Futurist Update: Designing Clothing for Space Travel

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In this issue:

·        Designing Clothing for Space Travel

·        Smartphone Ownership Passes 55% of U.S. Adults

·        A Big Data Approach to Detecting Viruses

·        With More Hunger Comes More Risk Taking

·        What’s Hot in THE FUTURIST Magazine


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The World Future Society’s annual conference, WorldFuture 2013: Exploring the Next Horizon, will give you the opportunity to learn from others in many different fields, and to explore actions affecting our futures in as yet unimagined ways.

The conference will feature nearly 100 leading futurists offering more than 60 sessions, workshops, and special events over the course of two and a half days. Speakers include MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, visionary author Ramez Naam, Ford futurist Sheryl Connelly, and geosecurity expert John Watts.

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Designing Clothing for Space Travel

With a short hop to the International Space Station, you don’t need to worry too much about dirty clothes. But a trip to Mars or the moons of Jupiter will require careful packing, beginning with how your wardrobe is designed.

Since detergent and water will be out of the picture, doing laundry will pose problems for astronauts on long-term missions. (Currently, dirty space clothes are simply ejected with other trash that burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.) So the best solutions may be recyclable fabrics and even 3?D printing of garments, suggests Karl Aspelund, an assistant professor of design at the University of Rhode Island.

Self-cleaning clothes would be ideal in space, so antimicrobial fabrics will be among the options that Aspelund and his team of researchers investigate. Their goal is to produce prototype garments for testing on the International Space Station in 2014.

Even if you bring the ideal space wardrobe with you, clothes do have a tendency to wear out. On missions that may last years, decades, or longer, and no opportunity to order clothes from home, manufacturing options such as 3?D printing might be useful.

Thinking even further outside the space capsule, some scientists have suggested using sprays that cover the body instead of fabrics. “We may need to retire the whole idea of clothing as we know it,” Aspelund said in a press release. —Cindy Wagner

Source: University of Rhode Island

Smartphone Ownership Passes 55% of U.S. Adults

So far, smartphones have largely been for the young, urban, educated, and wealthy, but the devices are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in Americans’ hands and pockets. Some 56% of American adults now own smartphones, up from 35% only two years ago, according to a May 2013 survey by Pew Research Center.

Smartphone ownership patterns reveal multiple gaps, however. Since 2011, younger Americans have been leading the country in smartphone adoption. Approximately 79% of 18- to 24-year-olds own smartphones, as do 81% of 25- to 34-year-olds. The ownership rate among older groups diminishes with age, and only 18% of seniors (those 65 and older) own smartphones.

For most adults, income strongly correlates with ownership. Approximately 49% of those making more than $150,000 own smartphones but only 13% of those making $30,000 or less per year own the pricy devices. However, among young adults (aged 18-29), age is a stronger predictor of ownership than income, and, regardless of earnings, nearly all young consumers own smartphones.

Similarly, ownership rates rise steadily with higher educational attainment, from 36% among those who did not complete high school to 70% for those with a college degree or greater.

Environment also plays a role in ownership with 59% of urban and suburban dwellers owning smartphones, while only 40% of their rural counterparts do. Across all income levels, men own smartphones at a higher rate than women. —Keturah Hetrick

Source: “Smartphone Ownership 2013,” The Pew Internet and American Life Project.

A Big Data Approach to Detecting Viruses

An algorithm-based technique for virus detection may help to contain and minimize the spread of future epidemics.

Biological specimens that yield high-quality RNA, such as organ tissue, are normally used in human virus detection. However, this method is not always practical, such as when time or tissue availability is limited.

Blood serum “is the most common and easily accessible patient specimen in a minimally invasive manner,” according to a new study led by Adrian Di Bisceglie, chairman of Saint Louis University’s Department of Internal Medicine. Serum is typically not used, because the RNA contained therein is unstable and quickly breaks down, rendering the material useless. However, Di Bisceglie and his team discovered a technique that amplifies serum’s RNA so that it’s viable.

“We isolate DNA and RNA, amplify the amount of genetic material present in the blood, do ultra-deep sequencing and use an algorithm to search for matches for every known piece of genetic code, both human and for microbes,” explains Di Bisceglie.

