The Best of 2011: Mustard Gas, Missions to Mars and Painful DecisionsAs we end 2011, here’s a look back at some of the top stories in science from around the world.
Super SensesTechnology today is supercharging our senses
In the movies, it’s always the superheroes that save the world, get the girl (or guy), and get to parade around in a figure hugging bodysuit and still look powerful and menacing. But, apart from a few brutes gifted with abominable strength, most of them get their crazy powers from science. In fact, looking through your average Marvel comic is a bit like taking a childhood science lesson.
There are characters like arch-villain Magneto who can bend metals to his whim. Spiderman, whose power is a result of being bitten by a radioactive spider. Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan can manipulate atoms, bend time and move at will through time and space. Happily, he can even exist in different dimensions at the same time. The list goes on: Iron Man, Wolverine, Storm, the Six Million Dollar Man, the Human Torch, Professor X, Silver Surfer, Superman. All of them have powers that are based on using science’s cutting edge, or having an innate ability to control various natural elements.
Of course, it’s usually the science of the good guys that triumphs over evil. And fortunately, in the real world, the same thing is often true. As our planet evolves and human populations increase, science is playing an increasing role in our everyday lives. Some of it is humdrum and everyday, and some of it is as fantastical and far-fetched as anything you’ll find in comic books.
You may even be wearing some science as you read this. One major sportswear brand has recruited a former NASA engineer to design its training gear. He has designed shoes that feed force back into the wearer’s leg to tone muscles, improve posture and of course, reduce strain on the knees. Other companies have materials that repel stains and water, wick away sweat or dry in just a few minutes.
Deodorant sprays are using nanotechnology to keep you fresh for longer and toothpaste manufacturers have time-release pastes that protect teeth and freshen breath throughout the day. Down in your car engine, more effective lubricants with high-tech, laboratory-made additives are reducing wear, increasing performance and promoting efficiency. The same goes for the petrol, diesel and LPG that keep those engines running.
Scientists are developing algae that can clean up chemical spills, solar powered water purifiers that require no maintenance and smart drugs that identify healthy cells and leave them alone. Science is also moving closer to cloning organs from our own cells, meaning that transplanted and replacement organs for those who need them will have virtually no risk of rejection, and the recipients can live drug-free after surgery.
And then there’s food. More people on the planet means greater pressure on food and water resources, while at the same time taking up more of the land needed to grow it. In the fields of both genetic modification and traditional gene splicing, huge progress has been made to increase food yields, reduce strain on the soil and increase resistance to specific diseases and bugs that would otherwise require the use of pesticides.
Water is increasingly cleaned and recycled in major cities. In London, tap water is said to have been through the system on average seven times. In fact, astronauts at the International Space Station are able to completely purify their urine, turning it into potable water.
And that’s without talking about the really crazy stuff. Like injecting sulphur into the upper atmosphere to create a shield from the sun’s rays, or the gigantic mirror array that has been suggested to reflect its rays during periods where temperatures are rising at above average levels. Or the space based lasers to deflect or destroy asteroids and meteors.
While some of these last examples are currently theoretical, they are all based on scientific working papers rather than on the fevered mind of a Hollywood scriptwriter. And whatever situations the human race finds itself in, there is usually a superhero scientist close by with some kind of workable or downright crazy solution to save mankind at the last second.
It is a very nice article reflecting upon some of the wonders of science. The list of scientific impacts on our lives is endless. Science, or in better words: the scientists are the real superheros. Very true that "there is usually a superhero scientist close by with some kind of workable or downright crazy solution to save mankind at the last second." but we should not forget that there is a scientist within every one of us. We all can play our bits to contribute towards the advancement of science. As about the question: what science has done for us/what we have done for science... We can really do something. All it requires is an effort towards researching. The basic sciences have lost popularity among the youth of today. One of the reason being the job related issues. Promoting the youth towards a career in basic sciences in which hard core research is done to understand fundamental principles of science is required. Of course before distributing any technology (big or small) to the common people, it is deeply studied and worked upon in labs. It is only after rigorous studies, experiments, failures and NOT GIVING UPs does a wonderful discovery come up which changes our lives. We also can play a role by developing interest in research oriented careers and contributing the the scientific community. You may never know how and when you might end up being a superhero.