA's past, present and future science missions, according to NASA officials. The site also will feature interactive tables and searches for Earth, heliophysics, planetary and astrophysics missions; insight into dark matter and dark energy, planets around other stars, climate change, Mars and space weather; resources for researchers such as links to upcoming science solicitations and opportunities; and expanded "For Educators" and "For Kids" sections to provide access to a broader range of resources for learning the science behind NASA missions (UPI, 4/10/08).

Robotic cart outfitted as train entertains at children’s hospital

A robotic cart is entertaining patients, staff, and visitors at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, after a recent “fashion makeover” made the machine that transports medical supplies and equipment look like a railroad car, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The cart—called TUG—now features a conductor who “speaks” using the voice of actor Don LaFontaine. Children’s has been using the cart since October 2007; there are about 100 in use at hospitals across the country. The robot makes about 20 trips a day to transport equipment and supplies such as specialty dressing, oxygen monitors, and feeding pumps throughout the hospital, enabling staff to focus on moving patients more quickly. TUG uses assigned elevators, stops when it senses a person or nursing cart, and parallel parks in a hallway after completing a transport, saying “pardon my caboose” while backing up. According to the hospital’s patient care manager, the extra hand has helped improve attention paid to patients, adding that “anytime you have a chance to…keep the people in touch with the patients, it’s a good thing” (Newson, Journal Sentinel, 3/30/08).

ESA opens new space laboratory

The European Space Agency (ESA) on Wednesday opened a new lab at its Netherlands space research center, United Press International reports. Located at ESA's European Space Research and Technology Center (ESTEC), the new state-of-the-art space and technology laboratory includes a propulsion laboratory and a design center. Officials tout the new center as helping to broaden horizons, adding that "all the different disciplines come together to develop new technologies. If Europe wants to remain at the forefront of developments in space, then we have to look to the future. That is exactly what is happening here at ESTEC" (UPI, 4/10/08).

Nursing homes need more advanced IT tools, study finds

More sophisticated use of health information technology (IT) is needed in nursing facilities in order to develop information exchanges across short-term and long-term care facilities, according to the author of a new study, Modern Healthcare reports. Slated for publication in the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Advances in Patient Safety, the study, titled "Measuring IT Sophistication in Nursing Homes," suggests that Missouri nursing homes use "minimal" levels of IT. Specifically, the study of 199 Missouri facilities found that larger, noninvestor-owned nursing homes had a higher percentage of IT use in their admission process than other facilities. However, both smaller and larger noninvestor-owned facilities used less advanced technology in the discharge process, according to one report author. The study also found that investor-owned, medium-size facilities were less likely to use IT for resident care management but did use IT to estimate bed availability. Modern Healthcare, meanwhile, notes that the study supports the results of a study released last year by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, which found that IT adoption at nursing homes has lagged behind other health care facilities (DerGurahian, Modern Healthcare, 4/9/08).

Quantum computing in reach, researchers say

Northwestern University Professor Prem Kumar recently announced that he and his colleagues have demonstrated one of the basic building blocks for distributed quantum computing—using entangled photons generated in optical fibers, United Press International reports. The research appears in the journal Physical Review Letters. Kumar notes that “because it is done with fiber and the technology that is already globally deployed, we think it is a significant step in harnessing the power of quantum computers.” According to UPI, “quantum computing differs from classical computing in that a classical computer works by processing ‘bits’ that exist in two states, either one or zero.” Quantum computing uses quantum bits (qubits), which can be both one and zero simultaneously, as well as just one or zero, the scientists said, noting such values are possible because qubits are quantum units similar to atoms or photons that operate under the rules of quantum rather than classical mechanics (UPI, 4/10/08).

New York earns $20M CDC grant for public health surveillance

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently awarded a five-year, $20 million grant to the New York State Department of Health and Health Research and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to bolster the state's accuracy, timeliness and thoroughness of public health surveillance and reporting, Government Technology reports. The grant will enable state, city and county health departments to collaborate with providers to monitor the spread of disease across time and ultimately help prevent illness. In addition, the funding will support efforts to improve automated tracking of residents, hospital capacity and resources during public health emergencies. To improve emergency data tracking, officials will use a new health information exchange service that can access and analyze that automated data (Government Technology, 4/10/08).

