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Code that writes code: smart tools for high performance, high fidelity modelling
Today, high performance computing requires a specialist combination of domain-specific, mathematics and programming skills. The “skills crunch” for high performance computing slows innovation, drives up costs and acts as a barrier-to-entry for SMEs. But what if the required knowledge could be packaged up and made accessible to every user?
When it comes to visionary aims, such as improving the health of entire populations, decision-making is beset by challenges. Uncertainty about the interacting factors that influence change is a major barrier to robust, evidence-informed policy-making. Now, a new generation of economic modelling based on high performance computing is addressing these gaps.
Imaging the health of our planet
From the discovery of DNA to the identification of water on Mars, lab-based spectroscopy is fundamental to understanding the chemical composition of matter. But what if you could apply spectroscopy not to small samples but on a planetary scale? Imagine a sensor small and powerful enough to be placed in a micro-satellite but which can assess the chemical state of an entire ecosystem with centimetre precision.
Unlocking the patterns of disease hidden in medical images
Behind the recent victory of an artificial intelligence against a world champion player of Go lies the power of deep learning algorithms to compete in a broad range of application areas. Visual perception is one area where humans excel, but what if a machine could match or even exceed our ability to discriminate objects and identify patterns in what we see?
Transforming surgery with real-time multi-scale imaging
Every successful operation depends on surgical skill to navigate the body. Pre-operative scans play a critical role, guiding surgeons like a map. But these are just snapshots. What if the map could be updated live – and even zoomed in and out? Real-time, multi-scale imaging would give surgeons a 'sat nav' to precisely identify tissues, protect critical organs and even see beyond their scalpels before a cut is ever made.
Imaging at the size and speed of electrons
Attosecond science lies far beyond the boundaries of human experience. As a unit of time, one attosecond is to a second as a second is to the age of the entire universe. These scales not only lie outside our own capabilities; they stretch engineering to its very limits. And yet these are the speeds at which electrons move. From artificial photosynthesis to optical computing, the growing need to understand electrical and chemical processes as they happen demands imaging techniques that can work at attosecond scale.
No more toys: 3D printing grows up
3D printing has grabbed popular imagination. But the polymer printers widely available today are not the technologies that will transform manufacturing and mass customisation of products. If 3D printing is to realise its potential to produce parts that can compete on stength, durability and functional properties, we will need an entirely new suite of printing methods.
Beyond human factors: designing for experience and performance in 2036
The global population of 2035 will be very different to today. The challenge for future designers is not simply to adapt to constant change, but to address the growing diversity of users across the spectrum of age, demographics and health status. Can products be flexible enough to adapt to wildly different levels of human performance, and yet remain cost-effective?
What if a material could last forever?
Without repair, many of the materials that we take for granted today ultimately degrade. New insights gained through scanning microscopy and modelling promise protective strategies that extend the longevity of well-used materials such as iron and steel and even smart materials that can self-heal.
Towards a scientific understanding of the design process
In the future, many objects that today exist only in the physical world will gain an online existence as they are wired up with sensors, widgets and always-on network connections. From a design point of view, this dramatically expands the ways in which products can behave. But as the design landscape opens up, so does the range of technical skills required to create these products and the potential for unexpected failures as single objects become part of larger systems.
New energy materials and thin films for the design of future electronics
The 21st century will be dominated by communications and data. Future devices will need to handle ever larger quantities of data and continue to perform even when large numbers of other devices are attempting to communicate. New materials are addressing the growing problem of electromagnetic interference.
Synthetic biology: scaling from lab to market
As synthetic biology moves from lab to market, scaling up a successful experiment from a small flask to the size of a huge tank is a fundamental challenge. Better understanding of genetic circuits will be key to ensuring that synthetic organisms reliably produce high yields of desired products.
Smart plastics for next generation electronics, optics and architecture
By exploiting established manufacturing techniques, novel plastics promise cost-effective production at large scales, speeding integration into product pipelines and adoption. New engineered plastics can manipulate light with extreme precision, promising perfectly transparent energy-efficient glazing, best-in-class solar cells and new components for optical computing.
Producing the ultimate programmable living nanomachines
The watery world of biology does not comply with the robustness, performance and reliability we have come to expect from programmable silicon chips. By redefining biology as an engineering discipline, could we design and control new biological systems as easily as we create software, design products or architect buildings?
Atomic scale computer simulation for the design of new industrial materials
Our ability to predict how materials behave and interact is critical to both innovation and resilience against future energy and resource challenges. But the universe of potential materials is vast. By predicting the behaviour of atoms, computer simulation can uncover the structural and dynamic properties of new materials, reducing the time from lab to market.
