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January 04, 2022

Dear Reader,

Happy New Year! Before we embrace 2022, I wanted to take a quick look back at 2021—specifically, to the fun and funky science and tech news that Scientific American covered over the past year. Check out this week’s lead story for anything you might have missed, including a robot hand that plays Super Mario Bros. and the real-life physics inspired by Star Trek’s fictional warp drive.

Sophie Bushwick, Associate Editor, Technology
@sophiebushwick

Animals

The Best Fun Science Stories of 2021: Rhythmic Lemurs, a Marscopter and Sex-Obsessed Insect Zombies

Check out the weird and wonderful stories that delighted us this year

By Andrea Thompson,Sarah Lewin Frasier,Sophie Bushwick,Jeffery DelViscio,Lee Billings

Biotech

A Portable MRI Makes Imaging More Democratic

An open-source approach downsizes today’s clunking behemoths with permanent magnets and deep-learning algorithms

By Simon Makin

Automobiles

Did Your Catalytic Converter Get Stolen? The Pandemic--and Rhodium--Could Share Some Blame

In 2021 the search phrase “what precious metal is in a catalytic converter” saw a more than 5,000 percent increase in use. Here’s why.

By Dominic Smith,Andrew Robinson

Biotech

CRISPR-Edited Tomatoes Are Supposed to Help You Chill Out

The first commercial food product to use the CRISPR gene-editing technique increases levels of GABA in tomatoes

By Emily Waltz,Nature Biotechnology

Sociology

Citizen Militias in the U.S. Are Moving toward More Violent Extremism

In some members, a longing for “simpler” times is giving rise to deadly activities

By Amy Cooter

Inequality

Digital Access Is Not Universal, but a 10-Year Plan Can Help

Prioritizing infrastructure, smarter regulations and better training will make digital technology more inclusive

By Vinton G. Cerf

Renewable Energy

California Law Aims to Turn Food Waste into Renewable Energy

The program will be the nation’s largest attempt to reduce methane emissions from rotting food in landfills

By Anne C. Mulkern,E&E News

Engineering

Top 10 Emerging Tech of 2021

The World Economic Forum and Scientific American team up to highlight technological advances that could change the world—including self-fertilizing crops, on-demand drug manufacturing, breath-sensing diagnostics and 3-D-printed houses.

By Robin Pomeroy,Sophie Bushwick | 39:47

Robotics

Want to Get Humans to Trust Robots? Let Them Dance

A performance with living and mechanical partners can teach researchers how to design more relatable bots

By Sam Jones

Sociology

Your Boss Wants to Spy on Your Inner Feelings

Tech companies now use AI to analyze your feelings in job interviews and public spaces. But the software seems prone to racial, cultural and gender bias

By John McQuaid

Behavior

How to Stop Doomscrolling News and Social Media

“Doomscroll Reminder Lady” Karen K. Ho explains how to step away from the screen

By Sophie Bushwick

Engineering

3-D-Printed Chicken Dinner Cooked by Lasers

A laser-focused chef prints and cooks complex designs

By Huanjia Zhang

Privacy

The Log4J Software Flaw Is 'Christmas Come Early' for Cybercriminals

A cybersecurity expert explains how the widely used logging software is already making us more vulnerable

By Sophie Bushwick

Privacy

Hacking the Ransomware Problem

Organizations can act to protect themselves, but collaboration is the best defense

By The Editors

Computing

Medical Algorithms Need Better Regulation

Many do not require FDA approval, and those that do often do not undergo clinical trials

By Soleil Shah,Abdul El-Sayed
FROM THE STORE

Revolutions in Science

Normally science proceeds in incremental steps, but sometimes a discovery is so profound that it causes a paradigm shift. This eBook is a collection of articles about those kinds of advances, including revolutionary discoveries about the origin of life, theories of learning, formation of the solar system and more.

*Editor's Note: Revolutions in Science was originally published as a Collector’s Edition. The eBook adaptation contains all of the articles, but some of the artwork has been removed to optimize viewing on mobile devices.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

"As the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), JWST is one of those once-in-a-generation scientific projects that can strain the patience of government benefactors, as well as the responsible agency's credibility, but also define a field for decades to come—and possibly redefine it forever."

Richard Panek, Scientific American

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FROM THE ARCHIVE

From Rapping Robots to Glowing Frogs: Our Favorite Fun Stories of 2020

It has been a tough year, but science still brought us some weird, cool and quirky findings

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