Dueling neural networks. Artificial embryos. AI in the cloud. Welcome to our annual list of the 10 technology advances we think will shape the way we work and live now and for years to come.

 

Every year since 2001 the people at Technology Review have picked what they call the 10 Breakthrough Technologies. People often ask, what exactly is meant by “breakthrough”? It’s a reasonable question—some of the picks haven’t yet reached widespread use, while others may be on the cusp of becoming commercially available. What Technology Review is really looking for is a technology, or perhaps even a collection of technologies, that will have a profound effect on our lives.

 

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Scientists have isolated the gene responsible for temperature-controlled sex determination in turtles.

 

Red-eared slider turtles, a common household pet, develop into male or female embryos according to their egg incubation temperature. This little understood process is also at work in the eggs of crocodiles, alligators and some lizards. Researchers are now one step closer to solving a mystery which has persisted for over 50 years.

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University of Toronto researchers have developed a handheld 3D skin printer that deposits even layers of skin tissue to cover and heal deep wounds. The team believes it to be the first device that forms tissue in situ, depositing and setting in place, within two minutes or less.

 

The research, led by PhD student Navid Hakimi under the supervision of Associate Professor Axel Guenther of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and in collaboration with Dr. Marc Jeschke, director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital and professor of immunology at the Faculty of Medicine, was recently published in the journal Lab on a Chip.

 

For patients with deep skin wounds, all three skin layers – the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis – may be heavily damaged. The current preferred treatment is called split-thickness skin grafting, where healthy donor skin is grafted onto the surface epidermis and part of the underlying dermis.

 

Split-thickness grafting on large wounds requires enough healthy donor skin to traverse all three layers, and sufficient graft skin is rarely available. This leaves a portion of the wounded area “ungrafted” or uncovered, leading to poor healing outcomes.

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The US and European space agencies are edging towards a joint mission to bring back rock and soil samples from Mars. NASA and ESA have signed a letter of intent that could lead to the first “round trip” to another planet. The move was announced as a meeting in Berlin, Germany, discussed the science goals and feasibility of a Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission.

 

The venture would allow scientists to answer key questions about Martian history. Those questions include whether the Red Planet once hosted life.

 

Scientists at the Mars meeting said that there was only so much they could learn from Martian meteorites and from the various rovers and static landers sent to the Red Planet.

 

The next step had to be a mission that would retrieve samples from the Martian surface, blast them into space in a capsule and land them safely on Earth.

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In collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility Team and turbine blade manufacturer TPI Composites, Sandia National Laboratories 3D printed a massive mold to produce wind turbine blades.

 

Sandia researchers have been working on wind turbines for the better part of 40 years; it’s part of the lab’s effort to make the renewable energy more affordable. However, building wind turbine prototypes takes a lot of time and effort, and each requires custom molds that take up to 16 months to complete before the blade can be developed and tested.

 

Through the use of 3D printing, the team was able to cut mold development time by more than 80 percent, going from 16 months of development time down to 3 months. The work cut out more than a year of labor.

 

The 13-meter blade mold is relatively small compared to other blades currently on the market and under development — for example, GE’s Haliade-X blades will be 107 meters long. However, by cutting design and development time and cost, engineers could take greater risks during the prototype phase that could potentially accelerate innovation in the market.

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Fast live-cell 3D phase imaging of cellular dynamics. (Left) Human fibroblast migrating on a glass substrate, showing first frame of a 25-second movie imaged.

 

Scientists at the Laboratory of Biomedical Optics (LOB) at EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) in Switzerland have developed the first microscope platform that can perform “super-resolution” imaging in both space and time — capturing unprecedented “4D” views inside living cells. The landmark paper is published in Nature Photonics and on open-access ArXiv.

 

 

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