The word “innovation” seems to be everywhere these days, causing some, like the Wall Street Journal‘s Leslie Kwoh, to feel as if the term has lost its meaning altogether.
But it’s premature to write off the word as a cliché devoid of significance — there are still many writers and thinkers who are putting the term into proper play, such as the editors of Technology Review. The emerging technologies magazine, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), just released its annual list of the top 35 innovators under 35 that recognizes “the year’s most promising technologists.”
If the word “innovation” needed its value reaffirmed, this is just the list to do it.
Highlighting innovators from the around the globe, the collection captures a wide variety of creative undertakings in the areas of biomedicine, energy, web, computing, and materials. Well-known products such as Spotify and Pinterest are included alongside lesser-known, but just as qualified, inventions such as Skinput, a device that turns human skin into a touch screen, and Raspberry Pi, a $25 computer that encourages budding computer scientists to tinker and hack to their heart’s content.
Of the other inventions noted on the list, two stand out for their real-life relevance to science fiction and pop culture: the electronic tattoo (Neuromancer, anyone?) and the invisibility cloak (hello, Harry Potter). Both inventions allude to a future that once seemed impossibly far away, but now appears to be becoming part of our reality.
Nanshu Lu, an assistant professor in aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin, is the female force behind the “electronic tattoo,” a silicone patch“that can bond to skin and track and report on the wearer’s vital signs or translate small muscle movements into commands for controlling devices.” So far, the device has been tested successfully in response to dictated commands. Lu’s next step will focus on framing the patch as a resource for health-related instances, such as monitoring heart rate and tracking the healing progress of wounds and burns.
The highly anticipated invisibility cloak is the creation of Baile Zhang, a professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. His cloak utilizes the crystal structure of a common mineral named calcite to bend light in a way that makes an object disappear. The cloak is not perfect just yet, as the “invisibility” only appears at certain angles and the required calcite is an expensive material to obtain. Nonetheless, Zhang’s creation signals that access to invisibility is no longer a fictional pipe dream.
Make your way over to Technology Review to check out the other young innovators on the list. Not only will you be fascinated by the rising stars’ creativity and imagination, but it’s a special chance to get a glimpse of what the world might be like for generations to come.