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THE INVENTION AWARDS

SMART

THE TEN M AY 2 0 1 5
THE
HACKER’S
GUIDE
INVENTIONS
OF THE YEAR
HOMES

PRINTED ELECTRONICS +
SHOULD
NEEDLE-FREE WE CONTACT
VACCINES +
SMART FRYING PAN +
ALIENS?
FLYING CAR AND MORE!
PLUS!
BRE PETTIS, co-founder ACTION CAMERAS,
of MakerBot Industries, BIONIC BOOTS, AND
3-D printed everything on this AN ELEVATOR
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MAY 2015 •FEED
For daily updates: facebook.com/popsci Volume 286 No.5

05 Featuring Departments
LOR IS D I R A N ; J EA N S BY M AV I J EA N S ; S N E A KE R S BY P UM A ; WATC H, P R E NT I S S ’S OW N ; FAS HI ON , I N S I DE F E AT URE : S HI RT BY G- STA R RAW ; J E A N S BY MAV I JE A N S ; JACK E T BY G - STA R RAW ; SN E A K E RS BY P U MA

The Rise of the Feed Next 72 Hack your


CONTENTS car’s infotainment
Incredible, Edible Insect 06 From the Editor 25 Nature’s
system
15 They’re high in protein, minerals, and good 08 Peer Review strongest material,
dethroned 74 Meet the
fats and far more sustainable than beef. engineer behind
Welcome to the new food movement. Now 26 A geologist
thrilling rides
P HOTO GR AP H S BY K A R EE M BLAC K ; S ET D ES I GN BY A M Y TAY LO R FO R BA - RE PS ; ST Y L I N G BY N E W HA RT OHA N I A N ; GROOMI N G BY J I L L MCKAY ; FAS HI ON , COV E R: S HI RT BY CA LVI N K LE I N ; TI E BY

BROOKE BORE L 11 The Sony determined to


PAGE 44 Walkman returns— blueprint Earth
better than ever 28 Maglev End Matter

34
79 Ask Us Any-
Nothing but the Truth 12 Ten things we elevators that will
thing: Do babies
You can’t take emotion out of science— love this month reshape skylines
14 A 1,250hp 30 Are India Pale use the same facial
nor should you.
hybrid racecar Ales an endan- expressions as
AL AN L I GH T M AN
16 Your favorite gered species? adults?
PAGE 50
technologies came 32 Phone home: 86 From the
The Hacker’s Guide to from a World’s Fair Time to message Archives
PAGE
Smart Homes 18 How Pebble aliens
Popular Science’s five-step plan for turning plans to win the
your home into a data-gathering intelligent smartwatch wars Manual
environment—with or without Siri. 22 Action cameras 65 Use soft
C ORI NNE I OZ Z I O for everyone robotics to build a
spare hand
NINTH ANNUAL PAGE 52
68 Bionic boots for
INVENTION AWARDS The Church of Church a 25mph stroll
George Church already revolutionized 70 Hackett turns
With the help of ace inventor biology once. Now, he wants to store data a junked TV into a
Bre Pettis, we celebrate 10 in DNA, bring back extinct species, wipe crystal radio
ingenious creations that started out malaria, and map the brain.
J E NE E N I NT E RL AND I
out as scrappy ideas. Plus, PAGE 56
Pettis shares his advice for
making products that
truly break ground. Bre Pett i s’s t rove
includes characte rs
from his 3-D –printed
m ov ie, M argo .

ON THE COVER
Photograph by Kareem Black

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 05
F E E D • M AY 2 0 1 5
From the Editor

Elements THE ONLY THING THAT


STANDS OUT ABOUT

of Invention SUCCESSFUL
INVENTORS IS THAT

A
THEY ARE
EXCEPTIONALLY RARE.
AND ONE OF THEM IS
ON OUR COVER.
expensive and its application,
s editor in chief of Popular almost exclusively industrial. A few

Science, I get asked a lot of questions. Some of hackers started working with open-
source designs. Pettis partnered
them are reasonable: Why is the sky blue? (Air with two of them, and they debuted Pettis shared his tips for aspiring
their first consumer product, the inventors. He also graciously helped
molecules scatter blue light more effectively CupCake CNC, in 2009. The invention us 3-D print the Popular Science
than red.) Some of them are not: Why can’t I became a business, MakerBot logo on the cover and uploaded the
design files to Thingiverse.com so
Industries, which Pettis sold four
communicate with my cat? (Try listening.) But years later for around $400 million. that you can print it too.
the most persistent question is, What does He’s now on to his next project, Bold No story about invention, how-
ever, would be complete without a
Machines, a 3-D–printing workshop
it take to become a great inventor? pragmatic; he was said to have set that helps artists and entrepreneurs caveat. Not all those featured will
My typical response: If I had that quotas for himself—a small break- transition quickly from rough ideas make it. Developing a successful
kind of lightning in a bottle, I’d be through every 10 days and a big one to working prototypes. “We basically prototype and developing a success-
drinking it myself. Besides good every six months. accelerate the future,” Pettis says. ful company are not necessarily the
timing and even better luck, it’s hard The only thing that stands out Every May, Popular Science same skill. But all the ideas have
to pinpoint what makes certain about successful inventors is that publishes the Invention Awards, in tremendous potential, as do the
inventors successful. They tend to they are exceptionally rare. And one which we celebrate the year’s best inventors behind them. You never
be creative, exceptionally persistent, of them is on our cover this month. independent inventions—those know. You just may see one of them
and tolerant of risk. But beyond In 2007, Bre Pettis, an artist and scrappy creations born of a garage on our cover one day.
that, they are just people, and people former schoolteacher, co-founded or workshop, not an industrial lab.
come in all stripes. Tesla and da the hackerspace NYC Resistor. Its Who better to help us assemble that Enjoy the magazine.
Vinci were ingenious. Steve Jobs members wanted a 3-D printer, list than Bre Pettis? Together, we dug
was fastidious and business-minded. but the technology, which had up some extraordinary awardees, as Cliff Ransom
Thomas Edison was ruthlessly been around since the 1980s, was you’ll see beginning on page 34, and Editor in Chief

Contributors

R A N S O M : M A R I U S BU G GE ; C OU RT ESY C ON T R IB U TO R S

Alan Lightman Andrew Terranova Kareem Black Jeneen Interlandi


As a scientist, Alan Lightman has “I enjoy working on projects that The innovation workshop Bold When writer Jeneen Interlandi met
made fundamental contributions to entertain me and my kids,” says Machines is filled with 3-D–printed George Church in his Harvard lab, she
the field of astrophysics. As a writer, engineer and tinkerer Andrew gadgets, ’80s boomboxes, even a was in familiar territory. A decade
he has published dozens of celebrated Terranova. He’s built a toy airplane DeLorean. The space and its contents, prior, she worked in a genetics lab just
novels and essays. “Science and arts from a hot water heater, a steampunk lovingly curated by Bre Pettis, inspired across the street. “He is in a whole
reflect the full range of the human bank that eats money, and several the playful aesthetic of this month’s other stratosphere of genius but
mind,” Lightman says. “We are both exhibits for a children’s museum. cover image. “It was like being inside remains very personable,” says Inter-
rational and intuitive, deliberate and Robots are a special favorite. This a comic book,” says photographer landi, who profiled the renowned scien-
spontaneous.” He reflects on the month, he dabbles in soft robotics for Kareem Black. “There was a 15-year- tist for “The Church of Church” (page
human nature of scientific research “Wave Hello to a Soft Robot Hand” old boy inside me going insane. It was 56). “Talking with him reminded me of
in “Nothing but the Truth” (page 50). (page 65) in Manual. the biggest toy factory ever.” how much I love molecular biology.”

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Show us! Which 21st-century invention has changed your life most?
F E E D • M AY 2 0 1 5
Peer Review Send your images to
showandtell@popsci.com

EDITOR IN CHIEF Cliff Ransom


Design Director Todd Detwiler
Executive Editor Jennifer Bogo

SELLING POINTS EDITORIAL


Managing Editor Jill C. Shomer
Editorial Production Manager Felicia Pardo
In “Cultured Couture” [March 2015], writer Daniel Articles Editor Kevin Gray
Information Editor Katie Peek, Ph.D.
Grushkin took readers inside designer Suzanne Lee’s Technology Editor Michael Nuñez
Projects Editor Sophie Bushwick
biotech lab, where she grows leather from cells. Associate Editors Lois Parshley, Jen Schwartz
Assistant Editors Breanna Draxler, Lindsey Kratochwill
I worked in cotton production Editorial Assistant Mac Irvine
Copy Editors Joe Mejia, Leah Zibulsky
back in the “bad old days” of Researchers Shannon Palus, Ajai Raj, Erika Villani
weekly insecticide applications. Editorial Intern Junnie Kwon

So Grushkin’s statement that ART AND PHOTOGRAPHY


Photo Director Thomas Payne
“cotton farming typically uses Digital Associate Art Director Michael Moreno
intensive pesticides” stood out Designer Zachary Gilyard
to me as stunningly out-of-date POPULARSCIENCE.COM
in an otherwise fascinating Online Director Dave Mosher
Senior Editor Paul Adams
piece. American cotton farmers Assistant Editors Sarah Fecht, Loren Grush
still use insecticides but nothing 48 / Matthew Stylianou
Contributing Writers Kelsey D. Atherton, Mary Beth Griggs,
Dan Moren, Alexandra Ossola
like in the early 1990s. Now, Web Intern Lydia Ramsey
they spend money on the latest
less insecticide, it has led to the increased CONTRIBUTING EDITORS
insect-resistant GMO seed. Brooke Borel, Tom Clynes, Matthew de Paula, Clay Dillow, Nicole Dyer,
application of the herbicide glyphosate.
Ben Barstow, Palouse, Wash. Daniel Engber, Tom Foster, Hackett, Mike Haney, Joseph Hooper, Corinne Iozzio,
Gregory Mone, Adam Piore, P.W. Singer, Erik Sofge
Editors’ note: According to I was particularly intrigued by the pos- BONNIER TECHNOLOGY GROUP
the USDA, the combined use sibility of clothes that adapt to climate Group Editorial Director Anthony Licata
Group Publisher Gregory D. Gatto
of insecticides, herbicides, while reading about Suzanne Lee growing Chief Marketing Officer Elizabeth Burnham Murphy
fungicides, and other pesticides clothing. You could have the same jacket Financial Director Tara Bisciello
Eastern Sales Director Jeff Timm
on cotton fields has, in fact, re- serving as a windbreaker in the spring and Northeast Advertising Office Margaret Kalaher, Matt Levy, Amanda Smyth
mained constant since the late a parka in the winter. You could also have a Midwest Managers Carl Benson, Doug Leipprandt
Ad Assistant Lindsay Kuhlmann
1980s. Although it is true that shirt that brightens in the sun and darkens West Coast Account Managers Stacey Lakind, Sara Laird O’Shaughnessy
genetically engineered cotton at night, thus regulating heat. Detroit Advertising Director Jeff Roberge
Detroit Manager Ed Bartley
now enables farmers to use Douglas R. Benn, Spokane, Wash. Direct Response Sales Shawn Lindeman, Frank McCaffrey, Chip Parham
Digital Campaign Managers Amanda Alimo
Digital Campaign CoordinatorJustin Ziccardi
We Apologize … Digital Marketing Producer Joey Stern
Hitting the deadline for “The Science of Stress” [March 2015] proved a little, well, Group Sales Development Director Alex Garcia
stressful. That may be why we mixed up the labels for the stress monitors on page 47. Senior Sales Development Manager Amanda Gastelum
Sales Development Managers Kate Gregory, Charlotte Grima
They’re correctly pictured on popsci.com/stresstest. Creative Services Director Ingrid M. Reslmaier
Marketing Design Directors Jonathan Berger, Gabe Ramirez
Marketing Design Manager Sarah Hughes
Digital Design Manager Steve Gianaca
Group Events & Promotion Director Beth Hetrick

A HI STO RY O F IN VE N TION
Promotions Managers Eshonda Caraway-Evans, Lynsey White
Consumer Marketing Director Bob Cohn
Public Relations Manager Molly Battles
Popular Science has been covering innovation since the magazine’s inception in 1872. Human Resources Director Kim Putman
(This year’s Invention Awards start on page 34.) Here’s how often the word invention Production Manager Erika Hernandez
Corp. Production Director Jeff Cassell
has appeared in our pages, either in articles or advertisements. Group Production Director Laurel Kurnides

Appearences per issue


100 A surge of the word Annual spikes
invention coincided occur during
with the first full- the Invention Chairman Tomas Franzén
75 color issue in 1917. Awards, which Chief Executive Officer Dave Freygang
began in 2007. Executive Vice President Eric Zinczenko
Chief Content Officer David Ritchie
50 Chief Financial Officer Todd DeBoer
Chief Operating Officer Lisa Earlywine
Chief Marketing Officer Elizabeth Burnham Murphy
25 Chief Digital Revenue Officer Sean Holzman
Vice President, Integrated Sales John Graney
Vice President, Consumer Marketing John Reese
Vice President, Digital Audience Development Jennifer Anderson
1880 1900 1920 1940 1960 1980 2000 Vice President, Digital Operations David Butler
Vice President, Public Relations Perri Dorset
General Counsel Jeremy Thompson

For reprints, e-mail: reprints@bonniercorp.com.

