From gene-editing in the first human embryo, to the discovery of an alien planet deemed the best candidate for extra-terrestrial life so far, 2017 was a year of huge scientific and technological advances. New innovations are constantly turning science fiction into science fact, as we make discoveries and inventions with the potential to make our lives longer, easier and more exciting. But what can we expect from 2018? Here, we take a look at the science and technology breakthroughs that are predicted to dominate the headlines over the course of the next year.
One hundred-thousand genomes:
By the end of 2018, the Genomics England will have completed its goal of sequencing 100,000 genomes from around 70,000 people. The volunteers are NHS patients with rare diseases, their families and patients with cancer. The company was set up by the UK Department of Health and aims to create a new “genomic medicine service” for the NHS, with treatments that are personalised to each individual’s genes. Medical research will also be revolutionised with the hope of finding new mutations linked to cancer and rare diseases. As this is the largest national genome-sequencing project in the world, the 100,000 Genomes Project is likely to kick-start the UK genomics industry, with far-reaching implications for the availability of genetic modification.
Last year, prototype ‘quantum computers’ were built, which use quantum mechanics to manipulate data, potentially making them significantly more powerful than existing computers. Researchers believe that 2018 is the year in which quantum computers will be able to reach “quantum supremacy”, the ability to complete a task which would take a classical computer an impractical length of time to solve. Furthermore, quantum processing may revolutionise the ways in which data can be encrypted: “quantum cryptography” allows data to be encrypted and transmitted in a way that cannot be intercepted without the receiver knowing. While quantum processing won’t be commercially available any time soon, China has already begun to develop satellites that could host an international “quantum internet”, so we can expect to hear about new trials and developments over the next year.
It may take a bit longer for driver-less cars to enter the mainstream, but there will certainly be a number of advances in the technology throughout 2018. Audi and Tesla aim to release cars with a much higher autonomy than previously seen. They will be able to drive themselves along a clear road with a low speed limit, however human intervention is still required if conditions change. Testing on public roads will also be increased this year, with fleets of driver-less lorries on motorways and closed-road trials in Oxfordshire. Unfortunately there have been a few bumps in the road for some companies: Volvo will no longer be testing its “Drive Me” scheme in 2018, instead this will be pushed back to 2021.
Dark side of the moon:
In June, China will launch a satellite to orbit the dark side of the moon and pass signals back to Earth. The satellite will eventually act as a communications link for the rocket, Long March 5, which will begin its journey to land on the dark side of the moon in 2019. However, this is a dangerous task due to the hazardous terrain and for this reason, previous moon landings have all been on the side that faces the Earth. Ultimately, this is all part of China’s ongoing lunar exploration programme, Chang’e, which aims to discover more about the geology of the moon and eventually land astronauts on its surface in the 2030s.
Journey to the centre of Mars
On the same theme of space exploration, 2018 will see NASA launch a mission to delve deep below the surface of Mars. InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) will measure the seismology and temperature of the red planet, as well as investigating the processes that lead to terrestrial planet formation.