When Duke pioneered across-the-board use of college identification cards in 1985, many observers touted the move as the wave of the future for similar security-concerned institutions.

But in an age when new technologies emerge faster than you can say "DukeCard," it looks like a part of the Gothic Wonderland may be turning to a system in which people enter buildings and offices by scanning their fingerprints instead of their ID cards.

Although it sounds like a fanciful device out of Mission Impossible, the prospect is already a reality. As of now, one handprint scanner and three fingerprint scanners dot the campus: two fingerprint readers in the pharmacology department, one fingerprint scanner in the Schwartz-Butters Athletic Center and a handprint scanner in the lock, key and hardware shop.

Jimmy Tilley, supervisor of the lock, key and hardware shop, declined to comment on the specific cost of the new technology, but said the equipment cost "a little more than a manual lock change, a little less than a card reader." He said that the handprint system, which was set up in his office as a tester, has been running for four years.

Tim Haystead, whose lab in the pharmacology department is protected by the new technology, explained that the cost of operating a DukeCard system-about $6,000 for two units and installation fees, plus a $100 monthly security monitoring fee-is significantly greater than the fingerprint technology, which costs about $2,000 total for both of the pharmacology department's systems.

"Biometrics in general have come way down in price," said Richard Spencer, general manager of Tennyson Biometric Systems, which sold Duke the technology. "Where they used to be $4,000, $5,000 and $6,000, now the price is well under $2,000." He added that he negotiated a special price with Duke officials.

The pharmacology department, located in the Levine Science Research Center, uses the security system to protect the delicate, expensive equipment used in Haystead's genomics and proteomics research. The fingerprint readers were installed in two rooms this week, and Haystead, an instructor of pharmacology and cancer biology, said it is working well so far.

"The instrumentation that's in those rooms is very valuable and we want to make sure it's secure...," Haystead said, adding that about 10 people have clearance for the rooms. "They're delicate instruments and you have to be careful you don't have a lot of traffic."

In the Schwartz-Butters building, a fingerprint scanner is used in the elevator system. To access the building's first-floor locker rooms or its sixth-floor basketball offices-those of head coach Mike Krzyzewski; his assistant, Gerry Brown; Assistant Athletic Director Mike Cragg; and tutoring program coordinator Mike Schrage-elevator users must scan their fingers and punch in personal pass codes.

"Especially in the athletic and [physical education] departments, the comment has been going on for years that people that go down and go into the locker room and put on gym clothes have to find someplace on their gym clothes to put a card...," Tilley explained. "I'm not saying a card isn't very secure. But if you're playing tennis and you have your card in a towel lying next to the tennis court, anyone could pick it up."

Because the building's elevator will not reach the sixth floor without clearance from the high-security device, there has been some speculation that it was designed to protect the privacy of Krzyzewski's office. But athletic department officials denied the buzz.

In fact, Cragg said they restricted access to the sixth floor because it does not have a receptionist. The men's basketball team offices also are located on the fifth floor, where a receptionist can give clearance to visitors to ascend to the sixth floor.

"It's not a Coach K thing-it's a building issue...," said Jon Jackson, director of sports information. "It's not an attempt to waylay everyone from that floor."