One of the friendly faces at WIRED has informed us that their inboxes have been clogged up with news of companies trying to jump on the cryptocurrency and blockchain bandwagon. But away from this hype, we can expect to see a hub of activity and some amazing breakthroughs in the science, engineering and innovation in 2018. After all the Government has announced that this will be the Year of Engineering.
We asked some of the Science, Engineering and Innovation team at AprilSix Proof what they expect to see this year in these sectors this year.
Industrial applications for smart tech (Danny)
I expect to see many technologies that were touted as the next big thing in the previous few years, such as AI and Robotics, come back to the fore in 2018 but with many companies looking at how they will apply these innovations to industrial applications. Industry 4.0, the use of technology to create a smart factory, for example, is likely to be a big topic with more and more manufacturers looking at how they can use technology to boost efficiency and productivity – with research finding that Industry 4.0 could unlock £445bn for the UK economy.
Nuclear fusion (Danny)
Elsewhere, fusion projects in North America and Europe are all gathering momentum. In the UK, scientists are likely to bring us a step closer to cracking nuclear fusion with Tokamak Energy’s ST40 nuclear reactor reaching temperatures hotter than the centre of the sun (15m degrees) in early 2018 before demonstrating temperatures of 100m degrees – the temperature required to force together charged deuterium and tritium particles that naturally repel each other and get them close enough to fuse. This breakthrough milestone is likely to be reached later in the year.
Space exploration (Danny)
We are also set to see a string of exciting space missions throughout the year, with engineers from India, China, NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and Elon Musk’s private company SpaceX all pushing the boundaries of innovation. From NASA launching its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), that will scan the entire celestial sphere for signs of exoplanets, to the ESA’s satellite that could provide real-time wind data to meteorologists that could help improve weather forecasts, to SpaceX’s hinted manned mission around the moon, 2018 is set to be a year where innovators globally really do reach for the stars.
War on plastics (Mike)
At the end of last year, Blue Planet 2 caused a watershed moment in the public’s awareness of plastic waste and the catastrophic impact our throw-away culture is having on the environment. There was a concerted response from MPs off the back of the series to tackle plastic waste, and it still remains high on the agenda in the first couple of weeks this year.
Teresa May this week ‘vowed’ to stop all plastic waste by 2042 in the new Environment Strategy, and though sceptics say there is no legal binding, one would hope to see a serious drive for sustainability from government, industry and the public. As plastic awareness and reduction remain in the zeitgeist, this could be the year that we see organisations use ‘plastic free’ as a differentiator. We could see a wave of new start-ups aimed at tackling waste and retailers adapting supply chains. Future innovation could well include a much more environmental stance.
Lab-grown meat is coming (Dan)
Food habits are changing, fast. However, despite growing numbers of vegetarians, flexitarians and vegans, the demand for meat is actually on the rise. One way that science could influence our culinary behaviour in 2018 is the widespread production of lab-grown meat.
This involves extracting cells from animals like chickens or cows, and then culturing these cells in a lab to keep them growing. We may be a long way from synthetic chicken wings, but the production of meat for processed foods sans abattoir is close.
Already, companies are raising millions in seed funding, and being funded by heavyweights like Bill Gates and Richard Branson, to produce animal products without the need for slaughter. By Christmas 2018, might our turkeys be produced in bio-tanks?
Rebelling from the standard model (Nancy)
2018 could be a year of rebellion in physics (or, at the very least will see further empirical understanding of the standard model).
When the Higgs boson was found back in 2012, it was a victory for theoretical physics, as it filled a hole identified by the standard model. However, 2018 could be the year that experimental physicists strike back – with research teams at the Large Hadron Collider beauty experiment (LHCb) still searching for something new in B mesons. The rate of decay of which doesn’t quite match that predicted by the standard model.
New things may also be found by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) – yes, the one that saw the collision of two supermassive black holes last year. As putting our predictions of gravitational waves into practice continue to give clues as to how robust the standard model really is.
Only more data will tell though, so we’ll be watching this space (as physicists watch into space) this year.
2018 will certainly be an exciting time for science, engineering and innovation. Despite uncertaintly surrounding Brexit and our political climate, we’re looking forward to seeing how the boundaries of innovation will be pushed and how science and engineering will make our world a better place.
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