As a teen growing up in the 1970s, I was a fan of the popular TV show The Six Million Man, and often dreamed of being a real-life version of Steve Austin, the world's original bionic being.
For millions of us, that dream may soon come true.
Austin, you'll no doubt recall, was the bigger-than-life main character of the long-running drama. The former astronaut was battered in a horrid test-flight crash ("I can't hold her ... she's breaking up, she's breaking up!") and was expected to die.
But doctors not only saved Austin's life ... they decided they could "rebuild him" by using bionic implants.
And those high-tech devices boosted Austin's speed, strength and vision far beyond human levels.
Now a global research team is reporting great progress in building the first fully functional "bionic man."
Like Steve Austin, the lab-created being - nicknamed "Rex" - has advanced prosthetic limbs. He also has an artificial heart-lung system that pumps synthetic blood. He even has a functional, machine-built pancreas and liver.
Team members say the project shows that, in the very near future, we will be able to give humans a wide range of bionic implants to replace those damaged by disease or trauma.
My colleagues here at Money Map Press know that I'm fond of describing the Era of Radical Change as one in which "science fiction is becoming science fact."
With the case of bionics, that prediction is literally coming true.
For investors, that means this new segment of high-tech/biotech will soon become another subset of the digital realm that's ripe for picking. And when that happens, I'll make sure you're the first to know.
But this engineering marvel isn't the only fascinating piece of technology I came across this month. Take a look...
Bionic Eye Gets FDA Approval for U.S. Sales
You may recall that I first talked to you last August about Second Sight Medical Products, a venture-funded startup known for its Argus II bionic eye. I said this breakthrough could help end blindness.
Less than two weeks ago, the FDA agreed, clearing Argus II for sales in the U.S. Though it was already on the market in Europe, this marks the first commercial bionic eye available in this country.The device uses a small camera mounted on a pair of glasses. The platform also includes a processor that translates signals from the camera onto a microchip implanted directly on the patient's retina. Right now, it only works on a certain type of blindness known as retinitis pigmentosa.
This disorder kills the cells in the retina, which processes light in your eye. Roughly 100,000 people in this country have the condition.
In the very near future, millions of us probably will have some type of bionic implant.
How 3D Printers Could Build a Base on the Moon
A well-known London design firm has unveiled a new project that seeks to simulate how to build a base station on the moon using 3D printers.
To do this, Foster+Partners teamed up with the European Space Agency. The idea is to build a base using materials already on the moon. As a demonstration, the firm used simulated moon soil to construct a 1.5 ton building block.
Of course, lunar stations would have to be protected from meteors and the intensity of solar rays that aren't filtered by the earth's atmosphere.
So they will have to be as strong as a fortress.
But the team believes it would be possible to build the needed structures with only small amounts of supplies from Earth, drastically reducing the cost of planned lunar colonies.
Now You Can See How Fish Think
We've all seen those late-night infomercials for "Omega 3" fatty acids, most of which come from aquatic plants or animals. Though controversial, proponents say these polyunsaturated acids are good for general wellness, and promote cerebral wellness.
Well, it turns out that fish really are good for the brain...
In a development that will help doctors learn about the human mind, a Japanese team has found a way to watch how fish actually think.
It's said to be the first time researchers have been able to watch the way neurons fire in an independently moving animal. To make that happen, a group of zebra fish received a DNA marker that made their neurons glow.
One thing they found is that the fishes' brains lit up when prey passed by. Team members said they hope to reproduce those results in humans. If nothing else, that would allow scientists to improve the quality of psychiatric drugs since they could "see" exactly how they affect key neural circuits.
These Days Evolution Begins in a Test Tube
Testing Darwin's theories about how life evolved is about to become a whole lot easier.
A team from the University of Minnesota used "directed evolution" to create a brand new enzyme. But this isn't just any routine biochemical.
Team members say the substance closely resembles those that would have been on Earth billions of years ago when life began to emerge. Rather than rely on computer models, directed evolution means making a big batch of candidate proteins to see how they form the building blocks of life.
"To my knowledge, our enzyme is the only entirely artificial enzyme created in a test tube by simply following the principles of natural selection and evolution," says team leader Burckhard Seelig
Team Claims It's Created the First "True 3D" Semiconductor
A British research team has created what amounts to a "club sandwich" on a silicon chip. They did so by stacking cobalt, platinum and ruthenium atoms on top.
The result, they say is the world first "true" 3D chip...
That means data can flow left and right as well as forward and back - as is true of today's standard designs. But electrons also will flow up and down, making the chip far more powerful.
This announcement is sure to stir controversy. Intel Corp. (NasdaqGS: INTC) has developed what it says is a 3D semiconductor, called the Tri-Gate. And Micron Technology (NasdaqGS: MU) hopes to have its new 3D memory cube on the market within a year.
Team members say those designs don't have a real vertical data path, adding that both have only one "functional layer."
Either way, the announcement for the University of Cambridge shows just how important semiconductor design is for cutting-edge high tech.
An Easy Way to Play Semiconductor Breakthroughs
Let me close by noting that investors who are interested in getting in on the cutting edge of semiconductors don't have to wait for the next generation of devices to hit the market.
Fact is, most of the firms in this sector have pretty good R&D budgets. They are constantly upgrading the performance of their products.
Many investors will do well to try to separate the winners from the losers. That's because there are several ETFs focused on computer chips.
Take the case of the iShares Semiconductor ETF (NasdaqGM: SOXX).With an expense ratio of just 0.5%, it has an interesting mix of mid and large caps.
I hope you enjoyed this month's fascinations. And remember to share what's fascinating you either by leaving a comment below or writing to me at email@example.com.
We were pleased by the big response we got from the ERC column earlier this week and are working on answers to several of those queries. We read everything you send ...
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