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This article is from the In-Depth Report World Changing Ideas 2013
See Inside Scientific American Volume 307, Issue 6

7 Additional Compelling Breakthroughs

Air bags for cyclists, paper without trees, robot lifeguards, and more


Image: BASF

Compostable Food Packaging
Back in early 2010 Frito–Lay introduced a fully compostable bag for Sun Chips. It met all the food packaging requirements and was colorful to boot. Unfortunately, the bag was also really loud when people handled it—95 decibels loud. Frito–Lay eventually pulled the packaging and after another brief attempt at compostability, abandoned the idea. But now Germany-based chemical company BASF has produced a new type of compostable bag for foods such as chips and candy bars. The bag, which is designed to be as similar to traditional packaging as possible (including auditory level), is made from multiple layers of compostable resins and adhesives, some of it based on renewable resources such as corn. Polymers in the packaging resemble the molecular chains that bacteria and fungi normally feed on.
One early adopter was the Seattle Mariners baseball stadium, which tried the bags during the 2012 season. The team, which was on track to divert 85 percent of its waste from landfills during the season, says that using such packaging keeps the compost stream unadulterated and reduces the costs of sorting waste. The bags should begin appearing on supermarket shelves as BASF reaches deals with food companies.


Image: microryza

Crowd-Funding for Science
The explosion of social media has spawned the phenomenon of crowd-funding. Charities, rock bands, individuals—anyone—can raise funds from people all over the world via online sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. The idea has taken off for scientific research as well. In the past two years, SciFund and other sites such as microryza.com and petridish.org have funded hundreds of projects, and they are growing rapidly. The projects, often modest in size, range from testing the effects of oral contraceptives on hermaphroditic fish to determining the life cycle of glacial lakes in the Himalayas. Proponents believe that in addition to much-needed financial resources, crowd-funding can provide a platform for science outreach and public engagement. Crowd-funding will not replace traditional sources of support, but it instantly expands the options.

Related Links:
RocketHub: Birth control for fish, what's in YOUR water?
PetriDish.org: iSpy with my Camera Eye: Supraglacial Lake Changes

 


Image: Kahn Academy

Video Education
Can't afford college tuition? Need help in chemistry? Video education, growing wildly on the Internet, is changing how people of all ages learn. The movement received an early boost in 2002, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched its OpenCourseWare project, designed to make lectures and lecture notes from M.I.T. classes available to anyone with an Internet connection. Other universities have since jumped in, but the big expansion now underway is by nonprofit and commercial outfits such as TEDEd, iTunesU and Khan Academy, to name a few. They provide tutoring and instruction for students from elementary school to college. YouTube EDU is also getting involved, hosting thousands of educational videos and partnering with Khan Academy to sponsor the YouTube Next EDU Guru video contest.

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