December 15, 2015

Breakthroughs in Materials Science, Gene Editing, and Fusion Energy

By Chelsea German
In another installment of our series on how technology and innovation are improving the world, let us take a look at breakthroughs in materials science, some promising gene-editing developments, and a potential energy game-changer.

Material Stronger Than Diamond Created

First, some scientists at North Carolina State University have found a way to make carbon stronger than diamond. The exciting new material is called, “Q-carbon.” Not only is it stronger than diamond, it is also magnetic, and as if that weren’t neat enough, it glows with exposure to even a tiny amount of energy. It can also be easily converted into diamond, including both gemstone-quality diamonds and diamonds for use in industry.

Transparent Metal Could Mean Big Price Cuts

In another materials science breakthrough, a team of researchers has found a way to make metals transparent. Currently, most display screens for televisions, tablets, and phones are made from a material called, “indium tin oxide.” This material has dominated the market for 60 years, facing little competition. The new transparent metal material costs only 5% or less what indium costs per kilogram. In other words, transparent metal could lead to dramatic price reductions for phones and other devices with screens.

Gene Editing Could Cure Blindness

A biotechnology company called Editas Medicines believes that a new gene editing technology, CRISPR, could cure blindness. The technology, first created only three years ago, is able to repair broken genes and holds the potential to treat many disorders in children and adults, including Huntington’s disease. In 2017, the company plans to move into the human testing phase of CRISPR’s potential to cure Leber congenital amaurosis, a blindness-inducing eye disease. The ailment is a perfect candidate to test CRISPR’s potential because the exact gene error behind the disease is known.

Gene Editing Creates Disease-Resistant Pigs

In another exciting gene-editing development, scientists have successfully bred pigs that are immune to blue-ear disease, a sometimes fatal condition that has no cure. A British genetics company worked with U.S. researchers to edit the pigs’ genes and grant them disease resistance. The pigs may become commercially available in as little as five years, which could prove a “game-changer” to the pork industry, perhaps further lowering the cost of bacon.

Fusion Energy Advances in Germany

In Germany, researchers have just switched on a new fusion reactor that took nine years to construct and over a million hours to assemble. Named the “Wendelstein 7-X,” it is the most powerful reactor of its kind that humanity has ever made. It is an experimental test model, but if it proves successful then this type of reactor holds the potential to become widespread as a clean energy source. Nuclear power now accounts for a larger share of energy consumption in the United States and elsewhere.