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Inventions that could change the world

Alternative Energy

The European Patent Office (EPO) has announced its finalists for the 2015 European Inventor Awards, honoring brilliant inventions from a range of scientific fields. The EPO will have its work cut out choosing winners—everyone on the list is working on or has created something groundbreaking.

A dozen finalists are grouped into four categories, including one for non-European inventors; three additional finalists are eligible for a lifetime achievement recognition. One winner will be selected from each category, and then the public can vote on the overall winner, with the awards taking place on June 11.

Here’s the shortlist, broken out by category.

Industry

Franz Amtmann (Austria), Philippe Maugars (France)

This team of inventors came up with the technology behind Near Field Communication (NFC). This form of radio technology is what powers mobile payments like Apple Pay and Google Wallet. The technology is likely to find its way into more applications soon: the Washington D.C. subway is piloting an NFC payments system, and London is looking into it, too, as is the other Subway.

Gunnar Asplund (Sweden)

Renewable energy plants are often far from centers of population—we don’t tend to have dams or solar fields near cities—which makes getting the power from the plants to the people difficult (the farther the power has to travel, the more energy is lost to resistance). Asplund has found a way to bury cables that can transport energy over thousands of kilometers without losing a volt.

 Jean-Christophe Giron (France)

Giron has invented an “intelligent” window. An electrified glazing on his windows can convert the sun’s rays into warmth to heat homes in winter. The glazing also darkens in the summer (think Transitions lenses) to limit the amount of sunlight that gets in. Giron’s invention can reduce a building’s energy costs by up to 20%, according to the EPO. Giron is vice president of technology at SAGE Electrochromics, a division of Paris-based building materials company Saint-Gobain.

Small and medium-sized enterprises

John Elvesjö and Mårten Skogö (Sweden)

This Swedish team invented the eye-tracking system called Tobii that lets users control computers with just their eyes. An infrared sensor tracks the direction of the user’s eyeballs, essentially turning your eyes into a computer mouse. This technology could help people with mobility issues to interact with computers like never before, the EPO said.

Michel Lescanne (France)

Lescanne has developed a peanut paste called Plumpy’nut to help fight famine. Nearly 20 million children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization. Usually they would need to be taken to hospital to be treated, but with Lescanne’s paste, they can be treated at home.

Laura Johanna Van’t Veer (Netherlands)

Van’t Veer developed a gene test that shows women with early stage breast cancer whether they are likely to need chemotherapy. According to the EPO, her invention means that 20% to 30% fewer patients would be steered into chemotherapy as part of their treatment. After patenting the gene test in 2001, Van’t Veer and a partner started a diagnostics firm called Agendia, which markets the test under the name MammaPrint.

Research

Luke Alphey (United Kingdom)

Alphey has invented a way to combat Dengue fever by genetically controlling mosquitos to breed out the ones that carry the disease. The impact is potentially huge: According to WHO, roughly half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting the potentially fatal disease.

Hendrik Marius Jonkers (Netherlands)

Jonkers has invented a “bioconcrete” containing bacteria that naturally produce calcium carbonate (limestone). The bacteria can lie dormant for up to 200 years. When the concrete cracks, it activates the bacteria, which seal up the cracks. Though its production is currently twice as costly as that of regular concrete, Jonkers’ invention could potentially extend the life of buildings and roads worldwide by decades.

Ludwik Leibler (France)

Leibler has invented vitrimers, a new type of recyclable, self-healing plastic. Vitrimers are as sturdy as glass, and when heated, can repair damages to their surfaces. So the next time you drop your smart phone, a little heat could heal the cracks and save you a few hundred dollars. Leibler is also developing a way to use his material to heal wounds, the EPO said.

Non-European countries

Ian Frazer, Jian Zhou (Australia, China)

This is the team that developed the Gardasil and Cervarix vaccines against the Human papillomavirus (HPV), which is linked to 99% of cervical cancer cases. Vaccinations already have had a significant effect on the prevalence of HPV in young women. Zhou died in 1999—Gardasil, marketed by Merck, was not cleared for use in Europe and the US until 2006. Cervarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, won approval in Europe the following year.

Elizabeth Holmes (US)

Holmes developed a way to test for a plethora of health issues using a single drop of blood obtained with a finger prick. Holmes’ method is “virtually painless” and takes only hours to get results, the EPO said. The Stanford University dropout is now, according to Forbes, the world’s “youngest self-made woman billionaire.”

