Why you should care
Because geekery is good — especially when it’s also economically and environmentally friendly.
Cerium, dysprosium, thulium, yttrium: Terms that may look like sci-fi gibberish but actually refer to rare earth elements — and they’re in your smartphone. According to the U.S. National Academy of Science and the European Union, we may soon face a serious shortage of them. But there’s hope, thanks to a new underwater effort to locate more of these precious minerals, and it lies on the ocean floor. While industry may be eager to explore new options, the prospect of giant vacuum cleaners roaming the seafloor alarms scientists and ecologists alike. Assuming the environmental effects and the legal frameworks are eventually hammered out, experts say this new method for harvesting the elements will be commonplace within 10 years — by which time there will be a whole new generation of smartphones to power.
The prospect of space travel has sparked the imagination for generations, fueled by sci-fi dramas and futuristic movies. But after NASA’s final shuttle flight in 2011, many thought the long-held dream of interstellar transportation was dead. It’s not. Private companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR picked up the torch and announced they’ll start sending tourists on suborbital flights in the next two years from New Mexico and the Mojave Desert. Unfortunately, the steep ticket prices put space travel beyond the reach of average mortals. Plus there are technical — and legal — challenges to overcome. But as entrepreneurs continue developing solutions, we just might find ourselves on the brink of a new space age.
You can make an omelet without cracking a single egg. We might never learn which came first, the chicken or the egg, but we already know what’s coming next: the eggless egg. Old-fashioned eggs are delicious and versatile, but nowadays most are produced in industrial factory farms, a system that requires a lot of energy, is highly polluting and involves force-feeding cramped, beakless birds. A new startup has come up with a groundbreaking alternative: a plant-based egg that is healthier, safer and (they say) just as tasty. But with heavyweight investors and a tasty product that’s also good for the environment, Hampton Creek may have cracked the recipe for abolishing factory farming, one bite at a time.
Picture the scene: A massive balloon resembling a prehistoric whale slips out of the fog, looming over the majestic Manhattan skyline. It might sound like something out of a fantastical steampunk film, but fewer than 100 years ago, this image wouldn’t have been out of place in the popular imagination. And plans are afoot to bring it all back. Zeppelins — redesigned — are expected to be running by next year. And if the trend takes off, demand for zeppelins could lead to increased supply and lower costs, making a zeppelin commute or vacation trip accessible to everyone. One thing’s for sure: The thrill and romance of zeppelins still have the power to inspire, prompting today’s innovators to transform a symbol of luxury and awe into a bold new way for people to explore the skies.