Technological overoptimism lurks as a persistent risk to both professional
and amateur watchers of advances, from artificial intelligence to the flying car. But sometimes new technologies actually live up to some of the wildest expectations for them.

This year’s SciAm 50 awards are replete with instances of new machines or chemicals that come close to the true meaning of innovation as something entirely new. One winner has created an instrument that measures fl uids in zeptoliters, or sextillionths of a liter. (You know, the zeptoliter, the measurement unit that is 1,000th of an attoliter?)

Another innovator has devised a method that could recharge a phone without plugging it in. All you would have to do is sit at the dining room table, phone in pocket, a few feet away from a recharging coil hidden in the ceiling. Still another visionary is paving the way for treating mysterious and deadly prion diseases such as mad cow and kuru.

Award winners highlighted here have the potential to contribute much more to human health, consumer electronics and numerous other fields than if they were simply offering another antidepressant that tweaked serotonin levels or ratcheting up the speed of a microprocessor. What they have done is decidedly new.


  • Wireless Power
  • Drug Delivery
  • Sustainable Fuels
  • Toxic Housewares
  • Ultrameasurement
  • Malaria-Free Mosquitoes
  • Bioinspired Materials
  • Diagnosing Alzheimer's
  • Optical Chips
  • Prion Disease Treatments
  • Sun Power
  • Understanding Stem Cells
  • Chip Printers
  • Prosthetics
  • Intelligent Route Finders