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address changes, email preferences, billing, and account status, go to popsci.com/cs. You sustainably managed
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N O W • M AY 2 0 1 5

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a 200-mile-per-hour racecar, auto LM P1 prototype class at the 24 horsepower typically distribute weight evenly for
engineers tend to hew to a long-held Hours of Le Mans World Endurance with its com- balanced handling. But behind the
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than front-wheel drive for handling 13, in Le Mans, France. The ERS adds covery system (ERS), which captures
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Moving the engine forward
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N O W • M AY 2 0 1 5
Timeline

YOU OWE
YOUR
DAILY
ROUTINE Begun in 1851, the World’s Fair

TO THE
once served as an open showroom
for technical oddities, scientific
breakthroughs, and cultural mash-
ups. Although it still draws millions
of visitors every five years, upstarts
like the Consumer Electronics Show

WORLD’S
and Apple’s special media events
have long since eclipsed its role in
breaking tech news. Today, the fair
focuses on global challenges: This
year’s Expo 2015, which starts
May 1, in Milan, Italy, will explore

FAIR
world hunger. Yet, it’s the World’s
Fairs past that define our lives now;
they exposed people to technologies
that at the time seemed bizarre and
futuristic—but today seem quite
familiar. A M A N D A G R E E N

8 A.M. 9 A.M. 11 A.M. 2 P.M. 4 P.M. 7 P.M. 10 P.M.


Tuck into a carb- Tune in to The Plug in your Skype with mom. Kill some time Find a date on Head to an IMAX
heavy breakfast Today Show, cour- laptop at the local If she complains playing Candy OkCupid. Com- theater with
of Shredded tesy of RCA. The Starbucks and about your new- Crush Saga on puter hook-ups go your date to see
Wheat, created by defunct company think of inventor fangled technology, your smartphone, back to the 1964 Tomorrowland.
E LEM EN TA L I M AGI N G /G ET T Y I M AGES

inventor Henry pioneered the first Harvey Hubbell. remind her that courtesy of New York World’s The format first
Perky, or, if there’s television broad- He debuted the Bell Labs demoed Former Oak Ridge Fair. Parker Pens captivated movie-
a chill in the air, cast at the 1939 detachable plug the Picturephone National Labora- connected 1.2 goers at Expo ‘70
Cream of Wheat, New York World’s at the 1904 Louis- at the 1964 New tory scientist Sam million fairgoers in Osaka, Japan,
invented by miller Fair, streaming iana Purchase York World’s Hurst. He wowed to pen pals around with the 17-minute
Tom Amidon. live footage of Exposition in St. Fair. Huge lines the 1982 World’s the globe with a IMAX-ready Tiger
These cereal-aisle Franklin Delano Louis. Before that, formed to use its Fair in Knoxville, computer that Child. Don’t forget
staples both Roosevelt on its you hard-wired tiny screen and Tennessee, with matched ages and the popcorn, first
debuted at the early TVs, called devices to live push-button phone a curved-glass interests. It had popularized at the
World's Columbian TRK-12s (for post terminals— to see and talk to touchscreen tech- hoped to spur life- 1901 Pan-American
Exposition in 1893 their 12-inch tube time-consuming visitors at Disney- nology he later long friendships Exposition in
in Chicago. screens). and dangerous. land in California. called Accutouch. (and pen buying). Buffalo, New York.

16 / PO P U L A R S CIE NCE
N O W • M AY 20 1 5
The Platform

HOW PEBBLE’S CEO PLANS TO


WIN THE SMARTWATCH WARS
EDITED AN D CO N D EN SED BY L I ND S E Y KRATOC H W I L L
Popular Science: First things first.
Long before Apple dove into the smartwatch business this Why did you make crowdfunding and
spring, a little company called Pebble made a big splash—and set open source part of your strategy?
Eric Migicovsky: We were a small
a $10-million Kickstarter record—by debuting an intelligent time- company—only five people. When
piece that provides emails, texts, and music controls. Pebble Time, we launched, on Kickstarter, people
its newest iteration, ships this month and builds on the original all over the world pumped our tiny
with a color e-paper display and a built-in mic. But after Apple’s project up to a scale we had never
imagined. But more important, they
gorilla-size entry into the market, can Pebble stand its ground? spotted a product area that was
Eric Migicovsky, the company’s founder and CEO, gives us his view— completely new. No one was talking
and advice for his new competitors. about smartwatches in 2012, except
for these people. Our users gave us
immense feedback, helped show
what was working, what wasn’t.
That guided us and directly influenced
what Pebble Time is.

PS: You must have some worries about

49
competition from Apple.
EM: We focus on something no one
else in the world focuses on. If you

continued on page 20

Number of
hours it took
Pebb le T ime
to raise its f irs t
$1 m illion on
Kickstar ter

18 / POP U L A R S CIE NCE PHOTOGRA PHS BY Cody Pickens


ADVERTISEMENT
N O W • MAY 2015
The Platform / continued from page 18

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enhance how people see the world, future of smartwatches is not siloed apps watches. But I’m excited about the
on your wrist. The future of smartwatches future. If you looked at smartphones in
beyond what nature gave them. Show
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us how you see the world by sending what’s coming up next at a glance. That’s like Uber? Spotify? Instagram? We’re at
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have your winning image showcased EM: It doesn’t replace your phone, first PS: How has wearing a smartwatch
in Popular Science. off. You can’t make calls from our watch. affected your life?
Though, when you think about it, that’s not EM: I’ve been wearing a smartwatch for
what a watch should do. You have a phone five years; it's become incredibly inter-
Submit your images to for that. What a watch does is tell time, twined with how I work. I rarely take out
popsci.com/transitionscontest2015 and that’s the way it’s been for the last my phone to check emails. If something
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Teeth ba rely longer than the
d i a meter o f a hu m a n h a i r a l l ow
limpets to scrape food from ro cks.

E D I TE D BY Jen Schwartz & Breanna Draxler Next


FR O M TOP : J ER RY M O N KM AN (M YN )/ N AT U R E P I C T U R E LI B R A RY/ C O R B IS ; A . BA RB E R, UN I V E RS I T Y OF PORTS MOUT H/ N .PUGN O, UN I V E RS I T Y OF T RE N TO

Spider silk had a good run as


nature’s strongest material. But
recently, limpet teeth—made of
mineral nanofibers—were found to be
up to five times stronger. Asa Barber,
an engineering professor at the
University of Portsmouth in England,
measured the stretching force needed
to break the aquatic snail’s teeth and
says they’re comparable to man-
made carbon fiber, only more flexible.
“We can take these features we see
in nature into the lab,” he says, “to
help drive better designs for planes
and cars.” JUN N IE K WO N

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 25
N E X T • M AY 2 0 1 5
Geeking Out

Jess Peláez On blueprinting Earth’s ecosystems

When humans extract resources like


trees and coal, repairing the damage
Restoring environments after is often limited to ‘Let’s throw some
human intrusion or natural disasters dirt in a hole.’ That’s partly what
is complicated: There’s still much inspired me to start the nonprofit
we don’t know about the interplay Blueprint Earth. We want to lay the
of microbes and mammals, aquifers groundwork for a much higher stan-
and air pollution. But geologist Jess dard. Even though we understand that
Peláez thinks the solution is as everything in nature is interconnected,
simple (and as complex) as catalog- science has become so specialized
ing our ecosystems, one at a time. that no one really knows how to put a
complete environment back together.
The goal is to combine the work being
done in individual disciplines—from
the granular to the macro level.
In our first project, we’re working
with scientists, engineers, and
students to catalog one square
kilometer of the Mojave Desert. We’re
creating a blueprint of the geology,
biology, hydrology, and atmosphere
to understand how they all interact.
Once we’ve mapped the data, we’ll
test our blueprint by re-creating that
section of desert—the spring, the
toads, the fungi—in a giant ware-
house nearby. The know-how exists;
scientists are already simulating
geologic features, like landslides and
lava flows, in labs. We’re never going
to be quite as good as Earth itself,
but let’s figure out how close is
close enough.
The initial purpose is to make
something functional. Take a place
“We want to hand damaged by deforestation, like Haiti.
We could blueprint an analogous area
off this project of the Dominican Republic, which is
to the next healthy, and try to replicate it in Haiti
to help the environment heal in a way
generation—like that isn’t possible now.
Further down the road, we hope
a seed bank for our data will be useful for space
exploration and help programs like
environments.” NASA and SpaceX do optimized
terra-engineering. Something this
big-picture can seem terrifying, but
when it’s framed as a collaboration
over many lifetimes, it’s not.”
AS TO LD TO K AT H ER IN E KO R N EI

18,000,000
Estimated number of acres world-
wide lost annually to deforestation

26 / POP U L A R S CIE NCE PHOTOGRA PH BY Charlie Langella


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28 /
Concepts & Prototypes

PO P U L A R S CIE NCE
LOFTY DESIGN
The Edison Tower,
dreamed up by
German developer 2
An Elevator Frank Jendrusch,
will reach nearly TOPPING OUT
4,300 feet—about After about 2,000
four-fifths of a feet, the cables in
a standard eleva-
That Will mile. The idea is
to create an all- tor can’t support
in-one space with both the car and
Reshape residences, offices, their own weight,
shopping, and rec- so passengers
reation. Jendrusch must switch to a
aims to build the new one. Multi
Skylines tower by 2030. will run 4,200
feet, direct from
ground floor to
observation deck.

With the debut of passenger elevators


some 150 years ago, cities were forever
changed. Freed from the tyranny of stair-
wells, architects built as high as they liked.
That is, until they ran into another barrier:
the weight of steel cables. A new elevator
design from German company Thyssen-
Krupp may solve that problem by trading
cables for tracks that employ magnetic
levitation, or maglev. Unconstrained by a
linear pulley system, the cars—to be tested
in Germany next year—will travel higher
and in new directions, moving horizontally
and even diagonally. The system, called
Multi, may help make possible buildings of
unprecedented size and energy efficiency,
like this conceptual Edison Tower.
Patrick Bass, CEO of ThyssenKrupp North
America, says supertall, power-producing
skyscrapers could help accommodate
booming urbanization. L O R E N G R U S H
3
MAGNETIC PULL
4 Maglev will enable
Multi to “float” to

I L LU STR ATI ON S BY
RANGE OF its destination.
MOTION Magnets in the
Multi is far more car will repel
nimble than a opposing magnets
pulley system. To along the track,
change orienta- causing the car to
tion, the section hover. A separate
of rail carrying set of coils along

Graham Murdoch
the elevator car the track will push
will rotate, shift- and pull the car
ing the direction in its intended
of the moving direction.
magnetic field.

5
OUTDOORS IN
All that additional 6
space will allow
for creative POSITIVE
interior designs, ENERGY
7
like parks. With its unique ROOM TO GROW
star shape, the Up to 20 percent
core of the Edison of any high-
Tower will act rise building is
similarly to a solar consumed by
updraft tower, elevator space.
using the flow ThyssenKrupp
of hot air to turn estimates that
internal turbines. Multi could reduce
Along with the elevator
photovoltaics, it’ll footprint in future
produce power for buildings by up to
the building. 50 percent.
1 World Burj
Trade Khalifa,
Center, Dubai,
8 New York 2,722 ft.
City,
SPRAWLING 1,776 ft.
FOOTPRINT
The building will
cover nearly one
square mile.
N E X T • M AY 2 0 1 5
By the Numbers
POUNDS OF HOPS USED BY U.S.
CRAFT BREWERS ANNUALLY
CRAFT BEER IS 31 MILLION (PROJECTED) IN 2015
ANNIHILATING 30

THE HOP
SUPPLY 27 MILLION IN 2014

Even the diviest bar’s tap list will 25


tell you: The craft beer boom is upon
us. In 2014, the U.S. was home to
3,200 craft breweries; this year, a
new one will open every 16 hours.
The trend is a boon for adventurous
drinkers, but it’s stretching the hop
supply dangerously thin.
“The demand is unprecedented,” 20
says Steve Miller, hop specialist at
Cornell University. Hop consumption
has nearly quadrupled in the past “Craft brewing
decade, thanks in part to the popu-
larity of super-hoppy India Pale Ales, is sucking up
which now account for more than a
fifth of the craft beer market.
every pound
Washington’s Yakima Valley, a hotspot of hops in the 15
for domestic hop producers, can’t
keep up, so single-acre hop operations
U.S. Growers
are popping up on other types of farms can’t expand
across the country. Growers in New York,
Minnesota, and Colorado provide local
fast enough.”
—Doug MacKinnon, former director
brewers with hops that reflect a dis-
of the Hop Growers of America
tinctive regional terroir. In return, many
brewers agree to share up-front costs, 10
guaranteeing a market for the harvest.
“The locavore movement has gone
beyond the salad bowl to the pint
glass,” says Tom Britz, founder of
Glacier Hop Ranch, which supplies 18
Montana breweries. This new, more
diverse model may buoy the rapid rise 6 MILLION IN 2007
of craft breweries. And a sustainable
5
supply of pumpkin peach ale is some-
thing we can all drink to. M AT T G I L E S

132
Number of hop
varieties used by
U.S. brewers, up
from 88 in 2009
0
S O UR C E: B R E WE R S AS S OC IAT IO N

30 / POP U L A R S CIE NCE PHOTOGRA PH BY Brian Klutch


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N E X T • M AY 20 1 5
Subjective Measures

IS IT TIME FOR US TO PHONE E.T.? HOW WE


COULD
Institute, suggests banning contact TALK TO
altogether. “You’re going to risk the ALIENS
In our search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), entire fate of the planet just to get a
we humans have mostly just waited, and listened, for conversation going?” he asks.
TODAY
aliens to contact us. But in February, policymakers, The fact is, TV and radio trans-
philosophers, futurists, and astronomers convened to missions have long been leaking 1 Blast a
debate a new approach: contacting aliens directly. into space, weakly pointing to life on laser that
will outshine
Initiating active SETI is no small decision. Sure, we’ve Earth. We don’t know whether life is the sun for a
tacked messages onto the occasional space probe, even out there, let alone whether it nanosecond
but transmitting detectable signals to habitable zones wields laser blasters. Adam Korbitz, so it can’t be
hundreds of light-years away requires commitment. an attorney specializing in SETI, missed.
Operating the Arecibo telescope’s radar for a year would argues there could be more danger
run up a bill of some $2 million; future, more powerful in remaining a wallflower: “Our
2 Broad-
cast the
broadcasters will suck up even more energy. Plus, we long-term survival may depend on whole Inter-
may signal for thousands of years before we reach joining the galactic club.” Advanced net, which is
anyone, and it could take just as long to get a response. civilizations might have engineered a redundant
Some astronomers fear announcing our existence way out of climate change or cracked enough to
be self-
may attract the attention of civilizations bent on the code on quantum physics. decoding.
destroying Earth or mining its minerals. It’s a point If we hold off, we may miss an
Stephen Hawking has argued before: “Advanced aliens opportunity to understand the mys- 3 Ping
would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer teries of the universe—or at least habitable
planets with
and colonize whatever planets they can reach.” John learn that we’re not alone. It’s time we
powerful
Gertz, former chairman of the board at the SETI make the first move. SARAH SCOLES and targeted
(but content-
free) radio
beacons.

