Understanding the Science for Tomorrow: Myth and Reality

Course No. 1391
Professor Jeffrey C. Grossman, Ph.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Course No. 1391
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Course Overview

Science and technology are, without a doubt, two forces that will change the way you live your life in the coming months, years, and decades. Nanotechnology, quantum computing, genetic engineering; these and other fascinating fields have the power to revolutionize almost every aspect of existence, including how you eat and drink, how you communicate, how you travel, how you learn—even how long you live.

And in recent decades, these forces have evolved and developed at a lightning-fast pace. So fast, in fact, that the future of science and technology couldn't be any more exciting than it is now, as scientists are on the cusp of breakthroughs, including

  • new energy sources such as biofuels, solar photovoltaics, and nuclear fusion;
  • smaller, more powerful computers that can tap into the secrets of artificial intelligence and operate advanced robotic systems;
  • tools and equipment for making water safer to drink and food easier to grow, package, and preserve; and
  • new devices for speeding up the ways we travel from place to place and the ways we communicate and share information with one another.

These and other scientific breakthroughs of tomorrow will do more than enhance and improve everyday life. They also will help solve some of our world's most pressing crises and dilemmas, including food and water shortages, clean and reusable energy needs, detection and curing of life-threatening illnesses, and so much more. And while some of these promises are surrounded by hype and myth, the truths about them are more startling—and more important—than you ever imagined.

Explore the many possibilities of what your future may look like with Understanding the Science for Tomorrow: Myth and Reality, a scientifically accurate and enlightening survey of today's most advanced research in fields such as engineering, biology, chemistry, and theoretical physics. These 24 lectures by research scientist and Professor Jeffrey C. Grossman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology delve into the genuine science of today's—and tomorrow's—hottest issues in an accessible manner that helps you grasp these sometimes esoteric topics. They are designed for anyone curious about the current state of science and technology and where it is likely to be heading in the near future.

Investigate a Range of Real-World Applications

"For millennia, science has given us knowledge of how the world works that has led, in turn, to more magnificent discoveries and extraordinary innovation,"says Professor Grossman. "And yet rarely, if ever, has there existed a role for science, a scale for science, and an absolute need for science as there exists today."

In Understanding the Science for Tomorrow, you'll see firsthand how recent developments in science and technology can potentially fulfill this need in a range of modern-day, real-world areas.

  • Transportation: The key challenge of today's transportation lies in improving overall efficiency without limiting range and, possibly, speed. You'll discover how scientists are developing ways to face and overcome this challenge by exploring the science behind hybrid and electric cars, mag-lev trains, artificial fuels, and more.
  • Computing: Computers have literally revolutionized the world and are primed to do so even more in the coming years. You'll make sense of everything from optical computing, in which information travels as light instead of electrons, to quantum computing, which would allow us to tackle problems that today's computers are unable to even formulate.
  • Medicine: Nanotechnology, which involves the purposeful engineering of matter at scales of less than 100 nanometers, has untold ramifications for the medical field. You'll see how recent and future developments can change the ways we heal wounds, detect diseases, deliver drugs to specific areas of the body, and even show us what goes on inside cells.
  • Energy: Today, most of our energy comes from coal, gas, and oil. But this may not be the case in the near future. You'll investigate ways in which materials such as the sun, hydrogen, electricity, and even crops such as sugar and corn are poised to radically alter the way we make, use, and store energy.

In discussing these and other subjects, Professor Grossman takes care to explain the basic science behind them in terms that are easy to understand. He also shows the intricate connections between advancements in one field (such as energy) and their impact in a host of other areas (such as transportation, food production, and computing). You'll come to see science as a giant, interconnected web supporting not just one area of your everyday life but all of them.

Get Intriguing Sneak Peeks at New Scientific Developments

Understanding the Science for Tomorrow is filled with intriguing sneak peeks at the latest developments and technologies in a range of scientific fields. With his characteristic insight and contagious excitement, Professor Grossman reveals what you can possibly expect from these and other marvels.