Putting intelligence into future cities
There has been a proliferation of sensors to make our cities smart and connected. But there are problems: how can we keep all the extra wireless electronics going when their batteries run out? Eric foresees a future where harvesting energy from the ambient environment could offer a means of perpetual power – and with this come opportunities for integration of massive, real-time data across industry sectors that promise to provide benefits at the systems of systems level, opening the door whole new knowledge-based industries.
The future of health lies in personal diagnostics
A new generation of low-power sensors coupled with advanced algorithms raises the possibility of cheap, portable devices for diagnosis and monitoring in clinical settings, at home and in the workplace. How can the accuracy and clinical value of these devices be assured?
Exploring human-machine cooperation at the cutting edge of robotics
Despite the promises of science fiction, the prospect of fully autonomous robotics systems remains remote. Evolution beyond the automated systems of today will require a step-change in robot engineering, fabrication and machine learning techniques.
Intelligent networked sensors are multiplying and diversifying around us. From smartphones to matchbox-sized pollution monitors, these are serving us in a multitude of ways with applications in smart cities, urban infrastructure and ecological sites. But today’s available technologies are too rigid and prone to failure. Looking ahead, sensors the size of dust will enable a new class of computer architectures to supersede today’s approaches to cloud-based systems, ultimately pushing computer processing out to small devices at the edge.
Can you ever really trust an autonomous machine?
The coming decades will see a revolution, as current progress in computer science translates into machines with ever greater degrees of functional independence. As autonomous systems become embedded into the fabric of our lives, working in safety-critical applications such as infrastructure maintenance and healthcare, questions of whether those systems can always be trusted to perform correctly become ever more important.
Hacking unconventional organisms
For decades, biotechnologists have been genetically modifying simple organisms such as yeast and E. coli. These organisms have taught us a great deal, but often prove too limited for industrial use. New work is branching out to explore the value of less conventional species, such as bugs that can convert industrial waste streams into useful products, recovering both carbon and value.
Synthetic biology: where the lab meets the real world
Humankind is on the brink of something remarkable – having the tools to radically edit and repurpose biological organisms to serve our needs. The rate-limiting step to this progress in synthetic biology will not be ingenuity, but our imagination.
Science for health: the revolution is coming
David Klug explores the trend towards miniaturization and its impact on biomedical research and healthcare. Who stands to benefit from previously unimaginable detail and definition about your health? Could this lead to an explosion of creative endeavor? And are there lessons that other sectors can learn from this trend?
Preparing for our block chain future
Ever used PayPal? Heard of bitcoins? These are examples of crypto transactions that reinvent the landscape of financial and legal systems. Will Knottenbelt is interested in these new mechanisms that decentralise trust and ease transactions across geographical and jurisdictional boundaries. In order for governments, commerce and individuals to reap the benefits from these new technologies, how will a new class of trust engineers address substantial practical and ethical challenges?
Future city ecosystems: from nature to robotics and back again
The rise of robotics offers a unique opportunity to re-imagine the design and function of urban environments. Mirko Kovac is interested in how smart cities of the future may behave more like complex ecosystems in which humans, nature and robots exist in symbiosis. How will future robots draw inspiration from living organisms that adapt and thrive in changing environments?
Pushing materials to their theoretical limit
When working with materials at a very small scale the properties of that material radically change, be they stronger, more flexible or more conductive. Many industries are currently limited by the strength of the materials available to them for manufacturing. A better understanding of material properties at a tiny scale will lead to a completely different route to designing and manufacturing materials. This could lead to extraordinary benefits for architecture, aviation, motoring and other industries.
There has been an explosion in the amount of data created around each and every one of us. It is becoming difficult not to have a web presence and we will increasingly face questions and obstacles around handling future big data as our online and offline identities become blurred. As individuals, organisations, governments and industry begin to harness the power of big data, we need to think carefully about technology, privacy and security.
Neurotech - windows to your soul
The emerging discipline of neurotechnology fuses neuroscience with technology. We are at the beginning of an exciting journey, which could unlock many applications inspired by how the brain functions. By looking from the whole brain system down to the neuronal networks it is possible to reverse engineer to the underlying algorithms that drive the brain and behaviour. Current research has led to the creation of neurotechnologies like brain-machine-interfaces that utilise eye tracking for marketing or controlling computers. The future will see a new generation of neurotechnologies – including, one day, cognitive prosthetics.
Revolutionising energy storage
In 9 out of 10 scenarios for powering vehicles, electrification plays a crucial role, which means huge opportunities for new research today to address the technological challenges of the future. Storing energy in batteries will be one priority. Greg reflects on the past decade of scientific progress and explores the big ‘what if’: what if cheap and ubiquitous battery storage enables the ‘energy cloud’– and what implications could this hold for autonomous vehicles?
