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Intelligent Windows, Self-Repairing Concrete and Other Inventions that Could Change the World

Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock.com

The European Patent Office (EPO) has announced its finalists for the 2015 European Inventor Awards, honoring brilliant inventions from a range of scientific fields. The EPO will have its work cut out choosing winners—everyone on the list is working on or has created something groundbreaking.

A dozen finalists are grouped into four categories, including one for non-European inventors; three additional finalists are eligible for a lifetime achievement recognition. One winner will be selected from each category, and then the public can vote on the overall winner, with the awards taking place on June 11.

Here’s the shortlist, broken out by category.

Industry

Franz Amtmann (Austria), Philippe Maugars (France)

This team of inventors came up with the technology behind Near Field Communication (NFC). This form of radio technology is what powers mobile payments like Apple Pay and Google Wallet. The technology is likely to find its way into more applications soon: the Washington D.C. subway is piloting an NFC payments system, and London is looking into it, too, as is the other Subway.

Gunnar Asplund (Sweden)

Renewable energy plants are often far from centers of population—we don’t tend to have dams or solar fields near cities—which makes getting the power from the plants to the people difficult (the farther the power has to travel, the more energy is lost to resistance). Asplund has found a way to bury cables that can transport energy over thousands of kilometers without losing a volt.

Jean-Christophe Giron (France)

Giron has invented an “intelligent” window. An electrified glazing on his windows can convert the sun’s rays into warmth to heat homes in winter. The glazing also darkens in the summer (think Transitions lenses) to limit the amount of sunlight that gets in. Giron’s invention can reduce a building’s energy costs by up to 20%, according to the EPO. Giron is vice president of technology at SAGE Electrochromics, a division of Paris-based building materials company Saint-Gobain.

Small and medium-sized enterprises

John Elvesjö and Mårten Skogö (Sweden)

This Swedish team invented the eye-tracking system called Tobii that lets users control computers with just their eyes. An infrared sensor tracks the direction of the user’s eyeballs, essentially turning your eyes into a computer mouse. This technology could help people with mobility issues to interact with computers like never before, the EPO said.

Michel Lescanne (France)

Lescanne has developed a peanut paste called Plumpy’nut to help fight famine. Nearly 20 million children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization. Usually they would need to be taken to hospital to be treated, but withLescanne’s paste, they can be treated at home.

Laura Johanna Van’t Veer (Netherlands)

Van’t Veer developed a gene test that shows women with early stage breast cancer whether they are likely to need chemotherapy. According to the EPO, her invention means that 20% to 30% fewer patients would be steered into chemotherapy as part of their treatment. After patenting the gene test in 2001, Van’t Veer and a partner started a diagnostics firm called Agendia, which markets the test under the name MammaPrint.

Research

Luke Alphey (United Kingdom)

Alphey has invented a way to combat Dengue fever by genetically controlling mosquitos to breed out the ones that carry the disease. The impact is potentially huge: According to WHO, roughly half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting the potentially fatal disease.

Hendrik Marius Jonkers (Netherlands)

Jonkers has invented a “bioconcrete” containing bacteria that naturally produce calcium carbonate (limestone). The bacteria can lie dormant for up to 200 years. When the concrete cracks, it activates the bacteria, which seal up the cracks. Though its production is currently twice as costly as that of regular concrete, Jonkers’ invention could potentially extend the life of buildings and roads worldwide by decades.

Ludwik Leibler (France)

Leibler has invented vitrimers, a new type of recyclable, self-healing plastic. Vitrimers are as sturdy as glass, and when heated, can repair damages to their surfaces. So the next time you drop your smart phone, a little heat could heal the cracks and save you a few hundred dollars. Leibler is also developing a way to use his material to heal wounds, the EPO said.

Non-European countries

Ian Frazer, Jian Zhou (Australia, China)

This is the team that developed the Gardasil and Cervarix vaccines against the Human papillomavirus (HPV), which is linked to 99% of cervical cancer cases. Vaccinations already have had a significant effecton the prevalence of HPV in young women. Zhou died in 1999—Gardasil, marketed by Merck, was not cleared for use in Europe and the US until 2006. Cervarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, won approval in Europe the following year.

Elizabeth Holmes (US)

Holmes developed a way to test for a plethora of health issues using a single drop of blood obtained with a finger prick. Holmes’ method is “virtually painless” and takes only hours to get results, the EPO said. The Stanford University dropout is now, according to Forbes, the world’s “youngest self-made woman billionaire.”

Sumio Iijima, Akira Koshio, Masako Yudasaka (Japan)

Carbon nanotubes are a futuristic material that seem right out of a movie. They’re harder than diamonds and conduct electricity better than copper. They may even one day replace silicon as the material that our computer chips are made from. And their discovery, the EPO says, was one of the biggest findings in decades for the field of material sciences.

Lifetime achievement

The EPO also will be awarding a lifetime achievement honor to one of the following: Ivars Kalvins of Latvia, for his work on preventing and curing diseases; Kornelis Schouhamer Immink of the Netherlands, for creating the technology to store large quantities of data on optical disks like the CD and Blu-Ray; and Andreas Manz of Switzerland, for inventing the “laboratory on a microchip.”

(Image via Brian A Jackson/ Shutterstock.com)

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