Shift to digital mammography may spur more repeat exams, N.Y. Times says

As radiologists transition to digital mammography amid a growing body of evidence suggesting that the screening method is better than film mammography at detecting breast cancer in certain patients, specialists making the transition are increasingly ordering repeat exams in women who turn out to be cancer-free, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, 32 percent of mammography clinics nationwide now have at least one digital machine, compared with just 10 percent two years ago. Radiologists note that the digital technology affords more control over features including contrast and magnification and makes things that may have been blurry or even invisible on film more clear. Noting that some radiologists are leveraging the digital technology as a “selling point” to attract patients, the Times reports there is a six-month waiting list to purchase certain types of digital machines despite their high price at roughly three times the amount of traditional machines—totaling from $350,000 to $600,000. Though many radiologists predict that digital mammography in the long run will make mammograms more accurate for most women, which ultimately could reduce call-backs and lower costs, some radiologists are finding that currently “digital and film versions can sometimes be hard to reconcile.” According to the Times, “radiologists who are retraining their eyes and minds may be more likely to play it safe by requesting additional X-rays,” as well as additional tests such as ultrasounds and biopsies. Although no published studies pinpointing patient call-back rates during these transitions exist, eight of 10 radiologists interviewed by the Times said that their call-back rates for patients (who in the end turned out healthy) increased considerably during the transition from film to digital. Noting that call-backs also can lead to unnecessary anxiety for many patients, the Times says, however, that radiologists are confident that the process will eventually become easier once a woman has had enough digital mammograms to give physicians a baseline for comparison (Grady, New York Times, 4/10/08 [registration required]).

Green IT grows in popularity, report finds

A report released Thursday by London-based Datamonitor suggests that one in five major companies around the world has adopted eco-friendly computing practices, while an additional third plan to roll out similar strategies within the next two years, The Business Journal of Phoenix reports. The report, called "2008 Trends to Watch: Green IT," predicts a surge in interest by chief information officers (CIOs), as well as vendor initiatives, in what it calls "green IT space," largely due to tighter regulatory measures and advances in technology. Meanwhile, a survey of 245 CIOs and IT managers conducted by Datamonitor found that more than 75 percent considered eco-friendly computing an important element in their IT strategy, while 15 percent rated it as their top IT priority (The Business Journal of Phoenix, 4/10/08).

Hughes goes the distance with new network

The Defense Information Systems Agency and other agencies participating in the Government Education and Training Network (GETN) recently awarded Hughes Network Systems $2.6 million in task orders to create a distance-learning system for students at locations nationwide, including Alaska and Hawaii, Washington Technology reports. Under the contract, Hughes will provide an audio and video communications network for broadcast training through the General Services Administration’s Satellite Services II program. Officials note that Hughes’ network will use broadband satellite technology to broadcast compressed digital and audio distance-learning programs and support viewer-response systems, including audio conferencing and integrated voice and data systems. Washington Technology adds that the network also will meet agency-specific requirements including interactive television, streaming video and large file transfers. The task orders specify a minimum one-year performance period with four option years through Nov. 1, 2012. Meanwhile, Washington Technology notes that GETN participating agencies use a common satellite carrier to share distance-learning programs. Users include the Air Force, the Army, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Defense Logistics Agency, the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Park Service and the FBI (Walker, Washington Technology, 4/9/08).

SAIC tapped to build electronic dental records system

Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) will design and build an electronic dental records system to serve more than 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, Washington Technology reports. Potentially worth as much as $16 million, the federal General Services Administration’s Indian Health Service (IHS) Electronic Dental Record Implementation Support prime contract has a one-year base period and four one-year options. Under the award, SAIC will roll out an electronic dental record system that is compatible with other IHS systems. In addition, SAIC will provide program management, quality control, certification and accreditation, and business-process engineering services. According to Washington Technology, work will be performed at SAIC sites in San Diego and San Francisco, government facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and IHS facilities nationwide (Hubler, Washington Technology, 4/9/08).

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