4 Compose
messages of
electromag-
netic waves
that are
intelligent,
if un-
intelligible.

32 / PO P U L A R S CIE NCE PHOTOGRA PH BY Brian Klutch


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M AY 2 0 1 5

T HE 2 0 1 5
Invention
Awards

It took a whole team to


build a 3-D portrait of
Bre Pettis. Artist Sophie
Kahn scanned his head.
Then, MakerBot design-
ers Nathan Worth, Lane
Feuer, and Anne Miner
cleaned up the scans
and digitally modeled a
mechanical brain. Finally,
they printed the parts on
a MakerBot Replicator
Z18, painted them, and
assembled Pettis’s
plastic double. Why?
Because they could.

34 / POP U L A R S CIE NCE


M AY 2 0 1 5

Invention Awards

How to Be a As the co-founder of


MakerBot Industries, Bre
Pettis launched the first
variations of inventor. Are
you an entrepreneur? An
engineer? A researcher?

(Brilliant) Inventor affordable 3-D printer,


bringing the power of
rapid prototyping and
A visionary? I think you
need all those things on
your team to actually get
WITH BRE PETTIS micro-manufacture into an invention invented and
homes and workshops out in the world. Or you
around the globe. While can be a couple of people
the rest of us catch up, wearing multiple hats.
Pettis has already moved What kind of inventor
on. At Bold Machines, the are you?
skunkworks he founded, I’m a little bit of a weirdo.
he helps other inventors My primary mission is
bring ideas to life. Pettis to empower people to be
explains why invention creative. I wish I could say
has never been easier. I was a brilliant technical
mind, but my real super-
How did you come up power is being a visionary
with MakerBot? and gathering together
We wanted a 3-D printer, exceptionally talented
but we couldn’t get our people who get wonderful
hands on one. So we just things done.
had to try and try again It sounds difficult to cre-
until we made one that ate something truly new,
worked. The core of inno- at least for those of us
vation is trial and error. without superpowers.
Fail as many times as it It has never been a better
takes, and be strategic time to invent things. It
about what you learn. used to be you had to be a
What makes an invention tycoon with a factory and
groundbreaking? a big R&D department.
So many inventions are Now, basically anybody
solutions for problems can buy a Raspberry Pi or
that don’t exist. Actual a microcontroller and a
innovation is really hard, bunch of sensors and be
because you have to proj- on their way. Then, when
ect yourself into a future you have to add code,
that hasn’t been invented you can probably modify
yet. And often, when you somebody else’s: The soft-
think of something that ware is accessible. And
changes the paradigm or the Internet—there are so
is disruptive, there are many things that people
all sorts of reasons you have shared that you can
shouldn’t do it. You have take inspiration from and
to stick your fingers in modify and mess with.
your ears and pretend We live in a much more
those reasons don’t exist. connected, fantastic,
How do you know collaborative world today.
whether you’ll succeed? If you could give aspiring
Maybe you don’t! That’s inventors one task, what
why it is, in general, a hor- would it be?
rible idea to be an inven- Begin.
tor. You have to be willing And one thing to avoid?
to risk years of your life. Don’t stop.
Do you recommend
working with others? ED IT ED & CO N D EN S ED BY
There are a few different S O P H IE B US H WICK

PHOTOGRA PHS BY Kareem Black P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 35


M AY 2 0 1 5

Invention Awards

AV I A T I O N

A Plane
That Folds
Into a Car
The adjustable
wing can optimize
1 its angle of attack
for taking off or
cruising. This
allows for
reduced speed
and distance
during takeoff.

Light materials,
including a 3
After Czechoslovakia’s commu- carbon-composite 4
body over a steel The prototype’s
nist regime fell, in 1989, designer
airframe and 100-horsepower
Štefan Klein began working on a A robust sus-
six-pound carbon four-cylinder pension will
concept for a flying car. Inspired by wheels, keep Rotax 912 engine enhance on-road
his newfound freedom, he aimed weight low. runs on conven- performance and
tional gasoline, so enable takeoff
to translate that personal liberty
drivers can fuel and landing on
to the skies. In 2010, he shared his up at existing gas relatively rough
work with his friend Juraj Vaculík, stations. (Produc- terrain.
an entrepreneur. They joined forces tion models may
have a different
to found AeroMobil and develop engine.)
a viable commercial product. “We
wanted to create a car and airplane
without compromises,” Vaculík
says, “to provide individuals with a
new, interesting option for door-to-
door personal transportation.”
Others have attempted and
failed to build flying cars. But
AeroMobil isn’t a car that can fly; feet off the ground and landed back Because the U.S. has stringent
it’s an airplane that can drive. Its Inventors: at the same airfield. Since then, vehicle-safety regulations, the
light weight, collapsible wings, and Štefan Klein and AeroMobil has completed more current prototype is intended for
efficient design make it precision- Juraj Vaculík than 40 test flights. The company countries with more flexible road
tuned for flight. On the ground, it Company: is now pursuing an airworthiness rules. The AeroMobil team hopes
C O URT ESY A E R O M O BI L (2 )

AeroMobil
provides roadster-like handling. certification with the Slovak it will be classified as a light-sport
Invention:
Last October, Klein drove the AeroMobil
Federation of Ultra-Light Flying aircraft, which requires a pilot’s
fourth prototype, AeroMobil 3.0, to to permit expanded flight testing license. Future models may inspire
Development
a grassy airfield in Nitra, Slovakia, cost to date: throughout the European Union. their own class. “At the beginning,
unfolded its wings, and took off on Undisclosed Meanwhile, further structural and we’ll need certification for both air-
the vehicle’s maiden flight. It soared Maturity: aerodynamic tests will help finalize plane and car,” Klein says. “But this
in a 12-mile circle more than 800 쏆쏆쏆쏆쏆 the vehicle’s design. truly is a new category.” ER IC ADAM S

36 / POP U L A R S CIE NCE


M AY 2 0 1 5

Invention Awards

MEDICINE

Needle-Free
Vaccination
Avionics from
5 Garmin will
include a two-axis
autopilot to Vaccines save lives, but most of
control pitch them are delivered by needle. That’s
and roll. In case
of emergency, a problem for people without
the vehicle will access to refrigerated solution,
have a ballistic clean syringes, and safe ways to dis-
parachute safety
pose of medical waste. Biomedical
system.
Inventor: engineer Kasia Sawicka invented a
Katarzyna “Kasia” painless alternative: a patch, called
Sawicka ImmunoMatrix, that can vaccinate
Company: patients without breaking the skin.
ImmunoMatrix LLC “This technology can affect how
Invention: vaccines are delivered, especially
ImmunoMatrix
during pandemics,” Sawicka says.
Development
cost to date:
The skin doesn’t absorb large
$100,000–200,000 molecules easily, which meant
Maturity Sawick had to find another way to
쏆쏆쏆쏆쏆 get vaccines across that barrier. As
an undergraduate at Stony Brook
University, she worked in a lab
that stocked an extremely water-
absorbent material called poly-
vinylpyrrolidone. She found that
this polymer (used in hairspray
during the era of beehive hairdos)
could pull water out of the skin.
When moisture returned, the
outer layer of the skin swelled,
allowing larger-than-usual mole-
cules to enter.
Over several years, Sawicka per-
fected a process that involves com-
bining the polymer with vaccine
Special packaging solution, forming it into nanofibers
lets the patches go with large surface areas, and weav-
without refrigera-
ing those fibers into dense mats. In
tion for 10 weeks,
far longer than tests on rats and synthetic human
vaccine solution. skin, the patches delivered vac-
cine molecules 250 times
larger than those the skin
typically absorbs. No
prick necessary.
ALEXANDRA OSSOLA
P HOTO GR AP H BY JI L L S HO M E R

Be an ea rly adopte r. Tr y
buying a bitcoin. Set up a
BRE’S TI P
Raspberry Pi as an arcade

ADV I C E #1 machine. Doing things gets


the juices flowing and gets
you thinking in new ways .

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 37
M AY 2 0 1 5

Invention Awards

C O M M U N I C AT I O N

A Braille
Printer
Born From
LEGO

The world’s cheapest Braille printer


got its start with a single piece of
mail. Upon seeing a letter soliciting
donations for the blind, Shubham
Banerjee, then 12 years old, asked The first version of Braigo, built with parts from a LEGO
his parents how blind people robotics kit, used a thumbtack to punch Braille dots into
read. They suggested he Google it. paper. Banerjee put the design and software for Braigo
1.0—which costs about $355 to make—online for free.
Banerjee’s Internet search turned
up Braille printers, all of which cost
more than $1,800. So he set out to Inventor: In summer 2014, Banerjee formed fabricated printer parts powered by
make a cheaper alternative using Shubham Banerjee Braigo Labs with the help of his an Intel Edison chip.
his favorite toy—LEGOs. Company: parents. That fall, he released the Like its predecessor, Braigo 2.0
Braigo Labs Inc.
Banerjee finished building his prototype for Braigo 2.0 at the is light and portable—but it’s far
Invention:
first prototype, Braigo, in February Intel Developer Forum, and Intel more advanced. Using both Wi-Fi
Braigo
2014. But the device was limited to Capital offered him seed funding and Bluetooth, its chip will connect
Development
printing on narrow rolls of paper. cost to date: for further R&D. Along with a team the printer to a webpage where
“I still love LEGO, but I had to move Undisclosed of advisers, Banerjee, now 13, is cur- users can type standard text. Braigo
on to something that would be Maturity: rently refining the second iteration will automatically translate the
released into the market,” he says. 쏆쏆쏆쏆쏆 of his printer, which will consist of words into Braille, converting a 160-

type who leave an event, as they


WEARABLES did in 2013, determined to help solve
the planet’s single largest environ-
FR O M TOP : P HOTO G R A PH BY NE I L BA N ER J E E; C O U RT ESY T Z OA (2 )
Personal Pollution Monitor mental health risk: air pollution.
Most cities rely on just a hand-
ful of expensive air monitors to
detect hazardous pollution levels.
Hart and Moe decided to build a
Journeyman electrician Kevin wearable device that collects data
R. Hart and nurse Laura Moe are everywhere a person goes.
the type of people who attend Inventors: After planning out how the
Environmental Protection Agency Kevin R. Hart and sensor would work, the pair turned
events for fun. They’re also the Laura Moe to the resources at MakerLabs, a
Company: community workspace in their
TZOA Wearables
native Vancouver, British Colum-
A fan directly beneath TZOA’s triangular Invention:
cover sucks in air. As pollutants cross
bia, for further development. “We
TZOA
a laser, they scatter light onto a sensor used basically everything in the
Development
that counts them. TZOA then glows a
cost to date: building,” says Hart. A group of
color corresponding to the air safety level. physicists renting space on the top
Undisclosed
A smartphone app also displays that
data, along with daily UV light exposure Maturity: floor worked with them to build
and crowdsourced pollution maps. 쏆쏆쏆쏆쏆 an accurate air pollution monitor

38 / POP U L A R S CIE NCE


M AY 2 0 1 5

Invention Awards

B R E ’ S ADV I C E

TIP
#2

Seek out mature


industries— ones that
haven’t been auto-
mated or touched by
the Internet. Disrupt
them by making things
networked, better, and Nimble Sense
more affordable. could let VR users
grab and throw a
digital object or
even pluck the
strings of a
virtual guitar.

page document in 35 seconds.


Once printers are ready,
they will be sent to various
institutes for the blind for
testing and feedback. The final
model, planned for release in
late 2015, will sell for less than GAMING
$500, making it the first—and
only—low-cost Braille printer.
ALLIE W ILK IN S O N
Hands-On Virtual Reality

smaller than anything on the When peering through a virtual- depth-sensing camera good enough
market. Industrial designer reality headset, players can’t see for VR hand tracking.” Existing
Afshin Mehin helped make their hands—or use them to inter- videogame motion trackers, such
the device beautiful. The size act with their digital surroundings. as Microsoft’s Kinect, are designed
of an Oreo cookie, the sensor To solve VR’s interaction problem, to detect large objects, such as a
measures particulate matter, a software developers Robert Wang, bouncing 8-year-old several feet
key air pollution component, as Chris Twigg, Kenrick Kin, and away, not subtle hand movements.
well as ultraviolet light. Shangchen Han formed a start-up, The team set out to design its
Hart and Moe plan to sell courted investors, and got to work. own specialized camera, Nimble
Inventors:
TZOA, as they named the moni- Robert Wang, The four had spent years work- Sense, small enough to fit over an
tor, for $99, in late 2015. Citizen- Chris Twigg, ing with motion-tracking camera Oculus headset and with a field of
scientists want the sensors to Kenrick Kin, and systems and developing algorithms view optimized for VR. It monitors
pinpoint polluters, but Hart sees Shangchen Han that monitor and analyze skeletal users’ hands, and software then
bigger potential for individu- Company: structure. With their experience, it digitally mimics every gesture.
C O URT ESY N I M BLE V R (2 )

Nimble VR
als who want to protect their didn’t take long to craft software Facebook-owned Oculus VR was so
Invention:
health. Using data from TZOA, Nimble Sense
that tracks joint angles and knuckle convinced it bought the start-up,
parents can keep infants away placement to create realistic virtual Nimble VR, last December. Now,
Development
from pockets of pollution, and cost to date: hands. But they couldn’t find a the developers are working to make
athletes can plan workouts for Undisclosed camera sensitive enough to pick Nimble Sense even better. “There are
the least-polluted routes and Maturity: up such data. “We played with still a lot of interesting problems left
times of day. M A DELIN E BOD I N 쏆쏆쏆쏆쏆 them all,” Wang says. “There was no to be solved,” Wang says. M O MOZ UC H

