The Scientist: 2009 Top 10 Innovations

It’s been a tough year for every industry, and the life sciences are no exception. Yet companies and academic laboratories across the globe have developed innumerable new products designed to take your research to the next level. But with many lab budgets tighter than last year, which technologies are worth the investment?  via www.the-scientist.com

The top ten innovations listed in the article are

1) Pluripotency from proteins. New technique uses protein-induced stem cell technology and the specialized cells derived from it to reprogram cells to an embryonic-like state.

2) Quick pathogen ID. Breakthroughs in pathogen detection and testing basic mutation rates in viruses, forensics, and other applications

3) Manipulate cells using light. Tagging proteins to watch cellular events unfold and then manipulating those events with the molecular-level precision.

4) A camera that quantifies. The Evolve camera makes imaging data quantifiable and reproducible by measuring images in units of photoelectrons.

5) Zinc fingers create knockout rat.  ZFN technology from Sigma has numerous applications in basic research, agriculture, and possibly medical therapeutics.

6) All-in-one microscopes. New microscopes from Olympus combine illumination systems, microscopes, movable stages, and cameras all into a simple little box.

7) New sequence capture tool. New tool called HybSelect uses DNA microarrays to narrow in on regions of the genome that play an important role in a particular disease.

8) New measure of metabolism. The new XF96 Analyzer provides a comprehensive picture of cellular metabolism and how that process goes awry in disease.

9) New recipe for protein expression. Highlights a trend towards synthetic genes

10) Cell culture in 3D. $35,000 Benchtop BioLevitator combines an incubator and a centrifuge into a single unit. It is one of the first 3D cell culture systems.


Friday Gadget: High Speed Robot Hand

In the future, robots will be not only more dexterous, but they will react dynamically at lightening speed based on all their embedded sensors.  In effect, they will become more human-like by understanding and processing their external environment by using many kinds of sensory information.

Future robot systems will be able to integrate all the sensory information into its decision making process, much like humans do today.

The Ishikawa Komuro Lab at the University of Tokyo has been doing research into both robot sensors and the parallel processing of the collected sensory information.  The purpose of the Lab’s Sensor Fusion Project is to develop innovative new architectures for sensory processing by integrating information from multiple sensors.

The Lab has recently been posting videos of some of the capabilities they have demonstrated in their lab.  Here is Ishikawa Komuro Lab's high-speed robot hand performing impressive acts of dexterity and skillful manipulation.

The robot hand

  • Dribbles a ball
  • Picks up a grain of rice with a tweezer
  • Spins a pen from one set of fingers to another
  • Knots a rope
  • Throws a ball into a net
  • Tosses a cell phone into the air and catches it.

For this technology to advance, we’ll need to see more work in areas like

  • Nanoscience
  • Sensors
  • Actuators
  • Parallel Processing
  • Dynamic Image Processing

For more information, see the Ishikawa Komuro Laboratory site.

AIAA: Top Ten Emerging Aerospace Technologies

imageLast month, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) released a list of top emerging aerospace technologies.  The AIAA hopes to make this an annual list. 

Here is the list of ten

  1. 'Greener' aviation technologies – including emission reduction and noise reduction technologies as used in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)'s Continuous Low Emissions, Energy and Noise (CLEEN) program, and the European Environmentally Friendly Engine (EFE) program and Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative.   For more see this AIAA press release.
  2. Alternative fuels – including biofuels, as promoted by the FAA's Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), and the recent FAA grant to the X Prize Foundation to spur development of renewable aviation fuels and technologies.  For more see this AIAA press release.
  3. High speed flight technologies – such as supersonic and hypersonic aerodynamics, sonic boom reduction technology, and thermal management aids.   For more reading, check out Supersonic travel may return
  4. Efficient propulsion technologies – including open rotors and geared turbofans, such as those used in the European DREAM (valiDation Radical Engine Architecture systems) program.
  5. Active flow technologies – such as plasma actuators.
  6. Advanced materials – such as nanotechnology and composites.
  7. Active structures – such as shape memory alloys, morphing, and flapping.
  8. Health management – such as monitoring, prognostics, and self-healing.
  9. Remote sensing technologies – including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellites such as those used in NASA's Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) program.
  10. Advanced space propulsion technologies – including plasma-based propulsion such as the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, and solar sail technologies.

You can access a pdf of the AIAA announcement here AIAA Names Top Ten Emerging Aerospace Technologies of 2009:  Download PDF

A Primer on Nanotechnology

This post will provide a quick & very high-level overview of the Nanotechnology topic, discuss some future application areas for Nanotechnology, and then provide you with some additional reading material.

Today when we think of manufacturing, we generally think of large plants churning out large products (like trucks, cars, and household appliances) or the parts and assemblies that go into these items.  Tomorrow’s generations will know of “manufacturing plants” that churn out very small things. 

Nanotechnology is the field of building microscopic mechanical and electronic devices for a wide range of applications and manipulating material on the atomic or molecular level.   A nanometer (one billionth of a meter) is about 10 thousand times narrower than a human hair and is so small it contains just 3-4 atoms.  If a baseball was blown to the size of the earth, the atoms would be about the size of grapes. 

