How science fiction is becoming reality this week (9/8/17)
In the News: Instant Cancer Detection
Tap this magic wand against a clump of cells and you’ll know in ten seconds if they’re cancerous or not. That’s a pretty handy tool for a surgeon to have when they’re trying to make sure they’ve carved out all the cancer around a tumor and left as much of the healthy tissue behind as possible. “Our technology could vastly improve the odds that surgeons really do remove every last trace of cancer during surgery,” said lead designer/obvious wizard Livia Schiavinato Eberlin of the University of Texas.
Competing technologies take thirty minutes or more to determine if cells are cancerous, and they’re only 80-90% accurate. The new MasSpec Pen is 96% accurate and works almost as quickly as you can say, “Bippity-boppity-boo.” All you have to do is gently touch the cells with the tip of the wand, which emits a tiny drop of water. Then it sucks up the water again to see what chemicals were absorbed. The info is transmitted to a computer, which quickly compares the chemical signature to various types of cancer and displays the message “normal” or “cancer” like the world’s most terrifying pregnancy test.
Where You’ve Seen It Before: Star Trek
From McCoy to Crusher and beyond, every medical tricorder came with a humming lipstick tube to point at the problem area. The tricorder then took only a few seconds to tell the doctor exactly what was wrong and what to do about it. Thanks to these handy devices, it’s not surprising that medical degrees became the most popular cereal box prize somewhere around the turn of the 23rd Century.
In the News: Non-explosive Lithium Ion Batteries
Hey, remember when all of those Samsung Galaxy phones and off-brand hoverboards would suddenly burst into flames? That’s just one of the wacky little quirks of using a lithium ion battery. But now, scientists at the University of Maryland and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory have developed the world’s first lithium ion batteries that can generate the four volts needed to power household electronics without the risk of pulling a Richard Pryor on their owners. The new kablooey-proof battery ditches the usual highly combustible solvents in favor of salt water, which even the least scientific mind will recognize as pretty hard to set on fire. The trick was figuring out how to keep the water from corroding various other materials in the battery.
Where You’ve Seen It Before: Watchmen
You know who else figured out safe, high-power lithium ion batteries? Dr. Manhattan. He singlehandedly killed the combustion engine with this breakthrough, much to the original Nite Owl’s chagrin. Of course, Dr. Manhattan was also able solve the world’s lithium supply issues by simply waving his giant blue dick at the problem, while the real world is struggling with a severe shortage of lithium mines and/or blue dicks.
In the News: Your Name Physically Changes Your Appearance
Here’s yet another way your mom and dad can fuck you up without meaning to. Your first name turns out to have an influence on your facial features. No, really. Researchers at the Université Paris-Saclay showed study participants a yearbook-style photo of a person and asked them to guess from a list of four names what the person was called. Random chance says they should only be right 25% of the time, but the guessers hit the mark nearly 40% of the time. Still skeptical? The researchers thought to themselves, “Hey, if there really are physical traits that give away a person’s name, then a computer should be able to guess it, too.” And it totally did.
“Our theory is that when a child receives a first name, it comes loaded with a number of social expectations,” wrote lead researcher Anne-Laure Sellier. “For instance, ‘Allison’ may end up adopting a hairstyle, expressions or specific facial traits (e.g., smile lines) consistent with the stereotype of an Allison that her cultural group has in mind.”
Where You’ve Seen It Before: DC Comics
E. Nigma. Roy G. Bivalo. T.O. Morrow. W.I. Zard. And a million more. What chance did these guys have in life other than to be supervillains, if only to get back at their punny parents? Their entire identities were wrapped around their names, often with physical features or deformities to match.
Like science news? Check out last week’s edition of How Science Fiction is Becoming Reality This Week.