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 39
M AY 2 0 1 5

Invention Awards

AU TO M O T I V E

A Self-
Balancing
Vehicle

Daniel Kim thinks most commuters


drive around in way too much
car. For single-passenger trips,
motorcycles are much more fuel-
S tabi l i ty-
efficient—a critical feature in an
control
era of climate change—but they are
m o d ul e
also more dangerous, expose riders
to the elements, and require skill to
keep upright. Kim’s solution? Cut
the car in half.
His all-electric C-1 prototype has
two wheels, like a motorcycle, but
a steel, aluminum, and composite
outer body, like a car. It can even
drive backward. If you sit inside the
C-1 and sway from side to side,
a gyroscopic control system keeps
the vehicle upright. “When was the
last time you balanced on a motor- Gy ros
cycle at zero miles an hour?” Kim
asks rhetorically. “Never.”
A two-time college dropout, Kim
B atte r y
hatched his idea in 2004, while G i m ba l
running a business customizing
cars. That’s when he narrowly
missed being crushed under the
that pushes the
500-pound chassis of a Land Rover. C-1 to the left.
He emerged with the conviction When backward,
that no single person needs such a 1 the vehicle leans
to the right.
large vehicle. Kim went back to Two gyros located
college and graduated from the beneath the seat 3
Rhode Island School of Design. whirl clockwise at The computerized
5,000 to 12,000 stability-control
Then, concept in hand, he raised
rotations per module changes
$3.5 million in venture capital— minute. Like any the tilt of the
enough to launch Lit Motors in 2010. rapidly spinning gimbals to keep the
The allure of a self-stabilizing should go from zero to 60 miles disc, such as an C-1 balanced. The
Inventor: airborne Frisbee, vehicle remains
two-wheeler has tempted automo- per hour in six seconds or less, the rotors naturally
Daniel Kim level when driving
tive designers for at least a century. reach a top speed of 100 miles per stay level. straight or standing
Earlier attempts, however, had fatal Company: hour, and enjoy a 200-mile range. still and leans at
Lit Motors 2
flaws—the gyros were too large, He hopes the product will hit the an angle when
C O URT ESY L I T M OTOR S

Invention: Single-axis gimbal making turns.


the mechanical control systems C-1
market within two years but admits assemblies, which
too crude. The C-1 instead employs that the challenge is substantial. hold the gyros, can 4
Development
computer-directed control-moment “There is no real academic track tilt forward and A 10.4 kilowatt-
cost to date:
backward. When per-hour battery
gyros, the same tools currently $3.5 million for learning how to start your own tilted forward, the pack lasts 150 to
steering satellites in space. Maturity: car company,” Kim says, “so I had to gyro generates a 200 miles on a
Kim says the finished vehicle 쏆쏆쏆쏆쏆 make it myself.” JAM ES VLAH O S powerful torque single charge.

40 / PO P U L A R S CIE NCE
M AY 2 0 1 5

Invention Awards

1
The ceramic
outer shell has a
chemical makeup
similar to that
of coral, which
encourages
polyps to take
root. Its textured Inventor:
surface gives Alex Goad
smaller organisms Company:
places to hide Reef Design Lab
from predators.
Invention:
2 Modular Artificial
Concrete, rein- Reef Structure
forced by com- Development
posite rebar, gives cost to date:
the reef a durable $11,500
core. These
Maturity:
materials can last
쏆쏆쏆쏆쏆
at least 60 years
underwater.

3
The open shape
allows strong
currents to move
through the reef
without knocking
it over. The struc-
ture also traps
eddies, which
carry the nutrients
that feed marine
organisms.
ENVIRONMENT together easily, like LEGOs. The
modular structure makes MARS

An Artificial Reef more flexible than other artificial


reefs. “A lot of existing products

for Any Seafloor require a flat seafloor. But around


the world, the ocean is not flat,
especially where reef systems
occur,” Goad says. “With MARS, you
can build over natural features, as
high and as wide as you want.”
During a 2011 trip to Miami, Alex essentially homeless. Building up After graduation, Goad teamed
Goad went scuba diving and artificial reefs where real ones have up with his adviser David Lennon,
explored the artificial coral reefs been lost is one stopgap solution. the director of Sustainable Oceans
off the Atlantic coast. Such reefs, So for his final project as an International, to found Reef Design
he realized, are large, heavy, and industrial-design student at Lab and make MARS a real home
expensive to fabricate and install. Monash University in Melbourne, for marine life. It took between 10
But they serve an important pur- Australia, Goad created the and 15 prototypes to find the ideal
pose. Natural coral reefs are some Modular Artificial Reef Structure materials, surface texture, size, and
of the most biodiverse places on (MARS). Locking and clamping weight for the units, which they
Earth, and they’ve begun to disap- mechanisms on the arms of each tested in aquariums and in Austra-
pear, leaving thousands of species MARS unit allow them to snap lia’s Port Phillip Bay. Goad and
Lennon plan to release MARS this
P HOTO GR AP H BY AL EX GOA D

fall for purchase by environmental


organizations and coastal commu-
Embrace the absurd. Eve r y t h i n g we ta ke fo r
nities. “When local communities
granted now was weird when it f i rst came
BRE’S TI P out. While building your automated pinball-
physically build the artificial reef,
ADV I C E #3 machine cocktail-serving robot, you may just
they gain a greater appreciation for
natural reef systems,” Goad says.
d i s cover s o met h i n g t r uly i n n ovat ive.
LIN D S EY K R ATO CH WILL

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 41
M AY 2 0 1 5

Invention Awards After adding a sample,


such as blood, the user
1 selects a punch card for a
given reaction and cranks
it past gears with teeth.

H E A LT H

Medical
Lab in
a Music
Box 2
As one tooth slides into
a punched hole, another
squeezes a fluid channel to
pump a chemical through a
removable microfluidic chip.

One night in 2011, as Manu Prakash


turned the handle on a music box,
he realized the simple mecha- Punched holes
nism—a crank rotating gears— can also trigger Up to 15 different chemicals
3 the release of a react with one another as
could also run a programmable single droplet, they travel along channels
chemistry set. Most “lab-on-a-chip” for precise etched on the chip.
devices require computers, techni- volume control.
Inventors: 4
cians, and expensive laboratories
Manu Prakash and
to pump precise amounts of liquid George Korir
through a microfluidic chip. But a Affiliation: device that works like a music box. Microfluidics, for mass production.
hand-cranked mechanism could Stanford University First, the duo had to figure out how While conventional microfluidic
eliminate all that; Prakash’s idea Invention: paper punched with patterns of pumps can cost $1,500 each, Prakash
wouldn’t even need power. “What Punchcard holes—each keyed to a different says this device, which contains 15
we’re doing here is steampunk Programmable chemical reaction—could activate pumps, will run $5.
Microfluidics
chemistry,” he says. tiny mechanical pumps and valves Relatively simple to use, the
Development
Prakash, who heads a Stanford cost to date:
to generate nanoliter droplets. instrument will enable anyone with
University research lab, recruited $50,000 Twenty-some prototypes later, a chip and a hole punch to perform
graduate student George Korir to Maturity: they’re preparing their apple-size a complex chemical reaction, such
help create a sophisticated scientific 쏆쏆쏆쏆쏆 invention, Punchcard Programmable as diagnosing disease from a blood

ELECTRONICS

A Printer for
FR O M TOP : P HOTO G R A PH BY G EO R GE KOR I R ; C OU RT ESY VO LT E R A
Circuit Boards
Inventors:
Katarina Ilic,
Alroy Almeida,
While studying mechatronics at the Jesus Zozaya, and circuit boards. “We’d spend a couple
University of Waterloo in Ontario, James Pickard hundred dollars to get prototypes
Alroy Almeida, Jesus Zozaya, and Company: made at a factory and wait a few
James Pickard became frustrated Voltera weeks, and they would come in and
by the inefficiency of designing Invention: be wrong,” Almeida says. After they
V-One revamped the design, the agonizing
Development process would begin again, some-
One print head deposits a custom- cost to date:
formulated, highly conductive silver $200,000 times through multiple prototypes.
nanoparticle paste. Another extrudes Maturity:
Meanwhile, they watched as 3-D
insulating ink to form layers of circuitry 쏆쏆쏆쏆쏆 printers rapidly prototyped other
without risking electrical shorts. Solder kinds of products. An inkjet printer
paste from a third print head can attach
components, such as resistors or micro- that deposited circuits would speed
controllers, to the board. up electronics design—but conduc-

42 / POP U L A R S CIE NCE


M AY 2 0 1 5

Invention Awards

B R E ’ S ADV ICE

TIP
#4

Invent things that


make people’s lives
easier, safer, or more
creative. Explore big
problems —what could
you invent to get me
from New York City
to London in 15 minutes?
Exp lore small p robl ems
—what would it ta ke
to manufactu re nano-
scale ball bearings?

5 The user examines the


results via embedded
lenses that magnify images
hundreds of times.

sample. Even lightly trained


medical providers in rural areas
and developing countries could
identify, and thus control, fatal
illnesses. “I grew up in Kenya and
saw a lot of preventable suffer- GADGETS
ing,” Korir says, “so I’m passion-
ate about getting the right tools
to the people who stand between
A Frying Pan That
life and death.” ELB ER T C H U
Teaches You to Cook
tive material was too thick to
squeeze through existing print Instead of eating at dining halls in next step and then tells the user.
heads. So when the friends grad- college, Humberto Evans cooked his “To cook amazing food the way
uated in 2013, they teamed up own meals. His best friend, Mike chefs do, you have to build intuition
with nanoscientist Katarina Ilic Robbins, on the other hand, could for how long to cook something at
to build their own device. Two barely fry an egg. Robbins would the right temperature,” Evans says.
years of R&D later, the team is forego the lure of takeout only when “We take all that knowledge and
preparing to ship the V-One to Evans gave him step-by-step cooking package it into our app.”
A LL I N V E N TO R I M AG ES C O U RT ESY I N V E N TO R S

Kickstarter backers. instructions. The two realized Users can choose a prepro-
Inventors:
V-One’s swappable print Humberto Evans, that others probably needed some grammed recipe, such as chicken
heads lay down conductive Mike Robbins, culinary hand-holding as well. With adobo or fried eggs, or select
circuits on fiberglass boards. Kyle Moss, and help from two other MIT engineer- freestyle mode to get temperature
P HOTO GR AP H BY BR I A N KLU TC H ;

By using its solder function to Yuan Wei ing alumni, Kyle Moss and Yuan readings but not instructions. If a
attach components, users can Company: Wei, they created the world’s first person likes the meal made in this
CircuitLab Inc.
even produce small batches of smart frying pan: Pantelligent. mode, he or she can record and
Invention:
their devices. Almeida hopes Pantelligent
The pan measures its tem- share the recipe. With a tool that
the printer will usher in a new perature with heat sensors and de-stresses the kitchen experience,
Development
generation of engineers. “This cost to date: transmits the data via Bluetooth the Pantelligent team hopes
can help people understand $20,000+ technology in its handle. A smart- more people will skip unhealthy
that electronics don’t need to be Maturity: phone app uses this information to processed meals in favor of home-
difficult.” S HA N N O N PA LU S 쏆쏆쏆쏆쏆 decide when it’s time for a recipe’s cooked ones. JUN N IE K WO N

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 43
EDI BLE!

By BROOKE BOREL
Illustration by MARC BURCKHARDT

44 / PO P U L A R S CIE NCE
INCREDIBLE,
INSECT
START-UPS ARE MARKETING AN
UNLIKELY NEW PROTEIN. IT’S
NUTRIENT-RICH, ALL NATURAL,
AND SIX-LEGGED.

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 45
Lucy Knops rolls up the sleeves of her lates, and cricket cookies. There are fledgling
loose black shirt and carefully pours each lines of dog treats too, and one company is
ingredient into a small, clear measuring working to mash crickets into a paste, the
cup sitting on a digital kitchen scale. Her entomophagist’s answer to peanut butter.
classmate Julia Plevin records the weights in Late last year, the restaurant consultants
a spreadsheet. When she gets to the crickets, Baum and Whiteman forecast that insect
Knops leans closer and peers into the cup. protein powder would be among the hottest
“That’s so crazy,” she says, “there are so food and drink trends of 2015, along with
many legs!” I follow her gaze; dozens of wiry oysters, unusual root vegetables, and whiskey.
DURING THE LAST WEEKS amputated appendages cling to the sides like Critter Bitters abstracts the crickets further,
the staticky trimmings from a haircut. Knops filtering out the evidence rather than grinding
of winter, in an airy kitchen dumps the whole thing into an empty jar. it up. In fact, Knops and Plevin suspect that
at the School of Visual I am witnessing a test batch of Critter their pure cricket bitters—one of several fla-
Arts in New York City, two Bitters, which the pair first created for a vors they plan to offer—may have fewer insect
school project in 2013. The challenge: make parts than are allowed in food by the U.S.
design students set about a product in response to a report by the Food Food and Drug Administration (FDA); cinna-
making cocktail bitters. and Agriculture Organization of the United mon sticks, for example, may legally contain
A long wooden table holds Nations (FAO) titled “Edible Insects: Future up to 5 percent insects by weight.
Prospects for Food and Feed Security.” The As I watch Knops pour alcohol into the jar
mason jars and gleaming report noted that the global population, now of crickets, their bodies bobbing in a rising tide
bottles of bourbon, vodka, at more than 7 billion, may grow to 9 billion of bourbon, I squint into an older container of
by 2050. Already, nearly 1 billion people reg- bitters—a batch from 2013, the students’ first.
and neutral grain spirits. ularly go hungry. Insects—a source of protein It’s now nearly gone. Knops and Plevin never
The fragrance of ingredi- that requires a fraction of the land, water, suspected the bitters might become a commer-
ents that will macerate over and feed as livestock—could help alleviate the cial product, but after they presented their final
looming crisis. “The case needs to be made to project to the school, they started getting media
the next few weeks, until consumers that eating insects is not only good attention, including from Epicurious.com
they surrender their flavor for their health, it is good for the planet,” the and Food & Wine’s website. “The urge to do
authors wrote. Knops and Plevin figured that something to save a dying planet coincides with
to the alcohol, hangs in the while cricket-based bitters might not solve a very adventurous time in eating,” says Plevin.
air. There are white bowls the food problem, the product could help
of toasted coconut and raw overcome a psychological one. “People are •••
more open to trying new things when there
cacao, as well as a jar of

are cocktails involved,” Plevin says. orth America’s cricket-food
cinnamon sticks. Then, Most of the world has been comfortable industry didn’t spring from a
with entomophagy, or the practice of eating spontaneous, collective epiphany
there are the crickets. insects, for millennia. But it is only in the past about shifting food tastes. Rather, it can be
few years that it has gained momentum in traced to two catalysts. One was the 2013
Western countries, particularly with respect to FAO report that sparked the birth of Critter
crickets. More than 30 start-ups specializing Bitters. The other was a 2010 TED talk by
in crickets have launched in North America Dutch ecological entomologist Marcel Dicke
since 2012. A few raise the insects; the rest that has been viewed online 1.2 million times.
either sell cricket meal—milled to a fine Clicking through PowerPoint slides in an
powder that resembles nut flour—or products insect-adorned T-shirt, Dicke lays out the case
made from it, including cricket granola bars, for entomophagy. A burgeoning population
cricket chips, cricket crackers, cricket choco- will not only add more mouths to feed, he

