New technologies are always being developed, and occasionally old technology gets recycled in new packages (iPhone5). But as we grow more advanced as a society, some of these technologies start to seem more like science fiction than actual science. I thought I’d present some cool upcoming technologies that might make your life a little more like Star Trek.
Have you ever seen the show Sanctuary? It was Canadian-made and aired on the SyFy channel until last year. It’s a great show about a doctor/researcher turned monster-hunter who studies her finds. Throw in some quirky characters (Nikolai Tesla and Jack the Ripper) and you’ve got the best science fiction show in the last decade (I swear!). I was re-watching the show recently, and came across my favorite episode in which the main character, Dr. Helen Magnus, develops a rare form of leukemia and is cured through a serum given to her by an advanced society that lives inside the earth! This got me thinking about new technologies in gene therapy and synthetic biology.
Synthetic biology is the process of introducing genes from one organism into another in order to make a product or complete some task. This is actually a very controversial area of biology because many groups feel the development of these technologies could be used for harm. The research of this emerging field shouldn’t be stifled, and despite the controversy great strides have been made in recent years. This field has the potential to create useful technologies for all aspects of our lives, and indeed make some of the things from science fiction movies real.
Recently, scientists have been able to correct genetic hearing loss in mice. By injecting DNA encoding for a particular transporter responsible for the hearing loss into the ear, they were able to correct the damage. Mice were able to hear for 7 months to one year after the injection. This sort of technology could ultimately be used to treat all kinds of genetic diseases!
Furthermore, the J Craig Venter institute is also working with cyanobacteria to produce hydrogen from water in an effort to create a sustainable hydrogen fuel source for the future. (His institute also created the first man-made replicating cell.) There are a lot of examples of using algae and E. coli to do various environmental tasks; this could be a great way to clean up our planet.
How about printing body parts? In Oregon, a biotech company has printed the first human blood capillary. I literally mean printed. The robotic printer is able to created blood vessels in about 45 minutes, which are then nourished with blood flow. Ideally this technology could lead to the creation of on-demand organs for transplant. Think of Luke Skywalker’s sweet robotic arm made real.
If printing out new organs makes you a little queasy, how about if scientists gave you the ability to grow yourself a new one? Stem cell researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have been growing livers in lymph nodes! By putting liver cells into mice with liver failure they found the liver cells migrated to the lymph nodes where they grew, divided and were able to produce a liver functional enough to enable the mice to live! Can you imagine what this technology, or technologies like this could mean for people experiencing organ failure?
Prepare for Warp Speed because scientists think the Warp Drive could be possible! I am not going to amuse all the physics nerds out there by attempting to explain the physics behind this; from what I read it sounds kind of like sucking up pudding with a straw. You start sucking up the pudding, which is pulled up the straw and then forced through the straw and into your mouth rather quickly. But the straw stays still. This sounds a lot like a warp drive, except the straw would be moving really fast to Neptune (which remains still), while the pudding of space is smooshed and then slurped up through the straw. Just read about it and you’ll see what I’m saying.
Airport security is a necessary evil, but this cool, new, and tested technology could do away with that pesky “no liquids” rule. This new type of spectroscopy involves flashing photon at a sample of liquid, and analyzing the data that comes back when the photon bounces back to a detector. Different materials produce distinct patterns, patterns that could aid the security officials in knowing if that’s a liter of hand cream or a liter of explosives. On a cool aside, the technology is also being modified to measure blood glucose levels or to analyze healthy tissues surrounding cancerous tumors. It’s like a real life Tricorder!
Not sure what to wear in the mornings? You could either read our Style section or check out Wandervision for style advice, or you could just look at what Monika Oliver is wearing. If that’s too much effort why not just go naked and throw on a Romulan cloaking device to render yourself invisible?! Scientists have been experimenting for years with making objects invisible. Scientists have created light bending fabric made of rigid rods placed 350 nanometers apart (would that be itchy?). The fabric, when placed over a round object, bends the incoming light rays around the object, because no waves bounce back, the object is invisible to our eyes. This concept is also being used to mask sounds, earthquakes and even boats!
As you can see, many science fiction-like technologies could soon become reality. It’s for cool reasons like this that people should get into science and engineering. Who knows, maybe one day one of our own U of A grads will build a real-life Starship Enterprise. Feel free to check out the links in the article and if you’ve heard of some cool upcoming technology, post them in the comments!
Sydney Rudko is a fan of all things science, fiction or reality. She enjoys long walks on the forest moon of Endor, and Vulcan brandy. Tweet her at @SPResistant