We are fast approaching two years since the World Health Organisation (WHO) first announced Covid-19 as a pandemic. This word now sums up a huge part of our lives, and will always come with negative memories of what feels like lost years.
But in the future, we must also remember the incredible science that happened, and is still happening, in response to the pandemic, and the way public’s perception of science changed. The Wellcome Global Monitor 2020 survey found that people’s trust in science and scientists increased over the pandemic, a time that has seen the lines between science and politics become more intertwined than ever before. The previous two years showed us it was vital the public had access to science they could trust, whether this be from the scientists themselves or via accurate science journalism.
Research into the long-term health effects of Covid-19 will continue, with the third year providing yet more data. We will learn how to better care for those suffering from long Covid, and how best to help the babies born during the pandemic after research found them to be behind in development.
Other vaccine efforts will also come to fruition. 94% of worldwide malaria cases are in Africa, where more than 260,000 children die annually from the disease. This year, the first vaccine for malaria, which was in development for over thirty years, will be administered across sub-Saharan Africa.
As our knowledge of the world around us advances, we must begin asking more than ever if what we are doing is ethical. Harrison Newsham weighs up for us whether laws for sentient beings should be made stricter.
Our use of automation and AI becomes more prevalent each year, and as a result, laws need to be adapted or newly created. The government is amending the UK Highway Code in 2022 to allow automated vehicles to drive in certain conditions. They still require a human to be alert and ready to take over, but this change in the law could be a step forward in our perception of automation technology.
Last year saw world leaders meet at COP26 and pledge to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and 2022 will see the monitoring of this. The Global Methane Pledge, signed by over a hundred countries, aims to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. As early as October this year, a satellite known as MethaneSAT will launch and begin orbiting the Earth. It will measure methane emissions to a resolution of 25m, and share the data freely, allowing anyone to identify high polluters around the globe. World leaders will meet again for COP27, to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, where they will continue their efforts in tackling climate change.
New technologies to further cut emissions will also be made public for the first time. The agriculture sector is responsible for 10% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, but 2022 will see further development of lab-grown meat around the world. Air travel is another major emitter, and the first trials of hydrogen-fuelled passenger planes will begin this year.
We will also see humans continue their exploration of the solar system and beyond. The James Webb Space Telescope will settle into its orbit around the sun and start operating in mid-2022. In Spring, the first stage of NASA’s Artemis missions will launch, seeing an un-crewed orbiter take off from the Kennedy Space Centre in our race back to the moon.
The Fields medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics given out every four years, will be awarded this year. In 2018, many believed Maryna Viazovska would receive it for her work on sphere-packing in high dimensions.
There is significant hope that 2022 will see Viazovska become only the second woman to receive the award, and increase the exposure of female role models in a subject that tends to struggle with gender representation.
Look out for SciTech’s coverage of these events throughout the year, or become part of the team promoting the latest scientific news to the Durham community by joining our ‘Palatinate SciTech Contributors’ group on Facebook.
Illustration: Victoria Cheng