Imperial College London

Challenges and opportunities of 2017: Imperial academics look ahead

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The numbers 2017 written in the sand

The past year has brought many opportunities and challenges to us all, but what lies ahead?

In a year of unprecedented political, economical and cultural changes, making a shortlist of the good and bad in 2016 is a fairly easy task for anyone.

As all eyes turn with hope towards 2017, we asked the Imperial community to share their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities the next 12 months may bring. From global health issues, to political opportunities, here’s what they had to say.

Superbugs

Dr Andrew Edwards, Non-Clinical Lecturer in Molecular Microbiology, Department of Medicine:

The greatest challenge in my field will continue to be antibiotic resistance. This is a highly complex problem that spans the globe and so developing solutions requires international cooperation and collaboration between doctors, scientists, engineers, chemists, pharmacists, epidemiologists and the general public. We need to develop new tests to rapidly identify and characterise superbugs, devise new ways to use our existing antibiotics better and develop new drugs and vaccines.

For example, we are working with chemists and microbiologists at Imperial to develop new antibiotics that will kill drug-resistant E. coli without harming the good bacteria in our gut that help keep us healthy.

Delaying dementia

Dr Ruth Peters, Honorary Research Fellow, School of Public Health:

Increasing collaboration between those of us working in dementia prevention means that more and more groupings of expertise and data are coming together, for example the International Research Network for Dementia Prevention (IRNDP) which I will help to launch in 2017. 

This presents an opportunity to examine one of the challenges of 2017 and beyond - how to effectively prevent or delay dementia.

International politics

Mr Ajay Gambhir, Senior Climate Change Mitigation Policy Research Fellow, Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment:

2017 will herald the coming of an extremely uncertain period in international politics, where the continuing rise of nationalist parties and protectionist policies could clash with the increasing need for international, cooperative approaches to complex long-term challenges.

These challenges, many of which are interrelated, include inequality, climate change and terrorism, as well as a shift in global power and influence from the Western, industrialised countries to emerging Eastern nations such as China and India.

Fintech

Dr Andrei Kirilenko, Director of the Centre for Global Finance and Technology: 

2017 presents a great opportunity for the UK to become an undisputed global leader in fintech [financial technology]. London, New York and Singapore are currently neck-in-neck in a race to attract global fintech talent.

London has it all – top financial institutions, friendly regulators, world-class universities, dynamic entrepreneurial climate, and a history of leadership. The UK led the first Industrial Revolution when machines had changed manufacturing industries. It is now leading the next Digital Revolution as digital technologies are changing financial, media, educational, and other services industries.

To become a world leader in fintech, London will need to offer something unique. I think this unique feature is its global vibe.

Climate change

Professor Joanna D. Haigh, Co-Director, Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment:

A major challenge for the world is to reduce the carbon emissions which are the cause of ongoing global warming. For governments this means finding the ways to meet, and exceed, the commitments made at the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015. 

For the rest of us this means supporting the governments in achieving their targets. This can be through:

  • Science: e.g. monitoring the Earth and understanding the physical processes and biological impacts
  • Engineering: developing the clean technology and smart energy
  • Medicine: understanding the health impact of climate change
  • Business: understanding how markets need to respond
  • Citizen action: not allowing international politics, or anything else, to deter them

Cybersecurity

Dr Catherine Mulligan, Research Fellow in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship group:

As people become more concerned about their security online, I expect 2017 will see a stronger focus on the role of cybersecurity in protecting the transactions of consumers and businesses online, such as digital payments.

It’s highly likely we will see more attempted hacks in areas from energy systems to transport. We may also see more ‘political hacking’ as we saw with the US election, which reinforces how technology can disrupt, destroy and threaten critical aspects of our democracy.

In 2017, technology will increase demands on our ability to track and trace digital data as it moves around in cyberspace. The role of technology within smart cities and industries will start to be assessed not just for its innovation and economic growth potential, but also how it can be delivered securely.

Sustainable development

Ms Alyssa Gilbert, Head of Policy and Translation, Grantham Institute - Climate Change and the Environment:

In 2017, I think we will continue to hear very strong voices from individuals and groups of citizens around the world articulating their specific needs and expectations. I hope that Governments will respond to these voices and use the range of tools that are at their disposal to deliver effective outcomes for these different communities.  

The Sustainable Development Goals agreed in 2015 offer governments an opportunity to tackle social, environmental and environmental challenges in ways that are relevant to communities in different contexts and take advantage of the ways in which improving our societies and the global environment are an essential part of healthy economies.

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Andrew Youngson

Andrew Youngson
Communications and Public Affairs

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