Is the Robot Apocalypse Just Around the Corner?

— If you believe Hollywood’s interpretation, the advent of intelligent robots rarely ends well for mankind. Movies like The Matrix, Terminator, and I, Robot all depict robots as quite intelligent, capable, and horrifyingly destructive machines that either aim to enslave us, or worse, bring about the extinction of the human race. In these cinematic examples, robots are rarely helpful or friendly (with the occasional exceptions like Wall-E or R2-D2). Intelligent robots with the capacity to take over the world are fine as long as they remain in the realm of science fiction. But are highly capable robots confined to the silver screen? When you read the news and see titles like “Evolving robots learn to lie to each other,” “Tiny robots are ready to spy on us,” “Are we being watched by flying robotic insects?,” “A real-life robotic avatar turns you into a machine,” or consider that IBM’s Watson can handily defeat humans on Jeopardy, you might think that it’s time to panic. Or you may wonder what exactly all those reckless scientists are thinking – haven’t they seen the movies? Why don’t they stop before it’s too late? Continue reading Is the Robot Apocalypse Just Around the Corner?

The Nanotechnology Solution to the Global Water Challenge

— It has been said that “water is the next oil.” Just like oil, water — specifically, clean drinking water — is a resource that is rapidly depleting. Every year, 1.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, and millions of people die, including almost 5000 children a day, from various waterborne diseases. These numbers are increasing as the world population keeps growing. Continue reading The Nanotechnology Solution to the Global Water Challenge

Nuclear chemistry: Lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi disaster

On December 20th, 1951, four glowing light bulbs in Arco, Idaho heralded the first use of nuclear power for electricity generation [1]. Today, twenty-nine countries operate nuclear power plants, and these produce about 14% of the world’s electricity [2]. This electricity comes from a seemingly ideal source: nuclear power is cost-effective, does not rely on fossil fuels, and emits the same carbon equivalent per kilowatt-hour … Continue reading Nuclear chemistry: Lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi disaster

Harnessing the power of the Sun: How can raspberries and genetically modified viruses help?

If you’ve watched the movie The Day after Tomorrow, you must remember the climate-related natural disasters that ravaged the human civilization. Though the events depicted in the movie are unrealistic, we are still dramatically altering Earth’s environment and climate through our current energy policies and practices. How can we mitigate some of the effects of man-made global warming? One possible solution is to increase our … Continue reading Harnessing the power of the Sun: How can raspberries and genetically modified viruses help?

Graphene: The coolest material that shouldn’t exist

In 2004, Konstantin Novoselov, Andre Geim and their colleagues from Manchester, UK and Chernogolovka, Russia reported the existence of graphene, a two-dimensional sheet of carbon that is 1 atomic layer thick. This discovery took the world by surprise because, almost 70 years earlier, physicists had argued convincingly that materials like graphene would be too thermodynamically unstable to exist. Graphene was immediately hailed as the “next … Continue reading Graphene: The coolest material that shouldn’t exist

Cellular Machines: The Goal of Synthetic Biology

— Synthetic biologists are a new breed of researchers: part-scientist, part-engineer. Building on the work of more traditional biologists, synthetic biologists try to use what we know about biology to engineer new functions into living things, such as producing useful chemical compounds (like drugs) and generating biofuels. The hope is there, but engineering organisms to do these things remains a challenge due to the inherent complexities of living things and their constituent cells. Continue reading Cellular Machines: The Goal of Synthetic Biology

For more energy-efficient and higher-capacity computers, think spintronics!

–You are most likely reading this article on a computer, and as you scroll down the page, you may decide to briefly switch over to Facebook or Twitter to type a quick status update. We usually do not stop to think that the ease with which we can do this is due to the seamless flow of charged electrons in our computers. Thus far, utilizing charged electrons to make computers has been endlessly fruitful, allowing us to build smaller and faster computer chips. Unfortunately, we cannot continue improving technology simply by scaling down to smaller sizes because we will eventually reach atomic sizes where our devices will no longer function. As we look ahead into the not-too-distant future, we will need to explore new, innovative technologies that go beyond utilizing electron charge – one such exciting new direction is the field of spintronics. Continue reading For more energy-efficient and higher-capacity computers, think spintronics!