What remains is the viruses’ genetic material. Known viruses are separated from unidentified viruses. This information could then be used to screen for known viruses, as well as to track the spread of unknown viruses.

The technique is not without flaws. For one, it’s expensive: The estimated cost of tracking a virus could be anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to $200,000, Di Bisceglie estimates. He notes that this technology would presumably be used almost exclusively by large organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The three weeks of time that it currently takes to track a virus also lessens the technique’s usefulness, Di Bisceglie admits. Reducing that tracking period to a couple of weeks or even days—when the technique would do the most good—should eventually be possible.—Keturah Hetrick

Source: Saint Louis University. Di Bisceglie’s paper, “Viral categorization and discovery in human circulation by transcriptome sequencing,” is forthcoming from the journalBiochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.

With More Hunger Comes More Risk Taking

Fruit flies and people both take more risks when hungry. Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology found that, when fruit flies go without food, their brains’ wiring undergoes certain changes that alter the flies’ perceptions of danger. The flies will consequently resort to measures that well-fed flies would not.

Fruit flies, like us, cannot breathe carbon dioxide. So if they perceive the gas, they typically flee. But rotting fruits and plants that the flies feed on emit carbon dioxide, too, and this forces the flies to weigh need for food against need to avoid danger. The Max Planck researchers presented flies with several environments in which carbon dioxide was present. In a few of these environments, there was also the smell of food. The hungry flies braved the carbon dioxide more frequently and more quickly than flies that had been fed.

Then the researchers identified a “projection neuron” that conveys information about carbon dioxide to a region within the fly brain linked to learning and behavior patterns (based on learned associations). In hungry flies, this neuron is also crucial in triggering flight from danger. Well-fed flies, however, perceive carbon dioxide risks through other nerve pathways. Thus, the flies’ brains rely on different neurons depending on hunger level.

While humans’ brains are, of course, immensely more complex than those of flies, we, too, show increased risk-taking with more hunger. A separate study concluded that hungry test subjects took more financial risks than did their well-fed counterparts. —Rick Docksai

Source: The Max Planck Institute

What’s Hot in THE FUTURIST Magazine?

Note: THE FUTURIST magazine is FREE online through the month of July as part ofWorldFuture 2013

Mapping the Future with Big Data

By Patrick Tucker

A little-known California company called Esri offers a “Facebook for Maps” that promises to change the way we interact with our environment, predict behavior, and make decisions in the decades ahead.. Read more.

New Tools for War and Peace: Technology Game Changers

Rick Docksai Interviews John Watts

Militaries and civilians alike plan for technological change, says security consultant John Watts. Tools such as analytical gaming can be useful to both military and civilian planners for developing new concepts.Read more.

The Rise of Citizen Science

By Kathleen Toerpe

From tracking the migration of songbirds to discovering new celestial bodies, amateur scientists may help fill in a need for more researchers. Beyond helping “real” scientists collect data, amateurs are becoming better trained, better equipped, and better prepared to contribute to tomorrow’s breakthroughs. Read more.

Life Imitates Art: Cyborgs, Cinema, and Future Scenarios

By Ramona Pringle

From utopian ideals to dystopian nightmares, the narratives we create about ourselves color our visions of our futures. Read more.

Transition Engineering: Planning and Building the Sustainable World

By Susan Krumdieck

On the way to building the sustainable world, transition engineers respond to risks, not disasters. Transition engineering will emerge as the way by which society reduces both fossil fuel use and the detrimental social and environmental impacts of industrialization.Read more.

Anticipatory Governance: Winning the Future

By Leon S. Fuerth with Evan M. H. Faber

The Project on Forward Engagement offers a three-part strategy for enabling policy makers to cope with accelerating change and complex challenges. Rather than relying on crisis management, anticipatory governance creates a structure for information collection and analysis that is long-ranged, strategic, mission-focused, holistic, and connected to policy making that gets us ahead of events. Read more.

10 Future-Changing Inventions Ready to Launch

By Patrick Tucker

Futurists: BetaLaunch, the World Future Society’s third annual innovation competition, will allow WorldFuture 2013 attendees to get a glimpse of the companies, start-ups, and inventions that are changing the future. Here are the creators we’re honoring at F:BL this year. Read more.

World Trends & Forecasts

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