The world looks very different from this time last year. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the centrality of science, research and innovation, accelerated some changes already in the works, but also exposed our weaknesses. In September, Horizon looks at how the pandemic is reshaping Europe in areas including health research, work, tech, transport and food – and how research can contribute to Europe’s recovery over the coming years. We will also be covering the European Research & Innovation Days at the end of the month, which will bring together scientists, policymakers, entrepreneurs and citizens to debate how research and innovation can ensure that the transition to a post-coronavirus society is sustainable, inclusive and resilient.
European governments need to provide investment on a ‘wartime footing’ to stimulate a post-coronavirus economic recovery, but also need to redefine economic success to incorporate climate and social goals, the European Research and Innovation Days conference has heard.
The world’s pressing need is a vaccine to fight the current threat of Covid-19, but ultimately we may be able to develop a pan-coronavirus vaccine, Sunetra Gupta, a professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford, UK, said at the European Commission’s annual research event.
Recent advances are bringing cancer vaccines much closer to reality, giving patients another weapon in their arsenal of cancer treatments, according to Dr Madiha Derouazi, CEO of Amal Therapeutics and one of three winners of the 2020 EU Prize for Women Innovators.
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the global food system and emphasised its structural inequity – from unequal food distribution to workers in the system going hungry. Experts are calling for a reimagining of the way we produce and distribute food so that everyone can access quality food. Despite producing more food by volume than humanity has to date, millions of people remain food insecure. Agriculture is also a major contributor to environmental degradation and climate change.
The pandemic left a visible imprint on car, bus and bicycle use – and at its height brought about cleaner city air – but it also disrupted another, less obvious but highly polluting sector: freight transport. Coronavirus plunged millions of planes, trucks, trains and ships into a massive experiment, disrupting supply chains as national borders closed and industries shut down. Researchers and industry are now looking to see if any of the changes will stick.
Allowing health data to flow more freely between countries in Europe could aid the fight against coronavirus while also help the region be better prepared for future pandemics, but privacy and technical considerations need to be tackled sooner rather than later, say experts.
As the coronavirus pandemic endures, the socio-economic implications of race and gender in contracting Covid-19 and dying from it have been laid bare. Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a key role in the response, but it could also be exacerbating inequalities within our health systems – a critical concern that is dragging the technology’s limitations back into the spotlight.
The development of new medical technologies based on cutting-edge discoveries has accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic and is helping us respond to the health crisis. But for these technologies to flourish, attitudes and scepticism among investors still need to change, say researchers and start-ups.
Coronavirus response measures have accelerated the transition to telework, with the proportion of Europeans who work remotely shooting up from 5% to 40%, and this is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to experts. But beyond eliminating commutes and water cooler moments, how will this reshape the way we work?
How do you design and build a robot that you can’t even see? And what would you use it for? In May, Horizon explores the developing field of nanorobotics and its potential applications. We speak to Prof. Brad Nelson at ETH Zurich in Switzerland whose team found that the nanobots they were working on destroyed the drugs they were meant to be delivering, so are now repurposing them to purify water. We speak to researchers who are using the origami-like properties of DNA to make tools such as nanorobotic boxes with lids that open, and others that have created a molecular robotic arm that can pick up, reposition and release molecules. And because tasks like going into a blood vessel to dissolve a dangerous clot would be ideal for a nanorobot, we find out how scientists are devising ways to enable nanorobots to travel through the bloodstream.
The asteroids in our solar system are the remnants of planetary formation. They hold clues about how the Milky Way formed, but they also hold promise and peril for humans as the source of both rich materials and potentially dangerous cratering events. This month we look at the latest in asteroid research. We speak to Dr Naomi Murdoch, a planetary scientist, about her work investigating asteroids, how to land on them and how to defend Earth from a dangerous event. We look in depth at how scientists in the field of planetary defence are developing rapid response techniques to detect an Earth-bound ‘imminent impactor’, determine within days whether it’s dangerous, and evacuate people from the danger zone. We speak to scientists studying exactly what asteroids are composed of so that we can categorise them from Earth, and we look at work studying asteroid dust to see what it can tell us about the early days of our solar system and the origins of life on our planet.
Farmed fish are increasingly becoming vegetarian, with plant-based feed now widely used in Europe. Researchers now want to optimise feed to promote fish growth and nutrition. To do this, they are studying fish gut bacteria and the impact of probiotic additives as well as testing nutrient supplements.
To find out, scientists are investigating fish gut bacteria and feed nutrients.
Meteorologist Jadranka Šepić is working to decipher waves that can destroy in minutes.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.