Prediction: Using fMRI brain activity to decode what a person is looking at

In 2005, researchers were able to use functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain’s visual cortex to figure out which one of 8 visual patterns a person was looking at. In a more recent 2011 paper, researchers were even made to decode movies from brain activity.


Prediction: Tracking “amyloid plaques,” a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, in the brains of live mice

A version of this technique is now used to help diagnosis Alzheimer’s humans. Even though the technique works, the test is not perfect: The presence of amyloid plaques also does not perfectly correlated with cognitive impairment decline.


These three brain tracking advancements were all significant, but this list is missing what is perhaps the most important neuroscience paper that year, even the decade—a breakthrough that would let neuroscientists go from merely imaging the brain to precisely controlling it. That would be a technical report in Nature Neuroscience that describes using algal proteins to make neurons light sensitive. It would go on to birth optogenetics, a technique that has since become widely used in everything from implanting false memories to turning off pain in mice. The most revolutionary ideas can be hard to miss.

Carbon Nanotubes

Prediction: New ways to make and process carbon nanotubes for commercial electronics


Thin sheets of carbon atoms rolled up into a cylinder—aka carbon nanotubes—have lots of unique electrical and mechanic materials. But this wonder material of the early 2000s hasn’t really caught on. The applications touted in SciAm—a Motorola television screen, flexible electronics, nanotube arrays, and nanoscale circuits—have not made it into your living room. Scientists have since found reliability problems with nanotubes in electronics, but the ultimate problem may just be lack of infrastructure for bringing the technology to market.

There’s another undercurrent running through the past decade, which is that graphene has stolen a lot of carbon nanotubes’ buzz as a wonder material. Though now, graphene is also running headlong into the challenges of commercialization.


Gene Therapy

Prediction: Discovery of genes for deafness.

In 2005, a couple of papers were published each showing how a particular gene controlling the growth of inner hair cells could be manipulated to treat deafness. A therapy based on the more promising of the two, a gene called Atoh1, entered clinical trials in humans at the end of last year. The second, called, Rb1, is still being studied in rats.


Prediction: Using silica particles for gene therapy

Still working on it.

Silicon Lasers

Prediction: Silicon lasers that could lead to high-speed chips.

Still working on it. Nine years later in 2013, researchers finally made a micrometer-sized version of a silicon laser, which would actually be small enough to put inside a device. Intel has a Silicon Photonics Solutions Group dedicated to bringing the technology to market.