Inventions of the Future

Question: What are some futuristic inventions that we’ll see In our lifetime?

Michio Kaku: So you ask a simple question. Invisibility: just decades away we will have something resembling Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. 

Something equally astonishing is shape-shifting.  When you see science fiction movies like "Terminator II" and you see the evil robot turn into jelly and then ooze its way through obstacles, you say to yourself "No way, no way can that happen."  Believe it or not, we scientists are making huge inroads into that area.  It’s called programmable matter.  Matter itself that can rearrange itself, change color, change shape, change conductivity by pushing a button. And here is how it works: Why is it that certain substances can turn liquid and ooze its way across the room like in the movie "Terminator II?"  It’s because of atoms.  Atoms can slide over atoms, rearrange themselves, but what happens if atoms are replaced by chips, chips that are so small they’re smaller than the head of a pin. And you can change their electric charge.  By changing the electric charge they bind and reform in different ways and they’re intelligent because each dot is a computer chip perhaps as powerful as a PC.  These are called catoms and who is pushing this technology?  The Intel Corporation, the makers of the famous Pentium chip that drives your laptop.  The same company is now investigating the next several steps in the future, the ability to have programmable matter. 

Now think about it.  It means that if I have a clump of clay made of thousands of millions of little dots I push a button then the charges rearrange themselves to form a statue, a car, whatever you want.  This means that I can push another button and this clay turns into a house or I push another button and a whole city, a whole city rises out of the desert.  Sounds like science fiction, but the basic steps are being done today. And in fact, with a television crew I went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and photographed it.  Of course these catoms are quite large.  They’re about the size of a head of a pin, but it’s only a matter of time before these catoms become so microscopic and so powerful that they’ll be able to rearrange just like what you see in "Terminator II," just like what you see in the "Transformers," just like what you see in X-men comics.

Recorded on September 29, 2010

Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

The physicist believes that shape-shifting technology is near on the horizon. And "just decades away we will have something resembling Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak."

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

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  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.