During February, Horizon looks at the vast digital libraries which are changing the world around us.
Big data is having an impact across every aspect of our lives, from healthcare, as scientists close in on patterns in our DNA that can predict disease, to social media, where Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter posts are helping detect false rumours online.
We also hear from Professor Dirk Helbing, who imagines an open data Wikipedia for Europe where data about our world will be collected in a central repository which will be open to all.
Social media is increasingly being used as a source of news, but the problem is that you can’t always trust what you read online. Now, EU researchers are tackling this issue head-on by creating software to help people decide whether they can rely on information found on Facebook or Twitter.
The falling cost of gene sequencing and the prevalence of healthcare monitoring gadgets means our bodies will become data clouds that give us an early warning for diseases like cancer and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, according to researchers in a growing field known as computational medicine.
Almost 50 000 Google searches per second, 3 billion internet users, 500 million tweets per day – the data centres that underpin our information age now use 2 % of Europe's energy, researchers say. That’s the same as the energy used globally by the aviation industry.
Europe needs to pursue a different strategy from Silicon Valley if it is going to reap the social and economic benefits of big data, according to Dirk Helbing, Professor of Computational Social Science at ETH Zurich, who aims to create an open, real-time data stream from the Internet of Things.
The construction industry has a heavy carbon footprint, accounting for some 40% of global emissions, and yet, as the world’s population grows, demand for housing and building is only soaring. We kick off 2021 by looking at how the construction sector can become greener and some of the radical solutions required. We speak to sustainable architecture expert Dr Catherine De Wolf about the need to design recyclable buildings and how that will require a fundamental restructure of the way the construction industry works. We look at nearly zero energy wooden homes and investigate whether this material can help us kick our concrete habit – concrete being the most used substance on Earth. We home in on techniques to make cement greener and piezoelectric to light up spaces with the addition of vegetable waste, and at how self-healing building materials can prolong the life of civil infrastructures. And we explore the promise of fungal architecture to see whether structures grown from fungus can green the way we build.
In December, as the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission to create a precise 3-D map of a billion objects in the Milky Way releases its next tranche of data, we take an in-depth look at what we know – and what we don’t – about our home galaxy. We speak to astrophysicist Prof. Ralf Klessen about why it might enhance our understanding of the Milky Way to consider it as a constantly evolving ecosystem rather than studying different parts in an isolated way. We speak to scientists who are trying to image the centre of the galaxy, which is hidden from view behind giant dust and gas clouds, and we explore the latest research into how stars are formed. And finally, we find out what the galaxies surrounding the Milky Way can tell us about our home system.
In the summer of 2014 a strange building began to take shape just outside MoMA PS1, a contemporary art centre in New York City. It looked like someone had started building an igloo and then got carried away, so that the ice-white bricks rose into huge towers. It was a captivating sight, but the truly impressive thing about this building was not so much its looks but the fact that it had been grown.
Bilingual people can effortlessly switch between languages during everyday interactions. But beyond its usefulness in communication, being bilingual could affect how the brain works and enhance certain abilities. Studies into this could inform techniques for learning languages and other skills.
Live mycelium networks, capable of information processing, could be used as building materials.
Researchers are investigating whether bilingualism enhances certain cognitive abilities.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.