P.M. BRIEFING : Scientists Take Shine to Melons

From Times Wire Services

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists have developed an infrared device that takes the guesswork out of buying watermelons, cantaloupes and honeydews.

After 16 years of research, Gerald Dull, a USDA chemist in Athens, has unveiled a meter that measures the sugar content of individual melons. "The No. 1 parameter of quality is sweetness," Dull said in a recent interview. "If you haven't got sweetness, you haven't got a good melon."

The melon meter shines infrared light into the top of the fruit and then measures the amount of light that comes out the side. The computerized device determines the amount of soluble solids, based on the amount of light that is absorbed by the fruit. Dull said soluble solids are predominantly sugars.

Several companies have already expressed an interest in producing melon meters, Dull said, and they probably will be installed initially in packing sheds, where the fruit is graded, packed and shipped.

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