Sumio Iijima, Akira Koshio, Masako Yudasaka (Japan)

Carbon nanotubes are a futuristic material that seem right out of a movie. They’re harder than diamonds and conduct electricity better than copper. They may even one day replace silicon as the material that our computer chips are made from. And their discovery, the EPO says, was one of the biggest findings in decades for the field of material sciences.

Lifetime achievement

The EPO also will be awarding a lifetime achievement honor to one of the following: Ivars Kalvins of Latvia, for his work on preventing and curing diseases; Kornelis Schouhamer Immink of the Netherlands, for creating the technology to store large quantities of data on optical disks like the CD and Blu-Ray; and Andreas Manz of Switzerland, for inventing the “laboratory on a microchip.”

Quartz



8 Comments on "Inventions that could change the world"

  1. Davy on Wed, 22nd Apr 2015 7:54 am 

    Geeze more hopium from the BAUtopian exceptionalist who see technological progress problem solving our predicaments. Predicaments of broad based limits of growth, diminishing returns and over population cannot be solved with more of the same that got us here. Same old song and dance of the BAUtopians preaching there false gods of technology and economics to the rescue.

  2. dave thompson on Wed, 22nd Apr 2015 8:03 am 

    With 50% of the Phytoplankton in the oceans missing,where half or more of the photosynthesis occurs. Land plant biodiversity being destroyed and replaced with chemical monoculture. Is there a technology that will replace the bottom of the food chain?

  3. c8 on Wed, 22nd Apr 2015 9:45 pm 

    Scientific advances scare the hell out of Peak Oil doomers- this disrupts their irrational FAITH in the belief that science is too weak to save us (yet they can never present any evidence to support this faith).

  4. Apneaman on Wed, 22nd Apr 2015 10:06 pm 

    c8 reminds me of the kids Chris Martenson talks about who’s only response to peak oil, climate change, overshoot and collapse is to hold up their iphones. There’s some fucked up FAITH for ya.

    Some of our greatest cultural and technological achievements took place between 1945 and 1971. Why has progress stalled?

    “Most of what has happened since has been merely incremental improvements upon what came before.”

    http://aeon.co/magazine/science/why-has-human-progress-ground-to-a-halt/

  5. Apneaman on Wed, 22nd Apr 2015 10:12 pm 

    Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit

    “Where, in short, are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now? Even those inventions that seemed ready to emerge—like cloning or cryogenics—ended up betraying their lofty promises. What happened to them?”

    http://www.thebaffler.com/salvos/of-flying-cars-and-the-declining-rate-of-profit

  6. Apneaman on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 1:02 am 

    Pedro Prieto: many solar panels won’t last 25-30 years, EROI may be negative

    http://energyskeptic.com/2015/pedro-prieto-many-solar-panels-wont-last-25-30-years-eroi-may-be-negative/

  7. Apneaman on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 1:04 am 

    All Electric Trucks. Probably not going to happen. Ever. Why not?

    http://energyskeptic.com/2015/all-electric-trucks-not-going-to-happen/

  8. Davy on Thu, 23rd Apr 2015 6:19 am 

    CB the 8th, numb nut, you don’t understand dynamic systems and peak oil. You have blind faith in science and technology that got us here to multiple predicaments. Your snake eating its tail thinking, thinks that technology will solve the problems technology has created. Technology will make a break out and decouple from oil, create a second green revolution, and supply copious water from the oceans.

    I ask technotopians how the hell are you going to pay for all this life saving technology and in time? Technotopians please show me these revolutionary technologies in the first place then tell me how they are going to scale. This issues of scaling and funding has to be looked at in the context of maintaining the fossil fuel infrastructure that must remain in place until all this wonderful and lifesaving technology come to the rescue?

    What about AGW carbon issues of all this technology build out to save us. How are we going to produce a billion EV’s, put wind and solar farms on huge expanses of land, and build out a smart grid. CB, when are all those mammoth storage sources coming into play to store and deliver all that AltE power? Will food and water be substituted or manufactured by new technologies.

    Will you thechnocats be the new alchemists creating vital substances from base metals? You technotopians make me sick with your righteous delusional messages. You have and are leading the human race to its death. You should be lynched at the tree of public policy. Instead you are worshiped like a god of neon and plastic. CB the 8th. Climb into your hole you weasel

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