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As weird as today must seem to somebody who grew up in the 50s, what with our Internet memes and Bluetooth devices that make us shout conversations into the air like madmen, the future is about to get a whole lot weirder.

New materials like carbon nanotubes and the like are going to change everything in the next few decades. And we mean everything.

Gadgets That Heal Themselves

So you're riding high with your new iPhone, feeling like a man of the 21st Century--if the thing had legs it would be your robot sidekick and the two of you could fight crime together. But with the phone in your front pocket, you lean over a rail and hear a crack. You silently pray that it's not your iPhone screen breaking, but is rather just one of your testicles rupturing.

Heartbroken, you look at the cracks in the screen and wish the thing could just magically heal itself, like the later Terminators.

Well, some day, it will.

Holy Shit! With What?

Self-healing Materials

OK, so you aren't going to be able to smash the living shit out of your gadgets and have them magically reassemble like the T-1000, but baby steps, people. The first type of self-healing material was developed using microcapsules of resin that would crack open and fill in gaps caused by small cracks, sealing them instantly.


They're also developing plastics that smooth out breaks or scratches when heated.

Photo courtesy University of Illinois.

That's just the beginning, though. The U.S. Air Force is funding a project to develop entire complex systems with the end goal of a machine that can heal itself just as an organism would. Only much faster.

How Will it Change the World?

We're guessing the Air Force would like a plane that can be punched full of anti-aircraft fire and then heal itself up right before your eyes, while the pilot gives you the finger. It will also be helpful for space travel where minor hull damage can be disastrous and repairs are a huge pain in the ass what with the cold, unforgiving vacuum of space and all.

Tragedies like these could be avoided.

But otherwise, anything that now can be broken, cracked or chipped could be made self-healing, including cars that never rust or lose their paint because they have an invisible protective coating that automatically fills in scratches. Yep, some vandal can come along and scratch up your car door with his keys, and it'll heal itself right in front of him like Christine.

Pants That Are Smarter Than You

Of course, our whole iPhone disaster scenario above was based on the fact that as a society we still are stuffing valuable, sensitive electronics in our pockets. We're willing to bet a few of you have accidentally put your iPod through a spin cycle; or dropped your laptop or crushed it between books in your backpack.

Wouldn't it be nice if electronics weren't things you put in your pockets but rather things with pockets? Wouldn't it be nice if you could know you always had your gadgets with you, because you're wearing them?

Holy Shit! With What?


Some people at Virginia Tech (among others) are developing new fabrics that will let them embed batteries, processors and memory right into the threads. You won't have to worry about where to stash your iPhone when you're wearing those hotpants. The hotpants will be the phone.

But it gets really crazy once you factor in carbon nanotubes a.k.a. "the miracle material mentioned in every single article anyone ever writes about the future." These super-strong, super-thin, super-conductive tubes will make sure that not only are your fabrics smart, but damned near indestructible.

How Will it Change the World?

Your kid could some day have a shirt that plays a whole HD episode of SpongeBob on his chest wherever he goes. After all, they can already make thin "e-paper" monitors out of nanotubes. IBM has used graphene (the stuff carbon nanotubes are made of) to make a transistor just one atom thick--which means you could eventually make a computer processor that could be mistaken for a piece of lint.

Workout gear that's also an MP3 player, hiking gear that's a GPS. . . hell, you could have a unitard that displays a life-sized video image of your naked body. Let your imagination run wild.

Uh, cool?

But then you have the serious uses, like real-time monitoring of medical patients, including all of their vital signs. The military could do the same with soldiers, marking their location and physical state at any given moment via their brainy uniforms.

If that starts to sound a little Big Brotherish to you, you should know they are developing e-textiles for rugs and furniture in buildings like hotels, that allow them to keep track of what their employees are doing (i.e. making sure every room has been cleaned) and even the activities of the guests.

Enjoy your post-traumatic stress disorder, Best Western Hotel Bed Monitor!

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A Germ-Free World

As we have pointed out before, the world is far filthier than you think. About 500 years after somebody invented a microscope, we still can't get it through our heads that our computer keyboard is filthier than the urinal at the airport.

We can't see germs and so we don't worry about them, and we sure as hell aren't going to take time out of every day to disinfect our doorknobs and telephones after we sneezed on them.

And that's too bad, because those germy surfaces are still how most diseases are spread. The last time you got sick, odds are it was because of a surface that someone somewhere didn't bother to clean. Are we ever going to get around this?

The answer is yes.

Holy Shit! With What?

Antimicrobial Materials.

Scientists have developed polymers that can actually kill most microbes on contact. They are made by impregnating plastics with special antimicrobial dyes or other chemicals and the best part is that they don't actually release any chemicals or particles. The chemicals change the structure of the plastic just enough that they are deadly to bacteria and other germs; basically the plastic becomes the disinfectant.

