The 50 Best Inventions

The year's most inspired ideas, innovations and revolutions, from the microscopic to the stratospheric

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Phillip Toledano / Trunk Archive

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16.7 CENTIMETERS (LENGTH OF A HUMAN BRAIN) | What if I couldn't just guess what you were thinking but could actually see it? Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a system that uses fMRI (a specialized MRI scan) to model what we're thinking while awake and even what we see in our dreams. In experiments, subjects watched random clips of Hollywood movies, and the system reconstructed their brain activity through a process called quantitative modeling. The images from the subjects' minds bore incredible similarities to the ones they were watching. The fMRI technology has been around for about two decades, but the breakthrough came in a smaller form. "The real invention was entirely software," Professor Jack Gallant tells TIME. "It is a new way to model the brain, which allows one to build a much better brain decoder than could be done in the past."


20 CENTIMETERS | If you're not one to wear your heart on your sleeve, now you can at least express yourself with fake ears. The Japanese company Neurowear has developed necomimi, a cat-eared headband that's powered by brain waves. The ears rise when you're excited or concentrating and drop during relaxed states. And if you're concentrating and relaxing at the same time, the ears perk up and wiggle. Scheduled for release at the end of this year, the necomimi cat ears are part of a line of fashion gadgets by Neurowear that are designed to respond to biosensors.


30 CENTIMETERS (ONE DINNER PLATE) | Every three months, Grant Achatz throws out the menu of his Chicago restaurant Next and begins anew. This time around, he decided to take diners back to childhood, crafting a menu with the treats he remembered from his Midwestern youth. Capping the meal is what Achatz calls an edible campfire — a dessert based on sweet-potato pie. The campfire's burning logs are made by cooking sweet potatoes in sugary syrup and blue corn, which gives them their blackened look. Then a concoction of alcohol, vanilla and cinnamon is dusted over the logs and set ablaze. When the fire goes out, Achatz says, the logs taste like the outside of a burned marshmallow.


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