For our latest Science and Technology issue of OBSERVE, we’ve tracked down ten of the most intriguing, under-the-radar research projects in science and technology today. Teleporting, breathing water and making hearts from spinach, it’s all here.
Hearts of spinach – USA
Scientists at Worcester Polytechnic Institute are using spinach leaves to create beating human heart cells. The similarity in vascular network structures between plants and animals means it’s possible to use multiple spinach leaves to grow layers of healthy heart muscle to treat heart attack patients.
Invisibility cloaks – Austria
Researchers from the Technical University of Vienna are using special light-wave technology to make objects invisible. Powering a laser beam with a specific wave pattern on to an object from above can make it ‘hide’ from view. The university says it opens up new possibilities for active camouflage, making fans of Star Trek and Harry Potter very excited.
Water from thin air – USA
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a new foam-like material that can obtain fresh, clean water by taking moisture from the air. It can be deployed over arid desert regions, which can help alleviate water shortages in the world’s driest locations.
Face-powered payment – China
Chinese company Megvii has developed Face++ technology allowing people to buy anything from cinema tickets to fried chicken, using only their face. If users have previously added their photo to a database, a Face++ 3D camera quickly identifies them as they wait to pay. It measures characteristics such as the curve of their cheekbones. It is currently being trialled by Alibaba and KFC.
Mind readers – UK
University College London has developed new neuropixel probes that can record the activity of hundreds of neurons throughout a human brain. Previous probes were restricted to measuring one neuron at a time. The development will allow scientists to better understand how people learn and why they make decisions. It could also help treat depression and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Chronic stress reliever – USA
MIT neuroscientists are looking at decisions made under chronic stress. They have found that they could restore normal stress-free behaviour in people by fixing impairments in their brain circuits. It could help people suffering from depression, addiction and anxiety, which can all lead to poor decision-making.
Breathing liquid – Russia
The Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects is developing oxygen-rich liquid that can be injected into the lungs of submariners and divers to allow them to breathe and not drown underwater. Controversial experiments involving dogs have resulted in them spending 30 minutes breathing by themselves underwater.
Liquid robots – China
Chinese scientists have moved into Terminator territory as they work on creating liquid metal robots that can run, jump and change shape to fit their surroundings. Their idea is based on a 'smart' liquid metal alloy that moves on its own. The liquid metal is a mixture of gallium, indium and tin.
Sweet-tasting quinoa – Saudi Arabia
The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology believes quinoa could help boost food security and feed the world’s growing population. It has identified a gene within the grain that can be manipulated to change the way the plant matures and make it taste sweeter. Quinoa is known for growing well in poor-quality soil, thus offering a new food staple for countries with scarce food supplies.
Teleportation – China
A group of Chinese scientists have successfully teleported particles of light between the ground and the Micius satellite. It could lead to the creation of a ‘quantum internet’, much faster and very much more secure than the worldwide web.
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