Every month, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN—the longest-running magazine in the U.S. and an authoritative voice in science, technology and innovation—provides insight into scientific topics that affect our daily lives and capture our imagination, establishing the vital bridge between science and public policy. This month we focus on topics from our third annual “World Changing Ideas” feature, which captures innovative concepts with the potential to make big impacts.
>> Key information from this month’s issue:
Better battery technology is a challenge for the electric car industry. One promising advance in battery technology is a “liquid fuel” battery from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This prototype combines the traditional energy storage capabilities of a lithium-ion battery with the added benefit of being able to scale it up like a flow battery. See: World Changing Ideas: Liquid Fuel for Electric Cars
The technique used to extract valuable metals from ore is expensive and requires much energy, especially when dealing with low concentrations of metal. Using bacteria to extract metals from low-grade ores could be a solution: mining firms are using simple microbes that can extract up to 85 percent of metal in an ore and obtain metals when the concentrations are lower than 1 percent. See: World Changing Ideas: Microbe Miners
The three-dimensional configuration of veins in our hands is a trait that can be used as an easy and secure form of identification. Retailers and the government can use such biometrics to implement a payment system based on a “digital wallet” instead of credit cards and cash. See: World Changing Ideas: The Wallet in Your Skin
Scientists have designed a nanoparticle capable of destroying bacterial cells by piercing their membranes. Although it is not yet in clinical trials, this nanoparticle could be an important weapon against superbugs such as MRSA, a common bacterial infection that claims 19,000 lives in the U.S. every year. See: World Changing Ideas: Nano-Size Germ Killers
A 2010 survey found that 40 percent of Americans would pay a subscription fee for a mobile device that would monitor their vital signs daily. Smartphones with health apps could record vital signs including blood pressure and heart rate to catch early symptoms of health problems. Although prototypes exist, sensor technology and U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval are needed. See: World Changing Ideas: The Forever Health Monitor
Food crops that have to be replanted every year—such as corn and wheat—take critical minerals from soil and require constant care. Scientists are working on creating perennial versions of familiar crops, such as year-round maize, which would provide more food and could also prevent environmental problems such as erosion and climate change. See: World Changing Ideas: Crops That Don’t Need Replanting