4 of the most exciting scientific advances this year

Molecular scissors are a thing, and they could save your life

It’s been a good year for science. While we’re not quite at Back to the Future hoverboard status quite yet (unless you count Swegways, which… we don’t), 2015 has been packed full of pretty amazing innovations. From medicine to technology, here are our favourites.

4. Transparent solar cells

Michigan State University

There’s something satisfying about technology that not only sounds really cool but also does some good at the same time. And these solar cells do exactly that.

Created by researchers at Michigan State University, these solar cells allow any window or sheet of glass (including your smartphone screen) to be used as a photovoltaic solar cell – meaning that it can convert solar energy directly into power.

The cells work by using a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC for short). This is made up of organic cells that absorb specific wavelengths of ultraviolet and infrared light, which is then emitted again as a different wavelength of infrared light. This light is then guided to the edge of the plastic, where thin strips of traditional solar cells convert it to electricity.

Researchers hope that it could be used on huge and small scales – a smartphone or e-reader could potentially be charged from one, or a forty storey skyscraper could have them installed on their numerous windows in order to generate power on a larger scale.

3. Freevolt Technology

Cleanspace

Freevolt is a pioneering technology that harvests passive energy from cell-towers, Wifi and TV broadcasters to power small Internet of Things devices. Because many IoT devices are low energy – such as beacons and sensors – Freevolt would eliminate the need for traditional chargers.

The team behind Freevolt hope it will innovate the low energy Internet of Things. It’s currently being used to power the Cleanspace Tag, a piece of tech that tells users how polluted the air they’re breathing is, but it could have wider applications in the future.

2. Gene editing for cancer

 

Great Ormond Street Hospital

A new gene editing technique has also been invented this year. ‘Molecular scissors’ remove immune cells from a patient’s body, genetically modify them and place them back in the body. Foreign cells are normally rejected from a patient’s body, but the genetic editing disables the gene in the cells that are recognised as foreign.

The invention hit the news this year when it saved the life of a toddler, Layla, who had inoperable leukaemia.

1. Object-moving holograms

University of Sussex

We’re not quite at the stage of Star Trek-style tractor beams that can transport human bodies onto a spaceship, but this invention may just be the first step towards it.

Researchers from the universities of Sussex and Bristol worked with Ultrahaptics to build a system that could grab, hold and move small objects using holograms made from sound waves. Using 64 miniature loudspeakers, the team created an ‘acoustic hologram‘ made up of high-pitched and high-intensity sound waves. This created a force field in which small objects could be levitated.


Main image: Michigan State University