Storing electricity? Some old solutions to this old problem are gaining momentum nowadays, thanks to recent improvements. Among these solutions, using electricity to obtain hydrogen and reconverting it later into energy or heat via fuel cells. The advantages are numerous: the possibility to store the excess production of electricity generated by renewable energy sources, to mix the hydrogen with natural gas (methane), to power electric vehicles… But there are as many challenges ahead if we want hydrogen to be a significant part of the future energy mix. Actions are under way. Let us discover them!
The question first arose in the 1980s, with the advent of the personal computer: were we all going to have to learn to program? The development of the software industry seemed to have given one definitive, and negative, answer to this question. Yet it is coming back, with a vengeance. Why exactly should we take it seriously this time around?
During the 20th century Governments and public agencies such as NASA played a major role in the innovation chain. The Internet itself was born through public programs, just as GPS and many other game-changing technologies. But in recent years, questions arose over the efficiency of public efforts, challenged by smart, dynamic, powerful corporations such as Google, on the one hand, or bottom-up and open source models, on the other hand. Are Governments out of the game?
Rising energy consumption round the world, rarefaction of fossil energy sources, climate change, the necessary reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions… The development of new and renewable energy sectors, emitting few or zero GHGs has become primordial. Faced with this inevitable energy transition phase, nuclear fusion could be justified, provided we can prove its feasibility, thereby enabling a move to industrial fusion power production. This is the challenge assigned to the ITER international research facility.
It's 2025, a Digital Earth where continuous connections are everywhere, yet it's a planet where infectious disease outbreaks can erupt anywhere and spread worldwide in days. To provide a strategic health care firewall against medical crises and bio-terror, the Centers for Disease Control have matured digitally into a global, real-time e-CDC. New medical threats are identified, responded to and contained 24 x 365. As a real-time partner of health services around the world, the e-CDC's digital presence is everywhere. In this continuously connected future, it uses the best specialists to deliver the best medical protection everywhere, instantly, all the time.
Our foodstuffs in the future may be full of surprises. The challenges are high, human imagination is boundless. Numerous emerging innovations can be noted. Some are still in the labs, others are seeking to gain a foothold in the marketplaces.
Nano-sciences and nano-technologies are opening up hitherto unmapped paths to our bodies and health. But nano-medicine does not avoid the heated debates associated to this new scale. Risk assessment cannot be limited to a cost-benefit analysis. So, where do we go from here?
Robots will soon be able to read texts for us, engage in conversations, clean our windows, deliver packets and parcels, prepare our pill-boxes and even help us get back on our feet should we fall, or have difficulty just getting up. We had them first in the military sector, then carrying out industrial chores, now we see a new generation coming, prepared to do household chores, maintenance work, leisure activities or engage in educational activities. Whether they be macro-, or nano-, humanoid or dronoid, these robots are about to become our future companions. So, where do we stand today?
Today's researchers are enduring a tough period compared to other scientists throughout history. Due to funding and institutional constraints, they have to work on short-term contracts serving commercial interests and must make promises that they can hardly live up to. One example involves quantum computers. Scientists should devote themselves to basic research crucial to tackling long-term world issues, says Nobel Prize Serge Haroche. This does not prevent him from advocating a strong sense of humanity among scientists. He supports an ideal education and research system combining science and humanity that stokes people's curiosity and enthusiasm for science, while at the same time cultivating an atmosphere encouraging imagination and innovation.
Mathematical skills have become strategic for the business world and the most advanced companies hire high level scientists who tackle the underlying, fundamental, theoretical questions. However, this increasingly vital role of the boffins dedicated maths specialists often brings with it new demands and unforeseen responsibilities.
Initially developed for military uses, exoskeletons are now moving into civvy street, with applications under development for disabled senior citizens or handicapped persons. Business of this product calls for sophisticated technologies by also for a clear view at the end-users. In this technology-intensive, leading edge emerging market, start-ups are out front.
As of the early 2000's, Internet has opened paths to a new form of collective intelligence, human or humanoid computing. Be reassured, reader, this is not a way to turn your brain into a computer. What it does is coordinate thousands of connected people together to assemble a computer power that exceeds, for certain complex problems, what is already available today via supercomputers. The specialty biochemistry was first on the track, and now we see financial affairs joining in. So, let's see what happens when amateurs take over a market trading room.
Rapid advances in neurosciences have led to some decisive progress in fields as varied as education, or treatment of psychiatric disorders. But it is a specialty where debate rages as the ambitions expand overtly.
Significant tech breakthroughs, a growing number of applications, mature industrial processes: in recent years many factors have boosted the development of nuclear medicine. Not so long ago, it was a matter of R&D. Now it's an industry. One of its most interesting business lines is the production of FDG, the most widely used radioactive tracer in nuclear medical imaging.
Burning of fossil fuels constitutes the main source today of greenhouse gases. It is also the principal vector of anthropic action on the climate. But the relationship between energy and climate is far more complex that it seems initially. Scientific knowledge is advancing constantly and what is now noteworthy is that the players, whether they are private individuals, national and local authorities or business companies are becoming increasingly aware of the challenges that lie ahead. Where does science stand today and how can we use the available knowledge?
Various technologies are now vying to develop an augmented human being. Step-by-step, they would gradually modify the basic data registers of life, such as intelligence, procreation, ageing. Techno-prophets, not all crazed illuminati, entertain the dream of the advent of New Mankind. Major (and some minor) ethical questions arise as we explore a phenomenon that is no longer restrained within the wraps of sci-fi.
The spectacular optical properties of nanoparticles are revolutionizing medical imaging. They also help to renew therapeutic techniques. On the occasion of the inauguration of the AXA-ESPCI Chair, Emmanuel Fort, professor at the Langevin Institute of ESPCI ParisTech, presented the latest advances in a promising field where two roads meet.
Advances in neuroscience have shed a new light on our understanding of classic issues about learning. How does it work? Is it different for adults and children? During a recent lecture, Stanislas Dehaene, a neuroscience researcher, gave an overview of recent discoveries in this field. A revolution in the making.
With 3-D medical imaging rapidly coming on line, a silent revolution is under way in our hospitals and research establishments. Practitioner's techniques are constantly improving and gaining ground, but there are limits. New strides forward will come from combinatory techologies, for example, by marrying PET-Scan and MRI.
Ecologically speaking, coal is the worst energy source around. But it nonetheless possesses some almost irresistible features. It is still abundant, easy and cheap to mine. Promising technologies could allow cleaner, healthier ways to burn it. Let's have a look.