The control over molecular level structure in material synthesis enables  to gain unprecedented control over the basic properties of materials such as conductivity, strength, opacity, ductility, reactivity.   Manipulation at the atomic scale enables scientists to create new materials that allow them, and inventors, to build new devices  that are smaller, weigh less, and have new and exciting properties.  Industry and entrepreneurs are looking to commercialize some emerging fields of nanotechnology fairly quickly and there are a number of companies surfacing that support the transfer of nanotechnology from universities and federal laboratories into the marketplace.

Nanotechnology is impacted by (and in turn, impacts) many different fields. including chemistry, physics, materials science, and biotechnology.  Scientists are excited because they are able to create innovative materials that have unique properties because their structures are determined on the nanometer scale.  Some of these materials have already found their ways into consumer products, such as sun screens and stain-resistant pants.  Others are being intensively researched for solutions to humanity's greatest problems — diseases, clean energy, clean water, etc. 

So just what types of applications will Nanotechnology be used for in future?  I did some searching and found that the Foresight Institute has identified six areas where current and near-term nanotechnology will provide innovative solutions to some of the most critical challenges facing the human race.  Here is a summary of those six areas:

1. Providing Renewable Clean Energy:  Nanotechnology will help to solve the dilemma of energy needs and limited planetary resources through more efficient generation, storage and distribution.  Read more from Foresight at Providing Renewable Clean Energy.

2. Supplying Clean Water Globally:   Nanotechnology can help solve this problem through improved water purification and filtration.  Read more from Foresight at Supplying Clean Water Globally.

3. Improving Health and Longevity:  Nanotechnology will enhance the quality of life for human beings through medical diagnostics, drug delivery and customized therapy.  Read more from Foresight at Improving Health and Longevity.

4. Healing and Preserving the Environment:  As a set of fundamental technologies that cuts across all industries, nanotech can benefit the environment in a wide variety of ways.  Stronger, lighter-weight materials in transportation can reduce fuel use, nano-structured fibers reduce staining and therefore laundering, and low-cost nanosensors will make pollution monitoring affordable. In the longer term, manufacturing processes using productive nanosystems should be able to build our products with little if any waste.  Read more from Foresight at Healing and Preserving the Environment.

5. Making Information Technology Available To All:  Nanotechnology applications in electronics will increase access through reduced cost and higher performance of memory, networks, processors and components.   Read more from Foresight at Making Information Technology Available To All.

6. Enabling Space Development:  Current obstacles to developing space are cost, reliability, safety, and performance.  Nanotechnology will solve these through improved fuels, smart materials, uniforms and environments.  Read more from Foresight at Enabling Space Development.

The future does hold a bright promise for nanotechnology and its applications.  There are, of course, concerns about the potential evil applications of nanotechnology.  For an interesting view into some of these, I’d suggest you read  The Diamond Age Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

For more information:

THE FUTURIST: Ten Forecasted Trends

THE FUTURIST is a bi-monthly magazine published by the  World Future Society'.   The Nov-Dec 2008 edition's cover story is "Outlook 2009".  In the magazine, there is a list of Top Ten Forecasts for 2009 and beyond.

The FUTURIST always has a flair for dramatic, attention-grabbing prediction/forecasting lists and this year's is no exception.  Here is a summary of this year's list…

  1. Every sound / movement can be recorded by 2030.  By the late 2010s, ubiquitous, unseen nanodevices will provide seamless communication and surveillance among all people everywhere.
  2. Bioviolence becomes a greater threat as the technology becomes more accessible.  Bacteria and viruses could be altered to increase their lethality or to evade antibiotic treatment.
  3. The car's days as king of the road may soon be over.  More powerful wireless communication that reduces demand for travel, flying delivery drones to replace trucks, and policies to restrict the number of vehicles owned in each household are among potential developments.
  4. Careers to become more specialized.  For example, instead of simply majoring in business, more students are beginning to explore niche majors such as sustainable business, strategic intelligence, and entrepreneurship.
  5. The world's legal systems will be networked.  The Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), a database of local and national laws for more than 50 participating countries will lay the groundwork for a more universal understanding of the diversity of laws between nations and will create new opportunities for peace and international partnership.
  6. Professional knowledge will become obsolete almost as quickly as it's acquired.  An individual's professional knowledge is becoming outdated at a much faster rate than ever before.  Rapid changes in the job market and work-related technologies will necessitate job education for almost every worker.
  7. The race for biomedical and genetic enhancement.  Humanity is ready and eager to pursue biomedical and genetic enhancement.
  8. Urbanization will hit 60 percent by 2030.   As more of the world's population lives in cities, rapid development to accommodate them will make existing environmental and socioeconomic problems worse. 
  9. The Middle East will become more secular while religious influence in China will grow.  Popular support for religious government will decline in the Middle East.  Religion in China will likely increase as an indirect result of economic activity and globalization.
  10. Access to electricity will reach 83 percent of the world by 2030.  Electrification, at 73 percent in 2000, may reach 83 percent of the world's people by 2030.  Electricity is fundamental to raising living standards and access to the world's products and services.

Access the full detail here  Top Ten Forecasts for 2009 and beyond.

Most of these seem like they are safe bets to me to be key trends by 2030, except for number 1 and 3.  I think those are much longer term trend (e.g. out another 100 years).