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Five female researchers gaze into the crystal ball and give their views on which technologies they believed will ‘predominate’ and which will fade into obscurity in the course of 2017.
In 2017, I believe we will hear a lot more about the microbial decomposition of (micro)plastic. In 2016, Japanese researchers showed that bacteria can break down plastic and use it as a source of carbon. I don’t think we’ll see an actual technology applied in 2017, but the perspectives of being able to use plastic as a carbon source—e.g. in fermentation or using micro-organisms to ‘clean up’—are pretty amazing. The microbial enzymes which the Japanese researchers have found are present in several of the marine bacteria we isolated on Galathea 3—and are probably even more widespread.
Several of the techniques which for many years have been used in the detection of microorganisms have now been overtaken by whole genome sequencing. However, we should probably be careful when predicting the demise of certain techniques. Not that long ago, it wouldn’t have been hard to find microbiological researchers who thought that once we’d sequenced all microbe genes, we would no longer need to culture microorganisms. However, almost the reverse has occurred. To truly understand what microbe genes are doing and can do, many researchers have realized that we need them in a cultivable form—so now everyone is working hard to develop new concepts for the cultivation of microorganisms.
DTU Chemical Engineering
Technological solutions to support bioeconomy, circular economy, climate, and sustainability. In terms of research, we must gain a much deeper understanding of the biological processes of transformation with the aim of applying them in technological processes. Consequently, it is essential to understand the biological effectiveness of the different types of conversions. Precise improvement of robustness and conversion efficiency with quantitative focus will become important topics. In 2017, we will also hear more about the bio-conversion of municipal waste and plastic, refining biomass, and the use of seaweed and CO2 as carbon sources for new products. 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Marie Curie’s birth, so I think that there will probably be a lot of focus on women and research—we’re already already seeing this internationally.
Firstly: Savings at the universities, cutbacks in research. Knowledge and innovation provide us with a living, so hopefully we will see an end to cutbacks and savings! Secondly: Classic lectures as the main teaching method. I find it truly heartening that in 2016 DTU has opened a new centre focusing on developing and applying digital methods in learning. Hopefully, it will mean better teaching in future and perhaps also that DTU can lead the way in new learning technologies at universities. So actually, ‘new technologies’ belongs under ‘hot’.
Analysis of cells at individual cell level will really take off in 2017. It is already possible to perform single-cell analyses using massive parallel sequencing where single cells are encoded with a given DNA bar code. Technologies such as Drop-seq which can analyse thousands of cells simultaneously, will find widespread application in 2017, producing results in cell composition and heterogeneity in numerous different diseases. In the area of immunology in particular, there is great interest in characterizing T-cell receptors from individual cells, and this will be of great significance for our understanding of how immunological diseases are developed and treated—including cancer and autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
My area of research is magnetic materials, and here the use of magnetic nanoparticles for diagnosing and treating diseases is HOT. Of particular interest are new technologies using magnetic nanoparticles to combat cancer and malaria, for example. A relevant example for DTU is the technology from the spin-out company BluSense Diagnostics, which uses magnetic nanoparticles to potentially detect viruses such as Zika and Dengue in a single drop of blood. The company’s workforce has grown to approximately 15 employees in the last 18 months.
The use of magnetic nanoparticles in hard disks has peaked, and today most computers are based on solid-state storage. Magnetic data storage—which uses mechanically controlled reader heads—is still common in many places, while other technologies are replacing magnetic data storage on PC hard drives.
DTU Management Engineering
With regard to research in system design and human behaviour, I think we will see increased use of sensor technologies, virtual reality, and augmented reality. Within the healthcare sector, technologies will be used as rehabilitation aids and for data-driven digital design—and simulation in industrial production and architectural engineering. We will also see more artificial intelligence, which has already been around for many years—especially in exploiting large data volumes, in humanizing data, in identifying and predicting relations that facilitate partnerships, in making the network more productive—and in creating collaborative robot teams that can design and supply everything on demand. I see enormous potential—and the field is growing exponentially.
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