46 / PO P U L A R S CIE NCE
M AY 2 0 1 5

Edible Insects

BAUM AND WHITEMAN


FORECAST THAT INSECT
PROTEIN WOULD BE AMONG
THE HOTTEST TRENDS OF
points out, but will require more protein; as
people grow richer, they want to eat more
2015, ALONG WITH OYSTERS
meat. Then, there’s the economic argument.
“If you take 10 kilograms of feed, you can get AND WHISKEY.
one kilogram of beef,” Dicke says, “but you
can get nine kilograms of locust meat. If you receptive to their message. Critter Bitters businesses pitch to a panel of investors. By the
were an entrepreneur, what would you do?” plans to launch its first Kickstarter campaign end of the show, Crowley had convinced Mark
In the U.S., both events rippled through this spring, in part to gauge the potential of its Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks pro bas-
a food culture that is increasingly self-aware, customer base. Terry Romero, Kickstarter’s ketball team, to invest $50,000 for 15 percent
if not always scientific—one populated by food outreach lead, has seen an uptick in equity. And by the end of the year, Chapul had
gluten-free trendsetters, protein-heavy paleo insect-food projects. “Instead of the classic earned nearly $400,000 from sales both online
dieters, and eco-conscious locavores—and investor putting in a giant chunk of money, and in health food stores, food co-ops, and at
through a start-up culture filled with young we are helping companies forge relationships Central Market, a gourmet chain. This year it
idealists. “This generation has greater access with people who are emotionally invested in will launch in select Whole Foods. “This was
to knowledge than just 30 to 40 years ago,” what they do,” she says. “These will often be really a passion project to spread an idea,”
says David Gracer, a purveyor of exotic loyal fans for years to come.” Crowley says. “I thought we were probably five
arthropods at SmallStock Food Strategies. Crowdfunding has also proved to investors to 10 years too early when we launched it; it’s
“And when there are TED talks and FAO that there’s a market to be tapped. Patrick happening a lot faster than I had envisioned.”
reports, they inspire a lot of people.” Crowley launched Chapul, the first cricket pro- Another success was SixFoods, the creator
Thanks to crowdfunding sites like Kick- tein bar in the U.S, with a $16,065 Kickstarter of Chirps cricket chips, which raised $70,599
starter and Indiegogo, aspiring start-ups can campaign in 2012. Last year, Crowley was on Kickstarter last year. Now, it’s distributing
now connect directly to an audience especially on the reality show Shark Tank, where small to co-ops in Boston and Seattle and is in talks
PR O D DU C T I M AG ES BY BR I A N K LU TC H ; BI T T Y I M AG E BY J I LL SH OME R

Dozens of cricket-food start-ups have launched in the past few


years—and nearly all disguise the insects in familiar products.

Exo protein bar Bitty cookies Crickers Hopper Crunch granola Critter Bitters Next Millennium
Varieties: cacao nut, Varieties: orange crackers Varieties: toasted Varieties: pure cricket, Farms flour
blueberry vanilla, ginger, chocolate Varieties: rosemary coconut, cranberry vanilla, cacao, Varieties: regular,
apple cinnamon, peanut cardamom, chocolate garlic, classic & almond, cacao & toasted almond; organic gluten-free,
butter and jelly; $2.99 chip; $9.99 sea salt; $6 cayenne; $10 price N/A organic; starting at $15

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 47
with big-box stores. A cricket protein bar example, sells organic and gluten-free cricket Harvard. “We see our chips and cookies as
called Exo attracted $54,911 on Kickstarter flour and will soon add a paleo line of crickets a first step. It’s useful just to have crickets
in 2013; the start-up has since sold several that are fed a grain-free meal. But regardless on the ingredients list and have Americans
hundred thousand bars, raised an additional of the sales pitch, packing crickets into the eating them. But we want to slowly introduce
$1.2 million, and may appear in JetBlue snack familiar shapes of cookies and snack bars other products, with the ultimate goal of going
packs later this year. And Next Millennium doesn’t necessarily ease demand for more to a restaurant where you can get a chicken
Farms, which sells flour made from crickets resource-intensive forms of protein (parti- burger, veggie burger, or ento burger.”
it grows outside Toronto, raised $1 million cularly with regard to products that may
from private investors. “Some of the largest contain neglible amounts of cricket). •••
food production companies in the world are The best scenario for entomophagy advocates


in talks with us—flavoring companies that concerned about global food security is he culinary possibilities of ento
sell to PepsiCo, Unilever, McDonald’s,” says getting people to eat the insects as they are. food rest on a steady supply of the
co-founder Jarrod Goldin. “Food producers “When we started ordering crickets to our main ingredient, which is another
have had to pay attention to what is going on.” dorm, we realized America isn’t ready for reason crickets have taken off. North
Many in the new cricket industry also hope that,” says Laura D’Asaro, who co-founded America already has an industrial cricket
to ride a wave of other trends. Goldin, for Six Foods shortly after graduating from infrastructure; the insects have been grown

t ual
THE GLOBAL MENU Ac ize!
S

B UG I L LUST R AT I ON S BY BR OW N BI R D D ES IG N ; S O UR C ES : “ N UT R IT I ON A L COMPOS I T I ON A N D S A F E T Y AS PECTS OF E DI B L E


The Thai love fried locusts. South Africans munch on are hard to beat: Insects are high in protein, vitamins,
caterpillars. At least 2 billion people worldwide regularly minerals, fiber, and “good” fats. More than 2,000 species
eat insects, according to the Food and Agriculture have reportedly been used as food—and with a million

I N S EC TS , ” B . A . R U M PO L D A N D O . K . S C H LÜT ER , MOLECULAR NUTRITION & FOOD RESEARCH , MA RCH 20 1 3


Organization of the United Nations. Nutritionally, they insect species and counting, more are sure to be found.
House Crickets
Asia, Americas
Acheta domesticus
is one of two species
that farmers can
raise economically.
Calories* 460
Protein 67 g

Palm Weevil
Africa, Asia, Americas
NERD BOX: Larval palm weevils
Countries are colored are by far the most
by the number of edible popular beetle eaten
species, as recorded in the tropics.
by Yde Jongema, Calories 480
an entomologist at Protein 36 g
Wageningen University
in the Netherlands.
1–5
6–25
26–100
More than 100 Ahuahutle
Americas
The eggs of back-
NUMBER OF EDIBLE INSECT SPECIES, BY TYPE swimming bugs have
been eaten in Mexico
for centuries.
Beetles Caterpillars Wasps, bees, Grasshoppers True bugs Termites Other Calories 330
and ants and crickets Protein 57 g
*N UT RI T I ON I N F ORMAT I ON I S PE R 1 0 0 GRA MS OF DRY B U G

48 / POP U L A R S CIE NCE


M AY 2 0 1 5

Edible Insects

for decades as fish bait and food for pet


reptiles. To see how crickets are raised for
people, last November, I took a trip to Big
Cricket Farms in Youngstown, Ohio, the first
food-grade cricket operation in the U.S.
The farm resides in a former vegetable
co-op, a 5,000-square-foot warehouse tucked
in the back of a parking lot. Kevin Bachhuber,
Big Cricket’s co-founder, had promised I
would hear the chorus of breeders—mature antee that food-grade crickets are farm-raised up,” Bachhuber told me, “is that your stress
crickets capable of reproducing—but when I rather than wild-caught to avoid pesticides levels will never be higher.”
stepped inside, I met only silence. A crisis of and other unintentional contaminants. And Big Cricket got its start through the
unknown origin had killed more than a mil- as of now, the USDA has no plans to inspect Youngstown Business Incubator, and at
lion breeders weeks before my arrival. Luck- cricket farms and likely won’t unless there is the end of my visit to Ohio, Bachhuber and
ily, I missed the direct aftermath: the deathly an obvious and widespread health problem I headed to the former furniture store it
smell of 900 pounds of rotting cricket corpses. or they begin producing amounts comparable occupies across town. A conference room had
“It was like a little genocide,” Bachhuber said.
He and the company’s cricket wrangler,
Luana Correia, led me away from the empty
breeder boxes to the nursery, split into two
black tents. We pulled sanitary disposable
booties over our shoes, unzipped a door,
and stepped into an oppressive heat—the
tents are kept at 90 degrees Fahrenheit and
90 percent humidity to nurture the young.
It smelled like roasted nuts. Plastic boxes
lined the walls, and Correia pulled one down
to show me an egg carton inside. It teemed
with uncountable baby crickets, nicknamed
pinheads, the features on their fragile bodies
nearly imperceptible. The tents hold three
to four million in total. If they all grow to to beef and other meat, says Sonny been set up for a small reception, and a long
adulthood—unlikely, as pinheads are prone Ramaswamy, director of the National table held typical party fare: platters of cheese
to accidental squashing—they will amount Institute of Food and Agriculture. That’s not and hard sausage, veggies with dip, chips, and
to 3,000 pounds of cricket meat, or 750 likely anytime soon: Americans alone eat crackers. At the end of the row sat one bowl
pounds of protein powder. By harvesting the about 26 billion pounds of beef a year. of homemade cricket pesto and another with
adults every seven weeks, Big Cricket proj- Although crickets are unlikely to transmit whole crickets sautéed in garlic. The pesto
ects it will grow 60,000 pounds of crickets illnesses like mad cow disease or swine flu, looked like any other, and I spooned some
annually, and Next Millennium Farms, even they do get sick, and that is perhaps the trick- on my plate. But the crickets—there was no
more: up to 300,000 pounds a year. iest part of the business. Big Cricket Farms abstraction here. These had eyes, antennae,
The fledgling industry poses an interest- chose the European house cricket, Acheta and legs. If this is the future, might as well see
ing conundrum to government agencies. domesticus, for its taste and nutritional profile. what I’m in for, I thought.
Like larger livestock, crickets are subject to But the species is prone to cricket paralysis I can’t say the crickets went down smoothly.
federal and state regulations. Until the rele- virus, which can whip through a farm and I had to drown them in pesto and shovel them
vant agencies can sort out the finer points, leave 95 percent of the insects dead. It’s in with a cracker. It was an eating experience
both they and the start-ups they regulate also the only farmed cricket subject to a reminiscent of childhood, when my parents
have been collectively winging it. When Big less contagious picornavirus, which I later made me take just three more bites of an
Cricket Farms had to rebuild its stock after learned may have caused the die-off at Big unfamiliar food before I could leave the table.
the mass death of its breeders, Bachhuber Cricket. The company subsequently switched As then, I did so warily, willing my tongue
followed U.S. Department of Agriculture to a hardier stock: the tropical house cricket, and teeth not to explore. I’m no picky eater
(USDA) organic chicken egg rules to decide Gryllodes sigillatus. It also began researching these days, but if consuming whole insects is
whether eggs from a pet-grade cricket farm a receiving room that would disinfect new the eventual goal, I think it will take a while to
can be hatched for human consumption, shipments of eggs or crickets with virus- convince the American palate. But that cricket
for example. The FDA and the Ohio State killing ultraviolet light. “The nice thing about pesto? Washed down with a cricket bitters
Department of Health simply require a guar- being in the first year of operations of a start- cocktail? That, I’d have weekly.

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 49
M AY 2 0 1 5

F
Forty years ago, the legendary physicist
Richard Feynman gave the commence-
ment address at my graduation from
the California Institute of Technology.
It was a boiling day in June, and we
graduates—all budding biologists and
chemists and physicists—sprawled in

Nothing but the folding chairs on the lawn, sweltering in


our black gowns. Feynman told us that
before we went public with new scien-

Truth tific results, we should consider every


conceivable way we might be wrong. It
was a tall order.
A recent case in point was the dis-
S C I E N C E ’ S G R E AT E S T covery, in March 2014, of evidence that
purportedly confirmed the theory of
W E A K N E S S I S A L S O I T S G R E AT E S T
inflation. According to the theory, pro-
STRENGTH posed by physicists Alan Guth, Andrei
Linde, and others in the early 1980s, the
universe briefly inflated at an exponen-
tial rate when it was about one trillionth
BY Alan Lightman of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second
old. It then slowed to adopt the more
leisurely expansion predicted by the
standard big-bang model. The theory of
inflation naturally explained a number
of observations not easily accounted for
by the big-bang model, and it has been
almost universally accepted by practic-
ing cosmologists ever since.
But science places more value in
predicting new phenomena than it
does in explaining results already
known. Years ago, the theory of inflation
predicted a particular twisting pattern
in the vibrations of the radio waves
that pervade outer space, the so-called
cosmic background radiation. Scientists
studying three years’ worth of data from
the BICEP2 observatory at the South
Alan Lightman is a physicist, novelist, essayist, and educator Pole found such a telltale pattern last
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a finalist spring. The team involved more than 50
for the National Book Award. scientists and was led by John Kovac
of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics. The story immediately

