780 AM | 96.1 FM | “Yours for Western Alaska”

Living in the Future: More than 500 clones from a single cell, paint-on-plastic electronics and touchscreens that know you

This week on We are Living in the Future:

Scientists in Japan set a new world record for number of clones from a single cell, having cloned 581 full mice. If their techniques can be used in other places, science may have the tools to make perfect genetic tests – a single genome for testing that reveals only natural variables. The biggest setback to extended cloning in the past appears to have been some genetic abnormalities in the starter cell, which are magnified when cloned. With a few genetic tweaks, the mice were cloned in 25 rounds, and each mouse was healthy, and also able to reproduce normally.

Today’s touch screens treat each touch as the same, but detect differences in current flow based on individual differences. That capability may be exploited in future touchscreen devices so that the screen itself can differentiate between users, potentially reducing the need for password protection. Considered a biometric, this “capacitive fingerprinting” could be applied beyond tablets to other things that could use identification, such as doorknobs and furniture, though these uses are still theoretical.

Electricity flows along wires like cars along roadways – but unlike roadways, we can paint conductive material onto other surfaces. This hasn’t led to much efficiency, until recently – when scientists at the University of Michigan developed a technique that aligns semiconducting polymers using a liquid that is brushed onto a surface. The brushing allows the polymers to follow the brush stroke, creating a small network of material across the surface. Using this technique, they were able to make a simple transistor, showing that such polymers may be a replacement for silicon, which is expensive and requires high temps and energy expenditure to work. Because the polymer is a liquid at room temps, it may also be possible to print using ink-jet techniques, improving the speed and accuracy of electronics prototyping.