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Living in the Future: June 24, 2013

This week: Cybernetic hands that record touch, laser-cut logos directly on food, and wiring graphene structures with 1-atom wires.

Everyone who’s seen The Empire Strikes Back will remember Luke Skywalker’s hand being replaced with a cybernetic replacement that could feel touch.  Now, that science fiction vision of nearly 30 years ago is becoming a reality, thanks to DARPA and researchers at Case Western University. The system intertwines nerves from amputees with electronic sensors, giving the patient the ability to feel pressure in each finger individually, a major breakthrough for cybernetic devices. The program is still under evaluation, until 2016, but shows promise for the future of medical prosthetics!

One of the biggest waste products right now is packaging – though a lot of research goes into packaging design, much if it is designed around the ubiquitous barcode. In the EU, that may be changing, now that laser-cut logos are allowed to be printed directly on produce. The logos are burned into the skin of the produce, without damaging the flesh below the skin of everything from bananas to tomatoes. Laser Food, the Spanish company pushing the technology, can print on up to 54,000 pieces of fruit an hour. This has the added benefit of relieving the problem of stickers on food – getting rid of the chemicals even on organic fruit that many don’t care for, and making scanning them at the register that much faster.

You might have heard of graphene, the one-molecule thick sheet of carbon that has miraculous strength and electrical capabilities at the nano-level. One of the big problems with research into graphene’s electrical properties has been in how to attach electrical connectors to graphene sheets – alligator clips are obviously too big! Using a scanning tunneling microscope, scientists have discovered that pulsing electricity at particular atoms will disconnect a single atom from the edge of a graphene ribbon, making a chemical bond that forms a wire to the graphene structure. This will allow better research into graphene’s properties, making this amazing substance more viable each day!