The future is already here

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A great quote by William Gibson, and since he made this statement in 1993 it has probably become even more extreme as the pace of innovation seems to increase ever more. New technologies tend to spread ever more quickly – whereas it took the TV decades to reach every household back in the fifties, the mobile phone took years to become a standard accessory to modern live in the late nineties, the iPad only took a few months to revolutionize how average people interact with computers in 2010.

Just last week I stumbled upon a discussion on which major breakthroughs we, the general public, are still unaware of. A separate discussion asks scientist for their new ideas in their fields that are likely to be proven by research in the near future.

To save you some time, this is a short summary of some of the most interesting developments. If you find these interesting, please visit the original discussions as they contain many more gems, and are still developing as I write this post.

Graphene & Carbon Nano Tubes

Graphene. A sheet of it 1 atom thick can support up to 3kg before breaking, that’s so thin it is invisible and it is extremely strong, light and cheap. It has some seriously sci-fi applications.

Reddit permalink

Super Transistors

Source: Businessweek

Of all exciting developments around basic material science; Carbon seems to be quite amazing. One of the first developments to look out for is ultra fast switching transistors – the building blocks of computer processors

Additionally , graphene may be used to create super capacitors – think batteries that charge in minutes instead of hours and last much longer.

Super Capacitors

graphene supercapcitors With new ways of making graphene that are finally cheap enough for mass production we may soon see large supercapacitors that make electric cars really viable. A super capactior can hold that same amount of electricity as a battery but yet only takes a few seconds to charge. Imagine an electric car that had few hundred mile range and you could pull into a charge station and fully recharge in 60 seconds.

Super capacitors will replace batteries within the next 10 or 20 years. The only down side of a capacitor is it slowly drains even if not in use. Currently the charges can last for few weeks or even a month without any use or charging. But even things like your cell phone will become lighter and you will be able to charge them in seconds”

(Source: Reddit permalink)

Ultrastrong Carbon Nano-tube fibers

Source: Technology Review

Nano-technology has been “5 years out” for as long as I can remember; but apparently we are now really close to application of carbon tube fibre.

Unrelated aside: A Dutch company is now making ultra-strong cable for the offshore and shipping industries from (carbon) fibre in a factory near Joure (article PDF)

Nano-tube salt filtering

Source article on scribt

Again the nano-tubes… But this innovation has the potential to make large-scale desalinization of seawater a reality, resolving the problem of the worlds limited fresh-water supply.

Medical Marvels

Detecting bacteria with PCR for targeted treatment

Source: Reddit permalink

“Before, to identify the source of an infection or illness (i.e. which bacteria) we had to harvest the organism and then grow it on Petri dishes containing different nutrients and inhibitors. By seeing in which dishes it grew, and its characteristics, we could narrow it down. Then we would perform many biochemical tests (does it turn blue when we add this, does it fizz when we add this etc. ) until we could finally identify the organism. This process can take several days and requires a fair amount of expertise by the lab tech.

Now, for some the most common pathogens, we have a Polymerase chain reaction machine. What it does is amplify and measure the organism’s DNA so it can determine with high precision exactly which organism it is causing the infection. It can detect the organism even if there is only a single strand of its DNA present.

How simple it is to use is fucking insane: you swab the patient with a sterile q-tip, then you stick the q-tip in a cartridge. Then you pop the cartridge in the machine and close it. Come back in about 30 minutes for your answer. It is hardly more difficult to operate than a Keurig and it is the size of a microwave. I still sometimes just look at the thing and shake my head in wonder.”

Engineered virus that modify patient DNA or kill bacteria

Trials are underway where Cystic Fibrosis patients are treated by inhaling a modified virus that changes the genetic structure of the lungs.

Reddit permalink

“What I’m going to assume what is going on here is the “gas” is actually a vaporized viral vector solution that delivers the gene of interest to his lungs. The gene is then inserted into cells of interest by the virus, where it is transcribed and translated into protein by the cellular machinery. The reason he needs ~1dose/month is because free DNA (that is, DNA not integrated into the genome) tends to get broken down rather quickly by the cell.”

Bacteriophages to replace antibiotics.

Source: Reddit permalink

“I believe very soon (in terms of development of new treatments) that bacteriophages will replace antibiotics. For redditers who are not familiar with them, bacteriophages are essentially viruses that attack bacteria and bacteria only. Some of you might argue, well there’s good bacteria in our digestive system, right? True. Bacteriophages have surface proteins that work like a lock and a key, and can only combine with certain types of bacteria.

Antibiotics often cause many side effects and over the last 10 years have decreased in efficacy due to bacteria becoming resistant to the treatments. Also, antibiotics are delivered to the bloodstream and only happen upon the bacteria. Whereas bacteriophages can reach the bacteria and take over its replication machinery and replicate exponentially (108).

Currently, bacteriophages are a relatively small part of medical research. Many studies are being conducted on the possibility of bacteriophages being utilized concurrently with antibiotics to increase the drugs efficacy (mainly by turning off the bacteria’s “defenses”).”

Targeted Cancer treatments

Source: Reddit permalink

“Perhaps not groundbreaking or super novel, but the advancements in targeted cancer-treatments and immunotherapy are pretty impressive. Clinical trials are very promising and they are de facto the tools of the future “genome-specific” branch of cancer treatment. And although it’s not widely used for the moment, the practice of epigenetic analysis of certain cancers is also cool and will probably aid in future cancer therapies.”

Using stem-cells to grow organs

Source: Reddit permalink

“The fact that we can use stem cells to literally grow organs in other animals and harvest them for transplant use. Japan is actually trying to pass legislation to make this practice legal as we speak.”

“To expound upon your point, the technology to grow independent functioning organs is currently in development. They are learning how to harvest plain old cells from any adult, turn them into stem cells (a technology known as induced pluripotent stem cells) and then put them on an organ skeleton and grow independent functioning hearts, lungs, livers, etc. in glass chambers.”

Plastic producing bacteria

Source: Reddit permalink

“DuPont now has bacteria making plastic instead of oil. In fact, 14% of GE’s and 40% of DuPont’s business is now life science-based.

Molten Salt Nuclear Reactor

source: permalink

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors .
(LFTRs, pronounced “lifters”).

Imagine a nuclear power plant that

  • can’t blow up
  • can’t have fuel stolen to make a nuclear bomb
  • produces zero carbon emissions
  • produces almost ZERO nuclear waste
  • of the waste it produces, it lasts on the order of 100 years (as opposed to 100,000 years)
  • the byproduct of mining the fuel for this reactor is precious earth metals used in solar cells and wind turbines (and currently bought from China, who owns >80% of the world’s supply of rare earth metals)

This is the future. MSRs have been proven to work since the 1960s (the MSRBE [Molten Salt Breeder Reactor Experiment] at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee). The first LFTR may go online in 3-5 years in Alabama.

Security mechanism explained:

At the bottom of the reactor chamber, there’s a plug made out of salt. The plug is constantly cooled by pipes running refrigerant around it. If anything happens that causes the plant to lose power (for example, getting hit by a tsunami) the cooling system stops working. The molten salt in the reactor melts the plug, and drains out into a number of storage tanks, all sized to hold too little fuel to sustain the reaction.

I believe the term for it is “walk-away safe”, since you could literally walk away and it would safely shut down on it’s own if something went wrong.



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