The term “changing the world” has been overused, but the inventions of transistors, the World Wide Web, and mobile phones have to describe their influence on the history of the world. Are there other suitable words? There are indeed some innovations that have changed the direction of history. Can the carbon breathing battery, surgical robot, quantum satellite and seven other innovations described in this article produce similar results? It is still too early to conclude. Most of the innovations have failed, and the greatest ideas are often accompanied. The highest risk. But an idea can often take a long time from being ridiculous to becoming a general trend. Some of them will obviously bring about change.

- "Scientific American" Editorial Department

1, carbon breathing battery

Electrochemical cells are capable of absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and converting it into electrical energy.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions alone is not enough to stop global warming. Now, we must remove some of the carbon dioxide that already exists in the atmosphere. The good news is that there are many ways to do this; the bad news is that these methods basically consume a lot of energy.

The ideal carbon sequestration technology should generate electricity instead of consuming energy. In a paper published in July 2016 in Science Advances, researchers at Cornell University in the United States, Wajdi Al Sadat and Linden Archer ( Lynden Archer describes a design for an electrochemical cell that captures carbon dioxide.

The cathode material of the battery is made of aluminum, which is low in cost, large in storage, and easy to process. The anode consists of porous carbon into which the researchers inject a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Aluminum, oxygen and carbon dioxide react inside the battery to produce electricity and produce aluminum oxalate. Sadat and Archer said that during the life of a 1.4-volt battery, the battery absorbs 2.5 times more carbon than the carbon that was produced when the battery was built. Archer explained: "Even if you take into account the main sources of carbon dioxide, our batteries have a negative carbon footprint."

The chemical by-product of the carbon absorption process, aluminum oxalate, is also valuable. Oxalate is used as a cleaning agent and bleaching agent, with an annual global demand of approximately 230,000 tons. Each ton of oxalate produced by an electrochemical cell can produce one ton less of an oxalate plant that emits carbon dioxide. If these abatement factors are taken into account, each kilogram of aluminum used to make the battery can absorb 3.52 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

Archer said that he and his colleagues still have a long way to go to turn this design into practical technology. First, they need to prove that the technology is cost-effective enough and scalable. Archer predicts that if they can successfully achieve such a conversion, the battery will be equipped in the power station and the car exhaust pipe in the future. “So you don’t just reduce carbon dioxide, but you’re using carbon dioxide.”

2, brand new antibiotics

Methods for designing novel compounds can be used to combat resistant bacteria.

It's hard to imagine a world without antibiotics, but because of the massive abuse of antibiotics, we are approaching this world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and PrevenTIon, more than 23,000 people die each year in the United States because they are infected with antibiotics. A study funded by the UK government estimates that by 2050, 10 million people worldwide will die from drug-resistant bacteria each year. Scientists are struggling to find new drugs that kill superbugs, such as macrolides. Macrolides are a major class of antibiotics that can treat common bacterial infections, including pneumonia, streptococcal pharyngitis, ear and skin infections, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Researchers have tried to modify the chemical properties of existing antibiotics to make them more effective in treating resistant strains, but so far no progress has been made. The chemical structure of macrolides is difficult to modify, and the raw materials for macrolides are made in large fermenters containing industrial bacteria – a process that is difficult to control precisely. “Chemists have been helpless for the past few decades,” said Andrew Myers, a professor of chemical and chemical biology at Harvard University.

However, Myers and his team found a way to synthesize macrolides from scratch. To synthesize this compound, the researchers broke down the structure of the macrolide into eight basic modules and then combined them in new forms, using different combinations to adjust their chemistry. In a paper published in Nature in May 2016, the Myers team stated that they have synthesized more than 300 new compounds. The researchers used 14 pathogenic bacteria to conduct experiments and found that most compounds inhibit bacteria, and many can kill resistant strains.

Since then, the researchers have created 300 new compounds. Myers set up a pharmaceutical company, Macrollide PharmaceuTIcals, to bring these new drugs to market. The research team has begun to study two other types of antibiotics: lincosamide and aminoglycoside. Only a small percentage of the compounds they invented became practical antibiotics, and even these antibiotics take a long time to appear in pharmacies. But Miles is confident that his research (and similar research) will help us beat super bacteria. He said: "I am very optimistic. As we continue to conduct research, we will definitely get better results."

3. Quantum satellite

The space-based transmission of quantum keys may make the "unbreakable" Internet a reality.

To create an absolutely secure encryption method, you don't need a more advanced technique than pencil and paper: just select a string of random characters and numbers to use as the key to encrypt the information. Write this key on a piece of paper and burn it off once. The key is to make sure that no one can intercept or tamper with the key. On the Internet, theft or tampering with keys has never been broken. Quantum-key distribuTIon (QKD) solves this problem by generating a one-time key from the entangled photons. An entangled photon is a photon associated with a quantum state. If one photon is disturbed, the other photon is immediately affected, no matter how far apart. The problem with quantum key distribution is that no one knows how to transmit entangled photons over long distances. However, in August this year, the Chinese Academy of Sciences successfully put the world's first quantum satellite into orbit, which is a big step towards solving this problem.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences project called the Quantum Science Experimental Satellite (QUESS), a project in cooperation with the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The project uses satellites to transmit quantum keys to two observatories within 1200 km of China, which is eight times the current farthest transmission record. The original record was created in 2012 by the team of Scientific American consultant and Austrian physicist Anton Zeilinger. The space-based platform is the only option for long-distance transmission. Cai Lingge said: "There is no place on the ground that can see 1000 kilometers away." Now, Cai Lingge is working with his former Student and QUESS project chief scientist Pan Jianwei cooperated.

If Chinese researchers create a new record of quantum key transmission distances, future satellites will provide an orbital platform to create an insurmountable "quantum Internet" that ensures the absolute security of encrypted packets. Cai Lingge explained: "We hope to establish intercontinental quantum communication, which is no longer just a science fiction concept, but a general way for future computers to communicate with each other."

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