The point is they will kill the germs that touch them, but won't hurt you if you, say, pass out drunk with your face pressed against the germ-proof floor tiles.

This is the future of hand-washing. Or rather, NOT hand-washing.

How Will it Change the World?

Practically anything that could become a repository for mankind's redistributable filth could be made with this stuff, including meat packing materials, so you don't get those massive E. coli outbreaks that seem to cause a hamburger recall every six months.

Or how about mildew-free shower stalls and bathtubs? Or forever-sterile surgical equipment? If you thought that stuff was already sterile, you should know that 100,000 people a year in the U.S. die from infections they got while in the hospital, more than are killed by AIDS, breast cancer and car accidents combined. Turns out it's actually really hard to keep things germ-free in a building full of sick people.

So just imagine a wondrous future where when you accidentally drop your corn dog in the bus station, you don't hesitate to pick it up and keep right on eating it.

Near-Invincible (and Invisible) Soldiers

Ever since the first warrior realized that if he wore thicker skins than the other guy his chances of coming out the winner improved significantly, mankind has had only one dream: to be able to kill others with impunity.

They're getting close. Researchers working for DARPA and several universities have been coming up with a wide array of materials that will allow our soldiers to walk around invisible, absorb grenade blasts like Iron Man or simply laugh off gunshots.

Holy Shit! With What?

Sheer Thickening Fluids, Carbon Nanotubes, Biosteel and Metamaterials

The U.S. military has developed a liquid-filled material intended to be both lightweight and bulletproof. The substance is a non-Newtonian fluid called a "sheer thickening fluid," or dilatant. It's a liquid when you're walking around, but when struck with an impact (like say, from a bullet) it hardens into a bulletproof plate in a microsecond.

Meanwhile, remember when we said earlier that clothes made from carbon nanotubes would be nearly indestructible? Well, Cambridge University is putting their money on fabric made out of the stuff, figuring down the road you could replace the current bulky, hot body armor with a T-shirt that bullets bounce off of. What could be better than that?


OK, we'll tell you; how about bending the fucking bullets around you, Matrix-style? Oh, and also, you're invisible.

Yeah, welcome to the deeply weird world of metamaterials. These are materials that, due to their unique structure, can theoretically bend any type of wave in the electromagnetic spectrum. The same shit that has already given us a prototype invisibility cloak. Researchers say metamaterials could eventually be used to divert matter the same way the invisibility cloak redirects light waves (feel free to read researcher Shuang Zhang's paper on the matter). At that point pretty much anybody who wears it is a wizard.

How Will it Change the World?

The U.S. military is already testing their non-Newtonian liquid body armor. With the invisibility and matter-bending stuff, clearly the goals is that decades from now each U.S. Marine will be an invisible death-dealing poltergeist.

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A Star Trek-Style Replicator and Gadgets that Transform

Have you ever wished you could print an object with your computer? Maybe it was after a long night of World Of Warcraft and Red Bull and you suddenly wished you had a battle axe you could use on the head of your neighbor's dog who won't stop barking at the sky?

Sure, you've probably heard tales of crude rapid prototyping machines they have now, that can download instructions and quickly manufacture plastic parts. But we're not talking about that. Those are huge, multi-million dollar machines, and only make object molds out of resin.

We're talking about a gadget that makes other gadgets on the fly. Oh, and those gadgets can transform into other gadgets.

Like this, only useful.

Holy Shit! With What?

Programmable Matter.

Did you go see that movie Virtuosity? Russell Crowe as a cybernetic serial killer? Denzel Washington as Denzel Washington? OK, do you remember the commercials for the movie at least?

The idea was that a serial killing computer program (?) had slipped the surly bonds of the computer to become an android in the real world. The android was made up of a self replicating material that used glass to rebuild itself.

As incredibly retarded as everything we typed up there is, the "programmable matter" part at least is based in reality. Or soon will be.

Intel recently teased the world by demonstrating how the matter would work. It is made up of tiny glass spheres with the ability to process like a microchip. They're also photovoltaic, meaning that each sphere would also be a solar cell. They would be able to take any instructions you sent from a computer and make themselves into that device. No jokes about this one, just holy shit.

How Will it Change the World?

The demonstration video up there shows them using early versions of the stuff like putty, making solid models that shift and morph in real-time from a pool of the raw material.

So it's really a question of how advanced they can make the material itself, which would just involve shrinking the "beads" that are the building blocks of the matter to smaller and smaller sizes. After that, it's just a question of how quickly they can scale it up, from a cell phone that transforms into a Bluetooth headset to, well, a T-1000 killbot.

See? Like we said. Baby steps.

Find more from David at Hubpages and Associated Content.

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For more ways that science is badass, check out 7 Man-Made Substances that Laugh in the Face of Physics and 5 Astounding Advances in the Science of Getting Drunk.

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