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《科学美国人》月刊评出2020年十大新兴技术 Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2020

科学美国人、参考消息网 2020-11-16 13:21



ThisisEngineering RAEng@thisisengineering/unsplash

1 Microneedles Could Enable Painless Injections and Blood Draws


Barely visible needles, or “microneedles,” are poised to usher in an era of pain-free injections and blood testing. Whether attached to a syringe or a patch, microneedles prevent pain by avoiding contact with nerve endings. Typically 50 to 2,000 microns in length (about the depth of a sheet of paper) and one to 100 microns wide (about the width of human hair), they penetrate the dead, top layer of skin to reach into the epidermis. But most do not reach or only barely touch the underlying dermis, where the nerve endings lie.


epidermis [ˌepɪˈdɜːmɪs]:n.上皮,表皮

dermis [ˈdɜːmɪs]:n.皮肤,真皮


2 Sun-Powered Chemistry Can Turn Carbon Dioxide into Common Materials


The manufacture of many chemicals important to human health and comfort consumes fossil fuels, thereby contributing to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. A new approach employs sunlight to convert waste carbon dioxide into these needed chemicals.



This process is becoming increasingly feasible thanks to advances in sunlight-activated catalysts, or photocatalysts. In recent years investigators have developed photocatalysts that break the resistant double bond between carbon and oxygen in carbon dioxide. This is a critical first step in creating “solar” refineries that produce useful compounds from the waste gas—including “platform” molecules that can serve as raw materials for the synthesis of such varied products as medicines, detergents, fertilizers and textiles.




3 Virtual Patients Could Revolutionize Medicine


What if computers could replace patients as well? If virtual humans could have replaced real people in some stages of a coronavirus vaccine trial, for instance, it could have sped development of a preventive tool and slowed down the pandemic. These are some of the benefits of “in silico medicine,” or the testing of drugs and treatments on virtual organs or body systems to predict how a real person will respond to the therapies. For the foreseeable future, real patients will be needed in late-stage studies, but in silico trials will make it possible to conduct quick and inexpensive first assessments of safety and efficacy, drastically reducing the number of live human subjects required for experimentation.


Alex Knight@agk42/unsplash

4 Spatial Computing Could Be the Next Big Thing


Imagine Martha, an octogenarian who lives independently and uses a wheelchair. As Martha moves from her bedroom to the kitchen, the lights switch on, and the ambient temperature adjusts. The chair will slow if her cat crosses her path. If she begins to fall when getting into bed, her furniture shifts to protect her, and an alert goes to her son and the local monitoring station.


octogenarian [ˌɒktədʒəˈneəriən]:n.八十岁到八十九岁的人


The “spatial computing” at the heart of this scene is the next step in the ongoing convergence of the physical and digital worlds. It does everything virtual-reality and augmented-reality apps do: digitize objects that connect via the cloud; allow sensors and motors to react to one another; and digitally represent the real world. Then it combines these capabilities with high-fidelity spatial mapping to enable a computer “coordinator” to track and control the movements and interactions of objects as a person navigates through the digital or physical world. Spatial computing will soon bring human-machine and machine-machine interactions to new levels of efficiency in many walks of life, among them industry, health care, transportation and the home.



5 Digital Medicine Can Diagnose and Treat What Ails You


A raft of apps in use or under development can now detect or monitor mental and physical disorders autonomously or directly administer therapies. Collectively known as digital medicines, the software can both enhance traditional medical care and support patients when access to health care is limited—a need that the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated.



6 Electric Aviation Could Be Closer Than You Think


In 2019 air travel accounted for 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions, a number that could triple by 2050. While some airlines have started offsetting their contributions to atmospheric carbon, significant cutbacks are still needed. Electric airplanes could provide the scale of transformation required, and many companies are racing to develop them. Not only would electric propulsion motors eliminate direct carbon emissions, they could reduce fuel costs by up to 90 percent, maintenance by up to 50 percent and noise by nearly 70 percent.


offset [ˈɒfset]:n.抵消,补偿

atmospheric [ˌætməsˈferɪk]:adj.大气的,大气层的


7 Low-Carbon Cement Can Help Combat Climate Change


Concrete, the most widely used human-made material. The manufacture of one of its key components, cement, creates a substantial yet underappreciated amount of human-produced carbon dioxide: up to 8 percent of the global total, according to London-based think tank Chatham House.



In 2018 the Global Cement and Concrete Association, which represents about 30 percent of worldwide production, announced the industry's first Sustainability Guidelines, a set of key measurements such as emissions and water usage intended to track performance improvements and make them transparent.



8 Quantum Sensors Could Let Autonomous Cars ‘See’ around Corners


Quantum computers get all the hype, but quantum sensors could be equally transformative, enabling autonomous vehicles that can “see” around corners, underwater navigation systems, early-warning systems for volcanic activity and earthquakes, and portable scanners that monitor a person's brain activity during daily life.


get all the hype:大肆宣传


Quantum sensors reach extreme levels of precision by exploiting the quantum nature of matter. Atomic clocks illustrate this principle. Other quantum sensors use atomic transitions to detect minuscule changes in motion and tiny differences in gravitational, electric and magnetic fields.


minuscule [ˈmɪnəskjuːl]:adj.极小的;微不足道的(非正式)


9 Green Hydrogen Could Fill Big Gaps in Renewable Energy


When hydrogen burns, the only by-product is water—which is why hydrogen has been an alluring zero-carbon energy source for decades. Yet the traditional process for producing hydrogen, in which fossil fuels are exposed to steam, is not even remotely zero-carbon.



Green hydrogen is different. It is produced through electrolysis, in which machines split water into hydrogen and oxygen, with no other by-products. Historically, electrolysis required so much electricity that it made little sense to produce hydrogen that way. The situation is changing for two reasons. First, significant amounts of excess renewable electricity have become available at grid scale; the extra electricity can be used to drive the electrolysis of water, “storing” the electricity in the form of hydrogen. Second, electrolyzers are getting more efficient.


National Cancer Institute@nci/unsplash

10 Whole-Genome Synthesis Will Transform Cell Engineering


Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists in China uploaded the virus's genetic sequence to genetic databases. A Swiss group then synthesized the entire genome and produced the virus from it—essentially teleporting the virus into their laboratory for study without having to wait for physical samples. Such speed is one example of how whole-genome printing is advancing medicine and other endeavors.



Whole-genome synthesis is an extension of the booming field of synthetic biology. Researchers use software to design genetic sequences that they produce and introduce into a microbe, thereby reprogramming the microbe to do desired work—such as making a new medicine. So far genomes mainly get light edits. But improvements in synthesis technology and software are making it possible to print ever larger swaths of genetic material and to alter genomes more extensively.





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