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January 2014

Fast Forward:
Horizon Next
Written By: 
Dustin Waters

Discoveries, innovation, exploration


Fruit of the Future

 

“Fusarium Wilt” may sound like a lame Star Trek character, but it’s actually the nemesis of watermelon farmers and has been for the past century. But Clemson plant pathologists have good news for future 4th of July picnickers: Dr. Anthony Keinath and researchers at the Clemson Coastal Research and Education Center (that mysterious facility on Savannah Highway) have discovered that grafting a combination of wilt-resistant plants—squash, bottle gourds, and wild watermelon—onto seedless watermelons results in infection-resistant fruit. National seed companies are currently working to mass-produce these new super plants, turning Fusarium wilt from science fact to science fiction.

 

Copper Reconsidered
Those pennies in your pocket might be worth more than you think. Research conducted by doctors Michael Schmidt and Cassandra Salgado of MUSC found that frequently touched hospital surfaces that showed high levels of contamination—bed rails, call buttons, and armrests of visitors’ chairs—became more microbial resistant when coated by copper, and this naturally antimicrobial metal reduced the number of hospital-associated infections by nearly 60 percent. “This is the most significant innovation we’ve had since soap and water,” claims Dr. Schmidt, who is currently working with companies developing antimicrobial equipment, including everything from copper keyboards and pens to doorknobs and switches.

Project BRAVO
While the name Project BRAVO may conjure secretive military maneuvers, it actually stands for “Better Resiliency Among Veterans with Omega-3s.” The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is battling an epidemic of veteran suicide (nearly 20 deaths each day), but researchers at MUSC are working to change that. Starting in 2014, Dr. Bernadette Marriott and her co-investigator Dr. Joe Hibbeln will test Omega-3’s ability to reduce the risk of suicide in veterans. Over the course of six months, 300 veterans will take this important fatty acid three times a day in the form of an all-natural juice box. Clinical studies have already demonstrated Omega-3’s ability to mitigate depression, impulsivity, and alcohol dependence, and this Department of Defense-funded study hopes to advance this promising therapy.

Supreme App-titude
Technology mavericks of the future will be getting younger and younger. Case in point: College of Charleston sophomore William Jamieson, age 19, who founded Supreme Apps to capitalize on the huge success of his breakthrough app, Front Flash, which recently surpassed the one-million download mark. Jamieson’s follow-up, Facebook Photo Downloader, which allows users to easily download their photo libraries to their phones, proved an even greater success. The young entrepreneur is currently developing software for a local transportation company, CoPilot, that’s expected to launch this spring. The app will pinpoint customers’ exact locations and
allow them to request a driver, providing estimated distance and arrival times.

21st-Century House Calls
The Technology Applications Center for Healthy Lifestyles (TACHL) at MUSC is applying mobile technology to combat the rising cost of health care and expand medical outreach to underserved populations. By the end of 2014, you can expect to see Bluetooth-optimized pill bottle caps that remind patients to take their medication, as well as an app called the Tension Tamer, which uses a smart phone camera to measure heart rate in hypertensive patients. The software records stress measurements while coaching the patient through customized breathing exercises tailored to the patient’s personality and interests. Another mobile device currently in development will enable remote prenatal monitoring of contractions and fetal heart rates to reduce premature births. These innovative mobile applications will transmit data to doctors in real-time, providing timely medical supervision without costly hospital or doctor visits.

Hashtag Trash Tag?
Imagine the Internet connecting not only people and ideas but actual things. The College of Charleston’s Software Innovations Lab is working to do just that. They started by placing sensors in recycling bins throughout campus. These intelligent bins measure the behavior and recycling habits of students and faculty, allowing the school to optimize waste management. Dr. Chris Starr, the lab’s director, says the goal is simple: “We hope to achieve a new vision for technology by developing software that solves community problems.” Like missing trash pick-up. The lab’s new project aims to ensure you’re not left a smelly, unemptied bin for another week. Sensors placed throughout neighborhoods would track the arrival of garbage and recycling trucks and warn you via text-alert to get to the curb fast!

Dr. Avatar
In another project from TACHL, engineers are stealing inspiration from film director James Cameron and creating an open, virtual world where health care professionals will be able to communicate via avatars to solve medical problems. (Don’t worry, they likely won’t be blue cat-people.) Developers hope that this free-form environment will promote interdisciplinary education and establish a network through which doctors and patients can access the collective wisdom of the entire medical community in a way that’s never been done.

Future Fandom
One of the eight start-ups recently accepted into Mount Pleasant’s Harbor Accelerator program, Snapcastr is looking to revolutionize the way that fans participate in their favorite events. The app allows spectators to record pictures and videos of themselves having a good time and have those images broadcast live on the stadium’s monitors. These images can also be simultaneously uploaded to social-media sites to provide a seamless interactive experience. Face- and abdomen-painters beware—your parents may be watching.

Lining Up on Climate Change
The impacts of global climate change are not so hypothetical when you’re sitting at sea level. South Carolina Businesses Acting on Rising Seas (SCBARS) is a bold local effort by Charleston’s Chamber of Small Businesses to raise awareness about the dramatic effect that the rising sea level is projected to have on the peninsula. Recent studies report that by 2047, the planet’s temperature will be growing progressively warmer each year, and with it, say experts at NOAA, sea level is predicted to rise by as much as six feet by 2100. Businesses participating in the SCBARS program place a blue line along their store walls to illustrate exactly where the sea level is expected to reach and just how much of their store or office will be underwater if no steps are taken to reverse current trends.

