Councils compile techno wish list

April 28, 2000

Lab-on-a-chip sensors, next-generation computing "grids", giant telescopes and autonomous robot submarines are among the technologies that will be needed to drive science forward in coming decades.

Such futuristic innovations are included in the first interdisciplinary "wish list of technology" compiled by experts from the United Kingdom's research councils.

Their long-term technology review of the science and engineering base is part of the government's Foresight initiative. The review will challenge UK industry to help develop the products and exploit the innovation to gain commercial leads in future markets.

The report published last week also paves the way to greater co-operation between the disparate research councils, a partnership approach that is being increasingly encouraged.

A joint statement signed by the chief executives of six research councils said: "This report explores what technologies are expected to be in UK laboratories and research facilities, and will be available to apply to the entire scope of scientific, engineering and technological endeavour in the next ten to 20 years."

The councils drew up lists of the technological advances they believed experts working in the disciplines they cover will need in the future.

Representatives from across the UK's science and engineering base attended a workshop at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in December 1999 to bring the lists together and to decide on a joint approach.

This will enable strategic planning to support the development of key technologies to maintain the momentum of cutting-edge research, from understanding gene function and the evolution of the universe to forecasting environmental hazards and managing natural resources.

Among the identified needs will be: Improved sensors including "lab-on-a chip" devices that can follow the processes of life and an array of sensors to detect charged particles and electromagnetic radiation Faster, cheaper and more flexible real-time data processing that can handle increasing amounts of information, integrate data from different sources and feed into intelligent control systems. Much of this will involve novel distributed computing techniques, already being called "The Grid" New ways to model and simulate complex systems requiring ever more powerful computing facilities and software innovations Instrumentation systems that will involve nanotechnology devices and next-generation electron microscopes that produce atomic resolution images, identify chemicals and process data in real time Experimental facilities such as remote-sensing satellites, underwater vehicles, massive ground-based telescopes and lasers to study plasmas and materials.

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