Top Futurology News - For the month of May 2020

06/01/2020 - 04:55

Kirk Nankivell

Here are the top stories from the past month (in mostly chronological order):

1) Rubber "external skeleton" lets liquid metal structures retain their shape

Imagine if there were a metallic device that could be transported all squished down into a compact ball, but that would automatically "bloom" out into its useful form when heated. Well, that may soon be possible, thanks to a newly developed liquid metal lattice. Led by Asst. Prof. Pu Zhang, a team of scientists at New York's Bingham University started by 3D printing lattice-type structures out of an existing metal known as Field's alloy. Named after its inventor, chemist Simon Quellen Field, the alloy consists of a mixture of bismuth, indium and tin. It also melts when heated to just 62 °C (144 °F), but then re-solidifies upon cooling.


2) Experimental gene therapy prevents obesity, builds muscle, without exercise or dieting

A compelling new study, led by scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has found a novel gene therapy can prevent obesity and build muscle without the need for additional exercise, in mice being fed a high-fat diet. Follistatin, a protein expressed in almost all animal tissue, was first discovered and described in the late 1980s. Initially investigated for its role as a reproductive hormone, follistatin was subsequently found to influence a number of cellular processes, including muscle proliferation.


3) NASA Just Released The Artemis Accords - Guidelines For Humans to Abide by in Space

Over the next few years, we'll finally be heading back to the Moon. But with nearly 50 years in between our last Moon jaunt and this one, a lot has changed. With private companies becoming a huge part of space programs and the rise of many international space agencies, space is getting rather crowded, so some new rules may be needed to help everyone play nice.


4) The US Government Just Invested Big in Small-Scale Nuclear Power

Amid the coronavirus lockdowns around the world, one of few positive pieces of news we’ve heard is that carbon emissions have dropped dramatically. The clearer skies and cleaner air have led to a renewed vigor behind calls for retiring fossil fuels and investing more heavily in renewable energy. Proponents of renewables tend to focus on solar and wind as the best green energy sources, leaving out a lingeringly controversial yet crucial player: nuclear power. Last week, the US Department of Energy (DOE) shone a light on nuclear’s potential in the most effective possible way: by dumping a bunch of money on it. The DOE launched its Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program to the tune of $230 million. That sum is broken down into $160 million for scientists currently working on nuclear reactors that could be operational in 5 to 7 years, and another $70 million for additional research and development down the road.


5) Human-like cyborg eye could power itself using sunlight

A human-like artificial eye capable of being powered by sunlight could eventually be used as a visual aid for people who cannot see. Zhiyong Fan at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and his colleagues have developed a spherical visual sensor that mimics the structure of the human eye. Like the real thing, the artificial eye contains a lens to focus light and a hemispherical retina, the region at the back of the eye where photosensitive cells generate electrical impulses to be sent to the brain.


6) Researchers squeeze 44.2 Tbps through existing fiber optic cables

Today’s cable and fiber optic internet connections are good enough -- at least where they’re available. Home users can browse the web, stream videos and play online games, and companies can keep business moving. But as content becomes more complex, the world will need faster speeds. Researchers in Australia have developed an internet connection that reaches 44.2 terabits per second. To put that into perspective, the average user in the US gets 50.2 megabits per second -- about a million times slower than the researchers’ speed.


7) Baby receives liver stem cell treatment in world-first clinical trial

In a new clinical trial, a six-day-old baby in Japan has received the world’s first successful transplant of new liver cells derived from embryonic stem cells. The “bridge treatment” kept the infant healthy until old enough to receive a liver transplant, demonstrating a breakthrough for treating certain life-threatening conditions. The baby suffered from urea cycle disorder, a relatively rare genetic condition where the liver is missing an enzyme crucial for breaking nitrogen down into urea, which can then be expelled in urine. Without it, ammonia builds up in the bloodstream, with potentially deadly results.


8) Researchers build sensor consisting of only 11 atoms

Researchers at Delft University of Technology have developed a sensor that is only 11 atoms in size. The sensor is capable of capturing magnetic waves and consists of an antenna, a readout capability, a reset button and a memory unit. The researchers hope to use their atomic sensor to learn more about the behaviour of magnetic waves, so that hopefully such waves can be used in green ICT applications one day.  


9) SpaceX Makes History: Launches NASA Astronauts Into Orbit

A global pandemic couldn’t stop them. Storm clouds and downpours may have delayed their first shot at making history, but the second time was the charm. “I’m breathing a sigh of relief, but I will also tell you: I’m not gonna celebrate until Bob and Doug are home safely,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said. The launch means that SpaceX has ushered in a new era in space travel, by becoming the first for-profit group to launch human astronauts into orbit inside a commercial spacecraft. Adding to the glamor, it’s also the first time astronauts have been sent to the International Space Station from U.S. ground since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011.


10) New 5G switch provides 50 times more energy efficiency than currently exists

As 5G hits the market, new U.S. Army-funded research has developed a radio-frequency switch that is more than 50 times more energy efficient than what is used today. With funding from the Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Lille in France, have built a new component that will more efficiently allow access to the highest 5G frequencies, in a way that increases devices’ battery life and speeds up how quickly users can do things like stream HD media.