Hyper Local Investing
You don’t have to be loaded to invest in what you want the city to become. Funding Charleston, the Lowcountry’s answer to Kickstarter, is a tool tailored specifically to support local entrepreneurs and nonprofits. The company harnesses not just the capital but the community spirit of local investors and businesses, allowing citizens to help shape and realize their vision for the future. Investment opportunities range from a $25,000 brewery launch in North Charleston to funding local elementary school field trips. Unlike most crowd-funding sites, projects do not need to reach any set goal in order to receive contributions, so every little bit counts.

Changing the Path of Addiction
What if you could treat 25 percent of the cases of alcohol addiction with one pill a day? Studies show that one in four people have a genetic mutation that makes them more responsive to the effects of naltrexone, a medicine used to curb cravings in those with alcohol and drug dependency. Researchers at MUSC’s Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs are currently using neuroimaging technology to compare the brains of those with and without this mutation, so that they can pinpoint which individuals suffering from alcohol addiction would benefit the most from naltrexone and which should seek other forms of treatment.

i-Statue
Researchers in the Upstate are bringing art to life. In a partnership with the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston and the Charleston Civic Design Center, a team made up of architects and engineers have joined forces to develop intelligent, robotic monuments that will have the ability to interact with humans and constantly reshape themselves throughout the day. One such structure will receive verbal input from those nearby and reconfigure its shape and color to represent specific human emotions. Upon completion, this monument of tomorrow is set to make its first appearance near downtown’s historic City Market.

Recon in 140 Characters
Your next tweet could be a matter of national security. The United States Navy and SPAWAR, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, are currently examining the accuracy of tweeting and other social-media output in hopes that they could be used in information gathering and predictive analytic techniques. Think of it as a way to crowd-source a wealth of collective intelligence as events are unfolding, so that the armed forces know exactly what is happening before they even arrive on the scene.

Oyster Reef Rebound
By developing and piloting a novel oyster reef restoration method, staff at the Charleston office of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is making headway in shoreline stabilization efforts. Oyster reefs are “ecosystem engineers,” providing critical marine habitat while also protecting shorelines from erosion and improving water quality, yet oyster populations worldwide have declined by 85 percent, and natural shell supply (the ideal reef composite) is limited. Jointly with the Department of Natural Resources (and funded by NOAA), TNC has tested a new concrete castle substrate and innovative contiguous reef structure (rather than individual castles) on Jeremy Island in Cape Romain, with promising results. Sediment composition and salt-marsh habitat protection improved with the innovative castle configuration, boding well for future large-scale oyster reef restoration in nearshore environments of South Carolina and beyond. (SH)

Beyond Steeples
The Holy City is known for iconic steeples, lovely houses of worship, and a history of religious diversity, but its ecumenical partnerships and outreach? Not so much. For the most part, congregations remain largely segregated, operating and ministering from separate silos, or well, steeples. A bold new interfaith effort, the Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM), is shaking that up. Launched in 2012 and now with 20 member congregations from across the religious spectrum, CAJM brings a strong and unified faith-based voice to address critical social-justice issues and hold local public officials accountable. Tops on their agenda: education and criminal justice. An early win: CCSD’s decision to fund 300 additional spots for four-year-old readiness, an item one school board member claimed was not on their agenda until CAJM advocated for it. (SH)

Google Keeps Its Cool
When you’re the global go-to source for information, it’s easy to feel the heat, especially here in South Carolina. But Google may have found a clean, low-cost way to keep cool. The company’s buzzing Berkeley County data center is experimenting with a new industrial cooling method that uses rainwater from a nearby retention pond to prevent their systems from overheating. “Whenever possible, we use the natural environment to cool our data centers rather than relying on traditional mechanical air conditioning,” says local operations manager Eric Wages. As a result of this focus on natural energy efficiency measures, Google data centers throughout the world typically use half the energy of similar information storage facilities.

No Sweat
Winner of “Tech Innovation of the Year” kudos at this year’s Stevie Awards, which honor outstanding achievement in business globally, the active cooling liner developed by SCRA and Porticos aims to solve a problem that most of us would never even know exists. Yet, for those who wear a prosthesis, overheating of the residual limb is a serious issue. Just during regular activity, body temperature at the prosthesis site can increase by more than 30 degrees, but amputees need no longer suffer. The new liner utilizes a network of flexible tubes filled with liquid carbon dioxide to reduce the increase in temperature by up to 90 percent, keeping the wearer cool, comfortable, and mobile.

Real Life Toy Story
While they may not be Buzz and Woody, SensiBots could represent the future of play. Created by Dynepic, another start-up accepted to The Harbor Accelerator, SensiBots are a line of toys with the ability to communicate with one another via Bluetooth and respond to various stimuli in their environment, such as temperature, sound, and color. Kids can monitor the information recorded by the SensiBots on smart devices and manage their interactions. Dynepic hopes that these toys will help kids develop a healthy interest in science and math, while encouraging them to explore and understand their surroundings.

Speedy Spirits
We’ve obviously got a soft spot for old things here in Charleston, but when it comes to distilling liquor, one local inventor has proven that age is not a necessary ingredient. In their high-tech 21st-century moonshine still in Ladson, Terressentia uses a patented new technology, TerrePURE, to create high-quality refined spirits stripped of undesired cogeners (basically the nasty residual from the distilling process that gives you a hangover). The bottom line: top-shelf booze no longer requires extensive barrel aging or a redistilling process. TerrePURE uses ultrasonic energy and oxygenation after standard distillation to create this cleaner, faster, more energy-efficient product. The company also creates award-winning custom-flavored vodka, rum, whiskey, and tequila by applying high energy to certain chemical reactions during the process, resulting in flavors that don’t separate once poured. Cheers to that! (SH)

 



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