50 / PO P U L A R S CIE NCE
went viral. In a press release titled “First scientific community, with researchers essential to the enterprise of science.
Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation,” constantly testing and criticizing one Without personal investment and pas-
Kovac said, “Detecting this signal is one another’s work. Individual scientists are sion, most scientists would not struggle
of the most important goals in cosmol- driven by the same passions and biases with their research projects for months
ogy today.” A YouTube video posted by and emotional attachments as nonscien- and years as they do. They would not
Stanford University shows one of the tists. Most try their best to be objective, stay up all night in their labs as they do.
team members excitedly telling Linde but, as Francis Bacon, one of the fathers They would not endure the tedium and
that they had found “the smoking gun of of the scientific method, said four centu- strain and constant possibility of failure
inflation,” after which they celebrate the ries ago, “The human understanding is or dead-end results. I remember well my
success with a bottle of champagne, no no dry light but receives infusions from days and nights working in astrophysics,
thinking about my current research
problem nearly every minute of the day,
sometimes eating meals of peanut butter
at my desk so as not to interrupt my
feverish calculations. All my energy, my
PA S S I O N I S A D O U B L E - E D G E D S W O R D, thoughts, even my personal identity and
O N E T H AT C A N B E S T O W B O T H F O R T U N E A N D self-worth hung on those calculations.
M I S F O R T U N E U P O N T H O S E W H O W I E L D I T. Science would not proceed without
such devotion. And there is the irony.
Passion is a double-edged sword, one
that can bestow both fortune and
doubt anticipating Nobel Prizes. the will and affections.” misfortune upon those who wield it.
Then in January, another team of This year, in particular, it would be Passion is the stuff that drives us on,
astronomers, using data from the Euro- wise to keep Bacon’s warning in mind. but it can also cloud our vision. The late
pean Union’s Planck satellite, announced In March, the world’s most powerful physicist Joseph Weber argued for
that the twisting pattern was not actually particle accelerator, the Large Hadron decades that he had observed gravi-
caused by exotic processes at the birth Collider (LHC), came back online after tational waves with acoustic cylinders
of the universe. Instead, it was produced a two-year hiatus and an upgrade that of his own making, and he adamantly
by galactic dust. It’s not that the Kovac doubled its energy. In 2012, the LHC defended those claims against over-
group did sloppy work. Rather, the helped scientists find the long-sought whelming evidence to the contrary.
scientists had failed to follow Feynman’s Higgs boson. This year, it could do the Ultimately, that work was discredited,
advice. In their ardor to confirm what same for dark matter, a mysterious and yet the concepts and equipment he
would have been one of the greatest still unobserved subatomic particle developed serve as the basis for all gravi-
scientific discoveries of the century, believed to make up about 27 percent of tational wave detectors in use today.
they had not sufficiently considered the the universe. Elsewhere, physicists are We often make sharp distinctions
possible competing effects of galactic mounting at least four major experi- between the sciences and the arts and
dust—effects that other scientists had ments to confirm the existence of dark humanities. Science aims at the external
worried about at the time. energy, a similarly unobserved substance world of atoms and molecules, while the
The history of science brims with theorized to create a kind of negative arts and humanities concern the internal
similar cases, where eager scientists gravity that causes space to expand world of emotions and sensibilities.
leaped to press too soon. One need only at an accelerating rate. Astronomers Certainly, these distinctions are valuable
remember the 1970s-era anticancer drug are getting their first good looks at the as guiding principles, but in individual
Laetrile, which supposedly destroyed comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko people, whether scientists or not, such
tumors; the reported discovery in 1975 of and the dwarf planets Pluto and Ceres, neat separations do not occur. Nor in my
“magnetic monopoles” (magnets with all of which could yield clues about the view would they be desirable.
either a south pole or a north pole but formation of our solar system. And the At its core, science is a human
not both); and the reported achievement hundreds of biologists and neuroscien- endeavor. Its strengths and flaws mirror
of cold fusion in 1989. Other scientists tists involved in the Human Brain Project our own. We should, of course, aspire to
later disproved every one of these claims. in the EU and the BRAIN Initiative in the Feynman’s advice, to accept nothing but
In fact, professional historians and U.S. will be investigating the riddles of the truth. But we also need to accept
philosophers of science know a dirty brain function more deeply than ever human beings in their totality, both as
secret. The much-vaunted “scientific before. Evidently, we may be in for scientists and humanists, as objective
method” and its objective pursuit of another year of irrational exuberance. and subjective, as dispassionate and
truth often cannot be found in the work And yet that may not be so bad. passionate, as travelers in this strange
habits of individual scientists. It’s man- Exuberance carries its share of risks, cosmos trying to make sense of our
ifest only in the combined efforts of the certainly, but I would argue that it’s also world and ourselves.

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 51
M AY 2 0 1 5

52 / PO P U L A R S CIE NCE
M AY 2 0 1 5

I D E TO
R ’ S GU
H ACK E
T H E

BY CORINNE IO
ZZIO

Sure, we’ve heard a lot about smart homes and how


they’re the wave of the future. Yet that future has always
seemed just over the horizon. But now several home-
automation platforms have emerged that give Internet-
connected devices—gizmos like lightbulbs, outlets,
thermostats, and motion sensors—something they lacked:
the ability to communicate with one another. With that,
devices can take coordinated action to save you time,
money, and labor. So what are you waiting for? Here’s how
anyone can make a dumb house into a truly intelligent home.

I L LU STR ATI ON BY Diego Patiño P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 53


M AY 2 0 1 5

Lightbulb Electrical Socket


STEP STEP Cree Connected LED Quirky+GE Outlink
Cree eliminated the heat sink Disguised as an everyday pair
1 2 typical of most LEDs, cooling its
bulbs through a series of vents.
of outlets, the socket has one
smart and one dumb receptacle.
Its design gives the bulb an That means you can remotely
omnidirectional shine—just like kill power to the coffeepot with-
its incandescent forebearers. $15 out tripping the fridge. $50

Different products can


cause chaos when they don’t
communicate. So choose a The core of a smart home is
platform that uses a network- the ability to monitor and
ing hub or an app (or both) to remotely control power,
marry disparate devices and lighting, and security. That
give your house a centralized means replacing—or upgrad-
brain from the get go. ing—everyday household
fixtures, such as outlets and Water Sensor Door Lock
Belkin WeMo Water August Smart Lock
bulbs, and installing environ- This sensor monitors an entire The clever kit fits over an exist-
mental sensors that will let house’s water usage from a single ing deadbolt, so there’s no need
you monitor what happens point. When clamped onto a pipe, to replace the entire lockset.
a pressure sensor detects subtle Once installed, you can issue
around the house.
shifts—from an open faucet to guests digital keys or set the lock
a costly leak. Price not set to open as you approach. $250

For the Keyboard Banger


Belkin WeMo
Most WeMo devices can connect
to an app right out of the box, no
tinkering required. But simplicity
brings limitations—there are
only 14 products to choose from.
(Products $30–199)

Smoke & CO2 Alarm Doors & Windows Environment


First Alert ZCOMBO SmartSense Multi Sensor Quirky+GE Spotter UNIQ
The ZCOMBO alarm not only A pair of mounted magnets can The Spotter senses up to six envi-
sends emergency alerts, it tell whether doors, windows, or ronmental cues: motion, vibration,
triggers other devices in your even mailboxes are open. The sound, temperature, humidity, and
For the Weekend Webmaster network. For example, during a sensor can also cue common light. It can turn on hall lights as
Wink fire it can trip the lights so you tasks, like killing the AC if you you approach or alert you when
Wink uses a hub and a smart- can find your way out. $50 open a window. $54 the dryer stops. From $70
A LL P R O DU C T I M AGES C O URT ESY OF M A NU FAC T UR E R S

phone app to connect unrelated


brands and devices, bringing

COMING SOON!
more gadgets—think locks and
self-closing blinds—into the fold.
(Hub $50)
VOICE CONTROL
Clever DIYers have rigged
smart homes to respond to
commands from Siri and other
voice assistants. Apple made
the connection official. Start-
For the GeniusBar Nerd Light Switch Security Camera ing this spring, manufacturers
SmartThings Belkin WeMo Light Switch Dropcam Pro can now use Apple’s HomeKit
With 150 third-party products, this Until there’s a smart-bulb equiv- With a 130-degree field of view, system to make their products
hub-and-app system accommo- alent for every light, connected 8x zoom, and infrared night react to commands dictated to
dates plenty of gadgets. Users can switches imbue otherwise dumb vision, the Dropcam Pro’s an iPhone. For instance, “Siri,
also design their own interactions. fixtures with brains. The app also unblinking eye allows you to I’m heading home” could turn
The trade-off is a trickier setup. lets you sync lights with sunrise peek inside your home without on lights, adjust the tempera-
(Hub $99) and sunset. $50 racing to the scene. $199 ture, and start the stereo.

54 / PO P U L A R S CIE NCE
M AY 2 0 1 5

Smart Home

Dumb
Smart
Things…
A few so-called smart
STEP STEP appliances are conspicuously STEP

3 4 absent here because we’ve


set the bar high: Devices 5
must not only connect to the
Internet but also to one
another, creating a network
of shared data and automated
After setup, you can teach tasks. Two categories that
the smart home to think are not ready:
for itself, freeing you from TVs: Their smarts consist
Finally, not all smart-home
using an app every time only of an Internet connec- devices are needed—some get
All smart thermostats share tion and the ability to stream by because they add frills (or
you want to change the
a common goal: save money media from Netflix, Pandora, fun) to our lives.
temperature or turn on the and the like.
while staying comfortable.
lights. That means creating Large appliances: Ovens,
An Internet connection washers, dryers, and
automated actions; because
allows them to adjust the refrigerators will be the next
each platform can talk to all
indoor temperature based on wave of smart items, but
the gadgets you have online, today, they’re still learning
outdoor conditions—some
they can suggest scenarios the ropes. Prototypes do
even factor in humidity. But show promise: Whirlpool,
and guide you through the
the best way for a home to for example, is developing
setup process. Here are a few Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker
adapt to its residents is still a dryer that will shift into A six-hour recipe and an eight-
examples of what your smart a slower cycle if you’re not
up for debate. Your schedule hour workday don’t mesh;
home can do: home to empty it. thankfully, you can start, stop,
may dictate which method is
or turn down this cooker from
best for you. Schedule Method …just PLAIN Dumb afar. $130
If you have a regular routine … Create standard operating Adding intelligence doesn’t
procedures signaled by specific always make an object
The Nest Learning Thermostat times of day. better, says Matt Rogers of
($249) uses algorithms to learn Sunset. Action: Close blinds and Nest Labs. So we asked him:
from your patterns. The device increase interior brightness by 50 What’s best left alone?
monitors when you change percent.
the temperature and builds a Mirrors: Too niche Jawbone UP24
9 p.m. Action: Cut power to
schedule. Eventually, Nest takes “What’s the good of having Not only can this activity tracker
playroom TV.
over, so when you wake up or your mirror filter out gray alert your house when you come
Tuesdays 1 p.m. Action: Allow
arrive home, the house will already hairs or count your brush and go, but it also knows when
cleaning crew inside.
be at your ideal climate. Recent strokes? Unless you’re the you’re asleep. Nod off and it’ll
studies have found that using Nest Wicked Queen, this is not turn off the lights. $130
Stimuli Method
can save up to $145 annually. a problem.”
Triggers take input from a sensor
If you come and go a lot … (or sensors) and translate it into Toasters: Unsafe
an action to be carried out by “When you’re 3 years old,
The Honeywell Lyric Thermostat another device. mothers are supposed to
($249) shifts its energy-saving Movement in the bedroom teach you to turn all that
mode based on whether there after 6 a.m. stuff off when you leave
are people in the house. Family Action: Power on coffeepot. the house.”
members give Lyric access to their Opened living-room Sofas: Missing the point
whereabouts via a smartphone window. Sonos PLAY:1
“Imagine the couch telling
app. When they pass a geofence, Action: Turn off AC and turn on Sonos speakers respond to trig-
you that you’ve been sitting
a preset distance that can range floor fan. gers from in-home sensors. If you
on it too long and that you’ve
from 500 feet to seven miles, the Homeowner leaves house. want your stereo to play “Welcome
put on a few.”
system toggles on or off. This could Action: Lock the door and lower to the Jungle” whenever you walk
cut annual costs by up to $220. the thermostat. in the door, Sonos will. $199

IN THE WORKS! Machine-learning algorithms in products like the Nest thermostat are only the beginning of a self-automating
home. Soon, apps might recommend tasks based on patterns—“I see you turn on the lights at the same
ARTIFICIAL time every day, shall I schedule this task?” But the ultimate goal is autonomous artificial intelligence, where
you’d buy a product and your home would figure out the rest. For now, SmartThings founder Alex Hawkinson
INTELLIGENCE says, “We’re probably years from saying ‘I’m gonna go live my life and let the tech figure itself out.’ ”

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 55
M AY 2 0 1 5

THE CHURCH

JENEEN
INTERLANDI

CAN A SINGLE SCIENTIST

OF CHURCH TRANSFORM THE FIELD OF BIOLOGY—


AND OUR LIVES?

