Tomorrow’s Science Today

From wireless power to nanosuits that can turn anyone into Spidey and perhaps even to mobile solar, we’re on the cusp of massive scientific breakthroughs all over the place. If we can only get past peak oil and a Bush administration hell-bent on war with Iran, we may find solutions to the harrowing future climate change is bringing to our doorstep. Here are ten of them, from most needed to least believable.


From cloud seeding to iron seeding, the choices to save ourselves from the coming catastrophes of global warming are diverse — and even hyperreal. Remember the scene in The Matrix where Morpheus explains how humanity tried to rob the machines of their energy by blotting out the sky? Well, this is not a movie. The Bush administration itself has proposed that we combat global warming by installing, literally, smoke and mirrors in the sky. “Modifying solar radiance may be an important strategy if mitigation of emissions fails,” the administration explained, noting that recent science had speculated that reflecting less than one percent of Earth’s sunlight back into the void might counterbalance our current warming trend. The U.N.’s response emphasized the “speculative” on that scheme and argued cutting emissions was the point.

Some followed suit, including Water for a Healthy Country Flagship, a collaboration between Hanyang University in Korea, the University of Texas and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), which have recently invented a plastic membrane patterned after those found in plants that can absorb carbon dioxide but prevent climate-killing methane from escaping. Considering that we’re going to have kilotons of methane blowing into the sky from our ice-free seas and other ruined landscapes, containing methane and saving our skins go hand in hand.


Today’s light-speed internet is nothing like yesteryear’s clunky communication apparatus. And it’s about to get even faster, if quantum computing comes to pass. That day is sooner than you think, thanks to recent advances in the process, especially those at Florida State University. Scientists from the school’s National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, as well as its chemistry and biochemistry departments, have created a material compound from potassium, niobium, oxygen and chromium ions that may one day replace silicon in the computers of tomorrow and usher in the age of quantum computing in the process. Quantum computing works at the atomic and molecular level, meaning its semiconductors, which will be made of this new material, will be able to process information at a speed faster than ever imagined. Everything from health and science to imaging and networking will evolve light years forward if such a thing comes to pass.

But if that’s too ambitious for you, how about an interactive megascreen with multitouch capability? Jeff Han’s who have harnessed the unlimited potential of nanotechnology — microscopic technology created at the molecular level — to find a way to convert heat into power. It’s called “organic molecular thermoelectricity,” which is a tangled way of saying recycling the wasted heat generated by traditional methods, which involves burning gas to create the steam to turn the turbines that gives us the juice we need to do everything from turn on our lights to freeze our food. This new promising method is less convoluted: Organic molecules are trapped between metal nanoparticles and — voila! — instant energy, generated with way higher efficiency and a fraction of the cost. It could be the energy breakthrough that solves our problems.


While we’re on nanotech, a San Jose company called Nanosolar has figured out a new way for you to get mileage out of your printer — by using it to print solar panels. It may sound insane, but the unwieldy world of solar energy needs to scale down: Giant panels put on top of your house or into your car don’t make sense, since they need so much material to begin helping you in the first place. Nanosolar has taken the lead in the microsolar movement by printing thin-film cells on foil rather than using traditionally cost-inefficient silicon chips, paving the way for a future when you’ll be able to power up your car by printing a few panels for your windshield.


Virtual reality is proving to be more valuable than reality itself in many ways. Ask the grateful professionals and patients of Nationwide Children’s Hospital Burn Center in Ohio, who are using immersive headsets and artificial environments to help burned kids get through their painful rehabilitation. Similar technology is helping those who have lost mobility in their hands, or their hands altogether, navigate the internet. Vocal Joystick, a software developed at the University of Washington, detects sounds 100 times a second and translates them into action on the computer screen, helping those with disabilities enjoy the information age just like anyone else. With the outsourcing of knowledge to online powerhouses like Wikipedia and YouTube — where UC Berkeley recently decided to air its myriad courses — being able to participate in the virtual reality of the internet helps make a painful physical reality more than bearable.

Spidey Suits!

The nanotech hits just keep on coming and might even create superheroes. An Italian engineer and physicist at Polytechnic of Turin named Nicola Pugno has conceptualized a series of adhesives that gives you and yours the wall-crawling powers of Spider-Man, all based on current carbon nanotube possibilities. While we are still a ways off of fighting Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus in the streets by scaling walls and shooting webs, Pugno’s work is the first to offer concrete, no pun intended, scientific solutions.

Flying Cars

If the lack of progress on the Spidey suit worries you, maybe you can pass the time in an airborne automobile. A company called Moller International has already begun production on the M200G Volantor, a literal flying saucer than can take off and land vertically. The Volantor uses eight rotary engines to lift off and travel 10 feet off the ground for 45 to 90 minutes and can navigate gridlock on the water or on the ground. There are hurdles — aren’t there always? — but yesterday’s sci-fi is turning into science faster each day. Watch the skies.


Speaking of the skies, the Allen Telescope Array has gone online in California, giving Earth the capacity to spot one of its own in the far reaches of space. It is able to scan the entire sky in a single night and repeat the process daily, giving astronomers and scientists, including those at UC Berkeley and the SETI Institute, who built and will manage the thing, a snapshot of outer space never achieved before. This will not only come in handy spotting outer Earths, but also Armageddon-bringing meteors and other threats from beyond. And it will come in handy, as we’re discovering more planets than ever, thanks to science. In fact, scientists have already spotted what they consider to be the birth of a new Earth 424 light years away. Now we just need a flying car to get us there.

Space Travel

If it’s going to happen now, it’s likely that Burt Rutan will be involved. After all, he’s designed the Voyager and SpaceShipOne, and is currently at work on a cost-effective way to get mom and pop on the moon without having to shred their IRAs. Rutan has paired with U.K. mogul Richard Branson and his Virgin Airways unit to create Virgin Galactic, the first consumer space travel company, and believe in that little over a decade, Earth will have sent hundreds of thousands of people into orbit. By the time the next century comes, it will only be a matter of how far you can go. Or antimatter, to be specific: Scientists are hard at work trying to nail down space travel using everything from antimatter, lasers, nanotech, microwaves and more to dramatically decrease the time it takes to travel to Mars and beyond. If Star Trek already seems dated to you now, just wait until you have a warp drive.


All of these breakthroughs are amazing, of course, but scientific innovation is a double-edged sword, literally: We’re finding new ways to kill each other with increasing speed. But in the spirit of humanity’s shrinking pacifism, we’re also inventing new ways to hurt each other pretty badly without actually killing each other. As journalist Michael Hanlon of the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail found out when he test-drove Raytheon’s pain ray, a Jeep-mounted transmitter that can emit focused radiation. “What it amounts to is a way of making people run away, very fast, without killing or even permanently harming them,” he wrote. “It can throw a wave of agony nearly half a mile.”

Future WTO protestors — you’ve been warned.

This article appeared at AlterNet