I BELIEVE 2013 will be a grand year. Big things are coming. First of all, astronomers expect a cloud of gas roughly three times the mass of Earth to begin falling into a supermassive black hole in September. It’s not just going to be amazing (blasts of x-rays and radio waves!), it will be the first time such a thing happens within range of human instrumentation, which means we get to watch.
I applaud Steve Featherstone’s article “Andrea Rossi’s Black Box” [November]. Low-energy nuclear reaction could revolutionize heatusing industries and even propulsion and transportation. This energy breakthrough, combined with the use of advanced materials, could usher in a new era of growth and prosperity.
On August 31, 2012, more than one billion tons of plasma exploded from the sun’s surface and began speeding toward Earth at approximately three million mph. Unlike a solar flare, which is a burst of extreme radiation, a coronal mass ejection (CME) is an eruption of million-degree electrified gas.
With a new core material, skis ride as weii in powder as they do on ice
Wagner Custom 2-4 Ultralight Core Skis
Until now, there hasn’t been an all-mountain ski that rides well in any conditions. Skis must be either sturdy and narrow to chop through icy snow or flexible and wide to glide across powder. The core of a ski determines its weight and strength, and thus the conditions it’s best suited for.
The Ford C-Max Energi is roomy, affordable, and, best of all, gets 108 miles per gallon
Plug-in cars save gas and cut pollution, but at a cost. The Nissan Leaf has a maximum driving range of about 75 miles. The Chevrolet Volt seats just four people. And at nearly $40,000 apiece, neither is cheap. The Ford C-Max Energi plug-ln hybrid, by contrast, seats five and combines gas power and a grid-charged lithium-ion battery to reach the EPA-certified equivalent of 108 mpg.
A NASA-developed liquid allows for clearer sound from smaller packages
Sony BVD-N790W Blu-ray Home Cinema
At the beginning of the space program, one big problem facing NASA engineers was finding a way to move rocket fuel into engines in space with no gravity to guide the flow. They developed an additive called ferrofluid, a liquid infused with magnetite particles that they could manipulate with a magnetic field.
No matter which side the hexagonal Unmonday speaker sits on, its ceramic housing will dampen vibrations. Based on how the speaker is positioned, an accelerometer tells it to act as part of a mono, stereo, or surround setup. $890 (import)
Inspired by acoustic guitars, the Koostik passive amplifier quadruples an iPhone’s speaker volume. Two hemispherical sound chambers concentrate audio much like a megaphone before sound waves exit through front-facing holes. $95
The Comet produces sound that’s 57 percent less distorted than that of a traditional wood speaker. Designers embedded the two drivers in a solid block of stone, a substance that won’t absorb sound waves. $1,400 (pair)
Tools with attachable vacuums clean up after themselves
Despite a huge 36-volt battery pack, the DeWalt DC233KLDH fits into tight spaces. The vacuum canister snaps onto the bottom of the hammer, instead of its side. Both the hammer and vacuum connect to the same power source, so pulling the trigger simultaneously starts the drilling and the suction. $899
Milwaukee M12 HammerVac 2306-22
The M12 is the only vacuum that can attach to any corded or cordless rotary hammer—regardless of brand. Users adjust a metal strap to fit over the drill head, and a jaw on the strap grabs onto the 3.3-pound vacuum, which draws power from its own 12-volt lithium-ion battery. $250
Though one 18-volt battery powers both the vacuum and the hammer in Makita’s system, a single charge lasts 50 percent longer than on the company’s prior vacuum-less hammer. To extend the runtime, engineers swapped the old motor for a brushless model; without brushes, there’s less internal friction for the motor to work against. $539
A rotary hammer, which simultaneously turns and punches a drill bit, is the ideal tool for drilling holes into brick and concrete. But making those holes also creates a huge, powdery mess. Snap-on HEPA vacuums developed by tool manufacturers can now trap dust right at the source.
In normal conditions, a hard drive Is the most affordable and efficient way to back up music, video, and photo libraries. Yet most drives—typically made from lightweight materials such as plastic—won’t last through a disaster.
