Futurology ~ 10 breakthroughs, frozen river monitors, self-cloning rice, AI-sorted cancer, nano-machines, waste-heat power, surprising plant fossils

10 breakthrough technologies of 2018 — From 3D metal printing (above) to genetic fortune telling, here’s Technology Review’s picks.

Machines spy on Antarctica’s hidden lakes — First installed in 2007, the array of eight ice-monitoring rigs is scattered across West Antarctica’s Mercer and Whillans ice streams. They have been faithfully tracking the region’s lakes by collecting data on the motion of the overlying ice for more than a decade. Likely the longest-running GPS experiment on an Antarctic ice stream, the stations have helped reveal how quickly these lakes can fill and drain and what that means for the ebb and flow of the frozen rivers riding atop them.
~ Surely ‘a frozen river’ is just ‘ice’?

Hybrid rice can clone itself — After more than 20 years of theorising, scientists have tweaked a hybrid variety of rice so that some of the plants produce cloned seeds wit no plant sex necessary. The feat, described in Nature, is encouraging for efforts to feed an increasingly crowded world. Crossing two good varieties of grain can make one fabulous one, combining the best versions of genes to give crops desirable traits such as higher yields. But such hybrid grain marvels often don’t pass along those coveted genetic qualities to all seeds during reproduction.
~ What’s next?

AI sorts cancer cells — A team of researchers in Japan have devised an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can identify different types of cancer cells using microscopy images. Their method can also be used to determine whether the cancer cells are sensitive to radiotherapy.
~ Speeding up diagnoses.

Tiny nanomatierals get shrunk — A team of MIT and Harvard scientists has devised a new way of constructing nanomaterials — tiny machines or structures on the order of just a billionth of a meter. They call it Implosion Fabrication (ImpFab) and they do it by building the materials they want and then literally shrinking them down to the nanoscale. The findings appear today in the journal Science, and may pave the way for next-gen materials, sensors and devices.
~ Thus shrinking the shrunk. 

Cheap, flexible conversion of waste-heat into power — A research group in Japan has developed an inexpensive, large-scale and flexible thermoelectric generator (FlexTEG) that has high mechanical reliability and can convert heat into electricity efficiently.
Thermoelectric conversion is one of the most attractive techniques for converting low-temperature (150°C or lower) waste heat into electric power. However, widespread adoption of this technology has been hampered by a lack of suitable packaging techniques for thermoelectric generation modules that can operate in the 100-150°C range.
~ No heat left behind!

Last great extinction spared more plants than had been thought — A collection of roughly 255-million-year-old fossils suggests that three major plant groups existed earlier than previously thought, and made it through a mass extinction that wiped out more than 90% of Earth’s marine species and roughly 70% of land vertebrates.
~ Some new fossil plants were so well preserved that scientists could use acid to remove rock and extract a plant’s waxy sheath!