Innovations that shape our world

Since early humans first tended fires and sharpened spears, we’ve sought to apply our knowledge to shape the natural world to suit our needs. Here we chronicle the promise and pitfalls of this basic human drive in all its present day manifestations – from robots and AI to nanotechnology and materials to devices, transportation, engineering and manmade disasters.

New tool for artists can paint, erase and change the color of strokes on a metal canvas.
Meeri Kim, Contributor
New encoding method aims to become faster and more accurate.
Charles Q. Choi, Contributor
The ultra-reflective paint could help keep buildings cool without air conditioning.
Charles Q. Choi, Contributor
Researchers make tiny disks that can propel themselves without external power.
Tom Metcalfe, Contributor
The new approach can separate different metals in electronic waste using only air and high temperatures.
Meredith Fore, Contributor
The system captured 3D super-resolution images of small protrusions on the branches of neurons.
Meeri Kim, Contributor
The curved barriers would deflect air pollution away from pedestrians and provide a scaffold for plants to "green" a city.
Tom Metcalfe, Contributor
Electronic display fabrics are now larger and more durable, opening the door to clothing that acts like a computer screen.
Charles Q. Choi, Contributor
Milk proteins grown in the laboratory could be a more sustainable alternative to the cow’s udder, but the science behind it is still maturing.
Benjamin Plackett, Contributor
Laser etching on food-safe pigments can create 2D images that appear 3D.
Charles Q. Choi, Contributor
Using a bouncy platform instead of a vibrating tip may allow MRI machines to image a single virus.
Yuen Yiu, Staff Writer
Miniature aircraft, powered by light, might offer new ways to explore the atmosphere of Earth -- or other planets.
Katharine Gammon, Contributor