Thursday, 20 November 2014

15 Scientific Breakthroughs That Sound Like Fiction

The line between science fiction and science facts seems to blur more every day. 200 years ago, people would have been shocked at what we take for granted in the 21st century. Planes, automobiles and smart phones are now a mundane part of daily life, but it’s still important to take a step back and appreciate the scientific and medical technology that improves our lives every day. And the best news is that it’s only improving! Technology is increasing exponentially, so there are countless inventions that barely seem feasible. Here are the 15 most recent scientific and medical breakthroughs that we can hardly believe are real: from spider-goat hybrids to prosthetics that can be controlled with the mind, these 15 advances are being pioneered by visionary scientists and might soon be a part of our daily reality.

15. 3D Printing

3D printing might be becoming more normal every day, but it’s still mind-blowing technology with an extensive range of possibilities. It’s possible to 3D print using a variety of substances, from ceramics to rubber to metal, and printing is only limited by the imagination. There are literally countless applications for 3D printing: custom-fit shoes, automobiles, firearms and prosthetics have all been created with a 3D printer. 3D printing will likely have a pervasive effect on all types of global industry.

14. Japanese Tooth Patch

 Dentistry could soon be a relic of the past: Japanese scientists have developed an ultra-strong patch that can be applied over the teeth to ward off tooth decay. The patch, made with the main mineral found in tooth enamel, might sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but it should be ready for the market in just a couple of years. In addition, it turns out that this futuristic coating has more than one purpose: it can be used cosmetically to whiten teeth, in addition to its more practical uses.

13. Lab-grown Meat


Vegetarians might soon be able to indulge in cruelty-free meat. Although it’s currently too expensive to bring to a public market, it’s now possible to grow edible meat in a laboratory with only a few animal cells to start the process. The first lab-grown burger grown by a team of Dutch scientists was consumed in 2013, and it looks like there will be many more in the future. This technology could even help those afflicted with muscular disease.


12. Organically Fueled Robots

 

Robots require some sort of power source, and that power traditionally comes from electricity or fossil fuels. However, a new type of robot is popping up that can run exclusively on organic material: the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot, or EATR for short. The EATR would have capabilities to forage on its own and consume a wide range of organic material to keep itself powered during long missions. We just hope this robot doesn’t develop a taste for organic human flesh.



11. Mice With Human Brain Cells


 Stem cell research has long been a riveting scientific question that posed an ethical dilemma. Although human stem cells have the potential to cure a wide variety of diseases, the extraction from human embryos poses a moral difficulty, although stem cells may also be extracted from adults. Recently, human stem cells were implanted into the brains of mice with fascinating results and staggering implications: the stem cells developed into different components of fully functional mouse brains.

10. Miniature Drones


Although it sounds like military fiction written by John Campbell or Ian Douglas, drones are quickly becoming the biggest tool in military operations. The smallest drones in existence are called ‘Micro air vehicles,’ or MAVs for short. Although the smallest MAVs are currently around 15 centimeters, developers have promised drones the size of insects in the near future. An ominous future where wars are fought via controlling miniature drones behind computer screens might seem like dystopian pulp fiction, but MAVs are making it more of a reality every day.

9. Spray On Skin


Forget growing meat in the lab – spray on skin developed from a client’s own skin is even cooler.
A scientist and a plastic surgeon located in Australia, Dr. Marie Stoner and Dr. Fiona Wood respectively, began developing the technology after being faced with a victim of severe burns. Although the ability to culture skin has been around for roughly two decades, spraying skin directly onto wounds could cut the time by 75%, greatly reducing scarring and permanent damage. Most recently, the US Army has been funding this sci-fi-esque technology.

8. Silk From Transgenetic Goats

 Fusing spider genes with goats sounds like the plot of a bad science fiction story, but it’s shockingly close to reality. A company called Nexia Biotechnology successfully created goats with spider genes that facilitated the creation of an ultra-strong and flexible protein expressed in the goats’ milk. Pound for pound, this protein that’s similar to spider silk is ten times stronger than steel and could potentially be used for a variety of differing purposes, from acting as a prosthetic tendon to making up the substance for military armor like bulletproof vests.

7. Cameras in Pill Form

Many face the dreaded colonoscopy with clenched jaws every year, but new technology could make this procedure just as simple as swallowing a pill for a headache. A company called Given Imaging has created a camera in pill form: all that’s required for the procedure is swallowing the ‘PillCam,’ which acts as a camera inside the bowels. The PillCam has undergone extensive testing and has been used on 1.5 million patients, but isn’t available in all countries just yet.

6. Cloning Extinct Animals

As unbelievable as it sounds, it appears that these scientists have never watched Jurassic Park. Cloning has been around for a couple of decades, but Russian and South Korean scientists are attempting to clone the wooly mammoth, a long-extinct beast. And it’s not only the mammoths that scientists are attempting to preserve: other extinct animals are up for cloning too, like the thylacine and the ibex. We just hope they don’t start breeding raptors.

5. Mind-Controlled Prosthetic

Prosthetic limbs have long been subpar, but new technology that smacks of science fiction has improved this field a hundredfold. The inventor of the Segway has founded a company that developed a mind-controlled prosthetic arm: electrodes sense signals from the remaining arm muscles and send the signals to the prosthetic. With this prosthetic, dubbed the ‘DEKA arm,’ users can perform highly complex and precise tasks that were previously impossible, like using keys to unlock a door. The DEKA has even gained FDA approval, so we’ll probably start seeing it a lot more.

4. Robotic Anesthesiologists

Depictions of the future almost always have a robot or two thrown in, whether they’re performing mundane tasks or taking over the world. What isn’t usually shown are robot anesthesiologists, which are quickly becoming necessary in the medical field. Anesthesiology is an extremely precise field, which makes it the perfect field for robots to regulate. Because there are several aspects that an anesthesiologist must watch out for during surgery, it’s previously been difficult to create a robot that can manage all areas. However, robotic anesthesiologists have come a long way and are now integral in many surgical rooms.

3. Mind-Controlled Wheelchair

Prosthetics that can be controlled by moving the muscle attached to them are one thing, but a wheelchair that can be moved simply via thoughts seems far too extraordinary to be real. Yet, brain-controlled wheelchairs are quickly becoming a reality. Scientists at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have developed a brain-controlled wheelchair that can assess basic commands like “go forward” or “move left.” The wheelchair additionally works with artificial intelligence to assess whether the user’s commands are feasible.

2. Human Microchips

Implanted chips that can track your every movement sound like something straight out of Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World. Microchip implants have long been standard to track your pet’s whereabouts, but it’s frightening to consider they might soon be entering the human realm. Although microchips could have useful aspects, such as the ability to access medical information if a person was incapacitated, there seem to be plenty of sinister elements that make us wary.

1. Bionic Eye

Bringing sight to the blind used to be something that was only found in the Bible, but this modern-day miracle could be extended to blind people worldwide. Scientists dotted all over the globe have been pursuing this problem for decades, but now it appears that Bionic Vision in Australia is at the forefront of this riveting technology. Bionic Vision has developed bionic eyes for those who have lost their sight, and while the bionic eye doesn’t fully restore sight, there is hope for future visual prosthetics.