Switching between tools can be tedious. It would be great to have just one wrench that grows or shrinks to fit any nut or bolt. A screwdriver that can change between flat and Phillips at the press of a button. One day, far in the future, programmable matter will make that possible. Programmable matter refers to microscopic robots that communicate with each other and move around to form macroscopic structures, similar to the behavior of ants joining together to form bridges. The structure can take on almost any form, such as a wrench or screwdriver. Each robot is an independent, mobile computer that is instructed and powered wirelessly. When not activated, the programmable matter might resemble sand or clay; Carnegie Mellon University researchers like to use the term “claytronics”. On command, the tiny robots rearrange themselves into a designated structure and increase the strength of their electric bonds for structural rigidity. If you have enough programmable matter, then you can make much more than small tools.

Sculpture art might be revolutionized by this technology. As an artist completes a sculpture, the structural information can be saved and shared over the internet. Anyone else with programmable matter can download the sculpture's form and have an exact claytronic replica as easily as one might print a painting today. If programmable matter could change color, texture, and firmness, then it could replace just about every household item. Imagine furniture that can morph into any shape. Whenever desired, a living room could melt and reshape into a dining room, bedroom, etc. With advanced claytronics, a one-room apartment can have the functional versatility of a mansion. Why stop at furniture? Perhaps such a room could simulate any imaginable environment, indeed an achievement very close to the holodeck as seen on the Enterprise. With color and continuous motion, conventional video games and 3D television would become obsolete. Who knows what the military might do with this technology?

The potentially extreme versatility of claytronics has interesting consequences for the economy. Most inedible products in the private market could be replaced as programmable matter can take any form. Much of the manufacturing industry could eventually go out of business or adapt to producing claytronics. Although expensive at first, claytronics might save money in the long run with their multipurpose capabilities. What would our economy be like when people just download whatever products they want?

By the time claytronics are widely used, perhaps brain scanning and analysis technologies will have been sufficiently developed to easily “read minds”. Combining these technologies would allow someone to mentally visualize an object and have it created in the physical world out of programmable matter. If thoughts could be linked to matter in such a way, the possibilities would be endless. Physical avatars could make telepresence more realistic than ever before. How cool would it be to manipulate your environment just by thinking? But what if someone else manipulated that environment? In the wrong hands, claytronics could create real life supervillains. Sinisterly programmed artificial intelligences could get out of control with shape-shifting bodies. Although this technology is in its infancy right now, “grey goo” and “terminators” might someday become real threats.

Featured Image 01/27/2011


Heat is a major factor in muscle fatigue. Muscles produce heat as they are used, and overheating inhibits their function. Much of the body's excess heat is expelled through the head and hands. When this is not enough, sweat is produced to facilitate evaporative cooling. If our muscles produce heat faster than sweat can remove it, then we quickly tire out. A more efficient method of cooling would obviously allow muscles to work longer.

Scientists at Stanford University have found such a method. They are developing a device, dubbed the “cool glove”, that can increase someone's workout time by as much as 100%. The glove has an air-tight seal around the wrist and applies mild suction to the hand. The lower air pressure draws more blood into the hand than is usual. The surface in contact with the palm of the hand is cooled to about sixty degrees Fahrenheit with ice water. The temperature is crucial because the blood vessels contract and reduce blood flow if exposed to anything colder. The glove cools the blood in the hand through conduction, and the cooled blood flows back to the heart. This process can effectively decrease the body's core temperature to back to normal after a period of intense exercise. Imagine a long jog that leaves you hot and exhausted. After a few minutes of using the cool glove, you feel refreshed and ready for another session. Using this technology to extend workouts, you can drastically improve your strength and endurance.

In the future people will be able exercise two or three times as long but with roughly the same amount of fatigue. Physical fitness for some could reach astounding levels without the use of steroids. This technology also has a potential application for people in hot climates. Soldiers in desert environments could last much longer as their blood is kept at healthy temperatures. Perhaps the cool glove might become an alternative to conventional air conditioners, as well as an indispensable exercise aid.

Featured Image 10/21/2011


For decades cars have been the primary method of personal transportation in cities. Owning a car is an element of American life that symbolizes freedom and independence. We cherish the personal power to travel when and wherever we please. In high traffic areas, however, cars cause danger, slowdowns, and noticeable pollution (both air and sound). These problems should be significantly reduced by decreasing the number of vehicles in a given city while maintaining the same number of people being transported. Imagine bigger vehicles that can hold at least a couple dozen people apiece. Have a driver that goes to everyone's destinations on a regular basis. Better yet, engineer the vehicles to use something else than fossil fuels. One obvious problem: people like the freedom and independence of owning and driving their own cars.

Cities like Chicago have made good progress employing buses and trains to improve the movement of people from place to place. Yet there are still traffic jams, vehicular collisions, and the ever-present stench of engine exhaust on the streets. Many technologies have been developed to diminish these issues. Using hybrid, electric, and hydrogen-fueled cars can effectively cut back pollution. Some devices dramatically increase the range of “walking distance”. Bicycles have long been an environmentally friendly and personally healthy option for getting from A to B. Modern computing power is sufficient to coordinate personal vehicles throughout a city, preventing collisions and ensuring accurate navigation. Having computers at the wheel might be the next transportation revolution. But will it happen? Will people ever relinquish their ownership for efficiency while in the city? Will urban transportation ever change, and if so, when?

Featured Image 01/06/2011


Many people have trouble matching a healthy sleep cycle with their daily schedule. Moving to a different time zone usually makes this problem even worse. Jet lag is one of the most notable adversities of high speed transportation. If you fly from one end of the United States to the other, then suddenly you have to shift your sleeping time by a few hours. Sleep disorders also impede much needed rest for millions of people. A drug, nicknamed “longdaysin”, has recently been discovered to slow down circadian rhythms in cells.

This intriguing effect has the potential to help countless people. With a dose of “longdaysin” your body would count seconds slower and think that a day was longer than twenty-four hours. Drugs that speed up or slow down our biological clocks will become invaluable tools for adjusting our sleep cycles. If you change shifts at work or travel to another time zone, then such drugs can make that transition easier, as far as sleep is concerned. Circadian rhythms that are too fast or slow, making people sleep too often or seldom, could be adjusted by prescribed medication to allow a normal lifestyle.