56 / PO P U L A R S CIE NCE PHOTOGRA PHS BY Marius Bugge


M AY 2 0 1 5

era when our capacity to manipulate the basic code of life


dwarfs the capacity of even our most advanced computers.
Church tells the story pretty calmly, considering. We’re
sitting in his office, a generous space tucked into the side
pocket of a large lab, with windows that look down on
Boston’s Longwood Avenue. He’s leaning back in his
too-small office chair, stretching his legs out in front of
him (he’s six-foot-five) and occasionally tugging at his
Darwin-esque beard. He has blue eyes, a kind face, and an
even voice, none of which betray the excitement or manic
brilliance that one assumes must fuel such breakthroughs.
If anything, he seems entertained. This is an amusing anec-
dote. The rest is an aside.
Church has already transformed biology once before.
A few years ago, George Church Gs, and Cs. In the lab, he synthesized The DNA-sequencing technology he first devised in grad-
was peer-reviewing a paper for the a strand of DNA to match the code, uate school helped reduce the cost of whole-genome
journal Science when he got an idea. replicated it many times over, and sequencing from billions of dollars to thousands. Scientists
The paper’s authors had encoded dabbed a drop of the synthetic DNA are now using it to investigate intractable diseases, such as
their names and a string of famous onto a scrap of paper. The dot con- cancer and schizophrenia, and doctors are beginning to use
quotes into a bacterial genome to tained 70 billion copies of the book. It it to identify genetic mutations that cause rare—and, until
demonstrate the power and possi- now, undiagnosable—illnesses.
bility of synthetic biology, the design Amid the bays and bench tops
and manufacture of DNA in a lab. that constitute Church’s labora-
Their encoding method was good. tory, a litany of other revolutions
But Church, a genetics professor at are taking shape: His team of
Harvard Medical School, thought he researchers is coaxing the wooly
could do better. mammoth back from extinction
Sitting at his desk, in the space of a by melding its genome to an
few minutes he wrote a computer pro- elephant’s. They’re devising ways
gram that translated his review from to inoculate mosquitoes (and, by
Roman letters into binary code and extension, us) against malaria.
then into genetic code. He submitted And they’re designing tools to
the review to the journal’s editor, who help physicists hunt down dark
couldn’t read it. The document con- was no bigger than a period. matter and to help neuroscientists map the human brain.
tained only As, Ts, Cs, and Gs, short- A few months later, Church took Church has launched 15 bioengineering start-ups in the past
hand for the nucleotides in DNA. The his experiment with him on The Col- decade and advises a number of others. More so than any
editor passed it along to the study’s au- bert Report, pulling out the paper other scientist in his field, he is helping to forge a new kind
thors. “At first, they had no idea what scrap—about the size and shape of a of biology, one less geared toward studying DNA than har-
it said,” Church says, chuckling. fortune cookie slip—for the world to nessing it for our own aims.
That should have been the end of see. Before he knew it, representa- In the book that he encoded in DNA (which, incidentally,
it. The paper was published, and the tives of several companies tasked with is also available printed and bound), he and his co-author,
stunt passed quickly into the stock of archiving films and recordings were Ed Regis, envisioned the future this new biology could bring,
Church lore, in league with the time knocking on his office door. one in which bacteria fuels cars and commercial jets and
he lived for a year on nutrient broth “They said, ‘We want to do data humans are immune to cancer. It may sound like science
from a lab vendor or the time he wore storage,’ ” Church tells me. “I said, fiction, or at least like a litany of overhyped pipe dreams that
homemade blinders around the lab to ‘You guys realize this is super aca- science so often sells. But George Church’s pipe dreams
make a statement about tunnel vision. demic, right? There’s no company or have an uncanny record of becoming reality.
But Church wasn’t done. He wanted anything.’ And they said ‘Yeah sure,
to see how far he could take his com- but data storage is a big problem.’ ”
puter program, so he began looking With that, his parlor trick sprouted or all his eccentricities, Church is an easy per-
for something else to code, something into a business. Members of Church’s son to talk with. And yet such is his reputation for
larger than a single review. He settled lab are now scaling up the process in brilliance that people seem always to be apologizing
on his own book, Regenesis, which order to encode just about any form of to him for their own intellectual shortcomings. “I’m
was about to be published. He spent media into DNA. If they succeed, they sorry if this sounds stupid,” people say. I caught a reporter
a few days adapting the program he’d will have not only revolutionized data doing it, and a CEO. Then, I did it too.
written and converted all 350 pages of storage but ushered in what is per- In fact, on my first visit to his office, I manage to completely
text and photos into a string of As, Ts, haps biology’s most exciting era: the embarrass myself. It’s early afternoon, and he’s invited me

58 / POP U L A R S CIE NCE


M AY 2 0 1 5

The Church of Church

the computer revolution was started


in basements and garages,” Ruvkun
says. “He told me once that he’s more
proud of his National Academy of
Engineering membership than of his
National Academy of Sciences one.
Nobody else I know thinks that way.”

ere’s how it goes in most


academic laboratories: A sci-
entist develops proficiency
in a handful of techniques
and uses those techniques to study a
At Harvard, Church attacks many of the wo rld’s hardest problems with genome editing. handful of closely related questions.
That lab attracts students and junior
researchers with narrowly aligned
to sit in on a telephone interview with a radio reporter, be- Duke University, he raced through interests and experiences. The entire
fore I tag along to some meetings. A handful of 3-D–printed the curriculum and simultaneously system tends toward specialization, so
molecules are scattered across the big round table in the completed two bachelor’s degrees (in that, by and large, molecular biologists
center of his office. He has been fidgeting with one—absent- zoology and chemistry) in two years. interested in immunology and experi-
mindedly pulling it apart, between his thumb and forefingers As a graduate student there, he helped enced with mice go to one kind of lab
before letting it snap back together—while he leans back in solve the structure of transfer RNA, and neuroscientists interested in the
his chair and talks at the speakerphone. I pick up another which translates the nucleic acids of visual system and experienced with
molecule, one that looks identical to his but is not. Instead of DNA into the amino acids of proteins. flies go to another. Expertise is culti-
snapping back together when I pull at it, it explodes. He spent so much time in the lab that vated and refined and, in some cases,
Twelve plastic pentagons and one large white die go flying Duke expelled him from its Ph.D. pro- hoarded like wartime food rations.
through the air. They skittle loudly across the table and roll gram for missing too many classes. Church’s lab is the opposite. Rather
onto the floor. Some of them land under Church’s desk. I am Fortunately, Harvard took him in. than seeking homogeneity, he recruits
mortified. I scramble to gather all the pieces and reassem- “It was pretty clear he was a differ- as diverse a group as possible. Physi-
ble them as quietly as possible, while he calmly continues to ent sort of bird right from the begin- cists and neuroscientists work alongside
answer questions about genomic medicine. ning,” says Gary Ruvkun, a Harvard geneticists, engineers, and entrepre-
When the phone call ends, I make sheepish apologies. “I geneticist and good friend of Church’s neurs. “The image for me is of poking
thought by the way yours was snapping back together …” (the two attended graduate school deep holes all over the place, in the fabric
I say, trailing off into the ether. together). “I still remember I would of science and engineering,” he says.
Unfazed, he takes the two molecules, holds them side by work late, and when I’d be leaving the “As we probe each of those points, we
side, and launches into a geometry lesson. They are both lab at, like, 2 a.m., he’d be buzzing in get cross talk.”
dodecadedrons, he explains—objects with 12 sides. He has on his bike, ready to start the day.” The result is that his lab manages to
rigged his with some putty to prevent the pieces from dis- It was at Harvard that Church met be both one of Harvard’s top produc-
assembling; mine has not been so rigged. It is also wrapped his future wife, a fellow graduate stu- ers and a well-known receiving center
around a 20-sided die, or an icosahedron. “I found this die dent named Ting Wu. He followed her for science’s misfit toys. There’s an
on the street,” he says. “I like it because it looks like the across the country and back before artist encoding Wikipedia entries
nuclear material of a virus.” He goes on to explain the sig- the couple settled in Boston to grow into apple genomes (to create a literal
nificance of these shapes: Icosahedrons are among the most their labs (both at Harvard) and their tree of knowledge) and an insurance
symmetrical structures in the natural world, he says. They family (they have one daughter, now industry refugee who fled his office
also form the basis of viral symmetry. I pretend to under- in her 20s). His wife, he says, is a job over a decade ago, worked several
stand, but my takeaway is simpler than he probably intends: much better geneticist than he. In fact, months for free while teaching him-
George Church is the kind of guy who finds a 20-sided die Church is fairly adamant that he’s not self biochemistry, and now serves as
and immediately thinks about the structure of viruses. a scientist at all but an engineer who “co-head” of the lab. For a time, there
He has been tinkering like this—testing the ways in which occasionally does some science. was also a passenger-pigeon obses-
the world around him does and does not fit together—for Like an engineer, he tends to see sive who had no advanced degree but
most of his life. When he was 10 years old, he began replicat- the universe not as a disparate set had heard about Church’s mammoth
ing the work of a botanist named Luther Burbank by grafting of mysteries but as a machine with a de-extinction project and cold-called
the branches of one fruit tree onto another in his backyard. vast array of buttons and levers, each asking to participate; he has since
As a teenager at Andover, a private school, he taught him- begging to be pushed and pulled. “His gone on to lead the pigeon resurrec-
self BASIC computer programming and then taught the approach to science is modeled after tion initiative out of a lab in California.
school’s computer linear algebra. As an undergraduate at the home-brew computer clubs, where “We always joke that the only thing

P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 59
M AY 2 0 1 5

The Church of Church

you need to do to join George’s lab to the right place and swaps out with that has borrowed genes from the wooly mammoth so that it
is show up,” says Uri Laserson, a one of the other pistons—while the mo- can thrive in colder environments. It could be possible to res-
former student of Church’s and the tor’s running.” urrect other species using the same approach, Church says.
co-founder of Good Start Genetics, a In January 2013, Church was one In fact, the possibilities are as limitless as our imaginations.
company that offers genetic screening of the first to show that CRISPR could Whether that’s a promise or a peril depends on whose
for inherited diseases. “There is zero splice DNA in human cells. Since then, imagination we’re talking about.
organization. His style is just to let scientists have used it to correct a num-
things happen.” It’s a scrappy kind ber of genetic problems, including cer-
of place, Laserson says—a little bit tain forms of liver disease (in mice) and efore Church broke out the 70 billion copies
sink-or-swim—but not in a bad way. antibiotic resistance. of his book on The Colbert Report, the comedian
“Mostly, you have the constant sense Church says CRISPR can address asked him a question he gets a lot. “How do you
that exciting things are happening or ecosystem-level issues as well. By cir- think your work,” Colbert asked, “will eventually
are about to happen and if you miss out cumventing the rules of sexual selec- destroy all mankind?” The audience laughed riotously. “Do
on it, you have only yourself to blame.” tion with live genome editing, CRISPR you think it’s going to be like a killer virus,” he asked, paus-
The projects that emerge from this greatly increases the odds that a given ing to lean in and tap his fingers on the table. “Or more
controlled chaos seem to fall along gene will be passed from parent to like a giant, mutant, killer squid man, who arises from the
a continuum. At one end, the lab offspring. The result is what scientists Pacific, between Easter Island and Chile, and feasts on our
applies biology to very specific flesh?” Although it was a joke, the bit
nonbiological problems. Data underscored a paradox that Church
storage is an example, but lately, often faces in response to his work.
members of Church’s lab have On one side, there are skeptics who
been using DNA to help physi- don’t believe the possibilities Church
cists track dark matter, a myste- is peddling. On the other side, there
rious substance that makes up are terrified believers who worry that
some 27 percent of the known it may be all too possible. Often, he
universe. At the other end of alone stands in the middle.
the continuum, Church’s team Church tends to view this paradox
employs the tools of other sci- through the same lens that he views
ences to solve the problems of most everything: as an engineering
biology. For example, the newly challenge. Take gene drives, for an
developed technique FISSEQ example. Terrified believers worry
(fluorescent in situ sequencing) draws call a gene drive: That is, a gene is about what could happen if a given gene drive has unin-
on a few different subsets of physics to driven quickly through an entire wild tended effects. Say scientists introduce a gene that makes
help geneticists visualize gene expres- population. Imagine that you insert a mosquitoes resistant to malaria, but that in turn causes
sion in living cells. Before FISSEQ, gene for malaria-resistance into a single an unexpected crash in the mosquito population that
scientists could measure just three or mosquito and release that mosquito throws the ecosystem out of whack. Church’s response to
four genes at a time; now, they can into the wild. You may eventually wipe such a disaster would be simply to deploy a reverse drive
measure thousands at once. out the disease altogether. Or imag- to try to undo the damage. Skeptics have a different set of
But it’s the projects in the middle ine inserting a gene that renders an concerns, namely that natural selection would just weed
of the continuum—biology-based solu- invasive species sterile. You could out the new gene over time, making gene drives unwor-
tions for biology-based problems—that potentially rid an ecosystem of that thy of the effort and risk. To this, Church just says we
tend to garner the most attention. species within a few generations. could deploy the same drive periodically, making slight
Many of these involve CRISPR, a CRISPR is also a key component tweaks here and there.
genome-editing tool derived from bac- of what may be the most high-profile To play either of these scenarios forward is to see the
teria that uses an enzyme to excise of Church’s projects: de-extinction. world through Church’s eyes: a place where DNA is the ulti-
specific nucleotide sequences and When Stewart Brand, editor of the mate computer code and we are all computer programmers.
swap them with others. With it, scien- famed Whole Earth Catalog, hatched Of course, not all concerns are technical. Animal rights
tists can alter multiple genes at once, a plan to revive extinct species such activists worry about a surge in animal experimentation
without having to do the arduous as the wooly mammoth and the pas- now that CRISPR has made it easier than ever to create,
work of extracting, isolating, and clon- senger pigeon, he turned to Church for example, genetically modified monkeys. And corporate
ing the original genetic material and for the technology. Church devised an watchdogs have their own concerns about placing control
cross-breeding the resulting transgen- automated genome-engineering pro- of the human genome in the hands of private for-profit
ic animals. A few other tools offer a cess (called the “evolution machine” companies. It bears stating that Church works with a num-
similar shortcut, but CRISPR is much by some) that enables researchers to ber of corporate sponsors, including Chevron, Procter &
quicker. “It’s the fastest thing I’ve seen meld together genomes from different Gamble, and Merck.
yet,” Church says. “It’s like you throw species. His lab is now at work on a Church makes no apologies for his entrepreneurship. He
a piston into a car and it finds its way “cold-resistant elephant”—an elephant nearly always opens his lectures with a slide that displays all

