Coating of health for screens: Tim Nott reports on Samtron's new 'Bio-monitor', which holds the promise of a safer work environment

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I remember when my parents first bought a television, in honour of the Queen's coronation. It was made by Pye and, when not in use, had a specially made cloth cover put over it, rather like a parrot's cage, to stop harmful rays sneaking out when we weren't looking and give us brain damage.

Now, of course, everyone knows that it is the programmes, not the radiation, that turn the brain into jelly, but like all good superstitions it had a foundation of truth, however ramshackle the reasoning.

The dangers of electromagnetic radiation, particularly at low frequencies, have been widely researched and publicised, with allegations including higher incidences of leukaemia, cancer, foetal abnormalities and skin disorders.

All of this is of concern to those who live near power lines, or spend all day sitting in front of a computer screen. Indeed, the combined perils of electromagnetic radiation and repetitive strain injury have given the erstwhile wimpish computer user the daredevil image of a Formula 1 racing driver on 40 cigarettes and a bottle of Scotch a day.

Nowadays, any screen manufacturer whose products do not conform to the stringent Swedish MPR 2 standards of low emission is committing commercial hara-kiri, but - taking a cultural leap across the Sea of Japan - Korean monitor-maker Samtron has taken the health issue a stage further.

It is neither possible nor even desirable to shield out all wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation - emission of the visible spectrum, for instance, is one of the essential differences between a computer monitor and a block of wood.

Small quantities of ultraviolet radiation are also emitted, but these are negligible compared with ambient daylight. Infra-red radiation, however, can be positively beneficial, particularly in the Far-Infrared (FIR) part of the spectrum, with wavelengths between 4 and 1,000 millionths of a metre.

Results of hospital tests show that these enlarge capillaries, improve circulation and stimulate metabolism. Samtron's research team has developed a ceramic coating which, when applied to the surface of the monitor tube, focuses the radiated heat into the benevolent FIR band. The resulting FIR emissions are still very small - in the region of 5 milliwatts per square centimetre, but this is about twice the level from a conventional tube.

Real-world testing at the University of Seoul would seem to bear out the company's health claims. Onions placed in a jar of water next to a 'Bio-monitor' grew shoots and roots twice as quickly. Cut flowers lasted 40 per cent longer, flies lived twice as long and tadpoles and goldfish developed more rapidly. Research will continue this year at Colorado University, but meanwhile the production lines have been set up and the first units will go on sale in Europe this month.

The whole process is heavily patented, both for the coating process and the design of the cabinet, and is claimed to cost the end-user only about pounds 7.50 more. Although Samtron is better known as a supplier to manufacturers such as Compaq, Apple and Hewlett- Packard, the Bio-monitor will be launched shortly at Cebit, the leading electronics trade show in Hanover, Germany, under its own name.

So the days of the computer user as pallid weed may well be over. Tomorrow's new breed of bio-monitor users will be ruddy-cheeked stalwarts, taking breaks from their 12- hour days at the screen to kick sand in the face of effete, beach-bound athletic types.

Samtron intends to adapt the technology to the production of television tubes as well, so the family goldfish, too, will be able to live long and prosper.

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