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Science News: Bits and Bytes

Kiosks to good health

Residents of Michigan are getting access to health information via a network of interactive computer kiosks.

The interactive system is the first health-related project of its kind in the nation. Michigan is using proceeds from a tobacco tax to pay for the $1 million project, which is directed by the University of Michigan's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

About 50 computer kiosks are being placed in libraries, work sites, shopping malls and health clinics throughout the state. Each features touch-activated screens and custom software that displays a "Health-O-Vision" program. It covers five topics: breast cancer, prostate cancer screening, smoking, bike-helmet safety and immunization.

Tone down the noise

If you want to raise kids who are able to handle life's stresses, keep it quiet at home, a Purdue researcher says.

"Kids who come from highly noisy or chaotic homes experience less cognitive growth and delayed language skills, have trouble mastering their environments and have increased anxiety," says Theodore Wachs, a professor of psychological sciences.

Wachs studies environmental influences on early childhood development. He created a "chaos questionnaire" to assess what he calls "the noise confusion of the home."

He found a chaotic home is one factor associated with adjustment problems in children.

"The effects vary with the temperament and sex of the child," he says. "Those who have the most trouble associated with a chaotic home life are boys who are intense, fussy or negative."

To tone down the "noise confusion," you can turn off the TV, create quiet places for children to get away by themselves and impose a regular schedule so kids can anticipate when things will happen.

Yaba-dabba-glue!

Collagen gets top billing today as a rejuvenating cosmetic, but 8,000 years ago it made a great glue.

Dr. Arie Nissenbaum of the Weizmann Institute of Science discovered a cache of collagen used as glue by Neolithic cavemen in the Nahal Hemar Cave near the Dead Sea.

"No one knows who these people were and where they came from, but by stone-age standards they surely had mastered at least one type of advanced technology," Nissenbaum said.

He said a black substance applied as a protective lining on rope baskets, containers and embroidered fabrics, and used as an adhesive on tools and utensils turned out to be collagen - not asphalt as suspected by researchers.

An electron microscope analysis of its structure suggests the collagen came from animal skin.

Rain forest protected

The largest remaining rain forest in Madagascar will become a national park thanks to a historic compromise regarded as a victory for biodiversity and humanity.

Called Masoala National Park, the protected area spans 840 square miles across the Masoala Peninsula in northeastern Madagascar. It includes tropical forests, an extensive coral reef and a newly discovered whale breeding ground along the coastline.

Animals in the region include the red-ruffed lemur, Madagascar red owl, an extremely rare serpent eagle and 22 other mammal species. The region also supports one of the highest diversity of palm species in the world.

The new park was signed into law by Didier Ratsiraka, the island republic's new president, on Saturday. A consortium consisting of the Malagasy parks board and Wildlife Department, CARE International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and The Peregrine Fund worked for more than five years to have the area set aside as a park.

The compromise gives the 40,000 people who live on the peninsula some rights to harvest timber and farm land. It also sets up a tourist revenue-sharing program that will pump funds into other development programs on the island.