Hitachi engineers have developed a method to store data indefinitely on glass. A femtosecond laser carves data as code40 megabytes' worth for every square inch— Into heatand water-resistant quartz glass. A programmed optical microscope is used to decode the data.
TVs will soon tell us exactly what we want to watchno channel surfing required
TWENTY YEARS ago, Bruce Springsteen lamented “57 channels, and nothin’ on.” Today, 57 channels would be a relief: Between cable, broadcast, and Web services, we have tens of thousands of individual programs to choose from, and no good way to figure out what to watch. In the early days of the Internet, surfers were just as confounded.
Why coyotes, bears, and mountain lions are moving Into cities, and what to do about It
IT’S BEEN a while since he tried to count them all, but Stan Gehrt estimates that more than 2,000 coyotes make a comfortable living in the Chicago metropolitan area today. And in the 12 years he’s spent tracking the animals with radio and GPS collars, Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist at Ohio State University, has witnessed some remarkable adaptations.
Sherlock Holmes could look at a gun shell and know exactly what went down. The firearm? The shooter’s stance? The culprit? All revealed with a glance. In the real world, using a shell to solve a crime is a painstaking, and often unsuccessful, process.
As of November, when this issue went to press, 2012 was on track to become the warmest year in the U.S. since 1895, when national record keeping began. From January through October, the 4,451 U.S. weather stations that have been tracking temperatures for at least 30 years measured nearly 28,000 high-temperature records but only 5,200 lows.
"In the future, tiny vehicles might travel through your body to image your insides, take samples, and deliver drugs. At Stanford University, my colleague Anatoly Yakovlev and I built a prototype of such a device. It’s about the size of Abraham Lincoln’s head on a penny. We power and control the prototype wirelessly by sending radio waves to its twoby-two-millimeter antenna from about two inches away.
Music piracy? Who cares. Wait until people start copying iPhones
LAST JANUARY, the Swedish BitTorrent tracker Pirate Bay quietly introduced a new category, called Physibles, to its inventory. “We believe that things like three-dimensional printers, scanners, and such are just the first step,” one of the site’s managers wrote at the time.
WHICH STORIES WILL DOMINATE THE NEWS IN 2013? HERE'S A GLIMPSE INTO THE FUTURE.
Science and technology have utterly transformed human life in the past few generations, and forecasts of the future used to be measured in decades. But big changes arrive faster and faster these days. So here we’ve shifted our forecast to the near-term, because we’re right on the verge of some extraordinary stuff.
ON July 4, 2012, a panel of scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva announced the discovery of a new particle, the long-anticipated Higgs boson (or something very much like it). The Higgs is the final piece of the Standard Model of particle physics, a theory that accounts for everything we experience in our lives, from rocks to puppies to stars and planets.
A giant blob of gas headed directly for the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy could begin to drop into the abyss mid-year, blasting x-ray radiation into space in a brilliant display of light. Witnessed for the first time by scientists, the decades-long process will help answer the question of how black holes grow.
DURING 2012, two scientific teams announced, in separate studies, that they had transformed ordinary adult skin cells into neural cells, a breakthrough that could change the course of human stem cell research. Stem cells hold enormous potential for medicine because they can develop from undifferentiated cells into a variety of specialized ones.
THE warning from climate scientists has been clear and consistent for decades: Man-made greenhousegas emissions, which increase every year, are causing the planet to warm, and that will have dire consequences—the specifics of which (timing, intensity, location) aren’t completely understood right now.
EARTH'S two most populous nations have major space launches slated for 2013: China will send a lander to the moon and India will propel an orbiter toward Mars. On the surface, their goals appear similar—cement a toehold in a frontier dominated by the U.S., Russia, and Europe—but the ways in which they will achieve them are very different.
NATURAL gas has emerged as a cheap, abundant fuel source because of hydraulic fracturing, and energy companies are now racing to develop it. Gas isn’t perfect. Its environmental reputation is controversial at best; emissions from methane that escapes during drilling give it a big carbon footprint.
