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Living in the Future: July 8, 2013

This Week: 3d Printed Ears, Pictures of the Sun’s Corona, and a new fastest Supercomputer – in China!

Today, 3D Printing is becoming more common, in the industrial protoyping mold. For Princeton University researchers, 3D printing has another use – designing “scaffolding” for biological devices. Prof. Michael McAline led a team to design an ear with an antenna inside, which can send and receive signals, while being covered in biological cells hanging off a 3D-printed plastic scaffold, similar to the cartilage typically found in the ear. In addition to prosthetic uses, this also has the possibility of enhancing cybernetics – the combination of biology and technology. McAlpine thinks that this particular ear design could be used to connect to wifi signals – perhaps monitoring implants, or being used as a general internet access point in the future!

You’d think that, since the Sun is our closest star, we’d have studied it carefully. But studying it up close is difficult, given its intense heat and propensity for ejecting magnetically charged plasma that wreaks havoc with electronics. The NASA device known as HI-C (High Resolution Coronal Imager) has been able to take images of the solar atmosphere 5 times sharper than anything seen before, despite these challenges. It appears that “plasma superhighways” surround the Sun, occasionally jetting plasma in the direction of earth – called a “Coronal Mass Ejection” or CME. These CMEs have an effect on Earth if they strike us, causing disruption of radio and electronic signals.

Though the United States is the world’s leader in computing technology, having 50% of the worlds super computers, China is picking up speed, and has just revealed the fastest computer in the world. The computer, known as Tianhe-2, which means MilkyWay-2, is twice as fast as the previous record holder, the American Titan. The Tianhe-2 runs 33.86 petaflops – the measure of speed being floating point operations per second, flops – and peta meaning 2^50. For comparison, there are about 300 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, meaning that Tianhe-2 processes 100,000 times as many operations per second as there are stars in the galaxy. More than just its speed, though, the Tianhe-2 represents the first Chinese Supercomputer that is completely Chinese-built – no foreign parts were used at all. The US is expected to release it’s next supercomputer design in 2015. Supercomputers are used in the medical and astronomy fields to model large amounts of complex data – and tend to represent the average commercial product of 20 years later. Perhaps in 20 years, we’ll be able to have home computers that each have more power than the entire galaxy!