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Will comet missions yield valuable information about the origin of the solar system?

This week's Question: The Philae spacecraft successfully landed on a moving comet last week. Scientists hope to be able to study the material beneath the surface of the solar body, which is traveling through space at 41,000 mph, hundreds of millions of miles away from Earth. Probing the comet’s dust could help researchers determine the origins of life on Earth, and whether comets provided the water that exists in oceans today. Since the material has remained almost unchanged for 4.5 billion years, it is considered by some researchers to be a "cosmic time capsule" that may contain the building blocks of life. What do you think? Will comet missions yield valuable information about the origin of the solar system?

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Would you eat 3D-printed food?

This week's Question: A startup company, Natural Machines, has introduced a 3D printer called Foodini. The technology creates food with stainless steel capsules and edible, fresh ingredients. The microwave‑oven‑sized Foodini, displayed during Dublin's Web Summit technology conference last week, serves as a miniature food manufacturing plant. The company is currently working with major food manufacturers to create pre‑packaged plastic capsules that can be loaded into the machine. At present, the device only prints the food, which must be then cooked as usual. A future model, however, will also perform the preparation and produce ready‑to‑eat food. What do you think? Would you eat 3D‑printed food?

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Will "4D" materials catch on?

This week's Question: While 3D printing has still not yet reached the mainstream, MIT and other researchers are performing primary tests on the next design dimension. 4D printing, a self-assembly design process, enables the production of composite materials that react and change shape in predictable ways when exposed to external elements such as water. A printed rear wing, for example, would have the ability to transform its aerodynamics during a downpour. Autonomous pipes, too, could expand and narrow based on flow. Self-assembling technologies may eventually allow the construction of space structures whose components deposit themselves in zero-gravity environments without human intervention. Wood and carbon fibers have responded well to 4D testing, but more materials and energy sources are likely required for the materials to self‑optimize according to sensing and logic. What do you think? Will "4D" materials catch on?

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Are robots an effective way of combating outbreaks like Ebola?

This week's Question: Next month, scientists will convene at universities across the country to consider the role that autonomous machines might play in combating the Ebola crisis. Telepresence robots, according to some researchers, could theoretically perform healthcare tasks like delivering food and medicine to the sick and cleaning equipment. The robots could also act as interpreters between patients and doctors, or provide checklists to medical workers as they put on and remove safety equipment. What do you think? Are robots an effective way of combating outbreaks like Ebola?  

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Will cosmic elevators take us to space?

This week's Question: Penn State researchers recently developed ultra-thin, super-strong nanothreads made from diamonds. The nanothreads could ultimately be used to construct a "space elevator" to take people to orbit. A Japanese company, Obayashi, similarly sees the feasibility of such an elevator and envisions a space station tethered to the equator by a 96,000-km cable made of carbon nanotechnology. In theory, robotics cars with magnetic motors would quickly take people and cargo to the station. What do you think? Will cosmic elevators take us to space?

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Is a sleeper ship our best bet to Mars?

At the Center for Research in Advanced Materials (CIMAV), scientists "captured" the energy produced by people walking. The team designed a pill-shaped cylinder adapted to a shoe in order to store the mechanical-vibrational energy that the person generates when walking. Similarly, the London-based company Pavegen produces a technology that harvests mechanical energy of walking feet and converts it to electrical energy via a special floor tile. Both ideas perhaps could lead to cities using the alternative, piezoelectric solutions to create power when and where it is required. What do you think? Will we harvest energy with our own footsteps?

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Will we harvest energy with our own footsteps?

At the Center for Research in Advanced Materials (CIMAV), scientists "captured" the energy produced by people walking. The team designed a pill-shaped cylinder adapted to a shoe in order to store the mechanical-vibrational energy that the person generates when walking. Similarly, the London-based company Pavegen produces a technology that harvests mechanical energy of walking feet and converts it to electrical energy via a special floor tile. Both ideas perhaps could lead to cities using the alternative, piezoelectric solutions to create power when and where it is required. What do you think? Will we harvest energy with our own footsteps?

Posted in: Question of the Week

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