THE RETAIL DNA TEST
Learning and sharing your genetic secrets are at the heart of 23andMe's controversial new service — a $399 saliva test that estimates your predisposition for more than 90 traits and conditions ranging from baldness to blindness. Although 23andMe isn't the only company selling DNA tests to the public, it does the best job of making them accessible and affordable. The 600,000 genetic markers that 23andMe identifies and interprets for each customer are "the digital manifestation of you," says Wojcicki (pronounced Wo-jis-key), 35, who majored in biology and was previously a health-care investor. "It's all this information beyond what you can see in the mirror."
We are at the beginning of a personal-genomics revolution that will transform not only how we take care of ourselves but also what we mean by personal information. In the past, only élite researchers had access to their genetic fingerprints, but now personal genotyping is available to anyone who orders the service online and mails in a spit sample.
THE LUNAR RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER
It may have been a long time since the U.S. built the world's best cars, but nobody can touch us when it comes to spacecraft. nasa is about to prove that again with the planned launch in February 2009 of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (lro). Our first unmanned moonship in 11 years, the lro will study the things lunar orbiters always study — gravity, temperature — but it will also look for signs of water ice, a vital resource for any future lunar base, and compile detailed 3-D lunar maps, including all six Apollo landing sites. Wingnuts, be warned: yes, we really went there.
When cable eventually dies, websites like Hulu will be held responsible. Unlike YouTube and other amateur-video-upload sites, Hulu is a hub for network TV shows and movies: Hulu offers shows from nbc, Fox, pbs and other channels, including free full episodes of SNL, The Daily Show, The Office and other hits the TiVo-less masses often miss, plus films like Ghostbusters, The Fifth Element and Lost in Translation. Created as a network-approved alternative to YouTube's grab bag, Hulu was at first roundly mocked as a ham-fisted corporate knockoff of the grass-roots glory that is YouTube. (It was also mocked for its weird name.) Instead it proved that suits can play in the Internet video space too and that studio content can coexist online with the user-generated kind. In doing so, it delivered the final blow that untethered TV from that box in your living room.
THE LARGE HADRON COLLIDER
Large Hadron Collider, the world's biggest particle accelerator, which went online in September, ran for 10 days and then had to shut down at least until next spring because of an overheated wire. The mammoth machine will send protons wheeling in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light, then smash them together at 6,000 times a second to try to answer such deep questions as why mass exists and whether the universe has extra dimensions. If it takes a few extra months to find out, so what?
THE GLOBAL SEED VAULT
Superman had it right: if you want to keep something safe, build a mountain fortress above the Arctic Circle. That's the thinking — more or less — behind the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Almost every nation keeps collections of native seeds so local crops can be replanted in case of an agricultural disaster. The Global Seed Vault, opened this year on the far-northern Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, is a backup for the backups. It's badly needed — as many as half the seed banks in developing countries are at risk from natural disasters or general instability. The vault can hold up to 4.5 million samples, which will be kept dry at about 0°F (-18°C). Even if the facility loses power, the Arctic climate should keep the seeds viable for thousands of years. Let's just hope we still like corn then.
THE CHEVY VOLT
No-emission electric motors — which began the automobile revolution — are the technology of tomorrow for cars. But today's batteries can't support the typical driving experience.. Chevy's Volt is a nice compromise. The sedan has an electric motor with a battery that can provide up to 40 miles (about 65 km) of range on a single charge. A gas engine kicks in to recharge the battery while you're driving.. Since nearly 80% of us drive less than 40 miles a day, that means that unlike the Prius, the Volt could get drivers off gas altogether. The best of both worlds lands by the end of 2010.
BULLETS THAT SHOOT BULLETS
Think of the Army's new Active Protection System (APS) as Star Wars for soldiers, designed to protect them from rocket-propelled grenades and other short-range threats. Raytheon's APS will automatically detect an incoming round and then launch a missile to destroy it, all within a split second. If it works, future Army vehicles will be able to head into combat with less armor.
THE ORBIT INTERNET
In space, no one can hear you scream. But you will be able to send e-mail, thanks to a new protocol being developed for use there. It's hard to maintain a stable connection in orbit, so the interplanetary Internet will have to be especially tolerant of delays and disruptions. In September, a satellite used the new protocol to relay an image of the Cape of Good Hope back to Earth.
THE WORLD'S FASTEST COMPUTER
On May 26, at 3:30 in the morning, a $133 million supercomputer nicknamed Roadrunner broke the long-sought-after petaflop barrier: 1 quadrillion calculations per second. Built by IBM for Los Alamos National Laboratory, Roadrunner will be used primarily to simulate the effects of aging on nuclear weapons.