The scientific innovations that are changing our lives this year
Scientific innovations and breakthroughs invariably happen gradually, over a period which is bookended by the inception of research and implementation, passing through validation, testing, peer-reviewing, and piloting. The following is a brief list of those innovations which are reaching or have reached fruition this year.
Early detection of dementia
One of the most pressing needs in healthcare science is how to detect dementia and Alzheimer’s early enough to begin treatment which can at least arrest their progress. A technique is being developed at Oxford University which will soon make that possible. Known as cortical disarray measurement (CDM), this technique allows scientists to collate more insightful ‘layers’ of detail from current MRI scan technology.
With this extra information, they can then analyse the brain’s microanatomy and identify any deterioration. The solve-all medication doesn’t exist as yet, but CDM will certainly aid this search, in that it will enable researchers to quickly quantify how experimental drugs affect the cerebral microstructure and to what degree they may be useful in the treatment of dementia-related diseases.
Mobile cancer screening
A start-up called MobileODT has been working with health professional technologists to create a machine learning algorithm known as Enhanced Visual Assessment (EVA), which is able to give an accurate diagnosis in minutes. The differentiating factor is that it is deployed using mobile devices, hence making it ideal to be used in parts of the world where large-scale attendance at healthcare centres is simply impractical. It is being rolled out in India for cervical cancer screening and within months, will be enabling a far more agile approach to disease prevention all over the world.
A quantum leap in computing
We associate computing with binary 0s and 1s but cutting edge principles of quantum mechanics are being applied in order to allow the use of the greatly more complex qubit. Powerful machines use quantum algorithms to process information and will make machine learning much more powerful than it is at present.
This has major implications for future discoveries. Google has its own Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab and its most advanced quantum processor has been enhancing its performance at a far greater rate than previously thought possible.
The revelation means we may be very close to ‘quantum supremacy’, a state where these hyper-computers are able to solve problems way beyond the processing power of today’s machines.
China has already developed “quantum-capable satellites”, suggesting we are not too far away from the quantum internet. One major advantage of this ‘quantum leap’ will be much more secure digital communication.
In the Summer of 2019, fires raged across the Amazon and hurricane Dorian left a trail of destruction. Whether there is a direct link with climate change is debatable, but what is not in doubt is that June 2019, was the hottest June on record.
Therefore, the race to develop sustainable renewable technologies is speeding up. It’s hard to identify one single discovery or breakthrough, but researchers are working on marine, hydro, wave, wind, and solar energy sources.
Renewables produce more than 20% of the UK’s electricity, which is likely to increase to 30% by 2020. From then on, renewable energy will continue as a cornerstone of large-scale carbon emission reduction, with wind farms, biomass power stations, and hydropower systems being constructed with this in mind.
There are many more scientific innovations, much more, especially in the fields of transport, computing, and energy. We are, it seems, entering an era of astonishing changes in the way we interact with our world, driven by the speed of discovery-driven by technological capacity. Long may it continue to improve the quality of life worldwide!