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Hertz Fellows on how science will change the world (and other topics)
listed in Fellows
The Hertz Foundation is all about advancing groundbreaking applied science with real-world benefits for all humanity and over the years, Hertz Fellows have been honored with the Nobel Prize, the National Medal of Science, the Turing Award, the Breakthrough Prize, and the MacArthur Fellowship (“Genius Grant”).
With the 2019 class to be announced in April, we asked some of our current Fellows to share their thoughts on topics ranging from their hopes for science and the world, to the visionaries they most admire. Here are our first group of answers, with more to follow.
With your field in mind, how do you hope science will change the world?
AI (AMPLIFYING INGENUITY!)
“Artificial Intelligence contains the promise of radically transforming every aspect of our world including blurring the line between the natural world of biological systems like us and engineered systems created by us. By directly amplifying human ingenuity and creativity, human level AI could reshape and accelerate the wheels of innovation itself. Will this meta-technology usher in a prosperous new age of intelligent machines? What happens when tools become more powerful than their creators?”
Max Kleiman-Weiner (’11, Computational Cognitive Science)
“I'm excited for robotics to mirror a lot of the advances in artificial intelligence -- only this time with physical systems that can physically interact with people. The ethical concerns brought up with our current state of machine learning become even more dire when direct physical interaction is involved.”
Lillian Chin (‘18 , Electrical Engineering and Computer Science - Robotics)
“I strive to advance fundamental scientific knowledge. My research team contributed recently to major breakthroughs in understanding Nature. In 2012 we discovered the Higgs boson, an unusual particle generating the fundamental particle mass structure and determining particle interactions. In 2015 we directly detected gravitational waves and made unique measurements of black holes and, later, neutron stars. Through these efforts the world now has a deeper knowledge of Nature. I look forward to future discoveries.”
Jim Brau (‘69 High Energy Physics)
DISEASE AND HEALTH
“Half of adults ultimately die due to degenerative diseases or organ failure. To overcome the organ shortage, we are mass producing specific types of human cells in a Petri dish from embryonic stem cells.”
Kyle Loh (‘11 Stem Cell Biology)
“Developmental biology is an exciting field to be in right now. New microscopes and optogenetic tools have finally made it possible to ask quantitative questions about how much, when, and where different proteins are required to build an organism. We’re beginning to understand the mechanisms by which specific gene mutations break development. I see this more mechanistic understanding of life eventually leading to more targeted treatments for human diseases.”
Sarah E. McFann (’16 Chemical and Biological Engineering)
“My biggest hope for the fields of bioengineering and biotechnology is that they will result in effective treatments to all diseases. Throughout human history, diseases have been a constant source of suffering and sorrow. It would be a great step for humanity if our efforts to understand our biology and ourselves produce treatments that can prevent and eliminate diseases.”
Asmamaw Wassie (’14, Bioengineering)
“Drug discovery can save and improve lives on a large scale, but the process of discovering new drugs can sometimes be time-consuming, expensive, and messy. I hope to see computational chemistry further accelerate the process of developing new medicines. Calculations and simulations can help researchers select which compounds have the most desirable properties. These insights can facilitate experimental progress, by guiding decisions of which compounds to test experimentally.”
Dina Sharon (’18, Chemistry)
CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY
“I hope scientific and technical breakthroughs in improving renewable energy sources and carbon capture will enable humans to mitigate the effects of climate change. Additionally, I hope scientists will recognize that the impacts of effective communication with government officials and the public -- clarifying the importance of research, shaping policies that help everyone to access the benefits of scientific progress, etc. -- are just as crucial as performing the research itself.”
Emily Davis (’14, Physics - Atomic, Molecular & Optical Physics)
“Climate change threatens the planet we leave our children. We have the means to take necessary action for the next few decades, but will ultimately need new sources of carbon free energy. Science can help us meet this challenge. Science must also give us hope that a solution is possible, that it is worth it to take difficult political and societal steps today to stop global warming.”
Edwin Gerber (’00, Applied Mathematics)
UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN BRAIN (AND OURSELVES)
“What is the meaning of life? Why do we do things that cause suffering? Can we have greater compassion for each other? My group at MIT works on technology for understanding the brain. We have invented ways to map the brain, control the brain, and watch the brain in action. Right now, one of our major focuses is to understand how the brain goes wrong in disease, so that scientists and doctors can invent new ways to help the 1 billion people who suffer from a brain disorder. But my hope goes beyond that: if we can understand how the brain generates the mind, perhaps we could attain a kind of enlightenment. Perhaps we could understand the human condition at a deeper level, and perhaps make the world a fundamentally better place, leading more happy and meaningful lives.”
Edward Boyden (’99, Electrical Engineering)