Organisation - May 31, 2011

Science research agenda: fire away

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has compiled a list with 40 so-called pressing research questions. Is this list a sound one?

How did the universe come about and what happened afterwards? How can we eat more healthily? What are the causes and consequences of climate change? And more of such open doors. It's up to us to provide the answers. In doing so, we can straightaway cross out another pressing question from the Dutch research agenda compiled by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).
Imitation
In fact, it's imitation. Science launched a similar initiative in 2005: 125 questions: what don't we know (issue 309, 75-102). A good imitation is better than a poor invention. And so KNAW does it all over again. But, to be honest, the aim is a bit different. KNAW focusses on areas in which Dutch scientists excel and key discoveries in the future.
Wageningers
But the list has room for improvement. Where are issues such as obesity and aids? Just to name a couple. The research agenda comprises many questions in areas where Wageningers are involved in. To put it in another way: Wageningers, are these really the most urgent issues at hand?
The 49 questions on the Dutch research agenda are:
Earth, climate, energy and bio-environment:
1. What happens inside the earth, and what can we perceive?
2. What are the causes and consequences of climate change?
3. Can we get the sun to provide us with all our energy needs?
4. How do plants react to their surroundings?
5. Do micro-organisms together form a macro-organism?
Complexity and mathematics:
6. Can we stay in control of our information systems in the near future?
7. What can we say about the future of a chaotic system?
8. Will computers overtake mathematics itself later?
9. Where is the boundary between the countable and uncountable?
10. How can a reliable picture of reality be obtained from a few photographs?
11. What can we calculate from the Langlands programme and what not?
Culture and identity in the present and the future:
12. Who were the earliest human-like inhabitants of Northwest Europe?
13. How important are ancient civilizations for today's European culture?
14. How do national cultural identities change over time?
15. How does the migration of people, objects and ideas influence the development of cultural identities?
16. Does cultural integration today take place in a different way from the past?
17. What do languages teach us about the past?
Health and nutrition:
18. What can we do with the human genome?
19. How can we be more in control of cancer?
20. How can we improve health, prevention and healthcare?
21. Can we improve our resistance?
22. How healthily can we be when we grow old?
23. How can we eat more healthily?
Knowledge and brains:
24. How does a pliable organ such as the human brain develop?
25. Are our brains who we are?
26. Are there universal laws for every language?
27. What role does brain science play in law?
28.  Can machines help us to create knowledge from heaps of information?
29. How is the architecture of science changing?
Life and chemistry:
30. How do biochemical reactions take place in living cells?
31. Can we put together a living cell ourselves?
32. Can we make copies of organs on a chip?
33. Can chemical reactivity be predicted theoretically?
34. Can we enable molecules to assemble themselves into new structures?
34. How can we design sustainable chemical production methods?
Society and resilient institutions:
36. How can we set up markets and guard them?
37. What is the best way to counter new forms of social injustice?
38. Will representative democracy turn into a crisis of legitimacy?
39. Which institutions determine the vitality of a community?
40. Will we be living soon in a 'united states of Europe'?
41. When will social networks reach sustainable cooperation?
42. Can the law protect the environment?
Material and technique
43. Can we design new materials on the same scale as atoms?
44. Can we make materials which can repair their own defects?
45. Can we understand the behaviour of complex and living material?
46. When will the quantum computer replace the classical computer?
From elementary particles to the universe:
47. From which elementary particles and powers are all materials made of?
48. Stars and planets: how are they formed, how do they die?
49. How did the universe come about, and what happened afterwards?

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