As part of DISCOVER’s 30th anniversary celebration, the magazine invited 11 eminent scientists to look forward and share their predictions and hopes for the next three decades. But we also want to turn this over to Science Not Fiction’s readers: How do you think science will improve the world by 2040?
Below are short excerpts of the guest scientists’ responses, with links to the full versions:
In the fifth season of Battlestar Galactica, the Cylons gave the Galactica a kind of spray-on bacteria that could make the walls self-healing. Any race of beings that cold make that work out would surely have commercialized something like the work of MIT researcher Michael Strano who have devised tiny solar-electric generators that can break apart and reassemble. The team published their efforts in Nature Chemistry.
The research solves a significant problem in the shift toward solar power, that of degradation. Even silicon solar panels lose efficiency over time as solar radiation breaks down its components. Yet plants don’t have this problem: they use sugar and minerals to constantly refresh their photosynthetic cells, e.g. leaves. Strano and his colleagues looked at how leaves work to develop their tiny solar generators. Using seven different chemicals the generators will self assemble, even after they’ve broken down, and with no loss of efficiency.
The basic unit requires a synthetic phospholipids, which itself is just a plate to hold the chemicals that react to light. These chemicals release electrons when photons hit them. The phospholipid plates are themselves attracted to carbon nanotoubes. The tubes, which are highly conductive, are lined up in long rows forming a wire to carry the electrons to their destination.
But even through the reaction is 40 percent efficient —- more efficient than standard thin film photovoltaic cells, which capture about 28 percent of sunlight —— that’s not even the impressive part. When the system is damaged, as sunlight is wont to do to solar panels, it will reassemble itself. Strano and his team broke down the system again and again over a 14-hour period and the system consistently put itself back together again with no loss of efficiency.
Take that Cylon Model 6. The humans will have self-assembly without your help.
(picture courtesy of PR Web)
The concept of the Dattoo arose in response to current trends towards increasing connectivity and technology as self-expression. To realize a state of constant, seamless connectivity and computability required the convergence of technology and self. The body would need to literally become the interface. Computers and communication devices require physical space, surfaces, and energy. The idea of DNA tattoos (Dattoos) is to use the body itself as hardware and interaction platform, through the use of minimally-invasive, recyclable materials.
The picture reminds me of the Buzz Lightyear/ Turanga Leela style forearm computer. That seems like a pretty practical place to put a Dattoo. I have a few other ideas: Read More
The Codex Futurius project, this blog’s never-ending quest to explore the timeless scientific questions raised by science fiction, is back—and this time we have reinforcements. The NAS’ Science and Entertainment Exchange (SEEx), a group dedicated to bringing real science into entertainment, has agreed to help us find experts who can tackle these ineffable sci-fi questions.
Our first expert-answered Codex question goes to J Storrs Hall, an independent scientist and author who’s also president of the Foresight Institute, a nanotech-oriented think tank. Thanks especially to Jennifer Ouellette, a science writer and the director of SEEx, for connecting us with Hall. Without further ado, here’s the question of the day, asked by an (imagined) big-time Hollywood director/producer who thinks getting the science right might help nail down that elusive Oscar:
“How could nanotechnology transform the world? Most importantly, how could I stop a plague of nanorobots from eating my spaceship/research facility/planet?”