Synthetic Gecko Feet
The Gecko’s ability to seemingly stick to anything was a mystery until just four years ago, when scientists discovered the reptile’s secret: billions of follicles on its toes that bond atomically with the surface. In fact, via intermolecular forces, the gecko effectively becomes the surface, be it tree bark or a hotel-room ceiling in Belize. In July, a British aerospace-and-defense firm announced it had developed a material with nanoscopic polymide stalks that mimic the lizard’s foot hair. Carnegie Mellon’s Metin Sitti developed a similar version and wants to see his Gecko Tape in space (astronauts could attach to the shuttle exterior for repairs), outside your office building (gloved window washers could grip the glass for support), and on the highway (road-grabbing tires).
–James Ross Gardner
The Ultrasonic Tourniquet
“Deep Bleeders” — internal hemorrhaging from blast and fragmentation injuries — are the number one cause of preventable U. S. deaths on the battlefield. Researchers are developing a portable cuff that will use sound waves to locate those wounds and stop them from bleeding. The idea is simple: Low-intensity ultrasonic beams will pinpoint the injuries, then high-intensity ultrasound will heat the wounds, coagulating the blood and plugging the leak. The technology works, but a useful field system is still in development. It needs to be fast (a severed femoral artery can kill in thirty seconds), lightweight (soldiers must carry it), rugged (again: it’s war), adaptable (capable of treating everything from a woman’s arm to a man’s thigh), and foolproof (grunts generally don’t hold medical degrees). The benefits will be huge. And unlike physical tourniquets, ultrasound doesn’t completely stop blood flow to the extremities. More hands and feet will be saved.
How do you build a house in two days? Spray-on concrete has been around for years, but a new material takes the technique to another level. Grancrete, a mix of fibers and inorganic materials, is actually a type of ceramic. It’s stronger and lighter than concrete, it’s waterproof, it’s resistant to salt and acids, it insulates, it’s fireproof — and it’s also incredibly easy to use. Two workers really can build a house with it in 48 hours; add more workers and you can do it in 12. Visions of its potential uses range widely, but one of the favorites of its developer, Arun Wagh, is affordable, vermin-proof housing in developing nations. Grancrete can be applied to a framework of nearly any material — not just two-by-fours or foam panels but chicken wire or woven reeds — making it adaptable to conditions almost anywhere in the world.
The Thought Reader
Severely paralyzed people have lately been learning to control computers with their thoughts, using electrodes implanted in the brain. But a unique new system requires no implants. Users simply don an EEG cap and a custom-built piece of software translates their brain signals into commands that a home computer can understand. The result: The disabled can write e-mails and even control simple pros theses with their thoughts. The system is the brainchild of Dr. Jonathan Wolpaw, a research physician at New York’s Wadsworth Center. It costs about $4,000, and eventually Wolpaw expects it to be widely available through a nonprofit agency he’s helping create.