ON April 5, 2012, President Barack Obama sat at a small, wooden desk in the White House Rose Garden and signed the JOBS Act, one of the most transformative pieces of securities legislation written since the Great Depression. Among the 22 pages of dense legalese, one section stood out: the Crowdfund Act.
IN 2009, the annual Pwn2Own cybersecurity competition provided hackers with a shot at cracking smartphones. They failed. In September, the event offered phones as targets again. This time, contestants seized control of them, successfully exploiting vulnerabilities in the two most popular operating systems, iOS and Android.
WITH his second term secured, President Barack Obama can now turn his full attention to advancing the priorities that will help define his legacy. On the stump, Obama championed science and technology. Under his administration, those fields, particularly renewable energy and medical research, should continue to enjoy significant federal support over the next four years.
THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT IS RAPIDLY BUILDING A BIGGER, MORE SOPHISTICATED MILITARY. HERE'S WHAT THEY HAVE, WHAT THEY WANT, AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE U.S.
PETER W. SINGER
IN A SINGLE GENERATION, China has transformed itself from a largely agrarian country into a global manufacturing and trading powerhouse. China’s economy is 20 times bigger than it was two decades ago and is on track to surpass the United States’ as the world’s largest.
ATHLETES IN THE U.S. SUFFER 3.8 MILLION SPORTS-RELATED CONCUSSIONS EACH YEAR. WHILE HELMET MAKERS DITHER WITH SMALL IMPROVEMENTS, SWEDISH SCIENTISTS HAVE BUILT SOMETHING THAT COULD PROTECT US ALL.
THE TROUBLE WITH CONCUSSIONS
The Helmet that Might Save Football
THE HELMET ARMS RACE
A NEW HOPE
What's Behind the NFL Suicides?
FOLLOW THE MONEY
On August 19, 2012, in week two of the NFL preseason, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie ran 17 yards out from the line of scrimmage, cut right toward the center of the field, caught a pass, and was immediately tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor.
An eco-minded couple hits the road in a DIY covered wagon
HOW TO WORKS
AFTER THEIR LANDLORD sold her house, Tristan Chambers and Libby Reinish found themselves scrambling for a new home. They agreed then to never again endure the insecurity of leased living. It was 2010, "a time when we didn't know where we were going, but we still wanted to have roots," Chambers says.
If cockroaches send you scrambling, use neuroscience to reverse the human-insect power balance. Carefully electrifying the nerves in a roach’s antennae makes the insect think it has met an obstacle—a sensation that can be manipulated to steer it.
Three projects that reimagine conventional calculating
Analog Bike Clock
Artist and cycling enthusiast Gregory de Gouveia, based in Chico, California, has built bike sculptures before. But his 12-foot-tall clock called Time to Change—a fusion of more than a dozen two-wheeled machines—is his largest and most functional aesthetic contribution to the sport. The project began when another local artist asked de Gouveia if he wanted to create a sculpture for the 2011 Chico Wildflower Century Ride.
we’ve all failed to eject a USB drive before unplugging it, prompting warnings—but not absolute truths—about lost data. Knowing the mechanics of three common storage devices could save you precious time, 1s, and Os. Traditional hard drives can store terabytes of data on spinning, magnetized disks.
Turn a VCR and USB mouse into a computer jog wheel
Early in his engineering career, Rohit de Sa faced a painful reality: endless scrolling through lengthy computer documents. Just an hour of flicking a mouse’s wheel was enough to cause carpaltunnel-like symptoms in his wrist. So de Sa repurposed an old VCR, computer mouse, and camera lens caps to build an ergonomic jog wheel.
Q: Why don't spiders get trapped in their own webs?
Orb-weavers, arachnids that capture their prey using sticky webs, make up more than one fourth of all known spiders. These species spin their creations with spiral crossbeams dotted with drops of viscous goo. (The webs’ radial and framing threads are left clean.)
When two Grumman F4F-3 "Wildcat" fighters appeared on POPULAR SCIENCE'S cover in February 1941, the U.S. had not yet joined World War II, but the possibility of an attack on American soil loomed large. Writer Carl Dreher estimated the likelihood of an air bombing on a U.S. city by analyzing foreign aerial strength.