Deep science: what it is, and how it will shape our future

Cern 2019

CERN Reception, Meyrin, Switzerland (Samuel Zeller, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Mark Dodgson, Professor of Innovation Studies, University of Queensland & David Gann, Vice President, Imperial College


It is well known that the World Wide Web was developed at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, the large scientific experiment based in France and Switzerland. Less well-known is the long list of other important innovations to have emerged from an organization whose aim is to understand the fundamental physics of the Big Bang.

CERN’s mission is to discover the origins of the universe. Along the way, it has developed technologies that improve the health of people around the world. It was instrumental in the development of PET scanners. Positron Emission Tomography produces images that allow doctors to check for diseases in your body. It has played a central part in developing hadron beams that are used for accurate and effective targeting of tumours. And its machine learning algorithms are used to improve the production of vaccines.

Its experiments have been crucial for the development of computer science, and the range of its contributions also include improving civil engineering by increasing accuracy in tunnelling machines. CERN’s 27-kilometre ring of super conducting magnets that comprise its Large Hadron Collider needed extraordinarily accurate construction. The earth-boring machines that are nowadays building tunnels for roads and trains have benefitted from science at CERN.

What is deep science?

Deep science can be discovery-oriented, exploring fundamental questions such as what is the universe made of and what is life? And it can be mission-oriented, addressing the existential threat the world faces through climate change, and answering other challenging problems of our times; for example, energy production, improving health and dealing with antimicrobial resistance, or removing plastic from our oceans. Deep science involves massive financial investments for physical and technological infrastructure. It also requires long-term, collaboration between and within organizations that employ some of the smartest people on the planet.

CERN is 60 years old. ITER, the International Fusion Energy Developmentprogram in France, will cost around €20 billion to build. The first designs for ITER date back to the late 1980s, and its construction is planned for completion in 2024. Planning for the Human Genome Project began in 1984, and its research concluded in 2003. Deep science is not cheap, nor quick.

Great technologies emerge from great science

Many of the useful technologies that have emerged from these scientific experiments result from the efforts required to conduct them. The computer, the laser, machine learning and artificial intelligence and the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 can be added to the World Wide Web as tools developed in the course of helping scientists do their research.

The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), whose mission is to develop a fusion energy machine, has along the way developed world-leading capabilities in robotics and new materials, necessary to help it do its experiments. Reaction Engines, a world leader in engine production for hypersonic passenger flight, benefited hugely from research on development of heat exhaust systems for fusion energy, and is based on the UKAEA’s Culham Campus.

Some of the connections between deep science and its application are completely unexpected and serendipitous. Wifi was developed by Australian astrophysicists working for the government research organization CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), when they were given the job of developing a high-speed wireless network.

Research into faint radiation originating from the depths of space, funded by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council, has led to detector technology that is being used by the security technology company Thruvision Ltd for people screening. Detectors for terahertz waves, which everybody produces naturally, are being used in body scanners to safely detect concealed objects, such as weapons and explosives, at a distance.

One of the most important innovations of all time had an inauspicious start. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee wrote an internal paper at CERN with the less-than-exciting title: Information Management: A Proposal. His boss scribbled “vague but exciting” at the top of the paper. Neither could possibly have imagined the impact the World Wide Web was to have.

Deep science needs deep support

What is needed to support deep science and enhance its ability to benefit humankind? Scale is essential, and the investment and skills needed often exceed the ability of individual nations to provide them. Deep science is an international collaborative activity. ITER involves 35 countries, including some who are not best of friends politically right now. It involves long, sustained financial investments, in order to conduct the science, and latterly continued finance to support its applications (link to our blog).

The skills required are deep and wide-ranging. These extend well beyond the extraordinary abilities of the scientists involved, and include those in the supply chains contributing to the construction and conduct of the science. They require exceptional operational, planning and project-management skills. Because these huge scientific projects are so demanding, the skills they require help raise the game in whole industries and professions as they are subsequently applied in different sectors and circumstances.

Management skills are also centrally important, including in being able to traverse and connect the creation and application of knowledge. Good managers help foster a culture among scientists that is externally orientated and mindful of demonstrating the value of what they do to the citizens whose taxes pay for their research.