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M AY 2 0 1 5

The Church of Church

1
INSERT CRISPR DNA
INTO A HOST CELL gene drives and calling for “informed public discussion, regu-
latory review, and the establishment of guidelines for the safe
The Most development of the technology.” No one had actually made
a gene drive yet, but Church wanted to get the ball rolling.
Important 2 “The important thing is to actually listen to the public’s con-
cerns,” he says. “And then try to visualize things that can go
Technology CELLULAR
MACHINERY
wrong and think of ways to guard against them.”
To that end, he is devising new methods of biocontain-
in Biology TRANSCRIBES
THAT DNA ment; the term normally refers to the physical safety mea-
sures (cabinets, hoods, isolation rooms) that laboratories
Today INTO A NUCLEASE
(PROTEIN AND RNA) use to prevent the escape of potentially dangerous organ-
isms. In January, Church and members of his lab reported
GENOME in the journal Nature that instead of relying on physical con-
EDITING tainment, they had managed to install protective measures
IN SIX 3 within the microbial genome itself. They engineered a strain
of bacteria that survives on a synthetic amino acid found
EASY STEPS NUCLEASE
SCANS HOST only in the laboratory, not in nature.
DNA FOR A And that’s how Church the engineer works. No obstacle
TARGET is insurmountable. Technology moves toward greater
SEQUENCE efficiency and capacity, he says, not the reverse. And in any
case, doubters come with the territory. “The World Wide
A tool called CRISPR could Web went from zero to millions of web pages in a few
herald the start of a revolu- years,” Church says. “Many revolutions look irrelevant just
tion in genetic engineering. 4 before they change everything swiftly.”
But to understand why takes
NUCLEASE
some doing. Bear with us. CUTS HOST
Modifying genes used to DNA AT he last time I chat with Church he is on a cell-
require a painstaking process: THE TARGET phone, walking from his office to a meeting
Scientists would kill a cell, ex- down the street. The connection’s crackly, so
tract the DNA, manipulate it, I ask whether he’d prefer to talk later. “I like
and then reinsert it. Several talking and walking,” he says. “It’s more productive than
tools now provide a short- 5A 5B doing just one.”
cut, and CRISPR is the most I ask for an update, and he rattles off a string of devel-
efficient. Its protein complex WITH ONE CUT, WITH TWO opments. The company funding his data-storage project is
swaps a targeted genetic CRISPR CAN CUTS, TWO
INSERT A NEW CRISPRS
planning to make a big announcement about his team’s lat-
sequence with another, allow- CUSTOM GENE CAN EXCISE est advances. “We’ve scaled way up from the five megabyte
ing scientists to engineer DNA SEQUENCE DNA book,” he says. He’s got a paper due out in the Proceedings
in living cells with unprece- of the National Academy of Sciences about the DNA and
dented speed. Using CRISPR, dark matter project. His group has also completed the first
scientists could modify genes successful gene drive, a small pilot study in yeast that proved
to prevent disease, slow aging, 6 that foreign genes introduced to cells in a lab can be passed
bring back extinct species, on to—and spread throughout—a separate wild population.
even develop new fuels.
The possibilities are almost HOST CELL DIVIDES I ask him which project he’s most excited about. He an-
swers without hesitation: CRISPR. “I like exponential fields,”
limitless. JU N N IE K W O N WITH NEW DNA he says. “Right now, nothing is more exponential than that.”
Church has helped launch Editas Medicine, a bio-
tech company aimed at harnessing CRISPR’s thera-
peutic potential. The idea is to develop a new class
of CRISPR-based drugs that can “surgically repair”
aberrant genes. Editas has plenty of financial and scien-
the logos of the companies he’s affil- the ivory tower. You have to get them tific backing, but it’s still in early days. More than most,
iated with. He agrees that there are out into the world.” Church knows that ideas can often be ahead of their time.
risks involved in the work he does, but Still, he takes safety concerns se- On more than one occasion, he has had to shelve a proj-
he does not think that vilifying corpo- riously. Last summer, Church and ect—low-cost gene sequencing, for one—until the rest of the
rations is the answer. “Industry is an a few colleagues published two pa- world was ready for it. “People think it’s great to be ahead
essential part of what we do,” he says. pers and one blog post on the same of your time,” he says. “But it can actually be quite painful.”
“You can’t just hoard your ideas inside day, introducing the concept of We should all be grateful that’s never stopped him yet.

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ED I TED BY Sophie Bushwick

STATS

Time 8 hours
Cost $70 (hand),
$400 (control
board)
Di ff iculty
•••••

WAVE HELLO
TO A SOFT
ROBOT HAND
Some of the materials and skills armor—you can form a robot hand.
Harvard recommends may be Once you’ve assembled your
beyond the reach of a typical garage appendage, it’s time for phase two
In the field of soft robotics, engineers roboticist. But with a little ingenu- of the project: building a fluidic
ity, you can substitute cheaper control board. The Arduino brain
use squishy materials to make
parts and simpler techniques. This controls and coordinates air
robots durable, flexible, and safer to project makes actuated “fingers” out valves to make the hand flash the
operate around humans. Now intrepid of ribbed hose from a cheap foot peace sign, hang loose, or even flip
DIYers can also bring life to squishy pump, long thin balloons (the type the bird. AN D R EW T ER R AN OVA
you can twist and fold into animals),
machines: Last September, Harvard and other basic items. By attaching More detailed instructions can be found
University published an open-access five fingers to a limb—in this case,
at popsci.com/robothand.

Soft Robotics Toolkit online. a plastic gauntlet from a set of toy continued on page 66

P H OTO G RA PH BY Brian Klutch P OP U L A R S C IE NC E / 65


M A N U A L • M AY 2 0 15
Build It
continued from page 65

20
Po un d s o f
pressure per
square inch
M AT E R I A L S
required to
f ul ly cl o se t h e
robotic f ingers
• 7/16 -inch • Five ¼-inch hose • Yellow Teflon
inner diameter barbs x ¼-inch thread tape
ribbed hose male threaded • Several long
INSTR UCTIO N S
• 5/16-inch adapters balloons (type
wood dowel • Five ¼-inch 350Q)
•¼-inch outer hose barbs x • 1-inch x 6 -inch 1 between each rib balloons, leaving in place with hose
diameter vinyl ¼-inch female board or Cut five finger- from one side to about an inch of clamps.
length pieces the other, ending balloon beyond
tubing threaded other support
of ribbed hose. at the stress- the end of each 6
• Small hose adapters • Fluidic Notice the natural relief holes. Now, finger. Stretch the Hot-glue the five
clamps • Electrical tape control board curl, and consider each finger can open end of the fingers to the end
the upper side curl more easily. balloon out and of the 1-inch x
of the curve to over the end of 6-inch board (or
be the “top” of 3 each finger and other support).
TO O L S each finger. Use Use a dowel to secure with tape. This forms the
a center punch insert a balloon hand. Finally,
Drill and drill press to into each finger. 5 attach vinyl tubing
make stress-relief Secure the closed Wrap the threads to the open hose
press
holes along both end of the balloon of each male hose barb on each
and
sides of the hose, to the outside of barb with yellow finger.
I LLUST R AT I O N BY C LI N T FO R D

5/16-
Utility Spring-loaded between each rib. the finger’s tip Teflon tape and
inch
knife center punch Scissors
Insert a wooden with electrical firmly tighten it 7
drill bit Now the hand is
dowel to help tape, and seal into a female hose
support the the tip with hot barb. Use more complete—but
finger’s shape glue and more tape to wrap each it still needs a
while you do this. electrical tape. female hose barb control system.
several times so Visit popsci.com/
2 4 it fits snugly into robothand for
Flat-head Hot-glue Measuring Adjustable cres- Slice the top Cut away the the open end of a additional
screwdriver gun tape cent wrenches of each finger open ends of the finger. Secure it instructions.

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M A N U A L • M AY 2 0 15
Prototypes

THESE
BOOTS WERE
MADE FOR
BOUNDING
For 25 years, inventor Keahi Seymour
has dreamed of running with the speed
and loping gait of an animal. His inspi-
RUN AT ration struck at age 12, while he was

25 MPH
watching a program about kangaroos.
“The announcer said it moves at such
an efficient gait by using its Achilles
tendons as springs,” Seymour says.
“I thought, ‘Why not replicate that in a
device that could propel a human?’ ”
He began sketching footwear using
ostriches, which, he discovered, run
more like humans, as his model.
By the age of 17, he had built his
first prototype using old Rollerblade
boots, steel tubing, and bungee
cords. Then, he built some 200 more.
Today, Seymour’s Bionic Boot can
propel him forward at 25 miles per
hour. “You really feel superhuman,”
he says. Eventually, Seymour hopes
to boost the speed to 40 miles per
hour, perhaps by enhancing the boots’
springy heels with electrical actua-
tors. That, he expects, will take a few
more prototypes. ALIS SA ZH U

1998 2010 2012


Seymour made To reduce the Seymour ditched
his third prototype weight of subse- the all-aluminum
from wire mesh quent prototypes boot in favor of a
and fiberglass, from 10 pounds housing molded
powered by an to 6, Seymour from carbon fiber.
“Achilles tendon” swapped the To secure it to his
made from steel fiberglass for legs, Seymour
tubing and a aircraft-grade chose stable
bungee cord spring. aluminum. He snowboard-boot
These boots were also replaced the clasps over lighter
raised 10 to 12 springs, which and flimsier Velcro
inches above the had been made of fasteners. In later
ground, the height thin rubber wound prototypes, he kept
that later proved around a carabiner the carbon fiber but
the most stable. or a bolt, with returned to Velcro,
But they only thick rubber spear- reinforcing it with
reached 15 mph. gun tubing. nylon straps.

68 / PO P U L A R S CIE NCE I L LUST RAT I ON S BY Chris Philpot


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M A N U A L • M AY 20 1 5
Rebuild

(AM) was the first radio broadcast


method and is still in wide use.
To pick up radio waves, I
After the apocalypse, your big,

A Radio Built
needed a receiver to isolate the
fancy television will be dead—no signal representing audio. I built a
power, no TV. So loot the corpse simple crystal radio from a hulking
and use its parts to build the orig- Zenith television I found on the

From a inal broadcast entertainment: radio.


A radio transmitter sends
information across a room, or an
street. First, the radio required an
antenna—the larger, the better—
so I harvested wire from the TV

Junked TV ocean, by creating a carrier wave of


alternating current. Modulating the
amplitude, or height, of that wave
and ran it up two flights of stairs,
out the window, and down the side
of the building.
with an electrical signal (like the Next, I built a tuned circuit to
In Rebuild, columnist Hackett prepares for life after the apocalypse
one produced by a microphone) en- match the frequency of the carrier
codes sound. Amplitude modulation wave from any given station. I
coiled magnet wire from the
Zenith’s shielding shroud around a
nonconducting center, a.k.a. a beer
bottle. Then, I sanded conductive
points along the coil and rigged a
movable connector. By changing
contact points, I could change the
length of the coil until I matched
the desired frequency.
Pairing the coil with an adjust-
able capacitor made from tubes of
tinfoil and paper strengthened the
reception. I moved the tubes to
adjust the radio’s volume. The
circuit then needed a diode—I found
a geranium one in the TV’s circuit
boards. It changed the carrier
wave into direct current, leaving
the signal behind. Finally, a ground
connection completed the circuit.
But I still needed a way to listen.
Since the radio pulled electricity
entirely from the radio waves,
it didn’t have enough power for
normal headphones. A buzzer from
a broken alarm clock did the trick,
and I didn’t mind the tinny sound.
I was somewhat shocked that the
assembled radio worked. Next up is
building a radio transmitter so when
all media collapses, I’ll be set to
entertain myself.

4,705 Number of AM radio


stat ions in the United States
as of December 31, 2014

70 / P O PUL A R SC I ENC E PH OTOGRA PH BY Ray Lego


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M A N U A L • M AY 2 0 15
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M A N U A L • M AY 2 0 15
That’s a Job

Roller Coaster
Designer
Structural engineer Alan Schilke
specialized in designing supports
for buildings and stadiums. Then

COURT ESY S I X F L AGS F I ESTA T E XAS ; I N S ET : DI A N N A SCH I LK E


one day, a roller coaster company
asked him to create columns to
brace its rides. When Schilke
corrected the G-force calculations
the company had been using for
years, it hired him full time. Now,
Schilke designs coasters for Ride
Centerline LLC, drawing ideas from row, but they’re not all the same— The Rattler was a few surprises anymore, because
20-year-old wooden
a lifetime spent soaring off BMX they avoid repetition. That’s the roller coaster at Six I’ve done it all virtually.
bike and ski jumps. J U N N I E K W O N same thing you do when designing a Flags Fiesta Texas in
roller coaster. San Antonio. Schilke What are you working on now?
helped upgrade its
How do you begin creating a new tracks, transforming
This year, we’re converting two
roller coaster? How does it feel to ride one of it into the wood-and- wooden roller coasters. We take an
I’m always thinking about what your own creations? steel Iron Rattler, old, decrepit coaster that has outlived
the first hybrid
will make a coaster the most fun, Back in the old days, I was always coaster to include a
its life and put a steel I-box track
which starts at the setup. In the X amazed. But today, we make simu- completely inverted on top of it, which upgrades it even
Games, they build 10 jumps in a lations of everything. There are very barrel roll. beyond most modern coasters.
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P OP U L AR SC I E NC E / 79
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POPULAR SCIENCE SHOWCASE
Discovered: The Coin That Never Was!
FIX NASTY
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FOR LITTLE Masterpiece
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From the Archives

THE NEW
TOOLS
OF HOME
IMPROVEMENT
In April 1956, Popular Science told
readers how to modernize homes
with bleeding-edge technology. The
mark of a great home, we noted, “is
not its size or shape or color, but how
much up-to-date machinery it has to
make living easier.” At the time, that
meant retractable electrical cords,
smokeless ovens, and countertop
blenders. Today, that means some-
thing entirely different: app-based
security systems, voice-controlled
lighting, and cloud-based intelligence
that learns your daily routine and
adjusts the heat or AC to your liking
—before you even walk in the door.
To learn how to set up today’s smart
home, turn to page 58. J U N N I E KW ON

359
B illion s o f dollars A mer ican s
spent on home improvements
between 2009 and 2011

THE SMART HOME, CIRCA 1990


Personalized Intelligent Fuel Automatic Meal Virtual Chef
Security Indicator Delivery A central column
From six feet A sensor monitored A conveyor in the kitchen
In 1990, Dutch astronomer Chriet Titulaer built his away, the front gas consumption carried meals from housed a refrigera-
House of the Future, a $6-million mock-up of how we door recognized and used data such the kitchen to tor, a freezer, food
the owner’s as indoor and out- a cube-shaped storage, and a com-
would live in 10 years. As Popular Science reported that
unique chip card door temperature glass solarium in puter that offered
September, it included state-of-the-art technologies— and automatically to help decrease an ornamental recipes onscreen
some of which came to fruition just a few years late. granted entry. utility bills. pond outside. or by voice.

POPULAR SCIENCE magazine, Vol. 286, No.5 (ISSN 161-7370, USPS 577-250), is published monthly by Bonnier Corp., 2 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016. Copyright ©2015 by Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reprinting in whole or part is forbidden except by permission of Bonnier
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