The other week, our KTP Associate – Jennifer Kowalski – was invited to attend Science at The Parliament in Edinburgh. This is what she had to say about the event:
The theme for this year’s Science and the Parliament event was sustainability, which is a really interesting, and also a topical subject. There was also a focus on resource consumption, since The Royal Society of Chemistry are celebrating the International Year of the Periodic Table. The periodic Table (which gives details of all of the elements that make up every single thing on the planet) was created back in 1869. In the 150 years that has passed since then, a lot has changed in regards to the way we use these elements.
Back in 1869, technology was still in its infancy, and many potential functionalities of our chemical elements were yet to be discovered. Now however, we use many elements extensively, to the point that some are at risk of running out – and within a single lifetime!
In the UK, 1.5 million phones are upgraded every month. Current trends mean that most people want the newest and flashiest gadgets, which has created a situation in which many old phones just sit around in peoples drawers, serving no useful purpose and wasting valuable resources. It has been predicted that we could run out of Indium within 20 years – this is a rare metal that is an essential component of liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. This also means that it is a necessary component for touchscreens, and without touchscreens we wouldn’t have smartphones. A few decades from now, will people in the UK be ready to give up their smartphones?
I think that the attachment that many people have with their own phones can only grow stronger, especially as will the use of social media and apps as a tool for making a living, or increasing business avenues, expands. As such, it is evident that, as a society, we need to start taking better care of our belongings right now.
If we are not careful, an element that we could lose altogether is Helium. Prior to the talks at this event, I was really only aware of a select few uses of this gas – such as balloons and blimps. Yet it turns out liquid helium is the “lifeblood” of MRI machines. When used in MRI’s, helium then tends to be recycled, which is important. Why? Well, helium is the only element that is capable of floating up through the air as a gas, and then escaping completely into outer space, upon reaching the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere. And when helium is used to inflate balloons, it often eventually leaks out into the air, where this is exactly what will happen.
If we continue using balloons at the rate we do now, we could fully exhaust our supply of this gas in roughly 100 years. We now need to decide whether having helium wrapped in shiny plastic at parties and functions is worth our great grandchildren being unable to receive an MRI when they need it.
Whilst our use of science and technologies is clearly a critical topic, it is not the only sustainability-related area that this event focused on. The day wouldn’t have been complete without hearing from some MP’s, to see what the parliament is actually doing about the key issues in sustainability. This came in the form of an MSP Panel which focused on sustainability and the climate emergency. The politicians present discussed their views on certain issues including the use of Genetically Modified Crops; changes to the cars we use in Scotland; and what they actually intend to do to help prevent a climate breakdown.
With the increasing urgency of the latter of these subjects, and how little has been done so far to combat this (at least, in comparison to what needs to be done) it can often feel like scientists do not have a voice. Which of course, is very frustrating for anyone within this profession, and for anyone who is interested in it, or cares about it. Yet, this is what makes events like Science and the parliament so important, as it can foster collaboration between different areas of science through networking, and it allows a chance for communication between politicians and scientists.
Here at Albion, we are taking sustainability and environmental impacts more and more seriously. Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn or twitter to see some of our posts and blogs on this theme, for example, our 12 days of a more environmentally friendly Christmas posts.