  • Robotics: While still in the research and development phase, some primitive molecular machines (nanorobots) have been built and tested. The first useful applications of these machines might be in medicine, where they can be used to identify and destroy cancer cells, or for detecting the concentration of toxic chemicals in the environment.
  • Genetic engineering: There is the potential for great changes in biology and medicine based on genetic engineering. In the near future, it may be possible for us to make DNA sequencing available and affordable, leading to personalized medicine in which treatment can be customized to each individual's specific genome.
  • Biofuels: While biofuels based on food crops are not well-suited for fueling the entire world because they threaten food supplies, second- and third-generation biofuels get around this dilemma by using biomass from crops not meant to be used as food or even waste from the food industry.

In discussing these and other eye-opening topics, Professor Grossman always makes a point to emphasize fact and truth over fiction and hype. As startling as these possibilities for the future may be, there are still plenty of challenges that scientists are facing, as well as tradeoffs that need to be considered from the development and adoption of these scientific advancements.

Discover How Science and Technology Are Redefining Your World

In addition to showcasing his ability to sidestep media buzz and present only the reality of each of these scientific fields while peering responsibly into the future, Professor Grossman brings his celebrated teaching style to each of these 24 engaging and densely illustrated lectures. An expert in fields from computational science and energy storage to nanotechnology and thermodynamics, he's skilled at bringing such a broad range of scientific disciplines into a single, concise, and comprehensive package. And his research work at MIT finds him every day on the frontier of devising and developing new technologies for addressing the scientific dilemmas of today and tomorrow.

