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Living in the Future: July 29, 2013

This week: Telescopic contacts, Robotic lawn mowers, and gold from colliding stars!

One of the major tropes of Sci-Fi are smart contact lenses that provide zooming ability! Now, thanks to Swiss and American researchers, optical enhancement contacts are a reality, at least in prototype form. Technically, the contact lens uses polarization to allow both regular 1x eyesight and 2.8x eyesight. So, unlike the movies, the contacts won’t zoom on their own – they’re meant to be used with polarized glasses for zooming ability. Even so, this offers a possibility to counter some of the effects of macular degeneration, or possibly enhance regular vision. A new variant will enter clinical trials starting in November!

Robots have been infiltrating our households for some time, beginning with timers on microwaves and ovens, and moving into floor vacuums. But a new household robot is designed to mow the lawn, aiding in this traditionally time-consuming task. Popular Mechanics editor Glenn Derene had an opportunity to try one out – admitedly, overkill for his lawn, but the robot worked as advertised. He describes it as becoming like a pet, roaming around the lawn and making sure that the grass was cut to an equal level. Unlike traditional mowers, the automower roves around almost at random, bouncing from one end of the lawn to the other, and not leaving the tell-tale mower lines. Instead, the lawn simply looks evenly cut, with no evidence as to how it got that way!

People have long asked the question, “Where does gold come from?”. The shiny yellow metal has been a staple of human jewelry and decoration, not to mention medium of exchange and value store. In the middle ages, alchemists did their best to synthesize gold from “base metals” like lead, not realizing that it was an element. In the 20th century, it was assumed that gold was created from supernovae, or exploding stars, but it could only rarely be detected in the spectra of stars. Now, finally, we may have the answer. Scientists studying short gamma ray bursts, like one that occurred last month, have discovered that the heavy elements, including gold, were produced in large amounts – as much as ten of our moons! Gamma ray bursts form at the meeting of two neutron stars, or stars left behind after burning out their fuel. If this finding holds out, it means that gold is rare on Earth because it is rare in the universe!