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.

Seventy-five years after Hans Geiger’s death, we explore how his most famous invention detects radiation.
Abigail Malate, Staff Illustrator
Driverless cars may soon routinely join human motorists on roads around the world.
Katharine Gammon, Contributor
The tiny robots walk using platinum leg muscles that get their energy from laser light.
Charles Q. Choi, Contributor
Isotopes produced in the original Manhattan Project reactors seeded decades of research and even a few Nobel Prizes.
Catherine Meyers, Editor
Speakers set on bars inside the windows cancel out unwanted noise, using technology similar to that in noise-canceling headphones.
Charles Q. Choi, Contributor
The new metal alloy, created using a laser manufacturing technique, possesses properties that rival the legendary material from medieval times.
Charles Q. Choi, Contributor
Testers who wore these devices that track sweatiness found the data useful for monitoring emotions and managing stress.
Yuen Yiu, Staff Writer
New tests, masks, and ventilators developed this month may help fight the pandemic.
Abigail Malate, Staff Illustrator
Like biological brains, artificial neural networks may depend on slow-wave sleep for learning.
Charles Q. Choi, Contributor
Celebrate the International Day of Light on May 16, 2020
Jason Socrates Bardi, Editor
Researchers have developed unique gaits for rovers to prevent them from getting stuck in deep sand or soil.
Meredith Fore, Contributor
NASA will soon see if specially designed blades spinning really fast can carry a small chopper through the planet’s barely there atmosphere.
Catherine Meyers, Editor