 

Deep science brings enormous social and economic benefits, and given the existential threats we face we will rely on it for no less than ensuring the future of humankind. This is why these massively expensive and very long-term endeavours are crucial and irreplaceable. Yet there is another element to their contribution. They reflect humanity’s endless curiosity about improving our understanding of the universe, our world and the beings that exist in it. CERN aims to understand fundamental particles, the basic constituents of matter, by exploring the milliseconds of the Big Bang and the creation of the universe. Such ambitions capture much of what is noble about humanity.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Preventing the Pandemic of Mental Illness

Why do multinationals pay women less in developing countries?

MasterCard @ MWC14: Innovation in times of regulatory uncertainty

This robot has soft hands. It could be the future of sustainable production

Universal Health Coverage in the EU: Are we really leaving no one behind?

China’s impact as a global investor; the Sting reports live from World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

A Sting Exclusive: Young people are right about climate change; it’s time to listen

The “Legend of the Sun” wishes you Happy Chinese New Year 2015 from Brussels

Parliament leads the way on first set of EU rules for Artificial Intelligence

Netherlands: Budget MEPs back €1.2m in job-search aid for 450 redundant workers

Bank resolutions to remain a politically influenced affair

Why we are using these custom-built drones to collect whale snot

OECD Steel Committee concerned about excess capacity in steel sector

These 5 start-ups are shaping the future of Africa’s cities

Bring killers of journalists to justice: UN agency seeks media partners for new campaign

This is what the world’s CEOs think about the global outlook

The EU finally seizes the opportunity to support the sharing economy?

Mental distress during the pandemic: is there a way out?

MEPs agree on future regional and cohesion funding

EU job-search aid worth €9.9m for 1,858 former Air France workers

5 lessons for social entrepreneurs on how to change the system

New UN Global Climate report ‘another strong wake-up call’ over global warming: Guterres

Tobacco-free Public Space in Africa’s Most Populous Country

Greece’s last Eurogroup or the beginning of a new solid European Union?

EU–Canada Summit: strengthening the rules-based international order

Coronavirus: European Commission calls for action in protecting seasonal workers

A Sting Exclusive: “Youth voice must be heard in climate change negotiations!”, Bérénice Jond Board Member of European Youth Forum demands from Brussels

The ECB will do whatever it takes to set the Eurozone economy again in motion

The European Sting @ European Business Summit 2014 – the preview

How the Great Famine inspired Irish people to help Native Americans in the fight against COVID-19

Is this a turning point in the fight against slavery?

The result of European Elections 2019 seals the end of the business as usual era in Brussels

Humanitarian Aid: EU announces €18.5 million additional package for Latin America and the Caribbean

Yemen: ‘A great first step’ UN declares as aid team accesses grain silo which can feed millions

Syrians still living on ‘razor edge’ as UN launches $8.8 billion dollar appeal

Bill Gates’ top 10 breakthrough technologies of 2019

MWC 2016 LIVE: Ingenu steps up efforts to build LPWA networks across the globe

Erasmus+: an expected budget of €3 billion to be invested in young Europeans and to help create European Universities in 2019

The ‘yellow vests’ undermined Macron in France and the EU

The EU and North Korea: A Story of Underestimation

Inflation keeps falling in Eurozone

Italian coronavirus pressures and flattening the curve – an epidemiology expert explains

Here’s how India can soar in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In Venezuela, Bachelet calls on Government to release prisoners, appeals for ‘bold steps towards compromise’

ECOFIN: Choosing between the re-unification of Eurozone and a stalemate

New UN Syria envoy pledges to work ‘impartially and diligently’ towards peace

Libya detention centre airstrike could amount to a war crime says UN, as Guterres calls for independent investigation

Greferendum: the biggest political gaffe in western modern history to tear Europe apart? #Grexit #Graccident

Even in the world’s richest countries, kids might not have what they need to learn at home

Is there a new debt crisis on the horizon?

These are New York Public Library’s 10 most borrowed books

Security Union: Commission receives mandate to start negotiating international rules for obtaining electronic evidence

The racial wealth gap in the US is affecting its citizens and its economy – this is how

Security Council renews Central African Republic arms embargo

5G is here: PT Expo China 2019 will be held October 31 – November 3, in association with The European Sting

Trump’s blasting win causes uncertainty and turbulence to the global financial markets

Understanding of LGBT realities ‘non-existent’ in most countries, says UN expert

Venezuela: ‘Shocked’ by alleged torture, death of navy captain, UN human rights chief urges ‘in-depth’ investigation

Global trade is broken. Here are five ways to rebuild it

‘Let the children live’: UN prepares to ramp up food aid to Yemen as famine risk grows

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s