In 2018, Imperial researchers gave pause to many of us with their studies.
From melting ice sheets to the mental health challenges of fieldwork, here are some of the Imperial stories which made us think in 2018.
In September, Imperial experts predicted that sustained Antarctic warming could melt the largest ice sheet on Earth.
The research on Antarctic sediment layers, published in Nature, showed that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), also known as Antarctica’s ‘sleeping giant’, retreated during extended warm periods in the past – when temperatures were like those predicted for this century.
The study suggested that 2°C warming in Antarctica, if sustained over a couple of millennia, would lead to melting in an area of the EAIS that lies below sea level. This has implications for rising sea levels and highlights global warming’s threat to human civilisation.
In April, data security expert Dr Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye warned of the risk of privacy attacks that happen through friends.
In a paper, Dr de Montjoye of Imperial’s Data Science Institute and Department of Computing, said: “In our modern networked societies, privacy is a shared responsibility, because the people we interact with affect our privacy. What’s worrying is that an online friend can, often without knowing it, share your data and that of other friends just by downloading seemingly innocent apps.”
Not all news was alarming in 2018 – a lot of it offered hope for the future. In July, health researchers revealed that using high energy ultrasound beams to destroy prostate cancer tumours may be as effective as surgery or radiotherapy, but with fewer side effects.
The study, carried out at six hospitals across the UK, tracked 625 men with prostate cancer who received a type of treatment called high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU).
Professor Hashim Ahmed, lead author from the Department of Surgery and Cancer said:“This latest trial of focal HIFU – which is the largest and longest study of the treatment to date – suggests we may be able to tackle the cancer with fewer side effects.”
Mental health in the field
In September, an Imperial geologist brought to attention the often challenging nature of field work on researchers.
Dr Cédric John, from the Department of Earth Science & Engineering, wrote a Nature Geoscience comment piece with Saira Khan from City University London, in which they identify some major obstacles to mental wellbeing on trips, and how they might be overcome.
In a Q&A for the Imperial News site, Dr John said:
“The romantic notion of the hardy geologist - one who embraces the elements for months on end and loves the outdoors - can harm individuals who don’t fall under the stereotype. It’s a great example of big expectations causing harm when the reality falls short.”
On a related note, Imperial staff came forward late this year to share their experiences of mental health and work in a powerful video.
Nuclear power will be essential for meeting the UK's greenhouse gas targets, concluded a report published in July by Imperial energy experts.
In the summer, the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment and the Centre for Nuclear Engineering at Imperial hosted a panel discussion to debate how nuclear power could help to curb emissions and the role for this technology in the future. The event marked the launch of the Institute's briefing paper: The role of nuclear electricity in a low-carbon world
Chronic disease failings
People in the UK, US and China have a higher risk of dying early from chronic conditions than those in Italy, France, South Korea and Australia. This was the headline finding of the most detailed global analysis of deaths from so-called non-communicable disease (NCDs) – chronic conditions including cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes.
Professor Majid Ezzati, from Imperial’s School of Public Health, who led the study, said: “Non-communicable diseases are the main cause of premature death for most countries. Poverty, uncontrolled marketing of alcohol and tobacco by multinational industries, and weak health care systems are making chronic diseases a larger danger to human health than traditional foes such as bacteria and viruses.”
Other health-related stories which gave us pause for thought in 2018:
- Poorest dying nearly ten years younger than the rich in “deeply worrying” trend
- Cigarettes have a significant impact on the environment, not just health
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