Technologies that change the world

Holograms – copies of reality

We know it from sci-fi movies: A true-to-life, three-dimensional image of the person we are talking to suddenly appears in the room. The person moves and can be viewed from all sides. For many, this is a typical hologram. In general, the term holography refers first of all to a technique in which all information is stored by light waves and then reproduced. This makes it possible to reproduce an object or a person in retrospect in a true-to-life manner. This is already possible today and is used in art, for example. However, most holograms cannot move. Nor can they be viewed from all sides, but only from the direction from which the light waves were recorded. Around the globe, researchers are working single-mindedly to change that. They have already created the first small, moving holograms that can actually be viewed from all directions – such as this Rubik’s Cube. So far, the apparitions are a few centimeters tall at most and their movements are still very rudimentary. But that is bound to change soon.

Nanotechnology – Shaping the world of atoms and molecules

The favorite vision of many nanotechnologists are tiny molecular machines that move around in the body and deliver drugs to the right place. As early as 1959, physicist Richard Feynman gave a lecture entitled “There is plenty of room at the bottom.” He talked about the fact that there is great potential lying dormant in the world of molecules and atoms, and laid the foundation for the discipline. In the 1990s, more than a few experts believed that nanotechnology would become the key technology of the 21st century. So far, it has not been able to fulfill these expectations. Nevertheless, there is no end to the large number of publications dealing with new findings and techniques in the nanometer range. For example, researchers are building engines with molecules, storing data on DNA strands, or creating tiny electronic components and sensors. These nanotechnological inventions could be applied in many ways, in medicine, material sciences, computer technology and biotechnology. Nanotechnology will therefore certainly shape the world of the future in a comprehensive way.

Immunotherapy – revolution in medicine

Immunotherapy uses the body’s own defense system to fight diseases. It is seen as a great source of hope, especially in the case of cancer, and already has many a success to its credit. For example, American scientists have taken immune cells from blood cancer patients and genetically modified them in such a way that they recognize and fight degenerate cells. They injected the patients with these targeted serial killers, which then multiplied in the body and eliminated all cancer cells. After treatment, the patients were completely cancer-free – even those in whom the disease was already very advanced. In another form of immunotherapy, researchers mark the diseased cells so that the body’s defense system can better identify them. Doctors are not yet using such manipulations of the immune system as a standard treatment. They do not yet have a sufficient handle on the sometimes severe side effects. Nevertheless, many doctors agree that immunotherapy will revolutionize medicine.

Nuclear fusion – Highly efficient energy generation

The goal of nuclear fusion research is to generate energy in a similar way to the sun. In the fusion process, two atomic nuclei fuse into one. In the sun, for example, two hydrogen nuclei fuse to form a helium nucleus. This usually releases a large amount of energy. Researchers have been trying to generate energy in this way since the middle of the 20th century. But the technical challenges are gigantic, because enormously high heat and very high pressure are required. The process also involves great risks because it can quickly get out of control. In addition, the process releases dangerous neutron radiation, which must be adequately shielded. Many are hoping for the ITER experimental nuclear fusion reactor in France, which, as things stand today, is expected to conduct its first realistic tests in the 2030s. In the facility, scientists would like to confine a plasma by means of a magnetic field. This would generate the pressure and heat needed to fuse hydrogen nuclei. Even though the development of the technology is progressing only slowly, a number of experts are convinced that it is only a matter of time before the first “fusion electricity” comes out of the socket. With fossil fuels soon to become scarce, nuclear fusion could boost energy production from renewable sources.