X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging have allowed doctors to glimpse beneath our skin for sometime, but imagine having a real-time view in unprecedented detail to check soft tissues for cancer or look for clogged arteries. It's just one of over a dozen inventions and inventors nominated for the European Patent Office's 2016 Popular Prize.
We plucked out a handful of the nominees with potential to have an impact on the way we live in the future, including some that already are.
Magnetic particle imaging (MPI) for medical diagnostics: The German team led by Bernhard Gleich, Jürgen Weizenecker of Philips developed a magnetic system that involves a patient ingesting a safe liquid that allows medical professionals a real-time, three-dimensional look inside soft tissues, organs and arterial pathways. This could be a game-changer for the prevention, early detection and treatment of things like coronary heart disease, which is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
Paper transistors: Portuguese scientists Elvira Fortunato, Rodrigo Martins and a team at the New University of Lisbon have created biodegradable electronic components that can be printed on paper using an inkjet printer. This cheaper and more energy-efficient alternative to silicon components could make even more items "smart" like self-updating plane tickets and food labels and make all sorts of sensors more ubiquitous to track things like produce spoilage or biological data.
Hydropower everywhere: A novel, small turbine invented by Czech civil engineer Miroslav Sedláček at the Czech Technical University could bring the electricity-generating potential of running water to places with even a minimal amount of flow. Most hydropower comes from rushing torrents through dams or tides, but this low velocity turbine can generate electricity even from small streams, opening up new opportunities for sustainable energy generation where even the slightest bit of water runs.
Gluten feel without the gluten: The ongoing quest for the gluten taste and feel in foods without the potential downsides of actual gluten may have finally hit a breakthrough point. Italian scientists Virna Cerne, Ombretta Polenghi and their team at Dr. Schär SPA have patented a method for extracting gluten-like proteins from corn, resulting in a supplement that tastes and feels like wheat and remains inexpensive.
Parkinson's treatment: French neurosurgeon and physicist Alim-Louis Benabid has developed what's called high-frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS) to treat neurological conditions like Parkinson's disease with a less invasive technique than major surgeries. The system involves a probe permanently implanted in the brain that allows patients to have a more normal and rewarding life.
Faster wireless connections: Much of the speed and signal range we enjoy today for WiFi and LTE data connections is thanks to an invention called MIMO ("multiple input, multiple output") from Indian-American inventor Arogyaswami Paulraj and a team at Stanford. The technology will continue to speed up and connect us as 5G networks begin to roll out over the next five years.