One of the more exciting ideas for how to get stuff up into space is a Space Elevator. Basically, you stretch a rope from the ground to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, and then ferry stuff up and down the rope.
A few weeks ago the BBC published a story about a new technique to lift things up the elevator. In a nutshell, you have someone standing at the bottom of the rope vibrating it up and down sending waves all the way up to the satellite; the elevator has a clamp which closes when the upward-moving part of the wave is passing, and releases when it’s moving down. Presto! The elevator goes up.
What’s cool about this technique is not particularly its application to space elevation — which currently suffers from the problem that no known material has the strength to serve as the “rope”. Nor is it the fact that it could be used in ordinary elevators in some of the newer skyscrapers. No, the really fascinating bit is that it seems so simple, yet only just appeared. It’s borderline platitudinal to say something like “In this era of increasingly complicated technology there are still very simple ideas that can make an impact”, but it’s still impressive to see it in action.
The other neat thing is that this is basically the same principle that’s used in particle accelerators. There the waves are electromagnetic, and the “elevator” is a million or so electrons or protons, but it still works on the idea of catching the right part of the wave.