Grasping today what will work tomorrow is a complex exercise, but necessary to make science and, consequently, our lives evolve. The drawers of Universities around the world are overflowing with projects, inventions, prototypes and the vast majority of them are destined to be crammed into some virtual archive, and then be forgotten in the maze of servers.
In the face of these failed attempts, however, there is a virtuous tip of the iceberg that finds real-life application, ready to change our way of life overnight. Most of the time, making some lucky patent holder extraordinarily rich along the way. Let's take a look at a few projects with some chance of development.
Could our homes become huge energy accumulators? For researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, the method exists, and they developed it using red bricks converted to supercapacitors, using to that end a coating of a high conductivity polymer known as Pedot. Although the research is still in the proof-of-concept stage, scientists say that walls erected with these bricks "could store a significant amount of energy" and can "be recharged in an hour, hundreds of thousands of times."
DIAGNOSIS AT THE NEEDLE POINT
Speed of diagnosis is essential for treatment. This is why research from Exeter University in the UK is generating so much interest. It consists in a "smart needle" designed to speed up cancer detection and diagnosis times. The device uses a technique known as “Raman” spectroscopy, which illuminates the part of the body to be inspected with a low-power laser.
According to scientists, the response is immediate and would be particularly useful for diagnosing lymphoma, but also for reducing patient anxiety while waiting for results. 'By reaching for a lump or growth with the tip of the needle, we can instantly assess whether it is healthy or not,' said project leader Professor Nick Stone, of Exeter University.
STOPPING THE ANXIETY RANGE
Range anxiety is the worry of failing to reach the recharge station before the electric car's battery is completely depleted. This negative perception is compounded by an extended recharge time. It is one of the main reasons why the electric automotive market has not yet soared as widely expected.
This challenge has been overcome - on paper at least - by Penn State University's new lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery.
It is a lithium-ion battery without the usual cobalt and nickel, expensive materials that are connected to various critical issues. Penn State engineers claim a range of over 250 miles (400 km), and the ability to recharge in just 10 minutes. The key to long life and a fast “full-charge” is the ability of the battery to heat up rapidly to 60° during discharge cycles. And to cool down just as quickly when not in use. Moreover, it's affordable: "We have achieved cost parity with combustion engine vehicles," said Chao-Yang Wang, professor of chemical engineering and materials science, who leads the project.