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3D printers are emblematic of what the future of technology could look like. Versatile, flexible and highly adaptable, they promise to produce everything from customised furniture to transplantable organs. Yet the concept of the 3D printer, its place in our imagination, has outstripped its current technical capacity. At the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, Professor Frank Niklaus and his research team have set themselves a challenge: to engineer a 3D printer fitted to the modern manufacturing world, capable of producing micro- and nano-structures and, ultimately, superior micro-materials.
To study something in detail you need to look at it from all directions, whether it is the Venus de Milo statue in the Louvre Museum, a car you are thinking of buying, or when using a CAT-scanner to image inside the human body. In the ERC-funded GLOBALSEIS project Professor Guust Nolet is doing this on a truly global scale, by developing a worldwide network of marine-based seismic-wave sensors that can give a much better picture of deep-earth structures and resolve a major paradox in geoscience.
At the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, Professor Anna Fontcuberta i Morral’s ERC-funded UPCON project (Ultra-pure nanowire heterostructures and energy conversion) is investigating new concepts and technologies that point the way to the next generation of photovoltaic systems. Prof Fontcuberta i Morral is a speaker at this year's American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in Chicago, where she will give a talk entitled 'Nanowires have the power to revolutionize solar energy'.
The DOFOCO project aims to better understand how forests can help lessen the effects of global warming, by bringing together advanced models and data from the life and earth sciences. Such research takes an additional dimension this year, in the context of the United Nations International Year of Forests 2011.
Preventing excess waste is a challenge and the need to recycle and produce sustainable materials is increasing. ERC-funded project PARADIGM could influence the design of future plastic-like materials that would break down in the environment the way natural materials do. This innovative technology will also be used for body repair by creating materials that mimic our native tissues and organs.