If anything was ever out of place, it had to be the 40-pound crate of garlic that arrived at the nation's largest nuclear weapons laboratory.

What was perhaps more unusual was that Robert Hermes, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, started cooking the garlic in his lab."It was just so messy and stinky," Hermes said. "The whole building would reek of garlic, even though I was only doing a couple of tin cans full."

Hermes was accused of cooking on the job. Colleagues walking by his door would ask, "When's the spaghetti going to be ready?"

But the cause was science, and Hermes cooked on. His goal was to extract a garlic compound with known therapeutic powers, combine it with another chemical and make a compound capable of killing bacteria and preventing blood from clotting.

Although he likes garlic, Hermes gave up trying to extract the garlic compound after a month and turned to synthesis. He then succeeded in creating the combined compound, called a "co-polymer."

Experiments showed it has anti-bacterial and anti-clotting properties. Hermes believes the compound may someday prevent clotting by using it to coat the linings of artificial hearts as well as the inside of artificial arteries used in coronary bypass operations.

The research, begun in 1986, came out of a program designed to take weapons-related research findings and apply them to biologically useful materials.

In April 1990, Hermes was granted a patent for his method. Although money for the project has run out, two health-care companies have expressed an interest in licensing the technology.

Tests necessary to win government approval to use the product would cost a few million dollars, he said.

"The biggest reason for optimism is that (the active compound) is a component from a natural source," Hermes said. "People eat garlic all the time and they eat these compounds all the time, so there shouldn't be any immune response.

"It really looks like it could work without going to a whole lot of trouble."

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service