Treasuring Our Environment




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How do we look after what we have? How will you use science to help protect and sustain our environment.  

treasuring our environmentFrom Trash To Treasure

Today we are learning to use waste proteins (eg from abattoirs and fish waste) to make new nanostructures out of protein.  These structures have properties like spider silk – very strong and resilient.  We are learning to make these materials in bulk. In 2023, we will be able to run an economic ‘Greentech’ process to recycle NZ agricultural waste into large quantities of spider silk like materials, with applications in lightweight and protective clothing, ‘biofibreglass’, very high surface area scaffolds for industrial catalysis, nanoelectronics and many others.

treasuring our environmentArtificial Life

Right now, scientists can make simple organisms in the laboratory using amino acids, DNA sequences and other building blocks that are not usually found in nature.  At the moment, this technology is still in the lab and has not been used for any applications. In 2023, our designs and tools will be much more sophisticated. We might better understand how such organisms would function outside the laboratory. We might be able to design organisms that can do useful things that natural organisms can’t.  We might, for example, be able to design simple bacteria that break down our waste products, clean up oil spills or produce biofuel efficiently from sunlight.

treasuring our environmentFrom Company Jet To Company Satellite

Currently, microsatellite technologies are available to companies with revenues in the $100+ million per year.  With the advent of space tourism and possible large investment in mining asteroids for rare minerals above the earth, it’s conceivable that technologies will advance, prices will drop and far more companies will be able to afford satellite technologies. Imagine being able to track and trace every animal in your flock, its vital signs and positional records in real time from a computer at home – what would this mean for farmers and farming? As livestock prices rise (we are currently expecting a rise for the next 4 years and then a sharp dip followed by a further rise – cattle are currently circa $700 per head which may increase over the next 10 years), each animal’s individual life becomes more valuable to the farmer. In 2023, satellite technology coupled with implanted biosensors could mean that stock control and remote monitoring will become vastly more affordable, including tracking individual animal heath and the effectiveness of drug treatments. How could this be used to monitor and protect New Zealand’s indigenous animals?

treasuring our environmentCleaning Up Organic Mess With Inorganic Nano-Particles

Work on the potential of inorganic nano-particles to clean up organic mess, such as oil spills, is still in the laboratory today. Specially formulated nano-particles made from heavy metals interact with and break down pollutants when they are exposed to light. (The light acts as a catalyst).  These heavy metal nano-particles would themselves be pollutants in other forms. In the future, it may be possible to use inorganic nano-particles to purify sewage and to remove substances that are currently impossible to remove.  Might we be able to use inorganic nano-particles to clean run-off from dairy farms? How do we mitigate the risks of the inorganic nano-particles recombining to make other pollutants when they are released?

treasuring our environmentTo Infinity And Beyond?

Today we can determine the size, composition and color of a few planets in nearby solar systems to our own. In 2023 we will not only have a comprehensive list of the exoplanets around us but will also map of the habitability of our local galaxy. Would you choose to kickstarter a human trip to the nearest habitable world if it could be completed in less than a lifetime? Would you volunteer?

treasuring our environmentNew Approaches To Water Conservation

Today we are creating new surfaces to efficiently capture water from the atmosphere, and by 2023 we will be able to harvest large volumes of atmospheric water. Today we are developing new sensors to quickly and cheaply detect pollutants in streams, and in a decade we may have cost-effective technologies to partially clean up fouled waterways. New Zealandhas an abundance of water, with occasional severe shortages, and a long history of intensive water use for agriculture. This puts us in a special position to tackle human interaction with the water cycle (here and abroad) in the face of growing pressures relating to population growth, our environment and clear opportunities to create wealth.

treasuring our environmentAutomated Growing Facilities

Currently, many large growing and processing companies automate large chucks of their workflow as cost-cutting measures.  However, this typically has a large capital outset that limits entry into a large scale to companies with access to significant amounts of capital. People at home can grow herbs and small gardens but nothing large scale, and this is only possible for those with the time and inclination to take good care of their plants. Indoor greenhouses and vertical farms are being planned and constructed across the globe – an entirely new way of farming, not reliant on sunlight or external stimulus to function. In 2023, could individuals have access to fully autonomous herb gardens, automated plant growth and care facilities that can be deployed in the home for a relatively small cost. What if, rather than decorations, food plants became an integral part of interior architecture, built and designed into buildings as part of the water system? What if you could grow the vegetables for your family’s dinner, fresh each day, without having to resort to going to supermarkets. What if you could control exactly what they were exposed to, what pesticides were used or not and so regulate what goes into your family’s bodies?

Science in the media: Would you eat a lab-grown burger?