By the final lecture of Understanding the Science for Tomorrow, you'll have a stronger sense of some important fundamental scientific principles being used right this moment to innovate your life. You'll also find yourself filled with a sense of excitement and wonder for both how, and how quickly, science and technology are working to make your world a better place.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    Changing the Game
    Before you can understand the science of tomorrow, you need to understand how science works. Here, explore the process of scientific discovery (rooted in the scientific method), how information is tested and shared, the intricate relationship between science and technology, how we know when science is right (or wrong), and more. x
  • 2
    Magnetism—The Science of Attractions
    Professor Grossman helps you make sense of magnetism, explains its importance to your world, and offers exciting examples of the promises of new technologies. These include everything from cell phones that could run for two years on a single charge to mag-lev trains that could take you from Los Angeles to New York in under 10 minutes. x
  • 3
    Transportation—The Science of How We Move
    What will the future of transportation, on land and in the air, look like? What role will hybrid-electric, plug-hybrid, and all-electric cars play? How can we build airplanes that travel faster and carry larger loads? And what about jetpacks—are they really possible or just a novelty of science fiction? Find the answers to these and other questions here. x
  • 4
    Computers—Trillions of Bits per Second
    Computers have undoubtedly revolutionized life—and will continue to do so for years to come. First, survey the fast-paced history of computers. Then, focus on possible limits to computing power. Finally, investigate possible technologies such as optical computing, quantum computing, and computing devices so small they can be woven into your clothes. x
  • 5
    Artificial Intelligence—Thinking Machines
    You don't see much artificial intelligence (AI) in your life. Or do you? Find out what the future will look like by exploring key questions. Where did the idea for AI come from, and how does it work? What are some challenges hindering its widespread development? Where can you find it at work in tasks such as driving and cleaning? x
  • 6
    Robotics—Living with Machines
    Robots are more than just Hollywood fantasy—they may soon become a reality of everyday life. In this lecture, learn the radically different approaches taken by today's robots to achieve specific tasks or functions; meet robots such as Elektro and ASIMO; and explore robots—both large and small—in the home, at war, and in performing surgery. x
  • 7
    Microscopes—The Power of Seeing It All
    Make sense of how microscopes have dramatically expanded our ability to see into smaller and smaller worlds. You'll discover how microscopes evolved since the days of Galileo, learn why it is now possible to see individual atoms through superpowered microscopes, and travel to the frontier of tomorrow, with its "atom smashers", 3-D imaging, and more. x
  • 8
    Nanotechnology—The New Science of Small
    In the first of two lectures on this revolutionary subject, explore the "what" of nanotechnology—the purposeful engineering of matter at scales of less than 100 nanometers. Among the topics you'll learn about: what nanotechnology is, how it works, and how nanoscience has appeared in nature all along. x
  • 9
    Nanotechnology—Changing Everything
    Turn now to some concrete applications of nanotechnology in today's world. Professor Grossman covers four areas: new materials (such as powerful new adhesives); energy (including the development of cheaper solar cells); health (through highly sensitive disease detectors and drug delivery systems); and the environment (in nanoparticles that can detoxify common contaminants). x
  • 10
    Genetic Engineering—Life's Building Blocks
    We now have the potential for a revolution in biology and medicine based on our newfound ability to engineer life by accessing, modifying, and altering pieces of the inner "source code" of life itself: DNA. This lecture demystifies genetic engineering and reveals some of the many promises it holds. x
  • 11
    Synthetic Life—Making Life from Scratch
    Is it possible to "make" life in a lab? If so, how? Welcome to the world of synthetic life, which involves building new life forms from non-living substances. Learn how new strains of algae and viruses can help solve a variety of real-world problems. Also, encounter samples of life that—shockingly—exist without DNA as we know it. x
  • 12
    The Brain—Your Body's Supercomputer
    Study the brain as an intricate network of "wires" responsible for every facet of your life. First, explore the structure and function of this impressive organ. Then, discover how science has helped us know what we know about how the brain works. Finally, ponder what we still have yet to uncover. x
  • 13
    Cancer and Aging—Can They Be Defeated?
    When and how will we finally cure cancer? How far can we lengthen the span of our lives? These two piercing questions are at the heart of this lecture on the life and death of cells; how we understand what's going on in them, and how we can possibly better control them. x
  • 14
    Powerful Viruses—Future Friend or Foe?
    What is a virus, and how is it different from a bacterium? How are vaccines made, and is it possible to make a universal vaccine to protect us against all viruses? What knowledge and tools will be using to fight viruses in the near future? And how can viruses be essential to life on Earth? x
  • 15
    Food or Famine—Science Holds the Key
    Science and technology have radically changed how—and what—we eat. Here, examine why food is so important to our life; new advancements in how food is packaged and preserved; and the benefits and risks of genetically modifying food. Finally, close by taking a peek at what a meal from the future may very well look like. x
  • 16
    Water—The Currency of the Next Century
    Because of its growing scarcity around the world, water is primed to be the currency of the next century. Professor Grossman shows you how existing and upcoming technologies—including nanomaterials—can help alleviate the problems of water scarcity and contamination, and can offer new approaches to desalinate seawater. x
  • 17
    Biofuels—The Fuel of the Future?
    Investigate one of the hottest topics in the landscape of renewable energy: biofuels. Here, you'll learn what sets them apart from fossil fuels, how they're made from substances such as corn and algae, and some of the obstacles and drawbacks that still remain toward their mass use, such as high costs and low efficiency. x
  • 18
    Solar Cells—Electricity from the Sun
    Continue looking at alternative energy sources with this lecture on solar cells, also known as solar photovoltaics. Why is the most abundant renewable resource in the universe the least used? What can be done about it? Gain a newfound appreciation for our sun and the ways it can power our lives in the coming decades. x
  • 19
    Batteries—Storing Energy Chemically
    Unlike other energy sources currently in use, batteries offer a direct release of stored energy as electricity. Explore how far we can push current battery technology and vastly improve our ability to store energy in this manner. Also, take a peek at possible batteries of tomorrow, including lithium-air batteries and transparent batteries. x
  • 20
    The Hydrogen Economy—Fact or Fiction?
    Imagine a planet that runs on hydrogen, an element that is enormously abundant and completely clean. How would it work, and what would we use it for? Would a hydrogen-powered car be dangerous? What will a future global hydrogen economy look like? What technological advancements are still needed to make this idea a reality? x
  • 21
    Nuclear Energy—Harnessing Star Power
    Focus on the promising—yet controversial—topic of nuclear energy. Learn what makes it different from other forms of energy; how it's produced; the hot-button issues of safety and nuclear waste; and why nuclear fusion may just offer the best direction for nuclear science to take in the future. x
  • 22
    Prediction—From Storms to Stocks
    It's tough to make predictions. But thanks to recent advancements, we're coming closer than ever before to mastering the science of forecasting. In this lecture, Professor Grossman discusses the latest developments in our ability to better understand and master volatile systems, including the weather, earthquakes, and the stock market. x
  • 23
    Communication—Transcending Time and Space
    Survey the driving forces behind the evolution of communication throughout history, from the development of language to the Internet. Then, take a closer look at future directions for how we communicate, including tools that allow us to speak different languages with ease and the seamless integration of machines and our minds. x
  • 24
    Science in the Future
    Examine scientific ideas that, however thrilling, still remain distant possibilities, such as time travel. Then, Professor Grossman ends the course with a passionate discussion about the challenges of his profession and the continued hope of science and technology to solve today's most pressing challenges. x