The stuff that matters: new materials science
For nearly 150 years, materials scientists have been guided by a basic yet powerful tool: the periodic table. This century will see the cross pollination of knowledge from physics, chemistry, biology and engineering, brought together by materials scientists to build the Periodic Hypertable. Progress in simulation and standardisation brings with it a remarkable range of opportunities for designing exotic material systems, but with those opportunities comes the challenge of increasing complexity.
Machines with statistical intuition
Chemists are starting to see their reactions as recipes that can be rewritten ‘in flow’, where intelligent algorithms work out the optimum reaction conditions. In the field of chemistry, step changes are happening: moving to flow environment, miniaturisation with microfluidics and the introduction of intelligent automation. John looks ahead at the possibilities that could emerge over next 20 years from “In flow” Chemistry, pointing out the potential for high performance material manufacturing, speciality chemicals and, perhaps one day, even the search for the origin of life.
Hybrid human and machine learning
We generate huge amounts of data every day - it is a byproduct of our daily life. We don’t have the ability to process all this data and what happens if this data is compromised due to malicious interventions and use? In the future we will see new computer software for data processing and security. There will be a revolution in crowdsourcing which will help us to juggle this big data. This is a world where computer systems are pervasive and inextricably linked into the fabric of the physical space we inhabit.
Regenerating Tissues from the Nanoscale
Molly Stevens shows how engineering of materials on the nanoscale applies to biological tissue. In the near future we will see novel approaches to tissue engineering that are likely to prove very powerful in the engineering of large quantities of human mature bone for transplantation. We will be able to develop nanomaterials with the ability to dynamically assemble and dis-assemble structures from within the body when triggered to do so.
Sustainable Cities and Intelligent Systems
Globalisation was an experiment that started about 30 years ago. The first results are coming in now and they look far from perfect. Over half the global human population lives in cities making them large consumers of resources and producers of waste, and the supply chains that support cities are long and vulnerable. Advances in complexity science, sensor networks and computational power come together in the field of Process Systems Engineering to show you just what could be possible when we think about cities as interrelated systems of the future.
Neurotechnology the future of the human experience
The human brain… the last frontier. Many fields of science have come together over recent decades in the quest to understand how the brain works. And what we’ve learned puts us at an inflection point in human history. Brain-Machine Interfaces, Optogenetics and Psychopharmacology are the next big things coming this way from the future. They improve memory, enhance cognition and even aspects of our personalities. How far could we go?
How 3D prints enhance the quality of life
With an ageing population joint disease is becoming an increasing issue. By taking an interdisciplinary approach to this problem and bringing together neuroscientists, mathematicians, engineers and surgeons we are on the road to revolutionizing joint replacement. In the future it will not only get cheaper – but the designs will be optimal for the patient and their needs.
Sensing capabilities in autonomous robotics
As we are edging closer to a world of autonomous robots, we need to create ways to bridge the gap between sensors, processors and artificial intelligence. These systems will need discrete sensing capabilities to allow robots to localise themselves in a potentially unknown environment. What if autonomous systems intuitively sensed and understood the environments around them?
Rational machines that can learn throughout their life
There is a media discourse about artificial intelligence and its impact on industry and society. But what does machine learning actually mean and what are the current barriers. And how can we build a rational machine that can make the right decisions at the right time?
Smart Energy Grids
The energy domain has the same potential for “flash crashes” – or wide-ranging failures – that have been seen in the financial domain. Simon’s work focuses on ways to avert or respond to these, as well as ways to use machine learning to continually adapt smart electricity provision. In particular, the work performed as part of the Low Carbon London initiative examines the mechanisms by which smart pricing and electricity provision can modify human behaviour to encourage sustainability.
Dr Thomas Heinis works in the area of management of big data, particularly on the development of software and hardware to improve the diagnosis of brain disease. These technological solutions seek to mimic the connections in the brain, making use of unsupervised learning to create a signature of disease. This involves using different sets of patient data as input into the learning algorithm, in order to identify clusters of patients that have a similar disease and understand how they relate to each other.
Advanced Tissue Repair
Dr Ben Almquist’s work lies in the intersection of material sciences, biology and nanotechnology. He focuses on the development of methods to dynamically manipulate the behaviour of cells and tissues. In particular, this work enables us to understand how to direct the process of tissue repair by manipulating signalling networks. One application of this work is the design of wound dressings that can program the sequence of drug release into a patient wound, while another lies in the ways in which cell behaviours can be guided in order to promote blood vessel growth in damaged tissue.