From contact lenses that double as computer screens to roads in France paved with solar panels, the past week brought a grab bag of breakthroughs, including a mushroom burial suit that turns bodies into composts. Here’s the haul.
Scientists at the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute developed a polymer film coating that turns contact lenses into computer screens. Its applications could range from biometric sensors to computing. “We’re talking about anything from a simple sensor that can measure the amount of glucose in your blood through to actually creating electronic displays so rather than having something like a pair of glasses that’s acting like a computer, you can actually generate images directly on your contact lens,” says Drew Evans, one of the researchers and an associate professor at the university.
Engineers in France plan to pave over 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) of roads with a solar panel surface that’s just a quarter of an inch thick (7 millimeters) and strong enough to handle heavy trucks. One kilometer of this solar pavement can reportedly generate enough electricity to power the public lighting system for a town of 5,000 people. Called Wattway, the pavement was developed by Colas, a transportation infrastructure company, and INES, France’s National Institute for Solar Energy.
“I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for,” first baseman Lou Gehrig said in his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939. His bad break was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive disease of the nervous system. It kills motor neurons, preventing the brain from controlling muscles throughout the body and leads to death. Gehrig passed away in 1941 and treatment for the ailment remains elusive. But researchers at Oregon State University just reported they “essentially stopped the progression” of ALS in mice, “allowing the mice to approach their normal lifespan.” The key, they say, is a compound that helps deliver copper to cells with damaged mitochondria, the tiny biological battery packs that supply them with energy. “We are shocked at how well this treatment can stop the progression of ALS,” said Joseph Beckman, lead author on this study.
Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a wearable sensor that can analyze the chemical composition of sweat and beam the results wirelessly to a smartphone. “The idea is to have this thumbs-up or thumbs-down device that will give real-time information: it could provide an alarm that you need to take some medication, or that you’re getting dehydrated and need to drink some water,” researcher Ali Javey told Nature. Scientists around the world, including at GE, are working on wearable, wireless body sensors to detect and prevent medical issues and disease.
The iconic Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser asked to be buried naked under a tulip tree “to become humus myself.” He wrote that “when you visit the grave you don’t visit a dead man, you visit a living being who was just transformed into a tree.” Designers Jae Rhim Lee and Mike Ma could make such wishes commonplace. They developed a “mushroom death suit” that turns the body into compost. They call it the Infinity Burial Suit; the first prototype was embroidered with thread infused with spores of special “infinity mushrooms” that can cleanse toxins from the decomposing body.