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Your professor

Jeffrey C. Grossman

About Your Professor

Jeffrey C. Grossman, Ph.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Dr. Jeffrey C. Grossman is Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He earned his B.A. in Physics from Johns Hopkins University and his M.S. in Physics and his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Before joining MIT, Professor Grossman founded and headed the Computational Nanoscience research group at the...
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Understanding the Science for Tomorrow: Myth and Reality is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 45.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! Absolutely fantastic course! Over the last few years, I have found myself increasingly interested in science as my interests in health, food, global warming and technology have grown. I took few high school or college science courses so at first I wasn't sure I would be able to keep up. This was not a problem at all. Dr. Grossman's lectures were clear and precise and the discussion felt thoughtful and engaging. In fact, the course felt like reading a collection of dynamic New Yorker articles about all the coolest scientific issues of the day. Since I began watching this series it's been hard to shut me up about all the interesting facts I've picked up. But it's not just fun cocktail party conversation content I've collected; I also feel this series gave me a deeper and richer understanding of our world, the issues it confronts and how science fits in. Professor Grossman is just the kind of inspiring instructor I wish I had taken classes from in college (long ago). I strongly recommend the course -- you'll feel so much smarter for watching it.
Date published: 2012-01-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Love Letter to "Techies" This course was a fascinating set of lectures dealing with technologies of the future. Many in the audience will have some familiarity with at least some of the topics covered, however, and they may consider these lectures too rudimentary. But that is to be expected. For those not well versed in any of the topics, this is a great introduction, full of helpful diagrams and useful explanations. An inevitable comparison to Michio Kaku's excellent book "Physics of the Future" must be mentioned because these lectures mirror the material in this book to a large degree (though coverage also diverges). Professor Kaku's book goes further in its explanations than does this course. For example, on the discussion of Moore's Law, Kaku explains that the industry will face a crisis if computing power is not continued past the "brick wall", and gives more details as to what and why this wall is. A few quibbles: - Professor Grossman gives a delivery that is a bit too flat. There is none of the sense of wonder or emotional excitement pouring over to the audience. I was a bit reminded of Tuvoc from Star Trek. I really enjoyed Professor Wolfson's enthusiasm when he discussed light as a particle and a wave. "Wow!" Nonetheless, this can be overcome and his gestures, and body articulation were very good. - As mentioned, there is little analysis. This is not the fault of the lecturer, but 45 minutes would have been a better format. Time is needed to discuss implications that these technologies would have. What if we can't stop the brick wall in Moore's Law? What if we shouldn't be carrying out genetic engineering? In short, the drawbacks are not discussed, and therefore there is only a one-sided picture. Nonetheless, the strengths of these lectures are the diagrams charts, and sheer range of topics, and all of these make it a worthwhile investment. If you're new to these areas, all the better.
Date published: 2011-12-31
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