July 06, 2005

) Airborne Networks

Think of it as an Internet in the sky, a system that would guide air planes and even allow them to directly communicate with each other. Currently, the U.S. Air Force is starting to outline the architecture of an airborne network and aims to start development and testing between 2008 and 2012.

2) Quantum Wires

These thin wires are made up of billions of carbon nanotubes and, according to Rice University chemist Richard Smalley, they could someday transform the electrical power grid. Because of their lighter weight and superior strength, they could enable current towers to carry cables with a capacity ten times that of the aluminum cables currently employed in our aging power grid.

3) Silicon Photonics

Scientists are edging closer to getting silicon to emit light, thus overcoming the fast-approaching physical limit of copper's ability to carry more information. The result would be much faster data flow. Give it about five years for photonics-based interconnects between chips to crop up, researchers say.

4) Metabolomics

This new diagnostic tool promises earlier and easier detection of diseases. By studying metabolites (the products of metabolism) in the same methodical manner they look at the genes and proteins involved in diseases, researchers believe that they can get a more comprehensive view of the body's processes as well as make faster and more accurate diagnoses.

5) Magnetic-Resonance Force Microscopy

This emerging tool promises to give researchers a 3-D view of the atomic and molecular world. What's more, MRFM could even aid in the development of safer and more effective drugs by helping pharmaceutical researchers more directly ascertain the structures of proteins.

6) Universal Memory

Ultradense and low power, these next-generation nanotube-based memory systems promise to supplant everything from the flash memory in digital cameras to hard drives. According to Technology Review, "experts estimate that within 20 years, you may be able to fit the content of all the DVDs ever made on your laptop computer or store a digital file containing every conversation you have ever had on a handheld device."

7) Bacterial Factories

To build such tiny factories, researchers optimize the complex processes whereby a cell produces or breaks down a substance, thus coaxing microbes to produce a wide range of chemicals, from drugs to plastics. For instance, University of California, Berkeley, bioengineer Jay Keasling is manipulating a microbe's metabolism to mass produce malaria medicine. A major plus: unlike conventional chemical engineering, bacteria do not need or produce environmentally harmful compounds.

8) Enviromatics

Short for environmental informatics, enviromatics involves much more sophisticated forecasts. Now that researchers don't need supercomputers to run highly complex analyses and simulations (they can do so on ordinary desktops), expect much more accurate predictions about the future--and not just long-term models but localized forecasts that can aid immediate decision-making. According to Technology Review, these "computer forecasts enhance farm production and species diversity."

9) Cell-Phone Viruses

Like a deadly airborne disease, this malicious software or "malware" infiltrates wireless devices and infect even the most secure computer systems. And as a growing number of people use "smart" cell phones to enter computer networks, such viruses become all the more threatening.

10) Biomechatronics

In this burgeoning discipline, researchers are developing robotic prostheses that can communicate with users' nervous systems. In fact, Hugh Herr, a professor at MIT's Media Laboratory, tells Technology Review that in five to seven years, "spinal-cord injury patients will move their limbs again by controlling robotic exoskeletons strapped onto them (or at least they will in research settings.)"


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