As May’s European elections approach, Horizon takes a step back to see what science can tell us about European politics. We look at the latest research into people’s opinions about the EU and how they’ve changed, particularly in response to the financial crisis of 2008, and ask what needs to be done to bring the public closer to politicians. We speak to cryptography expert Dr Steve Kremer about why most of us can’t vote online yet, and democracy specialist Prof. Wolfgang Merkel about the changing political party structures in Europe and whether this is a threat to democracy. We also find out how scientists are working to detect and flag fake news on social media in order to increase the transparency of the information people encounter online.
The rise of right-wing populism is being fuelled by polarisation in society that we must address without resorting to the claim of moral superiority, or protest voters will become the permanent supporters of these new parties, says Wolfgang Merkel, director of the Democracy and Democratisation research department at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Germany, and professor of political science at the Humboldt University of Berlin.
Fake news has already fanned the flames of distrust towards media, politics and established institutions around the world. And while new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) might make things even worse, it can also be used to combat misinformation.
The upcoming European elections will reveal how recent challenges such as immigration, the financial crisis, Brexit and the rise of populist parties will play out in the political arena. But the elections are also providing an opportunity for researchers to understand how to better engage voters and ensure the European Union remains relevant to its citizens.
Online voting is often considered a way to improve voter turnout and security. But according to Dr Steve Kremer of the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation, computer scientists have got a long way to go before they make it a viable alternative to pencils and paper.
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.